Did You Eat Your Bowl Of Darkness Today?

Toykoatnight

Sometimes I dream about traveling to far off countries, seeing historic sites, meeting new people. And then I think of using public toilets in a foreign country and I think: Nope. Nope. Nope. I have a problem using the toilets at work. Me, travel to a completely foreign country where I might get diarrhea forever? Or eat unrecognizable food. I might have to eat something raw from the ocean that is still opening and closing its mouth: Nope. Nope. Nope. I can’t imagine walking down a narrow street in Tokyo, thinking ‘What’s that smell?’ and ‘Am I ever going to see my mom again?’ and then WHUMP!  I vanish from the streets. Nobody saw anything. Nobody heard anything. I never existed.

peoplewhoeatdarknessAs detailed by Richard Parry in the true crime book People Who Eat Darkness, that’s exactly what happened to Lucie Blackman in the summer of 2000. Lucie was a 21-year-old British woman in serious debt. The kind of debt that would take a lifetime to pay off. She and her friend Louise heard that if they took jobs as bar hostesses in Tokyo, they could pay off their debts fast. A hostess is basically a kind of fetish for the Japanese man. A hostess, often a foreign woman, gets paid to sit down and talk with a client for a few hours at a bar. Does prostitution come into play? Here’s where it gets a little murky.

Women who are hostesses can also go out on paid ‘dates’ with these gentlemen. The hostess gets part of the money while the club they work for also gets a cut. The men who pay for these dates are their ‘dohans.’ What the women do on these dates with their dohans is up to them. The hostesses are expected to let the men talk, flatter them, sympathize with their daily lives, and so on. Even if they’re the ugliest, rudest, most boring human on the planet. Sounds like a blind date where you’re way too nice to pretend to use the bathroom and then slip out the restaurant’s kitchen, so you sit for HOURS listening to him talk about his garage band and how he’s living in his mom’s basement ‘temporarily.’

One evening Lucie goes out to meet her dohan and calls her best friend Louise and says the man is giving her a cell phone, which was a pretty big deal back in 2000. And that’s it. No one hears from Lucie ever again. A man with perfect English calls Louise the next day to tell her that Lucie has joined a cult and will not be in contact with friends or family members. Lucie was in no way religious but she upped and joined a cult? Thus begins an almost decade long battle for Lucie’s family to find justice for her.

The Japanese police seem baffled as to what they can do to help and initially refuse to search for Lucie. Lucie’s father and sister come from England and begin searching for her, holding media interviews and setting up the Lucie Blackman Trust. There’s something slightly off about the father, nothing horrendously evil but something just this side of smarmy. He doesn’t grieve in the way people think he should. We all react differently to loss and if someone loses a loved one, especially to murder, we expect them to gnash their teeth and tear their clothing. But some people are subtle and subdued grievers.

Lucie’s sister, looking eerily similar to her dead sister, faces the public with anger and bitterness. Other hostesses begin to come forward, telling stories of waking up naked in a strange bed with the night before a blur and no idea what happened to them. They too were dismissed by the Japanese police. They all described the same man: quiet and on the sweaty side. But the man who spoke perfect English on the phone proves to be elusive. It takes several years for this man to come to trial, but it isn’t the end of the heartbreak for Lucie’s family. That kind of pain leaves a stain.

Reading like a novel, People Who Eat Darkness studies not only the relations between foreign countries and differing ideas of justice, but also the relations between family members and the inevitable toll debt takes upon a person. It’s also about a family that refuses to give up on finding answers: living through ten years of court battles that continue on to this day. The darkest hearts don’t reside just in our backyards or the familiar streets of our cities. They are everywhere. They wear the masks of politeness, culture and genteel kindness. But evil lurks behind the most unsuspecting of facades.

Fear the Banana Man

We didn’t have any urban legends in the neighborhood I grew up in. Not unless you count the story about Timmy eating yellow snow and it ended up being radioactive snow and now there’s a super hero called Pee Boy, but that’s a whole different story. As a kid, we kept our boogeymen where they belonged: in the closet and under the bed. And sometimes in the bathtub behind the shower curtain that flutters when there’s no breeze. Creepy. Where was I? Oh. Urban legends. Which brings me to the book What We Knew by Barbara Stewart.

whatweknew16-year-old Tracy and her best friend Lisa have the entire summer stretching out in front of them. They spend the hot nights drinking wine coolers and smoking pot in the jerk Trent’s bedroom. (Trent’s a jerk because he’d trip a 3-year-old just to watch him fall down and cry.) One night as the group of drunken teenagers walk around town, they start to talk about Banana Man. Banana Man is a boogeyman/pedophile urban legend who supposedly lives in a shack in the woods. He’s called the Banana Man because…..well, what does a banana look like? Yeah. Gross.

All the kids in the town have grown up hearing the legend of Banana Man: that he kidnaps small children and that they’re never seen again. While wandering the town, Trent says he knows where the boogeyman’s house is in the woods. Like a bunch of dumb teens in a horror movie they traipse out into the darkness (the only way you’re going to get me out into the woods at night where there might be some paranormal thing happening is to spike my Captain Crunch with Ketamine). This is the point where I started yelling at the book like I do when I watch horror movies: “Why are you going into the basement? Oh, the basement light doesn’t work? Better go all the way to the bottom of the stairs and call out ‘Who’s there?’ so the killer/monster can find you faster.”

This drunken Scooby Gang find a rambling structure of boards and tarps, not even a shack but a Frankenstein house cobbled together from found parts. Inside, there’s furniture, a piano, and a kitchen with boxed food in it. And a collection of glass eyes. GLASS EYES. People have been dumping stuff in the woods for years and the Banana Man collected it. There’s no sign of the boogeyman himself. The teens set about wrecking the place, breaking dishes, tearing cupboards apart. Trent, being the jerk that he is, pees in a corner. Tracy becomes uneasy and they all begin to freak each other out and run. Lisa loses her necklace and a flip-flop.

This is the beginning of the terror for Tracy and Lisa.

Lisa’s mom works the night shift at a local diner. Her strict stepfather works days so it’s up to Lisa to watch over her 11-year-old sister Katie. After going to the Banana Man’s tarp house in the woods, Lisa becomes obsessed with it. She wants to go back to find her necklace and her lost flip-flop. She also thinks the Banana Man has been coming into her room. She even wakes up one morning to find a glass eye on her dresser. Lisa’s paranoia starts to get to Tracy. Her friend’s fear invades every part of Tracy’s daily life, from her relationship with her boyfriend to her feelings about her deadbeat father and her mother who is struggling to pick up the pieces of her life.

Lisa begins to deteriorate further, pushing Tracy and everyone else away. Other secrets increase the sense of paranoia and fear with dark deeds coming to light. Tracy is sitting on her own secret, something that happened that she hasn’t told Lisa about, something she’s not sure she ever wants to talk about.

I thought What We Knew would be a book about a supernatural entity living in the woods that preys on young people. Actually, it’s more about long hot summer days and nights with your future spread out in front of you, but still not being able to let go of your past. There are secrets that are destroying you on the inside, but you believe it’ll be better to keep everything in. It’s about seeing your parents as something other than parents. It’s about trying to be a best friend and feeling like you’ve failed miserably.

Darkly intense and full of teenage despair and ennui, What We Knew will make you face your fears. And make you think twice about venturing into the woods in the night. Or during the middle of the day. Or any time at all.

Jeepers Creepers Where’d You Get Those Peepers?

I once saw something that almost made me go crazy. I was in the ladies changing room at the public pool. I was putting my socks on (I dress and undress in a bathroom stall because like a normal woman, I hate my body) and all of a sudden the room turned into an 80 year old’s version of Girls Gone Wild. Boobs and nether regions flapping around, sagging butts, sagging fronts. Sagging everything. I didn’t know my eyes could snap so fast to the ceiling so I wouldn’t see anything.

Then again, this was from a 17 year old’s view. Now almost 38, I admire the comfort and ease with which these woman glide around the locker room naked, talking in groups like they’re having a cocktail on someone’s back porch. Will I ever reach that ease? God no. I‘d change my clothes in the trunk of my car before getting undressed in front of anyone.

birdboxJosh Malerman’s dystopian novel Bird Box centers on Malorie who seems utterly unflappable. She moves into an apartment with her sister Shannon and then goes out on a date and gets knocked up. Oh yeah, also the world is coming to an end and in the most horrific way possible. There are news reports out of Russia of people going insane, killing themselves or violently killing anyone around them. But that’s okay with Malorie because it’s happening far away. Over There. It’s not happening Here. Plus, she’s pregnant so that kind of gets in the way of thinking about some bizarre plague happening worlds away.

But IT begins to move across Canada and into the United states. People start hanging themselves from trees, entire families killing themselves or being killed by a loved one. No one is positive about what is happening. The consensus is that a person sees something so horrible that the only thing to do is kill themselves or anyone near them. The sisters haven’t heard from their parents in days so you know that’s not good. They stop leaving the house, even for groceries. Shannon stays glued to the television watching the mess unfold. Malorie isn’t paying attention because she’s knocked up, hasn’t told the father yet and you know, generally busy creating life and trying not to think too much about the future.

She barely notices her sister covering all of the mirrors and windows, getting spooked and paranoid. Soon, there are rumors that people are seeing “creatures” ( a less panic-inducing word than monsters) as in “There’s something in my backyard, something not found in any episode of National Geographic.” But nobody knows what these creatures look like because they’re all busy boarding up windows, putting up heavy curtains and keeping their eyes squeezed shut. Malorie sees an ad in a newspaper that says a group of people have gotten together in a safe place to ride this thing out. Sounds good. Sounds bad. It could be a house of serial killers but by this time, the world’s gone to hell and she’s pregnant and trying not to think about giving birth in a world where one look at a ‘creature’ can send you stark raving mad. I think I would ignore my pregnancy: “Oh that? That’s a nacho gut. I love nachos.”

So she figures “Screw it, I don’t want to be alone at the end of the world.  Let me go find these people and hopefully they won’t try to kill or eat me or eat me and kill me.  Whatever.”

While she’s heavy with both pregnancy (or nacho gut) and dread she’s pretty cool-headed. She goes to this house in an abandoned neighborhood. She gets to the door and knocks. Someone on the other side asks if she’s alone and tells her to close her eyes. The door opens, she scurries in, and the door is slammed behind her. She opens her eyes and sees some very terrified but normal people in the room. At least they don’t look like cannibals. Yet. They look like what they are: scared people who have no idea what’s going to happen to them.

This small group lives the next few months as a tight-knit group. They all have their chores: like walking down a path in the backyard to the well to get clean water but doing it while their eyes are clapped shut. There is a cellar stocked with canned goods but that will last them only so long. Some of the men go out to gather more supplies. This takes days because it’s kind of hard to find a can of soup in a neighbor’s cupboard when your eyes are shut tight.

Malorie is getting huge, beginning to wonder how on earth is she going to give birth when there are no staffed hospitals. It seems like a whole lot of nothing is happening because there’s this group of scared people hanging out in a house where nobody can look out the window or go get a pail of water with their eyes open. But there’s this thick tension, the kind of tension that makes you want to jump out a window. The group can’t stay there forever. Food is going to run out and someone’s going to open their eyes while getting water (it’s kind of like when someone says “Don’t touch that wall because I just painted it.” What’s the first thing you do? Reach out and touch it.)

But then someone comes to the door. A man with a briefcase. Do they let him in or send him on his way? He gives off a bad vibe. His smile is too shiny and he holds onto that briefcase like it has the last set of shiny teeth trapped inside and only he can be their keeper. The group begins to whisper and fight amongst one another. Do they ask him to leave? Demand to see what’s in the case? The guy is obviously trying to divide them and set them fighting and it works.

A big bad happens. I wish I could write these reviews and be coyly mysterious without giving anything away but I’m incapable of that. It’s more likely that I’ll end up confusing everyone. And myself. Which happens a lot. Let’s just say there’s a lot of blood, confusion, the birth of twins, the world is still at an end and people are still going around blind-folded.

Told alternately (and with mega skill) between pregnant Malorie surviving the breakdown of the world and Malorie five years later as she takes her children away from the only safe place they know because it is no longer safe, Bird Box is more than a tale about the end of the world. It’s about finding people to ride out the end of the world with. And about monsters that may or may not exist and damn it, open your eyes so you can see them even if it drives you into murderous madness.

It’s the End of the World or Our Endless Numbered Days by Claire Fuller

ourendlessnumbereddaysThis was one messed up novel. If I were in a group of people and we were standing around talking about this book I would be the one raising my eyebrows, shoving another cocktail weenie in my mouth and shouting “Wasn’t that the most messed up book ever?”

Yeah, because that’s what I do. I go to parties where there are mini hotdogs, multi-colored Chinese lanterns, some hipster crap music playing in the background and me standing in a group of people talking about life. You don’t know me at all, do you? The only way you could get me to one of those parties would be:

1) Horse tranquilizers

2) Promise me an endless supply of mini hotdogs and my own bathroom; I’m not 20 anymore. My stomach doesn’t handle whatever organ meat hotdogs are made from anymore.

3) Promise me I can go through the pockets of all the coats piled on a bed. And keep what I find.

My best friend recommended Claire Fuller’s Our Endless Numbered Days to me. She did her own eyebrow raising thing and cryptically said “The ending is not what you’re expecting. At all.” So when I finished it, I texted her first, demanding that my questions be answered. And did she agree that this was one messed up novel?

Indeed, she agreed. It is one screwed up novel.

And I’m still puzzled about some of the bizarre things that went on in this book. I mean, puzzled to the point where I’m writing this sentence and thinking ‘What did that character mean by that?’ But you know the best part? The screwed uppedness (tell Webster I want this new word in his next dictionary edition) of this book doesn’t hit all at once. It unfolds like a quiet diabolical storm. You’re reading along and thinking ‘Huh, that’s weird. Hmmm…what’s going on?’ and then about 45 pages away from the ending you look up from reading and go ‘Shut the front door! What the frig is going on????!!!’

Here. Let me sell it to you.

It’s 1976 London and 8-year-old Peggy Hillcoat’s father is part of a group of men who are survivalists (yeah, I didn’t know England had them either). Peggy likes to listen to them but her mother, Ute, can’t stand them. Ute was a famous German classical pianist in her youth and spends most of her days like most former uppity musicians: looking at pictures of ‘Way Back When’, playing mournful elegies on the piano and carrying on as if she’s still the bomb.

Peggy’s father James and an American survivalist named Oliver grow close. I didn’t like this Oliver dude from the beginning. He’s not evil or anything. He’s just…annoying. Like ‘I’d really like to punch you in the face’ annoying. Oliver likes to egg James on. James, it turns out, is kind of an unstable fanatic but you can’t really tell which way he’s going yet: is he a fanatic like me with Doctor Who or is he a fanatic with a homemade bomb in a shoe box in the pantry behind the box of instant potatoes?

Ute goes off to Germany to play a gig for a few weeks leaving Peggy and James on their own. They set up a tent at the end of the garden, don’t bathe for days and become wild creatures. So one day James just kind of snaps and says “We’re going on an adventure. Pack some stuff. Let’s go.”

And on an adventure they do go, all the way to a tiny ramshackle cabin in the middle of nowhere. Really nowhere. I’m talking the nearest town is a five-day walk. Carved on the underside of a table in the cabin is the name Rueben. A mysterious name in a mysterious place. It’s all fun at first, hunting and gathering, making the small cabin into their own. But the hot summer wears on and Peggy starts to miss her mother and her home. She misses her best friend and school. Her dad starts showing signs of a complete mental breakdown. He’s good at this survivalist thing but the dude cannot cope with everyday life. He runs into the cabin one day and tells Peggy that the world is gone. The world ended and they are the last two people alive. And damn, she’s eight years old so she believes him.

For the next eight years it is as if they are the last two people alive.

And then someone comes out of the forest.

‘What’s the Point of This Story’ Girl Strikes Again

I know what my super power would be. Not invisibility. Not speed. Not flying. I would be called ‘What’s the Point of This Story’ Girl or ‘Could You Wrap This Story Up’ Girl. Sometimes I’ll be talking to a co-worker and I’ll see that glaze come over their eyes. You know what glaze I’m talking about. It’s the one where they appear to be listening to you but what they’re really doing is thinking about what they’re going to have for lunch. That flusters me as much as someone rolling their hand in the air in a “Jesus, will you finish talking already?” So I usually end up tripping over my words or my gum falls out of my mouth and I might blurt “That’s why I’m not allowed to eat oatmeal in Target anymore.” I sometimes panic in the middle of talking. Much like this entire paragraph.

lessthanheroG. Browne’s Less than Hero focuses on a group of men who are professional guinea pigs for pharmaceutical companies. They enroll in drug test trials. Everything from Viagra to blood pressure medicines. You know those pharmaceutical commercials on TV, the ones where they mumble the drug’s possible side effects that sound worse than the ailment? Those are the drugs tested on Less Than Hero’s leading man, Lloyd Prescott and his friends. Need an antidepressant? This pill may cause suicidal thoughts. Bladder control problems? This pill might send you into renal failure. Did your son take an anti-convulsing drug? He might grow boobs. Need to lose weight? This pill will make your IQ drop 20 points.

Lloyd Prescott isn’t a slacker. (On second thought, he is a slacker. I identified with him and didn’t want to call myself a slacker but hey, if the shoe fits…I probably won’t put it on because I’m too lazy to bend down to tie the laces). He’s been to college and has a marketing degree, but he’s nearly disabled by his own inertia. Being a guinea pig is easy money, even with all the horrendous side effects. Lloyd also pan handles in New York City’s well-traveled parks. But it’s clever pan handling. He holds up a sign that says ‘Will Take Verbal Abuse for Money.’

So would I. The junk food in the vending machine at work is getting more expensive.

When Lloyd isn’t being a guinea pig or panhandling he’s hanging out with other guinea pigs. There’s Charlie who is young and naïve, Randy who fancies himself as a ladies man (whether in his own head or for real, I don’t know), Frank who is a sturdily built dude who fights his weight constantly, and Vic who used to be a public school teacher and got fired. Vic doesn’t care for people much. There are a couple other guinea pigs they hang out with once in a while, but for the most part it’s Lloyd, Charlie, Vic, Frank, and Randy.

Life starts getting really weird really fast.

Lloyd is yawning one day, just idly staring at a girl as he opens his mouth wide. Next thing he knows the girl is out cold in the street, taking a hard nap. He asks himself did he do that or was it a bizarre coincidence?

One day while riding the subway with Randy, Lloyd notices a group of punks that have gotten on and are harassing people. And by punks I mean pants hanging halfway down to their ankles, wife beaters, and a meanness that gets people beaten to death. Randy stares at the punks, stares so hard that they begin to itch and claw at their skin which begins to erupt into welts and hives.

Lloyd begins to suspect that he and the other guinea pigs are manifesting the side effects of the drug trials.When they confess to one another that they’ve each been experiencing supernatural side effects they decide they’re going to use their powers for good and not evil. They go out at night and save homeless people from being beaten up and threatened by street kids. They don’t do it for the recognition but soon enough the media starts following their exploits.

Lloyd can make people spontaneously nap. The media nicknames him ‘Dr. Lullaby.’ Randy can give rashes. He’s called ‘the Rash.’ Vic can make people vomit.  He’s ‘Captain Vomit.’ Charlie can cause seizures. He’s dubbed ‘Convulsion Boy.’ Frank causes people to bloat until their clothes pop off. He’s known as ‘Big Fatty.’ Their real identities are safe….for a bit. But are there other guinea pigs out there who aren’t super heroes? News reports pop up about people having amnesia that lasts for a few hours. They come to find their wallets and valuables gone. There is definitely someone out there not fighting for justice.

What seems to give their lives purpose and meaning in the beginning begins to take its toll on the group. There are heavy physical and mental dues to pay. Relationships begin to break down. Panic begins to sweep the city as supervillains rise. Lloyd starts to think being a professional guinea pig and panhandling in parks isn’t the way to spend his life. He doesn’t just want to settle down. He wants to be happy. That’s a lot harder than it sounds.

Less Than Hero is a book for all of us who feel like losers, who feel like we haven’t found our way yet in life while everyone else has their lives together and you’re just sitting there thinking ‘I’ve been at the same job for almost 20 years. Didn’t I have dreams? Didn’t I have plans?’ Oops. Sorry. That got personal. Less Than Hero is about the everyday small things in life and how we treat one another while we’re here.

And it’s about making assholes vomit until someone screams for an exorcist.

A Serial Killer in Love

normalI read somewhere that the average person will walk by a serial killer 36 times in their life. I don’t know if that’s true, but it’s another reason not to leave the house. Just to be safe. I found this hilarious postcard a few years ago. The scene on the front is a gorgeous blue purple pink sunset and ocean waves lapping the shore. Then off to the other side of the picture someone had written “I’ve seen enough crime shows to know that I don’t want to meet the love of my life while walking along the beach because he might be a serial killer.”

The killer in Graeme Cameron’s Normal is never named and the story is told from the first person point of view. The one thing I hated about this novel? I really started to like this guy. I felt the same way about the TV show Dexter. Dexter was a serial killer but he went after other serial killers so it was okay to like him. But the serial killer in Normal has a cage built in a secret basement underneath his garage. He keeps carefully selected women in there. When he goes grocery shopping and is the handsome man picking up apples or chicken and chit-chatting with other customers no one suspects there is a woman trapped in a cage far below his garage. And the dude doesn’t mind picking up a box of tampons! Okay, so the tampons are for the girls he kidnaps and eventually kills but any man who doesn’t mind picking up a box of sanitary items for a girl gets gold stars from me.

But something unexpected happens. The serial killer falls in love with the check-out girl at the grocery store. She falls in love with him too. With all that lovin’ he doesn’t feel the need to murder women. Except for one last girl that makes him feel like he’s the one trapped in a cage. Erica is a pretty girl who’s had it rough in life. She doesn’t trust men (especially when they lock her in cages). Her home life sucked so much that she hints she murdered her abusive stepfather. Now, I’m no psychiatrist but I’m willing to bet there are some daddy issues going on there plus a good old case of mush brain.

Erica is psychotic and she turns the tables on the unnamed serial killer. She’s not a terrified victim locked up in a cage. She is the thing in the dark water that rises up to take a taste of you. She scared me more than the serial killer himself. There were many times she could have escaped and the killer was hoping she would because she is freaking him out. Ever since falling in love with that grocery store clerk, he has no inclination to kill at all. He thinks about killing Erica because she puts her psychotic nose into his love life but can’t bring himself to do it.

The police are certain he’s the killer. His van has been seen on cctv (England has cameras everywhere) and other questions about the man himself have started popping up. The police visit his house, ask him a million questions and then leave because he’s a serial killer and it’s not like he’s going to blurt out “I chopped up a woman’s body because I got bored with her and then there’s my psychotic doppelgänger who won’t leave me alone and probably wants to spend the rest of her life with me. But not down in the cage.” By the end of the book, I found myself rooting for the killer and quietly chanting “Kill her!  Kill her!”

There was nothing normal about Normal. The serial killer is just as baffled as the reader when he falls in love and decides to give up killing. I tried to picture the next 40 years of this guy’s life: marriage, children, jobs, grandchildren. And then, life winding down as it so often does, he and his wife settle into their golden years. I can see them sitting on a porch, the sunset long faded. He turns to her and says “I used to kill girls.”

Here There Be Monsters

I have a bedtime ritual. I go to bed, do a little reading, maybe do a little writing (because some stupid part of me, no matter how old I get, still wants to be a writer but I can’t say it out loud because for me, it’s right up there with saying “I want to be a space cowboy when I grow up!”). Then I have to watch a horror movie. I have to.

I told someone my ritual and they nodded knowingly when I said I did a little reading because that’s what normal people do and then their eyes bugged out when I said I watch a horror movie every evening before falling asleep. They screeched “I’d get nightmares! Don’t you get nightmares?” The answer is no. I don’t get nightmares from horror movies or from reading horror books. If I watched a romantic comedy before falling asleep I’m positive I would have nightmares. But hey, that’s just the way my brain is built.

boywhodrewmonstersKeith Donohue is in my top 10 list of writers who I read and think “Damn, I wish I had written that book!” Donohue’s horror writing is subtle, sneaky and cleverly disguised as literature until something monstrous skitters across the road in front a car or something in a desk drawer starts to move around. I recently finished his latest book: The Boy Who Drew Monsters.  

The Keenans live in their dream house by the sea in a coastal town in Maine. Holly Keenan, a tightly wound mother and wife, is a lawyer who works part-time in town. Tim Keenan is a stay at home dad and also the caretaker of the many lavish homes that are only occupied during the summer in their community. Jack Peter, their 10-year-old son, never leaves the house. Both parents know that Jack has been different from birth but what parent wants to believe there’s something ‘wrong’ with their child? Jack shows all the signs of being autistic. He doesn’t like to be touched, hugged, surprised, or looked at. His mom wakes him up one morning and startles him and he hits her in the face. She starts thinking that it might be time to do something more drastic with Jack, that he’s already uncontrollable with his fits of rage. He’s only going to get bigger and stronger and what will they do then? Tim takes a more hands on approach and believes that if they work harder with Jack they’ll be able to manage him and he might become a functioning member of society. This divides them and sends them onto separate paths.

Holly starts going to the town’s little Catholic church. I thought maybe she was looking for an exorcist for the kid because hey, couldn’t hurt. But she’s seeking comfort. The priest serves her cake and tea and talks about God stuff, most of it not really helpful to Holly. There’s a painting of a ship wreck on his wall that Holly becomes obsessed with. After seeing the painting Holly begins to hear strange noises coming from the ocean: children crying, people screaming. The priest’s Japanese maid ends up helping Holly the most, telling her ghost stories and stating that as a child she was considered ‘strange’ like Jack.

Jack’s best and only friend Nick knows to go along with Jack’s fixations. Like most boys, Jack and Nick go through the normal boyhood obsessions: trains, putting together models, marbles. But Jack has moved on to an obsession with drawing elaborate and terrifyingly real monsters. Nick’s parents are a couple of drunks, the kind you have to make sure pass out on their stomachs so they don’t choke on their own vomit. They’re  going away on a cruise for Christmas and dump Nick off at Jack’s house.

The days slowly unwind for the 10-year-olds, like days during Christmas break should. Tim makes them breakfast and lunch and then leaves them to go check on the summer houses of the wealthy. While driving, Tim sees something white and long limbed scuttle across the road. He thinks it was a man but the damn thing was impossibly white (I’m pretty white and I can run across a street very fast if there’s a Ding-Dong waiting for me on the other side). Tim thinks he’s going crazy, especially after he sees the same white long limbed man roaming the sand dunes outside the house.

Meanwhile, Nick is getting frightened by Jack’s macabre preoccupation with drawing monsters. There is something to Jack that wasn’t there before, something sly and cunning. Nick doesn’t want to play with him anymore, doesn’t want him to draw any more monsters because the monsters are coming to life. He can hear them outside the house and sometimes inside the house.

Holly is beginning to see and hear things as well and visits the priest again so she can talk to the maid. This doesn’t sit well with the priest because he wants to throw Bible quotes at her and fill her with the comfort of Catholicism. The last thing he wants is Holly sitting around listening to his maid telling ghost stories. Holy Ghost, yes. Booga, booga ghosts, no. Each person is in their own insular world of terror made worse by a big snow storm moving in.

I read the last few pages and then went back and re-read them again. I did not see the end coming. And I liked it. Because it wasn’t pretty and neatly wrapped up and satisfying.  Do the monsters win? I don’t know. Okay, I do know but can’t tell you because then you wouldn’t read the book.

End of story.