Thursday, June 26, 2008

Chain Letter 2: The Ancient Evil

The letters of death…

The chain letter returned like a curse.

Chain Letter 2: The Ancient Evil
Christopher Pike
1992, 196 pages

Book Description:
Another chain letter has arrived. The group decides that it must be a joke. After all, the perpetrator of the original chain letter is dead and buried, the victim of a horrible illness. Yet the new chain letter is similar to the old ones. It is signed “Your Caretaker,” and insists they perform certain deeds or else they will be hurt.

Fran receives the first letter. She refuses to perform her “deed” and almost immediately she is killed. Then the group realizes that the letters are no joke, and that the power that originally drove their friend to start the chain letters – the same power that killed him – is still alive.

And hungry for more victims.

Alison – our heroine
Tony – no tolerance for cheaters
Fran – sweet, shy, about to die a horrible death
Brenda – high strung, Kipp’s girlfriend
Kipp – supposedly very intelligent
Joan – no tolerance for the handicapped

Eric Valance – amateur detective
Sasha – beautiful, helps Tony through hard times

Very Special Appearance By:
Chris – remember Neil? Neil’s back, in spirit form

So, the first thing I notice is that this book is dedicated to Neil. It’s nice to see him remembered so fondly. NO ONE could remember him more fondly than Tony, but I’ll get into that later.

It’s the end of summer, two months after Neil’s death. Alison and Tony have been going steady, and he’s steadily slipping her the hot beef injection. The sequel mentions Tony’s blond hair much more frequently than did the original. I always picture Tony Danza from the Who’s The Boss era, wearing those really, really short jock shorts of the 80s, then I have to modify the whole image because Danza doesn’t look good with blond hair. But – anyway – there’s trouble in Tony and Alison’s paradise. He’s staying in Los Angeles for junior college (he’s got a bad back and lost his football scholarship), and she’s going to study drama at UCLA, but she just received a late offer to attend the NYU. Which she is obviously considering, but hasn’t yet made a final decision.
Tony’s all: “you don’t love me, how could you leave me, blah blah”. OMG, Tony’s idea of a date is going out for a wahburger, French cries, and a root tear float. Alison is pissed that he’s bringing this shit up before they had a chance to have sex. Cuz she ain’t turned on now, not after listening to his boo-hooin'. Tony can’t switch on and off like that. Tony’s a sensitive soul. Let it be known.

These two are weird another way: they have TONS of Neil sympathy. Tony loves him. Tony thinks about him when he’s lying in bed at night. Sometimes, he turns and thinks he catches a glimpse of Neil’s slow, shy, sad, sexy smile, but it’s just wishful thinking. Actually, just yesterday, I was listening to the all request lunch program on Magic 94.9, and heard Elton John’s Someday Out Of The Blue being dedicated to Neil from Tony. That’s cool, that song always reminds me of them.

Tony and Alison waste the afternoon. They resolve nothing, and don’t even have sex. Alison has plans to go to the mall with Brenda. She picks up Brenda, and then stops at Fran’s. Fran is distraught. She shows Alison a letter signed by The Caretaker. This time, if the small service isn’t completed, or if the chain is broken, the offender will be horribly killed. If it is completed successfully, that person gets put in the box. The box! The box! No one gets out of the box. Or the sleeper hold, for that matter. Fran has found her task in the newspaper classifieds, as before. She must drown her adorable puppy, Barney. Hey, wait – there’s something off about this letter! Is this counterfeit? Alison’s name isn’t on the list!

Tony goes to the mall “food circle”, hoping to see Alison because he knows she’s on her way there. Tony, you desperate asshole. Haven’t you had enough? He starts flirting with a beautiful girl with sparkling green eyes and long, maroon hair. Sasha. She works at the hospital, and offers him a massage sometime because he looks so stiff. Tony totally gets digits from a beautiful baby. He's so money.

Tony leaves the mall to go to Kipp’s. Kipp is Tony’s new BFF. Kipp, watch yourself. They’re hanging out, talking about their girlfriends. Brenda and Kipp are having a rough patch, mainly because she’s not attracted to him and never wants to have sex. Tony’s still whining. Actually, he lies and tells Kipp that Alison wants to date other guys. Kipp really pulls out the foul language. Alison is bad names. Tony admits that she didn’t actually say that, and Kipp rescinds his comments.

Kipp hears a message from Alison on his machine and convinces Tony to return her call. Tony calls her at Fran’s, as the message said. She tells them about the letter, and it’s determined that it is not a joke from one of the group. Only Joan can’t be reached. She is hiking in Yosemite with some of her cool friends.

Next, we meet Eric Valance, a wannabe cop/detective, who, unfortunately is 75% deaf and, therefore, is unable to pass the physical exam. I love commas. He’s really into mystery novels. His uncle John is a cop, who lets him spend tons of time in the police station computer room, and has even given him all the pass codes to access the files/records.

Eric finds Neil’s death among the recent cases. Neil’s body was ID’d based on the emerald ring he was wearing. Emeralds wouldn’t survive the heat of a body-charring house fire. Those in the jewellery biz, like myself, would know that. The real mystery is: why does Eric? Aha, turned the page, and – ex-girlfriend liked emeralds, so he did some research and found that, due to the softness of the stone, an emerald ring would be a poor gift choice, as it would be easily damaged. He decided a necklace or bracelet would be better. I would recommend a necklace or earrings, because bracelets take more abuse than any other type of jewellery. The girlfriend ditched him before he had a chance to make the purchase anyway.

Eric checks Neil’s dental records by sleuthing out Neil’s childhood dentist in Arkansas. I need a little help for this one:


Eric decides to go pay Neil’s mother a visit.

So, it gets to be Friday at 1AM. Alison is woken from her sleep by a phone call from Fran’s sobbing ma. She got a call from the hospital that Fran’s been in an accident, but now she’s too upset and can’t find her glasses to drive there. Classic old person. Alison lives an hour away. She calls Tony to pick up Mrs. Darey, then drives to meet them at the hospital.

A doctor tells them that Fran is dead. Alison harasses a police officer for details, and is told that she was decapitated when her car ran into a tree.

The next day, the gang, including Joan, who has returned from her trip, meet at the rocket ship in the park. I really love commas. Kipp’s task is to burn his seven-year-old sister’s entire right arm. Alison suggests involving the police, because of what happened with Fran. Tony can’t believe she’d even consider putting his ass on the line. Fucking Tony is getting hard on the head. Tony looks at Alison and feels… nothing. A high school relationship on the rocks over nothing? Alert the news media! Kipp decides to go into hiding. Everyone disperses.

In his car, Tony takes some Tylenol, which he now keeps on his dash because he gets so many headaches. Tony’s a fuckin’ hypochondriac. He starts thinking about Sasha and decides to call her. She invites him to her apartment. He arrives and notices a very hospital-ly smell. They drink coffee and she promises him a “massage and then some”. I love how Alison has still done nothing except consider the best option for her future. Tony and Sasha go to a nightclub and get drunk. I have a really hard time picturing a Sasha as a beautiful woman. I’ve only known man-Sashas, including a kid down the street when I was growing up. We used to build inuksuks

at the school bus stop and say, “Now the people will know Sasha is queer” in a phony First Nations accent. Yeah, we were bastards. If you have 60 seconds, you can find out more here.

Tony’s three-fourths in the bag, but decides to drive himself and Sasha back to her place anyway. I love how he learned NOTHING from the first book. Tony apparently doesn’t care if he hits another person while drunk driving and ends up with ANOTHER Caretaker after him. Can you fuckin’ imagine? Tony getting tasks from two Caretakers, and, like, mixing up which one assigned which small servce. That could be a TV show. It could be like a really deranged Three’s Company.

Tony tells Sasha everything about Alison. OMG – a drunk pouring his heart out. Classic maneuver. Sasha bets that Alison is with another guy RIGHT NOW and convinces Tony to drive to her house to spy.

Meanwhile, Alison had left the park and driven to Green Valley Lake to skip stones. She gets 5 skips. Props, Ali. A guy down the shore is also skipping stones, but he’s getting like 20 skips per stone. That’s bull. That’s a friggin’ robot stone, or else there’s something supernatural going on. He approaches Alison, and seems familiar to her. He says his name is Chris and offers her a beverage of tea inside his cabin. He says some mystical stuff, like Alison is suffering from lack of love. Dying is better than going in the box. He is Ali’s greatest admirer. A stranger will want to help her and she must trust him. Chris tells her to find two places where it all began to reach the end of the chain. Then he disappears.

Driving home, Alison figures that the two places would be the desert grave and Neil’s house. She arrives at the spot where Neil’s home had stood. All that remains is ash.

Eric, in his quest to find Neil’s mother and tell her that it wasn’t her son who died in the fire, has also just arrived at the scene. He approaches Ali, telling her he’s an off-duty cop. She replies, “Yeah, right. You look like you’re off duty from high school”, which is pretty funny. He tells Alison that he knows Neil didn’t die in the house. Alison says there’s no point in telling his mom, because he’s sure dead now. Chris had told her to trust a stranger, so Alison decides to go for coffee with Eric to talk. She tells him EVERYTHING. Pretty much hands him a signed first edition copy of Chain Letter.

Eric convinces Ali that if The Caretaker isn’t one of the group, then his identity must have something to do with the unknown man who was buried in the desert. They go to the police station to check the missing persons reports from the previous July. Eric takes computer science night classes, and wrote some of the programs he uses on the police computers, including a filter that they use to narrow down the missing persons reports. I can picture this, some sleazy looking DOS thing with neon green letters on a blue background. Among the results, a report for James Whiting turns up. An accompanying newspaper article includes a photo of the man Alison recognizes from That! Fatal! Night! in the desert.

James Whiting was a record store owner, husband, and father of two. They decide to look into him further in the morning. Eric insists on following Alison’s car in his car in order to walk her to the door of her house. He walks her up, where she hugs and kisses him on the cheek before he leaves.

Hey, remember how Tony & Sash were coming over here? Well, they’re parked down the street and saw the whole scandalous act! A part of Tony immediately dies inside and rots, filth spreading through his body. That cheating bitch. Sasha calls Ali a whore. God, guys, she wasn’t screwing him on the doorstep and accepting money for it. And they didn’t even spend the evening at a nightclub getting their booze on and dirty dancing. Like SOME people, ahem. I really love this male rationality that everyone’s always raving about.

They drive back to Sasha’s, where she offers him that massage. Tony just wants to vomit. He feels like a piece of meat. Just another notch in Alison’s lipstick case. Sasha tells him to get undressed, so he strips to his tighty-whities and gets on the massage table under a towel. Sasha reaches under the towel and removes his undies, then starts massaging him. Tony starts thinking about how Alison never gives him massages. He complains enough, don’t he? Why no massage, biotch? Oh, yeah, cuz yer a bitch! Tony needs anger management.

Tony falls asleep on the table. He has a nightmare about some crazy outer space Caretaker shit. I hate when people tell me about their dreams. Dream Tony sees Kipp sleeping. This is not looking good for Kipp. Tony’s probably pretty horny from that massage. Wake up, Kipp! Run! Dream Kipp wakes up and leaves the bedroom, calling to his aunt Mary Lou. Tony tries to get his attention, but Kipp doesn’t wanna make eye contact and encourage him. Tony follows Kipp downstairs and to the garage. Don’t let him corner you, Kipp! There’s a scratching noise and the side of Mary Lou’s car is all scraped to shit. Suddenly, a bucket of liquid is tossed over Kipp. He stands, shocked. He didn’t say “water”.

Then a match is struck and thrown at him. It bounces off his chest, hits the floor, then starts barbequing him. Ok, not water.

Tony wakes up and decides to call Kipp at his aunt’s. But not before having a reflex thought that Alison is worse than the Harlot of Babylon. Or Bablyon, as my copy says. Kipp is alive and sleeping when he answers the phone. Tony is at ease, knowing that he can have Kipp another day. In fact, if Brenda keeps holding out, Kipp might soon be desperate enough to agree. He makes to leave the apartment, but Sasha wakes up and starts making out with him and telling him to stay. They go to bed and Tony tells her EVERYTHING. I don’t see how this can end well. Really, I don’t.

Fran’s funeral takes place in the morning, but Tony is a no show. After the service, Alison returns to the cabin where she met Chris. The place is filthy and cobwebby and no one had been there in ages. Stress hallucination??

Brenda calls Alison. Kipp is dead. She doesn’t want to fight anymore and will do whatever The Caretaker asks of her. The gang meets again at the rocket ship. Brenda has to cut off her trigger finger and give it to Joan with her letter. Eric shows up and tells them he knows everything. Tony and Joan are angered. Tony’s pissed about the Alison thing. Joan is annoyed to the max because Eric can’t hear anything and needs shit repeated. Joan don’t like his handicap. Oh, no you didn’t just ask Joan “Pardon?”!

Tony stomps away from the meeting. Alison follows him to the parking lot, where Sasha is waiting in his car. He’s all up in Alison's face. Whore, bitch, spitting on her, telling her he screwed Sasha. Tony gets in the car, and him and Sasha make out in Alison’s face for a while, then laugh and drive off.

Eric has good news to take Ali’s mind off of the D-Bag. He has James Whiting’s home address – they can go harass his widow! They show up, and get in, using the aliases “Tom” and “Amy”. I woulda went with Betty & Gio. Ooh, or Tabitha & Napoleon. Alison tells Carol Whiting the whole story about the night in the desert when they struck and buried her husband.

Carol says she is sure that Jim was pre-dead when they hit him. Jim had gotten involved with a strange customer at his record store. Charlene was into sicko bands like Dried Blood and Black Sex and Jim would special order their albums for her. Anyways, this special ordering nonsense spiraled into an affair, cocaine abuse, cleaning out the family bank account, killing and mutilating small animals, and burying the corpses in his wife’s garden. Carol took the kids away, then went back to the house to see Jim alone. When she arrives, Jim is leaving with Charlene. Carol follows them to an old warehouse, but doesn’t go inside. The next day she returns with the police, who determine the warehouse is a satanic cult’s headquarters. Charlene is planning to use Jim as a ritual murder victim to gain immortality for herself. Wuh hahahaha!

When Jim goes missing, Carol files a police report, listing Charlene as the “last seen with” person. Charlene turns up dead soon after, an apparent suicide. She had told her parents that she’d killed her lover and left his body in the desert. They were like: “Whatever, you’re high, go to bed”. She then fell on a propped-up knife in her bedroom. Carol meets Charlene’s parents at the morgue. Charlene’s real name was Jane Clemens. Carol tells Ali and Eric that Jane’s body disappeared from the morgue before burial. The police suspected that her Satanist buddies stole it to do Satanist stuff to it.

Ali and Eric decide to visit the Clemens household, but stop at Brenda’s on the way. She’s been boozing back the Seagrams 7 and her right hand is bandaged. She followed The Caretakers orders and delivered her finger in a baggie to Joan. Eric suggests that Ali isn’t on the list because she won’t be around by the end.

The two arrive at the Clemens house. Alison sees a picture of Jane. It’s just Sasha with blond hair! Charlene was Jane is Sasha! Sasha is Jane was Charlene! Sasha is a demon!

Tony’s having another goddamn dream. He wakes up and runs to the can to puke. Sasha follows him and wants to make out. In the can? Ga-ross! Sash tells Tony that she met Neil at the man’s grave 2 months after the accident. She had kissed Neil to make his cancer pain go away. And to take control of his mind.

There’s a knock. Joan has come to deliver a loaded gun with finger of Brenda on the trigger. Joan leaves. Sasha gets all excited for Tony to read the letter and discover his service. “Blow Alison’s brains out.” Tony hears Sasha’s voice in his head. She will help him end Alison.

Eric and Ali have arrived at the desert gravesite where Tony put Neil. She thinks Neil was the guy at the cabin and wants to see if he’s still taking a dirt nap. They dig deep. Neil is still there. Suddenly, Eric gets cracked in the head with a ball bat. Hey – foul! Tony tells Alison to say goodbye to life. Alison points out Sasha as The Caretaker. Neil was a pawn, now Tony’s a pawn. Maybe this whole book I was blaming Tony for stuff that Sasha’s mind control was making him do. Boy, would I feel like shit if that was the case.

Tony aims the gun at Alison, ready to shoot at Sash’s orders. Eric recovers and grabs Sasha. Alison hits Tony-Tone with a shovel, then runs for it. Screw Eric, apparently. He was kinda boring, but he wasn’t a bad guy. Ali makes it to her car, but Sash appears. She smashes the window out and grabs Ali’s hair, yanking out a ton if it. Embalming fluid drip from her wounded arm. She rips off the car door and drags Alison back to the gravesite.

Nobody puts Tony in a box. Alison knows she needs to prove their love to break the chain. Tony says ok, but only if Eric can join in. Alison puts her finger on the trigger of Tony’s gun and presses the barrel against her chest. She pulls the trigger and goes flying. Tony didn’t pull the trigger. He is safe from The Caretaker. Ali is alive on the ground and wants to die in Tony’s arms. Tony turns and shoots Sasha in the head. In a flash of orange light, she disappears.

A man walks by the scene. In Neil’s voice, he tells Tony and Eric some profound shit about Alison passing the test and the madness being over. Tony asks the man to heal Alison. The man says Joan didn’t do the bidding of The Caretaker and blanks shouldn’t cause a fatal wound if Tony acts fast.

It’s a miracle.



MaybeSomeday said...

I saw this book at a used book store the other day and almost bought it because I couldn't remember reading it. Thanks for the post and saving me $1. One thing -- why did everyone else have tought tasks and all Joan had to do was get a gun for Tony? Not fair!

LongWinter said...

Maybesomeday - hey, thanks for reading! Joan's task was the only one that didn't appear in print in the book, which was weird anyway. I guess having to hork a gun from her cop dad and dealing with Brenda's recently severed finger was punishment enough??? Not fair indeed.

Oh, & the used shops around here charge freakin' $2 for old Pikes!

Anonymous said...

This entry was friggin' hilarious! Good job reviewing.

Anonymous said...

Joan tasks is to put Brenda's finger into her dad's gun.

Glenny From The Block said...


I was all gearing up to reread that since I haven't read it since I was probably 13 (which is more decades distance than I care to admit). I always remembered #2 being wildly inconsistent with some very good parts (the death penalty for not completing tasks) and some really awful parts (Sasha OBVIOUSLY being the bad guy, the whole Ancient Evil thing in general). Thanks for saving two hours of my life and replacing them with ten minutes of solid drunken giggles!