Friday, December 7, 2012

The Babysitter (Babysitter Trilogy #1/Point Horror #5)

The Babysitter (Babysitter Trilogy #1/Point Horror #5)
R.L. Stine
Scholastic, 1989

Genre: Horror


Jenny has just accepted a new job as a babysitter. She’s nervous because the job is with a new family in town who live in a strange house in a strange neighborhood that she has to ride the bus to get to. She has an overactive imagination and works herself into a fit thinking about what all could possibly go wrong: “Maybe the kid’s a monster. Maybe the parents are weird. Maybe they belong to some sort of secret cult and when I find out about it, they’ll keep me locked up in the basement for the rest my life so I can't tell anyone. Maybe the house is haunted. There is a ghost of a young girl trapped in the attic, and I accidentally let her out, and she inhabits my body and I'm not the same person anymore.”
Jenny got her babysitting job quite on accident. She was at the mall hanging out with her cousin and she saw a little boy who was alone. He dropped his toy into a fountain was about to go in and get it. Jenny grabbed him because she didn't want him to drown. He said that his name was Donny that he was six years old. When his parents finally showed up they told Jenny they’d been looking for him for about 20 minutes and were worried sick. Donny didn't really seem to care. He wanted to bring Jenny home with him and that is when Mr. Hagen told her that they were looking for a babysitter.

The only other new thing in Jenny’s life is the prospect of a new boyfriend—Chuck. He just moved to town and is kind of a goof ball but he seems to like her. She’s not sure if she should go out with him because he’s kind of a joke.

Jenny will babysit a few nights a week for Donny. When she starts, she notices that Mr. Hagen is very nervous which, in turn, makes her nervous. Before they leave, they warn her to lock the doors since there have been some recent attacks on babysitters in town. Some creep in a ski mask has been breaking into homes and beating up babysitters. So far there had been two attacks and both babysitters had to be hospitalized. When Jenny first heard the news she was going to tell the Hagens that she was going to have to decline the job. However, she began to think about it clearly and thought that the chances the attacker would choose their house way over on the far end of town would be one in a million. If she kept the doors locked she should be perfectly safe and, besides, she and her mom really needed the money.

It turns out that Donny is a perfect angel and he really likes Jenny so they get alone great. Once he’s in bed though Jenny is left all by herself in the big rambling Victorian house and she finds it rather creepy. Her overactive imagination starts going and she scares herself senseless when she finds their cat and Donny, wanting some milk, comes downstairs and scares her. Jenny is next scared by a knock on the front door. It is a man named Willers who says he’s the next door neighbor. Willers apologizes for disturbing her, but says that he thought he saw a prowler out back. He wanted to come in and look around but Jenny says that everything's fine. Other than those moments, the first night goes really well for Jenny.

On Saturday, Jenny babysits again for Donny. All is well until she receives a phone call. She picks it up and no one says anything but she can hear heavy breathing. She catches Donny with the phone but he insists that he was just listening and that he wasn’t pranking her. After getting him to bed, the phone rings again and a creepy voice says, “Hi, Babes. Are you all alone in that big house? Well, don't worry. Company's coming.” She's tempted to call the police but she wonders if they will believe her. As she reaches for the phone it rings again. Luckily, it's just Mr. Hagen calling to check in. Feeling better after talking to him she decides she won't call the police after all. Not being able to concentrate on homework, she decides to get a Coke from the kitchen. Crossing the living room she notices a framed photograph on the end table that she never saw before. The child in the photo looks like Donny but it isn’t Donny. The child in this picture is a girl. She realizes that Donny had a sister. She assumes that this explains why Mr. Hagen is so nervous and worried about Donny. 

Jenny finds out that her mom gave Chuck the Hagen’s phone number. She goes out on a date with him and has a good time with him. However, she still had the nagging question of whether or not Chuck was the person who called her. Soon the phone rings. She assumes that it is Chuck because she gave him permission to call. Unfortunately, it's the caller from before: “Don't be sad. I'll be there soon. Then the fun will really begin.” She calls the police but they don't seem too interested in helping her. She does get the number of a Lieutenant Ferris and is told to call him if she gets more threats.

Turns out Chuck arrives later that night and meets Donny, who likes him. Chuck says that he did call her and starts to explain when a loud crash interrupts him. Jenny finds a flashlight and says she's going to go out and investigate. She notices that the light is no longer shining on the garage door. Soon she hears scraping sound and a cough. The garage door is open and she finds Willers. He says that he thought he saw a prowler. The crash was him tripping over their firewood pile. He says he came out without light because he wanted to sneak up on the guy take him by surprise. Chuck refuses to leave until he gets to explain about the phone calls. He said he wanted to call and just talk to keep Jenny company. He admits that all his joking and clowning around is to cover up his shyness. He called and when she picked up the phone he panicked, he started breathing heavily, and couldn't speak. He was going to tell her about it but was too embarrassed and hoped she just forget about it. Jenny tells him to go on until her about the rest of the calls but he doesn't know what she's talking about. He only called that once. 

The Hagens return home and almost catch Jenny making out with Chuck. As Mr. Hagen drives her home he tells her, “There's probably no need to tell you this but I like to make things clear. I have one important rule for babysitters. And that's no visitors. I know a lot of times babysitters like to invite their friends over to keep them company. I guess some parents allow it, or at least, put up with it. But I don't. I just don't think it's a good idea. I want all of your attention on Donny. I hope you understand.” Jenny tells him that she understands and Mr. Hagen proceeds to tell her that they had another child. She waits for him to say more but he remains silent all the way to her house.

The next day during gym class Jenny gets the wind knocked out of her by volleyball. She goes to rest in the locker room. She reaches into her bag to get a tissue and finds a weird sheet of yellow notebook paper. She unfolds it and realizes that it is some type of note. As she reads it she gets dizzy—written on it is the same message from the creepy phone calls. 

A few days later, Jenny’s friend convinces her to let her, her new boyfriend, Eugene, and Chuck come over to the Hagens to keep her company because of the weird phone calls. Even though she knows Mr. Hagen won’t approve, she agrees. As the teens have fun, Jenny cuddles up with Chuck on the couch and time seems to fly by until the moment when she looks up to see Mr. Hagen glaring down at her from behind the sofa. He makes a lunge towards Jenny and Chuck as if to grab them, his face reddening with rage. Luckily Mrs. Hagen walks into the room and is surprised. She runs to her husband and tells him that everything will be okay, Jenny's friends will go home, and she’ll have a quiet talk with Jenny about this. Jenny's friends leave as the parents go to check up on Donny. While she's waiting for them to decides to go get her coat from the bedroom closet. Noticing her coat on the top of the closet shelf, she reaches up to grab it and knocks a shoebox to the floor. Bending down to pick it up she is surprised to see it stuffed with newspaper clippings. All of the clippings are about babysitters and recent attacks on babysitters. She notices that all the names of the babysitters were circled in red. Jenny wonders if Mr. Hagen is crazy.

As Mr. Hagen starts to drive her home, Jenny relaxes thinking that there could be a number of reasons for the clippings. However, she is alarmed when she notices that he locks the car doors—something that he has never done before. Soon she doesn't recognize where they are. He speeds up and tells her that she shouldn't try anything. He apologizes for her having to see his clippings. He's driving them far out of town and then he starts whispering that “company's coming” Jenny knows that it was him making the phone calls. He hits her and tells her to shut up. He tried to warn her but now she'll get what's coming to her. She realizes where he's taking her—the abandoned quarry. He keeps saying things about how he had a baby and this is what she deserves but she keeps saying that she didn't kill any baby; that she didn't do anything. He asks if she will jump or if he should push her into the quarry. As he comes forward to push her, a man's voice yells for him to stop. The man is Willers. He says that he's there to save Mr. Hagen from ruining his life. Hagen says that his life is already ruined and Willers says he can't do a thing about that but he can stop him from committing murder. At that Mr. Hagan lunges towards Jenny and pushes her. Jenny luckily had enough room to dodge him, but Mr. Hagen goes sailing past her and plunges into the quarry: “His scream cut through the air like a fading police siren. Then she heard a sickening crash, like a full carton of eggs hitting the sidewalk. Then silence.”

Willers makes sure that Jenny is all right and says that he tried to stop Hagen and tried to save him. It turns out that Mr. Willers is actually Lieutenant Ferris. He had the house staked out for month when the complaints started. Jenny tells him about the clippings. Turns out Mr. Hagen was one of the main suspects right from the beginning. Two years ago his daughter died mysteriously and no one ever knew the cause. He went berserk and blamed the babysitter who was taking care of her. He attacked the girl and beat her up pretty badly. It went to court and he got off lightly because of his disturbed emotional state. They moved to the other side of town and took a new job. When someone started beating up babysitters a few months ago he was the prime suspect but now he’s dead.

Thoughts and Nuggets of Wisdom for Research

Poor babysitters—they always seem to get a bad deal. In American culture babysitters are seen in one of three ways—great teens who save parents the trouble of watching their own kids, a sexy harlot who is out to steal the married husband, or, like poor Jenny, they are victims of their situations—young, virginal (they have to be for a horror story) girls left alone in big, empty houses responsible for the care of a young child.

For a horror book, there wasn’t too much very horrific about the plot. In fact, it was more suspenseful than anything. Most of the frights are blamed on Jenny’s vivid imagination—a cat scaring her, noises frightening her, etc. The only moment in which her imagination is legitimate is when she first meets Willers. He is a large man wearing only an oversized, red plaid lumberjack shirt. His eyebrows were bushy and black. His hair was greasy and his nose was bent as if it'd been broken several times. He had stubble on his cheeks and was smoking a cigar. Jenny tells him that the Hagens are out for the night and that they go out every Thursday night. She immediately regrets what she says and thinks to herself, “Why did I tell him that? How stupid! Now he knows that I'll be alone here with Donny every Thursday night. Stupid, stupid, stupid.”

There is a lot of good stuff her for my thesis on gender roles. Jenny’s best friend is a girl named Laura. As Laura is accompanying Jenny on the bus to her first night at the Hagen’s house, Laura thinks she sees someone named Bob Tanner and tries to open up the bus window to yell at him and get his attention. The narration reads, “She didn't care about what other people thought. She always did what she felt like. Jenny wished she could be more like that, less thoughtful, less timid, more impulsive. She thought that since they spent so much time together, maybe some of Laura's boldness would rub off on her. But it didn't seem to.”

Laura is so beautiful that she can have any boy she wants. Jenny thinks it is kind of sad that Laura wants them all. At the end of summer, she had broken up with Rick Danielson, a relationship that had lasted nearly three months, a long time for Laura. Since then, she had gone out with at least three other boys. Jenny would be happy to settle for just one guy. She wonders why she couldn't “stare at boys the way Laura did, or touch their shoulders all the time the way Laura did, or act real kittenish and sexy and not get embarrassed about it?”

Jenny also feels utterly plain compared to Laura in terms of looks: “Sometimes Jenny wished she could look like Laura, too. Laura was so tiny, so light, so perfect. She was the shortest girl in the sophomore class, but that was certainly no handicap because she was also the most beautiful. She had cheekbones like a model, and curly, straw colored hair that fell down to her shoulders like a waterfall. She had sky-blue eyes and creamy white skin, and a tiny, red, heart-shaped mouth. Needless to say, Laura was very popular. She could go out with a different guy every night of the week if she wanted—and she usually wanted!” Jenny, on the other hand, was of average height, which made her nearly a head taller than Laura, but her figure was still extremely boyish. She has dark brown hair which she wears in long bangs that fall over her left eye. She has large, serious eyes, a long, straight nose, and lips that always seem to be pouting.

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