I read this a year ago (and a clever online friend asked if the nightmare was those pants, ha; now I can’t look at this cover without remembering that), but I didn’t post about it then, so I just reread it. And I’m STILL not sure if this boils down to ghosts or reincarnation or what. I’m leaning towards ghosts, but…the whole thing is odd.
It’s also hilarious. Not the deaths, obviously, but the SEETHING SEXUAL TENSION which is entirely in Sarah’s head because the guy isn’t interested.
We open with Sarah getting packed for a week-long camping trip, distracted the entire time because she’s thinking about a mysterious “something” that happened the night before between her and Adam. Her sort-of friend Jodie is in her room (Sarah thinks to herself that they aren’t really friends, but they’ve hung out a lot in the year since Sarah moved to town because they’re dating guys who are best friends).
It’s an awkward situation, because Jodie is Adam’s girlfriend. Oops. Also, last summer Sarah started dating Matt, but before that Matt and Jodie dated for years. So the four of them are going to spend a week seething with jealousy and resentment in a cabin deep in the woods, and honestly that would be my idea of a nightmare even WITHOUT supernatural elements.
While I’m introducing our cast of characters I might as well throw Ellen and Doug in here, too. While Sarah’s packing she accidentally calls Jodie by the wrong name:
Sarah shook her head. She knew Jodie had said something, but she honestly couldn’t remember. “What, Ellen?” (p. 1)
Then Sarah gets sent in to tell Adam they’re at his house, and this happens:
Sarah glanced back out through the storm door, terrified that Matt or Jodie would see them. “I’m sorry, Doug, but I can’t talk about it now.” (p. 14)
(My copy of the book is also haunted by THE GHOST OF JULIE, a character that doesn’t exist. The back cover, though, assures me that “Sarah, Matt, Adam and Julie are going camping for the weekend. Without parents.”)
You can tell Sarah’s really enthusiastic about dating Matt:
Although he never smelled, or anything gross like that, Matt always looked really sloppy. Adam, on the other hand, was always neat. Sarah hated to admit it, but she preferred neatness to sloppiness. (p. 17)
That’s a weird thing to “hate to admit,” since it’s a perfectly ordinary preference.
On the other hand it’s a damned weak reason to sneak around with someone else’s boyfriend. It turns out that the thing that happened was she kissed Adam while he was trying to help her undo her seat belt. They’d bumped into each other, shared a pizza and some conversation, and she grabbed him and kissed him.
They get lost driving to the cabin. It’s night, and pouring rain, and they’re on a dark, unpaved road when Sarah thinks she sees a pink flower-covered school bus barrelling towards them. She grabs the wheel (Matt’s driving; it’s his parents’ Isuzu, whatever that is) and they end up in the ditch, and can’t get out again. The others didn’t see any psychedelic hippie bus and they kind of blame Sarah when they end up having to walk in the cold rain.
She keeps thinking there’s something familiar about the road they’re walking along, and then this happens:
Sarah realized she’d bumped into his back. He’d stopped for some reason. She looked up and followed the beam of the flashlight through the mist and rain to a point ahead where the road forked. A huge, scraggly, bare-limbed tree stood at the beginning of the fork.
“The Arcadia,” Sarah said. (p. 34)
The others moved forward as Adam pulled up an old wooden sign that must have fallen down years ago. Sarah felt a chill. With the flashlight shining on the sign, they were just able to make out an arrow pointing toward the left-hand fork, and the words: The Arcadia Inn. (p. 35)
They get to the inn and wake up a guy with long, grey hair. For personal reasons I immediately feel better in the presence of old hippies, even in horror novels, but the fact that he’s about to turn them away until he sees Sarah is kind of creepy. Creepy in a perv alert way, I mean, not a supernatural one.
The grey-haired man is named Sebastian, and he introduces himself as the inn’s caretaker and is interestingly vague about who owns the place.
“Does anyone around here own an old pink school bus?”
The man studied him for a moment. “Why do you ask?”
Matt pointed at Sarah. “Because she thought she saw it coming at us with its headlights off. That’s why we went off the road.”
The man nodded slowly, his eyes on Sarah again. “Well, there used to be one around, but that was a long, long time ago.” (p. 42)
Sebastian lets them stay overnight without charge, and the next day they can’t find him. Sarah does find a mood ring, though, which she dreamed about during their night at the inn. She puts it on.
Sebastian is nowhere to be seen. Adam and Jodie go looking for Matt’s car, which hasn’t been towed to the inn but also isn’t in the ditch where they left it. Matt, less helpfully, goes to the hot tub. But first, Sarah confides in him about how she’s weirdly familiar with the inn, and he gets her to close her eyes and describe something from the lobby. She says the ceiling is covered in stained glass, and he points out that no, it’s covered in white cork tiles.
Sarah goes running in the woods, completely familiar with the location of the trail and the swimming hole and the meadow, and has some sort of hallucination of hippie teens sitting around while she feels INTENSE YEARNING for someone called Doug. She also finds a string of love beads just like the ones some girl was wearing in her vision. So who were these mysterious hippies who fled leaving all their junk jewellery behind?
Sarah and Matt talk. He’s angry and jealous, and she lies that she prefers him to Adam. Then they find a big knife in the woodpile next to the fireplace.
When everyone’s back at the inn Sebastian shows up with freshly-caught fish. Over dinner he tells them the less-than-reassuring story of the murders that took place at the inn back in 1969:
“No one really knows,” Sebastian said. “Some people said she did it because her boyfriend was fooling around with another girl. Some people said it was because she wanted the other girl’s boyfriend for herself, but he wasn’t interested, and she just went berserk and killed them all. Maybe she just thought if she couldn’t have him, no one else could, either. They tried to plead insanity at her trial, arguing that all the drugs she’d taken made her go crazy. But the jury didn’t go for it.” (p. 102)
Annnnd it turns out she was executed on March 19, 1977, the same day Sarah was born. The murder weapon—a knife—was never found. Sebastian claims not to know what the girl looked like.
Matt goes to the hot tub, Jodie goes back to her room to read, and Sarah comes on to Adam aggressively; he gets up and leaves, after telling her she’s been almost like a different person. She thinks that if only Matt and Jodie weren’t there, he would have been interested in her. Uh oh.
A redhead that Matt assumes is Sarah slips into the hot tub with him. He can’t see her clearly because of the steam. The water turns scalding hot, and she pulls him under.
Sarah has just fallen asleep in the room she shares with Jodie when Adam comes by to ask her if she’s seen Matt, since Matt hasn’t come back to their room. Sarah finds the knife from before, and a wet t-shirt and shorts, in her backpack, and then finds a bathing cap with strands of wet hair down by the hot tub, but none of them find Matt.
The next morning he’s still not back. Sebastian’s working on the ceiling in the lobby, and lets her climb the ladder to look at the stained glass ceiling behind the tiles; the original ceiling’s been covered up for more than sixteen years, so there’s no way she could have seen it. DUN DUN DUN.
The television turns itself on as she passes by, and she sees the hippies again, this time on screen. This time she gets to see Sharon, a redheaded girl who looks identical to Sarah and is wearing the wet clothes Sarah found in her backpack.
Sarah runs out of the inn in a panic, and knocks herself unconscious long enough to have a vision of being strapped into an electric chair. Then she comes to, screaming, in her bed, surrounded by Adam and Jodie and Sebastian. They tell her she ran into a tree and Sebastian found her and brought her back.
Jodie’s found the knife and wet clothes in Sarah’s backpack, but seems to accept Sarah’s claims that she doesn’t know how they got there.
Now they can’t find Sebastian again, Matt’s been missing for twenty-four hours, and the phone is dead.
Adam comes back. He’s found Matt’s body in the hot tub, and claims they didn’t see him the first time because of all the foam on the water.
Sarah’s still having visions, only this time Adam sees the hippies on television as well, and points out that the girl being arrested looks just like Sarah. The same scene is showing when he changes the channel. Pulling the plug out of the wall doesn’t stop it, either.
The flashbacks are showing that first Mike and then Ellen vanished, leaving behind Sharon and Doug. Sharon comes on to Doug but he isn’t interested. She reaches for the knife (she’s been doing that in all these visions, really, usually after feeling annoyed with Mike or jealous of Ellen) but before Sarah can see if she actually USES it the scene ends.
Sarah suggests they try to find a boat and leave by way of the lake, and Adam agrees. Down a rotting flight of wooden stairs they (all three of them) find two catamarans none of them know how to use, and some jet skis that only Adam knows how to use. Jodie’s stalls, and Adam goes to help her, telling Sarah to keep going. She does, and soon can’t see the other two through the fog.
She stops her jet ski and hears them calling for her, but the voice that calls back “Here! I’m over here!” isn’t hers: it just SOUNDS exactly like hers. Jodie finds Sarah (or thinks she does; her red hair is “obscuring her face” because she’s bent over) and gets strangled with a safety cord.
When Adam finds Sarah she’s sitting on her jet ski staring down at Jodie’s corpse, and he accuses her, not unreasonably at this point, of having killed Matt and Jodie. She says she didn’t, but is actually uncertain.
Adam flees from her, across the lake and then on foot across the dock, and she tackles him on the landing. He’s dragging himself into the woods because his ankle is twisted, and she’s following him, and suddenly they both see the other redhead. CREEPY. She’s wearing bell-bottoms and a denim work shirt and beads.
Sharon’s ghost nods when they ask if she killed her three friends, and she’s got a knife. When Sarah guesses that Sharon’s going to kill Adam because he rejected Sarah the way Doug rejected her, she nods at that, too. Sarah helps him back to the landing and tries to protect him by standing in front of him, but Sharon steps into her, and then the railing gives way. Adam falls to his death, but Sarah clings to the edge, and Sebastian shows up in time to rescue her.
“Why didn’t you do something?” Sarah cried. “Why didn’t you help us?”
“That’s not what happens here,” Sebastian said.
“Here?” Sarah looked around. “What happens here?”
“Things,” Sebastian said.
“What about Sharon?” Sarah asked. “How long has she been here?”
“Long, long time,” Sebastian said.
“And what about me?” Sarah gasped.
“Now you’re here too,” Sebastian replied. Then he took her by the hand and led her back…to the New Arcadia. (pp. 201-202)
Well. That was creepy and confusing and weird. It’s a good book, but ends much less happily than most YA horror. I mean, there are corpses sometimes, but usually the heroine’s okay at the end. Not stuck forever at a haunted inn with a creepy hippie ghost and a middle aged guy who like likes her.