The Sweet Sixteens blogging topic for the month of December is our favorite books and authors, but this post is not really about that. That’s too vast a topic. That list is infinite, and I’m too lazy to narrow it down. Instead this post is about my favorite books by my favorite author when I was a teenager.
Writers are always talking about their deepest influences, their idols, the words that got under their skin in their formative years. We remember the stories that hit us hard. We love to remember them. And for me, there’s a collection of books that towers above all else in the dusty library of my teenage memory. I’m not talking about classics. I’m not talking about great literature. I’m not even talking about good literature.
I’m talking about Christopher Pike’s homicidal telepathic zombie immortal incest dinosaurs.
If you are American and grew up a reader in the ’80s or ’90s, you might already know who Christopher Pike is. If not, I am sorry for the failure of your literary education, and for the sad shriveled husk of darkness that lives where your heart should be. Christopher Pike was–probably still is, unless he’s transcended to a higher plane and now exists only as a vibrating crystal of pure weirdness in a twisted shadow realm1–a writer of young adult novels that fit roughly into the paranormal/supernatural/science fiction thriller and horror genres. I say “roughly” because they are all over the place, and also because their true genre is best described as completely batshit insane.
I went through a phase in my early teens when I read everything of Christopher Pike’s I could get my hands on. Lots of my friends loved them too. We talked about them at school during lunch. Witch and Remember Me were particular favorites. They’re both about supernatural teenage girls with special powers and important purposes. Some things never change.
It never bothered me at the time, because I was a teenager and all teenagers are at least 62% sociopath, but nothing good ever happens in Christopher Pike’s books. Ever. Horrible things happen to everybody all the time. Christopher Pike’s idea of a teenage love triangle was that book about the cocaine-dealing cheerleaders who seduced boys into threesomes to tie them up and force them to overdose.2 Nobody ever gets a happy ending. Christopher Pike’s idea of a happy ending was that book about the girl who died and came back as a ghost and managed to save her diabetic brother from his girlfriend who was actually his biological sister and was also trying to murder him with cookies.3
Nobody had amazing bosom buddies who made the miseries of adolescence bearable. Christopher Pike’s idea of teenage friendship was that book about the group of pals who went to spend a weekend in Mexico that evolved into a demented torture and imprisonment plot using venomous snakes to determine who was responsible for poisoning the one nice person they all knew.4 There is no justice for the bad things that happen. Christopher Pike’s idea of justice is the story about the girl whose best friend framed her for her own murder and ended with a scene in which her defense attorney demanded sex in exchange for competent representation.5 Nobody had meaningful moments of coming of age while yearning for achievements in high school sports. Christopher Pike’s idea of a high school sports novel was the one about the town in which all of the student athletes were turned into ravenous flying cannibal monsters thanks to a mysterious meteorite that crashed in the local lake.6
But none of Christopher Pike’s books are as awesome as the one about the homicidal telepathic zombie immortal incest dinosaurs.
It’s called Scavenger Hunt.
I recently reread Scavenger Hunt for the first time since I was probably fourteen or fifteen years old. It’s possible it was the exact same library copy of Scavenger Hunt I read before; I don’t know what the half-life of Christopher Pike novels is in circulation at the Pikes Peaks Library District. It’s possible nobody in the entire city has checked it out since the last time I checked it out.7 Maybe it doesn’t even exist for other people. Maybe it only pops into reality at certain moments, when it is needed, when there is a cosmic imbalance of telepathic homicidal zombie incest dinosaurs in teen fiction. I reread it because I wanted to see if it was just as completely nuts as I remembered, because what I remembered was pretty fucking nuts.
SPOILER ALERT: It is.
It starts off normal enough. The first three-quarters of the book are deceptively straightforward. It is the story of a group of high school seniors participating in a class scavenger hunt that begins to go very wrong in the way all things must go wrong in a YA horror novel. There are hints of what’s to come. A creepy teacher who probably isn’t human. A brother and sister pair of cool kids who are entirely too close for comfort. A house in the desert that looks a lot like a serial killer’s lair. You know. The usual.
It’s when the two competing scavenger hunt groups meet up in an mysterious underground cavern that things begin to get a bit odd.
“Tell us about this place and the people who built it?” he asked again.
“They were very old,” Davey said. “And they were not people as you know people. They were of a higher order.”
“How old?” Rick asked.
“Hundreds of millions of years.”
“That’s impossible,” Rick began. “Man has only been on this planet–”
“Man!” Davey interrupted loudly. “Man is nothing! Man is a soft-skinned freak! He will have his day and then he will be gone! We ruled this planet for millions of years and we will rule it again!”
At this point the attentive reader begins to think, hey, wait, I don’t think he’s talking about regular old supernatural monsters here.
His words echoed throughout the chamber, resonating with the walls. Carl noticed then that there was a pattern to the arrangement of the many crystals. He wondered if they didn’t form a written language of some kind.
“A metal grave for terrible lizards,” Rick muttered. He shook his head. “It’s not possible.”
“It’s your history,” Davey said. “It’s your future.”
“What is it?” Tracie asked. Rick looked up at her.
“The dinosaurs ruled the earth for millions of years,” he said. “He’s implying that an intelligent reptilian race evolved out of them and went on to form a civilization. Is that correct, Davey?”
“How far advanced were they?” Rick asked. “Did they have computers? Could they travel in space?”
Sadly, we never receive an answer to Rick’s question, because the dinosaurs refuse to share and a few pages later Rick is thrown into a pit of acid. That’s what happens in Christopher Pike novels: Kids get thrown into pits of acid because the homicidal telepathic incest dinosaurs are mad at them for trying to thwart their plans for world re-domination, and we never find out if dinosaurs had spaceships.
Christopher Pike’s novels are awesome, is what I’m saying. I mean, they’re awesome, and they’re also really not. Not because they’re all about terrible things happening to teenagers–that’s what makes them so great!–but because they’re often not very well-written, feature the same set of indistinguishable characters reused over and over again with different names, and very rarely make any kind of sense as far as things like logic and plot are concerned. Many of them are so unbelievably convoluted that the story is all but impossible to follow from point A to point B.
But they made sense in the deep dark heart of my teenage soul. In that melodramatic dungeon of angst they make all the sense in the world. Of course the cheerleaders are murderous crack dealers. Of course the football players are flying cannibal monsters. Of course your best friend is planning to frame you for her own murder. Of course the cliques of popular kids are all secretly torturing each other in snake dungeons on their weekend trips. Of course if you have sex with a boy who’s cheating on you with another girl and get pregnant then the menacing spirit of your asshole babydaddy’s suicidal other girlfriend will haunt your undead fetus to turn your entire town into an empty post-apocalyptic wasteland to systematically murder everybody by stabbing them with pitchforks or shooting their balls off or setting them on fire.8 Of course.
My tastes have evolved marginally since then, but there is still a fondness in my heart for the books I devoured with manic devotion when I was fifteen and dumber than a box of rocks. When I was fifteen I didn’t care that all I was learning from Christopher Pike’s novels was that life sucks and everybody dies and somebody probably wants to kill you with snakes. That seemed like a reasonable view of the world to me. It’s a fondness that never really fades. I still look for books that have that moment of complete and utter surreal weirdness, where everything goes off the rails and suddenly there are telepathic zombie incest dinosaurs who throw nice kids into pits of acid and nothing makes any sense and everything sucks for everybody but it’s all glorious anyway.
And–true confession–I can admit to being a little jealous of the complete and utter lack of restraint that lets a writer create books like that.
1. The internet tells me that he is alive and well and living in California, and also his real name is Kevin. I’ve never trusted anybody named Kevin, but I am absolutely willing to trust a writer who stole his pseudonym from a Star Trek episode about a species of telepathic aliens who capture and breed humans in a zoo to repopulate their planet with a slave race. A name well chosen, sir. ↩
2. Die Softly. ↩
3. Remember Me. ↩
4. Weekend. ↩
5. Fall Into Darkness. ↩
6. Monster. ↩
7. That is a lie. I found a library request slip in the book dated from November of 2013, but don’t worry. The identity of the library patron who had this book immediately before me is safe. I won’t name any names, Janette. ↩
8. Oh, god, Whisper of Death. What the hell was up with Whisper of Death, Mr. Pike? What did we ever do to you to deserve the horror that is Whisper of Death? Do you hate joy and life and sanity so much that you had to inflict Whisper of Death upon the world? Twenty years later and “Holt Skater Takes a Walk” still haunts my nightmares. ↩