Front Tagline: Talk about getting ahead!
Protagonist Brandon Plush has two mottos: "Make 'em scream" and "Oops-- just joking!" I gotta say, I'm impressed. When I was his age, I probably only had one motto, tops. So, a book about Halloween and a character who loves tormenting others with frights. We're really in uncharted territory here. Oops-- just joking!
Brandon torments his younger sister Maya. He torments his cousin Vinnie. He even torments the two yoots he babysits. He tells the two neighborhood kids about a ghost who lives in their basement. Brandon reveals that the ghost has "a bad habit" of killing people. Is there a patch for that? The kids don't believe that one of the ghost's victims still haunts their house, so Brandon puts on a mask and pretends to be a headless ghost. Let's all think about that for a moment.
Brandon's friend Cal, a six-foot-tall twelve-year-old, appreciates Brandon's work, as it skews idiot. Brandon likes Cal because he shares his fondness for tormenting kids, and also he can pull things down off high shelves. The two reminisce about all the times they've locked kids inside an abandoned house in their neighborhood. This exchange is shortly followed by Cal overreacting to someone scuffing his new Air Jordans. Man, he should shove him in a locker quick two times!
Not wanting to be one-upped by his fellow tormentor, Brandon spies Vinnie in the hall and pretends to splash acid in his cousin's face. Of course it's only water and Brandon has a good laugh. But what if Vinnie had been carrying an envelope with the flap pulled back? My God, the adhesive would have become prematurely active! This is what kids in these books never consider: the consequences of their actions. Thankfully, adults do, and Brandon's least-favorite teacher, Mr. Benson, sees the whole thing and sentences Brandon to a week's detention. Brandon decides to get revenge against the teacher on Halloween night. Well, I probably wouldn't try reusing that "Pretending water is acid" trick, he's already seen it.
After school, Brandon takes out his frustrations on his little sister by jumping out from behind a corner and screaming at her. Wow, that's a pretty compelling preview of the complex terror that awaits Mr. Benson on Halloween. The shock causes the little girl to accidentally break the glass she was holding and start sobbing. Brandon chooses this moment to reveal his excellent plan for getting revenge on Mr. Benson: He and Cal are going to trash his house on Halloween night. Then, to make up for not being able to trick-or-treat, they're going to steal some kid's bag of candy on the way home. Boy, with this build-up for what a jerk he is, anything short of this kid getting knifed in the eyes at the end of the book is going to feel like a letdown.
Halloween night finally arrives, and golly, Brandon just gets more and more appealing. His mother forces him to take both his cousin and his sister plus her two young friends trick-or-treating. Brandon decides that he'll lead them out into the dark night and then abandon them. And he does. First he ditches the three girls on a dark street. Then he leads his cousin to a dilapidated-looking house. Though he can hear Vinnie screaming as he and Cal run away, Brandon doesn't even stop to see if he's okay. I didn't realize that the bar could be set this low.
Now that responsibility has been safely skirted, Cal and Brandon are free to have a "Headless Halloween." This entails them walking around holding a mask above their heads and then removing the mask. Totally worth naming the book after. Once they tire of scaring little kids and stealing their candy (and long after the reader has tired of it), they decide to make their way over to Mr. Benson's house. His home overlooks a steep cliff that drops down onto a ravine. Just like so many other suburban houses.
As soon as Mr. Benson drives away, the two boys sneak inside. In a surprising scene, the two find beer in the teacher's fridge. This is definitely the first time alcohol has appeared in one of these books and I'm pretty sure it was included as a suggestion for how to get through the rest of the novel.
The two continue to loot their teacher's empty house. And because aSeries 2000 book without vomiting is like a Mamet film without Rebecca Pidgeon, Brandon quickly feels the ill effects of eating too much candy. That's right, he gets the ultimate revenge on his teacher by puking all over the kitchen table. Cal thinks that's punishment enough, but Brandon wants to turn the teacher's living room couch upside down for good measure. I can just picture Mr. Benson's reaction to seeing his couch upside down: "Oh no, it'll take like fifteen seconds to flip this right-side up! AAAARGH THIS IS TRULY THE ULTIMATE PRANK!"
Unfortunately we will never know what his actual reaction would have been, because before the two kids can angrily move furniture, Mr. Benson returns home and lets loose his vicious dogs. Brandon races out an open window, leaving Cal behind. As he runs away, he can hear Mr. Benson's guard dogs eating his friend alive. But he has bigger things to worry about. Things like what to wear to school the next day, and how he just jumped off the steep cliff and into the rocky ravine below.
Poor Ambrose Bierce gets dragged into this mire as Brandon wakes up safe in the ravine. He wanders out and into a street he's never heard of. All the houses are dark and a boy he encounters is wearing a mask identical to his own. The boy asks if he heard about the kid who jumped into the ravine and was killed by the fall. And yet somehow the book is only half over. The kid he encounters is named Norband-- I guess Nodnarb was too on the nose? Norband invites Brandon to a Halloween Party-- or is it really a Lonewhale Atpry?!?!
The atpry is going great until Brandon heads over to the refreshment table and chomps down on a worm-filled donut. The kids pin him to the ground and force him to eat the whole thing. The atpry guests then make Brandon go bobbing for cockroaches. As if that wasn't stupid enough, they then make him play Twister. Oh my God, these kids are evil. This is confirmed when some of the children turn into snakes and wrap their bodies around Brandon. I don't remember that option on the Twister spinning wheel. I assume neither does Brandon, and he makes his feelings about associating with cheaters, especially evil snake-person cheaters, known by trying to leave in protest. Only he's stopped because, you know, the snakes.
Brandon eventually escapes the atpry and runs out of the house, only to be greeted by zombies. Oh good, more things. Brandon dodges the zombies and runs towards the ravine, only to see his own crumpled body resting on the bloody rocks below. This revelation proves surprising only for those readers who thumbed through the novel at a book fair and read this page randomly.
Norband tells Brandon that he's on "the Other Side." This is not to be confused with being on the Far Side, which has far more cows. Since Brandon was always scaring people, now his soul is trapped on the other side of being scared. But luckily there is one way for Brandon to regain his life. He must save three people from being scared in one hour. Norband pushes Brandon back into his corpse and the reanimated Brandon sets out to earn his life.
Too bad the first steps he takes are right into the path of Mr. Benson's angry dogs. After saving the still-struggling Cal from the dogs' grasp, Brandon finds himself under attack. How will he ever escape their clutches? Why, luckily he realizes
And dogs love candy-- right?
So he throws some Halloween candy at the dogs. The dogs eat the candy and leave Brandon alone. Add this to the list of valuable lessons young readers will need to unlearn from these books.
I know, I know-- this book is awful. But it can't get much worse, right? RIGHT? Um, ***RING RING*** Hello? Oh, it's the Wrong Phone, and it's for you.
Brandon runs around the neighborhood looking for someone to not scare. He stands outside the door of the house where he abandoned Vinnie and calls inside for his cousin. Vinnie cries out from behind the closed door for Brandon not to come in. Brandon braces himself for balled-up kleenexes, but what he sees within the house is far worse. Vinnie is curled up in the corner and he begs Brandon to leave while he still can. Suddenly, an actual giant ghostly figure of a decomposing man appears. Brandon decides to trick the ghost by doing his headless routine, and it works. The ghost runs away screaming. Unfortunately
"That wasn't the ghost," Vinnie repeated. "That was the ghost'spet."
Put that quote in a museum, it's art.
Vinnie tells Brandon that the house itself is the ghost, which begs the question: How exactly does a house die? The walls of the house start closing in on Vinnie and Brandon, but Brandon discovers that the one thing ghost houses are afraid of is the small beam of a flashlight. Brilliantly fighting off the ceiling and walls with his circle of light, the two boys make vaguely dog-shaped shadow puppets before finally escaping the evil house.
Saving Cal was his first scare-avert. Vinnie was number two. Brandon scans the neighborhood looking for number three. Conveniently, his little sister and her friends are being hassled by some punks at that very moment. Yes, of course the novel climaxes with this and not the giant evil ghost house. Brandon tries to scare away the punks, but somehow street toughs don't fall for his "I'll hold up a mask and then I won't" terrorizing. Luckily for Brandon, his hour is up and his body dies and slinks down, leaving his soul still standing. This does terrify the punks, and Brandon is convinces that even though his time was up, Norband will let him have his life back.
But the Twist is:
Brandon rushes to the cliff and jumps back over into the Other Side. He excitedly tells Norband that he did what he was told. But Norband replies to Brandon by saying, "Oops-- just joking!"-- he never had any intent of letting him live. Then Norband takes off his mask and reveals his Brandon mask. Then he takes that mask off and reveals nothing. Brandon immediately recommends that he and his new dead friends go back into the real world and start scaring people. Well, didn't this turn out to be the sunniest story of a kid dying
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Brandon and his little sister Maya, who literally disappears halfway through the novel.
What exactly did Mr. Benson have in his house that called for the protection of guard dogs? "Boy, these dogs'll sure stop some punk kids from flipping over my couch!" And like, not even then.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
As though the book didn't throw enough random trash at the reader, suddenly bats pop up in suburbia.
Great Prose Alert:
The vampire boy suddenly felt lighter.
If reincarnation exists, I had better be rewarded for somehow making it to the end of this book by coming back as Christina Hendricks' Emmy Dress.