Saturday, April 9, 2011
SVT Super Chiller #4 - The Ghost In The Bell Tower
I remember that I LOVED this book for some reason. I must have read it 10 times as a child. The twins' cousin Robin was a main character in this one, and she was always one of my favorite random characters. I remember the story very vividly. It took place at the beginning of summer vacation and the Wakefields (along with Robin and her little sister, Stacey, AND Joe Howell) went to help Aunt Helen (another one of my favorite characters!) renovate some old hotel. And, the best part, in was HAUNTED! Like, REALLY haunted. For reals! It scared the hell out of young SarahLynn, and I still have a fear of bell towers to this day.
The cover shot features the twins, of course. I was always disappointed that Robin didn't make the cover. Liz is in a green t-shirt, and Jess is wearing a salmon-colored one. Jess appears to be singing opera or saying the Pledge of Allegiance. There's a guy in painters' whites at the top of the stairs, and he's glowing with an eerie green light. One can assume that they are in the bell tower, and thus he is the ghost.
The inside pages reveal that this book was published in June of 1992. Of course, our old friend Jamie Suzanne has taken credit for this masterpiece, so I get out my tally-pad and prepared to keep track of how many snacks/meals/ect. we are subject to reading about.
We begin with our favorite twins, as well as Steven and Joe Howell, watching a scary movie. Knowing what I now know about Steven, it will be next to impossible for me not to analyze his relationship with Joe throughout this book. I will try to keep the gay jokes to a minimum (remember, I DO have two moms, so my jokes are made with nothing but love...it's just how I deal) and not offend too many people. Summer vacation has just begun, and already the kids are bored. Joe and Steven are having a sleepover, no comment. Jess talks about how much she loves horror movies, even though she's getting scared. The guy in the movie that got killed by the ghost was hot, so she's enjoying this movie. Suddenly, creepy moans echo throughout the Wakefield house. Jess is scared, but Liz uses her amazing powers of logic and deduces that Steven and Joe are playing a lame practical joke. They do a lot of that, and it will be important to this story. Jess is upset that she missed the end of the movie, but Liz just shows off some more by explaining how it ended. Because she's smart and logical, so she knows everything. Jess is still mad, and she tells Liz that not everything can be explained logically...
And that's basically the whole premise of the book, given away in the first chapter. You could almost skip right to the end right here. But that would spoil all the fun, so you know I won't do you like that!
At breakfast the next morning, Steven and Joe are still gloating. About their practical joke, of course, nothing else, no joke to be made here. An unexpected letter arrives. It's postmarked from a place in Holton, California. The envelope says it originated from a place called the Lakeview Inn (henceforth referred to as "LVI", to save me the extra typing). It seems that Aunt Helen has recently inherited the 15-room inn from a dear old friend who passed away. She is now restoring it, and she wants to save money by using child labor as opposed to qualified contractors, so she is inviting Liz, Jess, and Steven to help. Joining them on their adventure is their cousin Robin and her 8 year-old sister Stacey. Once the renovation is complete, Aunt Helen will hold a family reunion to celebrate. Ned and Alice are thrilled to be rid of their brats for an indeterminate amount of time, plus Aunt Helen recently suffered a heart attack and Alice feels better knowing somebody will be there to help her. Because two 14 year-olds, three 12 year-olds, and an 8 year-old are useful to an elderly old lady who lives in the middle of nowhere, obviously without a telephone. Without so much as asking, Alice agrees that Joe Howell can go on the trip so Steven isn't surrounded by girls all summer. Because Steven is GAY, and he hates girls!!!! (Sorry, I had to.)
Janet Howell helps Jess pack. Janet is thrilled that Joe is leaving. He has also been playing jokes at home, and she's gotten very sick of it. Lila also "helps" Jessica pack, and she suggests that Jess bring her entire wardrobe. Because it's not like she has a twin or a cousin her age who will borrow her clothes... Janet demands that Jess wear purple every single day, and Jess agrees to rep the Unicorn Club in Holton. I hope Janet didn't see the cover of this book, because Jess obviously forgot her promise. Steven and Joe bring Jess yet another suitcase from the attic. (She's already borrowed one from every member of the family, while Liz has only packed one suitcase and still has room left over. I guess Liz used up all the SpaceBags...) Jess opens the suitcase and finds a severed hand. Obviously, this is another joke. Jess, Janet, and Lila all freak out and totally fall for it until Liz busts in and gets all logical YET AGAIN. She shows them that it's just a fake, and Jess again reminds her that not everything has a logical explanation. They really just go around in circles with this in this book...it's like 'A Night To Remember', only with LOGIC instead of all that Prom Queen BS. Jess swears to herself that she will teach Liz a lesson. Sweet!!!
Our travelers set out for Holton and arrive several long hours later. Holton is a small hick town without a mall. Jess is properly horrified. The only place to shop is some small drugstore. It sounds like HELLton to me. Aunt Helen meets them at the bus station. Robin and Stacey are also there. We learn that Robin is an exact double for the twins, but a few months younger, while Stacey has red hair and freckles. Tough break, kid. Aunt Helen drives everyone to the inn in her vehicle, an old school black limo (!!!!I always wanted to drive one of those!!!!) that she inherited along with the inn. Aunt Helen tells us that Holton used to be a gold mining town in the 1800's. After the gold dried up, it became a vacation town. The Lakeview Inn was the center of the town. It was a gambling parlor in its hay day, but now it's sat abandoned for almost 70 years. At this point, I stop reading to ask the BF (who has vast construction and renovation experience) if it's possible for this crew to renovate this old place. He says that it would be full of asbestos and lead paint and many other hazards. To accomplish anything, specially trained Haz-Mat guys would first have to gut the place before it would be safe to enter, much less inhabit.
Where's your logic now, Elizabeth?!?! Oooh, SarahLynn TOLD you! WHAT?!?!
On the outside, the place looks like every dilapidated building in Sweet Valley. The lawn is overgrown, the porch sags (add possible bug infestation to the list), the paint is peeling (lead paint chips, lovely!), and the shutters are hanging. Correct me if I'm wrong, but I swear that was the EXACT description of the Wakefields' house in the alternate universe of 'A Christmas Without Elizabeth'... There's also a creepy old bell tower (of course) and Liz notices it right away. It gives her the creeps. Aunt Helen knows what's up, and she comments that the LVI may be haunted. NO SHIT!!!! She obviously doesn't know the title of the book. It's not called "The Potential Ghost In The Bell Tower"...
Since this is a JS book, Aunt Helen ushers everyone inside to eat. Everything is all dusty inside, and there's sheets on the furniture and cobwebs. Obviously, Aunt Helen did not have any Haz-Mat professions come in before she moved it. Stupid old lady! She has managed to clean up a few rooms- a few bedrooms, the kitchen, and the dining room. Aunt Helen dictates responsibilities as they eat. (Damn woman, they haven't even unpacked yet!) The girls are assigned to cleaning out the attic. Their main goal is to clear a path to the bell tower so the city inspector can come and see if it's safe or not. The boys are assigned to fixing up an old boathouse. ("Behind the boathouse/I'll show you my dark secret..." Hahaha, that one wrote itself!) Aunt Helen also brief them more on the history of the LVI:
Aunt Helen inherited the place from her friend, Alexandra Whyte. Aunt Helen used to vacation in Holton when she was a girl, and she remembered the LVI fondly. (Damn, how old is she?!?!) Aunt Helen has always been fascinated by the place, and she loves the possibility that it may be haunted. Of course she does! Haunted hotels = $$$$!!!!
The girls choose their bedrooms (yes, Steven and Joe are sharing a room). Jess picks a room with purple comforters and a portrait of some old guy on the wall. According to Aunt Helen, the old dude is named Phineas Whyte, and he was Alexandra's father. He was also the original owner of the LVI. Robin and Stacey take the room next door. Everybody goes to bed.
In the middle of the night, Robin and Stacey show up in the twins' room. Their room is FREEZING cold, and they may have hypothermia because their lips are starting to turn blue. Liz goes into their room to investigate with her powers of logic. She notes that their room is very cold, but the radiator is on and making a ticking sound. Jess helps the situation by telling Liz that ghosts create cold spots. Robin and Stacey spend the rest of the night in the twins' room.
In the morning, Jess and Robin discuss the possibility of the inn being haunted. They put on some blue eyeshadow (yes, that's an important detail) and Liz makes them promise not to tell Aunt Helen anything. because she might have another heart attack or something. Jess decides that it was probably the work of Steven and Joe. They head downstairs for breakfast, and Steven and Joe jump out at them. They're wearing sheets and pretending to be ghosts. Real mature.
After breakfast, the girls go upstairs to the attic and the boys go to the boathouse. A crew of painters is already hard at work outside. Liz is still creeper out by the bell tower, and by all of the old junk in the attic. Jess, Robin, and Stacey start sorting through a trunk of old clothes, and Liz finds boxes of books to sort through. Aunt Helen tells them to keep anything that looks interesting, and the rest gets thrown away (or maybe the guys from American Pickers showed up for it, who knows). Of course, Liz finds an old photo album and Alexandra's diary. The diary is from August of 1919, and the photos just so happen to correspond to that same time period.
While "working" on the boathouse, the boys discover a bunch of secret old mining caves. They refuse to tell the girls where they are, because they're MAN-CAVES!!! There's nothing gay about that or anything...
Everybody comes downstairs for lunch, and Liz hides the diary in her room. The portrait of Phineas Whyte has magically changed into a picture of a woman holding a baby and wearing a blue dress!!! Liz runs to tell Jess. She finds Jess in the kitchen, making some really disgusting sandwiches. (Peanut butter and maple syrup, I want to throw up just thinking about that.) Liz drags Jess and Stacey upstairs (hmmm...where is Robin?!?!), but the painting has magically transformed back into Phineas Whyte. Jess tells Liz that there must be some sort of logical explanation...or maybe it's THE GHOST!
Liz is freaked, so she goes to work with Aunt Helen in the garden. The painters have finished the outside (wow, that was some fast exterior work!) and are moving inside. The rest of the girls return to the attic and try on more old clothes. Robin and Stacey suddenly need to go back downstairs to get a drink, and they leave Jess all alone. She finds an old hat with a veil and wonders out loud if it was a bridal veil. One of the workers is suddenly standing behind her (CREEPER!) and he confirms this.
The worker is named Bill. He has black eyes and hair that's parted and slicked-back in an old school style. Jess thinks that it works for him. She WOULD think such a though. Bill has been working at the LVI for years, and he knows all sorts of interesting hotel info. He shows Jess the blueprints for the LVI, and tells her about the secret passages that the owners used to use to spy on the gamblers. Conveniently, one of those secret passages runs right between the bedrooms that the girls are sharing. Robin and Stacey come back and ask who she's talking to. Jess looks up from the blueprints and realizes that Bill is gone.
That night, Liz fills their bedroom with fresh flowers from the garden. She locks the bedroom door so no ghosts can get in (actually, she locks it so Steven and Joe can't trick them anymore), but Jess isn't so sure that it will work.
In the morning, Liz wakes up to see that her flowers have dies overnight. Actually, they look like they have been burned. She's suspicious of this, especially when she goes into the dining room and sees that the flowers she left there are still very much alive and well. Aunt Helen is serving breakfast, and she compliments Liz on her lovely flower arrangement. She says that their aroma is so strong that she could smell them in the kitchen. Liz, however, cannot even smell them in the massive dining room, so she's even more suspicious. After breakfast, Jess again runs into Bill upstairs. She observes that, even though the other painters are hard at work, Bill's whites are spotless. He tells her about the 2-way mirror in the secret passage between the bedroom and how the owners used to use it to spy on poker games.
Robin and the twins decide to explore the wonders of downtown Holton. Stacey stays behind at the hotel with Aunt Helen and the boys. Jess and Robin spend an eternity in the drugstore, trying to find the perfect lipstick shade. On the way back to LVI, the girls discover two sets of footprints that lead to the caves. One set is smaller than the other, Liz notes in her handy dandy notebook. The girls explore the caves (Robin conveniently has a flashlight in her purse) and a ghost attacks them. They run, and Liz drops her notebook in the process. The ghost disappears, so Liz goes back and collects her notebook. She also wipes away the footprints from the front of the cave. Jess and Robin agree that it was probably Steven, up to his old tricks again, but they return to LVI and find him exactly where they left him. Liz still refuses to give up her logic.
The girls spend the afternoon baking brownies. They eat an entire pan and help themselves to another batch. Seriously, these girls are on the express train to Obe-City!!!
Before bed, Liz read some of Alexandra's diary and learns all about the LVI and Alexandra's father. She falls asleep while reading and wakes up when she hears a scary noise of some sort. The room is pitch-black, and Jess says the lights won't work. The mirror on the wall (you know, the 2-way mirror in the secret passage that Liz has no idea about) starts to glow and a warning for Liz appears in blood-red letters. A scary, glowing face appears as the message disappears. Liz is properly terrified. Jess screws in the lightbulb and the lights come on. Liz is scared, but she refuses to give up her logic, even though she can't explain this one. She decides that she's dreaming.
In the morning, (during breakfast, of course) Jess and Robin laugh about the joke they played on Liz. Jess is frustrated that Liz still doesn't believe in ghosts, and she asks Robin how she made the scary, glowy face appear. Robin has no idea what she's talking about. *Cue scary Twilight Zone Music*
While everybody else is hard at work, Liz returns to the cave. Just as she suspected, there are two sets of footprints leading out of the cave. She measures the prints and returns to the LVI. She measures everybody's shoes and solves the mystery pretty quickly. While in Robin's room, she notices the bookcase and recalls an Amanda Howard mystery. She starts pulling the books off the shelf and finds the secret passage. The sign with the scary warning is still sitting there, and Liz quickly figures out that it was a trick. She decides to exact her own revenge on Jess and Robin.
Liz goes to Steven and Joe and tells them that she knows Joe and Stacy were hiding in the cave and tricking them. She convinces them to help her scare the others. Her plan includes making a fake ghost and floating it on a raft across the lake. Bill shows up just then and suggests that they put lights on their pseudo-ghost so it will be perfectly visible from the inn.
After dinner, the girls are sitting in the living room. We learn that Robin has a crush on Joe (don't waste your time, honey, he's probably gay). Liz tricks them into going upstairs. She lures them to the window, and the "ghost" appears on the lake. Suddenly, the entire thing bursts into flames! Liz convinces them that she now believes in ghosts, but she still isn't scared. She goes to congratulate Joe and Steven on a successful prank, but neither of them knows how the ghost managed to explode, so of course Liz comes up with a logical explanation.
In the morning, everybody is super tired from the sleepless night. Not much is getting accomplished upstairs, so Liz sends Robin and Stacey back to bed. Jess is exhausted, so she sneaks in a little nap on some old blankets. As she slips into her sleep, she hears Liz humming a lullaby.
She wakes up to pure darkness and stumbles her way to the only source of light- a small attic window. As she stands there, she hears a creaking noise behind her and a ghost appears! Jess opens the window and sees Liz in the garden. She screams for help, but the ghost just keeps coming closer and closer...
Downstairs, Liz sees Jess trying to climb out the window and she runs upstairs. She stops Jess from jumping and turns on the light.
After this, Liz decides the prank war has gone too far. She sits everybody down and gives her Nancy Drew speech. She knows that Robin and Stacey froze their own room because the radiator was clicking, which means it was just turned on. Plus, Robin wore the blue eyeshadow the next day, and it was a perfect match for their blue lips. She has also figured out that the painting in her room changed because Jess switched it while she was busy with the diary, and Robin switched it back while she was trying to drag Jess and Stacey upstairs. Also, the dead flowers were burned in the oven, which is why Aunt Helen was able to smell them in the kitchen. See, she has a logical explanation for all of it. Way to state the obvious there, Lizzie!!!
Aside from all of that, nobody can explain how the glowing face appeared in the mirror, let alone the ghost in the attic. They blame it on Steven and Joe and everybody accepts that theory. Except for Jess, she knows that it's impossible because Steven and Joe had no knowledge of the secret passage, but she keeps her thoughts to herself.
All of this ghost nonsense is pushed aside to make room for a celebration! Because every book MUST have some sort of party, Holton has something called Gold Rush Days. People dress up in costumes and there's a street fair. Much to Liz's happiness, there are also historical lectures. Even Aunt Helen thinks that sounds boring as hell, so Liz goes alone. She meets the Holton historian. His name is Homer Bates (Bates...not exactly the best choice of surname for a plot involving a hotel of any sort, if you ask me!) and he is OLD. Like, 91. So he knows all sorts of shit about the LVI. Liz pumps him for information, and he tells her all about the ghost.
Apparently, the ghost is of a young man named William Cliff. He once loved a girl who lived at the LVI, but the ho loved some other dude. She went off and married him, breaking Bill's heart. As she was saying her wedding vows, the bell in the bell tower began to ring unexpectedly. Somebody went up there and discovered William draped over the railing. He was pronounced dead, cause of death: a broken heart. After that, the LVI closed forever and the bell never rang again. As legend has it, William haunts the inn and will continue to haunt until the bell is rung again...
Back at the LVI, Jess helps Aunt Helen wash the loads and loads of sheets. As she removes each load, it seems as if the washer and dryer keep re-filling themselves. I know exactly how she feels, but i think this is supposed to be the ghost at work.
While Jess is occupied, Liz decides to do some more research. She continues to read the diary and discovers some major drama...
*August 9th, 1919- Alexandra Whyte turns 17 and receives the diary as a birthday gift.
*August 10th- Will comes to visit. Alexandra knows he's in love with her.
*August 11th- Will stops by again. This time he brings a rose for Alexandra. Liz finds it pressed into the diary.
Okay, so not exactly MAJOR drama, but it IS 19191 and Alexandra is 17 and UNMARRIED. That's like, illegal and shit. Liz takes a break from that snooze-fest and runs a bath. As she goes to get in, she realizes that the water has now turned ice-cold! Of course, nobody admits to doing this, so Steven and Joe are blamed for all of the day's events.
During the night, Liz and Jess's beds are somehow switched. They know nobody could have done it, because they're ancient beds and VERY heavy, plus the noise would have woken them up. Jess and Liz tell Robin and Stacey about it, and Liz chooses that moment to tell everybody what she learned the day before. Still, even after all of this, Liz refuses to believe in ghosts.
They go back up to the attic and try to get some more work done. (Because, as we all know, the best way to deal with a haunted bell tower is to EXPOSE it further... Me, personally, I'd just light a match and haul ass out of the LVI.) Bill is hanging out up there, so they ask him about the ghost. He makes up some bullshit and avoids discussing the issue. His only suggestion is that they stay away from the supposedly haunted bell tower. Then, he vanishes. The girls look everywhere for him, and they decide to ask the foreman about him. The plot thickens as the foreman reveals that he doesn't know anyone named Bill. *Dun, dun, dun*
Robin, Stacey, and Jess want to leave immediately. Liz vetoes the idea, saying "You want to leave Aunt Helen alone with a ghost and some weird man named Bill?" ARE YOU SERIOUS?!?! So, 1) Liz now believes in ghosts, and 2) Liz is too stupid to realize that BILL = GHOST. I figured that out like three chapters ago (j/k, I knew all along!)... Liz again proves her smartness by suggesting that they stay and try to find a way to get rid of the ghost. If I recall correctly, that creepy old historian guy -Elmer? Or was it Homer?- told you EXACTLY how to accomplish this THREE CHAPTERS AGO...Dumbass! I'm really getting frustrated here!
Later, the girls talk about Bill, and what a creeper he is. Liz FINALLY puts 2 and 2 together and deduces that Bill is short for William, and William is the name of the GHOST. Nice job, Nancy Drew would have figured all of this shit out by page two!
Liz shows the other a picture from Alexandra's photo album. It's Alexandra and William (aka- Bill, aka- attic creeper) on September 19, 1920 (more than a year after the diary began, so some part of that story is missing). Everybody finally gets it, and the window opens on its own. The wind blows the photo out of Jess's hand and "GET OUT" appears in blood-red letters on the wall. It all stops just as suddenly, and Liz makes everybody promise not to tell Aunt Helen.
In the morning, Aunt Helen continues to encourage gluttony by making a fresh batch of muffins before going to some sort of meeting. The girl take the muffins out of the oven and they're crawling with maggots! Disgusting. They throw them in the trash and the maggots disappear.
The girls strategize and try to come up with a plan for banishing the ghost. I have a plan- go to the bell tower, ring the stupid bell, wave bye-bye to the ghost, and peace out. They're not as smart as I am, despite the plan being perfectly laid out for them earlier in the book, so they go and try to enlist the help of Steven and Joe. They're in the boathouse, and it's taken them 2 days to paint one wall. My notes originally asked "what are they doing?", but given the recent developments in Steven's character, I will have the good taste not to ask. The boys think they're playing a trick on them, so they offer no help. Assholes.
They return to the LVI. Jess eats a ton of cookies while Liz reads the diary, hoping to find some sort of clue. While she's reading, Aunt Helen and Steven and Joe leave and the girls are left alone. Liz declares that it's time to confront the ghost once and for all! Of course, it starts to rain as she says this.
They climb the stairs to the attic and Liz tucks the diary under her shirt. Lightning knocks out the power (of course), so they begin to clear the way to the bell tower using the flashes of lightning to illuminate their work. (Where's that flashlight now, Robin?) They move an old trunk, and it begins to move on its own. Other stuff does too, and soon their exit is blocked behind them. They keep working, clearing a path as stuff continues to build up behind them. Clothing flies up out of an old dresser and it attacks them. Stacey finds an old bayonet and slays the mighty clothing dragon, and the bell tower door stands before them, fully exposed. I liked it better when BRUCE was fully exposed in SVC... An electric both runs across the ceiling and surrounds the bell tower door. A voice commands them to go away, but Liz is undeterred. She knows that the ghost won't hurt her (because she has the diary, I fail to see the logic of this) and she opens the door. She and Jess climb the steps, and -oh yeah- the steps are crawling with nasty spiders.
Bill is standing at the top of the stairs. You knew he would be. He tried to warn them, and now he has to kill them! SWEET! Kill Liz first! Liz is a smug little bitch, and she just knows that Bill is bluffing. She climbs farther up the stairs. Bill whines that he doesn't want to hurt her, but he has to. He cannot leave until he is reunited with his beloved Alexandra.
Liz decides that it's Storytime, and she begins to read to him for the diary. It turns out that Alexandra was forced into marrying the other dude. She actually loved Bill, and she was going to stop the wedding and tell everyone that she was going to marry him instead. She was prepared to be his for all of eternity. Bill wonders why she never returned, and Liz tells him that she died recently. I guess she never returned to the LVI because the memories were too painful and she didn't know that Bill was just hanging out there, waiting for her to return. Bill is sad, and he gives up all hope upon hearing this. He asks Liz and Jess to ring the bell and they do. He disappears.
Magically, they are able to fully renovate the entire place in 2 weeks time. (The BF tells me that this is impossible, it would take at least 2 years to accomplish all of that. See, he IS useful sometimes!) Whatever the case, Ned and Alice roll up to the LVI in their van (didn't know they had one...) and Stacey and Robin's parents also arrive. Aunt Helen BBQs up some good food (burgers, chicken, AND steak...what, no HOT DOGS, or RIBS?!?!) and everybody has a good evening. The girls sit by the lakeshore and admire their hard work. Suddenly, they see Bill and a young-looking, super glowy Alexandra Whyte walking on the lake. Everybody waves, and the ghosts disappear into the night. Jess asks Liz to explain THAT logically, and Liz come back with "True love is very, very logical". She would say that.
***The SarahLynn Summary:***
*You can renovate an entire hotel -inside and old, plus the attic and a boathouse- in two weeks' time, while having a scary adventure at the same time. And you can even manage to work in at least 2 parties.
*Aunt Helen is an enabler. The snack/meal count for this book is 13. I'll let that speak for itself.
*Steven and Joe are stupid.
*Child labor is cheap and efficient (see Summary Point #1).
*Ghosts are real, and so is true love.