She’s dreaming of a dead Christmas…
I didn’t think much of Patricia Windor’s Seventeen short story about a teenage girl deciding not to pursue an affair with an older man, but Christmas-themed YAs are getting to be slim pickings…
…So I was really taken by surprise by the terrific opening to this novel!
15-year-old Rosecleer Potter opens with the news that Nancy Emerson, a younger, less-popular classmate, has been reported missing, and recounts an unsettling encounter she had with Nancy the previous winter.
As the days pass with no sign of Nancy, everyone has a theory, and most of them are unsympathetic:
The Thanksgiving atmosphere was tainted. Although people were worried, they also seemed annoyed, as if Nancy could have picked a better time to disappear.
The Potters said a prayer for her over the turkey and stuffing and cranberry sauce, and all ate too much, as usual, and fell asleep in front of the football game on TV.
In school after the holiday the rumors are still circulating, and Rose and her twin brother, Jerram, are pretty cynical about the attention Nancy is getting:
“It has nothing to do with us. We weren’t her friends. We didn’t give her a single thought before; why are we upset now? We’re just being sentimental.”
So, I had high hopes about this being a social-problem novel where the problem is a serial killer preying on nerds, but unfortunately it loses steam pretty quickly, settling into the usual Point supernatural thrill formula (with more than a little Christopher Pike-style gore thrown in).
That evening Rose has a disturbing dream about Nancy, and becomes convinced that Nancy is dead and is trying to lead her to the location of her body. After talking it over with her BFF, Grace, Rose attempts to give the information to the chief of police, but is detoured to no-nonsense lady Detective O’Hara, who doesn’t believe in all of that psychic woo-woo, but is at least willing to entertain the idea that Rose’s subconscious is trying to get her to remember some valuable information that could help find Nancy.
Rose has a second vision of Nancy, this time while wide awake in the middle of rehearsing for her upcoming Modern Dance recital, and when she comes to learns that Nancy’s body has been recovered far out of town, near Cape Cod.
Plotted over twenty-seven chapters divided into eight parts, each part is interpolated with a message from someone identified as HIM, who describes his murder spree in some really impressive teen-goth prose-poetry:
They must all look into my face and see my real self. Then death will bring them the flower bloom of love.
But perhaps best not think of old songs, old anything. Reminds me of the mothertimes. Mothertimes, othertimes, bad times, death times.
Sometimes I think how amusing it would be if Santa in his sleigh threw down packages of dead flesh upon the world.
Piece on earth, peace on earth, bad will to them.
If you can stop laughing at the Christmas-themed death metal lyrics the killer is sending to the local news, there actually are some clues in these passages, mainly that the killer has a sister he resents.
The book is not lacking in red herrings- who could the killer be? Jerram? He’s pretty put out that Rose is hogging all the psychic powers. Former police chief Mackey, who has a sister who definitely entertains woo-woo psychic abilities? Rose’s kinda-boyfriend Daniel? He HAS been acting pretty weird lately. Wallace Romola, the scion of a wealthy local family who spends his days panhandling in the town square after sustaining brain damage in a Lamborghini crash as teenager? Does Detective O’Hara have a brother…? Does any of this have to do with Rose’s report on the Salem Witch Trials?
In the meantime Nancy is still showing up in Rose’s dreams, trying to tell her something. After her body is recovered, Nancy leads her to a dump in a neighboring town, and a few days later Nancy’s friend Cyn also goes missing. Detective O’Hara’s more suspicious than ever when a years-old skeleton is recovered from the town dump, but most people believe that Cyn, distraught over Nancy’s death, either committed suicide or ran away from home.
Rose’s visions become progressively more vivid and disturbing, and after she has a vision in which she sees both Nancy and Cyn, she becomes so sick that that’s she’s out of school for a week recovering.
She passes word to ex-Chief Mackey, and sure enough, Cyn’s body is found right where Nancy told Rose it would be. What’s worse, the local paper has taken notice, printing an article that doesn’t mention Rose’s name, but gives enough identifying details about the teenage psychic that that has been tipping off the police to make her parents concerned the killer might target her next.
And Nancy still is no help in identifying the killer or leading Rose to the victims while they are still alive. Worse, the next girl to go missing turns out to be Jerram’s secret girlfriend. IS THE KILLER EVEN CLOSER THAN THEY THINK????
The following Sunday morning, the local church is packed with citizenry praying for the victims, but Nancy’s mother spots Rose, who still hasn’t fully recovered from her psychic-borne illness, and starts yelling that SHE’S A WITCH!!!!
Rose just wants to recover enough to focus on her dance recital, especially since her teacher has promised that someone with connections to the professional dance world in New York will be scouting her.
But her mother has revealed a troubling secret- shortly before Rose and Jerram were born, she had a bad spell where she was certain one of the twins’ heartbeats had stopped, and she has always lived with the certainty that it was Rose, who had some kind of in utero near-death experience.
Jerram (still under a cloud of suspicion) tries to help out by taking Rose to see ex-Chief Mackey’s sister, who guides her on a psychic journey that almost kills her and is ultimately fruitless; Rose is disturbed that Jerram is mostly concerned about getting a message from his dead girlfriend, likewise Miss Mackey is looking for evidence to clear Wallace Romola of suspicion.
In the end, it is Wallace that saves Rose’s neck, when the killer turns out to be her dance teacher’s twin brother that hasn’t really been mentioned up to this point (he’s also the talent scout). After killing his sister and cornering Rose in the bathroom at the dance studio, Wallace bursts in and subdues him, wrapping up the case for Det. O’Hara.
EXCEPT! We’re treated to one more mopey goth-poem from his point of view as he sits in jail, vowing escape- and revenge! Merry Christmas!
Sign It Was Written In 1991 Department:
“They have posters as far away as New York. I heard somebody called from there and said they saw her at the Port Authority bus station- that’s a place where all the runaways hang out. Maybe Nancy was a secret druggie.”