Title: The Game
Author: Les Logan
I’m not sure where to even BEGIN describing this book, or the series it belongs to. I’d honestly forgotten these books existed, and then someone in a Facebook group posted a link to an article called What Children’s Book Do You Remember That No One Else Does? and suddenly I had to go digging around to find my copies.
To prepare yourself for this particular book? Maybe go watch The Exorcist and then envision a version of it aimed at eleven year olds. Because that’s what this is: it’s The Exorcist minus the copious vomit, and with the hardcore self-abuse replaced by “making a pass at my twin sister’s boyfriend.”
Also [SPOILER ALERT] the priest lives in this one, which was vastly reassuring to me when I was young. For some reason I’d read my parents’ paperback copy of The Exorcist BEFORE I read this (I sneaked it off their bookshelf, it wasn’t a reading choice they’d approved or anything). I vividly remember being terrified the first time I read The Game, because I thought the priest might die. Like, I guess I just thought that was how all exorcisms ended: with the patient saved, but the priest dead.
The book starts with teenager Julie Mitchell driving in a rainstorm at night, while her father worries that he should be driving and her twin sister Terri daydreams in the back seat. Julie sees a shadowy figure in the road, crashes the car, and ends up in a wheelchair.
She’s angry and self-pitying, and her parents are having fights (her father feels so guilty that he wants to coddle her, while her mother wants to push her toward recovery or at least independence). That felt fairly realistic, actually. She’s also jealous of her sister, which again is believable, and has a bit of a crush on Terri’s boyfriend Scott-the-lifeguard.
Julie rallies briefly when an old family friend, Mrs. Barnes, visits. But then Mrs. Barnes unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. It’s never stated that this is BECAUSE of the evil spirit, but it feels that way, as though having caused the car accident it’s now trying to further isolate Julie by eliminating the one person whose company she enjoys.
At the estate sale of her stuff Julie buys an ominous dark trunk. Terri is suspicious, because she doesn’t remember ever having seen it at Mrs. Barnes house. At home they break it open and it’s full of fabric scraps and…DUN DUN DUN…a Ouija board.
So now Julie has two new hobbies: talking to a spirit using the Ouija board, and using a pair of binoculars to spy on Terri and Scott on the beach. I’m not sure which is creepier.
She sees Terri talking to some new boy and immediately assumed Terri is flirting and doesn’t appreciate Scott, when Terri is actually hoping the new boy will turn out to be a match for Julie. Julie, meanwhile, has made her own match, thankyouverymuch:
Only the spirit knew how much she suffered. Only the spirit knew how alone she was. In a life on earth, the spirit had been a handsome young man. It remembered what earth was like, it told her. It heard her cry of pain across the cold black silence and came to her, drawn by her pain and by her beauty. Julie watched hypnotically as the words were spelled out. (p. 44)
Terri, meanwhile, notices Julie’s bedroom is always cold now and smells like rotting meat. Their parents notice…nothing. On the twins’ birthday they give their daughters identical gold crosses, and when Julie puts hers on she starts to choke; later, Terri sees the burn mark on her sister’s neck.
Before she could knock, a voice boomed in her ears.
Terri jumped back.
It wasn’t Julie’s voice. It wasn’t even a human voice. It was a voice straight out of hell. (p. 61)
Terri confides in Scott, and Scott takes her to see Father Shea. I’m not sure why Terri just didn’t go see Fr. Shea on her own, since she notes that his office hasn’t changed since she was a child, so obviously her family are Catholic too. But, whatever. Scott’s our hero.
Well, no, actually Fr. Shea is our hero. He listens seriously to Terri, and agrees to come see Julie.
No, he thought, it couldn’t be. Not possibly.
But the seed of fear was already there. It had been since he first heard of the Mitchell girl’s accident. Now it was coming into flower. (p. 66)
Father Shea visits the Mitchells, and when the girls’ father is showing him around the garden they discover all the tomatoes have withered. At dinner Julie can’t eat, and then gets sick (in the bathroom), and before he leaves Fr. Shea hears the evil voice telling him to go away. And THEN we get to see the priest’s thoughts, which are about the family who originally owned the house the Mitchells live in:
If Joe Campbell had lived, he’d be forty-one now. Old enough to have married. Old enough to have children. Old enough to have done a lot of things–if he hadn’t died on his sixteenth birthday. (p. 73)
Joe was (clearly) possessed, and died in a car crash on the same road where Julie had her accident.
The ambulance crew had to scrape Joe Campbell’s body out of the wreckage. (p. 79)
You just don’t see sentences like that in YA fiction anymore.
Anyway. Terri throws a party, and Julie thinks Jim Peterson (the new guy Terri has picked out as potential boyfriend for her creepy possessed sister) is boring. She throws herself out of his arms near the bonfire to make it look like he dropped her. Wow, I know she’s possessed and I still want to slap her.
Scott (her sister’s boyfriend) very nicely carries her up to her bedroom, where she kisses him. He’s sort of into it for a minute.
He couldn’t believe it, but he did. It was almost like kissing Terri. And, after all, if Julie wanted him so badly–
No. This was all wrong. The realization of what he was doing washed over him like ice water, killing his desire. Terri was the one he loved. And he was hurting Terri by being with her sister. (p. 99)
After Scott leaves the spirit comforts Julie by telling her they can be together forever if she invites him into her heart. Only then Terri shows up, horrified because Julie had promised her she’d thrown out the Ouija board. Julie grabs it and takes it outside, where she and Scott use up “a whole can of fluid” in order to get the board to burn.
Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell get called away by the sudden unexpected death of her brother-in-law.
So now the girls are alone, and the house goes full-tilt possessed, with a levitating bed and mysterious showers of rocks and mounds of foul-smelling garbage everywhere. They can’t phone out, and Julie’s wheelchair dies and their house is too far from everything for Terri to push her to safety.
But Scott can’t call Terri, either, and he realizes something is wrong. He goes to their house and is properly horrified, and promises to get help. He gets into a car crash on his way to get Father Shea, but the local cops get Father Shea for him, and then there’s an exorcism.
If I’m making that sound anti-climactic, it’s because it was. No description of a winged scaly figure or whatever is EVER going to be as creepy as the more subtle hints of evil (the voice, and the coldness, and the horrible smelling room) that preceded it. But Father Shea gets the job done and banishes the evil, and as I said earlier, he even lives through it.
Also, good news: the doctor calls to let them know that Julie’s nerves are regenerating and with lots of physiotherapy she’ll be able to walk again. Because in the 80s, disabled characters had to be “fixed” by the end in order to have a happy ending.