Whisper of Death - Christopher Pike
1991, 180 pages
Betty Sue McCormick
Characters, Living (for now)
Paul "Pepper" Pointzel
Helter Skater AKA Helter Skelter
Pepper and Roxanne meet, flirt, and date. On their first date they go to a horror movie: The Season of Passage, about the second mission to Mars. Dropping names of as-yet unpublished future works, Pike? Yow! That takes skillz! After more dates, they go to Paul's aunt and uncle's horse barn to, um, be alone on the hay bales. You know what I mean.
Pulling a Jamie Lynn Spears, teenage Rox is knocked up. She tells the doctor she's not interested in an abortion, but when she tells Pepper the news, he says he doesn't want to keep it.
Soon the couple find themselves on a weekend trip to nearby Foster, AZ. Five hundred dollars later, Pepper waits in the clinic waiting room, while Roxanne waits on the operating table. She thinks about a classmate, Betty Sue McCormick, who committed suicide recently. BY BURNING. Suicide by burning. I think most people would agree that that is the most unrealistic thing about this book. Of all methods, burning? Get serious.
Roxanne thinks about how Betty Sue's death was such a waste, then questions her own beliefs about the sanctity of life. She decides not to go through with the procedure, dresses, and leaves before the doctor returns.
In the car, Rox tells Pepper that she didn't go through with it. He starts acting all distant and being an ass. Pepper falls asleep shortly after, while Roxanne keeps driving. She sees a figure on the side of the road. A shadowy-lookin' thing dressed all in black with long, bright red hair. Red hair of a colour previously only seen on the head of one Betty Sue McCormick. Rox plans to stop for the hitchhiker, but the person disappears.
They stop for gas at an abandoned gas station. Rox tears out of there, thinking the place was being held up, due to the open till and empty premises. When the kids arrive home in Salem, AZ, it's still early morning. After dropping Pepper off at home, Rox goes to her own place. Her dad is a long distance trucker who is never home and her mom split on them when Rox was only a few days old. Rox soon finds that something strange is going on: the radio and TV are nothing but static, there are no cars on the road, no neighbours answer their doors, no phone calls are answered, and there aren't even any birds in the trees.
Roxanne leaves home, and heads toward downtown, knocking on doors along the way. No one. Nothing. She collapses in the square in the centre of town.
A while later, Pepper shows up with a theory about a possible town evacuation that they missed while they were in Foster not getting an abortion. Roxanne wonders if they're really all alone, when a voice behind them confirms that they are...
Cliff-hanging chapters! Rare. First person narrative? Unheard of until Whisper of Death. And I've read 21 of Christopher Pike's books in the last 3 ½ months. This book is different. It feels different and it reads different. What gives?
The voice belonged to Stan Reese, former child prodigy/school valedictorian, who is smart and cool. Someone pin a medal on this guy. Apparently he's one of those yearbook "Friend to All" types, smart without being a condescending jackass, and has a "rather major problem with his weight". Cool, I love literary lardasses. Rox knows Stan from school, but doesn't think Pepper knows him.
Stan reveals that his hobby is short wave radio... and none of his international friends are online. The whole world is empty! He guesses that maybe a warhead knocked out the communication satellites (or something) and that maybe there's a reason for their entire town to be empty... but probably not.
Being alone in town, and possibly the world, there's only one thing for three teenagers to do... well, two, but surveys says: ROB A BANK!! I'm sure orgy was up there, too. Just not the #1 response.
They break into a bank, only to be startled by gunshots. Roxanne's leg is grazed by a bullet. WTF? Who beat them to it?!
The shooter was Helter Skater, AKA Helter Skelter, a local tough. The gang of four break into the drugstore for bandages, and are surprised when yet another student from their high school shows up. In walks blonde, beautiful Leslie Belle. And nevermind that Rox was just SHOT for frick's sake, because horndog Pepper is ALL up in Leslie's biz.
Five people left in the world, and they decide to temporarily forget the bank robbing and B & E Baskin Robbins. That whole bank robbing thing was silly: if you're breaking and entering and there's no law enforcement around, who needs money (when you can have ice cream)?
Over ice cream treats, they talk about what's happened. And how? Flying saucer? Another dimension? Dreaming? (Interruption from me: "Nooooooooooooo!") Rox mentions the disappearing hitchhiker she'd seen, bringing up the resemblance to B.S. McCormick.
Helter's opinion is that Betty Sue was just a bitch. Stan liked Betty Sue. Leslie thought she was spooky. Pepper keeps quiet. Well, if nothing else, Betty Sue elicits a reaction from everyone and could possibly be the common denominator among everyone present. They decide to go to Betty Sue's house.
Leslie and Betty Sue are neighbours and grew up together, but they had a falling out and haven't been friends in years. Inside Betty Sue's house is a trip. It's full of religious pictures featuring various bible characters and they're all bleeding. I'm picturing a Carrie type mother who forced recitation from her daughter: "Eve was weak! Eve was weak! Say it, woman!"
Betty Sue's diary and some papers have been left out on her desk. They check her diary, which starts at age 10. The first entry describes Leslie's 10th birthday party. Awwww. The diary goes on to wish death on a boy who called Betty Sue just "Betty", and it turns out he did die, horribly, of cancer.
The diary also contains references to Helter and Pepper. And kissing Pepper! Rox isn't pleased, and Pepper suggests that they look at Betty Sue's papers instead, and, like, drop the freakin' diary already, ok?
There are stories written on the pages. The first one is LATI BALL PUTS ON A MASK. It describes a beautiful girl who burns her face on birthday cake candles. Leslie Belle goes ballistic, grabs the diary and papers, and burns them in the gas stove. Singing maniacally, she runs outside into a desert sandstorm and starts shredding the rest of the papers.
Leslie comes out of it and says she's leaving town. She's scared and needs to get the hell out of there. Helter wants to go with her, so they pack up a car, and go to the gas station. Helter checks the tire pressure while Leslie fills the tank. She walks away and lights a smoke, which is odd because she's never smoked before, then comes back to the pump. The gas nozzle falls out and sprays everywhere, and in her surprise, the cigarette falls out of her mouth. Roxanne and Pepper go flying in a whoosh of flames. Leslie gets cooked. Stan says: "Lati Ball blew out her candles."
Stan tries reading what was left of Betty Sue's diary when he pulled it out of the gas stove. It says "I have done so much for her. I made her what she is" about Leslie. Helter remembers that Leslie used to be ugly. Like dog ugly. She should have advertised for an alibi in the want ads, because she, like, totally needed one. He even used to throw rocks at her. Then suddenly she turned pretty. Which apparently Betty Sue caused.
Stan was kinda friends with Betty Sue too. He tells the group that her main hobby was to trap butterflies in glass jars and watch them die from the greenhouse effect. And love it. She got a total kick out of the butterflies not realizing they were in jars and that there was no possibility of escape. Eeeeee-villll!!!
The wind has picked up, but they decide to go back to Betty Sue's neighbourhood to look for scraps of the stories Leslie had ripped up. Rox makes an amateur mistake and goes into the house alone. "I felt something tighten around my throat. A garrote of silver wire spun from a nightmare recorded in black ink on a page of white notebook paper." Isn't that just neat as hell to read?
Rox sees a red and black blurry shadow thing in the mirror. Betty Sue!! She screams and runs outside to find Helter and Pepper chasing after the red shadow thing, and Stan piecing together stories. His theory? Betty Sue wrote them into an empty world.
Stan also tells Roxanne, confidentially, that, according to the diary, Helter had raped Betty Sue. Roxanne - the bitch - immediately goes into victim-blaming overdrive, suggesting that Betty Sue made him do it. Stan's managed to piece a story back to readability. It's called HOLT SKATER TAKES A WALK. In it, Holt walks along a wall until it's very thin and razor sharp, then he slips and slices his whole body into two pieces, balls first. It sounds like Betty Sue wants to punish Helter's junk.
Wanting to share the info, Rox and Stan follow Pepper and Helter to the schoolyard, where they're breaking into the gym to follow the Betty Sue shadow thing. Rox observes that it seems like the guys aren't acting of their own will and thinks that B.S.'s forces are forcing them to chase her.
Being in the gym reminds Rox of her one experience involving Betty Sue. It happened in the locker room showers. Roxanne and Betty Sue were alone, showering after all the other girls had left. Yeah, it's not that kind of story. I friggin' wish! Betty Sue left the shower first, and on the way slipped a bar of soap into Roxanne's hand. It was carved in the shaped of a tiny curled up baby.
Roxanne followed Betty Sue to the lockers and saw B.S. drawing on her own reflection in the mirror with bright red soap, drawing a jar shape around her gut and colouring it in.
In the gym, the kids split up to look around. Suddenly, they hear Helter screaming. He'd been startled by his reflection and starting shooting the mirror with his shotgun. He grabbed for the pistol in his belt, and accidentally set it off, shooting himself in the groin. Actually, why am I being delicate? I should be honest and just tell you that his manhood was essentially destroyed.
The pain is too great and Helter begs for someone to end it. The guys don't have the balls - well, they still have their balls... let's say they don't have the guts - to do it, so Roxanne sends them away. Helter admits that he'd raped Betty Sue, but that she'd been inside his head that night making him do stuff. Rox shoots him in the head and ends his pain.
In the meantime, Stan had finished puzzle-piecing together the next story: SODA RADAR GOES TO SLEEP. Soda was a court jester for the queen. She told him he would be sold, so he stabbed himself in the heart with a needle and bled out.
Stan's a little creeped out and wants to be alone for a bit. Pepper and Roxanne kill time by buying a newspaper from one of those outdoor box things. But get this - it's tomorrow's paper! The headline is about the deaths of 5 local teens. It describes the deaths of Leslie and Helter and Stan, but says to turn the page for the rest. Wait a tick! Stan? But he's not dead ye- oh.
Rox rushes to where Stan is, only to find that he's cut his wrists and is on the brink of dying. He has enough juice left to tell Rox that B.S. was pregnant when she died. She'd told him that day, then killed herself that night.
The original two read the last story: SALT AND PEPPER FOR SUPPER. The queen, like, invites Salt and Pepper to stay for supper, then tries to kill them or something, and Salt gets pissed and shoves Pepper, who lands on the queen's fork and dies of impalement.
Rox and Pepper go back to where it all began: his aunt and uncle's hay barn. Rox badgers him about Betty Sue. Did he sleep with her? Did he? Diiiiid heeee??? Well, it turns out that he did. Before AND after he started dating Roxanne. Rox flips and shoves him into the hay... where he lands on a pitchfork and dies of impalement.
All alone, Roxanne walks back to Betty Sue's house and sits at her desk. She writes and writes, recording the entire story of what's happened. All of a sudden, Betty Sue herself shows up at the door, telling Rox: "Write as I speak. Record everything."
Betty Sue explains: "I was the one in your womb. I came back for you. You were pregnant with me." B.S. had come back to kill Roxanne, but first Rox needed to have that abortion. Rox tells her that, uh, she didn't actually have it, so... fallacy?
B.S. was in love with Pepper. She'd come around that night and seen Rox and Pep rolling in the hay. And it huurrrttttt!! She'd made Roxanne feel the same pain by making her push Pepper onto the pitchfork and killing him.
Rox argues that this is all bullshit, because she didn't go through with it, but Betty Sue has some new information. Rox is still on the table. She's bleeding and the doctor doesn't think she'll make it. Rox has been writing through all this, and now Betty Sue reminds her to keep writing or else she's gonna stab her in the abdomen. Rox stops and Betty Sue stabs her with a needle, straight through the gut.
Epilogue time! Pepper's in the waiting room. He can't believe what a tool he is! Getting two girls pregnant in two months. There's a mistake for ya. Well, at least Betty Sue killed herself, and now Roxanne is aborting. All will be well, again.
There's a clamour in the operating room. Roxanne is dying on the table. Pepper freaks out and starts crying.
Laying there, Rox had a sensation of dreaming away. She left her body and walked away. Out past crying Pepper, and into the light.
Pepper drives home, on the way stopping for a hitchhiker with bright red hair. She looks familiar, but not really. She's going to Salem, too. Soon after she gets in the car, she starts stabbing Pepper with a fork. Not too hard, but Pepper, like most people in that situation, wants to know what the frig she's doing. She wants to repay him for the ride by cooking him supper. He says no, but she thinks she has ways of convincing him...
Come around this weekend to check out some of the treacherously cheesy books that I read when I'm not reading Christopher Pike. Next week, I'm back on schedule with The Immortal. See you soon!