Instant friendship is a childhood art that is lost when we hit puberty. We gain boobs or cracked voices while we lose some fundamental part of us that can make a friend in five minutes. My family traveled during every school vacation and when we arrived at our destination, one of the first things I did was make friends with either some other kids on vacation or, as is the case in Goosebumps: Ghost Beach, some of the locals. However, unlike most of my vacation buddies, they didn't ask me to trap a ghost. Let's get to it.
Our protagonist, Jerry, and his sister, Terri, are exploring a graveyard at Terri's behest.
By the way, "cemetery" and "graveyard" are used interchangeably in this book. I know the difference, so save your emails.
Anyway, that's one of Terri's hobbies - exploring graveyards. By the end of page four, Jerry and his sister are grabbed and pulled under!
Don't worry, it's just a dream. The siblings are on their way to their cousin Brad and his wife Agatha's beach house for the last month of summer. When they arrive at the beach house, one of the first things they do is go to the cemetery so Terri can get some gravestone rubbings. They notice that the old gravestones are from the late 17th century and all the gravestones are for people with the last name of "Sadler," which is also their last name.
They saunter to the beach as Terri collects wildflowers - her other hobby. Terri likes graveyards and collecting wildflowers while her brother follows her around, expositioning all the way. We're following the wrong horse.
They find a cave entrance just above the shoreline. Of course, they explore it because if they didn't, we wouldn't have a book. Unfortunately, before they reach the depths of the cave, a bat attacks them.
Not really. It's a kite!
Jerry and Terri meet Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler - more Sadlers. They also happen to know Brad and Agatha, as the beach is one of those places where everyone knows each other. The kids suggest that Jerry and Terri avoid the cave because there's a ghost in there. Sam, the oldest one, gets mad and he ushers his siblings away.
The Sadlers we're following hang out with Brad and Agatha and play something called "whist," which, much to my surprise, actually . The next day, when the siblings are in the forest looking for more wildflowers, Jerry finds a strange flower sticking out of the ground. Turns out to be a skeleton!
Not a human skeleton, of course. It's a dog skeleton. Suddenly, the Sadler kids show up. Nat mentions that dogs can see ghosts and the ghost of the cave must have killed the dog from getting found out.
Jerry and Terri can't get ghosts out of their heads, so Terri sneaks into Jerry's room just to talk about ghosts, both the cave and normal variety. Jerry looks out toward the cave and sees an eerie flickering light coming from the cave. He wonders if it's a ghost.
Later, Jerry, Terri, and the cousins go fishing and they talk about the ghost cave flickering. There's a lot of ghost talk interspersed with graveyard rubbings and household, plant-based chores.
During dinner one night, Jerry decides to ask Brad about the flickering light.
"Last night when I went to look for the beach towel, there was a light flickering inside the cave. Do you know what it was?"
Brad narrowed his eyes at me. "Just an optical illusion," he said curtly. Then he picked up his corn and began sawing again.
"I don't understand," I told him. "What do you mean?"
Brad patiently put down his corn. "Jerry, did you ever hear of the northern lights? Aurora borealis?"
Needless to say, this does not deter the children from spelunking. They should have shown them The Descent - that's a surefire way to ensure that they avoid all forms of underground activity.
Jerry and Terri enter the cave, find a tunnel, are spooked by bats, and discover the source of the flickering. Turns out, it's a man and a bunch of candles. The man chases after the children and they get away (not before another cliffhanger, of course).
The kids and their cousins devise a plan to get rid of the ghost permanently, but not before a final gravestone rubbing. This time, Jerry and Terri find three interesting gravestones - one for Sam, Louisa, and Nat Sadler. They ask Brad and Agatha about why there are so many Sadlers in the cemetery.
In 1641, a whole group of Sadler pilgrims came from England. Unfortunately, it was one of the worst winters in history and many of the Sadlers died, including young children like Sam, Louisa, and Nat. Jerry and Terri's new friends are named after those kids who died during that terrible winter. See? A logical explanation. It's just a coincidence that the kids just happen to be the same ages as the kids who died. Also, everyone in town is named after those ancestors, so there are graves for Brad and Agatha, too. Yep - a pilgrim named Brad.
So the plan to get rid of the ghost forever involves some rocks by the entrance. For some reason, ghosts can't go through rocks, so if Jerry and Terri climb up to the cave and push the rocks over, the candle ghost can't leave his cave.
The cousins watch from the beach as Jerri and Terri climb up to the cave. Then they start to flail around before running away. The candle ghost is standing behind the siblings!
The candle ghost yells, "It's dangerous to get involved with ghosts!" and says that their beach cousins are ghosts. His name is Harrison Sadler and he's there to study the occult. However, those ghost children are real problems and he wants to trap them in a cave. You see, he was the one who set up the rocks next to the cave entrance and discovered the ghost/rock connection. Yep. Let me remind you that ghosts can't go through rocks. Don't question him! He's old and he studies the occult!
The siblings still have trouble believing him. Finally, there's a showdown between the candle ghost and the ghost cousins - who's the real ghost?
Harrison's German Shepherd with the answer! He barks at the cousins. The cousins explain that they weren't able to have a life because they died so early. I felt sorry for them and thought that there might be a way for them to continue to haunt the beach and have fun to make up for the childhood that was stolen from them. Then this happens
And then their skin peeled away, curling up and falling off - until three grinning skulls stared at Terri and me through empty eye sockets.
"Come stay with us, cousins!" Louisa's skull whispered. Her bony fingers reached out toward us.
"Join usssss!" Sam hissed. His fleshless jaw slid up and down. "We dug such nice graves for you. So close to ours."
"Play with me," Nat's skull pleaded. "Stay and play with me. I don't want you to go. Ever!"
I was sympathetic until they pulled a Shining Twins and now I'm like, yeah, pass.
Also, that scene was graphic for a Goosebumps title - I was surprised.
So the siblings, with a final sacrifice from Harrison, trap the cousins in the cave and head back to the beach house.
When they get there, Harrison's dog barks at Brad and Angela and we're left with these words
Agatha slammed the kitchen door hard and turned back to Brad. "What a pity that dog had to show up," she said, shaking her head fretfully. "Now what do we do with these two kids, Brad? What do we do with the kids?"
So I guess Jerri and Terri and dead now?
Stine reminded me of the joys of instant friendship as well at the reason we lose this ability as we grow up - people can totally suck. The cousins seemed cool. Even when they had their heel turn, I felt empathy for them. But when they turn murderous, there's no going back. Instant friendship is something we lose as we grow up, but it's because we become more selective about whom we befriend. Friendships become more complicated. It's no longer close age and relative vicinity - it's similar interests and a lack of murderous tendencies.
Maybe the lesson is that we should be open to everyone - regardless of outward appearance or some other superficial reason - like children. But the second we realize a friendship would be problematic, either because they only eat gnocchi or they try to murder us, it's time to cut them out of your life - or trap them in a cave.