Scavenger Hunt - Christopher Pike
1989, 215 pages
Carl Timmons is a “troubled young man”, as described by the back of the book. That's an expression that I will always associate with Home Alone 2 when Buzz messes up Kevin's solo at the Christmas concert, then gives him that phony-ass apology and Kev goes ballistic. Buzz says, "What a troubled young man", and the parents and, like, Uncle Frank totally believe that Buzz is sincere.
So the story is that each year, at Jacob High in Express, California, the senior class holds a scavenger hunt for wicked prizes. This year the winning team get a one week vacation in Hawaii. The hunt is organized by a secret school club lead by the mysterious Mr. Partridge.
It's really messed up, so if you don't wanna read the whole thing, here's how it all ends up:
Cessy and Davey are actually part of an ancient race of dinosaurs that developed intelligence and found a way to gain immortality after surviving the dinosaur holocaust.
And here's how we get to that:
As the end of senior year approaches, it brings with it the one year anniversary of when Carl's BFF Joe Travers died in a freak flood during a hike in the desert. Carl had tried to save Joe, but failed. A few months later, Joe's body was found, skeletal-ized, in the desert by a hunter who almost wound up pissin' on his bones.
Before Joe's death, the closest thing Carl had to a girlfriend was Tracie White. Convolutedly, Tracie was Joe's girlfriend Paula's best friend. Tracie is in mad love with Carl, but doesn't know how to tell him. Especially when they've barely spoken since Joe died.
The night before the scavenger hunt, Tracie calls up Carl to invite him to be on the team with her, Paula, and Paula's little brother Rick. Believe it or not, Carl's not at home. Please leave a message at the beep. Yeah, that's right. Carl's dad is so important that his family had to get an answering machine. It cost $100 and no one else they know has one!
Carl has the best intentions to return Tracie’s call, until the phone rings and it's Cessy Stepford. Cessy is the object of Carl's lust. She wants Carl on her team, and invites him over to watch her skinny-dip. Seconds later, Carl shows up at Cessy’s to find his buddy, Tom Barrett, already there.
Tom used to be a big football star until he suffered a head injury. Now his reaction times suck and his brain functions at about 40%. He doesn't even notice when Cessy gets out of the pool naked, that's how bad off he is. Carl feels bad that people used to like Tom when he was the football guy, but now that he doesn’t play anymore, people don’t even know his name.
Cessy dries off, and the two boys do whatever they do to make themselves presentable, then the three kids head off to school. When they arrive, they meet Cessy’s brother Davey, the student council president, preparing for the scavenger hunt assembly. Cessy and Davey are both totes gorgeous, with black hair and big, dark eyes. But they’re NOT TWINS. They just look the same/are the same age. They aren’t perfect size 6, and don’t wear matching lavalieres, thus cannot be Californian twins.
The mysterious Mr. Partridge lumbers up to the stage, wearing his trademark mirrored sunglasses, and explains the rules of the hunt. Get a clue sheet before you leave; after the first clue, the sheet contains only half-clues: the second half will be found when the teams reach each destination.
Tracie meets up with Carl before he takes off with Cessy and the guys. She is finally able to ask him to be on her hunt team with Paula and Rick. It's a huge step for Paula to agree to have Carl on the team; she had blamed him for Joe’s death. After Joe died, Paula went completely off the rails. She started smoking, getting into trouble, driving around on motorcycles. Good Lord! Imagine the shenanigans! But Carl tells them that he already promised Cessy to be on her team with Tom and Davey. Davey hands out clue sheets to everyone, and the two teams get to work.
Rick is one of those genius-type kids. He’s got Muscular Dystrophy and has been in a wheelchair for a long time. He’s only 15, but is going to graduate with the older kids. He’s got a great personality, and is the kind of guy who would probably be voted “Friend To All” in a 2000s era yearbook. God, kids of the 80s had it so easy at graduation time. "I Will Remember You" and "Graduation (Friends Forever)" didn't exist yet, so grad ceremonies probably didn't even require barfbags.
Rick and Davey compete to get the answer first, and both figure out that first clue leads them to the school track. One the way to the second clue, Davey starts going on about current events. There was a story in the paper recently about an old goldmine not too far away. Back in, like, 1872 four people went down there and found a fortune. It was awesome. But then they got fucking greedy and went back for more.
In the mine the second time, they got trapped. The bodies of two men were the only ones found. The bodies of the young, enterprising couple, Daniel and Claire Stevens, who had originally found the mine and made the deal to split the profits with the other two in exchange for labour, were never found. Davey suggests that Rick research where the mine is, then Davey will look for treasure, and they can split whatever they find. Rick is moderately interested in the prospect. The two groups split up after finding the second clue.
A short time later, they meet up again at the local video rental store. A Yoda quote from The Empire Strikes Back had lead them there; they found their loot and next clue-half behind the video case on the shelf. The next clue is tricky. While everyone works on figuring it out, Cessy and Davey visit the ice cream shop across the street. Tom, Carl, Paula, and Rick decide that some ice cream would really help them think, and send Tracie over to pick up cones and shiz for them.
Tracie steps outside to see Cessy and Davey making out. While licking ice cream cones. In Carl’s truck. She is revolted. It's like fucking a mirror1. She almost pukes, recovers, then goes to get the ice creams everyone wanted. Except she doesn’t really care anymore and gets choco-shakes for everyone, regardless of what they asked for. Shoddy work, Trace.
Apparently, the shock of what she'd witnessed was good for her brain, because Tracie then realizes that the clue was coming from inside the video rental establishment. It was a line from a classic film (which none of these 1980s bozo schoolkids recognized), and not just any line either. We're talking about #3 on AFI's 100 Years... 100 Movie Quotes list:
"You don't understand! I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I could've been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am."
The gang seeks out the next clue from behind the On the Waterfront VHS case, decide to split up (again), and move on out. Rick can't resist taking a detour to the library to check out that article Davey had been telling him about. Rick, dude, you are in the middle of a timed event. That is like me trying to take cute pictures of my cat while playing Bejeweled 2. You can't succeed at both endeavors. If you take your eyes offa it, that meter can blow right up in yo' face so fast. Or, more relevantly, other people will get ahead of you in this scavenger hunt and beat your ass.
Rick searches for, but can't find, the article that Davey had mentioned. He checks out the really old local newspaper from the 1870s to see if it says anything about the mine. He finds something interesting, but because Tracie & Paula are obviously anxious to get-the-hell-out-of-the-library-cuz-there-ain't-no-jeezly-clues-here, he doesn't have time to read it. He sticks the 100+ year old paper under himself in the wheelchair and takes off with it.
Paula wants Rick to be able to focus on the hunt, so she shoves the newspaper in the trunk where he can't get it. In the meantime, Carl's team has moved through the next couple of clues quite easily and can't believe the big lead they've maintained. Even with all the time they wasted at the video store, no other teams caught up to them. Well, I guess they can all feel good about their intelligence... or can they?
A clue leads them up the local mountain. Cessy and Carl go alone, on foot. Cessy is full of boundless energy. Cessy is so perfect that she can hike for an hour in a short, white dress with no panties on and still look perfect. She even has time for a non-sibling make out break, which Carl enjoys. After they find their clue, which says "Keep Going", they return to the bottom, where Davey and Tom are waiting. Carl has a strange sensation that he suddenly can't remember how Tom got the way he is: football accident, car accident, or toomuchpot bodystoned.
They proceed up the mountain again, this time in Carl's truck. Carl's truck woulda preferred to stay home. Pieces of crap are flying offa the truck the whole way up the bumpy mountain. The team arrives at a little purple house in the woods. It's boarded up and smells funky. There's black oozy crap on the ground. Suddenly, a purple lizard the size of a large housecat shows up. WTF? Cessy doesn't mind the thing and lets it crawl up her foot, but Davey moves like lightning to crush its skull under his boot.
Carl has that weird feeling again, and so removes his watch and drops it on the ground before getting back in the truck. It's Carl's version of the Inukshuk: "Now the people will know we were here."
A short time later, Tracie and her carload of teammates have also unravelled the path and found the purple cabin. Tracie sees Carl's watch on the ground and wants to know what the deal is. She spills to Rick and Paula that she saw Cessy and Davey kissing outside the ice cream shop. Brother and sister themselves, they are totally grossed out. Rick becomes suspicious of why the hell no other classmates have arrived yet. Like, he's smart and all, but this is gettin' ridiculous. He thinks that Davey switched the clue papers that he gave them to lead them where-the-hell-ever for some twisted purpose that they couldn't begin to guess. Ol' Ricko is on to something.
They debate quitting the scavenger hunt, because Davey's plan obvs isn't gonna include a trip to Hawaii. Tracie wants to check out what's inside the purple cabin, and Rick decides to finish reading the antique newspaper that he horked from the library.
Even though Paula's the one with the criminal record, Tracie wields the crowbar to bust into the cabin. She finds a dirty, dirty residence belonging to someone with really bizarre interests. A collection of newspaper clippings about torture is piled on the kitchen table. A long mirror covers one wall, and on the other side is... A POSTER OF MR. PARTRIDGE!!!!!! In it, he's wearing his gray hiking uniform and SMILING, which Trace has never seen in real life. It's a creepy effect. Not to mention the pic is reflected in the mirror, so you can easily double your creeped-out-edness.
What's weird is that the picture convinces Tracie that this is Mr. Partridge's house. Instead of assuming that this is, like, Mr. Partridge's stalker's house. Or Mr. Partridge's mother's house. I dunno. All this shit points to the fact that Carl is not safe, wherever he is, and if Tracie wants to ever see him again, she's gonna have to keep scavenger hunting.
When she joins the others, Rick catches her up on the article. The highlight was diary entries written by one of the poor bastards who died. Him and his buddy waited in the dark for days for Claire and Daniel to return. Then he either had a dream or really saw Claire return and let his friend drink from her canteen. But it wasn’t water! It was acid that melted his face! Dude is so groded-out that he can only write about it in his diary, and then die.
So, at the same time, Carl has been taken out to the desert with the crazy lot of we-don’t-even-know-whats, and into an old mine passageway, where he is told to start digging. Cessy finds a homeless desert dog, which she decides to keep. Cessy’s a real animal lover. Which is what I always say about Betty White. Futility overtakes Carl, and he refuses to dig any longer. Suddenly, help appears. Or MORE VICTIMS!
The other team shows up. Rick in his wheelchair even made it though the passageway. Davey wants Tracie to help dig up the surprise. She and Carl get to the bottom, and find… a pair of mirrored shades... on Mr. Partridge's face! Davey had told him to bury himself deeper than that! Ok, what? But it’s not Mr. Partridge! Davey peels Partridge's face off to reveal the bone structure and crooked teeth. It’s body of Joe, eyeball-less and disguised. He's been reanimated as Davey's puppet the entire school year!
Rick guesses that Cessy and Davey are actually part of a race of dinosaurs that developed intelligence and a way to gain immortality after surviving the dinosaur holocaust. In the past, they had lived as Claire and Daniel of the 1870s mine scam, and had hid out underground for years until they needed new corpses to maintain their lifespan. And he would be pretty much correct.
Davey tries to convince everyone that the dinosaurs were more advanced than humans, but come on… did they have computers? Did they have space travel? Rick wants to know, seriously. Answer up, Davey. Apparently, the shit the lizard people did was EVEN BETTER than computers. Davey can make up all the explanations he wants. If there were no YA blogs, then yeah, I doubt it was better.
Joe had washed down into Lizard Mine during the flood and made a deal with them. Cessy and Davey got to keep being immortal… and Joe was able to come back to zombie-life as a shell-shocked version of himself… in the form of TOM!!! And get his revenge on Carl, who he believes left him to die the day of the flood. So, Partridge was body of Joe, and Tom was random body with partial mind of Joe.
Take my word, the rest doesn't get any better. Davey tosses Cessy’s dog into an acid pit; the result turns my guts. Then he wants to put Rick in there, too. Kid’s got a disease. I think he’s been through enough. As Davey is going to shove Rick in, Cessy distracts him and breaks Rick’s neck, so he won’t have to die of being submerged in acid. Davey doesn't notice and shoves Rick in, thinking he's still alive.
Davey has one more, bigger, better, and more shocking surprise. He sticks a machete into Carl, who doesn't die, and tells him that he's already dead! But Davey's just having a laugh with our Carl. He's not really dead; the machete was a collapsible prop. I wanna say something here, but I got nothin'.
Carl gets freaked and runs away, leaving Tracy and Paula to fend for themselves. He finds a church with a Mexican, tequila-drinking priest in the confessional. He starts telling the guy everything that I've told you up to this point. Shortly after, everyone else bursts in. Tracie and Paula have their mouths taped, but aren't otherwise hurt or restrained.
Davey pulls the priest out of the booth and garrots him to death. Carl shows his face outta the booth in time to see Davey garrotting the priest. Then Davey makes some kind of threat against Carl's balls with the garrot. Let me tell you what, I read the last 50-ish pages of this book twice on the weekend and once last night... I didn't notice the threat against Carl's, um, manhood until the very last reading:
"Look at you, Carl. You're ready to pee your pants. But imagine this." Davey held up his bloody wire. "Soon you may have nothing to put in those pants."
Huh? Could that mean anything else? I'm confused.
Carl had lit a candle in front of the Virgin Mary statue when he entered the church. Tracie is Catholic and wants to do her own ceremony thing. The lizards know nothing of this God, so Tracie explains that God created everything, even them.
Cessy is intrigued by the ceremony and wants to light a candle and receive a blessing. Tracie notices that Davey is now holding the priest's tequila bottle, and remembers that Davey and Cessy had both seemed scared of fire earlier in the mine tunnel when Paula tried to light a smoke. She formulates a plan.
Cessy's getting a little tired of Davey, having spent millions of years with him, so she uses her powers to amplify Tracie and Paula's abilities, allowing them to soak him with booze and ignite him. Carl puts on the finishing touch, by stabbing Davey in the back with his own machete. His body-thing disappears into the church floor.
There is only one place where Davey can leave Earth and enter his lizard dimension, and be able to return to Earth. And this ain't that place. So Cessy wins.
Tracie takes a moment to explain to Cessy what true love is. Cessy pretty much says that if Tracie and Carl get together and last as a couple, she gonna come back in 50 years still all young and hot and take Carl for a hot tub.
In the epilogue, they travel back to Express, wondering how they're gonna explain what the hell happened to Rick. This shit was weird, and I could totally have misinterpreted/misunderstood, like, the whole thing. Which is sad because this was written for children. So if any Scavenger Hunt experts wanna set my shit straight in comments, do it. Nicely, please.
The best (and basically only) scavenger hunt related movie quote I can think of, I'm gonna tack on down here for your enjoyment:
"...if you had told me we'd be going on a six-hour scavenger hunt for blow I would've passed."
- Andrew Largeman, Garden State
1 If anyone recogized "It's like fucking a mirror" from The House of Yes, mega props. You and I are probably kindred spirits.