Getting back into a reading habit tends to have a slow start, but I'm picking up some momentum, now. With the end of Welcome To Dead House, it was time to move on to the next Goosebumps novella. Presenting the second, on-going installment of the Niche's R.L. Stine series reviews, here's Stay Out of the Basement. (WARNING: spoilers ahead)
The setup is somewhat familiar to that of Welcome To Dead House, featuring a family of four with two children, one of each gender, with the daughter as the primary protagonist. My hunch predicts this will be a common trend in most of Stine's series. That aside, the similarities in stories ends there.
Hailing originally from Michigan (my home state, so it gets some brownie points for that), Margaret and Casey's family live in the warm, sunny state of California, though the state of the family itself is overcast. Their father, botanical scientist Dr. Brewer, had been laid off from his position at PolyTech and has, since then, been holing himself up in the basement working on a personal project. The neglect, though unintentional, still takes its toll on the children and likely their mother as well, but the story reads from their perspective. Noticing the basement door left slightly ajar, Margaret and Casey attempt their first excursion down. They only make it a few steps down before their father, hand bleeding, sternly yells the warning from which this book gets its name.
To shorten the summary, it develops into a pattern of the children, usually Margaret, noticing Dr. Brewer growing stranger. Not just in behavior, but quite literally. Leaves grow from his head and, on separate occassions, Margaret spies her father eatting plant food and green blood seeping from his wound. Adding to the pattern, the Brewer children find several opportunities to sneak back down into the basement, trying to learn what their father's experiments entail and the reason for his transformation. Between seldom being around and giving vague, often suspicious explanations, Margaret and Casey need to find the answers for themselves. A half-truth, Dr. Bower relates to the children that his experiment entails growing plants that are spliced with animal genes. The plants are fleshier, move slightly on their own accord, some with tendrils that can grasp, and apparently breathe. But it doesn't explain their father's condition, which he sidesteps as "just a side effect", or the desperate banging noise.
By now you've likely deduced the truth, as I had. In a final excursion down into the basement, the Brewer children break open a boarded-up supply closet door, the source of the sound. A collection of plant-human aberrations, subject rejects, spill out onto the floor and further inside is Dr. Brewer, bound and gagged. Cue the appearance of other Dr. Brewer, it turns into a climactic confrontation of the doubles. Unfortunately both appear physically identical, right down to the wounded hand and leaves growing from the scalp. Margaret, defensively holding onto an axe, is pressured to choose as both men vie for the weapon. However, she deduces a way to solve this dilemma by cutting the previously imprisoned Dr. Brewer's arm. Bleeding red from the gash, this is evidence enough to convince the children that this is their real father. This is further proven after Dr. Brewer chops the doppelganger in two, the fatal wound revealing a stalk without human bones or organs.
Later, Dr. Brewer details that during his experiments, which was splicing just plants in an attempt to create a type of super plant, he accidentally mixed his own blood from an open cut. A result was his hair falling out and replaced by the leafy growths, but more importantly to the botanist, he had stumbled upon a method of splicing human genes with plants. Too involved, too excited, Dr. Brewer kept experimenting without regard for his failed specimens, which he discarded in the closet. This finally caught up with Dr. Brewer when he made a specimen that was nearly identical in almost every way, even in thought and memory. Gaining the advantage, the plant-man overpowered the doctor and imprisoned him in the closet, taking his place and continuing the experiments.
Mr. Martinez, Dr. Brewer's previous boss, who was also kidnapped partway in the story and imprisoned alongside, asks Dr. Brewer to return to work at PolyTech and the doctor has the plants in the basement destroyed. Everything seems to be right again... But alone in their garden one weekend, Margaret hears a whisper at her feet. A small, yellow flower nudges her ankle, whispering, "Margaret, help me. Please -- help me. I'm your father. Really! I'm your real father!"
Stay Out of the Basement ends on this cliffhanger, but the story leads myself at least to believe that the plant-man Dr. Brewer had no ill intent towards the family. I'd venture to guess that it legitimately cared for them and believed that it was, in fact, their real father. Sometimes the duplicate believes it's the original, which is not an uncommon plot element. As for the flower in the garden, it's possible that the plant-man Dr. Brewer planted seeds in the garden before it was killed. There was an earlier scene where the children found him standing by their garden's rose trellis, examining the flowers. Again, these are my own conjectures. Although a bit predictable, Stay Out of the Basement is a good story all in all. If you like 'Invasion of the Body Snatchers', you'll probably enjoy this read. I give it four out of five Goosebumps Gs.
- "Man behind the Curtain" Drew
- Well, here's yours truly. The name's Drew, in case you were wondering. The Niche is my personal site, while the comic-in-progress is a partnered effort with Don, a lifelong friend of mine. We collaborate on the stories, but my partner's the writer in the outfit while I am the illustrator. This is currently little more than a side project, but we hope to make something of it.