Front Tagline: It's the little camp of horrors!
Back Tagline: Those Scary Stories About Camp Are All Coming True....
Official Book Description:
The food isn't great. The counselors are a little strange. And the camp director, Uncle Al, seems sort of demented.
Okay, so Billy can handle all that.
But then his fellow campers start to disappear.
What's going on? Why won't his parents answer his letters? What's lurking out there after dark?
Camp Nightmoon is turning into Camp Nightmare.
And Billy might be next...
Billy (no last name, no one has any last names in the book) has just been sent off to Camp Nightmoon by his mom and dad, who are explorers and scientists and I don't know, superheroes and movie stars too. While on the bus to camp, Billy encounters many delightful
stereotypes characters, such as Mike, the fat kid who's scared of everything; Colin, who wears sunglasses and a red bandana around his long brown hair; Jay, the jockish kid with wild curly red hair, so he's clearly mad at the world and will serve as the "bully" of the group; Dawn and Dori, two girls from the Girl Camp faction of Camp Nightmoon. The busdriver stops the vehicle in the middle of a desert on the way to the camp and orders everyone out of the bus. He unpacks everyone's belongings then drives off, abandoning the children in the desert. The children are suddenly surrounded by a couple of wildcats who prepare to slaughter the children until a man shows up on another bus with a rifle and shoots it at the wildcats. If none of this makes any sense, that's okay, since it's never refered to ever again.
The man who saved the children introduces himself as the leader of Camp Nightmoon, Uncle Al, and he is given the physical characteristics of Art Garfunkel by RL Stine. Uncle Al invites the children onto his bus and in a case of supreme ineffeciency, drives approximately five minutes to the camp from where they were dropped off. Stine makes it easy on the reader by having his characters question this decision outloud, but unlike the reader, the characters seem to forget anything that happened in the first 30 pages of the book ever occured once they arrive at camp. The girls head off to their camp and based on my calculations, outside of counselors and Uncle Al, all eight boys from the bus make up the entire population of the camp.
Mike and Jay and Colin all bunk together, and while preparing their cabin, Mike finds a pair of poisonous snakes in his bed. Jay jokes around and play pushes Mike into the snakes. The punchline to the joke is Mike getting bitten on his hand, which then starts copiously bleeding. He runs off to find the nurse while Billy devises a plan to rid the snakes by wrapping them up in a bedsheet and throwing them outside. This plan is heralded as brave for reasons unexplained to the reader by their bunk's counselor, Larry, who then laughs when he is told that Mike went to find the nurse because there is no nurse. I guess that's kind of funny. Mike returns and as his hand is described as bleeding profusely onto the floor of the cabin, Larry tells him to just wash his hand and wrap a bandage around it.
The boys go to eat dinner around a campfire, where Uncle Al tells them the rules of Camp Nightmoon. The campers have to write home every day to tell their parents what fun they're having. They're not allowed out in the woods or along the river that runs between the boy's and girl's camps. This is peppered with a warning by Uncle Al that the woods are dangerous and infested with Tree Bears. What.
Uncle Al also informs the campers that they're not allowed to ever enter the Forbidden Bunk, so that's why he's mentioning the thing they'd never have even known existed were it not for Uncle Al warning against it. Jay decides after the fire that he wants to sneak out to see the Forbidden Bunk. Larry overhears him and tells him he probably shouldn't, as the Forbidden Bunk is where the Sabre lurks, a red-eyed monster. Then the boys hear hideous howling from the Forbidden Bunk. Could Larry be telling the truth?
The next day the bunkmates are all enlisted to play something call Scratchball, which entails one person throwing a ball as far as they can, then attempting to run all four bases of a baseball diamond before someone catches it. I'm not a sports nut, but I'm pretty sure I know this game under it's other name: Running. Mike sits this game of Scratchball out, as his hand is swollen. Larry plays his spot and after Colin makes a move he doesn't appreciate, Larry loses his temper and throws the ball directly at the back of Colin's head from about 30 feet away. I'm not a medical sciences nut, but I'm pretty sure if you threw a baseball as hard as you could at the back of someone's head from 30 feet, they'd die. However, Colin is merely knocked to the ground and Larry helps both Mike and Colin to the main cabin to see Uncle Al.
Billy and Jay go back to the bunk and work on writing their daily letters home. Larry enters with Colin, who is miraculously just a little sore. Billy asks where Mike is but Larry just shrugs and leaves. Later, Billy discovers all of Mike's belongings removed from the cabin, and no one will tell him where Mike went.
Later that nite, Jay introduces Billy and Colin to some kid named Roger who is mentioned for the first time ever only when a plan is devised for the two to sneak into the Forbidden Cabin. I bet things work out well for this Roger. Billy and Colin decline the invitation to sneak out and Jay and Roger leave for a short time. Then there are screams and Jay runs back and tells Billy that Roger was attacked and mauled by the Sabre. The three boys lock themselves in the cabin until morning.
When they do leave, they don't see any traces of the previous nite's attrocities. They find Larry and tell him what happened to Roger. Larry seems a little confused but agrees to talk to Uncle Al about the missing camper. Billy goes down with some campers to the river for a swim, where he is met by Larry, who tells him that Uncle Al searched the Forbidden Bunk but couldn't find any traces of foul play, and what's worse, Uncle Al has no record of there ever being a camper named Roger at Camp Nightmoon. Then Larry changes the subject to WHO WANTS TO GO FOR A SWIM?
At the river, Billy is accosted by Dawn and Dori, who have swam over from the girl's camp and hid in the bushes for hours on the hopes that Billy would walk by exactly where they are on the campgrounds. If this makes no sense, remember, nothing in this book does. The girls tell Billy that campers are disappearing from their camp as well, and they plan on making a break for it very soon. The three agree to meet again and Billy takes off back towards the bunk. On the way, he spots a payphone by Uncle Al's offices. He plans to call home to his parents and beg for them to come to the camp and rescue him and all his friends, yet the phone turns out to be a plastic decoy. Uncle Al walks out of the Plot Convenience Bunk and informs Billy that campers are not allowed to use the phone. And also Billy's going on a canoe trip tomorrow.
When Billy makes it back to the bunk, he tells Jay and Colin about the girls and the three of them decide to write to their parents and tell them precisely what is happening and hope for a speedy rescue. Larry stomps into the cabin and tells Colin and Jay that they are going on a special two camper hike with a counselor named Frank. If this were the real world and not Goosebumps world, this is when the book would turn into an SVUepisode. However, in the book the two campers and the counselor all mysteriously disappear with no explanation. After trying and failing to get answers out of Larry, Billy stumbles into Uncle Al's office and finds a burlap sack full of all the letters he and his fellow campers had been writing, which have clearly never been mailed at all.
When Billy returns to his bunk after dinner, he meets his two new bunkmates, Tommy and Chris, who will also be joining Billy on his canoe trip tomorrow. I bet these two will have fun canoeing and nothing eventful or murderous will occur. Tommy and Chris also tell Billy that Uncle Al announced that Visitor's Day has been cancelled, so no one's parents will be arriving anytime soon.
The next morning, Larry takes Billy, Chris, and Tommy out to the canoe and the four head off downstream. Larry (in an exciting preview ofGoosebumps #19: Deep Trouble) decides he'd like to look at the fish in the river and leans too far out of the canoe and falls in and drowns. What.
Billy bravely abandons his two innocent, child bunkmates in the canoe, and leaves them to float downsteam to their deaths while he rescues the drowning counselor responsible for numerous camper murders. Billy pulls Larry to safety and the two walk up the bank of the river back to camp. Larry tells Uncle Al that Billy saved his life. Billy keeps trying to get either Uncle Al or Larry to acknowledge that the two bunkmates were in the canoe, but Uncle Al finally pays attention and scolds Larry on losing his favorite canoe.
The next day, Billy is awoken early by Larry. Apparently Uncle Al has called a surprise morning hike and the whole camp is required to attend. Billy and what's left of his campmates are walking in the woods when Uncle Al instructs his counselors to remove rifles from their bags and pass them out to the children. Two girls have escaped from the girl's camp, Uncle Al informs the campers, and Billy is excited that Dawn and Dori made it out. Uncle Al then instructs the children that they are to find the two girls, who are presumed to be hiding in the woods, and shoot them. Billy refuses this order and instead turns his gun on Uncle Al and fires.
But the Twist is:
The gun doesn't go off and Uncle Al gets very excited and declares "You've passed the test!" Dawn and Dori appear from within the woods, as does Jay and Colin and everyone else Billy had met at the camp. Then his parents show up and give him a big congratulatory hug. Billy is told that his parents wanted him to go with them on their next big exploration, but first he needed to be tested by the government to see if he was ready. Uncle Al tells Billy that he passed the test by Obeying Orders (not going into the Forbidden Cabin), Showing Bravery (rescuing Larry from drowning), and Knowing When Not To Follow Orders (refusing to shoot the girls). Uncle Al doesn't mention how shooting his counselor, almost being eaten by wildcats, and letting his friend get attacked by snakes factor into the final test score. Billy is told the exciting place they're going to be exploring is Earth. Oh wow, they were aliens or something.
the Platonic Boy-Girl Relationship:
Billy and Dawn, who disappears until the middle of the novel.
Billy's parents subject their child to psychological torture just to take him to Earth. Hey, my parents never made me watch my friends get murdered and I've lived on Earth my whole life.
What the hell are tree bears?
Word Choice Alert:
Number of times a character is described as grinning: 23.
Memorable Cliffhanger Chapter Ending:
The bus driver is a monster! Wait, he's a monster who's pulling his own monstorous face off! Wait, no, it's a mask. If it was up to me, Billy would fail his test right then.
Great Prose Alert:
"Then everyone laughed.
'You won't be laughing if a bear claws your head off,' Uncle Al said sternly."
This was the first Goosebumps ending that really bothered me as a child, but reading it now I feel a little less cheated than I did back then. It's still a big middle finger to the reader, but compared to similar entries that tried the same sort of massive twist at the end (A Shocker on Shock Street), this one isn't so bad.