by Dan Poblocki
Random House, 2011
Dan Poblocki’s second horror novel brings a more complex plot and more frightening imagery to the page as two kids face another intrusion into our reality by a supernatural entity. His excellent characterization leads the reader to sympathize with his characters and the injustices of youth, and his plot offers twists, puzzles, and nightmares for a more mature middle-school audience.
Timothy July’s brother Ben, a soldier, has been wounded in battle. His family doesn’t know exactly how bad yet, but his parents are wracked with guilt and they won’t let him talk about it to anyone outside the family. As if that’s not enough, his best friend Stuart holds a grudge when Timothy accidentally pairs off with the weirdo new girl for a class project.
Abigail Tremens is staying with her grandmother, her Mom believing that she has Abigail snowed about her parents separation, but she’s no fool. She hangs onto her father’s lighter in his absence, dresses in black, and keeps to herself. But she has been troubled by nightmares recently.
Their class takes a field trip to a museum, where Timothy and Abigail join up just before getting soaked by a water balloon. They choose a grim looking painting as the subject of their report. Too bad that ancient cursed jawbone had been removed from display for cleaning. Now that would have been perfect subject material.
If you read closely, you will notice that the interludes between chapters involve those people related to the disappearance of a girl named Delia years earlier. Her alleged kidnapping was the basis for the Zelda Kite novel The Clue of the Incomplete Corpse.
A copy of that very book is dropped by a shadowy figure in the museum basement, leading the kids to the Zelda Kite Mysteries as they dry off. (Zelda is a slueth paralleling Nancy Drew, even so far as being ghost written.) Their author, Ogden Kentwall, was the pen name used by one Heironymous Kindred… funny, that was Abigail’s grandmother’s last name.
Then the nightmares begin, compliments of nothing less than an ancient curse. The shadows from Poblocki’s mind turn truly horrifying when Ben shows up in a giant specimen jar in Timothy’s closet.
Through the smudged glass, drifting in the liquid, two arms and a leg came into view. They looked human. After a few seconds, the thing inside the jar came close enough for Timothy to distinguish the military emblem on its decaying sleeve… Timothy’s brother, Ben, opened his mouth wide and showed him his purple swollen tongue.
Abigail invites Timothy over to her grandmother’s place so they can work on their class project. (It seems unlikely that a girl, even one who is sweet on him, would ask a relative stranger over to do something so intimate as help her dye her hair, but she does.) And she also confides in Timothy a secret.
She relates the story of two girls who back in Jersey, made her life Hell at school, teasing her and driving all her friends away. She dubbed them The Nightmarys after a Nathaniel Olmstead novel (remember Olmstead from Poblocki’s first book The Stone Child?) But now she is being visited by two spirits. Real Nightmarys. And they want Abigail to go away with them.
Stuart ends up in the hospital, the victim of a nightmare at the bottom of the pool. He blames Abigail. After all, his water balloon was targeted at her… her vengeful anger must be the source of the horrifying visions. Has she got a jawbone under her pillow?
Timothy and Abigail follow clues and learn more about the cursed jawbone. It is the remnant of a timeless evil spirit called The Daughter of Chaos, and the bone must be charged with power from a human sacrifice. Such a sacrifice allows the owner to cast deadly nightmares upon the intended victim.
During this research, serendipity leads them to the bricked-up office of Christian Hesselius, previously a pillar of the community, a professor and the architect who built the local lighthouse, now defamed with controversy. A young eye-witness claimed she saw Hesselius speaking with Delia just moments before her disappearance. It was Zilpha Kindred, Abigail’s grandmother.
Remember the shadowy figure that dropped a copy of Abigail’s grandmother’s uncle’s book? The son of Hesselius himself appears under an assumed name, befriends Zilpha and her neighbor (I am reminded of the Spider-Man issue where Peter comes home to find Doctor Octopus having tea with his Aunt May,) yet soon after reveals his true colors… with a jawbone from another age in his hand.
Abigail falls asleep and follows the Nightmarys away. Can Timothy find her and defeat Hesselius before she becomes the next sacrifice to The Daughter of Chaos? This mystery is atmospheric, filled with hallucinations, and will provide hearty scares amidst intriguing puzzles involving baseball cards, underlined book passages, and a collapsing stone floor. A top pick for quiet cemetery reading at Halloween.