Title: The Beast is Watching You
Tagline: On a hill on the outskirts of Sweet Valley sits a beautiful old Victorian house—empty until a big family move in… the perfect clients for Elizabeth and Jessica Wakefield’s new babysitting service…
Summary: Little by little, Jessica and Elizabeth Wakefield’s dream job of baby-sitting for the Riccoli kids is turning into a nightmare. Andrew Riccoli dreams that someone tried to set fire to his room—and then wakes up in a cloud of smoke. Then Gretchen Riccoli dreams she’s falling—and wakes up at the bottom of the mansion’s dark, winding staircase. The twins are getting scared… too scared to close their eyes in the Riccoli mansion.
Don’t go to sleep, Sweet Valley… you may never wake up!
The first book in this series is hardly a zinger. For a spooky book with an action-packed premise, not a lot happened.
Here’s hoping the second swings a little harder for the fences.
[Dove: This is where I really lost my patience with this mini-series. The b-plot is my personal bugbear and I will never forgive or forget. I hate this mini-series.]
[Wing: I did not have high expectations. I was partially correct.]
This book can be summed up thusly:
- Babysitters babysit.
- Nightmare happens.
- Babysitters babysit
- Nightmare happens.
- Babysitters babysit
- Nightmare happens.
- Throughout, lawnmowers.
I was hoping that, after a relatively weak opening act, Act II of the Nightmare Mansion quadrology would kick up the pace and start scaring the bejeezus out of us. If anything, it actually gets worse.
But enough of my yackin’! Let’s get to the good stuff.
We begin, in fine scary style, with a section in italics. The ghostly girl that is causing all these damn nightmares is seeing the scene. She stares at the Wakefield twins and seethes. SEETHES, I TELL YOU!
She will have her revenge, or something.
[Wing: Bad guy POV. Yay. I love that so much. (Bad Guy POV Sucks)]
We skip to the Wakefield twins, who are happily trotting to their latest baby-sitting gig. They banter, but there’s spooky undercurrent. Strange things are afoot at the Riccoli House. The very sight of it makes Elizabeth uneasy.
Don’t be silly, she told herself. So a couple of spooky things have happened here when we’ve been baby-sitting. So what? There’s probably a reasonable explanation.
And here’s the first of what seems to be an endless litany of “there’s nothing to worry about” sentences. We have a Spooky Thing or Creepy Feeling, and then we undermine it in an eerie fashion with some “everything is fine, pay no attention to the ghost behind the curtain” schtick. It’s tiresome.
Wow. Tired of the book on Page 1. That’s gotta be a record.
Jessica asks her sister if she thinks there’ll be any spooky shenanegans that evening, as a bald ruse to expedite the plot thus far. A Riccoli kid has nightmared every night that they’ve been baby-sat. The girls explain it away.
Elizabeth looks towards something called the Widow’s Walk. I doubt that’s like a Stride of Pride, but you never know. Without googling, I expect it’s a balcony of some sort. To Google! … … …
Huh. It’s a rooftop balcony. Nice. Every day’s a school day. [Dove: I did exactly the same thing when recapping Making Out. Claire was always on the widow’s walk making not of the weather. I just assumed that her sister had sassily called it that because she and Claire had a rivalry and it wouldn’t be out of character to hear Nina call Claire a black widow. I was equally surprised it was a real thing.] [Wing: …am I really the only recapper who knew what it was as a child? I think they’re wonderful and very creepy.]
While the air chills, Elizabeth ponders the recent happenings. Dead gardeners, secret rooms, and mysterious pictures of their sainted mother, all laid out for the reader as a “previously on” recap. [Wing: In here, her recap goes from one kid having nightmares to multiple kids having nightmares, which is true in this book, but did not happen in the last book. Also, the references are not that far apart. Ghostie. Get it together.] She mentions the scratches that materialised on Juliana’s back at the previous book’s denouement, and Jessica offers the explanation that the kid likely scratched herself. Elizabeth is dubious, but accepts it.
That’s another aspect of this book that’s heavy handed. It’s forever offering mundane explanations for the supernatural shenanigans, then not-so-subtly undermining them in ominous asides. Its all “The ghost was nothing more than a sheet on a washing line… or was it?”. I get that this is a standard trope, used to heighten the ominous foreboding or some shit, but here it’s layered on like frosting on a top-heavy cupcake. [Dove: And maybe that might be forgiveable, if there wasn’t a whole side-series that deals with the supernatural in a much better manner. Some may suck, but Carnival Ghost was awesome.]
Suddenly, there’s a cat. Apparently, the Riccolos have a cat, which is something I think I’d remember from book 1, but no. Jess changes her tune, and blames the cat, which Elizabeth also dubiously accepts. Eventually, the girls are themselves to the house.
So the last books ends with the one single moment of excitement – Elizabeth discovering the scratches on Juliana’s back, and Jessica finding the secret room and the supposed picture of their young mother with a mysterious girl – and we simply jump-cut to the following morning. We skip to the girls just undermining the very things that were presented as the Big Reveals a mere moment before.
It’s the complaint that Annie Wilkes has about the Chapter Plays in Misery. The end of one, the hero’s runaway cart crashes over a cliff. The start of the next, the hero dives for safety before the fatal plummet. There’s a disconnect between the first and the second, and the audience feel cheated.
Well, there’s a cockadoodie disconnect here too, Ghostie.
In the Riccoli house, we are reintroduced to the kids. There’s ten-year-old Olivia, eight-year-old Andrew, seven-year-old Gretchen, five-year-old Juliana, and two-year-old Nate.
Nate talks in baby-speak, and I FUCKING HATE BABY SPEAK. It’s all “’Essika” and “Libabbeff” and “unny swippers” and OH MY GOD FUCK OFF INTO THE SUN.
There’s also Mama Riccoli, who in this book is apparently ditsy and forgetful and messy. She wasn’t that in the last book, was she? Maybe I blocked it out. [Wing: She wasn’t, and if you’re going with the theory that this knocks-off the Baby-Sitters Club, this is yet another way it does. In the BSC, Dawn’s mother is completely ditsy and forgetful and messy, right down to losing her shoe sometimes.]
As Mama Riccoli scuttles around looking for her lost shoe, the Riccoli kids show us how normal their family is by twatting around and bantering. Juliana tells the crowd a joke, which is, quite frankly, shit.
Q: What lives in a zoo and likes to eat stew?
A: A shoe.
Okay, so it’s actually quite a charming joke, in the vein of Kids Write Jokes (if you haven’t checked them out, go trawl the Kids Write Jokes Twitter, and be prepared to lose an hour or so).
Elizabeth watches the family play, and again concludes that THINGS ARE NORMAL and THERE IS NO MONSTER UNDER THE BED.
Mama Riccoli finally finds her lost shoe (oh my, how forgetful!). She tells all that she’s glad she didn’t have to resort to Nate’s bunny slippers, which turns out to be SPOOKY FORESHADOWING. She then reveals that’s she’s lost her keys. Fucks’ sake.
Next chapter begins with the newly be-keyed Mama Riccoli finally gone for the evening, and the kids / twins discussing what to do that evening. Games are on offer, as is playing dress up and baking a cake. The kids all convince Elizabeth that they should stay up a little later. Elizabeth agrees, as that’s better than dealing with… their nightmares. Dun dun DUUUUUUN!
Jessica is tasked with cake making with the non-Nate portion of Clan Riccoli. In grand Jessica tradition, she half-arses the recipe at the insistence of the kids, filling the bowl with too much sugar and chocolate. Nice continuity from her Cookie Disaster, I guess.
Elizabeth has the onerous task of chase-tickling the two-year-old Nate, during which she concludes that she was very much mistaken to have been worried about babysitting that night.
Once the cake is baking, the twins supervise a frankly quite irresponsible relay race up and down a flight of stairs, in which competitors dash up, tag the upstairs bannister, and dash back down.
So, the twins are fine with letting a bunch of kids with single-digit ages, including a FIVE YEAR OLD and a TWO YEAR OLD, hoon up and down a flight of fucking stairs?! [Dove: We let our two three-month olds do the same. I mean, they’re cats, but does the text actually specify that these children are human?] That’s just an injury waiting to happen. And that’s not even considering the house is FUCKING CURSED and little Nate could easily be yeeted through a dormer window by a vengeful spirit.
Also, this sentence is amazing, out of context.
“Run, Nate!” Elizabeth urged him. She put a hand on his back and tried to push him gently toward the stairs.
Jesus, Liz. Have a little compassion.
Next chapter, and the kids are asleep. And of course, suddenly things get a lot spookier. The lights seem dimmer, and the living room suddenly feels like a cave [Dove: SPECIFY DIMENSIONS IMMEDIATELY OR REVOKE THAT COMPARISON.] for no reason other than TENSION. Apparently, the twins are at a loss for words, which is a bit weird, especially for Jessica.
They sit in silence. Elizabeth ponders the unknowable. Jess thinks she sees something terrifying, but decides it’s just a shadow. They laugh.
It’s now 9:45. A dog barks in the street. A clock ticks. A car drives by.
The twins, still struck mute by tension and fear, decide to play a game of Hangman. However, Elizabeth can’t think of any non-terrifying words to use, so that fizzles out rather abruptly. Instead, they eat all the cake.
The clock ticks to ten, which is a bit late. I thought Mama Riccoli was a university lecturer and only required babysitting from around 4pm to 8pm? Wasn’t that a thing in the previous book?
The twins continue attempting to pass the time. They attempt some riddles, from one of the kids’ riddle books…
[Jessica] glanced at the riddle in front of her. “What do you call a female horse who sleeps during the day?” she asked.
Elizabeth considered. “A female horse who sleeps during the day,” she repeated thoughtfully. “Animals that sleep during the day are nocturnal,” she said as if to herself. “A nocturn-horse?”
… … … … A NOCTURN-HORSE.
Obviously, the answer is “Nightmare,” and look, we’re back in the spookydome.
They decide to ditch the riddles.
It’s now almost 10:15. The twins are still waiting. The air feels cold, because SPOOKY. Once 10:15 actually hits, the tension is vented. Apparently, the kids don’t wake up with nightmares if they stay asleep for at least an hour after their bedtime. Convenient.
Relieved, Jessica suggests they both go explore the secret room she discovered at the end of the last book.
Elizabeth isn’t up for it. So the girls sit and talk about the theory of the secret room and the poster. We learn that the non-Alice girl in the photo is Eva Sullivan, and even though it’s spooky, they deduce that the Alice in the picture is unlikely to be the Sainted Alice Wakefield. Why? Because accepting what’s obvious probably doesn’t happen until Book 3.
Jessica nodded emphatically. “That girl didn’t really look that much like Mom when you think about it,” she said with a wave of her hand. “She was too tall to be Mom, for one thing. Her hair was a shade or two lighter, and I bet Mom never owned a dress like that.” She rolled her eyes. “I mean, no one with fashion sense that bad could grow up to be an interior decorator, you know?”
Okay, so that’s quite funny. But’s still a pair of talking heads rather than any action.
Eventually, it’s 10:30. The girls are still spooked, but happy that their watch is almost over. But suddenly, they hear a scratching from outside. Faltering, they hope it’s the cat… but it’s not, of course. Going against everything that horror films teach us, they decide to check it out.
They gingerly approach the scratchy window. Outside, there’s a howling.
Jessica presses her nose to the window…
What was that? A flash of sudden movement… something white…
A shadowy outline in the darkness…
Coming right at her!
Jessica couldn’t help herself. She screamed.
The twins spot an eerie white face lurking in the shadows. It sports a mouth of cracked teeth, and a full length scar from hairline to chin. Terrified, they choose flight over fight, and bravely run away. They head to the back of the house, with Elizabeth, to her credit, worrying about how to rescue the Riccoli kids from a terrible fate.
“What?” Jessica stared up at her sister. Her eyes were frozen with fear, but at least she’d stopped screaming. Elizabeth made a quick decision. “Out the back door and hide!” she commanded. “I’ll get the kids!”
As they approach the curving staircase, the twins hear frightened cries and pattering feet from the childrens’ wing. And the horror keeps on coming, as while they flee from the monster at the front of the house, the run into another monster at the back of the house. This zombie is doubly scary, as it’s wielding a knife dripping with blood.
There are more screams, with the twins and the Riccoli kids all terrified by what they are witnessing.
Doors begin slamming as the monsters enter the house. Jessica, almost numb with fear, does her best to shield the kids from the approaching horror. Olivia and Julia are both terrified. Two-year-old Nate is sobbing for his mother.
Jessica cries for someone to call 911. Her fear fuels her flight reflex, and she girds herself to shift herself and the children to the secret room… but it’s too late. The backdoor creaks open, and the monsters enter!
Elizabeth is frozen in terror as the first zombie enters the room.
Up close it was ghastlier than ever. The broken teeth, the huge red scar, the almost luminous face. She’d never seen anything like it. Yet in the back of her mind she had the strangest feeling. A feeling that this figure was somehow familiar.
The second figure was close behind. Elizabeth gasped as her eyes traveled across the dead, staring, zombie face, down to the bloody knife, down to the—The blue jeans.
Elizabeth snapped her head up. Suddenly she knew why the figures looked so familiar.
“Steven Wakefield!” she exclaimed, outraged.
Turns out, it’s Steven and his friend Joe Howell, pranking his sisters. And I am FUCKING DONE.
We’ve had PLENTY of books in which Steven has proven to be an asshat. But THIS? It’s APPALLING. I mean, sure, prank your sisters, but PRANKING THEM WHEN THEY ARE IN CHARGE OF THE WELLBEING OF FIVE VERY YOUNG KIDS, INCLUDING A TODDLER, is ATTROCIOUS. I seriously can’t believe that the Ghostie put this in a book that went to fucking print, because SURELY anyone reading it would automatically think “no, hang on, this is verging on abuse, we can’t run with this.”
And you know what? He gets away with it. He uses the old “can’t you take a joke” defence, and is made to grudgingly apologise to his sisters, but that’s it. He’s not remorseful, he’s not even fucking bothered. I appreciate this is a spoiler of sorts, but I don’t give a fuck. I’m giving no more space in this recap to Steven. Anything he does will be covered by a single line of description and that’s it. Jury’s out whether I’ll continue that in future recaps, because I’m seriously fucked off with his bullshit.
Just in case you’re unsure of my intentions…
Fuck you, Steven. Fuck you and your friend. Fuck you and your shitty, insensitive pranks. Fuck you and your lawnmower, fuck you and your new business idea, fuck you and your crappy, boring sub plot.
I hope you’re willing to pay for years of therapy for the Riccoli kids in later in life, you hideous little cunt.
If anyone had pulled this on the Baby-Sitters Club (for all I know, someone did do this at some point, I’ve only read 12 books or so), this would be SERIOUS BUSINESS. They ripped off the BSC idea and the only thing they’ve done with it is give out terrible messages about what baby-sitting entails. Give babies soda. Endure “hilarious” pranks that wake the kids up. Focus on the money. For fuck’s sake. I hate whoever came up with this entire mini-series.
Also, way back when Raven was saying that Steven was a good older brother in The Older Boy, I vaguely referenced a point where there was no coming back for Steven. He would go too far and I would never forgive him, even if occasionally he was a decent brother. This book is it. It’s not just this prank, or the fact his parents are like, “lol, but seriously bad Steven, but lol” about it, it’s the entire arc. I hope he dies.]
[Wing: This is such a bullshit plot point. The rest of his subplot is boring and ridiculous, but this is infuriating, and of all the ways the Wakefield parents fail to, you know, parent, this has me the angriest. He could have really hurt those kids! He put little kids in danger and doesn’t even give a fuck. FUCKING YEET HIM INTO THE SUN.]
Steven and Joe laugh off their prank.
Elizabeth and Jessica kick them out.
Once the fucking CUNTS are gone, the Riccoli kids share their terrified thoughts. Both Gretchen and Andrew are convinced they’ll never sleep again. The twins do their best to calm the situation now it’s been diffused, and largely succeed, but the whole fucking scene is a clusterfuck of the most epic proportions, and as you can probably tell, it really boils my piss.
Deep breath. Moving on. Chapter Five.
It’s the following morning. The twins have rightfully told their parents what happened the previous night. Steven is forced to apologise for his actions, and he does so in an unrepentant, lacklustre way. The scene is from his POV, and he uses phrases such as “ratted on me” and “can’t take a joke.”
Papa Wakey demands that Steven stay away from the twins while they babysit. He demands Steven apologised, as I’ve mentioned, and then decrees that Steven needs a job. Thus, a sub plot is born.
Jessica mentions that the Sullivan mansion (now the home of the Riccolis) is scary enough with Steven there.
From the other end of the table Steven heard a sharp intake of breath. “Scary?” Mrs. Wakefield asked, in a voice that somehow didn’t sound quite like her own.
Steven frowned. His mother sounded younger, somehow.
I see Alice has been on the gin again.
We are now treated to a wiggly armed full-on traditional dream style flashback into Alice’s youth, in which it’s confirmed that she is indeed the Alice in the aforementioned spooky picture from the spooky room in the spooky house.
We learn that she was once the babysitter of a young Eva Sullivan, who is surely the vengeful spirit antagonist for this series. Eva is / was an only child. Her bedroom was the secret room discovered by Jessica.
In the flashback, Eva is wearing a nightgown adorned with yellow daisies. She’s also wearing pink fuzzy bunny slippers. These things are important.
Alice, it seems, is a fine babysitter. She has a pleasant relationship with her charge. Yet when Eva goes to bed, Alice begins to ruminate on the disquieting nature of the young Eva Sullivan. She constantly wakes as if from a disturbing dream, crying and screaming. She sleepwalks. It’s really spooky wooky.
Suddenly, Dream Alice spots Dream Eva, who has silently sleepwalked to the teetering edge of the spiral staircase. Damn those muffling bunny slippers! Quick as a whip, Alice springs to her rescue, but it’s too late! The unaware Eva begins falling down the stairs. As she tumbles, Dream Alice manages to block her descent before too much damage is done.
Dream Alice declares that the still-sleeping and now-bruised Dream Eva just needed to sleep it off, so guides her back to her room and tucks her into bed.
Erm… she just fell halfway down some fucking stairs, you irresponsible idiot. She should get checked out for noggin-bumps at the very least. Seems like Young Dream Alice is just as gin-addled as Adult Regular Alice.
The flashback ends with more eerie foreboding, with Dream Alice very concerned that she’s not locked the clearly locked balcony door. Fucking YAWN. [Dove: Readers, get used to this scene, because it’s going to happen all the way to the end of the mini-series. Nothing else will happen. Alice will baby-sit and ~something spooky~ will happen, but not really. Fuck everything.] [Wing: I actually really like her constant worry that she hasn’t locked the balcony door. Needing to check it over and over again is a manifestation of stress (and other things) that happens a lot, especially when that stress is tied to something where it could lead to serious harm. Also, I empathise with it, because checking locks over and over is one of my things.]
Next chapter, and it’s Wednesday night. Jessica and Elizabeth have just spent another night of babysitting, which went swimmingly. They put this down to the fact that the Riccoli kids were reassured when they knew Steven was both the monster and now banned from the premises.
The timing seems really screwy here. At first I thought it was just a mistake, that the action had skipped from Wednesday night babysitting, to Thursday morning repercussions, back to Wednesday night babysitting, but it does appear that a full week has passed. Why? Mama Riccoli said she’s need quite a lot of babysitting, so it’s odd she chose to only use them once last week and once this week. Unless the others in the Babysitters Club – *ahem* I mean the Wakefield Babysitting Cabal – have been getting shit done at Chez Sullivan / Riccoli.
The girls sit and chat about the beauty and creepiness of the house, and decide it’d be great for a Halloween party. Eventually, that idea fizzles to nothing, because of SPOOKY WOOKY FEELINGS.
For fuck’s sake, this book is really static. Just a pair of talking heads so much of the time.
Thankfully, something eventually happens. One of the kids gives a scream from their bedroom. The twins deduce it’s Gretchen, and dash off to salve her ills.
Gretchen has had a bad dream, but doesn’t want to talk about it. Laboriously, Elizabeth and Jessica do their best to coax the all important plot information out of her, using the time old trick of reverse psychology, and preying on her desire to be a Big Girl. Eventually, they hit paydirt.
Gretchen describes a dream in which she was walking on the landing, until she came to the top of the spiral staircase. She then felt a presence behind her. It was a girl, in a yellow flowered nightdress, holding a teddy bear. As Gretchen watched, the girl’s face morphed into some sort of hideous fiend. The field grabbed Gretchen and tried to throw her down the stairs, and Gretchen woke up screaming.
The twins do their best to calm her down, but they themselves are feeling worried about the dream. Two little girls having similar nightmares… could there be something truly SPOOKY going on?
To be fair, Gretchen’s dream is pretty hideous. Little Girl Monsters are a staple of the genre, for good reason. [Wing: I love the nightmares throughout this book. They are truly creepy, and the poor kids are sympathetic.] But yawn again, the action finishes on a tired trope, with a hackneyed “this can’t be real… … … can it?”
Chapter 7 is entirely Steven and Joe.
- Steven and Joe discus getting a job
- They both think they could invent a computer or something.
- They decide that a scaring company is the best idea.
- Joe pushes Steven into the pool.
- Papa Wakefield arrives with a ride-on lawnmower.
- Steven thinks he and Joe should start a lawnmowing business.
- Mr Wakefield reluctantly agrees, as long as Steven reads the operating manual first.
- Steven climbs on, and releases the emergency brake with a “who needs to read the manual?”
- The mower rolls downhill and crashes into a tree.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #KillSteven] [Wing: #FuckOffIntotheSunSteven]
Chapter 8, and we’re back in the Riccoli house. It’s Saturday night, and Elizabeth is babysitting with Todd Wilkins. And we’re back with the talking fucking heads.
Todd is trying to read a magazine, but he cannot. Because of SPOOKY.
[Dove: Nope. You’re reading it wrong. Try it with an amorous inflection:
“It’s no good,” he said at last, flashing Elizabeth a shy smile. “I keep almost getting interested in one of the articles, and then—” He shrugged. “And then I start thinking about—something else.” His eyes raised ever so slightly to the ceiling.
“I know what you mean,” Elizabeth confessed. “I wish—I wish—”
] [Raven: Huh. Nice spot. That one passed me by.]
We do learn a new thing, though. Apparently, Papa Riccoli is visiting from Sacremento where his job keeps him temporarily mired. He’s staying for the weekend, and he and his wife are on a date night at the movies.
At least the pre-incident waffle is brief this time around. Pretty much before the first page of the chapter is up, Todd declares he can smell smoke. He and Elizabeth deduce it’s coming from Andrew’s room, so trot on up to investigate.
Outside Andrew’s room, the smell of smoke is unbearable. They do their best to force their way in, but ingress is barred. Then suddenly, SPOOKILY, the door is open. Inside, the babysitters find Andrew sleep-screaming, stood bent at the waist in the corner of the room, hand outstretched in horror, face frozen in a cry of despair.
Okay, that’s some scary-ass Blair Witch shit right there. [Wing: I love everything around the Riccoli kids. Love their terrifying dreams. Love their horrifying sleepwalking.]
Todd dashes to help, while Elizabeth for some unknown reason begins looking in his closet for a source of the dissipating fire smell.
Eventually, she concludes there is no fire, and the smell has gone. Instead of, y’know, running to help the kid she’s supposed to be babysitting who is clearly in distress (albeit SPOOKY WOOKY distress).
Once he’s awake, Andrew recounts his brand of nightmare. As is to be expected, it contains a girls without a face. Instead of her trying to throw Andrew down the stairs, instead she threatened to set his room on fire. Todd tries to convince Andrew it was naught but a dream, but Andrew is adamant it’s something far more.
Elizabeth confirms what the girl-monster was wearing. A yellow flowered nightgown, and a single pink bunny slipper. Carrying a teddy bear.
SPOOKY, I say.
SPOOKY, and WOOKY.
Elizabeth makes a mental note to ask Gretchen if the girl-monster in her dream also wore one pink bunny slipper, because the fact that they are fucking IDENTICAL IN EVERY OTHER ASPECT doth butter no parsnips in the Wakefield household, dear me no.
Eventually, with the kids finally asleep, the Riccolis come back from their four-hour bathhouse hardcore porn viewing. Elizabeth and Todd do the right thing, and tell the Riccolis what’s gone on.
“Oh, no!” Mr. Riccoli frowned worriedly. “I thought he’d grown out of that.”
Mrs. Riccoli sighed as she slipped off her coat. “We should have told you earlier,” she said. “But it was so long ago now, to be honest I’d forgotten all about it.” She shook her head sadly.
“What?” Elizabeth asked.
“Andrew used to play with matches,” Mr. Riccoli explained.
Elizabeth questions further, but eventually accepts this ridiculous response.
So the fire had an explanation. A logical, reasonable explanation. She was glad Todd had told the Riccolis what had happened.
Erm… no it fucking didn’t. THERE WASN’T A FUCKING FIRE. There was a SPOOKY WOOKY smell of smoke that was somehow linked to Andrew’s nightmare. Even if he’s lying about the nightmare, there still WASN’T A FUCKING FIRE. [Dove: Also, if your kid plays with matches, stop buying matches. If you smoke, use a lighter and keep it in your purse. If your house needs fire for some reason (gas burners, you’re one of those people who actually lights the candles they’re gifted, etc), get one of those kitchen lighters and leave it on a top shelf. And if you’ve done that and things are still catching fire, ask the kid where he’s getting the matches, because I’m pretty sure eight year olds aren’t allowed to buy them.] [Wing: I don’t know why they’d be buying matches in the first place. Maybe as a part of their earthquake kit or something, but it’s unusual for a family like that to just have matches around. Though it did come across as him finding matches they didn’t know about, though I don’t know how.]
This book is pissing me off something shocking.
The chapter ends, again, AGAIN, with a “there’s nothing to worry about… right?” tone.
FUCKING TERRIBLE, GHOSTIE. YOUR BOOK IS BAD, AND YOU SHOULD FEEL BAD.
Chapter 9 is a Steven chapter.
- It’s Sunday, and Steven has mowed the lawn badly.
- He confesses to his father that “instruction manuals are for losers”.
- He bullshits his father into believing he can still do a good job on the lawn that afternoon.
- He grudgingly lets Joe take a turn on the mower after Papa Wakefield has left.
- Joe is just as shit at driving as Steven. He mows over and destroys:
- Steven’s inline skates
- A neighbour kid’s soccer ball
- A bottle of Jessica’s poolside suntan lotion
- A basket of his mother’s special herbs (and here’s me putting it down to the gin).
- The mower is halted at the edge of the pool.
- Mama Wakefield is sufficiently angry.
- Steven tries to laugh it off, like a FUCKING PRICK (sorry, got a little too involved there).
- He tries to blank Joe. They argue.
- Alice is disappointed.
- Steven turns talk to the girls, who according to him are blaming all their current problems on the Sullivan / Riccoli mansion, which is a heavy-handed segue into another Dream Alice flashback.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #StabSteven] [Wing: #BurnStevenwithThoseMatches]
This Dream Alice and Dream Eva sequence sees Dream Alice doing her maths homework as Dream Eva slept upstairs. Predictably, she’s having problems, because SPOOKY WOOKY. My god, this is fucking tiresome.
Suddenly, Dream Eva is screaming for help. Dream Alice dashes to her aid, to find her standing in the middle of her room, clearly upset. Dream Alice checks that the balcony is still locked, and notes that Dream Eva has her pink bunny slippers on despite them not being on when she tucked her up earlier.
Dream Eva is distressed, believing she will die in her dreams. Dream Alice convinces her that people don’t die in their dreams, and all will be fine.
Eva hesitated. “Promise?” she asked. She reached for Alice’s hand and clutched it with a strong grip, a grip that Alice found strangely unsettling.
“Promise,” she answered, silently hoping she was right.
“There’s nothing to be worried about… … … … … or is there?!”
FOR FUCK SAKE. PLEASE CHANGE THE FUCKING RECORD.
It’s now Monday, and we’re back at the Riccoli house for more babysitting action. This time, it’s Jessica alone, as Todd Wilkins bailed at the last moment.
Weren’t Amy, Maria and Winston also in this Wakefield Babysitting Cabal? Guess they’re not appearing in this book. Good for them.
Gretchen is having trouble sleeping, as she’s scared, so Jessica does her best to calm her. She climbs onto the bed next to Gretchen, and of course she falls asleep herself.
Cue Jessica’s Dream Sequence.
Dream Jessica wanders through the darkened house, which is the same, but different. It’s SPOOKY, and WOOKY. She gets drawn toward an unfamiliar painting at the end of the hall. She also notices that the wallpaper is different, and that Mama Riccoli’s apparently messy study is instead tidy and organised. There’s also no computer – a typewriter sits in its place. As does a dial phone in place of a push button.
TIME DISTORTION DREAM, y’all. Not a hot tub in sight.
She theorises that it’s just a dream… or is it? For fuck’s sake.
Making her way to the secret room on the third floor, she discovers that instead of a hole revealing the room, there’s a simple doorway. She’s confused, because apparently she’s never seen a horror film before. I guess she’s stuck in a dream, so she gets a pass this time.
Inside, the room is free of dust, and smells of fresh flowers. Most noticeably, there’s a glass door leading to the balcony.
WHY, THIS IS JUST LIKE THE BALCONY IN DREAM ALICE’S FLASHBACKS.
As she checks out the glass door, she hears footsteps approaching from down the hall. Transfixed to the spot in fear, she demand her body to move. It doesn’t. The footsteps draw closer, and closer, until their creator looms into the room. Terrified, Jessica turns to face her fear…
It’s a naked Mr Nydick!
It’s not. It’s…
In front of her was the most hideous, ghastly face she had seen in her entire life. The flesh was yellowish black, hanging horribly off the skull in places where it wasn’t already decomposed. Jessica longed to turn away, but somehow her eyes were locked on the gruesome sight. Her eyes traveled down the figure’s body, which was crumpled and battered. One arm swung loosely from its socket, and one leg stuck out at a crazy angle. Bruises covered the hands. Jessica opened her mouth to scream, but no sound came out. She reached for the glass behind her.
The figure stepped into the full light of the room. Now Jessica could see it clearly. It’s small, she thought. Her heart pounded wildly. It’s—it’s a girl!
Yep, that’s genuinely hideous. It’s the monster of the Riccoli’s dreams, wearing a yellow flowered nightdress and a single bunny slipper. Clutching a teddy bear.
Jessica backs away as the Monster Girl approaches. She’s forced through the glass door and onto the balcony. Ever closer, the Monster Girl reaches out for her. Clinging to the frame, Jessica kicks out as the Monster Girl claws at her sleeve. With a final tear, the fabric gives way, and…
… Jessica wakes from her nightmare to see Gretchen’s frightened face.
Jessica shakes her head to clear the SPOOKY WOOKY, and calms Gretchen down. It’s just a dream. It’s just a dream. [Wing: Yet another scene I fucking loved. Jessica’s nightmare, Gretchen waking up, everything. So fucking creepy. Well, for a book like this.]
Later that night, once Mama Riccoli has returned, she asks Jessica if everything went well. Jessica declined to mention her own nightmare, as I guess that’s an admittance that she’d been sleeping on the job. Instead, despite things being SPOOKY and WOOKY, Jessica declares that things are HUNKY and DORY.
But as she leaves, Jessica notices… a huge angry tear down the sleeve of her sweater.
AAAAAH IT’S ALL REAL AAAAAAAH FUUUUUUUUUUCK!
Or is it?
DUN DUN DUUUUUUUUN!
Chapter 11: More tales of Steven the Lawnmower Asshat. But this time, Jessica and Elizabeth are doing their talking heads bit alongside his idiocy.
- Steven attempts to read the mower manual.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #CastrateStevenWithAMower] [Wing: #BuryStevenAliveintheMercandyBackyard]
While inline skating, because why the fuck not, Jessica tells Elizabeth about the dream she had while babysitting the previous evening. They conclude that Jessica’s dream was likely created through the power of suggestion. Jessica is also concerned that the “outcomes” of the dreams are wildly different: pushing down stairs isn’t the same as throwing off a balcony, but it is on brand.
They discuss the fact that Gretchen not knowing about the secret room likely explains the differences in their dream’s settings, despite the power of suggestion, and Jessica reveals the interesting fact that her girl monster was wearing one bunny slipper. [Dove: Just a thought, how long is the secret room going to be secret? I mean, how dim is Mrs Riccoli? Yes, let us buy this fine large property with a staircase that leads to a landing with no rooms on it. Oh, there’s a fucking hole in the wall of the top floor. How odd. I shan’t look too closely.] [Wing: To be fair, we don’t actually know if it is a secret room to the Riccolis. It’s not like Jessica or Elizabeth has brought it up to them.]
On hearing this, Elizabeth loses her shit, metaphorically. How could Jessica have known that detail, if it wasn’t all 100% real?
It’s all SPOOKY WOOKY now!
- Steven skims the manual some more, scoffing all the while.
- The manual says “Shifting into Reverse. Caution: Do Not Attempt This Maneuver Without Reading The Entire Instruction Manual First.”
- Steven yeets the manual into the bin, unfinished.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #BludgeonSteventoDeathwiththeManual] [Wing: LawnmowerBladetotheFaceforSteven]
Back with the twins, the girls discuss the importance about the One Bunny Slipper Bombshell that Jessica dropped above. They logic it out, and Elizabeth reaches the same conclusion as we reached above: there is no way Jessica had heard that information before her dream. Something is not right.
Jessica is having none of it, of course. She’s too scared to accept it. She convinces Elizabeth that Gretchen must have told her about the One Bunny Slipper before she went to sleep, just to get Elizabeth off her back. Elizabeth buys that explanation, but not without reservation.
So. It’s all non-SPOOKY… … … … … … … … … … … …
… … … …
… … ..
… … … … … Or is it?
(kill me now)
- Steven tries to reverse the mower.
- The mower lurches forward at great speed, toward a fence.
#CancelSteven [Wing: #FencePosttotheThroatforSteven]
Jessica skates home, still unwilling to face the truth that her dream must have been real. She searches her mind for another explanation, but eventually has to face the reality of her situation. She gets home just in time to see the following…
- Steven crashes the mower through their neighbour’s fence.
- Steven drives the uncontrollable mower over the neighbour’s rosebush.
- Steven leaps off the moving mower.
- The mower ploughs into a tree and stops.
- Cutting to the aftermath, Papa Wakefield lectures Steven about being a bellend.
- Steven CONTINUES BEING A BELLEND and doesn’t bother listening to his father’s lecture.
- Steven is adamant that he read every page of the instruction manual.
- Papa Wakefield fetches the yeeted manual.
- The manual has a diagram describing the reversal process.
- Steven claims he stuck to that diagram.
- The manual says: “On most tractor models, reverse gear is reached by moving the lever as shown. … “But on the RS-745, ignore the above diagram. Moving the gear shift lever as shown will cause the RS-745 to suddenly leap forward at great speed.”
- The lawnmower is an RS-745.
I know I said I wasn’t going to comment on Steven’s input, but I can’t let this bit slide. Who in the BLUE FUCK releases a piece of machinery with THAT clanker of a caveat in the instruction manual?! That’s a lawsuit waiting to fucking happen.
“Do steps 1-10.” … “If you own and RS-745, SKIP STEP 6 or you’ll be CATAPULTED INTO THE SUN.”
Fucking WEAK. [Dove: Theory: Ned is currenly a litigation lawyer and knows exactly how misleading this manual is due to all the lawsuits. He deliberately buys it and has it delivered when his idiot son is present. He and Alice are now praying that the mower will kill their idiot child. And so are we.] [Wing: While I want that theory to be true, I’ve seen manuals that will caveat things depending on the specific type of product. That way they don’t have to print different manuals and worry about putting the wrong one into the box. This is all Steven being a jackass.]
Anyway. Back to it.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #SuffocateStevenWithTheRoseBushes] [Wing: #ThornstotheEyesforSteven]
Suddenly, it’s Wednesday, and we’re… yes, you’ve guessed it, back babysitting at the Riccoli Mansion. This time, it’s Jessica and Winston.
Huh. So I guess Winston DOES appear in this book.
Winston is portrayed as an idiot, again. Same as in the last book, and I’m assuming same as in the next two.
Steven and Josh are presented as ABSOLUTE pricks, as we’ve established.
Hell, even TODD is presented as a buffoon in this book.
This Ghostie cannot write boys. End of story. [Wing: At least Winston is consistently a shit baby-sitter. I don’t know why he still gets jobs.]
Jessica is doing her best to convince Gretchen that it’s time for her to go to sleep She eventually succeeds by avoiding the phrase “sweet dreams” and using the phrase “sleep tight.” Nice.
As she goes downstairs, she checks out the picture and wallpaper adorning one of the spots she saw in her dream. They do not match what she saw while asleep, and she feels an oppressive presence all around her. SPOOKY.
When back with Winston in the living room, Winston acts like a boastful, senseless idiot, as per all the boys in this book. He’s proud of getting the other kids to sleep, and oddly happy with the fact that he knocked over Juliana’s Ant Farm (which led to Nate squashing the ants and laughing, little sociopath that he is).
Eventually, to drive out the SPOOKY WOOKY ticking of the grandfather clock, Jessica accepts Winston’s offer of (steady) watching a card trick. The card trick is BUTT-FUCKING SHITE. Winston choses two cards, face up, from the deck. He invites Jessica to chose one, face down. He then looks at the remaining card, and reveals the identity of HER card.
I mean, COME ON! Where’s our nerdy Winston? Why not make him into magic? I’m pretty sure every nerd-adjacent kid of a certain age knows one or two simple card tricks. I know I did, back in the day. I mean, sure, make it not work or something, but at least make it an ACTUAL FUCKING TRICK. [Dove: If Winston was in character, this scene should have been adorable. Like a young Phil Dunphy trying to win over Claire. But no. He’s just a twat.]
My god, I hate this book.
While “The Great Winstoni” proclaims his powers, Jessica hears the “light sound of a foot on bare wood” of the upstairs hallway. Jesus Christ, what’s she got on her head, Jodrell Bank? She’s not a fucking bat.
She deduces it must be a sleeping kid… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … …
… … … … OR IS IT?!
She checks it out, and it’s Gretchen. Winston trips over the coffee table in shock. Jessica is at first relieved – it’s not Monster Girl, after all – but that relief turns to panic as she realises that the sleepwalking Gretchen is teetering on the top step, likely to fall.
Jessica dashes to her aid, but it’s too late. Gretchen falls… into the arms of Winston, who is somehow now halfway up the steps. It’s tossed off as a great feat of agility that Winston has surprised himself by, and as he’s a gymnastic booster I guess I can give it a pass. I just wish the Ghostie had actually USED that as the explanation for his sudden burst of competence.
When Gretchen wakes, she’s relieved to see it’s Jessica (and Winston) rather than Monster Girl. Jess confirms that Monster Girl has one bunny slipper, and Gretchen sobs that Monster Girl told her she was going to kill them all.
We snap-cut to Mama Riccoli, who’s finally home. Jessica and Winston are filling her in on the evening’s events. When Mama Riccoli hears that Gretchen had been sleepwalking, she pulls out the EXACT SAME SHIT AS HER HUSBAND DID TO HAND-WAVE ANDREW’S SMOKY BEDROOM.
“Sleepwalking,” Mrs. Riccoli repeated, shaking her head. “Oh, there I go again. I really should have warned you.”
Jessica frowned. “What do you mean?”
“Gretchen has a history of sleepwalking,” Mrs. Riccoli explained.
WHAT IS THIS BOOK I CAN’T EVEN. [Wing: Okay, this is the one part of the Riccoli scenes I don’t like: if your kid used to have nightmares or play with matches or sleepwalk or whatever, WARN THE GODDAMN BABY-SITTER.]
Mama Riccoli explains things in more detail, and Jessica is happy that there’s nothing SPOOKY WOOKY going on once more. Because OF COURSE SHE FUCKING IS.
Chapter 13: More tales of Steven the Prick.
- Steven and Joe discuss a name for their lawnmowing business.
- They have a bet – both mow half of the Wakefield lawn, with the best mower getting to chose the business name.
- Joe goes first. Steven hopes he’ll fail.
- The mower breaks down.
- Steven checks it out. Joe has hit the emergency shutoff.
- Joe switches it back on, accidentally. The mower starts with them both on board.
- Steven tries to switch it off again, but can’t.
Dimly, Steven remembered a line in the instruction manual. “Caution,” he repeated to himself. “For safety reasons, the emergency shutoff may only be used once every ten minutes.”
WHAT THE FUCK? WHAT ‘SAFETY REASONS’ CAN POSSIBLY EXIST THAT LIMIT THE USE OF AN. EMERGENCY. FUCKING. SHUTOFF.?
Has this Ghostie ever written anything before? Are they aware that things need research? My god, this is terrible.
- Steven is driving, Joe is on the hood.
- The brakes are blocked by Joe’s legs. [Dove: How? You know how I am when I don’t understand the layout of things. Someone draw me a picture.]
- The steering wheel is stuck turning left.
- The Twins watch them do 24 laps from their bedroom window.
- On the 25th lap, Joe is somehow driving, and Steven is on the hood.
- Joe fixes the stuck steering wheel.
- The mower hits the open road.
- The mower narrowly misses a boy.
- The mower destroys a For Sale sign.
- The mower crosses an intersection.
- The mower FINALLY runs out of gas, and stops outside the Riccoli Mansion.
- Mama Riccoli offers Steven and Joe the job of mowing their grass.
- A shaken Steven accepts.
#CancelSteven [Dove: #MurderSteven] [Wing: #DrownStevenandThenBurnHimandThenBuryHimAlive]
For the final chapter, we’re back at the Riccoli Mansion for YET ANOTHER GODDAMN babysitting session. This time, it’s the twins. Again, they are sat in a terrified silence, because everything is so fucking SPOOKY WOOKY.
Eventually, pressured by the anticipation of yet another shitty thing happening, Jessica declares that they should go to the secret room. She’s not taking no for an answer, so good ol’ Spineless Liz goes along with it. Why? Apparently, they are going to “look for clues” [Dove: Egg? Chair? Sitty-thing?]. Why the FUCK they couldn’t do something like this earlier, I’ve no fucking idea. Gotta drag a ten-pence story out to cover twenty quid’s worth of paper, amirite?
Scared, they check out the bookcase, which has kids’ books like The Great Big Ball of String, and a book of poems which the twins realise their mother owns too. As this is SPOOKY, they check the inscription, expecting to find Alice’s name. But it’s Eva’s, obviously.
As they explore, they wonder why, if the Riccoli’s know about this room, they haven’t shipped all this crap off to the local tip.
Jessica then opens a closet door, to find….
One child-size pink bunny slipper.
This, finally, finally, finally, FINALLY, FUCKING FINALLY convinces the twins once and for all that the SPOOKY WOOKY shit going on is 100% real…
Or is it?
YES IT FUCKING IS DON’T MAKE ME HOOF YOU IN THE FUCKING THROATS.
Backing away in horror, the twins are terrified. A gust of wind chills the room. The door behind them slams with a bang. Elizabeth tries the handle, but it’s predictably locked.
The girls are now in a locked room which no one knows exists, plagued by a SPOOKY WOOKY Monster Girl who wants to kill everyone. Fair enough, I guess it’s squeaky bum time.
The girls try to pry the door open, without success. Then, like a wasp under the foreskin, there’s a hideous sting in the tail… the twins can smell smoke. The secret room is above Andrew the Pyromanic’s bed. They are dead for sure!
The two girls looked at each other. Then, as if they were one person, they began beating their fists against the door and screaming.
The rising fumes are soon unmissable. Of course, I’m sure they won’t be real fumes when we hit Book 3, but whatever. Grab the bourbon biscuits, it’s finally all kicking off. [Dove: *weeps* No. No, it’s not.]
As the terrified twins pound on the door for their very lives, we fade to italics, and a final word from the Monster Girl.
She’s in Andrew’s room, which is ablaze.
She can hear the twins in the room above, screaming blue murder.
The flames make their way to Andrew’s head.
Her promise, to kill them all, is about to come true…
Do I really need to tell you what I thought of this book?
This was, all metrics considered, one of the worst things I’ve ever read.
I hated the premise. I hated the fact that it was 90% talking heads, with twins sat in a living room waiting for something to happen. I hated the fact that there was no Unicorns, no school, no peripheral characters we’ve come to know and love.
I hated the fact that it was so repetitive. I hated the fact that it was so repetitive. I HATED THE FACT THAT IT WAS SO REPETITIVE.
I hated the fact that all the boys were idiots. I hated the B-Plot. I hated hated HATED Steven. I hated the fact that the prank scene which made me go nuclear was actually the best bit in the book, action wise.
I hate the fact that there’s STILL ANOTHER TWO BOOKS TO GO.
Who knows, maybe the Ghostie will turn it around in the remaining two episodes. Let’s be optimistic. No one likes a Negative Nigel. With a little positivity, the final two chapters of this series can be something very exciting indeed…
OR CAN THEY?!
(No they can’t.)
[Dove: Literally everything Raven said. This book is a boring piece of shit. The barest possible minimum of a thing happens — it’s not even a thing, it’s more like a th — and then it cuts to a fucking waste of humanity on a lawnmower. Then it cuts to a repeat of the previous th that happened. Lawnmower. th. Lawnmower. th. This goes on for 30k words until the Jamie is forced to escalate to a thi, and ends with a cliffhanger which is immediately undercut by the next book.
Please could Steven die instead of this stupid series? Let’s have a very special episode about young people dying. Steven can get hit by a car, maybe a drunk driver, since everyone knows that if someone dies, it needs to be someone else’s fault. I could live with a single book pretending he was a great brother if it promised he was off screen for the rest of the entire run. #DieStevenDie]
[Wing: Did not expect to actually enjoy this book as much as I did. I didn’t find it as boring as the last book. The Steven half was some of the worst shit I’ve read in this series, but the Riccoli part, the nightmares and the creepy room and the fun kids (minus the baby talk), that I really love. The nightmares were particularly great. I’m also very intrigued by the Alice part of the story, though I don’t think it’s well done at all, particularly when Alice goes all weird in the present. I like seeing what happened to her back then, though, and I want more.
I still have low, low, low expectations for the rest of this miniseries.]
Looking back at things I’ve enjoyed, and smashing them to pieces with the Snark-Hammer. Lover of games of every stripe and hue. NOT A REAL BIRD.