"This town’s dead as a doornail." Or, Ghosts Beneath Our Feet

http://rcm.amazon.com/e/cm?t=areyoutheyoui-20&o=1&p=8&l=bpl&asins=0590434446&fc1=000000&IS2=1&lt1=_blank&m=amazon&lc1=0000FF&bc1=000000&bg1=FFFFFF&f=ifrKatie Harris is excited for the summer.  Just eight months after the death of her stepfather, Katie’s mom decides to take the summer with Katie and her stepbrother, Jay, in the small town of Newquay, 400 miles north of their home in Milwaukee.  The reason they’re going is that mom’s elderly Uncle Frank has fallen ill.  (Frank isn’t a ‘real’ uncle, but an old family friend.)  Katie pictures Newquay as a charming small town-a town square with a fountain, a general store, a library, a gleaming white church, perhaps a candy store, and a bandshell.  She’s anxious for the family to have a new start. 

Katie is sorely disappointed when she discovers that Newquay is a dead old town with abandoned houses with yards stuffed with abandoned cars, closed storefronts, faded signs, crumbling sidewalks. And it’s quite a walk from the Greyhound Station/Post Office to Uncle Frank’s old crumbling house, as Katie’s mom nearly faints on the way.  Katie goes to the nearest house and asks a girl her age for a glass of water.  An elderly lady in the house finds  out that Katie is on her way to Uncle Frank’s house and gives Katie a cryptic warning: “They’re goin’ to get out, no matter what.  You can’t stop ’em, my dear and neither can. Nobody can.”

Katie loves a mystery.  Which is made all the better by the fact that Uncle Frank’s house is set apart from the town, through a patch of woods. The house is old and creaky, has no TV and a strange full length mirror at the end of the upstairs hallway.  Katie gives Uncle Frank the message from the old lady, and he seems agitated by it, calling it a “bunch of old country nonsense.”  Later that night, Katie is sure she hears groaning from under the house.  She’s positive there’s some kind of mystery to solve.

The next day, Katie and Jay go for a hike.  They come across some kids their age, and Katie gets along well with Joan Trelawny, the girl who got her mom water the day before.  Jay takes off on the back of Skip Poldeen’s motorcycle.  Skip is the town bad-ass, which you can tell by the fact that he rides a motorcycle.  Back at Joan’s house, her Gram, an old lady from ‘the old country’ (Cornwall.  Everything’s ALL about the Cornish in Newquay), repeats her warning to Katie.  And she starts talking about knackers.  Knackers, according to Gram, are spirits of miners trapped in the mine for the last thirty years after the biggest ever mining accident the town has ever seen.  Also, it turns out that Uncle Frank’s only son was one of those miners killed in that accident.  Joan explains to Katie that Newquay used to be a wonderful, quaint town, but after the mining accident, the mining company picked up an left, leaving few jobs and a mass exodus from the townspeople. 

Katie and Joan go on a hike the following day and sneak into the shaft house of the abandoned mine.  It’s creepy and the ore cart looks like it’s poised to go right down the shaft.  They look around, hear some noise which is either a ghost or the wind, and decide to get the fuck out of there.  Joan goes out the window first.  As Katie is leaving she turns back once more and sees the ghost of a girl with golden hair.  It looks like the ghost is trying to tell her something.  Joan is pretty well convinced that Katie’s making it up.

Meanwhile, Jay has gotten to be friends with Skip Poldeen, who, as I may have mentioned, is bad news.  During a rain storm, Jay and Skip break into a cabin to keep dry and end up taking a can of beans to eat.  No charges are pressed, but the Sheriff comes to give Jay a good talkin’ to.  Katie’s mom is all fretful about what she should do about her out of control stepson. 

One night Katie can’t sleep and she sees the ghost of the girl in the mirror in the hallway.  It still looks like the ghost is trying to say something.  She learns from Joan’s Gram that Uncle Frank’s son had a fiancee when he died, and her name was May Nichols.  After the mining accident, she moved in with Uncle Frank to help him through his grief, then she ended up dying six months later from pneumonia.  Katie’s sure that the ghost girl is May Nichols. 

Katie goes to the shaft house by herself one day, hoping to get a glance of the ghost of May to figure out what she’s saying when she hears very creepy noises.  She also notices the ore car has been moved.  Upon further investigation, she finds Jay’s tape recorder (remember those?) in the bottom of the ore cart.  She confronts Jay about it and they get into a huge fight. 

Jay doesn’t come home the next day.  Katie and her mom are worried he’s run away, and Katie’s pretty sure that he has.  He’s been talking about running back to Milwaukee.  He does eventually turn up and won’t say where he’s been.  Then the Sheriff turns up, and he says there was a barn arson the night before and people saw someone on a motorcycle leaving the scene.  So it must be Jay and Skip, right?  Jay insists he had nothing to do with it, but later when Katie goes outside, she finds Jay’s jeans, which smell like gasoline.  Katie confronts him, and Jay tells her the truth. That he’d gone with Skip, who was planning on burning the barn down.  He told Jay it was an old abandoned barn, but Jay noticed fresh hay in it, and tried to stop Skip.  Skip got mad and doused the barn with gasoline, getting Jay’s legs in the process.  Jay hightailed it out of there and was across the field when he saw the barn go up in flames.  He was miles from home, but hiked back anyway, it taking him well over a day to get back.  Also, Jay admitted to Katie that when he and Skip planted the tape recorder in the shaft house, he saw the ghost of May Nichols.  So it’s this little bonding moment between Jay and Katie.  And Katie realizes how badly Jay is grieving the loss of his dad. 

That night, everyone is in bed when the house starts shaking.  Katie and Jay run to the hall and see May Nichols in the mirror.  Katie understands her message, “Go.Go now!”  Jay immediately realizes the house is collapsing.  They wake up their mother who doesn’t want to bother Frank, but Jay is insistent.  Katie and Jay talk to Uncle Frank about the girl in the mirror and he realizes it’s May.  But he still won’t go, because it’s his house, dammit.  Katie runs to Joan’s house and their family comes running and see Katie’s mom outside, hysterical, while the house is clearly sinking right into the ground.  A gas line breaks and a fire breaks out, trapping Jay and Uncle Frank.  Joan’s dad runs in, the fire department is called and everyone gets out just in the nick of time before the house both completely collapses and goes up in flames. 

At the end of the book, Katie, Jay and mom are on their way back to Milwaukee.  Uncle Frank is in the hospital with some injuries, but will be getting out in a few weeks, when he’ll come live with them in the big ol’  city. 

  • Much like The Dollhouse Murders, this is a ghost story/ family drama combo.  This book was a little heavier on the ghosts though.
  • Help me out Wisconsinites.  Can you go 400 miles north of Milwaukee and still be in the U.S.?  That seems iffy to me, but I know nothing about Wisconsin geography. 
  • Gram is Cornish, so her “accent” involved dropping the G on every -ing word.  I’ll give her a pass on that, but Joan’s mom does it too, and she’s NOT foreign, so it just makes her sound like a hillbilly.  “It’s natural there’s still some settlin’ and shiftin’ goin’ on.”  Guh.  Also, she calls potatoes ‘taters,’ which I’m sure I’ve never heard anyone say ‘taters’ in a totally non-ironic way.  And I grew up in a rural area.  
  • I wiki’ed Newquay to find out if it was a real town.  It was, but not in Wisconsin.  In Cornwall.  See what the author did there?
  • Katie’s dreams out the small town kind of crack me up.  Listen, I’d have loved living in a small town too, if it really was like Stars Hollow or Stuckeyville.  Full of good employment, cute little downtown shops, surprising diversity, and an abundance of quirky characters to make life more colorful.  But real life just isn’t like that.
  • The true history of mining towns in America is a very sad one, and leaves me doubting Joan’s story about how wonderful Newquay was when the  mine was open and the mining company owned everything.  To make a long story very (very) short, mining towns would, indeed, own the whole town. Which means no one owned their own home, they rented it from their employer, the mine.  There was no public property, and the companies had little reason to build nice things for their employees. They resisted building any schools above grade schools, making it difficult for these rural kids to continue their education and forcing them into working in the mines starting at a young age.  In some cases long ago, miners were paid not in U.S. currency, but in dollars that were only good in local businesses, which were all owned by the mining companies.  Miners were underpaid, and often had to put things on credit at the mine-owned stores, putting them in constant arrears to their employers.  It was slavery, and it was ugly.  Mining, even under the best of circumstances is dirty and dangerous. If you live in the mid-Atlantic U.S. and you don’t have solar or wind-power, thank a West Virginia coal miner.  *steps off soapbox*

About nikkihb

Wife. Mother. Reader. Blogger.
This entry was posted in Betty Ren Wright, dead parents, paranormal. Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to "This town’s dead as a doornail." Or, Ghosts Beneath Our Feet

  1. RMb says:

    interesting post. i've never read this book, but it sounds entertaining so i'll put it on my library list.incidentally, i used to live in wisconsin & no, you cant travel 400 miles due north and still be in the us. however, if you travel nw, you can still be in america (mn, nd, etc).

  2. ali says:

    Sounds like an interesting book, maybe worth a read. I wonder if this Newquay is pronounced like the original which sounds a bit (or a lot) like "nookie". Interesting comments about mining. It's funny because I think that industry (not necessarily coal mining but mining in general) has been glorified somewhat in books and movies (and ghost stories). Of course it isn't wonderful in real life.

  3. Sada says:

    I swear I read this as a child, but absolutely none of it sounded familiar.And "Skip" does not sound like a bad boy name.

  4. megan s says:

    yay, WV! I'm from there 🙂

  5. Anonymous says:

    My mother-in-law and her relatives that are around her age(60-70 years old)all use the word tater for potato. They also call the refrigerator an ice box. They were raised in the country (rural Texas). It drives me insane when my husband uses those words. The other day he tried to pass me the 'tator salad' and I was tempted to dump the whole bowl of potato salad on his head. They also call tomatos 'maters'. Ugh!

  6. I'm guessing that "Newquay" is probably meant to be similar to Mineral Point, a mining town in WI settled by Cornish immigrants. And yeah, 400 miles north of Milwaukee would be cutting it close for still being in Wisconsin. It's more likely you'd be in Michigan at that point. It's about 390 miles from Milwaukee to Superior (which is at the very tippy top of WI).

  7. Caroline says:

    Thanks for this! I'm going through an old-school mystery phase right now, featuring Betty Ren Wright and Mary Downing Hahn. I'm enjoying it.

  8. weirdwriter says:

    Oh my goodness. I've been trying to remember the name of this book for months! Every time someone posts something even slightly similar, I try and figure out if it's the same one. And the things that always stuck out the most were things like:1) The old lady tells them that she sees the family resemblance.2) Her mother "assures" her that the house isn't sinking, it's settling. (I was left with a fear of my house "settling" like this.)3) The ghosts are freaky in this book!Reading this post makes me remember all the other things (the tape recorder being left…). I'm totally going to have to find this book and re-read it.Thanks!

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