Front Tagline: Step 1: Run. Step 2: Run Faster.
Back Tagline: Home Alone...With A Monster?
Official Book Description:
Gretchen and her stepbrother, Clark, hate staying at their grandparents' house. Grandpa Eddie is totally deaf. And Grandma Rose is obsessed with baking. Plus, they live in the middle of a dark, muddy swamp.
Things couldn't get any worse, right? WRONG.
Because there's something really weird about Grandma and Grandpa's house. Something odd about that room upstairs. The one that's locked. The one with the strange noises coming from it. Strange growling noises...
It's Parents Are Away On Important Business Time once again inGoosebumps world. This time two siblings, Gretchen and Clark, are being driven through swamplands to stay with their grandparents for a few days while their parents attend to vague activities out of state. Along for the ride is their dog Charley and also a flat tire, which has halted the journey as the book begins.
While waiting in the swamp for the family car to get fixed, Gretchen, apparently unaware of the concept of lateral moves, complains about the humidity and openly wishes she were spending the summer in Atlanta instead. She coerces her brother into accompanying her in a mild exploration of the swamp, navigating through tall reeds and grass. They spot something called a "Cyprus Knee" in the marsh, along with... a horrible, towering swamp creature with red eyes! Except, wah wah, it's actually Charley the dog, who has neither red eyes or towering figure. The kids also hear mysterious low moans arising from somewhere within the swamp, but that turns out to be the sound of me eleven years into the future, crying out in boredom.
Never one to take a gamble on credibility, Stine reveals that Gretchen and Clark's grandparents live in a castle in the swamp. The castle has only three windows, one on each of its three stories. The grandparents greet the family as they finally arrive, and don't worry, there are several hilarious jokes about how these old people are so old. The elderly couple reveal that their castle has no television, no telephone, and no way out either since their car is being repaired. But luckily there are plenty of chicken pot pies in the castle, and the entire fam sits down for a meal. Charley the dog starts barking at the floor, and this is given ominous foreboding, so I bet he's smelling a monster or something. Not to spoil a book called How To Kill A Monster or anything, just a hunch.
The parents leave and Gretchen settles into her new room, which is the size of a gymnasium and is adorned only with a bed, a dresser, and a lamp. After an uneasy night filled with more mysterious howls from the swamp, Gretchen goes next door to collect Clark from his room and the two make their way down to the kitchen for breakfast. Grandma Rose is making blueberry pancakes and I guess decided to mix the batter mid-air as the entire kitchen is splattered with the blue and white mixture. She hugs the two kids, staining their clothes. Grandma makes enough breakfast to feed several armies, and Gretchen tells Clark that they have to eat as much of the food as they can to avoid insulting her. Grandma heaps ten pancakes on Clark's plate without eating a single one herself.
Gretchen remembers that her parents had given her mystery books to give to her grandparents and races off to her room to retrieve them. En route to her room, she spies Grandpa Eddie carrying a huge stack of pancakes down the hall. Gretchen decides she's going solve the mystery of why Grandpa Eddie was carrying pancakes... later. Oh suspense!
After breakfast, Gretchen and Clark get shooed out of the kitchen by Grandma Rose, who tells them to go play out in the swamp. They run into Grandpa Eddie, who is brandishing a large saw. He invites them to help him build a shed. They decline. Grandma Rose invites the children to assist her in making her "sweet-as-sugar rhubarb pie," and even though Clark insists that they would be no good at making pies, the kids find themselves mixing enough ingredients for three pies. Hey, I don't know if you've noticed yet because it's pretty subtle, but Grandma Rose prepares a lot of food.
The kids are again encouraged to explore, this time inside the castle, but they are warned by Grandpa Eddie to stay out of the far room on the third floor, as it is a forbidden supply closet. The kids investigate their grandparents bedroom, finding the room filled with boxes of old newspapers and magazines. Inside their closet, there are numerous broken antique toys, such as a dusty rocking horse, a eyeless porcelain doll, and container upon container of Gak.
Clark decided to play Hide and Seek with Gretchen, calling out "Not It' as he runs away to hide. Gretchen scours the castle in search of him, encountering many empty rooms and an abandoned piano, finally deciding to cheat and hide herself, forcing Clark to be it. She spots a dumbwaiter next to the locked forbidden room. The forbidden room has a tarnished silver key sticking out of the lock and Gretchen resists temptation until she hears a commotion from behind the door. Thinking her brother has cheated and is hiding in the forbidden room, Gretchen opens the door and spots a monster. Except, it's really... oh wait, it actually is a monster. A green-furred creature with a gorilla body and an alligator head.
The monster is concentrating on eating pancakes and doesn't notice Gretchen in the room. She turns to leave and he spies her. Dropping the pancakes on the ground, he trounces after her. Gretchen narrowly escapes the locked room, only to encounter Clark in the hall. Clark thinks she's bluffing and enters the forbidden room. A moment later he screams and the monster shrieks and Clark hoofs it out of the room, leaving the door open behind him. The monster escapes out into the hallway in pursuit of the kids. The kids run away in fear, dragging their dog Charley with them, who keeps trying to turn around and confront the monster. They make it down to the second floor and lock Charley in a bathroom to keep him safe. The kids attempt to get their grandparents' attention, but can't seem to find them in the castle. As the two kids hear the monster tromping about on the floor above them, they also hear the sound of a car from below. They look out the sole window to see Grandma and Grandpa in their newly-fixed car-- backing out of the driveway. The kids run down to the bottom floor to get their attention, but can't open the front door. They're locked inside the castle with the monster.
The kids run around the bottom floor, trying to find a way out. The kitchen window is nailed shut--from the outside. They hear the monster above them, he's made his way down to the second floor. They hear the sound of the piano's keys above, then a giant smash. Then another key-littered smash. The monster is picking up the piano and throwing it across the room upstairs, over and over. Keys and crashing, over and over from above, shaking the entire castle. All goes quiet for a moment, then the kids hear the sound of their dog whimpering from above. Grabbing a heavy candlestick, Gretchen leads her brother upstairs to rescue their dog. Once they make it to the second floor though, the monster is nowhere to be seen and Charley is still safely locked inside the bathroom. They hear the car below again and lock Charley back in the bathroom. After racing downstairs, they see a pink slip of paper that has been slid under the front door. It's a phone message from their parents, informing the kids that they're going to be staying at their grandparents a little longer than they'd anticipated. The car sound was from a worker from the General Store, who takes messages on his phone for the elderly couple. The car has already driven away when Gretchen hears her brother calling her from the kitchen.
Gretchen asks where the monster is and Clark cooly replies that he's still upstairs. He then points to the refrigerator. There are two sealed envelopes held by magnets on the door. Clark opens the first one and reads the letter aloud in what has to be among one of the more amazing segments in the history of the Goosebumps series. The gist of the letter goes something like this: "Dear kids, sorry we left but a swamp monster invaded our house and we've been afraid to leave. Now that you're here, we can leave. We went to get help and locked you in so you wouldn't get lost in the swamp. You'll be safe so long as you don't let the monster out. If you let the monster out, you'll have to kill it." The actual letter as written is actually dumber than I've made it sound. Clark is about to open the second envelope when the swamp monster appears in the doorway to the kitchen. The kids flee and discuss a plan of action. Clark thinks the two should simply hide and wait for their grandparents to return, however Gretchen is pretty sure they're not coming back at all, and so she proposes that they must do as the letter instructed: they must kill the monster. The kids run up the stairs to the second floor and once they are at the end of the hall, the monster cockily appears at the top of the stairs, brandishing a wooden stool. The monster looks at the kids and then breaks the stool over his knee. How did this suddenly turn into the best book ever?
Gretchen has a plan. The stairwell to the third floor is missing some planks, is the kids run up the stairs and then jump onto the bannister, the monster will keep running and fall three stories down to the ground floor of the castle. The kids jump up and grab onto the bannister and watch as the monster indeed falls to his "death." The kids make their way down to safety and Gretchen goes to the bathroom to retrieve the candlestick, thinking she'll use it to smash the window open and make her escape. However, she sees that Charley is no longer in the bathroom and hears the unmistakable sound of the monster's groans. She races down to the kitchen where Clark is feeding Charley and informs her brother that the monster is still alive-- and pissed. Gretchen stuffs their dog into a small closet-like room and spies the rhubarb pie Grandma Rose baked. Figuring the monster hasn't eaten yet, Gretchen comes up with how to kill the monster: they'll poison the rhubarb pie. Gretchen pours drain cleaner, rat poison, amonia, and turpentine into the pie. I think Clark was onto something earlier when he said they weren't any good at making pies. As the monster makes its way to the kitchen, Gretchen throws in some orange paint and mothballs into the pie for good measure.
The two kids hide under the kitchen table as the large monster makes his way around the kitchen, sniffing at appliances. The creature rips the oven door off and throws it across the kitchen. He retrieves the non-poisoned pies from the oven and shoves them whole into his mouth, then turns around and polishes off the third, adulterated pie. The two kids huddle in fear as the monster stands inches from them, licking the pie plate. Then the creature's eyes pop out of its head and it falls to the floor, dead. Gretchen doesn't want to get too close but it looks like the monster isn't breathing. Clark defiantly throws his mud monsters comic book at the monster's still head. The kids go to retrieve their dog from the closet and discover the room he was in is actually a passageway to the outside! The siblings try to open the door leading out to the swamp, but like everything else in the castle, it's locked. That's okay, Clark says, they have shovels! They have shovels.
The monster appears, alive, in the kitchen doorway. Clark thinks it's going to eat him first since he threw the comic book at it's head. Gretchen rightly reasons that the monster will likely eat both of them, since they did try to kill it and all. Gretchen, holding the shovel in both hands, attacks the monster in the stomach with the tool. The monster picks the shovel from her hands and tosses it behind him back into the kitchen. Gretchen tries to grab the other shovel from the wall of the room, but the monster spots her movement and grabs that shovel as well, breaking it in two with his hands. Gretchen tells her brother to open that second envelope from the fridge. Before Clark can comply, the monster grabs Gretchen's arm and pulls her closer to him, her face now in front of the creature's rank, gator-like mouth. Charley the dog runs to the rescue, biting into the monster's leg. The monster kicks his leg backwards, sending the dog flying across the room back into the kitchen.
The monster pulls Gretchen's head into his mouth and extends his tongue, covering her entire face with the creature's saliva as he licks her body to prepare for eating her. Before the monster can close his jaws around Gretchen's head, he stops, removes her from his mouth and asks, in English, "You human?" Gretchen confirms she is. The monster then bellows, "I'm allergic to humans!" The monster dies, for real this time.
But the Twist is:
The kids don't stick around this time to make sure the creature is really dead, they get their dog and start walking through the swamp. After they've walked some distance, they notice the sky has grown darker. Gretchen suddenly remembers the second envelope and makes Clark open it. Inside is a second letter, warning the children that if they do kill the monster, they should not try to escape through the swamp, as the monster had many brothers and sisters. The children's grandparents had seen the other creatures at night, whistling to each other, and knew they were angry at the humans for capturing their brother. The grandparents warn their kids to stay inside the safety of the castle or only travel to town using the main road. After they've finished the letter, the two children stop and listen to the sound of whistling from all areas of the surrounding swamp.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Siblings Gretchen and Clark, whose grandparents disappear halfway thru the novel.
Despite his fervent disinterest, Grandma Rose insists that Clark assist in making pies, seemingly defying the primary thesis of Rousseau's Emile. Oh and the whole abandoning their grandkids to a certain death thing.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
Hall Of Fame Cliffhanger!
Something's happened to Clark, all that's left of him in his room is his rumpled clothes!-- Oh, actually, I guess he just changed clothes and left his room.
Great Prose Alert:
But he was right. Grandma and Grandpa did smell.
After so many Goosebumps books where nothing happens, the biggest twist of all proves to be a book where something happens. A surprisingly upper-tier title in the series.