Discover more from Rereading My Childhood by Amy A. Cowan
Goosebumps: Attack of the Jack-o'-Lanterns by R. L. Stine
The difference between a teenager's Halloween party and a kid's Halloween party is the Trick-or-Treat. Usually, a Halloween party for teenagers is an excuse to drink and attempt to engage in an awkward courtship ritual that will haunt them forever. The kid's Halloween party is supervised and at some point, the kids go as a group and become reverse door-to-door salesmen. The night ends with a sleepover.
At least, that has been my experience.
Parties and trick-or-treating collide in this years’ Halloween special in R. L. Stine’s Goosebumps: Attack of the Jack-o’-Lanterns. Unlike my Halloweens though, I’m not scared for life - at least not in a physical sense. Some of my costume choices were questionable, though. Like the time I was a “bloodsucker” because I was lacking specific teeth. What is a “bloodsucker”? It is just a vampire without any benefits.
Drew Brockman growls at people. He also has millions of friends that we all meet in the first three pages. I’m kidding. His friends are Walker, Tabby, Lee, Shane, and Shana, and we get them in two pages. Walker is his best friend, Shane and Shana are twins, and Tabby and Lee are the patented Stine not-friends.
Two years prior, Tabby and Lee threw a Halloween party that would have resulted in a lawsuit if there was justice in this world. Basically, two people in ski masks crashed the party through the basement, ordered everyone to the floor, and then forced the party-goers to do push-ups. The result is PTSD for an entire fourth-grade class and a kid who literally growls at people vowing revenge.
The next year, Drew, Walker, Shane, and Shana have this master plan to scare Tabby and Lee with fake spiders and rubber snakes. However, Tabby and Lee decline their Halloween party invitation, so the kids have to wait another year to enact revenge.
But this year, they will finally even the score.
Drew, Walker, Tabby, and Lee go trick-or-treating. They go to a house and a kind woman invites them inside. Against their better judgment, the kids enter, only to find a disturbing scene.
The back room was enormous.
And jammed with kids in costumes.
“Whoa!” I cried out, startled. My eyes quickly swept the room.
Most of the kids had taken off their masks. Some of them were crying. Some were red-faced and angry. Several kids sat cross-legged on the floor, their expressions glum.
“Yeah. Let us out of here,” Lee insisted.
The old man smiled. The woman stepped up beside him. “You have to stay,” she said. “We like to look at your costumes.”
“You can’t go,” the man added, leaning heavily on his cane. “We have to look at your costumes.”
“Huh? What are you saying? How long are you going to keep us here?” Tabby cried.
“Forever,” the old couple replied in unison.
Now Walker and Drew have to work with Tabby and Lee to escape these wild people who collect trick-or-treaters, getting closer together and gaining a mutual understanding of one another-
No. It was a daydream. It was Drew’s daydream. He thought it up in between growls.
Anyway, the actual day is here, but there’s a slight kink in their plan - Mother Growl doesn’t think they should go trick-or-treating. Apparently, there are people missing in town.
I took the paper from Mom and stared at the photos of the four people who had disappeared. Three men and one woman.
“The police are warning people to be very careful,” Mom said softly.
Walker walked over and took the newspaper from my hands. He studied the photos for a moment. “Hey - these people are all fat!” he exclaimed.
Now we all clustered around the paper and stared at the gray photos. Walker was right. All four people were very overweight. The first one, a bald man in a bulging turtleneck swather, had at least six chins!
Well, then I guess they deserve to be kidnapped!
But enough of that grown-up stuff - the kids are ready to go trick-or-treating!
Drew and Walker leave. It’s not long before something bites Drew on the shoulder! It’s Todd, one of the boys that home invaded the party from three years before. This kid bites Drew and so Drew growls at him. The older kids run off to bite other trick-or-treaters. There’s a lot of animalistic behavior going on here.
Eventually, Tabby and Lee show up. The twins are late and Drew is worried about their plan, but Tabby and Lee want candy, so they start knocking on doors. One of the houses gives them apples and Lee yeets it because you shouldn’t take unwrapped gifts from people you don’t know. Or he doesn’t like fruit, I’m not sure.
As they’re hucking fruit, they see two figures emerge from a grey blur.
Over their heads…
They wore pumpkins!
Large, round pumpkins, perfectly balanced on their shoulders.
As they slowly turned to face us, their jack-’o-lantern faces came into view.
Eerie, jagged grins cut into their pumpkin heads.
Flashing triangle eyes.
Lit by flames!
Walker and Drew scream, but Tabby and Lee are unphased. In fact, they’re so unphased that after the pumpkin heads (not the movie) beckon the kids to follow them, Tabby and Lee trail behind without much of a second thought. Walker and Drew tag along and Drew has a bad feeling about the be-pumpkined individuals, but at least he isn’t growling.
They pass through a forest and it seems like they’ve been walking for hours. Walker fails to live up to his name and struggles with his shoes. Drew speculates that the missing people followed the pumpkins deep into the woods and he expresses his internal anxiety. Finally, they come out of the forest on the other side and they’re suddenly in a neighborhood. It’s a nice neighborhood and every house has great candy. Soon, the children have had their fill.
They attempt to go home, but the pumpkins are furious. They say that the kids can’t stop.
They both appeared to float up, to rise up over us. The fires raged in their triangle eyes. The heads floated up over the dark, caped bodies.
“You can’t quit! You can’t EVER quit!”
Whenever the kids try to run away, the pumpkins block their path. When the kids have run out of space in their bags, the pumpkins order them to eat. The kids are reaching their breaking point, especially Tabby and Lee. The two attempt to grab the pumpkin head off to reveal the person behind the mask. Tabby and Lee are successful until they realize that the pumpkins were their heads. The pumpkins just laugh and put their heads back on.
It’s almost midnight and the kids' parents are going to be worried, but the pumpkins are still going house-to-house. The kids try to get help, but none of the adults will help them, calling them crazy. The pumpkins have been disappearing when the kids try to signal for help and then emerge when the kids try to run away. They go to another house and instead of finding a human - they find a pumpkin adult.
More pumpkin adults appear. They surround the children. They bring out four extra pumpkin heads. They slam one of the heads on top of Tabby. She runs away screaming. Lee tries to fight back, but the pumpkin people get him, too. Then they turn their sights on Walker and Drew.
And they all start laughing.
What is going on?
The two creatures set the empty pumpkin heads down on the ground. And then their own pumpkin heads started to change. The flames died out. The heads began to shrink. And change shape.
A few seconds later, Shane and Shana had their own heads back.
“It worked guys!” I exclaimed when we finally stopped celebrating. “It worked! It worked! We really scared Tabby and Lee this time!”
“That was so much fun!” Walker exclaimed. “And so easy!”
I stepped up to Shane and Shana and hugged them both. “Of course,” I exclaimed, “it helps to have two aliens from another planet as friends!”
“What the hell?” I exclaimed.
You’d think I’d be used to these kinds of endings by now, but I’m not. Especially when the narrator spends the book expressing to me, the reader, how scared he is through internal dialogue and how those pumpkin kids aren’t Shane and Shana.
It would be one thing if Drew were saying the pumpkins weren’t the twins to Tabby and Lee to keep up the lie but Drew told me, the reader, about his fear. He told me that the twins were missing. He said to me he needed to get home. In the words of Bob’s Burgers, “A lie is not a twist.”
However, maybe I’m looking at this book wrong. Maybe I’m only looking at it with an artificial lens. At the end of the book, as the kids are getting their sweet revenge, the village of aliens were all willing to help. It’s about a community coming together to aid one of its weaker members.
I suddenly had a serious thought. I stopped laughing. “You know, I’ve never seen you two eat,” I told the two aliens. “What do you eat?”
Shana reached out and pinched my arm. “You’re still really bony, Drew, “ she replied. “You’ll find out what Shane and I eat when you fill out a bit.”
“Yeah,” Shane chimed in. “People from our planet only like to eat very plump adults. So you don’t have to worry for now.”
Well, I guess they’ll deserve it when they get older.
The book is not about Halloween revenge. It’s about animals. At its core, human nature is animalistic. Teenagers bite multiple children. Our main character literally growls. They go from house to house hunting for sustenance. Getting revenge on Tabby and Lee plays into pack dynamics. Tabby and Lee are the alphas of the group, but a new leader wants to take over. It’s not a fight in the traditional physical sense, but a fight of courage.
And in the end, as all this happens, there’s a set of aliens who see humans as another animal to use for food. They are keeping the townspeople in their little neighborhoods, or pens, until it’s time for them to graduate from Bovine University.
Or Stine couldn’t think of an ending and he saw an episode of The X-Files and was all, “I’ll just make it aliens.”
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