Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #11 – Kristy and the Snobs

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

I wasn’t there when my childhood pet died. His name was Sammy, and he was a gorgeous Australian Shepherd. He died while my family and I were abroad, visiting my extended family in the Philippines. My father had to sit my sister and me down and explain that our dog wasn’t going to be there when we got back. I still remember the exact spot in my Grandmother’s house, the exact chair I was sitting in, a long bench next to the dining table, and the exact color of the flip-flops that I stared at as my father told me the bad news (yellow).

In The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs, Kristy at least has the luxury of saying goodbye to her beloved Louie, and I don’t consider that a spoiler – the dog is limping before the end of chapter one. Anyone who has read a book featuring a beloved pet knows that doesn’t bode well for Spot.

The book’s title implies that there’s some kind of Kristy vs. the Snobs war, and there are a few pranks, but the crux of the novel is heartbreak and loss. Ann M. Martin writes about sadness in a stark and plain way. The pain isn’t covered up with flowery language and metaphor; there is no euphemism sufficient enough to describe the death of a beloved pet. It’s a sad book, but it’s a good one.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs – “Oh dear! Jeans and a dog that sits! How plebeian. Come smaller clone with white cat – my dog that never sits and I don’t want to catch anything uncouth.”

The book starts with breakfast at the Watson/Thomas compound. They cook their own breakfast, Watson helps with the chores, and they clean their own house. They don’t have a pool, or a tennis court, or a fountain in the entryway. That’s not a compound, you say? Not like their neighbors, who actually have maids, cooks, pools, butlers, and courts tennis? This difference is made apparent by the appearance of Kristy’s neighbors, who attend a private school and are all blonde.

“Are you the one who’s been sending those fliers around? For some baby-sitting club?”

“Yeah,” I said. (Every now and then our club tries to find new people to baby-sit for, so we send around advertisements. We’d put one in every box in my new neighborhood not long ago.)

“What does your little club do?” asked another blonde.

“What do you think?” I replied testily. “We baby-sit.”

“How cute,” said the blonde with the curls.

The others giggled.

“Nice outfit,” called the one non-blonde, putting her hands on her hips.

I blushed. Too bad I’d chosen the jeans with the hole in the knee that day.

But if there’s one thing to be said about me, it’s that I have a big mouth. I always have. I’m better about controlling it then I used to be, but I’m not afraid to use it. So I put my hands on my hips and said, “Your clothes are nice, too. You look like clones. Snob clones.”

Slam, Kristy. You got ‘em. Now they’ll have to respect you. I feel like I’ve said and done this exact thing in my past life as an awkward eleven-year-old.

While this is going on, Louie is limping on page seven. The dog is not long for this world and they take him to a veterinarian named Dr. Smith, who is a woman. I only mention that because when I read the name, I thought it was a male vet. I was surprised at my own internalized misogyny when it’s revealed that Dr. Smith is a woman. Martin is progressive (most of the time, she could do better with Claudia), especially in the eighties. Dr. Smith informs them that Louie is getting older, has arthritis, and his eyesight is getting worse. She prescribes some pain medication and suggests short walks for Louie. Kristy does just that when they get home and meets one of the snobs, the one who lives across the street, and her immaculate dog, accompanied by another blonde child.

“What,” she said, pointing to Louie, “is that?”

That,” I replied, “is a dog.”

The girl made a face at me. “Really? It’s hard to tell. He’s so . . . scruffy.”

“Yeah, he’s icky!” cried the younger one.

“He’s old,” I said defensively. “And he has arthritis.”

The older girl softened just a smidge. “What’s his name?” she asked.

“Louie.”

“Oh. This is Astrid. Astrid of Grenville. A pedigreed Bernese mountain dog.”

“And this is Priscilla. She’s purebred. She cost four hundred dollars,” said the little kid.

First of all, dogs shouldn’t have titles. They’re not in Game of Thrones. They didn’t just stab the Mad King and inherited a title. Astrid of Grenville, Kingslayer, Heir to the Iron Throne, Vanquisher of the Montorian Horde, Defender of the Clahnahvan of the Western Vales, and daughter of Buddy and Miss Honey Toes. That sounds ridiculous. This is Astrid. She’s a dog. She can shake, but only if you give her a treat afterward. She also responds to friendly whistling and “Hey, dog.”

Priscilla is a fine name for a finicky cat, but one of my dogs cost about four hundred dollars, and she still shat and humped everything in sight. That doesn’t mean your animal is better bred or less trouble. However, reminding everyone how much something cost is a thing a spoiled child would do.

The older girl introduces herself as “Shannon Louisa Kilbourne” and her charge is Amanda Delaney. Any good BSC fan will spot the name. I know that at some point, Shannon and Kristy will put aside their differences and Shannon will become an associate member of the BSC. Let’s see how these two work it out, but not before some pranking shenanigans.

While Kristy is babysitting for the Papadakis clan, Shannon calls her and warns her that smoke is coming from the upstairs bedroom. It’s a ruse, of course, but Kristy doesn’t figure that out until she gets the children outside. Kristy retaliates by sending a diaper service to Shannon.

Chapter five is our first handwriting chapter in the book with Mary Anne at the Perkins’s. Mrs. Perkins is preparing for a new baby, and Myriah and Gabbie are excited. But Jamie Newton comes over and complains about his little sister, prompting Gabbie to become upset. Mary Anne and Myriah set up a tea party for the Gabbers and invite some of her favorite stuffed animals. This placates the child and then it’s back to Kristy, but this time, she’s babysitting the four-hundred-dollar cat and its humans – Amanda and Max Delaney.

They are brats. They demand Kristy get them Cokes, then ice, then no ice. She complies with their arbitrary requests – she doesn’t want to piss off new customers. Shannon calls and wants help with Sari Papadakis, but there’s nothing wrong with the kid. She just wanted to waste Kristy’s time, I guess. Not a great prank, but they’re twelve, and I’ll give them a break.

Meanwhile, Dawn is having some problems with Jeff. He’s being moody and while Dawn’s watching over him, he yells that he wants to go back to California with his father. When Dawn tells the BSC during the next meeting, she mentions that her mother called her father and he was reluctant about taking in Jeff. It seems that Jeff doesn’t have a place anywhere.

The Delaneys call again, but Kristy refuses to take the job. Instead, Stacey takes over. When she arrives at the job, Mrs. Delaney asks that they clean up their playroom while she’s away, but Amanda insists that they like their room messy. Stacey concocts has an ingenious plan.

“You know, you’re right. I like a really messy room. In fact, I don’t think this room is messy enough. Look at this. A whole set of Lincoln Logs. They’re not even on the floor.” Stacey poured the Lincoln Logs into the toy soup.

“Hey!” cried Amanda. “What do you think you’re doing?”

“Yeah! What are you doing?” added Max.

“You said you like a messy room,” Stacey replied. “Well, I do, too.” She picked up a stack of construction paper and let it start floating to the floor, piece by piece.

“Quit messing up our room!” shouted Amanda. She held her arms stiffly at her sides and stamped her foot.

“Why?” demanded Stacey, pausing long enough to let the remainder of the paper settle into the toy soup. Then she began scattering puzzle pieces.

“Because,” said Max. “That’s why.”

“I thought you liked a good mess,” Stacey went on.

“We do,” Amanda began, then hesitated. “But not . . . not this good a mess. Cut it out!”

“I’m just trying to help you guys out,” Stacey told her.

“No! I mean . . . we want it clean.” Amanda scrambled around, picked up the paper.

The Delaney kids pick up their room – Stacey’s plan worked. She continues like this for the rest of the job. Max demands a drink so Stacey starts pulling out cups, saying she doesn’t know how much drink he wants so she’s just going to start pouring as many cups as she can. He ends up getting his own drink. In the end, Stacey convinces them to play some kind of advanced hopscotch involving a snail. It’s a successful babysitting job.

Kristy employs the same tactics the next time she babysits of the Delaneys, but it’s interrupted by a pizza delivery prank from you-know-who. Kristy sends it to Shannon’s, who comes over with the pizza. The girls commiserate over the round prank and Kristy pays for half the pizza.

Chapter 11 is a handwriting chapter – Claudia at the Pikes. Half of the Pike clan has chicken pox and Claudia has a hard time trying to placate everyone. It ends with two more children joining the pox party. Then it’s back to the main story.

Louie is not doing well. Horrifying dog scene warning.

Louie seemed to have lost complete control of his hind legs. He was pulling himself around the kitchen with his front legs, dragging the back ones as if they were paralyzed. And he was, as you might imagine, in a panic. He crawled into a leg of the kitchen table, and then into the stove.

I knew Louie wasn’t going to make it to the end of the book, but nothing prepared me for that in my innocent BSC book. As I’m writing this, it’s about a month after I’ve actually finished the book, so I’ve forgotten some of the specifics. (Classes have started back up and I was writing a personal narrative for this class I’m taking.) My notes just said, “Oh, Jesus” with a highlighted page number, meaning it’s something I’m thinking of excerpting. When I read this again, I felt that searing pain in the back of my throat. I have an affection for dogs and I wouldn’t be able to handle seeing a dog lose control like Louie. I worried about my pets when they had nightmares – and dreams couldn’t hurt them. Unless, of course, their parents burned a child murderer alive and he came back to exact revenge on his murderers’ children.

The family and Dr. Smith come to the decision that Louie is in immense pain and would be better served if he were to be gently lead across the Rainbow Bridge to the golden dog park in the sky. David Michael asks if his mother will, “hold him while he goes to sleep?” Kristy’s mom carries Louie as they enter the veterinarian’s office, but her arms are empty when she returns.

The Thomas and Watson clan hold a funeral and, to their collective surprise, Shannon, Tiffany, Hannie, Linny, Amanda, Max, and two random friends (previously called “the snobs”) show up to pay their respects.

After a few days, Shannon’s dog, Astrid, gives birth to a litter of puppies and she gives one of them to Kristy and David Michael. They name the dog “Shannon.” Also, Kristy extends Shannon (the human one) an invitation to join the BSC, but Shannon is too busy to attend meetings, so they make her an associate member, like Logan. Ann M. Martin leaves us with this:

I knew David Michael would never forget our Louie. None of us would, because Louie had left a sort of legacy. He’d brought Shannon and me together so we could be friends instead of enemies, and that in turn had brought a new puppy for our family, but especially for David Michael. So, I thought. Endings could sometimes be beginnings. They were sad, but sometimes they brought happiness.

That’s what Louie had shown us, and that’s just one of the things we would remember about him.

It’s important to teach children that not every ending necessarily means a definitive, capital “E” End. This book was devastating, and Martin describes Louie’s pain in detail appropriate, but not euphemistic, detail. She doesn’t patronize her young readers by shying away from the more unpleasant aspects of losing a pet. She could have had him just go to sleep one night and never wake up, but she chooses to force the reader to face the grim reality of a dying pet. This is an integral BSC book that may be harder to read (because of subject matter – the reading level itself is the same as the other books), but it’s one that I think will resonate with most people.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #12: Claudia and the New Girl

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Where’s the Beef?: My Eating Habits Through Bourdain, Sedaris, and Berry

If there was a pill that could completely replace a meal, I would take it. I’d still visit my favorite restaurant on the weekends or while on vacation, but workdays would be pure pill. Unfortunately, the only thing close to that pill is McDonald’s. Every day, 68 million people pass through those golden arches and get a quick, filling meal for a dollar without leaving their cars (Badkar). I’m one of those people. I’m not passionate about food like Anthony Bourdain, but I’m not as apathetic as David Sedaris. I’ve been trying to trace my food’s journey from farm to plate as encouraged by Wendell Berry and the film Food Inc, but when I wake up late, I can’t be too picky. My history with food is strange and different from their experiences and I am still learning, but we are all very different and in the cornucopia of culinary experiences, that’s fine if we all strive to make the world better.

Anthony Bourdain, a world-renowned chef, writes about his first experience with oysters in his essay “Food is Good.” He recalls his first experience with the mollusk “like…losing my virginity – and in many ways, more fondly” (67). Eating his first oyster during a family trip to Europe changed his life forever. It was the defining moment that launched his career and love of food. He remembers the “glistening, vaguely sexual-looking object, still dripping and nearly alive (69)” just before he bit down and slurped the rest down his throat. He “survived” an adventure – his parents “hesitated” and his brother “recoiled in horror” (69).

When I was about eight-years-old, I was eating lunch with my father, my sister, my grandmother, and my grandmother’s boyfriend. My grandmother had a knack for finding strange restaurants and this one was no exception. It specialized in seafood, but not just any seafood. It had themed bowls of disparate kinds of fish and undersea creatures. I was going through a phase where I wanted to eschew remnants of my childhood and I refused the child menu. I ordered the best sounding dish from the adult side of the menu. The waiter asked my father if that’s what I really wanted. My father, who wasn’t paying much attention to me, told the waiter that whatever I wanted was what I was going to get.

Then I saw what I ordered – a bowl that would make Davy Jones proud. Chunks of swordfish smothered in red sauce and pieces of chopped up octopus with the suckers still visible. My father, thinking he could teach me a valuable lesson about knowing what I was ordering, insisted I eat it. Reluctantly, I ate the octopus – I liked it! My father made a mistake; he forgot he had a wife who cooked chicken livers and tongue and a daughter who wasn’t afraid to try any food placed in front of her. I ate different kinds of food out of curiosity and convenience more than anything. Unlike Bourdain, I didn’t feel stronger or braver than my friends or family. When I was eleven, I had sushi for the first time because it was at the Asian market my mother dragged me to so she could find something to cook for dinner and I was hungry. I bought Indian food from a street vendor in San Francisco instead of searching for someplace to eat. Yes, I happen to like Indian, sushi, and seafood more than other kinds of food, but eating the foods didn’t change my life in any way. If I wasn’t curious, I wouldn’t venture outside my comfort zone. Also, if I weren’t lazy and looking for the most convenient thing, I wouldn’t have tried all the street food I’ve eaten before. But I’m not ambivalent about food.

David Sedaris, humorist, writer, and frequent contributor to NPR’s This American Life (“Radio Archive by Contributor”) calls himself “a shoveller, a quantity man, and I like to keep going until I feel sick (29).” He didn’t care what he was eating as long as he got enough of it. I would never say I am like that but I’m sure I had more than my fair share of food. I order the meal. The number three – chicken McNuggets, fries, and a drink. Those items are more than enough for most people, but not David Sedaris. He purchased his sister’s chicken leg at dinner (30). My relationship with food is not about quantity like Sedaris, but it’s not about quality, like Bourdain.

I’m too obsessed with convenience. What is the closest thing to food I can find around me? I don’t even stop to think about where it came from, which I know is a problem. Both the documentary Food Inc. and Wendell Berry’s essay “The Pleasures of Eating” encourage the watcher (or reader) to investigate where their food comes from. For the first time in my adult life, I have the financial security to pay more for locally grown foods, or at least skip the trip to McDonald’s.

Food Inc. discusses the “production line” form of food preparation as invented by McDonald’s. One person does the same thing over and over every day, exploiting workers in the name of profit. This is the fast food process I have relied on for convenience and price at the detriment of my health. During Food Inc.’s call to action at the end of the film, they suggest a garden. Same with Berry. Instead of sticking my hands in germ-ridden dirt, I’ve tried to buy local at Farmer’s Markets and ask, “Hey, where’d the beef come from?”

My experiences with food differ from Bourdain, Sedaris, Berry, and Robert Kenner’s film, but I can still learn something from each of them. Maybe a memory with food wasn’t a defining moment of my life, like Bourdain, but I can appreciate his dietary bravery. Sedaris doesn’t worry about the food he eats and eats everything around him – I use him as more of a cautionary. I should appreciate the food I get. And Food Inc. and Berry can teach me to research my food and not just get the most convenient thing. I’ll save the environment in other ways, like meticulous recycling, reduced purchasing, and supporting charities like the Sierra Club and the Union of Concerned Scientists. I won’t start my own garden, but I can always buy my food locally – make others roll around in the dirt for me.

 

Works Cited

Badkar, Mamta and Gus Lubin. “18 Facts About McDonald’s That Will Blow Your Mind.”

Business Insider, Business Insider, 20 Apr. 2012, http://www.businessinsider.com/19-facts-about-mcdonalds-that-will-blow-your-mind-2012-4/. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017

Berry, Wendell. “The Pleasures of Eating.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight,

Fountainhead Press, 2010, pp. 21-32.

Bourdain, Anthony. “Food is Good.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight,

Fountainhead Press, 2010, pp. 63-70.

Food Inc. Directed by Robert Kenner, Magnolia Pictures, 2008. Netflix,

https://www.netflix.com/watch/70108783. Accessed 12 Sept. 2017.

“Radio Archive by Contributor.” This American Life, National Public Radio,

https://www.thisamericanlife.org/contributors/david-sedaris. Accessed 15 Sept. 2017.

Sedaris, David. “Tasteless.” Food, edited by Brooke Rollins and Lee Bauknight, Fountainhead

Press, 2010, pp. 29-32.

Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Monster Blood

When I was eight, during the summer between third and fourth grade, my parents took my sister and me halfway around the world to the Philippines. The trip was my first venture outside the United States, my first plane ride, and my first time in a country that spoke a completely different language. It wasn’t a random trip to a random country – my mother is Filipina, and we had (and still have) extensive family out there. I spent most of my time running around, exploring the countryside where my family lived on the slope of the Mayon Volcano. My favorite haunt was a dilapidated church and the adjacent graveyard. I was obsessed with the cracked gravestones and the icon of Mary with the faded paint and a chipped hand. Unlike Gabe in Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb, I never came face to face with a supernatural creature, but I like to think I had an adventure, albeit a safe one.

R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was an absolute delight to read. This is what I came to Goosebumps for: kids my age (or slightly older) overcoming scary situations with a little dash of humor. While on a trip to his ancestral home of Egypt, our protagonist, Gabe, explores the Great Pyramid of Giza. Gabe a sweet kid and his uncle, scientist Ben Hassan, is a likable adult who helps his nephew. Gabe adversary is his cousin, and Ben’s daughter, Sari, who is charming in her own way. I’m looking forward to exploring this book – this reminder of why I loved these books so much as a kid.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb – What will wake the dead? Anything! I have that mummy wrapped around my little finger! I’ll let myself out.

The book starts at the Great Pyramid and a thirsty child. Gabe asks his parents for water.

“We can’t you a drink now,” she answered, staring at the pyramid. “Stop acting like you’re four. You’re twelve, remember?”

“Twelve-year-olds get thirsty, too,” I muttered. “All this sand in the air, it’s making me gag.”

“Look at the pyramid,” she said, sounding a little irritated. “That’s why we came here. We didn’t come here to get a drink.”

Hey, Mom, you can drink and look at pyramids at the same time. The end of the first chapter surprised me. Instead of a danger that is revealed to not be a danger at all, we have an ominous passage:

“I’m afraid you’ll just have to appreciate the pyramid from the outside,” Dad said, peering over the yellow sand, trying to focus the binoculars.

“I’ve already appreciated it,” I told him glumly. “Can we get a drink now?”

Little did I know that in a few days, Mom and Dad would be gone, and I would be deep inside the pyramid we were staring at. Not just inside it, but trapped inside it, sealed inside it – probably forever.

I’m in. I’m interested. I want to know where the story is going, and I’m happy the first chapter’s cliffhanger wasn’t some fake out.

Gabe’s dismissive parents are quickly ushered away from the book and our protagonist is left with his Uncle Ben Hassan, an Egyptologist with a daughter, Sari. Gabe has an adversarial relationship with Sari. She treats him like a child despite their identical ages. She has a strained relationship with her cousin, but she has a great relationship with her father – one that sometimes forces Gabe to look at them through an invisible barrier. The father and daughter have inside jokes and play pranks on Gabe. He gets frustrated with them, but, as a reader, I never felt the jokes were too malicious, and I have the notion that Uncle Ben has played these pranks on his daughter and that the source of their inside jokes. He’s trying to pull his nephew into a relationship the only way he knows how – jokes.

Uncle Ben has discovered a new burial chamber in the Great Pyramid and he invites his nephew on a tour. This is where we have our classic horror warning.

Uncle Ben handed us both flashlights. “Clip them into your jeans as we go in,” he instructed. He gazed at me. “You don’t believe in curses, do you? You know – the ancient Egyptian kind.”

I didn’t know how to reply, so I shook my head.

“Good,” Uncle Ben replied, grinning. “Because one of my workers claims we’ve violated an ancient decree by entering this new tunnel, and that we’ve activated some curse.”

This is classic horror. The characters were warned. The strange old man told the teenager to avoid Camp Blood. The fortune teller told the young jock not to enter the abandoned funhouse. The cheerleader read the stories about the escaped convict who targets babysitters. They were warned, but they continued deeper into the pyramid.

Uncle Ben goes down a rope ladder first, followed by Gabe, who falls off. Sari catches him. She teases Gabe, but she would never let him get hurt.

They reach the bottom of the pyramid and Uncle Ben introduces us to his excavation team – Ahmed, a taciturn man who is obsessed with the curse, Quasimodo, which is a nickname, and Christy. It’s nice to see a woman among the archaeologists. Thank you for the representation, Stine.

Uncle Ben forbids the children from exploring on their own, but the kids do it anyway in typical kid fashion. Sari gets ahead of Gabe and he gets lost trying to find her. He stumbles on a “mummy case.”

Uttering another low cry, I took a step back.

The lid raised up another inch.

I took another step back.

And dropped the flashlight.

I picked it up with a trembling hand and shined it back into the mummy case.

The lid was now open nearly a foot.

I sucked in a deep breath of air and held it.

I wanted to run, but my fear was freezing me in place.

The lid creaked and opened another inch.

Another inch.

I lowered the flashlight to the opening, the light quivering with my hand.

From the dark depths of the ancient coffin, I saw two eyes staring out at me.

This is a fun, scary passage, even though the single sentence paragraphs make the passage look like a poem. The mummy is just Sari, but I wasn’t mad. I just thought, “Oh, that Sari, always with the pranks.”

Uncle Ben finds the children and admonishes them for running off. The next morning, Uncle Ben leaves the children behind at the hotel after two workers come down with a “mysterious illness.” Sari and Gabe get bored and decide to go to the museum. Gabe goes over the mummification process, complete with brain pulling and intestine yanking, much to Sari’s chagrin. We see that Sari is not impervious to everything around her. Her father is an Egyptologist and she has no problems spelunking in a stuffy pyramid, but she cannot listen to her cousin say things like, “The brain had to come out first. They had this special tool. It was like a long, skinny hook. They’d push it up the corpse’s nose until it reached the brain and then wiggled it back and forth, back and forth, until the brain became mush.” Sari is complicated. Just don’t talk about guts and she’s fine.

They see Ahmed in the museum and after a brief chase scene, Ahmed tells them that Uncle Ben sent him to get the children, so the children get into his car with him. They realize they aren’t heading back to the hotel – they’re being kidnapped! That’s terrifying! Fun fact! When I was a kid, someone tried to kidnap my sister and me, but that’s a story for another review.

The kids jump out of the car and run back to the hotel. Uncle Ben returns and they tell him about their experience with Ahmed. Uncle Ben believes them. He doesn’t imply that they didn’t understand what was happening, he doesn’t dismiss the children. He actually listens to them. Thank you, Stine, for having at least one adult actually listen to a child for once.

Uncle Ben wants to leave the children in the hotel, but Sari and Gabe convince him to take them with as he returns to the pyramid. He gives them beepers in case they get separated, and, of course, they get separated. If they didn’t get separated it would be the end of the story. The floor gives out from beneath Gabe and he falls on his beeper, breaking it, but he’s in an undiscovered section of the pyramid.

There were mummies leaning against the wall. Mummies lying on stone slabs, arms crossed over their chests. Mummies leaning at odd angles, crouched low or standing tall, their arms straight out in front of them like Frankenstein monsters.

I realized that I had made an incredible discovery here. By falling through the floor, I had found a hidden chamber, a chamber where mummies had been made. I had found all of the tools and all of the materials used to make mummies four thousand years ago.

That’s creepy – a room full of dead bodies. Sari catches up with Gabe, but Ahmed is close behind. He reveals that the chamber is the “sacred Preparation Chamber of the Priestess Khala” and Ahmed as trying to prevent anyone from trespassing on it. Then he the true identities of the surrounding mummies.

“They were all violators of the Priestess’s chamber,” Ahmed revealed. The thin smile that formed on his face could only be described as a proud smile.

“You mean – they’re not from ancient Egypt?” Sari cried, raising her hands in horror to her face.

“A few of them,” Ahmed replied, still smiling that frightening, cold smile. “A few of them were ancient intruders. Some are quite recent. But they all have one thing in common. They all became victims of the curse. And they all were mummified alive!”

Then he points out the one he did himself! This dude is insane and scary as shit. Uncle Ben finds them and tries to reason with him “scientist to scientist.” Ben, boobala, the man threatened your assistants by showing them what it would be like to be boiled alive. He’s not a scientist. He’s a crazy man with a knife who is threatening your daughter.

Ahmed knocks Uncle Ben out and forces the scientist into a coffin with the children. There’s a little crying and suspense before Uncle Ben wakes up and reveals that every coffin has a trap lever. That’s a little deus ex machina – I wanted the children to figure out a way out for themselves and save their Uncle, or maybe the kids could have observed the trap lever during their trip to the museum. I guess the book can’t be perfect.

The kids and Uncle Ben escape and are forced into a final confrontation with Ahmed. Gabe pulls out a mummy hand that he keeps with him. (This isn’t a deus ex machina – it’s been mentioned.)

Maybe I thought the mummy hand would distract Ahmed.

Or interest him.

Or confuse him.

Or frighten him.

Maybe I was just stalling for time.

Or maybe I was unconsciously remembering the legend behind the hand that the kid at the garage sale had told me.

The legend of why it was called The Summoner.

How it was used to call up ancient souls and spirits.

Or maybe I wasn’t thinking anything at all.

But I spun around and, gripping it by its slender wrist, held the mummy hand up high.

And waited.

Ahmed stared at it.

But nothing happened.

I waited, standing there like the Statue of Liberty with the little hand raised high above my head.

It seemed as if I were standing like that for hours.

The thought of this kid holding up a mummy hand while everyone around him is just staring at him and shrugging is a hilarious. I laughed out loud. If there’s an episode of the television show based on this book, I hope that’s played with a comedic beat. (I just checked – there is no television adaptation of this book.)

But the mummy hand does something eventually – the mummies come to life and chase Ahmed out of the pyramid, allowing Uncle Ben, Sari, and Gabe to escape. Ahmed should have been run into the tar pit, but that might be too gruesome for a kid’s book, even if the book is a horror book.

It ends with the three of them sharing a moment, including a silly pun that will probably be an inside joke between them.

“We’re okay,” Uncle Ben said gratefully, throwing his arms around Sari and me. “We’re okay. We’re okay.”

“We can go now!” Sari cried happily, hugging her dad. Then she turned to me. “You saved our lives,” she said. She had to choke out the words. But she said them.

Then Uncle Ben turned his gaze on me and the object I still gripped tightly in front of me. “Thanks for the helping hand,” Uncle Ben said.

I see what you did there.

Goosebumps: The Curse of the Mummy’s Tomb was a delight. It was scary, funny, and I loved the dynamic between Gabe, his cousin, and his uncle. This is what Goosebumps is all about: a kid overcoming a scary situation with gumption and humor. I had an adventure to an ancestral homeland when I was a kid and, while it didn’t involve any mummies, I keep those treasured memories in a special part of my brain. Gabe’s experience was scary, but he became closer to his uncle and cousin, and now he has a great story to tell. And I enjoyed reading it.

Next time: The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Goosebumps: Stay Out of the Basement! 

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne!

Previously On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

My first boyfriend was in first grade. His name was Michael. We went into the corner of the school and held hands and kissed. After a glorious week, we parted ways amicably. You could call it a “conscious uncoupling.” He married a friend of mine a week later in a beautiful playground ceremony. I was there, and I was happy for them.

Mary Anne’s first boyfriend isn’t as frivolous as mine, but I’m not sure how typical Mary Anne’s first boyfriend experience is to others. I’ve heard horror stories from my fellow women – their first boyfriend treated them like shit, or cheated on them, or myriad other dumb things teenage (and, let’s be honest, adult) boys do to girls. This book and Logan had me in its clutches, right up until the end, when Logan lost me with one cliche.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne! Oh, Logan. Let’s ditch this broad and run away together! I’ll get my hand stuck in a jar. You’ll get it out. It will be our thing!

The Baby-Sitters Club #10: Logan Likes Mary Anne! starts with a recap, like on X-Men: The Animated Series when Cyclops told that Storm is missing and with the Morlocs. Previously, on The Baby-Sitters Club: Dawn has a secret passage! Kristy’s mom got married! Claudia’s grandmother, Mimi, had a stroke! (Complete with Mary Anne mentioning Mimi’s accent. It’s not that big a deal, Martin. This is coming from someone whose mother has an accent.) Stacey had a crush!

During the last BSC meeting before eighth grade, the girls gush over a Sixteen magazine (a parody of Seventeen magazine) with Cam Geary, Mary Anne’s object of affection, on the cover. Apparently, young Geary is dating a 14-year-old girl with the ridiculous name Corrie Lalique. “She too old for him,” Stacey protested. Yeah, Lalique, get out of here, ya’ old maid, make way for Stacey and the other 12-year-olds.

Mary Anne carefully takes his poster out of the magazine and does something utterly disgusting with it on the first day of eighth grade:

My lunch money was in my purse, the photo of Cam Geary was folded and ready to be displayed in my locker. (That was what the gum was for. You’re not allowed to tape things up in the lockers of Stoneybrook Middle School, so a lot of kids get around that rule by sticking them up with bits of freshly chewed gum.)

That is worse than tape! It’s just tape! I’d rather have tape and tape residue than bits of chewed gum straight from some tween’s maw. Stoneybrook Middle School should reevaluate their tape policy.

At lunch, the BSC sit together, a departure from their disparate seventh-grade arrangement. This is where Mary Anne meets her Romeo.

I saw Trevor Sandbourne, one of Claudia’s old boyfriends from last year. I saw the Shillaber twins, who used to sit with Kristy and Dawn and me. They were sitting with the only set of boy twins in school. (For a moment, I thought I had double vision.) I saw Eric and Shawna from homeroom. And then I saw Cam Geary.

I nearly spit out a mouthful of milk.

“Stacey!” I whispered after I managed to swallow. “Cam Geary goes to our school! Look!”

All my friends turned to look. “Where? Where?”

“That boy?” said Stacey, smiling. “That’s not Cam Geary. That’s Logan Bruno. He’s new this year. He’s in my homeroom and my English class. I talked to him during homeroom. He used to live in Louisville, Kentucky. He has a southern accent.”

I didn’t care what he sounded like. He was the cutest boy I’d ever seen. He looked exactly like Cam Geary. I was in love with him. And because Stacey already knew so much about him, I was jealous of her. What a way to start the year.

Mary Anne falls into infatuation at first sight (love at first sight is a farce – love comes from respect and admiration, but I’ll rant about that some other time) with the new kid at school. Even though Mary Anne is jealous of Stacey at first, the jealousy recedes quickly and there is never a moment of competition over a boy between the friends. I love that. However, I don’t love Stacey’s other ideas in the book, and I don’t love Logan Bruno.

After Kristy advertises during a PTA meeting, the BSC is inundated with too many jobs, and they can’t handle all the new business. Logan offers his services – he has experience in his hometown. During his first meeting with the BSC, one of the girls mentions a bra and the mere mention of an undergarment sends the BSC and Logan into conniptions of ridiculous proportion. It’s just a word, it’s just a bra, and it’s not that big a deal – even if you are in eighth grade. It’s broken up when the BSC sends Logan on a trial run with a new client – Muriel Radowsky and her child Jackie. Mary Anne is sent to supervise Logan’s babysitting prowess.

Jackie is an energetic kid who likes grasshoppers. While he runs to get his grasshopper, Mary Anne and Logan have a moment together.

I gazed at the walls of the Rodowskys’ living room. They were covered with the boys’ artwork, professionally framed. Logan wandered over to one of the pictures – a house formed by a red square with a black triangle sitting on top of it. A green line below indicated grass, a blue line above indicated sky. A yellow sun peeked out of the corner.

“Well, what do you know,” said Logan. “We’ve got a painting just like this at our house. Only it says Logan at the bottom, not Jackie. All these years I thought it was an original.”

Okay, Logan. That was funny. Keep this charm up and I’ll understand why you stick around for the rest of the series. (He kills it in one cliche.)

Jackie tries to do a pull up on the shower curtain rod, which goes as well as expected. Then the kid spills juice. And then he gets his hand stuck in his grasshopper jar. Logan handles all these situations as well as the rest of the BSC. He ends his evaluation by remarking to Mary Anne, “You have a pretty smile.” Logan! You’ve done this before, haven’t you? (I’m telling you, this close to full charm.)

The next chapter is a handwriting chapter starring Claudia sitting for Myriah and Gabby “Gabbers” Perkins. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again – Gabbers is my favorite nickname. Claudia watches Gabby for a few hours and then has to pick up Myriah at the bus stop. Claudia gets the idea to take Chewy, the Perkins’s huge dog, with them. He gets loose and we get a string of cameos from the BSC regulars. Jamie Newton joins the chase. Mimi tries to catch the dog. Charlotte Johanssen helps out. The dog ends up in the Perkins’s backyard, but not without stealing a traffic cone.

During the next BSC meeting, the group discusses Logan’s potential admission into the club. They force Mary Anne to call him. He won’t join the club, but he does invite Mary Anne to the Remember September Dance. September remembrance is a big issue, and I’m glad that Stoneybrook Middle School wants to raise awareness to September.

Stacey sits for Charlotte and after a reading of Happy Birthday to You by Dr. Seuss, Charlotte encourages Stacey to throw a surprise party for Mary Anne.

“Really, Stacey! A surprise party. You invite all of Mary Anne’s friends to come at one time, and you invite Mary Anne for half an hour later. Then everybody hides in the dark, and when Mary Anne comes over, you switch the lights on,” (Charlotte made a great flourish with her hand), “and everybody jumps out and yells, ‘surpri-ise’!”

I know how surprise parties work, Charlotte. Mary Anne hates surprises, crowds, and attention. Stacey should know that a surprise party is the worst idea – especially since the idea came from an 8-year-old.

The BSC takes Mary Anne to the mall to get a new outfit for the dance, complete with an insane skirt.

Then Claudia handed me a full white skirt with the words Paris, Rome, and London, and sketchy pink and blue pictures of the Eiffel Tower, the Tower Bridge, and other stuff scrawled all over it. She matched it up with a pink shirt and a baggy pink sweater. I would never, ever have tried on that skirt, but with the shirt and sweater it looked really cool.

Her father drops the girls off at the school at “exactly 7:25.”

I joined my friends and we walked to the gym in a noisy bunch. We were all smoothing our hair and picking lint from our clothes and fussing with our jewelry. I thought we made a pretty good-looking group.

We’ll see about that, Mary Anne.

Claudia was wearing short, tight-fitting black pants and a big white shirt that said BE-BOP all over it in between pictures of rock and roll dancers. She had fixed a floppy blue bow in her hair.

Short pants? Like, bicycle shorts?

Stacey was wearing a white T-shirt under a hot pink jumpsuit.

A JUMPSUIT!!! A HOT PINK JUMPSUIT!!!

Dawn and Kristy looked more casual. Dawn was wearing a green and white oversized sweater and stretchy green pants.

Matchy, matchy.

Kristy was wearing a white turtleneck shirt under a pink sweater with jeans. We just couldn’t seem to get her out of her blue jeans.

So she looks like a normal person. If I saw these girls, I’d think they were having a field day from the Institute of the Fashionably Insane and Kristy was their handler.

Logan meets Mary Anne at the dance, they dance, and Mary Anne’s shoe flies off her foot. She runs away, crying and embarrassed. That’s the end of the dance, I suppose.

The next chapter is about Kristy and Dawn watching Karen, Andrew, and David Michael. The other babysitters are busy for various reasons, so Kristy is forced to either hang out with Dawn or spend the night alone. She chooses the former. A fight breaks out over a game of “Memory.” “What is ‘Memory?’” asked no one. Good thing Mary Anne is here to explain it.

I guess I should explain here how Memory is played. It’s very simple. The game consists of a big stack of cards. On each is a picture – and each card has one, and only one, matching card. The cards are laid out facedown. The players take turns turning two cards over. If someone gets a pair, he or she goes again. When all the cards have been matched up, the winner is the one with the most pairs. Simple, right?

I know how Memory works, Mary Anne. I went to public school.

Then there’s some phone tag involving Mary Anne, Stacey, Logan, and Mr. Spier’s ten minutes per call rule. He’d be one of those parents who would let his daughter have a cell phone, but it had to be a feature phone and the only number programmed into it was his.

Mary Anne shows up to Stacey’s party, and our protagonist sees her classmates doing various things, including this one:

Alan Gray had put yellow M&M’s in his eyes and was going around telling the boys he was Little Orphan Annie.

That’s it. I don’t understand the reference. Was Little Orphan Annie known for having yellow eyes? Charlotte Johanssen explained surprise parties, and Mary Anne explained Memory. Why didn’t she explain what yellow eyes have to do with Little Orphan Annie? Googling “Little Orphan Annie” and “yellow eyes” does not garner any information.

Mary Anne is having a pretty okay time, but it all goes down in flames, even for the reader.

First of all, Logan says something misogynist and shitty. I was into him. I understood what Mary Anne saw in him. I thought, “Yeah, this guy deserves to be a consistent side character with his own spin-off books.” Then he ruined it.

“If you could just open up more – I mean, be the way you are right now – people would have a much easier time getting to know you. I almost didn’t ask you to the dance, you know.”

“Why did you ask me?”

“Because you’re different from other girls. More . . . something.”

“More what?” I asked, puzzled. I really wanted to know.

“More serious. Not serious like some old professor, but serious about people. You listen to them and understand them and take them seriously. People like to be taken seriously. It makes them feel worthwhile. But you have a sense of humor, too, which is nice. The only thing is, sometimes you’re too sensitive. I really wasn’t sure things would work out between us.”

“I’ve always been too sensitive,” I told him.

Fuck you, Logan. I thought you were cool. Now you’re just like every other shitty boy. These are the reasons this passage sucked:

  1. He’s trying to tell her how to be more appealing to everyone else. It’s none of his business why she won’t open up to others, and if she doesn’t want to, she doesn’t have to. You need to accept that.
  2. “You’re not like other girls” is misogynistic and pits women against each other. Girls have traits that are different and the same. Girls are human beings, just like boys, and come in a spectrum of personalities.
  3. This also implies that other could never be sensitive, which is just not true.
  4. Don’t otherize a girl, pulling her away from the sisterhood, separating her power. And don’t pull out a desirable trait and convince her that other girls don’t have that trait. What is wrong with you?
  5. Finally, he tries to change her. So what if Mary Anne is too sensitive? It’s who she is.
    He needs to accept her for who she is, good traits, and bad ones. And when did you, teenage boy, become the All-Knowing Eye of What’s Wrong With People? How do you like it when someone criticizes you? You know what’s wrong with you, Logan Bruno? You’re a judgemental, manipulative child who should just grow up. Some girls wear bras – it’s just an article of clothing. Girls are people and come with strengths and weaknesses. Deal with it. Some girls are sensitive and serious – some aren’t. Some girls are sensitive and playful. Did I just blow your mind? Boy, bye.

End of rant.

To make things worse, Stacey brings out a cake and forces everyone to sing “Happy Birthday” at Mary Anne. That preposition is a deliberate choice on my part. No one sings that song with or to someone else – they sing it at someone. Strangers sing that aural abortion at a victim. I don’t blame Mary Anne when she runs away. She has every right to do. Stacey knows that Mary Anne doesn’t like crowds, surprises, and attention, but she still went through with this disastrous plan. You’re being inconsiderate, Stacey.

Mary Anne runs home, and the next day she convinces her father to buy a cat. I’d get her a cat, too, and make Stacey pay for it as reparation for being a bad friend. Of course, Mary Anne apologizes to Stacey for being too sensitive about the party. Mary Anne has nothing to apologize for. “Happy Birthday” sucks. Strangers singing it is worse. Attending your friend’s party is fine, you can fade into the background, but when the party is suddenly about you, it’s terrible.

In the end, the BSC throws her the party they should have thrown, Logan joins the BSC as an associate member (he isn’t required to attend the meetings, but they call him when they need another sitter), and he and Mary Anne find a cat at the shelter and name it “Tigger after the tiger in Winnie-the-Pooh.” Mary Anne could be bothered to explain the reference to Tigger, but not the Little Orphan Annie reference? So kids in the early ‘90s are supposed to know what Little Orphan Annie is, but not Winnie-the-Pooh, because I was a kid in the early ‘90s and I understood one of those, but not the other.

I wanted to enjoy this book, I really did. Mary Anne is my favorite BSC member, and still is, despite this book. I wanted to like Logan, and I liked his humor at the beginning of the book. But just like most men, the second I let him in, he lets me down with some misogynistic comment meant to drive a wedge between me and the sisterhood while insisting it’s a compliment. If that was Martin’s intent, then she did a good job, but Mary Anne should have dumped his ass. However, I don’t think that’s what Martin was trying. Mary Anne doesn’t dump him and he gets two spin-off books of his own. Mary Anne is still my favorite, but I question her taste in boys. Do better Logan. Prove to me you deserve to be with the best babysitter. You have a hundred or so books to do it.

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #11: Kristy and the Snobs

Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Bad Dreams

I was apprehensive about doing Fear Street. I have fond memories of the series, and it was included in my attempt to buy back my childhood – scouring thrift stores for books. Long before I decided to write this essay series (“Rereading My Childhood” – in case you forgot), I read Fear Street: The Stepsister. I hated that book. When I say “hate,” I mean I wanted to throw that book into a fire. I loathed every character – the sister main character who is entirely too paranoid, the inconsiderate stepsister, the fake actual sister, the dismissive mother, and the worst character in teen genre fiction history – the misogynistic father who serves no purpose other than to say creepy comments to his step-daughter and harass the mother. He should have been the killer. He should have died. However, he was not. In fact, the “twist” wasn’t really a “twist” but something so obvious I called it on the third page, making it pointless and frustrating. After reading that book (and I won’t do a Rereading of it – the thought of spending my time writing about it makes me want to destroy my computer so I have an excuse not to do it), I wasn’t sure if I could read the rest of the Fear Street series. Are they unreadable to anyone over the age of thirteen?

I still read Bad Dreams and guess what?

I liked it! Like The Stepsister, this one also features a pair of sisters who don’t get along. Unlike The Stepsister, it doesn’t feature a gross stepfather and a dismissive mother. The mother in this book is a good character, and neither sister is outwardly evil. We see our protagonist’s flaws while speaking to her sister, and her sister exhibits some petty behavior. This one also has several twists, some better than others, but the biggest one is so insane I never saw it coming. It’s not a “deus ex machina,” so I wasn’t angry. Overall, this is a solid Fear Street book that centers on some great and flawed female characters.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!!!

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My Copy of Fear Street: Bad Dreams by R. L. Stine – First of all, one of these sisters is supposed to be homely, but I see two pretty girls. Secondly, what pair of teenage girls who hate each other have matching sleeping gowns? And lastly, what is up with their hands?

Fear Street: Bad Dreams starts with a prologue in which a nameless character is murdered by her sister in her gorgeous canopy bed. It’s a creepy scene. There’s something in the shadows of the room. It’s her sister! Her sister with a knife! Her sister kills her – like straight-up knifes her. R. L. Stine is not fucking around. At least, not at the beginning.

Now we’re in the first chapter. The chapters are similar to the ones in Goosebumps – short. It seems Stine’s affinity for short chapters didn’t end with Goosebumps. The short chapters are back and shorter than ever!

We meet the Travers sisters – Maggie and Andrea and they do not get along. Maggie believes that their mother holds Andrea to a lower standard than Maggie, despite their close ages, and Andrea is jealous of Maggie’s inherent advantages in the looks department. Maggie is described as an effervescent, red-haired gorgeous teen, while Andrea is listless and dull. However, Andrea is a snob and resents moving to a poorer neighborhood after their father died and their mother was unable to maintain their lifestyle.

They reach their new house on Fear Street and Maggie’s dog, Gus, runs out into traffic, and we have our first cliffhanger. The dog is fine, of course. Stine knows better than to kill off a dog at the beginning of the novel.

The family enters their new house, and in one of the rooms, the one designated to Maggie, is a gorgeous canopy bed.

“Say, Mags,” Andrea began. “Mags, you know how I’ve always wanted an old-fashioned bed like this one, right?” Andrea bit her lip.

Here came the question Maggie had silently predicted.

Sure enough, Andrea demanded, “Can I have it?”

Can I have it? – Andrea’s four favorite words.

Andrea stared at Maggie, pleading with her eyes. Maggie lowers hers to the bed.

What should I tell her? Maggie asked herself. What should I do?

Should I avoid a fight and give it to her?

What should I say?

If Maggie had known the horrors that awaited her in the old canopy bed, her answer might have been different.

But she had no way of knowing why the bed had been left behind.

Ooh, ominous, and a proper cliffhanger ending to a chapter. Mrs. Travers decides that since it came in Maggie’s room, and since Andrea choose the larger room, that Maggie should keep the bed. To which Andrea wails, “But that’s soooo unfair!” Mrs. Travers is completely fair, but I can imagine a girl who has been coddled her entire life thinking that she should get the canopy bed and the bigger room.

Maggie complains to her inconsequential boyfriend Justin about the house, saying it looks like The Addams Family house. (Don’t drag that house – it’s a museum. It says so in the theme song, and I would love to live in a museum.) I say “inconsequential” because he doesn’t do anything. He could be cut from the book and it would have no effect on the plot, and he’s the only dude. I wish Stine cut that sausage out so the book is a pure clambake, but we live in a world in which every story has to have at least one dude. At least he’s relegated to the “girlfriend” character like women in, oh, just about every movie ever. #progress #feminism

That night, Maggie has her first nightmare involving a blonde girl, and she wakes up screaming after a chapter break. Her mother suggests that she is overcome with stress, which is a reasonable reaction, no sarcasm at all. Stress does some crazy things to people, and nightmares are a common symptom.

The next morning, Justin comes over with sponges. How romantic. They make out, and we get a daytime scare.

When the kiss ended, they were both breathless.

Maggie’s heart was thudding in her chest. She gave Justin several quick kisses on the cheek.

Then she glanced past him to the bedroom doorway.

And she saw that they were not alone.

Someone stood in the shadows, staring at them.

The girl from the dream!

No, it’s just Andrea asking for a camera. Whomp-whomp trumpet noise. This makes Andrea seem like a voyeur, like she was going to say, “Don’t let me interrupt you – I like to watch.” That would be creepier than anything in this book.

Just two pages later, Justin can’t breathe! He’s in peril!

Oh, no. He’s just having a little goof at Maggie’s expense. End of Justin’s contribution to the book. Good riddance. Begone! Go back whence you came! A football or something.

Maggie and Andrea are on the swim team and are competing with two other girls, Dawn and Tiffany, for one of two spots on the 200IM. That’s a thing, right, Stine?

Maggie was breathing hard now, and every muscle ached.

But the thought of losing hurt a lot more.

She silently commanded herself: Faster! Faster!

She pushed harder, harder – as she came to the end of the breaststroke. But then she made a poor turn at the wall.

I’ve blown it! She thought.

She had never lost a really big race before.

Could she still win? It was now or never.

Freestyle was her strongest stroke. But she had only two laps to catch up.

She felt as if she was skimming over the water. The shrill cheers and screams in the gym reached an ever higher pitch. Nearing the far wall, Maggie passed Andrea – then Tiffany.

The passage wrapped me up in the excitement. This was actual suspense – not that boring white boy feigning peril. More like this, please.

Maggie comes in first, followed by Dawn and then Tiffany with Andrea bringing up the rear. After the race, Maggie sees Dawn floating facedown in the pool. Danger? No, of course not. She’s just practicing breathing control. Then the girls laugh until the end of the chapter, where Maggie has another nightmare.

Andrea wakes her up and Maggie blames the bed for her nightmares.

Andrea stood up. She ran her finger down one of the bedposts. “See? I told you-you should’ve let me have this bed. It’s bad luck. And it’s giving you nightmares.”

Maggie stared at her as if she hadn’t heard. “The bed . . .” she said. That was it! She reached out and grabbed her sister’s hand. “Andrea, you’re right! The girl in the dream, the girl in trouble? She was sleeping in this bed!”

“That’s spooky,” Andrea admitted. “And she got . . .”

She let the question trail off. Maggie finished it for her. “Stabbed,” she murmured softly. “With a knife. Over and over. Don’t you see? I knew it was too good to be true,” Maggie moaned unhappily.

“What was?”

“The owners just leaving this beautiful bed behind. There had to be something wrong with it.”

Andrea insists the stress is getting to Maggie. Hey, Maggie? There’s a simple way to prove the bed is causing nightmares: give the bed to Andrea and see if she gets the same dreams. This isn’t complicated. Yeah, maybe your sister gets a neat canopy bed, but she might also get nightmares where nothing happens. You pass on the nightmares or you realize it’s stress and can deal with it – either way no more nightmares.

Maggie doesn’t do that. Instead, she implies that Andrea wants Maggie to be less stressed so Andrea can swim in the 200IM. They fight after Maggie’s shitty inference. Up until this exchange, Maggie has been tolerant of Andrea’s pettiness, but in this chapter, we get to see that Maggie isn’t completely innocent. Andrea was showing genuine interest in Maggie’s well-being, but Maggie had to throw in some backhanded comment. Andrea can act immature, but Maggie doesn’t act like an adult either.

The next day, Dawn falls down some stairs and breaks her arm. She thinks Maggie pushed her like Nomi in Showgirls. Maggie goes home and falls asleep on the couch. Then she goes outside and falls asleep there. She wakes up and some weird old man is staring at her.

His name is Milton Avery, and in true deus ex machina form, he and his wife tell them about the murder that happened in the house.

Mr. Avery continued. “There was a girl about your age – named Miranda. Pretty girl with blond hair.”

Miranda!

Maggie knew instantly that Miranda had to be the blond girl in her dream!

“Did Miranda live in my house?” Maggie asked eagerly.

“She and her family lived in your house, yes,” answered Mr. Avery.

“Milton, that’s enough,” Mrs. Avery spoke up.

“No, please tell me,” Maggie pleaded.

“She was killed,” the old woman blurted out. “Murdered.”

“She was stabbed,” Mr. Avery said in a hushed whisper. “Stabbed right in her own bed.”

Yeah, that was pretty obvious from the prologue, but thanks, Old Man Avery, for peeping at seventeen-year-olds, I guess. He’s probably banned from the local mall.

Maggie dreams more and mistakes common household items (a curling iron) for various murdering paraphernalia (a knife). Her mother sends her to a therapist after Maggie yells, “I’ll never calm down!” That’s a totally normal thing to say there, Mags. That’ll work.

During swim practice, Tiffany wins the 200IM. Coach pulls Maggie aside and encourages her to work things out internally, within herself, and externally, with her sister. Maggie leaves Coach’s office and finds Tiffany covered in blood. Tiffany was stabbed! But she doesn’t die so that makes the current death count for this book just one unfortunate sister during the prologue. I understand not killing off Dawn – it’s an early incident in the book and Dawn is Maggie’s best friend. Tiffany, however, is a completely expendable character who we never see again.

The novel culminates in an attic showdown, but it starts during a barbeque with the teen peepers.

I’m tired enough to go to sleep right now, Maggie decided.

I have to get to the end of the dream. I have to put this nightmare behind me.

“I’m going to get some more soda,” she lied, getting up from the table.

Everyone was staring at her. Her mom started to her feet with a worried look.

“I’m just going to the refrigerator, Mom,” Maggie said. “Chill out.”

She smiled at everyone, but she smiled too hard – which only made her feel like a lunatic.

I can imagine this unhinged, wide smiling. It’s unnerving. Maggie goes upstairs to sleep (how she planned to deal with her mother when she didn’t come back after getting a soda, I have no idea), but the canopy bed is, just like, gone. That night, Maggie finds the bed in the attic with a person asleep in the bed.

“But who are you?” Maggie demanded.

“Gena,” the girl replied. “Wasn’t I in the dream?”

“I-I don’t know,” Maggie told her. She edged toward the attic stairs.

“I’m Miranda’s sister,” the girl said angrily. “Why wasn’t I in the dream?”

After Gena murdered her sister Miranda, she lived in the attic! This bitch lived in the attic Hugo from The Simpsons style, listening to everything happening in the house. She was appearing in corners. She was stealing knives. She pushed Dawn down the stairs. She stabbed Tiffany. Why?

“But I’m going it for you, Andrea,” Gena replied, sounding hurt. “She’s mean to you. She’s mean – like Miranda.”

“For me?” Andrea cried. “What did you do for me?”

“I did everything for you,” Gena replied softly.

“I did everything for you, Andrea,” Gena continued, ignoring Maggie’s terrified cries. “I hurt those two girls for you. So you could be on the swim team.”

“You what?” Andrea shrieked.

‘Oh, no,” Maggie gasped. “She’s the one who hurt Dawn and Tiffany. I don’t believe it.”

“And I pushed the knife into your sister’s pillow, Andrea,” Gena confessed proudly. “You know. To give her a little scare. To get her ready for tonight.”

“But I don’t want you to kill her!” Andrea wailed. “Who are you? What is going on? How did you get into our house?”

“Shut up, Andrea,” Gena said softly.

She lowered her gaze to Maggie. “It’s time for mean sisters to die.”

Andrea is forced to save her sister and together they defeat Gena, tying her up and, I’m assuming, handing her over to the local law enforcement. (Does Shadybrook have a police force? They must be busy with all the disproportionate murdering and attempted murdering.) Miranda and Gena are a reflection of Andrea and Maggie. By actually confronting what their relationship could be, they are able to overcome their issues and become better sisters.

Admittedly, the twist came out of nowhere. I conjecture that the prologue was added later, but the addition rendered the teen-peepers-exposition-Averys useless.

The Averys could be cut. The boyfriend is extraneous. Tiffany should have been killed to show how close the danger is to Maggie. Despite this, I still had a great time reading it. I think my opinion is a bit skewed. The last Fear Street I read (The Stepsister) made me livid. Frankly, I was happy with the flawed female characters, and I was even happier there wasn’t a terrible, misogynistic, creepy male character. I was happy with the twist that came out of nowhere, but at least I didn’t predict it on page three. If the rest of the Fear Street books are at least as good as Bad Dreams, we’re in for a glowing series of reviews. I don’t think that will happen, but at least I’m committed, and if I hate the book, you’ll read all about it.

We’re going back to Stoneybrook next week, but the next book in the series isn’t a normal one. I’m reading The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook next time, and that should be a quick one!

Next Time On Rereading My Childhood – Fear Street: Who Killed the Homecoming Queen?

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club #8: Boy-Crazy Stacey

The neighborhood kids once feared me. When I strolled up and down the street with my dark clothes, fortune telling paraphernalia, and a book of spells under my arm, kids made way for me, for they knew they were in the presence of a powerful individual. At any moment, my eyes rolled up and I got a message from “The Other Side.” The place where mere mortals dare not tread. I saw the harbinger ghosts standing behind the other children. I tried to warn them, but they failed to heed my words. Those kids disappeared and the ones who knew to listen to me continued to exist.

At least that was how I perceived myself for a summer when I was a kid. The fortune-telling paraphernalia was a coin and a deck of playing cards. The spellbook was a child’s introduction to fortune telling and the paranormal and I had to return it to the library in four weeks. I didn’t see any ghosts – I pretended to see dead grandparents and people who died under mysterious circumstances in the neighborhood houses. If all the ghosts I claimed to see actually existed, that would mean every house in my neighborhood had at least three mysterious deaths per house. That would make the neighborhood the most dangerous neighborhood in America, but children don’t really think about statistics. The children who mysteriously disappeared just moved away.

I have always been fascinated with the paranormal or the weird. I wanted a secret passage in my house. I wanted to see a ghost. I wanted to be a part of a mystery. I still want a secret passage in my house and if I ever built my own house, I’d request a swinging bookcase. I still want to see a ghost and if something says “haunted,” I’m the first in line (I still haven’t seen a ghost). I still want to be a part of a mystery, preferably on a train.

When the baby-sitters go poking through Dawn’s house attempting to find a mystery, I smiled to myself. If I were them, I’d be the one to instigate the whole thing. The Ghost at Dawn’s House is a fun mystery book with a secret passage and a ghost. I enjoyed it, even if Nicky annoys me.

SPOILERS AFTER THE COVER!

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My copy of The Baby-Sitters Club #9: The Ghost at Dawn’s House – Ghosts are very safety conscious, we all know they require handrails in order to haunt a place.

The Baby-Sitters Club #9 – The Ghost at Dawn’s House starts with the first BSC meeting after Dawn returns from her trip to California and a little casual racism. She regales the other babysitters about her father, referring to him as “Disneyland Dad” because he took her and her younger brother Jeff to the eponymous amusement park while they were there in an attempt to make up for the time he wasn’t spending with his children. Then Dawn describes Claudia (who is Asian) as “exotic-looking.” C’mon, Dawn (actually Ann M. Martin), you’re better than that. Asians aren’t exotic – there are billions of them. There are more Asians than white people. Even more than blonde people, so, really, Dawn, you’re the exotic one.

But I guess it was the 80’s and, apparently, world statistics wasn’t invented yet, so I guess I’ll give them a pass. But seriously, this will be a recurring issue in these books. It’s nice and progressive to have an Asian character, but can we stop calling her “exotic.” If she had purple eyes, blue skin, and a proclivity for eating paste, then I’d call her “exotic.” Until Claudia exhibits something actually “exotic,” I’ll just call her “Asian-American.” But I do love that dragon bracelet!

These girls are dedicated to baby-sitting. Dawn baby-sat her father’s friend’s kids, Claudia baby-sat some kid while she was on vacation to a ski house, Kristy baby-sat her siblings, and we know who Mary Anne and Stacey baby-sat (see #8). A lot of baby-satting (this is intentional) going around.

Now that’s out of the way, we can finally get to the meaty part of the story, which starts with a stormy night at home with Dawn and Jeff. Their mother is on a date, which, for a book that describes Claudia as “exotic,” is pretty progressive. Stoneybrook has been inundated with thunder and rain, which makes Dawn nervous, especially in her home.

“I stood still and listened. I could hear little rustlings. Far away, thunder rumbled. I shivered. I love our old house and the barn, but sometimes they give me the creeps. They were built in 1795, and there’s just something spooky about a place that’s been around that long. So many people have lived here. . . . Some of them have probably died here, too. Right in the house or the barn.

This house sounds dope. I live in the west, so our haunted houses are usually from the Gunsmoke days – nothing that was around when Aaron Burr (Sir) shot Alexander Hamilton. Well, there were things, but white people came in and forced the Natives to leave while the white people tore down perfectly good structures.

The next day, Dawn invites the BSC over to, in Dawn’s exact word, “search for a hidden passage.” That’s something a group of young girls would do, especially since Dawn’s house is so old. Much to their chagrin, the girls find nothing but hijinks where they scare each other.

Now we have our first handwriting chapter. This time, it’s Mary Anne at the Perkinses – the people who purchased Kristy’s old home. Myriah is older than her sister Gabbie, who is nicknamed “The Gabbers.” That is an amazing nickname. I would love to be called “The Gabbers.” My name isn’t Gabby, but I would still love to be called “The Gabbers.”

Mary Anne is apprehensive about the Perkinses. Her best-friend, Kristy, once lived in that house. Mary Anne and Kristy used to be able to talk to each other via their bedroom windows. Now some weird family has taken over the domain that once belonged to Mary Anne’s best-friend, forcing her to use the doorbell like someone who hasn’t considered the place a second home for most of her life. She is understandably upset about this. But, being the nice responsible person that she is, Mary Anne has a good time with the girls, playing games and coloring with them. The Gabbers hands Mary Anne a picture that looks like a “huge, jumbled scribble.” Mary Anne responds in the best way:

“That’s lovely!” Mary Anne exclaimed. She was about to ask, “What is it?” when she remembered something we Baby-Sitters Club members had thought up. Instead of saying “What is it?” when we can’t tell what a picture or an art project is, we say, “Tell me about it.” That way, the kid doesn’t know we can’t tell, so his feelings aren’t hurt, and he tells us what the pictures so we don’t say anything dumb about it, like “I’ve never seen such a big elephant,” when it turns out to be a picture of the kid’s grandmother or something.
“Tell me about it,” Mary Anne said to Gabbie.

That’s some clever shit. It spares the kid embarrassment and it spares the sitter from insulting the kid.

Dawn sits for the Mob family – er, I mean, the Pikes – and learns that Nicky has a new rule where he can leave the house but can only travel as far a two-block radius around the Pike house. Nicky disappears but reappears, dirty but in one piece, after a quick search.

Dawn goes home after her babysitting scare and tries to relax by reading in the barn behind her house. She falls through a trap door and finds an actual secret passage from the barn to her room – just behind the fancy molding. She also finds three mysterious items – a button, a buckle, and a key.

I knew it. I just knew it: Our house was haunted. It was haunted by the ghost of the secret passage. No one was going to believe it, but it was true. I remembered the rapping noises I had heard the night of the storm. Now I knew what had really made them.

That’s a logical conclusion. Trash in a secret passage? It’s a ghost. Although, my first instinct was that it was a rat or some other subterranean rodent moving trash around. The automatic supernatural conclusion is something a twelve-year-old (as well as some adults who watch too many ghost hunting shows) would land on.

The next chapter is a handwriting one in which Kristy baby-sits for Karen, Andrew, and David Michael during a rainy night. Karen wants to tell scary stories, but Kristy wants to tell jokes. She proceeds to tell that stupid knock-knock joke that involves a damn banana. Martin chooses not to paraphrase the joke but to actually write out the whole joke. As if everyone hasn’t already heard that joke a million times before they enter school. I wonder if Martin had to fill a page quota and was short half a page.

Karen tells a scary story about Ben Brewer, the ghost of the third floor. It freaks out Kristy a little. The four of them (plus Boo-Boo the cat and Louie the dog) end up falling asleep together. Kristy’s brothers make fun of her, and Kristy feels silly falling asleep with her siblings, but she’s just being a good older sister, and her brothers should shut the hell up.

Back to Dawn. She tells Jeff about the secret passage from Dawn’s room one night while Dawn’s mom is out on another date (get it, guuurrrll). They find a Buffalo-head nickel and an ice cream cone. They don’t make it to the barn – they hear weird noises and run out. Ms. Schafer comes home with her date. (His name is Trip, which is a ridiculous name for a date let alone a human being.) Ms. Schafer orders her children to stay out of the passage until they can find some way to seal the openings. Her date leaves and she goes to bed.

Dawn can’t sleep, so she rummages through her mother’s things. She finds a book from her grandmother entitled A History of Stoneybrooke. Dawn flips to the conspicuously named “Legends” section of the book. Basically, some guy named Jared Mullray a long ass time ago didn’t want to leave his property and just disappeared. Dawn believes that the property Old Mullray refused to leave is her house. This leads her to another completely rational and not-at-all jumpy conclusion:

There really was a ghost in our secret passage, and that ghost was crazy Jared Mullray!

Of course he is. But he’s not malicious. There’s no record of Ol’ Jared attacking anyone, and it’s not as if he was murdered. He just didn’t want to leave. While he did disappear, there isn’t any indication of foul play or something malicious afoot. Dawn’s house doesn’t have a history of people running away or a string of suspicious accidents. The ghost, if he is haunting Dawn’s secret passage, isn’t a malevolent specter keeping people off his property, but one of those old people who won’t leave their house even though a park needs to be built in an old neighborhood and the city offered them a good sum of money. It’s his house and if he wants to stay in it and annoy everyone, he can because he’s a ghost and there’s not much you can do about a persistent ghost.

Chapter 10 is about Claudia’s baby-sitting adventure with Jamie and Lucy Newton. Lucy goes to sleep immediately, but Jamie attempts to stay up later with kid shenanigans, like asking for more stories and water. He eventually goes to sleep.

Dawn invites Mary Anne over and we have the first mention of “Cam Geary” the “Corey Haim/Feldman” of the BSC universe. That person might be Justin Bieber for a younger person. For my sister, he was Nick Carter of the Backstreet Boys. It was Jonathan Taylor Thomas for me. For Mary Anne Spier, it’s Cam Geary.

After looking at the teen heartthrob in Tiger Beat or Bop or Tiger Bop, (whatever the kids are reading) Dawn invites Mary Anne into the secret passage. The girls are attacked by a flying book and they run away.

Stacey is babysitting a few of the Pike children. Margo and Vanessa use some crazy shampoo on Claire. Meanwhile, Nicky disappears. Stacey asks Dawn for help finding the second most annoying Pike child (the first is still Claire and her “silly phase” which is just an “annoying phase”). Dawn finds Nicky covered in mud near her house, which at the edge of Nicky’s two-block wandering maximum.

Now to the climax. Mallory and Dawn are watching the Pike boys. Nicky gets into a fight with the triplets during a bizarre lunch that involves pregnant woman food combinations and juvenile attempts at humor. Nicky runs away and Mallory scolds the triplets. Dawn finds Nicky in the secret passage. Nicky was the one who left the food, the buckle, the key, and all the other bric-a-brac in the passage. He also tapped on Dawn’s walls and made her think it was a ghost. They share a tender moment before heading back.

The book ends with the BSC having a slumber party at Dawn’s house where they watch a ghost fellate a man and Anthony Michael Hall rape a woman while a racist Orientalist stereotype terrorizes a small town (they watch Ghostbusters and Sixteen Candles – I love those movies, especially Sixteen Candles, but let’s not overlook the more problematic and unpleasant aspects of those movies). Stacey and Dawn are left out of the junk food buffet and play a prank on the rest of the club.

I enjoyed The Ghost at Dawn’s House. It was a predecessor to the beloved The Baby-Sitters Club Mystery books (I remember loving the Mystery series, we’ll see if they hold up when I get those). Nicky gets on my nerves, but I have a short fuse when it comes to children. I know that’s odd considering I’m rereading a book series about children watching over children. Maybe I’ll learn to love Nicky and Claire and the other Pike children as the series continues. For now, I’m happy with the mysteries that surround Stoneybrooke. And just because Nicky was the ghost this time, doesn’t mean there isn’t a curmudgeon who refused to leave his property a million years ago haunting Dawn’s house, or that any other houses in Stoneybrooke don’t contain a paranormal enigma waiting for the BSC to solve.

Rereading My Childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club Notebook

Rereading My Childhood: An Introduction

Two years ago, my father passed away. My mother couldn’t pay all the bills without assistance, so my partner and I moved in with her. It was a good situation for everyone involved – my mother received help and the new arrangement alleviated our bills. At the same time, Jon’s job situation stabilized due to the new, optimistic Obama economy (we were so happy before the Orange Menace).

For the first time in years, we had disposable income. I was also spending time with my mother browsing thrift stores, a hobby I forgot I enjoyed. At a Savers, I found a stack of my missed childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin. The rush of memories from those years I spent with Kristy, Claudia, Stacy, Jessi, Mallory, Dawn, Abby, and, my favorite, Mary Anne grabbed me. Along with my newfound disposable income, I couldn’t resist. I purchased the whole stack. I had done what any adult does when they have extra money – I bought back my childhood – or more accurately, I bought the childhood I wished I had.

I didn’t own every The Baby-Sitters Club book, but I had a significant collection. I was a part of the fan club. I played that CD-ROM game every day. I begged for a new book each month. I kept a The Baby-Sitters Club diary. I even wrote a letter to Ann M. Martin and received a bookmark and a form letter in return. It was my prized possession.

Unfortunately, there came a time when I wanted to eschew every remnant of my childhood in an attempt to mature. I gave away my collection of The Baby-Sitters Club memorabilia to a friend. I donated my Goosebumps books and I started reading Fear Street.

Now, fifteen odd years later, I scour used bookstores and thrift stores looking for The Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street books.

Now, why do I want to review something I once loved? Why do I want to tear apart the series and authors who made up my childhood and shaped who I am today?

Simple. Exercise and nostalgia.

I want to exercise my writing skills. I want to create a portfolio with work I can be proud of and the only way to do that is to write.

And as for nostalgia – it’s something I don’t revere. Nostalgia is looking back with a skewed sense. It ignores the problems and we end up pining for a time that will never return and wasn’t that great in the first place. I’ve read a few of the early The Baby-Sitters Club books and, frankly, some of them are sub-par. It’s important for me to see that. I believe people need to be reminded that the past wasn’t always perfect.

But there is also a lot of good to be lauded and re-appreciated. The babysitters are surprisingly mature for their ages. In The Baby-Sitters Club #6: Kristy’s Big Day, the BSC start a summer day camp that is surprisingly efficient and organized. They also solve problems with thoughtful ways.

I look forward to rediscovering the crying, laughter, fear, unexpected wisdom as well as the problems in the books that shaped my childhood – The Baby-Sitters Club by Ann M. Martin, and Fear Street and Goosebumps by R. L. Stine. I’m excited to share my childhood with everyone.

 

#1 – A Night In Malba Tower

A loud shriek stole Rina’s attention away from the rolling hills of Neirun. She shot up from her train seat as a human-like figure of dull white bolted down the train aisle. Red dripped from the place its face would have been. Instead of a face, it had a blank flat surface with a two black holes instead of eyes. It clutched a bloodstained club in its right hand and a necklace with purple and white jewels in the other. Blood covered its legs and pieces of brain and viscera clung from the bottoms of its pants.

Rina recognized it as an “Inisto” – a Clan-class demon common to Neirun. If she could defeat it and obtain its soul, she could turn it in for a good amount of money and she needed the money. Maybe she could even negotiate another train ticket from the conductor for saving his train. Most importantly, she trained at The Exterminator Academy for years after learning she was born with special abilities to fight demons and protect ordinary people and she couldn’t let that training and education go to waste.

As the inisto ran past, she hooked her arms around its neck and demanded, “You have one chance – drop the necklace and surrender.”

It tried to smash its club into her arm, but kept missing as she kicked the back of its legs. She punched the back of its head. It fell backwards, slamming her into the floor as hard as it could. Pain shot through her spine. She let go. It scrambled to its feet and ran into another car.

Rina shook her head, lifted herself up, and pursued the demon.

It ran through a dining car. Passengers screamed as it grabbed the plates from their tables and flung the objects at Rina. She dodged the plates, but some of the food hit her eyes. She wiped the thick molasses off and saw a knife hurdling toward her face. A small fireball came from her hand and pushed the knife to the side, embedding it into the side of the train car. Rina hated using her powers – each fireball she shot aged her. The small fireball she shot was probably worth only a minute of life, but those fireballs could add up and she couldn’t die anytime soon.

The inisto burst through the door and climbed up the side of the next car. Rina had to follow to the top. She finally drew her weapons, two bolo (machetes, as the Labans called them) – she didn’t have to worry about innocent bystanders getting sliced.

The demon charged at her as it raised its mace. She blocked with her left bolo and swung with her right. It dodged. She kicked its legs, knocking it off balance. Then she bashed its wrist with the pommel of her weapon. It dropped the mace and the weapon flew off the side of the car.

“Hand. . . over. . . the necklace!” she demanded again, screaming over the wind and between tired breaths.

It ran again. She still chased after it, the wind lapping against her face. She was happy she kept her brown hair short, despite Laban beauty standards that dictated long, yellow hair for everyone – even foreigners like herself.

The inisto stopped on top of the animal train – the last train. It threw another knife, but she saw it fly through the wind and she easily batted it away with the weapon in her right hand. She watched it clamor off the train. However, she didn’t see the third one, which sliced into her left cheek. She already had two deep scars on her cheeks, so the sensation of pierced face flesh was familiar to her. She touched the tip with her tongue and she tasted cold steel and copper blood. Then, she yanked the knife from her face. Blood poured down her jaw. She looked at the demon with fire in her eyes. She heated her hand with her abilities and cauterized the wound. It wasn’t the first time she had done that – there was a large scar from thigh to ankle on her right leg – but it wasn’t something she enjoyed. The sensation brought renewed determination.

A friendly howl she knew well echoed from the train. The other animals whinnied and rocked the caboose. The demon fell off the side, but held onto the car window. Rina ran along the roof and then jumped into its back, sending the both of them tumbling into the animal car.

A horse-sized, blue wolf with yellow fangs dripping with saliva growled at the demon. It pounced, sinking its teeth into the demon’s neck. The inisto twitched then, a few moments later, the demon stopped and disintegrated into white wisps, leaving behind a small, gray marble and a necklace with purple and white jewels. Rina sheathed her weapons.

The wolf’s licked Rina’s face, morphing from attack mode to friendly. She laughed and rubbed the dog’s head. She looked into the dog’s big, black eyes and said, “My reliable partner, Saby-Baby! Such a good girl. When we get to Frazier, I’m going to buy you a big piece of fish.”

She picked up the marble and the necklace and strolled into the next car, her head held high. She was greeted by the conductor and a woman who lacked laugh lines. She held out the necklace in one hand and showed off the marble with the other. She expected the conductor to thank her. He did not.

The woman howled, “She’s bleeding all over my necklace! My necklace! Tarnished by foreign blood!”

Rina looked at her hands. There wasn’t that much blood – certainly not enough to scream over. The conductor snatched the necklace and the marble.

“Hey!” she snapped. “That demon soul is mine!”

The conductor, the epitome of Laban upbringing with his ivory skin, bright yellow hair, and a thick mustache, waved his finger in her face. “It is not yours! Any demon souls that were not previously with a passenger when they entered the train are the property of the Laban Foreign Transport Company. Did you have that demon soul when you entered the train?”

“When I stepped out of the stable car and into this car I had the soul,” Rina answered sheepishly.

“Clever,” the conductor flatly said. “We will give you an extra drink of tea for dealing with the demon, thank you very much.”

“An extra drink? Oh, my dreams have come true. Can I choose the flavor and everything?”

“You may choose from whatever is left. Now, I have a mess to clean up. Good day.”

“A mess? That’s what you call a dead person!?” she exclaimed. She muttered under her breath, “Maybe he was brown like me.”

She plopped down by a nearby window, curled up on her seat, and stared out across the verdant hills. Her instructors warned her about life as a Cross Border Exterminator. They told her about how Cross Border Exterminators had a reputation for being exiled from their native countries and that’s why they chose to wander to other countries. They told her about how they were perceived to be vagrants and that the countries closest to Laban were the worst. Those countries believed they could be free of demons, like Laban, if they were as dedicated to the Eternal God as the Laban Empire. When they saw an exterminator, it meant that they were still under threat of demon attacks.

Maybe it was time to throw her hands into the air and give up on helping others. She could hunt demons by day, and search for the Crystals of Xiyuba by night. The money wouldn’t be as good, but it was better than dealing with ungrateful, pale-skinned aristocrats. Just until she found the Neirun crystal and could move onto the next country.

“A moment please,” a strong voice broke her seething.

A poised adolescent covered in sapphire and amethyst garments stood in the aisle beside her. Before she could speak, the teenager said, “I apologize for my insolent mother.”

“It’s fine, I’m used to it,” Rina mumbled.

“But you shouldn’t be. It was my necklace you retrieved and I would like to formally thank you.” The young woman bowed. “With my father’s passing, I am now the Lord of Willelmus. Mother is just annoyed that he left the position to me. If you ever find yourself in South Laban, I will hold a gala in your honor.” She bowed once more, handed Rina a small card with the official seal of Willelmus, South Laban, turned on her heel, and left as quickly and quietly as she arrived.

Maybe Rina would still protect those around her – after all, it was the best way to earn a living.

The train stopped in Frazier – a small farming town in the middle of Neirun’s most fertile land. Rina heard people peddling their fresh produce the moment she stepped onto the platform. She ambled toward the back of the train along the platform as she glanced at the food stands. She got to the animal caboose and noticed a butcher with meat on ice. She purchased a whole fish and some jerky. The butcher offered to filet and clean the fish. She declined – that would be extra money that she just didn’t own – especially after she a transportation conglomerate subsidized by the Laban government seized her demon soul. She didn’t even want to buy the fish, but a Rina promised Saby.

When it was Saby’s turn to leave the stable car, the conductor lead the horse-sized blue dog by a leash, checked Rina’s ticket, and then handed the reins to her. Saby licked Rina. She unhooked the reins and gave them back to the conductor and then gave the dog the fish.

Rina sat down on a bench and Saby curled up at her feet. They ate as the train boarded for its next stop. Some kids smiled and pointed at Saby. Rina waved and smiled back. The children’s’ parents yanked their arms in an attempt to divert their attention. Tatlo canines intimidated the Labans, who were accustomed to their horses. In fact, Tatlo canines were more domesticated than horses; canines responded to their owners with loyalty and respect, whereas horses were stubborn and fickle. Still, the Labans just saw the fangs and colors they deemed unnatural and dangerous.

Of course, every Tatlo canine had their own personality and Saby was no exception. Rina met Saby when the dog was just a puppy and Rina was thirteen. She had just finished primary school and was entering the apprentice phase of her education. Most Islanders apprentice in several different areas, spending a few months teaching younger children how to read, then another few months learning to cook a full lunch service in a restaurant, and then another few months taking notes for officials in government. Rina knew she wanted to make boats and never thought about any other career. On her first day, the boatmaker’s Tatlo canine gave birth to a litter of puppies. Rina was smitten with the last one born – the runt. As soon as the dog was weaned, he gave it to Rina as a gift for enthusiastic apprenticeship. The boatmaker didn’t think the dog would make it a month, but the dog made it past a year and even came to the Extermination Academy with Rina. Years later, she ate fish at Rina’s feet and was an accomplished demon hunter in her own right.

“You the Exterminator?” Rina heard as she took the last bite of her jerky and swallowed.

She saw a yellow-haired man heading toward her. He was clearly from Laban, or his parents were Labans and he was born in Neirun. Either way, he had some proud lineage he bragged about at parties and the traditional features to prove it. He had sparkling blue eyes, a strong jaw, and toned muscles that bulged under his shirt. His gauntlets were made of pure metal and engraved with intricate symbols and patterns.

Rina stood up and said, “Dragon.”

He replied, “Horse.” He grinned as if he expected an award.

Rina nodded. Lightning manipulation. “Name?”

“Geoffrey. Geoffrey Frazier. Yes, that Frazier. My family established this community seven generations ago.” He offered that with no prompting. He saw Saby. “Is this your, um, steed? Must she accompany us?”

“She must,” Rina mocked. “We’re a package deal. If you don’t want my help, then I can get on the next train,” she trailed off, remembering how much money she had left. “I can walk right out of town.”

He looked away and muttered under his breath. Then, he turned back to her and said, “Fine. But your steed must stay in the stables.”

“As long as she is treated well and as if she were a horse,” Rina demanded.

He acquiesced.

They reached the hitching post and he mounted a brown horse covered in fine, orange robes and a saddle made of supple leather. He led Rina and Saby as he updated her on their mission. Langley Malba was the mayor of Frazier, who was a friend who married into the Frazier family through Geoffrey’s mother’s sister, and owner of a mansion just outside the city. Every new moon, a demon has attacked him, demanding him to offer the village people as sacrifices. He has refused each time, instead of allowing the demon to steal blood from his body. He has become sickly and will not survive another night. Every Exterminator who has wrestled with the demon has been killed. Now they were desperate enough to contact outside Exterminators. Rina wasn’t the first, but Geoffrey hoped she would be the last. Rina wasn’t sure if his desire for her success was due to genuine concern for his uncle’s health, or he just didn’t want to deal with foreigners anymore. She suspected it was a combination of both.

Geoffrey said, “Even though he has a debilitating disease, he still sacrifices himself for his people. He is truly wonderful.”

“What kind of demon is it?” Rina asked.

“What do you mean?”

“What species? Humanoid or beast? Clan-class or Named?”

“If it were just a clan-class demon, I wouldn’t have called a Cross Border Exterminator,” he said with disdain.

Rina brushed off the comment. There was no point in starting an argument that would inevitably end with neither party gaining anything except animosity. The rest of the ride was welcome silence. It was the first time Geoffrey stopped talking long enough for Rina to appreciate the perfect rows of farms that surrounded the road. It reminded Rina of the rice farms carved into the mountains of Tatlo. For a moment, she longed to go home, but she immediately remembered the amalgam of anger, sadness, fear, and blood that drove her away. She couldn’t go home until she completed her mission.

Langley Malba’s chateau swallowed the hill it was on as Rina rode toward it. A massive rock wall surrounded the building and the white building reflected the sun’s rays like a beacon. Rina and Geoffrey came to a wrought-iron gate and a door man. He let them in when he saw Geoffrey.

Just inside the walls, a lush garden with a cobblestone path lead to a door that was at least two stories tall and carved out of a thick wood. A row of identically dressed servants stood expressionless. When they saw Saby, a few grimaced. The door opened and three people stepped out.

The first was a young woman in the latest Neirun fashion – a blue dress with black lace that draped around her to elongate her legs and poof out the back side. She had a small valise at her side that was emblazoned with a circle within a square within a triangle within another circle – a symbol Rina saw in an alchemical text in a class she took years before. When Rina got a closer look at her, she suspected she wasn’t from Neirun or Laban, but from a western country – Chaegseom, Yamasora, or Taoshing. The young woman’s eyes lit up when she saw Saby and she clasped her hands together and smiled at Rina, who smiled back in surprise.

The other person was obviously Langley Malba. He wore a golden outfit with a silk brocade, fur lined cape. His hands were covered in gauntlets that were identical to Geoffrey’s. He held a scepter with an egg shaped hunk of ruby at the top. A servant, who was dressed like the others, trailed behind him, holding the bottom of the cape up from the ground. Rina locked eyes with the waif of a woman for a moment before the woman frowned and looked down again. Rina learned later that her name was Alice and she was the executive assistant to Malba.

Geoffrey hopped off his horse and embraced the portly man. “It’s been too long, uncle!”

“My wonderful nephew!” Malba replied. “Everyone! Greet my nephew! Isn’t my nephew great! The best nephew.” He didn’t seem sick to Rina.

The servants kept their heads bowed slightly. Malba glanced at Rina, who hadn’t moved from her canine.

“Is this the Exterminator?” he asked Geoffrey.

“It is,” he answered.

“I am,” Rina added in case Malba thought she was a figment of his imagination.

“A foreigner!” Malba exclaimed. “I’m so good to my foreigners. I give them jobs. Like I’m giving you a job.” He looked at Saby. “Lovely pet. Very big. Very blue. I have the best stables. Your dog will love my stables. I’ll even treat it just like a horse. Get off and let one of my people lead your horse. We’ll have a feast! I have this great feast prepared. Really great. A tremendous feast. The best feast.”

Rina stepped off Saby as his mouth flapped. When he was finished, she said, “I would prefer to see the stables before I settle in.”

“My people are great, I assure you. Your dog will be treated greatly.”

“I’m not doubting your people but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to want to see the living space.”

The western woman, the one whose eyes lit up when she saw Saby, stepped forward. “Master Malba, I would be happy to show her the stables.”

“No, you must change for the feast,” he replied. He turned to the lady behind him and called, “Alice! Show her the stables. Then her room.”

The woman who carried his robe said, “If I do that, I can’t carry Master’s cape. And it will get dirty.”

Langley smiled, “See this? This is loyalty. She cares about me so much that she cares about my clothes, too. See? I’m great to my people. Tremendous people. You should get some nice clothes, too.” He motioned toward Rina.

“My clothes are fine,” Rina replied.

“But you’ve been wearing those for so long. Seems like you have. They are rags! I have the best tailors, they can find you the best clothes! Even with your interesting body type. Cover up those scars. And makeup. The best makeup people. They could probably do something with those scars on your face. You might have a great face under there if we can cover up those scars. You want to cover up those things on your cheeks, don’t you?”

It was going to be a long night.

“I really don’t mind, Master,” the impeccably dressed western woman offered. “I would like to show her the stables.”

“You know what?” he said to no one in particular. “Sure! You can do it. See how good I am to my people. I think it’s wonderful that you’ve taken an interest in our new guest. My people are great. They work for me. They do great things for me. And I pay them. And well. I pay them well. I’ll see you at dinner.”

Rina hopped down from Saby as the rest of the staff went inside. The woman took Geoffrey’s horse by the reigns.

The woman said, “I’m Sung-” she stopped abruptly, laughed nervously, and then tried again. “I’m Yu Jie Sung. And your name is?”

“Rina Castro.”

“And who is your companion?” she asked as she held out her hand for the dog to sniff.

“This is Saby.”

Yu Jie stroked Saby’s fur. Saby panted and licked Yu Jie’s hand. To Rina’s surprise, Yu Jie giggled and didn’t scream in disgust.

“Have you seen a Tatlo canine before?”

“No,” Yu Jie answered. “But I’ve read about them in books. I’ve always wanted to meet one. It’s not the same, you know. Some books say they’re mean and ferocious. The other books – the ones written by actual Islanders – praise their loyalty and intelligence and strength and personality. They’re probably only mean to people who are mean to them. I can’t blame them if that’s the case. It must be nice to have a companion that always has your back.”

Rina smiled.

“If you don’t mind, I would like to take you through the bird pond. It’s exquisite. And you can see it from your bedroom window. I have to feed the birds and they let me have some of their plumage. It’s a symbiotic relationship.”

“You’re the first person to smile at me today. I’ll follow wherever you go.”

Yu Jie called it a pond, but it was bigger than a pond. Swans, ducks, and geese floated on the water and congregated on an island in the middle. The shore birds had plumage that showed a spectrum of brilliant colors. Yellows as bright as the sun, blues that matched the crystal water, and purples that were resplendent in the light despite their darkness.

“These birds can’t swim, so they stay here,” she said as she bent down. She opened her pack with the alchemical symbol. “They’re called ‘estas.’ I like to feed them. Just these ones. The ones on the island are jerks.” She pulled out a clear mason jar with some seeds inside. “They’ll eat anything, really, but if I give them some szakall seeds, they’ll drop their feathers.” She pointed up with her other hand to a window. “That’s your room. If you have extra food, would you just throw it down here? The more they eat, the more brilliant their feathers get. The more brilliant their feathers get, the more potent the ingredients.”

The bird shivered and shook off a few feathers that fell to the ground. Yu Jie threw out more feed as the estas ate, shivered, and dropped feathers. Then, she took the mason jar that once held the feed, dumped the rest of the contents, and stuffed the feathers inside. Then she opened her bag again, took out three more jars, each with different colored fluids.

“You’re the first exterminator to speak to me,” she admitted as she mixed the fluids, her hands a blur with speed and precision. “The other ones ignore me. The first ones I spoke to, after I came here, they were all from Neirun. Then they started coming from other places. But they didn’t say much either. Also, they all die eventually.” She paused for a moment, then said, “I’d prefer it if you didn’t die since you’re the first one who has spoken to me. And you have a canine. I don’t want to deal with a Tatlo canine whose owner has died. I read that it is unpleasant. Maybe you should just turn around and leave.”

“Leave? What about the demon?” Rina thought about her pay.

“I shouldn’t say anything. Master Malba has given me a job and a purpose. But something is wrong.”

That was Rina’s opening, an opportunity for information. “Just because someone gives you a job doesn’t mean you have to be loyal no matter what. And I might be able to help if someone would talk to me.”

Yu Jie stood up. She clutched the jar of swirling colors. “The birds are attention grabbers and their feathers make an attention grabbing potion. It’ll direct your notice toward important things, like if the demon makes an appearance. It doesn’t last long, though. Only a few hours, but it might be good for tonight. That’s why I need their feathers. I sometimes use this potion while I’m studying. I spend most of my time studying.” She placed the potion in Rina’s hand. “Come, we have to drop off your canine.”

They walked along the path toward the back of the mansion.

Yu Jie started. “I don’t think there is a demon, but Master Malba isn’t well. I think he’s ill. He hired me to find a cure.”

“An illness? Psychological or physical? Geoffrey mentioned an illness, but he said it was due to the demon.”

Yu Jie looked away for a moment and then said, “It could be. He hired me to find a cure for aging. I’ve heard the staff whisper that he might be losing his mind in his old age, forgetting things, making irrational decisions, calling staff by other names. He brings me jar after jar of baby animal blood from the stables. He is convinced that is the key for his illness is blood. But I haven’t found any proof of that theory in any of the alchemy books – and the alchemy books here are abundant. So I don’t know where he got the idea that blood is the key to longevity. It must come from his insanity.” Yu Jie pointed to the distance. “Look, the stables. They’re quite nice. You know, they were erected just a few years ago…” She trailed off. Rina got the hint and didn’t ask her about the demon or Malba anymore.

Once again, Rina knew that it was going to be a long night, but she could sleep better knowing that Saby’s accommodations were next to the stables and were as clean and beautiful as the rest of the grounds.

The silver tray that contained Rina’s dinner sat undisturbed by the door. Rina chose to eat in her room, instead of the dining hall. She didn’t want to wear the garish garments that Malba provided and she certainly didn’t want to eat meat after she thought about jars of baby animal blood that Yu Jie must have in her quarters. Instead, she opened her window and threw the food out to the brilliant birds in the yard. She wondered if she could see Yu Jie’s window if she stuck her head out and looked up.

She closed her window and thought about what she should do before patrolling. She sharpened her weapons, did some stretches, and consulted her demonic almanac. Then, she splayed out on the bed and stretched her arms and legs as far as they could go. She never expected good days, but that day had been especially trying, except for her time with Yu Jie. After she dropped off Saby, she tried to speak with the other servants. Most of them brushed past her instead of stopping. A few said they had to get back to work. Alice even said, “I have more important things to do than to speak with a foreigner.”

She pulled herself from the bed and drank the potion. She planned to go on patrol, but the bed felt inviting beneath her. The full bed had proper stuffing and a lush, fur blanket. The pillow formed around her ears, creating soft, inviting silence. She was accustomed to small train benches or camping with Saby. She loved Saby – the dog had the fluffiest fur and constant warmth – but she missed a bed with a mattress that contoured to her back.

She fell asleep so suddenly she couldn’t stop herself. She saw a crystal blue ocean and smelled the salt. She felt the warm sand between her fingers as the wind blew through her hair. Her brother and sister bolted from behind her, across the sand, and into the ocean. They waved at her and she waved back. She tried to stand, but her inchoate legs kept her grounded. A pair of strong arms scooped her up. Her father nuzzled her cheek. Her mother came up behind him and pressed her lips to the back of Rina’s head.

Her siblings froze and slowed, grinned wide as the red crept up behind them. Rina tried to scream, but couldn’t. She turned to her father. Red dripped from his eyes. He dropped Rina. The sand morphed into cutting rocks. The red absorbed her father. Her mother’s face contorted into a silent scream as the red covered her legs. She clawed at the rocks, but her hands scraped against the jagged edges, shredding her hands until the red finally took her. It ate her family. It was eating the beach. It was going to eat her. She tried to run, but her legs refused to move. She dragged herself and the red nipped at her feet, swallowing her body like a whirlpool in the middle of a putrid ocean of blood and bile.

Before it could consume her face, Rina jolted awake and saw Alice hovering above her with a knife in her hand. The knife came down, but Rina jumped out of the way. In a quick set of moves, she kicked the knife from Alice’s hand, grabbed her wrist, and spun her around. Then, she pinned her would-be assassin to the wall.

“You were supposed to be drugged!” Alice cried.

“You drugged me?” Rina asked as she ripped a silver cord that dangled from the canopy over the bed. “Good thing I wasn’t hungry.” She tied Alice’s hands behind her back.

“I won’t talk,” Alice insisted. “Anything you do to me won’t be as bad as what the Master will do.”

Rina spun her around. “Well, I was thinking that only you hated me, but bringing up Malba makes me think he has something to do with this. Would you still like to talk?”

Alice kept her mouth shut.

“That’s what I thought. Let’s go pay your ‘Master’ a visit.”

Rina strapped her weapons to her back and pulled Alice by the rope. Alice followed compliantly. Rina was thankful for that – she didn’t want to drag her. She knew how it felt to be dragged and she didn’t want to inflict that feeling on another person. She didn’t even want to bring the frail woman, but she couldn’t risk Alice escaping her binds and attacking Rina again.

At the top floor, a golden hallway with matching statues led to a set of double doors with a gaudy carving of soldiers conquering a giant dragon. Rina kicked the doors open. Malba and Geoffrey’s heads popped up from under the silk sheets of an orange bed with a roof. They scrambled when they saw her, grabbing robes and fabrics from the bed.

“You’re supposed to be dead!” Malba exclaimed.

“I don’t have to ask questions!” Rina scoffed. “Everyone just says stuff.”

Geoffrey didn’t any anything. He rushed Rina. She sidestepped him. He cocked his arm back as his temporary clothing fell. Rina looked down, distracted. He punched her left shoulder. Pain shot through her arm. He was serious. He kept attacking and Rina kept blocking. He had a clear strength advantage.

Rina had to use her abilities or draw her weapon.

Geoffrey’s hand sparked and crackled with his lightning abilities. Rina responded in kind – red flames engulfed her hands. He sent lightning at her. She dodged and threw fire. He yelped as his chest hair singed and he patted the flames down. A small taste of Rina’s abilities.

He grabbed the rope still tied around Alice’s hands and yanked her in front of him. A human shield.

“Seriously?” Rina cried as she raised a wall of flame as he shot lightning at her.

“Alice would gladly die for her Master!” Malba said.

The doors burst open. Yu Jie rode Saby into the middle of the room. Rina and Yu Jie locked eyes. Rina covered her ears. Yu Jie copied her. Saby howled, piercing the ears of Geoffrey, Malba, and Alice. They tumbled to the ground. Saby bit Geoffrey’s arm and flung him across the room. He crashed into a table and didn’t get up.

Alice made a break for the door. Yu Jie jumped off Saby and threw a vial at Alice. It trapped her in an invisible box. The maid pounded at the air like a mime.

Rina turned her attention to Malba. “Talk,” she demanded, her outstretched hand engulfed in flames.

“I have nothing to say to a disgusting foreign bitch,” he replied. He crossed his arms like a petulant child.

“Fine. Don’t talk. I don’t think you’re the mastermind anyway. This was clearly the work of,” Rina paused dramatically and pointed at Yu Jie. “The Tao Alchemist Yu Jie! The true mastermind behind this whole situation! How else would she know to come here?”

Rina winked at Yu Jie.

The alchemist caught on. “Yes! Twas I the whole time! Malba is too stupid to orchestrate such a long running conspiracy!”

Rina mouthed “twas” in confusion. Yu Jie nervously shrugged. Malba didn’t see the exchange.

“That westerner isn’t smart enough to even find a cure for aging!” Malba raged. “How could she possibly plan anything? I contacted the academy each time. I specifically requested foreign exterminators. I consorted with the demon who told me the key to eternal youth was your blood!” He pointed at Rina.

“My blood? Or exterminator blood?”

“I thought it was animal blood?” Yue Jie cried.

“I lied!” Malba said. “I wanted you to do what I say so I lied. It was easier that way. Say it was baby animal’s blood. Every jar I gave you was the drained blood of the exterminators I had killed!”

“That’s reprehensible!” Yu Jie cried.

“Why should they have eternal youth?” Malba pointed at Rina.

“They don’t have eternal youth!” Yu Jie replied. “They sacrifice their youth every time they use their powers.”

“You don’t use your abilities, you don’t age. Only for a few individuals born with it? I don’t want to age. I want to live forever. I deserve it. I provided jobs to these people. I pay for their food. I pay for their livelihood. I deserve to shoot fire from my hands and live forever.”

“You pay for our food?” Yu Jie asked.

“I give you a paycheck, which pays for your food. I do it for all my employees. I pay for their livelihood. For their food. For their comfort. Me. Me. Me. I do. Not directly. But I still do. I deserve to live forever. I’m a job creator. I’m smart enough to make money! I’m a businessman! This world needs me forever! Who else is going to create jobs? Only I can create jobs. I deserve eternal youth! They shouldn’t have something that I can’t have!”

Rina rubbed her temples to alleviate her headache. “You have been luring foreign exterminators here under the false pretense of a demon. Then you have your maid kill them and drain their blood. Then you pretend the blood is from animals and give it to Yu Jie to research anti-aging based on a rumor you heard from a demon. All because you think you deserve to live forever because you pay your employees for their work?”

“Yes! I’m a really smart person! I am the greatest servant for Laban and I deserve the best.”

“You’re a crazy person,” Rina said as she walked toward the door with Saby at her side. “I’m leaving and I’m telling the Academy not to send any more exterminators here. Find another way to get your blood.”

“I will find another way!” Malba growled. “I have infinite resources.”

Yu Jie stepped in the doorway. “He should be in prison for murder! Incarceration.”

Rina looked at Alice, who was still trapped in a box. “How long will she be in there?”

“A few hours. Why?”

“You have more of those?”

Yu Jie handed three vials to Rina, who only two took two. She threw one at Malba, trapping him in his bed. Then she threw the other one at Geoffrey, who was showing signs of awakening.

“That’s their prison,” Rina said as she shut the door behind her.

“We need to alert the authorities!” Yu Jie said.

“We need to get you out of here, first. Can you pack fast?”

“He can’t get away with this. He just can’t.”

Rina stopped and gripped Yu Jie’s shoulders. “He is going to get away with this. He isn’t going to jail.”

“People go to prison for murder. That’s why we have prisons.”

“Poor people go to prison for murder. Rich people don’t go to prison for any reason, no matter how heinous their crime is or how stupid they are. But we can do something. We can live. We can survive.” Rina let go of Yu Ji. The alchemist stood there, mouth agape. Then, Rina added, “We can survive if only to spite them.”

Yu Jie watched Rina’s back until the Exterminator and her steed shrunk into a tiny speck, following the road beside the train tracks toward the next city in Neirun – the old capital city of Danoub. Yu Jie waited for the train that was traveling in the opposite direction – back toward the west, back toward her family, and back toward the people who rejected her.

Her valise was packed with her favorite book, “Plants and Their Properties” by Zelma Pear, which was the consummate manual on Tryona’s flora, a few empty bottles, some healing potions, some offensive potions, two sets of clothes, her papers, her money, and as many herbs as she could carry. She had to leave the rest of her books, her beautiful clothes, and her other tools. She was never going to see those items again.

She knew what she was doing when she decided to help Rina, but she didn’t think she’d feel as alone as she did among the strangers on the train platform, waiting for the first train of the morning as the sun rose.

Earlier that night, she opened her window to feed the estas, but found the birds collapsed on the ground. She put a few Temporary Box potions in her pockets, in case she had to fight whatever killed the estas she enjoyed observing every day. She ran outside and found pieces of chicken. She glanced at Rina’s window. She saw the shadow of someone and then she heard the struggle. Yu Jie assumed it was the demon.

She bolted to the stables to find Rina’s giant dog companion.

Rina was the first person Yu Jie liked since leaving Taoshing. She treated her like a human. She treated her like the talented lady alchemist that Yu Jie always wanted to be since she learned about alchemy from her favorite tutor.

Rina was from another country and she was able to survive on the road. Maybe Yu Jie could also.

She found the dog on the ground like the estas. She thought the demon had drugged the dog like the estas, but the canine perked up when she got close.

“I want to help Rina. I think she’s in danger.”

The dog bent forward and allowed Yu Jie to ride her while she sniffed for her owner. The dog brought her to Malba’s master suite. Yu Jie burst through the golden doors.

The train arrived. Yu Jie watched the white faces pile off the train and brush past her. She stepped toward the platform, ready to hand her ticket to the conductor. He eyed her up and down.

“On or off.”

Yu Jie looked west and then east. Her future didn’t lie with the people she abandoned. Her future was on foot toward the old capital, even if it was for one trip.

She replied, “Off.” She ripped her ticket and stepped backward.

When the train departed, she hopped off the platform and ran eastward. Rina was somewhere ahead of her and Yu Jie hoped she could catch up. She ran until her legs burned and she was out of breath. She slowed down to a brisk pace along the path. Then a slow, but steady pace. The sun set behind her and still no sign of Rina. Her legs ached with each uneven step. She left a long trail of dragged footsteps in the path. No sign of Rina or Saby. Yu Jie hopped off the path, found a clearing in the woods, and rested her head on her valise.

The stars shined and twinkled. Yu Jie had lived in Taoshing all her life, always under the vigilant eye of her parents and their guards and the walls around them. She briefly escaped to Chaegseom, where she took the Alchemist’s Exam and learned that bodyguards could be eluded. She ran away with Malba and lived behind his walls. Now, she lay on the dirt with no walls and no protection against rodent demons or bandits.

She was still happy. She feared those demons and bandits, but that’s why she had potions. The Temporary Box potion had defensive uses; she erected the box around herself while she slept.

The morning came and Yu Jie woke up without a clear box of protection, but unmolested by passersby, bandits, demons, and wild animals. The sun warmed her. The forest smelled like pine and dew. Beside her, she saw the distinct blue of the Earie flower. The flower normally looks like a rock, but for thirty minutes each day, it blooms into a brilliant flower with a small pea in the middle surrounded by azure petals that shimmer.

Yu Jie pulled the pea out, careful not to damage the rest of the flower, and slipped it into her pack. She took it as a good sign. The flower’s mundane appearance and small window of bloom time made the flower rare and the pea could be used in a future transformation spell.

She stood up and continued her trek on the path beside the train tracks. She wasn’t able to catch up to Rina yet, and she wasn’t sure if she ever would, but she had the whole world in front of her. For the first time since reading about that potion in the Royal Library of Taoshing, she had the opportunity to track down it’s components – the first ingredient was that elusive Earie pod.

Intent

You are the person behind the mask

Whether that mask is a hood or a screen.

You are not the intent.

You are not the bear poker.

You are the bigot at the keys.

 

You cannot claim to accept with one hand

And with the other

Hold down the ones you “accept.”

Culture and people are not costumes

To be used once a year or when it’s convenient.

 

You are the person who said those things to hurt others.

You cannot apologize –

Intent means nothing.

Intent will not undo what you did.

Intent will not erase the pain you caused.

 

You are that bigot.

You can change,

But you cannot change the past.

Not with an apology –

Not with empty words –

Not with prayers.

 

I don’t care what you intended.

I don’t care about your empty apology.

Fill that apology.

Change your actions.

 

Educate

Evaluate

Realize

 

Otherwise,

I have no need for your hollow platitudes.

A Nightmare on Earth: Climate Change and Freddy Krueger

Note: This is something I wrote for a class and I decided to leave in the “Works Cited” page at the end. It’s not perfect, but it’s something. Also, I added in a sentence for clarity.

Wes Craven’s 1984 film A Nightmare on Elm Street begins with Amanda Wyss’s character, Tina Gray, running to escape an unseen force. She is wearing a white nightgown that is a stark contrast to the dark, steaming pipes dripping on her feet. A shadow of a man (played by Robert Englund) appears and slashes at her midsection. As his claws strike her, she jolts awake. It was a dream. Tina’s mother invades her daughter’s bedroom. Tina insists it was just a dream. A portly man steps behind Tina’s mother and beckons her back to bed. She sees four distinct cuts on her daughter’s nightgown and orders her daughter to cut her fingernails. Something is killing the kids on Elm Street and it’s the parents’ fault. Instead of listening to their children and fixing the problem, they dismiss their children’s concerns. They blame a Rod Lane, a poor kid with no parents, drug addiction, and delusion. The parents didn’t listen to their children, those adults will lose everything. This is climate change. The unnamed menace is climate change, the parents are politicians, and the children of Elm Street are the future generations who will suffer. Politicians are destroying the planet and the ones who are going to pay are our children and future generations. We need to revert back to Obama’s regulations or there won’t be a world to argue over.

Climate change is a process involving Carbon Dioxide, or CO₂, and how it interacts with the earth’s atmosphere. CO₂ is a chemical compound found in every living thing. When we exhale, we release CO₂. Plants take in CO₂ and convert it into breathable oxygen during photosynthesis. CO₂ also absorbs heat from the sun. If there is too much CO₂ in the air, it covers the earth like a blanket, trapping the heat on the earth’s surface. This raises temperatures, which affects crops, melts the polar ice caps, raising the sea level, and causing aberrant weather patterns (Zuckerman). The pattern of rising CO₂ is the catalyst for climate change and Tina’s death in A Nightmare on Elm Street is the catalyst for Freddy Krueger.

Tina has a sleepover with her boyfriend, Rod Lane (Jsu Garcia as Nick Corri), Tina’s best friend and protagonist of the movie, Nancy Thompson (Heather Langenkamp), and Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen Lantz (a very young Johnny Depp). The teenagers confess to seeing the same burned man in their nightmares. The dreams are so powerful that Tina is afraid to fall asleep by herself, prompting the sleepover. Tina is killed that night and Nancy tells her father/police officer, Lt. Thompson (John Saxon) that there was another person in that room beside Tina and Rod. The police dismiss her claims as delusion and that the real culprit was Tina’s boyfriend. The police arrest Rod and close the case without due process. Just like the police on Elm Street, politicians dismissed scientists’ warnings about climate change and then they blamed the rise in CO₂ on something else. Something more mundane.

These non-scientists think this fluctuation in temperature is alarmist and that the earth’s temperature naturally changes. There is also the perception that CO₂ is always in the air so it can’t be coal or human error. While it is true that the earth’s temperature fluctuates over time, on average it’s relatively stable. And while CO₂ is natural and humans exhale CO₂ for plants to convert into breathable oxygen, the type of CO₂ rising in the air isn’t from humans exhaling too much (Zuckerman).

There are two types of carbon (the C in CO₂) – radioactive and nonradioactive. Every living thing has both kinds of carbon in their bodies. When something dies, the radioactive carbon decays over time – this is how Radiocarbon Dating works to determine the age of a fossil. Fossil fuels, such as coal, are basically the remains of the dead that lost their radioactive carbon. The nonradioactive carbon gets released when used for fuel. Finding radioactive carbon in the atmosphere is natural. However, finding nonradioactive carbon is not natural. That’s how scientists know that the rise in CO₂ emissions is man-made – not some natural cycle that Earth goes through once every few millennia (Zuckerman). Climate change cannot be dismissed as natural. So, politicians need a new scapegoat instead of dealing with the actual problem.

In March, Donald Trump signed an executive order to roll back the Obama environmental regulations in an attempt to save coal jobs (Worland). This course of action is predictable. Trump famously tweeted in 2012 that “the concept of global warming was created by and for the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing noncompetitive” (Gross). Ted Cruz, a Republican senator from Texas told the Texas Tribune in March 2015, “The satellite data demonstrates that there has been no significant warming whatsoever for 17 years” (qtd. in “Climate Change: Should the U.S. government take aggressive steps to address climate change?”). I don’t know what satellite data Cruz is referring to and he certainly doesn’t cite any specific data. However, people who actually study climate change and understand how the Scientific Method works (known colloquially as “scientists”), universally agree that the earth is getting warmer and it’s humans are to blame (Zuckerman). This all started when a scientist from the Scripps Institute, a nonprofit research facility based in San Diego, California, named David Keeling invented a machine to measure the air and atmosphere down to parts per million. He conducted the first test in 1958. By 1969, the machine was everywhere and Keeling noticed an “unmistakable” rise in CO₂. By the 1970’s, the average global surface temperature was rising as well – the earth was ½ degrees Celsius warmer than 100 years before – and it was rising exponentially (Zuckerman).

When Rod is incarcerated, the parents create a new scapegoat, just like politicians. Nancy develops insomnia after a near-death encounter with the burned man during an accidental bath nap. Her mother, Marge Thompson (Ronee Blakley), takes her to a sleep doctor in a futile attempt to learn why Nancy can’t sleep. Nancy flails violently until the doctors are able to pull her out of sleep. She finds a dirty hat in her bed. She had pulled the hat off the burned man’s head and brought it out of her dream and into reality. His name is stitched into the hat – Fred Krueger (he was called “Freddy” in the sequels). Her mother reveals that Krueger was a child murderer that the neighborhood parents killed after “someone forgot to sign the search warrant in the right place and Krueger was free just like that.” She assures Nancy that Krueger is dead and she shouldn’t worry about him anymore. Nancy pleads with her mother to help her, but Marge won’t hear it. She insists that Nancy is being paranoid and that Fred Krueger isn’t killing kids in their dreams. At the same time, Nancy’s boyfriend, Glen, has his own problems with his parents. They blame his relationship with Nancy on his sleep issues (A Nightmare on Elm Street).

Marge and the other adults blame something else, paranoia, Rod, drugs, too much time with a girlfriend, anything except themselves and what they did. And to divert their children’s attention on the real problem, they either leave the phone off the hook when their child’s girlfriend tries to call, or they put bars on the windows, trying to protect their children from a problem that doesn’t exist (A Nightmare on Elm Street). The same goes for the declining coal industry and the policies of the Republican party. They aren’t listening to scientists – they are attempting to divert our attention to another problem or they claim that getting rid of coal would destroy the economy (“Climate Change: Should the U.S. government take aggressive steps to address climate change?”). But the coal industry is dying for more reasons than overzealous environmentalists.

Trump proclaimed himself the “last shot for the miners” saying he would revive the coal industry (Worland). His executive order was meant to end the so-called “war on coal” and “allow our companies and our workers to thrive and compete on a level playing field” (Worland). Cutting funding to the Environmental Protection Agency and gutting Obama’s Clean Power Plan won’t bring coal jobs back and it won’t help the economy.

The coal industry has been in decline since the 1950’s. Is the EPA exerting its mighty power from a dark palace on the top of a steep hill and forcing innocent coal workers to conform to draconian laws? No. One of the biggest contributors to the coal industry’s decline is the thing that will put us all out of jobs eventually – automation. The New York Times reports that “In 1980, the industry employed about 242,000 people. By 2015, that figure had plunged 60 percent, to fewer than 100,000, even as coal production edged up 8 percent” (Tabuchi). But automation isn’t the only obstacle the coal industry has to compete with.

Coal’s biggest problem is the rise of natural gas production – commonly known as “fracking.” In the 1990’s, production surged. In 2003, coal accounted for half of all the United States’s power generation. In 2015, coal was only a third. Natural gas, as well as wind and solar, took coal’s share (Casselman).

And that brings us to wind and solar, both of which have become more efficient in recent years, especially with Obama’s Clean Power Plan (Casselman). According to the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps, there are more than four and a half million clean energy or “green” jobs in the U.S., an increase from three million in 2011. Green jobs are growing at rates twelve times faster than the rest of the economy (Samuelson). If politicians really wanted to be “job creators,” then they should continue to invest in green collar jobs instead of trying to revitalize a dying industry.

What can happen if we don’t do anything? Our children will pay. According to the podcast SCIENCE VS, it’s host, Wendy Zuckerman, says, “If we keep living the way we are now, temperatures will rise by three to five degrees Celsius by the end of the century” (Zuckerman). What does this mean? In five hundred years, the sea levels will raise fifteen meters, or fifty feet (Zuckerman). The National Ocean Service says that 123.3 million people in the United States live on the coast, and that number is expected to rise eight percent by 2020 (“What percentage of the American population lives near the coast?”). That’s a lot of people who will be displaced. Also, important economic centers like Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York City will be underwater.

We can see the effects of climate change before our eyes. The last three decades have been the hottest on record. The polar ice caps are melting and the oceans are rising. Wildfires are burning the west. Extreme weather events are common, and droughts and rainfall are more severe. Insect outbreaks. Reduced crop yield. Heat-related health concerns. Abnormal erosion. And that’s just the stuff we can see right now (“The consequences of climate change”).

So what can we do? There is a real possibility that we can help undo the damage we have done to the environment. The government should keep Obama’s Clean Power Plan by challenging Trump’s executive order in court, like Trump’s travel ban (Drange). Also, a process called Carbon Capture and Storage (CSS) is a recent technology that can remove CO₂ from the atmosphere. This process needs thousands of facilities in order to limit global warming to less than two degrees and it’s been proven to work. World governments should invest in CSS as well as clean energy if they want the humans to be around for longer than a few more decades (Canadell).

At the end of the movie, Nancy turns and faces Fred Krueger. He killed her friends and murdered her mother. She tells him that she doesn’t believe in him. He has no power over her and she takes back any power she gave him. She wants her mother back. She wants her friends back. She has joined with the adults, who were insisting he was a delusion. She has given up and accepted the previous generation’s way of thinking – there’s nothing to do but admit that Fred Krueger is dead and hasn’t been killing her friends. She wakes up. Her mother is alive and it’s bright outside. Her friends drive up, ready to pick her up for school. It seems like insisting there is no problem has worked. But the car traps Nancy and her friends in a kind of Freddy-mobile, ready to eat them. A gloved hand with knives pulls Nancy’s mother through the window. Just saying the problem isn’t there doesn’t make it go away and Nancy’s submission to her parents’ thinking has permanently doomed her and her friends (A Nightmare on Elm Street). Luckily, we have a real opportunity to learn from Nancy’s mistake.

Ninety-seven percent of climate scientists agree that mankind is the cause of global warming, also known as climate change. The atmosphere is filling with the wrong kind of CO₂, and we are seeing the effects right before our eyes. The coal industry is dying and should die to make way for more climate-friendly energy sources. Climate change can be mitigated if governments, businesses, and people put aside their politics, profits, and pettiness for the continued existence of human beings on planet earth. Instead of joining with the adults and pretending the problem isn’t there, like in the movie A Nightmare on Elm Street, we should turn around and own up to our mistakes. We should work together to fix the damage we have done to our planet. If we don’t, climate change, or Freddy Krueger, won’t go away and it will consume our future.

 

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