Title: The Carnival Ghost
Tagline: Elizabeth meets a mysterious new friend!
Summary: Is Claire a girl… or a ghost?
A travelling carnival is on its way to Sweet Valley and Jessica and Elizabeth can’t wait to ride on the roller coaster, have their fortunes told, and try their luck at the games. But when they get there some odd things happen to the twins. A fortune-teller warns Jessica to stay away from the carnival. And a mysterious girl named Claire seems to appear out of nowhere and suddenly becomes best friends with Elizabeth.
Elizabeth is strangely drawn to Claire. She begins to ignore her friends, her chores, and even her sister to spend time with her new friend. It’s as if she’s under an evil spell… a spell no one, not even Jessica, can break. And if her twin is in danger, how can Jessica help her?
I have been looking forward to this book for so, so long. Dove may have sold me on giving Sweet Valley as a whole a try because she promised me werewolves in books to come (much, much later), but she sold me on Sweet Valley Twins specifically because there are supernatural books. We’ve had a couple, and they’ve been fun, but this one is right in my sweet spot: potential ghost, travelling carnival, roller coasters, fortune tellers, mysterious new girls. I cannot wait.
And, finally, I don’t have to wait. I predict this will be a wild ride. Good or bad? We’ll see.
[Dove: First off, apologies for the tardiness of mine and Raven’s comments. Second of all: BEST SWEET VALLEY BOOK EVER. EVER. EVER.]
We open with Jessica wishing she could see the future, which is both fitting to this story, of course, and also completely believable for Jessica. “Will I go down in infamy as a serial killer? Will I ever get caught? Will Lila and I pull a queer Bonnie and Clyde?”
This desire is prompted by the plate of fortune cookies she sees while the Wakefields are having lunch at the Chinese restaurant, Red Dragon, in the Valley Mall. [Raven: Not Sweet Valley Chinese Restaurant? Weak.]
Elizabeth promises that she can tell the future, and predicts that Steven will eat leftover Chinese food for breakfast. That’s a lie; there’s no way any leftovers will make it to the next morning, not with Steven around.
Leftovers aren’t the only excitement for the next morning; the travelling carnival opens then, too! And just in time, because Christmas just ended and they want something to look forward to over the last 10 days of winter break.
Wait. Are we sure this book goes here in the lineup? Because we certainly weren’t around Christmas in the last few books, and we literally just had a Christmas Super Chiller eleven books ago. I know there’s Sweet Valley time, but goddamn.
Not to mention, in Danny Means Trouble, only a few books back, we’re well into the end of track season, which would be late spring, almost to the end of the school year.
Damn it, Dove, my brain can’t take this. [Dove: Yeah, I can’t honestly tell you that this makes sense, but I always assumed that this took place right after The Christmas Ghost, which took place whenever it damned well wanted to, and screw you for trying to make sense of #SweetValleyTime.]
The Wakefields talk about the carnival, which may or may not have a real fortune teller, but does have an awesome roller coaster (Steven) and a really scary haunted house (Elizabeth).
When their fortunes arrive, Jessica wants first choice of the five cookies, but the waiter says that two people who look exactly alike should share the same fortune, which is a pretty weird thing to say. Is this foreshadowing? If it’s not foreshadowing, if it’s only here so Elizabeth can go off on how different they act even though they look alike, I want to punch someone in the face.
(And yet again, no mention that the way to tell them apart is Jessica’s earrings. This is going to annoy me forever.)
Jessica’s not happy with the fortune and doesn’t want the others to read it, but instead of, oh, shoving it in her pocket or tearing it up, she tosses it onto the table. Of course Steven reads it: vanity is your greatest weakness.
First of all, that’s not really a fortune. Second, WHERE IS THE LIE. [Raven: Jessica’s greatest weakness is probably her urge to kill.]
Elizabeth’s fortune: avoid high places if you do not want to fall. This gives her a strange chill down the length of her spine, because foreshadowing. [Raven: Elizabeth has a spine? Surely not.]
Jessica shrugs this off, because it’s obvious, much like staying out of water if you don’t want to get wet, and she thinks Elizabeth should be happy that her fortune wasn’t insulting. She wants to ask for more fortune cookies, because she doesn’t like the fortunes they got at all, and I’m laughing so hard. Never change, Jessica. #bestjess
Mr Wakefield says his fortune says that he needs to go home and catch up on yard work, because he’s back at the office tomorrow and he still hasn’t trimmed those hedges. Doesn’t Alice mind when you refer to her like that?
Jessica wants to stay and shop, but they didn’t come to the mall to shop, they came for lunch. Now, that’s fair enough, I guess, but when you have a child like Jessica, who loves to shop (she “wanted to go shopping the day after she was born,” per Steven), maybe find a restaurant that ISN’T IN THE FUCKING MALL. You cannot convince me this is the only Chinese restaurant in all of Sweet Valley.
(… is there one named Sweet Valley Chinese? I bet there is.)
On the way home, they drive past the harbour so they can see the carnival grounds. Wait, the carnival is near the harbour? This story just gets better and better!
The roller coaster is already up, as is the ferris wheel, which is at the edge of the sandy beach, and I would like to join this carnival immediately. Jessica wants to ride the ferris wheel first thing in the morning, and Alice makes her promise not to eat cotton candy for breakfast. I would! Jessica uses this as a segue into telling them that her allowance just doesn’t seem to last as long as it used to, and she spent all of her savings on Christmas gifts.
LIAR. You NEVER have savings. You meant you spent all of Elizabeth’s savings on gifts for yourself, don’t you? [Raven: if Jessica has zero savings, it’s not a lie to say she spent all her savings on Christmas gifts. It’s just creative accountancy.]
Steven demands a raise in his allowance, too, if the twins get one, but the Wakefield parents say they’re not promising anyone a raise. They’ll think about it though.
Jessica then asks Elizabeth what they should do first at the carnival, and whether they should ride the ferris wheel first (which you literally just said you wanted to do anyway, Jessica), because it’s the biggest one she’s ever seen, it’s going to be so high.
Elizabeth, of course, thinks about her fortune and looks at the ferris wheel and says it will be very, very high.
As soon as they get home, Jessica starts whining to Elizabeth about how bored she is, even though they just got home from lunch and Christmas was literally the day before, so they should have all sorts of new gifts. Elizabeth suggests she clean her room, but Jessica wants to do something fun, of course.
Elizabeth suggests they ride their bikes down to the harbour and watch more of the carnival being set up. Jessica loves this idea, and tells Elizabeth that sometimes she does know how to have fun. I’m not sure I believe that Jessica would be entertained by watching rides go up for all that long, but sure, why not. She does enjoy watching other people do work when she’s not doing any. [Dove: Also, I think she responded well to avoiding cleaning her room. She was convinced Liz’s idea of fun was to tidy something.]
So the carnival is being set up in a wide field next to the beach that is only a 10 minute bike ride from the Wakefield home. They’re excited to see that the entrance is painted to look like a clown’s mouth. NO. DO NOT BE EXCITED ABOUT THAT. THAT IS CREEPY. HAVE YOU NEVER SEEN A HORROR MOVIE?
Amy Sutton, Elizabeth’s best friend (after Jessica, the book is quick to assure us), just so happens to show up, because she wants to write an article about the carnival for the Sixers. Elizabeth knows nothing about this, despite her being the editor. You’re not really controlling anything, are you?
Oh, wow, and then Lila and a bunch of Unicorns show up, too. Is there literally nothing any of you can do other than watch this carnival go up? Maybe I’ll buy that Jessica doesn’t have enough money to go do something else, but Lila? Bullshit. And she would absolutely drag the others with her and take care of things. (It’s on daddy’s bill, after all, and maybe he’ll notice her eventually.) [Dove: To be honest, Lila doesn’t buy friendship that way. She likes being a have surrounded by have-nots. So she’d have to go with the majority here.]
First thing Lila does is show off the new sweater her father got her for Christmas, which is a pink angora sweater he bought while he was in England. It has tufts of white fur, and Jessica thinks she looks like a rabbit. I LOVE YOU, JESSICA.
(I had to go look up pictures of angora sweaters, and JESSICA IS NOT WRONG.)
Belinda Layton teases Lila that they all know it’s from England, she’s mentioned it 50 times in the last hour. Because of course she has. Ugh, Lila. Even when you are being ridiculous and obnoxious and terrible, you are also heartbreaking. [Dove: Um… are we English particularly known for our angora sweaters? Or was it literally $sweatertype from $country in Europe?]
Ellen saves Jessica from having to say more than the sweater is very fuzzy by suggesting they go look at the other rides. There are bumper cars (Ellen is excited, Lila calls it a kiddie ride — best be careful, I bet Jessica can take people out), a tilt-a-whirl (Lila thinks it’s fun, Ellen tells them her little brother threw up on one once), and then they see a faded blue tent that turns out to be a fortune teller: The Amazing Mademoiselle Z.
Jessica is thrilled, Lila skeptical, and I am delighted. Jessica’s all flights of fancy, Lila’s all grounded, and I love them so much.
The next morning, Jessica tries to get Elizabeth to eat faster because she wants them to be the first people there. She has it all planned out (… Jessica does and not Elizabeth?): haunted house first, then the roller coaster then — Elizabeth cuts her off before we learn what’s next. I note that the fortune teller is not first on the list, Jessica.
Finally, Elizabeth is done, and Jessica sets a challenge: last one to the carnival has to set the table that night. She takes off before Elizabeth can even agree to it, but it doesn’t really matter. We all know who will be setting the table no matter which one of you wins, girls.
AND TO TOP IT OFF WE DON’T EVEN GET TO KNOW WHO WINS WTF.
The carnival sounds great. First, they see the food booths, which have caramel corn, saltwater taffy, candy apples, fudge, french fries, cotton candy, and corn dogs. I really want a candy apple now.
(I had the best candy apple of my life last summer on holiday with Dove, Raven, and Ostrich. AND they cut it into wedges so it was not only easier to eat but super easy to share. [I also bought ridiculous fancy gourmet dog treats for Monster Dog at that same shop, which tells you a lot about me and that shop, really.])
Next are the game booths, but we don’t get many details on that because Jessica finds the haunted house!
The twins raced toward a rickety-looking building on the edge of the carnival grounds. One window was covered over with boards and a sign over the door warned, Enter If You Dare. Elizabeth and Jessica gave their tickets to a man made up to look like Frankenstein’s monster. His face was painted a sickly green, and a bolt was sticking out of either side of his neck. “Only two allowed in at a time,” he growled. “Stay on the path, and have a scary trip!”
“He wasn’t creepy at all,” Jessica whispered as they walked through the door. “His makeup needs work.”
You keep telling yourself that, Jessica. In a super chiller, he very well could be Frankenstein’s monster!
Elizabeth normally isn’t frightened by “something as childish as a haunted house” (my how things have changed — though I went through some super creepy haunted houses in the 90s), but she feels like someone’s watching her and it’s creeping her out. She gets startled by a skeleton jump scare and Jessica mocks her for it, because Jessica is delightful. (Sister Canary is hilarious to watch horror movies — or even suspense movies — with because she jumps at EVERYTHING. I love to tease her.)
Eventually, the path splits, and there are two forks: one is vampires and one is ghosts. Jessica thinks they should each take one and then tell the other about it when they’re done, and because she doesn’t like ghosts (I BET YOU DON’T!), so she’ll take the vampires. Elizabeth, showing a surprising amount of genre savvy considering her normal genre, doesn’t think they should separate, and Jessica mocks her for that, too, because of course she does. (Actually, I suppose Elizabeth has also had a weird time of things, even if it was all a dream at the end.)
Jessica happily takes off down the vampire tunnel (…dirty), but Elizabeth, when faced with the ghosts door, has the urge to run away.
From nowhere, a girl tells her not to be afraid. She looks a year or two younger than Elizabeth, she has dark eyes and long black hair (RUN NOW ELIZABETH), and she’s wearing an old-fashioned white dress.
She introduces herself as Claire (… dark eyes, black hair CLAIRE GEIGER IS THAT YOU?!), and tells Elizabeth that her father owns the carnival and she’s been through that room a lot, so Elizabeth really has nothing to fear in it. She walks through in front of Elizabeth, but in the second it takes Elizabeth to step through the doorway after her, the girl is gone. Elizabeth decides that she must have run away; when a cool breeze raises the hair on the back of her neck, she reasons that they must keep the AC very cold to give people the creeps. I like your use of logic, Elizabeth, but where’s your genre savviness now?
There are ghostly figures on both sides of the pathway and an open grave ahead. The path leads into the grave, which is really freaking cool, actually! The gravestone has the initials “C.C” and the dates “1882-1892”. GEE I WONDER IF THAT IS IMPORTANT.
At the bottom of the grave is another door, and through it she finds a sign that congratulates her for surviving the haunted house.
Then Jessica leaps out from behind a ghoul, giving her a great jump scare and making me laugh. They talk a little about what they saw (in the vampire room, you leave through an open casket, which is not nearly as creepy), and when Elizabeth asks about the girl who came through ahead of her, Jessica teases her that she must have disappeared into thin air.
Elizabeth says she sees her and wants to catch up with her, so she takes off, even though Jessica never can quite find the dark-haired girl Elizabeth is describing. She’s grumpy that Elizabeth has left her alone and wonders if any of the Unicorns are around.
They are not, but Jessica manages to have a little bit of fun spending her tickets on food and games. I know you planned to ride all the rides with Elizabeth, but you could have still gone yourself, honey. (I’m surprisingly touched that Jessica put together this whole plan that included Elizabeth in the first place. In other books, she would have just been making plans with the Unicorns. It’s interesting to see Jessica left behind by Elizabeth, and shades of the future she saw in The Christmas Ghost.
Actually, that coupled with the fortune teller she’s about to visit makes me wonder if we’re getting some interesting (creepy) consistency.
She spends her last ticket on seeing Mademoiselle Z, who sits inside the dark tent, lit by only two candles; the table in front of her has a beautiful crystal ball as big as a globe, and she’s wearing a long scarlet gown (not just red, but scarlet) covered with mirrored beads. She has black hair hanging all the way to her waist. HMMM. Dramatic supernatural with long dark hair? I WONDER IF SHE’S SOMEHOW INVOLVED WITH CLAIRE’S STORY.
Oh my god, Mademoiselle Z’s eyes “were like a cat’s — gold and glittery and full of mystery.” That is SO cheesy and SO wonderful.
Jessica hasn’t come prepared with any questions, which I don’t believe for a second. She’d have a thirty page list of questions about the future COME ON. (I could, I suppose, believe that she’s feeling a little nervous after The Christmas Ghost and the future she saw there, but that theory doesn’t actually hold water for me, because she’s been so excited about fortunes and fortune tellers so far this book.) [Dove: How about Jessica is so sure that her future’s rosy, she expects MZ to point at her and say, “You! The great Jessica Wakefield! I have seen your future, it is amazing. Give me an autograph now, and it will be worth a fortune in ten years’ time!”]
Because she has no questions, Mademoiselle Z says that they will “see what we shall see,” because she is an overly dramatic showman, obviously. Who then chants: ball of crystal, eye of glass, show me what, shall come to pass!
TEAM GRAPPLEGATE I EXPECT SO MUCH BETTER FROM YOU EVEN WHEN IT IS SUPPOSED TO BE CHEESY. COME ON! [Raven: Agreed. It’s all very Presto in Dungeons & Dragons.]
Mademoiselle Z says that she sees good things for Jessica Wakefield, and when Jessica asks why she can’t see anything in the crystal ball, Z says she can’t see them because she does not have the gift. Z sees a happy event for Jessica in the very near future, and then she slumps and sighs and closes her eyes (…oh crap, now they have me doing it too!), and eventually Jessica asks if she can go.
As she wanders the carnival again, Jessica wonders what the happy event will be: a phone call from Bruce Patman (barf), a trip someplace exciting (…wait, I’m recapping a Mademoiselle Jessica pretty soon, I think, is there a Paris trip coming up?), but eventually, she gets bored and goes to get her bike so she can head home. [Raven: A happy event for Jessica… the builders working on the Sweet Valley Bypass Off-Ramp don’t unearth the bodies?] [Dove: Is the off-ramp going through the Mercandy backyard? Otherwise, she’s golden.]
But then Elizabeth catches up with her, and apologises because she’s been having so much fun she lost track of time. I definitely expected to spend more time with Elizabeth in this book than with Jessica, so while I’m generally happy to spend more time with Elizabeth than Jessica, this is weird.
Jessica tells Elizabeth all about Mademoiselle Z and the prediction and how excited Jessica is for Elizabeth to go see her, too. Why, so you can try to take that fortune? Steal her soul, Jessica! Steal. Her. Soul.
Elizabeth counters this with how interesting that girl from the haunted house, Claire, was to hang out with, and even though she’s a couple years younger, she really acts grown up, etc.
Jessica flat out tells her that she should be hanging out with people her own age, and though I doubt long term Jessica will have learned that lesson, at least for now she seems to have done. (Though obviously, her situation was different.) [Dove: No, she doesn’t.] Elizabeth defends Claire, though, because she seems so much older, probably because she’s traveled so much with the carnival.
At home, they tell Alice about their day, and she teases Jessica about filling up on mountains of junk food because they’re having spaghetti and meatballs for dinner. Which is, we all know, Jessica’s favourite — and she points that out now, too.
I love consistency, but it is starting to feel like all they eat anymore is spaghetti and meatballs. (Also, I know have such a craving.) [Dove: We still have some left over from that meal you ordered in 2014…?]
In other good news, Alice and Ned have decided to give all the kids a raise in their allowance, even Steven, who claims he does all the chores around the house. It is to laugh, boy.
Jessica wants to go back to the carnival that night so she can show the Unicorns Mademoiselle Z, whose prediction of something good happening has just come true, per Jessica at least, and, of course, she also manages to weasel out of helping Elizabeth set the table. It annoys me to no end that she doesn’t do her share, but also, STEVEN IS RIGHT THE FUCK THERE CLAIMING TO DO ALL THE CHORES, GET HIM TO HELP.
That night, Alice drives the twins and some of the Unicorns back to the carnival. Elizabeth takes off to find Claire, which is fine with Jessica, despite how lonely she was earlier, because she has the Unicorns now.
Lila obsessively tries to win a t-shirt with a picture of Johnny Buck on the front, and after eight tries at the dart-throw booth, she finally manages to do so. That’s either an expensive prize for a traveling carnival or it’s a completely unlicensed knock-off — or both. (I’m betting both.) [Raven: Unlicensed knock-off, surely. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t say “Buck.”] [Dove: In Spain, aged about nine, I bought an unlicensed Michael Jackson wallet. I really liked it until someone pointed out they had listed his albums as “Of the Wall” and “Triller”.]
Jessica finally gets them over to Mademoiselle Z’s booth, and, of course Z remembers her by name. That’s good customer service. Jessica says that the good thing happened and it’s a miracle, and Lila snarks to her that a raise in her allowance is hardly a miracle. I LOVE YOU, LILA. NEVER CHANGE.
Z calls Lila on her doubts, and Lila doubles down on being able to see straight through the glass ball and how fortune tellers are fakes. I’m pretty sure that Dove is going to hard core be on Lila’s side here, and Lila is truly a delight here. She manages to piss Z right off, and Z hisses a fortune that Lila will have great misfortune that night. Jessica is horrified, but Lila shrugs it off and some of the Unicorns laugh.
I was going to say that I love Jessica as the true believer here, but then I realised how much it makes sense. She had three Christmas ghosts! One was a fucking angry unicorn! She saw her future and Elizabeth’s future! Even if it was actually a dream, some of that haunts her (INTENTIONAL) and colours her beliefs.
My guess is that, big picture, this is far too much depth for this series, but I love this reading of it.
Lila leads the Unicorns out, talking about wasting a ticket, but Jessica hangs back to apologise to Z, and Z invites her back again.
Goddamn. Jessica apologised?! WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH JESSICA FUCKING WAKEFIELD?
She rushes off to catch up with the Unicorns (I nearly typed the Jessicas there, and now I really want that series), who are watching a small spotted horse being led around. When Lila tries to pet the horse, it rears, causing her to leap backward, trip over a guy rope, and land in a mud puddle. She also spills the rest of her chocolate shake all over her t-shirt. [Dove: Why are horses always rearing in America? That’s such a bad fault in England. Get it sorted, ‘MURICA.]
The Unicorns just stare at her for awhile, until finally Ellen helps her up, and Belinda suggests that Mademoiselle Z isn’t such a fake anyway.
“Something” makes Jessica turn away from watching Lila try to clean herself off (since she’s mostly trying to brush mud off her ass and chocolate shake off her chest, I’m arching an eye at you, Wakefield) just in time to see Elizabeth walk right past without seeing her or hearing Jessica call out for her.
The next day, Alice tells Jessica that she doesn’t know what’s gotten into Elizabeth; she was in such a hurry to get to the carnival that morning that she didn’t even make her bed. She also didn’t tell Jessica where she was going, and Jessica wonders why Elizabeth didn’t wait for her. Technically, Elizabeth didn’t tell anyone that she was leaving, Alice just found a note from her on the kitchen table saying that she’ll be at the carnival all day.
When Jessica looks into Elizabeth’s room, not only is the bed unmade, but there’s a small pile of clothes on the floor. THE HORROR. She’s acting more like Jessica. Whatever will we do?
Alice then tells Jessica that it’s time for her room cleaning, and she has to do it before she goes to the carnival. Jessica, in a very un-Jessica moment, not only agrees (reluctantly) to this, but also offers to make Elizabeth’s bed. NO, REALLY, WHO ARE YOU AND WHAT HAVE YOU DONE WITH JESSICA?
Before she can get to work, though, Lila calls wanting to know if Jessica is going to go to the carnival again, because of course Lila isn’t going, not after nearly getting killed by that wild horse. Well that story escalated quickly! Jessica calls her on it, too, but Lila changes the subject to tell her that she’s going to have a New Year’s Eve party with a live band and she can invite as many people as she wants. This is truly exciting news, because Jessica thinks that Lila’s parties are always fun.
Lila wants Jessica to help her plan it, because there are so few days before NYE, and asks her to come over right away. Jessica hesitates, though, and Lila guesses that she wants to go to the carnival instead. Jessica offers to help plan the party the next day, which has Lila feeling grumpy, and she warns Jessica away from Mademoiselle Z.
Jessica doesn’t let Lila intimidate her, though, and says that’s the first place she’s going and she’ll ask about Lila’s party. Lila does get a parting shot, though, telling Jessica she’ll talk to her later unless Jessica is trampled to death by wild horses. NEVER CHANGE.
Before she can head to the carnival, though, Jessica has to find something to wear, and there is, of course, nothing she wants in her closet. She goes to Elizabeth’s to borrow that new yellow blouse Elizabeth got for Christmas. I thought this was continuity back to the Christmas Ghost, but then I went back and the thing in question then was Jessica’s new sweater. Anyway, the shirt isn’t in Elizabeth’s closet, so apparently Elizabeth decided to wear it herself.
Frustrated, Jessica decides to wear a yellow t-shirt with her jeans, even after she realises that it may look like the twins are trying to dress alike, something they haven’t done since they started middle school. [Raven: Maybe, Jessica, you wouldn’t look so alike if you STOPPED STEALING YOUR SISTER’S CLOTHES.]
Jessica rushes through cleaning up her room and heads down for breakfast, but doesn’t get to the food before Amy knocks at the door looking for Elizabeth. They were supposed to go bike riding and work on their article, and she’s shocked that Elizabeth forgot about it, because that’s not like her at all. Jessica’s blunt and asshole, saying that Elizabeth has a new friend. (Which is also not a new thing! Pretty much every other book has Elizabeth making a new friend of the week.)
Amy mentions the research she did at the library, because there’s something odd about the Caldwell Carnival; it was forced to leave two other towns in California before its scheduled end. In one town, a girl fell off a ride and was injured, and there are rumors about other strange things that happened to kids who visited the carnival. So … why did they leave the other town? YOU CAN’T JUST LEAVE ME HANGING.
Amy doesn’t have any other information because the stories were all vague, and she wanted Elizabeth to help her research. She asks Jessica to keep her eyes open while she’s at the carnival, though she doesn’t have any specific details, just anything strange.
OH DAMN, FINALLY WE’RE BACK WITH ELIZABETH.
I can’t believe I’m so excited about that, but I thought this was Elizabeth’s story and it’s weird to have seen so little of her and Claire.
And sure enough, she’s hanging out with Claire. Claire who keeps overhearing things she shouldn’t be able to hear over the noise and who answers Elizabeth’s questions before she can actually ask them and who dresses old-fashioned and acts serious in strange ways.
When Elizabeth asks if the dress is old, because there’s a picture of Alice’s great-grandmother wearing a dress like it when she was a little girl, Claire says it is a new dress, and her second favourite, because her favourite, a blue and cream dress, got torn. (Are you sure it wasn’t blue and black or white and gold?) Elizabeth is delighted because blue and cream are her favourite colors, too; Claire beams at her and draws Elizabeth’s attention to her shining brown eyes, thrilled to have more proof that they are a lot alike.
Claire says that there are no other kids who travel with the carnival and she’s very lonely; Elizabeth doesn’t understand how anyone could be unhappy when they live at a carnival full of fun things. You can get used to anything, and living something does take some of the joy out of it (or at least has different joy than what you have when you do something rarely; there can still be joy, but it is different), and also, even the best place can be lonely for people who like being around other people. But I think Elizabeth’s thoughts are understandable, especially for someone her age and with her personality.
Elizabeth thinks that she must have made friends with some of the adults who work there (which wouldn’t be the same as having friends around her own age, come on), but before she can say anything, Claire says that they don’t like her because she’s the owner’s daughter and they think she spies for her father. They ignore her and pretend she’s not there.
MY ISN’T THAT CONVENIENT FOR A POTENTIAL GHOST STORY.
Elizabeth starts telling Claire about having a sister like Jessica, but then Claire disappears mid-sentence. She spins around looking for her, shocked that she could just vanish into thin air, but then Claire returns with a sno-cone for her. It’s root beer, which is both of their favourite flavours. Elizabeth apparently really wanted a sno-cone, and Claire went to get her one even without her saying anything about it. You know, you wouldn’t have to lay this so thick if we’d seen more of Elizabeth and Claire before this part, but sure.
(Also, root beer, groooooooooss.)
Claire offers to show her a trick and asks her to think of a number. She thinks of 12, first, but Claire tells her to think of a bigger number, a harder number, and then tells her she’s thinking of 2,578, which is, of course, exactly the right number. Claire promises to teach her later when she’s ready.
Elizabeth then takes out a notebook so she can take notes for that article. Claire offers to tell her all about the article and share secret places no one else can go. It’s a good thing she’s so young or that’d be dirty.
They go off to see the horses next, because they both love them, and Claire teases her about living in a carnival so she, too, could have horses around. Claire lets Elizabeth into the stable, but won’t come with her because the ponies are afraid of her and no matter how much she wants to pet them and feed them, they don’t like her to get close. GHOST GHOST GHOST. Also, heartbreaking.
There are two ponies inside, a brown one named Jasper and a black and white one named Old Spots. Elizabeth pets them for awhile, and they are really sweet to her, until Claire comes close, causing Jasper to rear and lash out with his front hooves. He comes close to hitting her in the head, but she drops out of the way fast enough to avoid it. She’s frustrated with Claire for coming in even when she knows the ponies react badly, but forgives her quickly when Claire apologises. And though I think Dove will treat that as typical spineless Elizabeth, I think that’s a believable, understandable thing to do with a new friend, especially one you think is a little afraid of the horses and trying to get over that fear to spend time with you. (Which is one of the thoughts Elizabeth has.) [Dove: Actually, this is a rare occasion when I give Liz the props for saying something in the first place, and then I don’t blame her for backing down. This is actually a well-written Liz.]
Elizabeth promises to come see Claire for a little bit every day as long as the carnival is in town, and then they see a woman in a red dress with mirrored beads step out of a blue tent. She sees Claire and Elizabeth and her expression darkens. Geeeee, I wonder who that could be.
Claire waives her off as a crazy old woman (fuck off, Claire), and says she wishes her dad had gotten rid of her a long time ago.
When Jessica arrives at the carnival, she goes looking for Elizabeth, but the carnival is so crowded that she gives up after half an hour and instead heads to Mademoiselle Z. For the first time, her big bouncer isn’t outside the tent, but Z is inside. The second she sees Jessica, she shouts that she knows who Jessica is and she knows her friend, too. Jessica, of course, thinks she’s referring to Lila after Lila skepticism, but we know that she’s actually talking about Elizabeth and Claire. Jessica is shaken by Z’s vehemence and says that she only came for her future to be told again. Z tells her that she will have no future unless she stays away from the carnival, and then Jessica knocks the crystal ball off the table and Z throws her out of the tent and, again, warns her to leave the carnival and never return.
Jessica takes off running so fast that she doesn’t even stop for her bicycle. Eventually, she realises she’s left it and decides it’s safe enough to go back for her bike even if she’s cursed. When she gets near the carnival entrance, she sees Elizabeth walking slowly to the exit, but she doesn’t notice Jessica waiving or shouting for her (again). The second Elizabeth is outside the clown mouth gate (UGH), she sees Jessica, who is still freaking out.
As they get their bikes, Jessica cries that she’s cursed, and after the chapter break, when they’re at home, she’s still talking about how she’ll never go back to the carnival again. She also thinks that Elizabeth shouldn’t go back, either, but Elizabeth holds firm (because of course now she grows a spine) and says that she promised Claire she’d come visit her every day, and also she’s still doing research for the Sixers article.
Oh, and: she doesn’t believe in curses.
This gets Steven’s attention, and Elizabeth tells him about what Jessica claims happened. He laughs and wonders if he can get her to curse Westover High’s basketball team, because SVHS has a big game against them, and WH is undefeated. I can’t keep their rivals straight; have we heard of this team before? I need a list somewhere. [Dove: You don’t need a list, you just need to remember: Big Mesa are their main rivals, and anything else falls under the heading of “other”.]
Jessica asks Elizabeth all sorts of questions about Claire, including where she stays while the carnival’s in a town, but Elizabeth has no answers for her. Jessica is shocked that they’ve spent so much time together without Elizabeth learning anything substantial at all, but (a) it hasn’t been that long, and (b) as if you learn things about new people in your life before you’re done making sure they know everything you want them to know about you. Come on.
She then becomes the devious Jess we know and love and decides a little guilt trip over Amy will help cure Elizabeth of her fascination with Claire. (You know, Elizabeth kissing Claire would be a great way to salvage the mess that was Elizabeth’s First Kiss.)
Sort of, it works, because Elizabeth feels terrible when Jessica reminds her that she blew off her plans with Amy, and is a little interested in the stories Amy has learned about the carnival. Jessica also gives her grief for forgetting to make her bed and clean her room, and of course, then points out that she made Elizabeth’s bed and did a great job of it.
“Thanks, Jess,” Elizabeth said gratefully.
“That’s OK. After all, you’re always covering for me. It was fun to reverse roles and help you for a change!” Jessica remarked.
Lying straight to her face, I see.
While they’re talking about how clean Jessica’s room is now (despite her only spend a few half-assed minutes on it earlier), Jessica sees a strange figure outside the window. A man in a black hat and a long black raincoat is standing across the street and staring straight at the bedroom window. Jessica can’t figure out who he is, but feels like she should recognise him. Clearly it’s because he’s taken a page out of Jessica’s Hot Fashion for Spies book. [Raven: It’s obviously Steven in his pervert uniform.]
Jessica shrugs it off when Elizabeth asks about whoever was there, but makes her promise they won’t talk about the carnival anymore.
Elizabeth wakes early again the next morning, but this time Alice is already downstairs making coffee. They chat a little bit about why Elizabeth wants to go to the carnival again and about how she’s made friends with Claire, and then Alice mentions Amy’s visit the previous day. Elizabeth rushes off to call her, but before she can, she pictures Claire all lonely and decides she has no choice, she has to go to the carnival instead of hanging out with Amy.
And then we get this exchange:
“Why didn’t you call Amy, honey?” Mrs. Wakefield asked.
Elizabeth shrugged. “I was afraid it was too early.”
“Well, try to get in touch with her today,” Mrs. Wakefield said. “You wouldn’t want to hurt her feelings just because you have a new friend.”
“I will,” Elizabeth promised.
YEAH, ELIZABETH, NO NEED TO ABANDON YOUR OLD FRIENDS JUST BECAUSE YOU’VE MADE NEW ONES.
Elizabeth runs into Julie at the carnival, and when Julie hears that Claire’s going to take her to the places visitors aren’t allowed, Julie, of course, wants to go too. Who wouldn’t? Elizabeth assumes Claire will be thrilled to make another friend, but before they can find her, Julie suddenly looks terrified, says she has to go home right away, and rushes off.
Well that’s freaky.
Elizabeth starts to go check on her, but Claire shows up and talks her out of it. Elizabeth says she hoped to introduce Julie to Claire so Claire could have another friend, but Claire says she’s fine with Elizabeth, who will be her friend forever and ever. ALSO FREAKY.
Claire then takes her to the back of the fun house, where they end up on the other side of the trick two-way mirrors that allow them to watch the people who are going through the funhouse without them knowing anyone is watching. Elizabeth is uneasy about this, and tells Claire it feels a little sneaky, but Claire is used to it.
They then watch people trying to walk on the trick floor, which has a motor underneath it to make it jerk back and forth. The trick is to hold onto the rail so you won’t fall down. Elizabeth sees Caroline Pearce, gossip extraordinare, and Elise Jennings try to make it, but they both fall down and screech with laughter. Elizabeth wants to go through the fun house, too, because it looks like fun, but Claire says it’s much more fun to watch.
Well that would be dirty (and possibly creepy) in another circumstance, but is just creepy here.
Elizabeth asks why she never goes on any of the rides, and Claire tells her that when the time is right, they’ll go. This confuses Elizabeth, though mostly she just focuses on the carnival not being there forever and her not wanting to miss all the fun. I would be more worried about the creepy things this kid is telling you.
Claire promises they will still have fun as long as Elizabeth is with her and then turns her lemonade black, which freaks Elizabeth the fuck out. WELL NO SHIT. (How’re those maggots, Michael?)
Elizabeth tells Claire that was awful and she was scared, and Claire pouts as she apologises, making Elizabeth sorry she yelled at her. Elizabeth wants to know how she did it, because Elizabeth’s never seen a magic trick like that, but Claire refuses to tell her anything, still, and takes her outside.
Back at home, Jessica is grumpy because Elizabeth is at the carnival again. Steven teases her that Elizabeth wasn’t scared off by “Mademoiselle ABC,” which makes Jessica even grumpier, both in remembering the curse and in snapping that Mademoiselle Z cursed her, not Elizabeth. Subtle.
Jessica makes plans with Lila, instead, and they go to the mall to look for decorations for Lila’s party. They commiserate over their friends being at the carnival without them because they are both cursed (oh, so you believe in Mademoiselle Z now do you), and this gives Jessica a great idea: Lila’s NYE party will have a carnival theme.
Okay, that is pretty genius. I want to throw a carnival-themed party now. [Dove: Hells yes. You just need a mansion with an Olympic-sized swimming pool, and we can get this party started.]
They’ll have games, cotton candy (I have such a craving while writing this recap), a haunted house, and even fortunes, though Jessica doesn’t really want to have anything to do with fortune telling now, even if it is fake. (Heh.) But she admits that since it will be the new year, it will be fun to predict what will happen to everyone. Lila’s certain that her father will be able to rent some rides, and even on this short notice, he probably will. Plus they’ll turn the pool house into a fun house and have bumper boats in the pool. [Raven: How the hell can they sort all this out in the lazy days between Christmas and New Year? I mean, I know the Fowlers can throw money at it, but come on! They’d NEVER manage this in the UK.]
Jessica spends the rest of the day with Lila, working out the details and making invitations. Or, you know, you could have made one and copied it, but only the convoluted for Lila.
Jessica gets home late (… she’s twelve and the Wakefields recently showed themselves to be strict about where and when their daughters can go places, and we know the twins have a curfew, how late could she fucking be), but she wakes up at 2:15 a.m. to a tapping sound, three loud taps and then silence, three loud taps and then silence, on and on.
She’s too scared to go look or even to call for Elizabeth, but finally she asks, in a whisper, if anyone is there. A low, raspy man’s voice answers her, and it sounds like it comes from far away; he tells her to stay away.
She screams and hides under the covers. Ned and Alice immediately run into her room, and when she tells them about the man at her window, they do check, but when no one is there, calmly tell her that the wind must have blown the branches against the window and that wind can also sound like a person’s voice. She just had a nightmare incorporating noises she heard outside.
These days, I imagine someone like the Wakefields would immediately assume there really had been a man at the window and raise a stink about it.
Jessica tries to accept their explanation, but can’t sleep anymore, because if it was a nightmare, it was bad enough she never wants to sleep again. Poor kid.
The next day, Elizabeth searches the carnival for Claire, through wispy fog and gray skies, which makes the carnival sound even creepier and more glorious to me. Claire surprises her, and when Elizabeth starts to ask where she lives so that it will be easier to find her, she forgets what she was going to ask as Claire stares at her, brown eyes turning black.
Claire pulls another “magic trick” on her, putting five tickets in her pocket, and they go to play games, the shooting gallery first. Elizabeth tries to get her to tell her something, because she wants to write about Claire and her magic tricks in that article, but Claire compels her into just wanting to go have fun with Claire and to worry about her article later.
So, basically, Claire is Jessica here, except Jessica doesn’t need ghostly powers. Cool.
Even though Elizabeth doesn’t know how to shoot, Claire promises her she’ll do well, and she does, hitting everything; finally Claire wants her to shoot at a squirrel at the very back, and goes to stand behind the targets to show Elizabeth where it is. Elizabeth understandably freaks out because people are shooting pellets at Claire, but nothing ever seems to hit her and she’s not afraid.
ELIZABETH. EVEN IF IT’S JUST THAT SHE’S NOT UPSET ABOUT PEOPLE SHOOTING AT HER, THIS IS A BAD SIGN. ALSO: SHE’S A FUCKING GHOST. [Raven: Maybe she’s Neo from the Matrix?]
Despite everything, Elizabeth shoots at the squirrel, doesn’t hit Claire (I mean, really), and wins a big stuffed teddy bear. Elizabeth can’t believe she won, and Claire tells her that there are lots of things people don’t believe that they should believe.
By god, you are a creepy, creepy little girl.
Jessica’s with Lila, Ellen, and Belinda (BILLIE) at The Clothes Closet, a used clothing store in downtown Sweet Valley. They’re looking for costumes for carnival workers, and Lila tries to keep them on track when they get distracted by the weird old fashions. UMM. I do not for a second believe Lila is buying even costumes for other people second hand.
(Once again, Lila’s dad hired their gardeners to help out with the party. Those poor gardeners. I hope they’re tipped well and paid even better.)
Lila wants Jessica to be the fortune teller at the party, but Jessica is reluctant; Lila casually calls her afraid, which, of course, riles Jessica up, and then Lila finds a dress and talks about maybe being the fortune teller herself, a nice bit of manipulation that ends up with Jessica agreeing to be the fortune teller. Lila, I love you.
That night (I assume), Alice wants to know why Jessica hasn’t set the table yet, because dinner is ready, but Jessica says it is Elizabeth’s turn. Understandable that Alice would assume Jessica’s to blame, considering how often Elizabeth sets the table on time for both of them. She sends Jessica up to get her sister, and Jessica feels weird to be the one reminding Elizabeth to do her chores, when normally it’s the other way around. Not so fun when you have to be the responsible one all the time, is it?
When Jessica reminds Elizabeth it’s her night to set the table, Elizabeth, who is acting strange and distant, asks her to do it for her. Jessica is even more shaken by this, because Elizabeth is acting like her. AGAIN I SAY, NOT SO FUN WHEN IT’S YOU, HUH?
At dinner, Elizabeth is distracted and quiet, and Jessica notices that Alice also seems worried about her. Alice and Ned talk a little about Claire and how her parents own the carnival. Ned is confused, because he thought he read something in the paper that the carnival is owned by some big corporation in Texas, but maybe he read it wrong. Alice thinks it would be difficult for Claire, travelling all the time with the carnival like that, and wonders how she manages to go to school. Elizabeth admits she never thought to ask about that, which is not at all an Elizabeth thing to do. She’s constantly asking questions.
Alice wants Elizabeth to bring Claire home for dinner, but Elizabeth is uneasy and says she’s not sure if Claire is allowed to leave the carnival. Doesn’t that raise any alarm bells with anyone? Alice pushes, though, and Elizabeth agrees to invite Claire to dinner on New Year’s Day, when the carnival is closed. Why in the world would it be closed? Tons of people are off work and out of school that day! Prime money making opportunity.
Jessica then invites Elizabeth (and, begrudgingly, Claire) to Lila’s NYE party. Elizabeth flat out says she doesn’t think Lila’s party will be fun, but agrees to consider it when Jessica, annoyed, points out that Lila’s inviting everyone from school, including all of Elizabeth’s boring friends.
Jessica wakes up at 1:08 a.m., thirsty. She tries to go back to sleep, but eventually goes into the bathroom to get a drink of water. That’s when she starts to hear the moaning. She looks in the medicine cabinet mirror, almost expecting to see someone behind her, but no one is there. Unless this is one of those situations where you can only see that someone in certain situations, a la Thir13en Ghosts, which makes a really nice play on this sort of scene that has stuck with me all these years later.
She still doesn’t see anything, but continues to hear the moaning, a sad, eerie sound that makes her shiver, which is also a terrifying, low-pitched groan like a wild animal. Those descriptions don’t actually work together.
She follows the noise to Elizabeth’s room, where moonlight makes Elizabeth look ghostly and pale. Elizabeth is the one groaning, and begging someone in her dreams not to make her go. [Raven: Makes a change from Steven groaning, then stumbing to the bathroom in search of wet wipes.]
We jump to Elizabeth, who feels like she’s falling been falling forever. When she stops, she’s wearing an old-fashioned thin white dress and standing in a very old graveyard, cold gray fog swirling around the crumbling tombstones.
The settings in this book are perfect, creepy and beautiful and exactly what I would have chosen. I’d love to see this adapted into a movie or web series or something. [Dove: Hell, I’d take a flash animation. I just love this.]
There’s a circle of brightly colored lights visible through the fog, turning like a wheel (like a ferris wheel, you say), and she’s compelled to go toward them, but she’s terrified. No matter how she tries to turn away from them, they’re always in front of her and they’re always getting closer. She finds a fortune cookie in her pocket; the fortune says beware. She tries to run, but the fog holds her in place.
The lights are directly in front of her, and as the fog parts, Elizabeth finds herself standing at the edge of a freshly dug grave. The tombstone has the initials C.C. carved into it, until she blinks, and when she looks again, the initials are E.W. A skeleton rises from the tombstone and laughs at her —
— and Jessica wakes her up, promising her she’s just having a nightmare. She comforts Elizabeth and then they both go back to sleep.
Not for long, though, because Jessica set her alarm so she could get up when Elizabeth does, because she’s worried. In the bathroom as they get ready, the talk about how they’ve both been acting a little weird (one of them more than the other ELIZABETH), and Jessica tries another guilt trip, because she’s seen very little of Elizabeth over their school break. Elizabeth invites her to come meet Claire, but Jessica absolutely refuses. Instead, she wants Elizabeth to come to the mall with her, to look for a skirt to go with that yellow blouse from earlier and then to hit up Casey’s for ice cream. Elizabeth is excited about the thought, but quick enough says she can’t go, she has to spend time with Claire, because Claire needs her.
Not even Jessica saying that she needs Elizabeth, too, gets through to her, and it’s a little bit heartbreaking. Jessica lashes out in anger after, as she does, and then the sisters separate for the day.
Lila shows up after breakfast ready to put Jessica to work. (Shocking.) Ellen and Belinda are already at Lila’s house working on the haunted house; their fighting over where to hang the rubber spiders gave Lila a headache, so she came to see Jessica. (Ellen’s moved on to Belinda now? She’s such a flirt, that Ellen.)
She also has news: they’re going to have a real ferris wheel. It won’t be as big as the one at the (“other,” Lila says) carnival, but really, how many parties has Jessica been to that have had any rides at all? None parties, I assume. [Dove: Lila is so awesome.]
Lila wants an update on what Jessica’s going to do about the fortune telling. She has her costume, but doesn’t have a crystal ball, which is absolutely essential, because Lila wants her to be just like Mademoiselle Z. Oh dear lord, she’s lost herself in competition again.
When Jessica argues that she can’t be just like her, anyway, because Z can tell fortunes and Jessica can’t, Lila points out that as far as she knows, Belinda isn’t actually a vampire, but she’s going to pretend.
(SOMEONE WRITE ME THAT FANFIC.) [Dove: A+ for Lila sass. And possibly I may write it.]
Jessica realises that since Lila has invited practically the whole school (now wait a minute, you told Elizabeth she invited all of the school, not almost all), she has to come up with a billion fortunes. Lila waves off her concerns (literally), and tells her to make things up as she goes and to tell people what she thinks they want to hear.
(So like most fortune tellers, then.)
Jessica starts writing down some fortunes, but they quickly run out of ideas, good or bad, especially because Lila will only let her come up with good fortunes. Jessica decides they should not just focus on the next year, but throughout their lives, so they can make up ones about becoming a movie star, etc. She then decides that they’ll write down all the fortunes, put them in a jar (or one jar for girls and one for boys, because god forbid they have similar fortunes), and she’ll draw one out for each guest. Truly that is better than trying to have her memorise them all in a day or two.
Over at the carnival, Claire and Elizabeth talk about the fog, which is so thick that it hides the ocean from view. (This is gorgeous to see. We had a bunch of mornings like that while on holiday last year.) Elizabeth admits it is strange, because it’s rarely foggy in Sweet Valley. Because of course it is always sunny and bright.
Elizabeth struggles to remember what her mother said to her, but it keeps slipping out of mind. Claire tells her it probably wasn’t important, but when Elizabeth looks out at the ocean, she remembers, suddenly, that she’s supposed to invite Claire for dinner.
Claire asks why she’s looking away, is she trying to be mean [Dove: At this point my feelings on Clare went from “Aww, the poor lonely dead girl…” to “NOPE. RUN AWAY.”], and Elizabeth tells her of course not, but that her mom wants to have her over for dinner. Claire says her mother must be very nice (in a tone that means anything but), but Claire can’t leave the carnival. Elizabeth asks why not, but as she’s looking at Claire, she loses that train of thought and instead suggests they go and play.
As they walk, Elizabeth tries to remember what just happened; lately, lots of things are blurring out of her memory. So fucking creepy.
Claire tells Elizabeth she’s glad they’re best friends, and that woman from before — you know, I’m just going to call her Mademoiselle Z, because it’s clearly her — Z tells Claire that she’s a friend to no one. Claire demands she go away, even as Z tells her she can’t do what she’s going to do. Claire can do anything she wants, she’s the owner’s daughter, and Z knows what happens to people who try to stop her, doesn’t she? Z tries to claim that Claire doesn’t scare her, but it’s clear she does.
They storm away, and Claire again calls Z a crazy fake who has been with the carnival since she was a little girl, which is why Claire’s father doesn’t want to fire her, but Claire won’t let her be rude to her or her friends. Because that’s what just happened.
Claire also promises that Elizabeth will always be safe with her.
(Also, Z was clearly close enough to hear the rest of what Claire said, why in the world didn’t she hear her call Elizabeth’s name and maybe realise there are two people running around? Because she’s certainly remembered Jessica’s name up until this point.)
Jessica paints her nails a bright red as she gets ready for the party; she’s also going to wear a red sequined dress that is a little too big for her and is missing a few sequins, but otherwise will be a perfect dress. She’s also going to wear shiny red heels that are too big, but if she walks carefully, her ankles barely wobble. I see this going well.
Sure enough, she nearly falls down the stairs when she goes to show off her costume, but she doesn’t manage to catch herself in time, so not nearly as bad as I expected. Alice suggests they stuff the toes with tissues so they’ll fit better. That sounds uncomfortable. Just wear different shoes, Jessica.
Jessica’s off to Lila’s to help get the final things ready, but she’s waiting for Elizabeth so they can go together. Ned and Alice talk to her about what she knows about Claire, but Jessica’s never met her before.
Elizabeth finally comes home in the middle of this conversation, and she’s not only forgotten about Lila’s party, but she doesn’t even remember that it’s NYE. Alice thinks she should stay home, because she’s been acting strange, but Ned thinks it’s a good idea for her to go see her other friends.
Over at Lila’s, Elizabeth admits to Jessica that she’s always uncomfortable at Lila’s because everything is so big and it is weird.
Lila is wearing a long, white gown covered in sequins and a pointed white hat, and is carrying a magic wand topped with a gold star. She’s dressed as a good witch, even though all the Unicorns are supposed to dress like people from the carnival, and Lila looks nothing like that witch in the haunted house, the only witch at the carnival.
Lila’s the host, though, and she has to look beautiful. [Raven: Lila is awesome!] [Dove: Have that, bitches. #BestLila]
Jessica snarks that she looks more like the prom queen from the Land of Oz High School. #bestjess
Elizabeth is amazed by how much Lila’s party looks like the real carnival. All the trees have coloured lights, merry organ music fills the air, and brightly coloured tents are set up in the center of the grounds. Lila’s dad had his people working on it until late last night. (No, seriously, he better pay them triple time and tip with hundred dollar bills.) [Dove: Actually, when we meet him later, he seems like the type of guy who pays well and says thank you in person.]
There are actually little motorized boats in the pool. Her pool is big enough to have room for multiple motorized boats. Oh my god, Lila.
Jessica wants to hit the food up first (…Steven, is that you?), but Elizabeth is obsessed with the ferris wheel. Lila loves it, too, but hates the merry-go-round her father also rented, and can’t wait until the band starts playing and they don’t have to listen to the organ music.
Lila, that is very fucking clearly a carousel, not a merry-go-round. Is this a Brit vs American English thing?
They go through the haunted house first, where Ellen and Belinda are teasing each other about their costumes. (Totally dating.) Jessica thinks it’s a silly haunted house, but Elizabeth looks uncomfortable. Ellen’s gone all out with the food tricks, like human eyeballs (olives in goopy red Jell-O because olives felt more disgusting that grapes) and raw liver as a human heart. Love it. [Raven: I actually attended a horror play-day in my home town at the age of eleven that did this very thing. Randomly, it got me onto the telly, on ITV’s version of Blue Peter called Freetime. I was dressed as a ghost, and my friend was dressed as a vampire. And I met Des O’Connor. True story.] [Dove: *blinks* This is news to me.]
Mark (Ellen’s little brother) scares them a little when he screams and climbs out of the coffin; most of them laugh, but Elizabeth is truly freaked out, and admits that Claire does lots of tricks, too, and sometimes they scare her, but Claire always says it’s silly to be scared by a trick.
Lila shows them the grand finale, which is, of course, Jessica’s fortune telling setup. Lila wants her to bring out fortunes for her to read to people just before midnight so everyone can hear everything.
This prompts Elizabeth to tell Jessica that Mademoiselle Z hates Claire, but Claire writes her off (as crazy, but fuck that). Jessica says that Claire can’t be all bad if she ignores Z, but then Elizabeth drags her off to the shooting gallery, because Elizabeth is a good shot.
Except she doesn’t hit any of the targets. Jessica, though, wins a pair of purple sunglasses after only a few tries.
The party is full of people now, but all Elizabeth can picture is Claire’s face, shiny with tears. She worries that Claire is unhappy and angry at her because they can’t be together that night. She’s so distracted that at first she doesn’t realise Amy is calling her name. They talk a little, but Elizabeth is distracted and not interested even in the research Amy’s done for that article (she doesn’t even remember that there is an article); eventually, Elizabeth just flat walks away, but not before she calls Amy “Claire.”
Amy immediately tracks down Jessica; Jessica immediately knows she’s worried about Elizabeth, too. They don’t get to talk long, though, before Lila calls Jessica away to do the fortunes. Damn, this party has gone by quickly. [Dove: I’m amazed Amy didn’t stab Liz for this. As we’ve seen with her pen pal, when you disrespect Amy, she goes for the kill shot.]
Lila’s changed things up, too, and has hidden the bowls of fortunes under the table so that Jessica can take one out of the appropriate bowl, duck her head to read it, and then give a fortune that will look real. Lila then promises that she kept the fortunes hidden in her closet all day so no one was able to sneak a peek.
Bruce is the first to get his fortune read, mostly because he asks who is going to win the Super Bowl and Jessica starts putting on her act about concentrating to read the future. Clouds cross the moon, making it hard for Jessica to read the fortune, but she tells him that he will be quarterback of his high school football team.
Does Bruce even play football? Dove, does this come true? [Dove: The only extra-curriculars I’m aware of Bruce doing are: boob-touching and Club X. The latter is not a euphemism.]
He’s pleased with it, at least.
Jessica is surprised by how happy people are to get their fortunes whether or not they believe she can really see the future. They just want to hear something happy. Caroline, for example, who can’t sing at all, is excited when Jessica tells her that she’ll become a famous rock star. [Dove: It happens.]
Some of the fortunes seem perfect, though: Brooke Dennis will be a big movie star and her father is already a famous Hollywood screenwriter; Randy Mason, president of the sixth grade, will be a powerful politician.
Finally, Amy brings Elizabeth up; Elizabeth still looks dazed and uninterested. Jessica doesn’t even bother pulling a fortune, but tells her that she will soon learn the value of her true friends.
Lila is the last, and she’s been keeping track of the fortunes. The only one left is supposed to say that she’ll be a famous model, but when she reads it, it says she will soon go completely bald. Lila’s shocked and says that they didn’t write it, plus the fortunes were hidden, so who could have been the one to write it and sneak it into the bowl. [Raven: I wish we had BleakSteven here. “And your fortune is… cancer of the rectum.”]
Jessica says she knew something would go wrong if they made fun of Mademoiselle Z.
I was not picturing this as you making fun of her, but sure.
Elizabeth is exhausted from the party and oversleeps; immediately she’s afraid that Claire is worried about her and goes downstairs to leave for the carnival. Jessica reminds her that it’s closed for the day, along with almost everywhere else, even the mall. Again, I call bullshit. Very little retail and entertainment places close on New Year’s Day even back in the 90s. Kids are out of school and a lot of adults are off work. TIME TO SPEND MONEY. [Dove: This seemed perfectly normal to me. Pretty much everything was closed on New Year’s Day in my home town in the 90s.]
Jessica isn’t sympathetic at all when Elizabeth freaks out a little over missing a day with Claire. Jessica snaps that it’s like Claire is taking over her mind because all she does is hang out with Claire or talk about Claire.
Elizabeth thinks that’s ridiculous, but starts to feel some anxiety because she is spending a lot of time with Claire. But Claire is nice — isn’t she? Elizabeth remembers how mean she’d been to Mademoiselle Z, how afraid Z was of her, how all the workers acted as if she wasn’t even there.
Elizabeth pictures Claire’s face, her deep, dark eyes, her sad, faraway smile, and immediately all her doubts vanish.
As Elizabeth is worrying about not seeing Claire, Alice comes up and asks if there’s anything special Claire wants for dinner. Elizabeth vaguely remembers asking her, but doesn’t have many details for Alice, and is also, as usual, distracted.
Alice is worried, again, that she’s getting sick and maybe they shouldn’t have let her go to the party, but Elizabeth promises she’s fine. When Alice tells her that she should probably stay inside because she may have a touch of the flu, Elizabeth is grumpy that everyone is treating her so strangely.
She is relieved that she’ll see Claire that night, even though it’s hard for Elizabeth to picture Claire doing such a normal, everyday thing as sitting down to eat roast for a family dinner.
That night, Claire doesn’t show up and doesn’t show up; eventually, they sit down to eat, an hour after dinner was ready, even though Elizabeth is certain she’ll show up if they just wait (and even though she can’t quite remember Claire actually promising to come).
Elizabeth is disappointed that Claire hasn’t shown up, and even more upset when Ned and Alice tell her that she maybe shouldn’t see Claire anymore until they get a chance to meet her. Elizabeth thinks they’re being completely unfair, but it’s understandable that they’d want to know with whom she’s spending all her time.
The next morning, Elizabeth fights with Alice over going to the carnival because she has to see Claire. Jessica is shocked, because she’s not sure she’s ever heard Elizabeth argue with Alice before. Alice sends Elizabeth back up to clean her room, and when the coast is clear, Jessica goes downstairs for breakfast, where Alice is unhappy over how things are going.
Amy comes to visit, and Elizabeth is super rude to her, even when she asks Elizabeth to go interview a man for their story about the carnival.
This is enough to make Jessica vow that they will get to the bottom of it once and for all. [Dove: PLUCKY GIRL DETECTIVES!]
Amy takes her to visit Mr Melman, whom she found while doing research for her article; he’s the man who designed the haunted house for the carnival. How convenient that he’s in Sweet Valley, considering that this is a traveling carnival. Amy hopes that he will know why the carnival was forced to leave those other towns in northern California.
Mr Melman is in his 60s and working in a shabby five story office building; he’s eating a huge, sloppy sandwich when they arrive. He tells them that ten years ago, when the carnival was up by Sacramento, he designed the new haunted house; the previous one was nearly 50 years old, oh and randomly burned down one night.
There were plenty of rumours about why, though he doesn’t have the definitive answer. The big one was that a local family was responsible, some long story about their son being driven crazy by the haunted house. Cool. Cool cool cool. FUCK OFF.
He talks about how the owners, a corporation, liked his low prices if not his ideas. He liked having the job at first, but as he did the work, he started feeling creeped out by the place. Haunted houses are supposed to be fun, jump scares and scream-laughs, nothing real or terrifying, but as he worked on that haunted house, it started to change, to feel like something horrible and evil had moved in. He might have been able to survive just a feeling, but then the tombstone happened.
Mr Melman designed the haunted house to be split into two different rooms, one a vampire theme (Jessica tells him that’s the one she took and he says she missed the worst of it then) and the other a ghost theme. The ghost room was the last part of the house he worked on, and it ends in an open grave you have to pass through. He put a tombstone of wood and fake moss and carved RIP into it.
Then he went into work one day and the tombstone had become a real tombstone, cold and hard like granite, and it had something new carved on it: C.C. 1882 to 1892. At first he thought it was a worker’s sick joke (hoped it was), but as he looked at it, he was swamped in a terrible, nameless fear and it took all his strength to touch it, which is when he learned it had become real.
That was the last haunted house he ever designed. [Raven: How the hell does Mr Melman sleep at night? That’s some ridiculous spooky shit right there. Why isn’t he screaming to the heavens about this fucked-up stuff?]
Jessica rushes in to talk to Elizabeth as soon as she gets home, bursting with news about the carnival. Elizabeth, of course, immediately wants to know if it’s about Claire, and Jessica snaps that can’t she stop thinking about her new friend for one day? They get into a little argument about how weird Elizabeth is acting, having nightmares (look, that’s not all that weird, to be honest), being mean to Amy (50-50 on whether this is actually weird for Elizabeth), and ignoring all her chores (her bedroom is a mess of dirty clothes and Jessica finds a withered banana peel on Elizabeth’s desk — this is weird behaviour for her, that’s for sure).
When Jessica mentions that she’s been talking to Amy about her research, Elizabeth dismisses it as Amy being jealous of Claire. Because she’s ever shown jealousy of your friend of the book before? Jessica admits that she, too, thinks there’s something strange about the carnival, but before she can tell Elizabeth anything, Elizabeth accuses her of being jealous, too, and kicks her out of her room.
Jessica is too stunned to argue (WELL DAMN) and feels terrible that Elizabeth is treating her so badly. On the one hand, I’m sympathetic, this is a creepy, heartbreaking situation. On the other hand, you treat Elizabeth like shit all the time, so I’m not that sympathetic.
Later, Lila sneaks over to the Wakefield house wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat over a colorful silk scarf; her face is barely visible under that combo. She demands to be let inside quickly because the sun can so easily damage hair and oh my god of course that is what’s happening. LILA NEVER CHANGE.
She’s being super careful, because all sorts of things can damage your hair, sunlight, wind, rain, hot, cold, humidity, bats — because they can get tangled in your hair. Switch bats for birds and I have the same fear, Lila. Lila, I love you. LILA NEVER CHANGE. [Raven: Of COURSE you fear birds. I was there when they attacked you.] [Dove: He’s not even joking. The birds flew at her head.]
When Lila takes off the hat and scarf, her hair is plastered down as if it is coated in grease. Lila used a whole can of mousse to hold her hair in place so it can’t fall out. OH. MY. GOD. I. LOVE. THIS. RIDICULOUS. GIRL.
Steven comes in, looking for Bobo. Jessica is immediately suspicious, and it pays off when he says it’s his pet bat that has escaped, and last time he escaped, he got tangled in a girl’s hair. Jessica shouts at him as he runs out of the room, laughing, and then tells Lila it must all be a prank. (She also says Lila is acting like a crazy person. Fuck off.) Lila is skeptical, though, because no one had the chance to slip an extra fortune into the bowl. Therefore, it must be a supernatural force. My god, I love when Lila shows up in these Super Special/Super Chiller books. YOU ARE THE BEST. [Dove: Yeah, Lila skips the Super Editions, because she’ll have to go camping, but she rocks up with twice as much sass for the Super Chillers.]
Jessica, though, is beginning to have an idea of what actually happened.
Elizabeth wakes from a nap with eyes swollen from crying and a dry mouth. She’d been dreaming of Claire, and as she climbs out of bed, she can nearly hear Claire calling for her, telling her that she’s lonely and wants to play.
Creepy, obsessive ghost romance it is.
Elizabeth sneaks out of the house and rushes off to the carnival. Jessica hears her just as she gets to the front door and takes off after her, abandoning Lila. YES. GET IT, JESSICA.
Of course, Jessica knows exactly where Elizabeth is going. Once she gets close to the gate, she starts thinking about Mademoiselle Z’s prediction, and it frightens her enough that she can’t go any further.
Plus a storm has come in, clouds hiding the sun and lighting flashing out over the ocean. The clouds are dark enough that even though it is only late afternoon, it looks like night.
As she’s standing there, a boy runs out of the carnival, shoving people aside as he goes. When he gets closer, she realises it is Patrick Morris, one of the nicest, cutest boys at SVMS. He doesn’t hear her when she calls his name, not until she also grabs his arm. He stops running at that, his expression still wild with fear, and he tells her that he doesn’t know what’s wrong with him, but something strange and horrible just happened: he saw a ghost.
He was on the ferris wheel all by himself. The wheel stopped to let riders on and off, he was at the very top looking out over the ocean, and then he heard a high-pitched voice, a girl’s voice. It said hello to him and asked if he wants to come play. He thought it was someone in one of the other cars (…is that what they’re called on a ferris wheel?), but all the ones around him are empty. PROBABLY BECAUSE MOST PEOPLE ARE TOO SMART TO SIT IN A GIANT METAL CIRCLE DURING A LIGHTING STORM, BUT WHATEVER, PATRICK.
He couldn’t see anyone anywhere nearby, but he kept hearing a voice telling him to come and play; then he sees a wispy, white form standing in mid-air and asking him to come and play. He’s not only never going on the ferris wheel again, but he’s going to lock himself in his room until the carnival leaves town.
Jessica is terrified now, remember Mr Melman saying that it felt like something horrible and evil had moved into the haunted house.
The storm keeps getting worse and worse, and people start leaving the carnival as one by one, the rides are shut down and the bright lights turn off. Then the sound of the carousel’s organ music fades eerily in the wind.
God, this has so much atmosphere. I fucking love it. One of the projects we’re working on involves a creepy pier with similar rides, and I can only hope to capture such tension.
Elizabeth is surprised to find Jessica there when she comes out with the last of the crowd. They’ve fully shut down the carnival because of the storm, and Elizabeth is unhappy that she barely got to say hello to Claire.
Jessica hopes that the storm washes the carnival into the ocean, which would also make for a great story and powerful image.
In the few minutes it takes for them to get home, the rain has already stopped. Convenient. Jessica, who has the most experience sneaking in and out of the house, decides the best bet is to go in through the patio doors and run upstairs so their parents can’t see how soaked they are.
Sure enough, the parents aren’t in the room, but Steven is, and he’s very smug. Jessica begs him to help because Elizabeth’s going to be in “the worst trouble of her whole life” if she gets caught. Steven has been teasing them, but as he looks at Elizabeth’s pale face and the dark circles under her eyes, he stops and immediately wants to know how he can help.
UGH SIBLING FEELINGS I HAVE THEM.
Jessica sends him in to distract their parents until they get upstairs to dry off. (He does so by asking for another raise of his allowance. Just go talk food to them. They expect it of you.)
As soon as they’re changed, Jessica tells Elizabeth about what happened to Patrick, hoping that it will change her mind about the carnival. Elizabeth swears it won’t, but she’s entertained by the idea of a ghost, and says that Patrick is either playing a joke on Jessica or he’s been watching too many horror movies. Both logical responses, but then she has to add that Jessica is jealous of Claire and trying to find a way to scare Elizabeth away from the carnival.
Jessica says she’s worried because Elizabeth is doing all these things that aren’t like her, including sneaking around behind their parents’ back. ONCE AGAIN, doesn’t feel so great to be the twin trying to follow the rules while the other one breaks them, DOES IT JESSICA. (I know she will learn nothing from this.)
Elizabeth is triumphant when she tells Jessica that Claire told her to be nicer to her parents while they were talking that afternoon, which does surprise Jessica. Elizabeth then goes down to set the table, leaving Jessica to ponder what in the world Claire is up to now.
Once both girls are downstairs, Jessica thanks Steven, who did his part even though talking about the allowance, again, so soon after a raise, did not put him in the best light with their parents. Alice then says she found a damp spot on the carpet near the sliding doors, and she wonders if they have a leak.
At bedtime, the storm kicks off again louder than ever, the rain pounding so hard against the window that she’s afraid the glass will break, and even with her shades drawn, the lightning lights up her entire room and casts eerie shadows across the floor.
Normally, Jessica loves storms, but this one frightens her and she can’t stop thinking about Patrick’s story. The big oak tree outside sways in the heavy winds and scrapes its branches against the side of the house. That sound somehow lulls Jessica toward sleep, right up until she hears that terrible tapping on her window again. This time, she knows it isn’t a nightmare. She hides under the covers, waiting for it to stop, but it gets louder and louder — until she slowly sticks her head to get fresh air and it suddenly stops.
And then lightning reveals the terrifying outline of a human skeleton against the window shade, one bony hand beckoning her from her bed. More lightning, more skeleton shadow, and a low, raspy voice telling her to stay away.
So, basically everyone has confused one twin for the other. Except for Claire.
Jessica screams, hides, and then wakes up on Elizabeth’s floor, because apparently she went there after her nightmare. Jessica tells her all about it, though I suspect she did so before she went back to sleep, too. Jessica swears it wasn’t a dream, but Elizabeth very clearly doesn’t believe her.
Elizabeth offers to help with breakfast, and then says that she thinks she was sick and after resting all day yesterday (resting, Jessica snarks to herself), she feels better, so it must have been a touch of the flu. That’s not really how the flu works, though we often call things the flue when they’re really just a bad cold, etc.
She then says that Claire called and said she’s been sick, too, and it must be going around, and that Claire apologised for missing dinner, she was too sick to call, and her entire family has been sick. Then, because the carnival is leaving in a day, she asks to go to the carnival so she can invite Claire and her family for lunch the next day, before they leave town, and she promises to come home on time. Alice and Ned are going out with friends that evening, and so she needs Elizabeth home no later than 5 p.m.
Jessica still has doubts that Elizabeth is feeling better, but throughout the day, she seems like her old self, cleaning her room, helping with chores, calling Amy, etc. Jessica finally trusts her enough to ask her to help spy on Steven because she thinks that Steven is playing a mean trick on her and Lila. They sneak into his room to find a sample of his handwriting, and sure enough, Jessica matches the writing to that of the fortune and is now ready to plot their revenge. Shouldn’t you have Lila around for this, really?
But then Elizabeth says it’s time for her to the carnival. Jessica begs her not to go and even brings up Patrick and his ghost; Elizabeth promises not to talk to any ghosts while she’s there. Jessica says that she’s sure something horrible is going on at the carnival, and it’s not safe, even though she doesn’t know what it is exactly.
Later, Elizabeth is two hours late and Alice and Ned are gone. I thought Alice wanted her home so that she could see her before they left, and if she didn’t turn up, they would go find her at the carnival and ground her, but maybe not. Anyway, Steven and Jessica bicker over what to watch, and then talk about how dangerous the carnival is, though Steven doesn’t believe her, either.
Jessica waits another hour, but doesn’t, you know, go looking for her or anything, just paces around the house. It’s dark and getting foggy, and she’s freaking out BUT AGAIN DOESN’T DO ANYTHING. Jessica! Expect more from you!
Then she gets a call from that guy with the low, raspy voice who tells her the girl is in danger and if she doesn’t get away from “here” she’ll never be seen alive again and the evil one is ready to strike.
LOOK. SIR. IF YOU ARE GOING TO GIVE WARNINGS LIKE THIS BE LESS FUCKING CRYPTIC WHAT THE HELL. Where is here? Who is in trouble? JUST MAKE YOURSELF CLEAR FUCKER.
Jessica tries to call Amy for help, but no one answers; she calls Lila next, but Lila is too busy conditioning her hair, which is a pretty Lila thing to do, though often I think she’d drop what she’s doing to go help Jessica when she’s really frantic. Clearly not, though. [Dove: She’s still smarting over that gold mine/reincarnation prank Jess pulled?]
Jessica goes to the carnival which is even creepier at night, especially with the thick fog coming in off the ocean, hiding the moon and turning the ferris wheel into a dim blur of colored lights. Now Jessica thinks the clown’s mouth entrance looks like “the macabre grin of a rotting skull, or the hungry mouth of some awful beast, ready to swallow her.”
FINALLY. Also, delightfully creepy.
She only has 20 minutes or less, depending on the fog, before the carnival closes. She considers waiting outside, because surely Elizabeth will be out soon and also that will protect Jessica from Mademoiselle Z, but she forces herself to inside though she’s terrified of the curse.
Jessica frantically runs through the carnival looking for Elizabeth, past the food and the game booths and the rides. God, I love you, Jessica, and I love this scene, as the rides come to a halt and the lights go off and the music dies. SO FUCKING CREEPY.
A worker finally asks if she’s lost, and Jessica learns for sure that the carnival is owned by a corporation. He tells her that Mrs Zalekis would know if the manager, Mr Mates, has a daughter, because the guy’s only been there one year and isn’t sure whom Jessica means when she says Claire the owner’s daughter. [Dove: Delightful moment here, Jess asks if he’s seen her sister, and starts to describe Liz, before slapping her forehead and saying, “She looks exactly like me.” For some reason, I adore that tiny detail of Jess being worried and not thinking straight and it being amusing.]
Mrs Zalekis is, of course Mademoiselle Z.
Jessica goes to the haunted house to search, and even though it’s basically closed, she gets inside. None of the tricks are playing, and everything looks dusty and plastic and dull, but Jessica is basically terrified and this time, her fear is real. She’s alone and no one knows where she is.
When she reaches the split rooms, she asks herself, out loud, which she should choose, and someone tells her ghosts. She tries the vampire door instead, but it’s locked; she tries the front door, but it is now locked, too. Jessica is trapped!
Jessica freaks out in the ghost room, sees a floating sheet with two dark, solemn eyes watching her through the eye holes, and when she tries to run out the exit door, it is locked, too.
She’s terrified, and even moreso when she literally runs into Mademoiselle Z’s huge assistant, fog swirling around him through an open door. His voice, it turns out, is the same she heard at her bedroom window, but also the same voice who called to warn her.
He tells her that they’re her friends, and he needs her to come talk to Mademoiselle Z, the only person who can help Jessica.
This time, she does go to see her, and the second Jessica enters the tent, Z tells her they’ve been trying to save her life. Her helper is Nicolai, and he’s her fiance (love it), and she sent him to scare Jessica away because even after the curse, she kept coming back.
… so he stalked her to her house, waited until dark, and scared her twice, somehow got her number AND NEVER ONCE MANAGED TO SEE THAT THERE ARE IDENTICAL FUCKING TWINS?!
Z tells her this story:
“Many years ago a man and his wife were trapeze artists in the circus. One night during a performance the man was injured very badly. Because he could no longer work for the circus, he formed this traveling carnival. He and his wife had a child, but they were never a happy family. The father was bitter about the accident, and he was cruel to his wife and daughter.”
Mademoiselle Z took a deep breath. “When the little girl was still very young, her mother died after a long illness. Her father grew even more unhappy, and he inflicted his anguish on the little girl. She was not allowed to have any playmates, and he forbade her to go on any of the rides. Over time, the little girl grew as cruel and bitter as her father.
“On her tenth birthday, the girl asked her father for a special gift. For one night she wanted to be like any other normal child and to go on the rides.
“But her father refused. That night the little girl decided to go on the Ferris wheel all by herself. After everyone had gone to sleep, she sneaked outside and managed to start the huge wheel and hop into a car.”
“What happened to her?” Jessica asked nervously.
“She rode for hours until at last she grew tired,” Mademoiselle Z answered. “As her car reached the ground, she jumped off. But her long dress got caught in the car and she couldn’t pull it free. The wheel continued to turn, and the poor little girl was pulled to the very top of the Ferris wheel. She hung there for just a moment, hundreds of feet in the air, until her dress finally tore.”
Mademoiselle Z shook her head sadly. “They found the little girl’s body on the ground the next morning. The Ferris wheel was still turning. Caught on one of the cars was a long strip of blue—and-cream fabric, floating in the breeze. Her father sold the carnival the very next day.”
God, what a good ghost story. Z then tells her that though the little girl died, her unhappy spirit didn’t go away, and soon kids started saying they saw and heard strange things. Z’s mother was the fortune teller before her, and Claire started turning up and asking her to play.
SO FUCKING CREEPY.
Jessica explains that it was Elizabeth playing with Claire, not Jessica, because, again, SOMEHOW DESPITE STALKING THEM TO THEIR HOME, NO ONE FIGURED OUT THERE ARE FUCKING TWINS.
Z has Nicolai let the ponies run free through the carnival, because they are terrified of ghosts and their screams will show where Claire is. Okay, fucked up and also amazing and I am desperate to see this adapted into a movie OH MY GOD.
Meanwhile, Elizabeth feels like she’s trapped in a bad dream; all afternoon was fun, but when night came, Claire became bossy and mean; when Claire looked at her, though, Elizabeth loss all annoyance and ended up dully going along with whatever she suggested.
Claire tells her to go on the ferris wheel, which was Claire’s favourite ride and she went on it once, a long time ago. UGH MY HEART.
Elizabeth slowly climbs into the ferris wheel, and as she does so, she vaguely remembers a tiny piece of paper and a message. About damn time the fortune from the beginning is coming back into play!
The ferris wheel’s lights come on and the motor starts; then Elizabeth hears the sound of a panicked pony. Claire growls at Jasper, and he gallops off with a scream. POOR PONY. Also, brilliantly creepy. My god, this book is unbelievably wonderful as a ghost story.
Z tells Jessica that Claire’s spirit is very powerful and they can’t fight her; only Elizabeth can stop her now. She has to be very strong to resist, and to decide whether she will stay with the living or join Claire. Nicolai manages to stop the ferris wheel while Elizabeth’s car is only a few feet in the air, and then Claire shuts Nicolai down. Z offers herself in Elizabeth’s place, but Claire rejects her; she should have chosen to come play 15 years ago if she wanted to be friends forever.
Claire’s thrilled to get two playmates, because Jessica’s halfway into the car with Elizabeth when the ferris wheel starts again. She manages to pull herself all the way into the car, but Elizabeth doesn’t notice her at all.
Of course, the car stops at the top; the carnival is nearly invisible beneath them, lost to the fog, though Jessica can see the lights of their neighbourhood in the distance. This is so gorgeous and so creepy.
Jessica tries to point out their home and remind her of their family, but Elizabeth doesn’t look. Then Claire floats up to hang only a few feet in front of the car, and she asks Elizabeth to come play with her.
Over to Elizabeth, she’s excited to see Claire and starts to stand up, but something holds her in place. Until this moment, she didn’t realise that anyone else was in the car with her, but the person holding her seems familiar in some way. Elizabeth can’t understand what she’s saying.
Claire keeps calling for her, telling her to come play and that Claire is her very best friend in the whole world, which is the wrong thing to say, because then Jessica talks about being sisters and best friends, and Elizabeth starts to recognise her.
She still gets up, though, and starts to climb out of the car. Claire demands she join her, and transforms in front of them, until there’s nothing left but a hideous skeleton. Jessica continues to beg Elizabeth to stay because Jessica needs her.
Then Claire makes her final mistake; she uses her powers to hurt Jessica, and Elizabeth freaks. the fuck. out. and refuses to go with her because she hurt Jessica. Claire screams at her writhing in fury, and Elizabeth can finally see her as the bitter, monstrous spirit she’s always been.
And then, with one last agonised scream, she disappears.
Jessica cries and holds Elizabeth and says that Elizabeth sure owes her one now. NEVER CHANGE. [Raven: I’m sure this is endgame for any argument that ever happens going forward. “Elizabeth, I borrowed your yellow sweater.” … “Jessica, you can’t just keep taking my things without asking!” … “Elizabeth, I LITERALLY saved your LIFE from a fucking GHOST.” … “Would you like my new sneakers to go with them?”]
Wrapping up the story, Jessica will never tell Lila what happened because there’s no way Lila will believe her; Elizabeth might try to tell Amy, but most of the time she spent with Claire is vague and faded like a bad dream. They beat Alice and Ned home, so there’s no punishment; Elizabeth covered for why Claire won’t show up to have lunch; and Mademoiselle J sends Jessica a letter offering her one final prediction: you and your sister will always share a special bond of love and friendship.
The doorbell rings, but Jessica won’t let Elizabeth answer it. Eventually, Steven does, Lila says hello, he screams, and then he runs upstairs and slams his bedroom door. Jessica’s endlessly amused, and takes Elizabeth to go see Lila, who’s wearing a bald wig, and for some reason, that freaked Steven right out. I guess because his fake fortune came true? Still, I love when Jessica and Lila work together on nefarious plans.
Elizabeth slyly tells them to give him a chance, maybe the bald style will grow on him. NOPE. (Delightful.)
HOLY SHIT THIS BOOK. This book is so, so good. Like, legitimately good, not just Sweet Valley good. Sure, there’s some slowness around the Jessica parts, but the creepiness is amazing, the ghost story itself is great, I love the Amy and Jessica team up, I love how sibling love saved the day, I loved the creepy as hell ACTUAL FUCKING GHOST. OH. MY. GOD. This book. I would love to see it adapted. The imagery is so, so gorgeous, the story is fun, and I am absolutely delighted.
[Raven: Yep, this book is brilliant. Loved every second. It must be all downhill from here.]
[Dove: *lies back, perfectly content* I. fucking. told. you. so.]
Characters: !ACTUAL GHOSTS!, Alice Wakefield, Amy Sutton, Belinda "Billie" Layton, Bruce Patman, Caroline Pearce, Claire Caldwell, Elizabeth Wakefield, Ellen Riteman, Jessica Wakefield, Lila Fowler, Ned Wakefield, Steven Wakefield