The Night Strangers By Chris Bohjalian
The Thirty-Nine Lost
As captain of his plane, Chip had the lives of his flight crew and passengers in his hands, something he carried with pride each day as he landed safely at the airport. Only once had there been an incident that had tested his skill, when an engine had stalled due to ice. Now in the face of a bird strike that took out the engines, Chip plans to do a water landing to try to save his passengers in Chris Bohjalian's thriller The Night Strangers.
Hoping for triumph, the plane flips over on the landing and although help was coming from ferry boats nearby, it was too late for some that had already been killed in the landing.
Chip is never able to cope with this terrible incident and due to his PTSD about flying, he and his family relocate, unsure about the future. In the small town of Bethel, Chip's wife finds a new start at a law firm, his twin girls that he has trouble looking at, reminding himself so much of a little girl that he has imagined conversation with in the crash that had been among the thirty-nine lost. Finding an old Victorian that needed some renovation, Chip tries to find new purpose as he fights against the ghosts in his head.
The new town is strange, everyone seems to have a greenhouse in their yard. Not shy about their ways, the town herbalists, as they brand themselves are into alchemy creating their own potions from the plants they grow used as medicines and for their spells.
While Chip and his wife Emily think the local women are a bit eccentric, they seem harmless and the girls seem to take to them when they make the twins feel included in their group.
Chip is more focused on the basement where a door said to be the coal chute from the house construction is nailed closed with exactly thirty-nine six inch bolts- far too much needed for a simple door.
Using tools he found around the house, Chip begins to pry off the door and starts digging in the soil beyond.
The basement has a sealed door, with thirty-nine six inch bolts. Each reminding Chip of a life lost in the crash, he finds tools around the house to begin to pry them open. Digging in the soil beyond the door, he uncovers human remains and understands why the door to the past had been closed in such a manner.
Beyond the thirty-nine bolt door, Chip digs in the soil, unearthing the hand of what appears to be a human child.
Chip knows that he should tell Emily, but she would make him call the police and report it.
Ever since being in the strange new house, in the new town- the ghosts of the plane crash have been calling to him again. The little girl with the Dora backpack that had died, the one that made him fear being close to his twin daughters that he so loved. The little girl ghost was inside the room somehow and she was calling to him.
Finding the hand of the child, Chip has no choice but to hide the bones but he doesn't report it.
Leaving the door unsealed, his daughters eventually stumble upon it finding more of the body of the victim that was sealed inside the ground of the basement.
Chip is becoming distant as he spends more time conversing with the ghosts from the plane crash. Emily notices a difference in him since moving but the local women has taken a liking to her and she soon becomes engrossed in their hobby of growing herbs and their social events.
The ghosts from the crash continue to haunt Chip- more so since opening the door as if finding the body was his mission and now he is under its control. Manipulating him, Chip is actually unknowingly under the influence of the town that is using the past to hurt him.
Chip is losing his grip on reality since finding the body, but it isn't his fault as he has been under influence of the town herbalists that have been adding spells to the food they have been serving Chip and Emily at dinner parties. For their magic needs an occasional sacrifice of blood, and they know the best victim is one that has been traumatized from prior events. A twin. The town was full of twins that had lost their sibling...
Garnet Hears Voices
Ten year old Hallie and Garnet, aren't sure what they think of their new home.
They can't get their cell phones to work and internet is spotty to stay in touch with friends back at home. It was their father's fault he had to move. Mommy had always said when their was a plane crash in the news that would never happen to Daddy's plane.
But now it has and Daddy has killed thirty-nine people.
Daddy can't work any longer and the psychologist has him on all sorts of medication but he doesn't get any better. He avoids the twins most of the time now since they have moved to the new house.
It doesn't help that Garnet is now hearing voices outside. Hallie doesn't believe her of course.
Garnet has always been the strange twin. Cursed with epilepsy, Hallie knows it is only a matter of time until her sister has one of her attacks and everyone in town again will know that Garnet is sick and weak. Hallie is tired of constantly having to defend her.
Hallie eventually makes a friend with a local girl but she doesn't really want to include Garnet in their games. Using their greenhouse as a sort of clubhouse, the girls have taken over the space lining up their dolls and action figures to play games.
Chip is aware of how much time the girls are spending in the greenhouse. The ghosts keep calling to him. Reminding him that the ghost girl that died in the crash lost her chance to go on living, but Chip was allowed to have two daughters- vibrant and alive.
The ghosts urge him that he can fix this issue.
Hallie is embarrassed of her sister's condition. Knowing it is only a matter of time before she is made fun of her her seizures, Hallie is looking for acceptance before Garnet can ruin that for her.
Ashley Needs Friends
Taking a knife that came with the house, Chip staggers towards the greenhouse where the twins are playing with their dolls.
The ghost of grieved father from the plane crash urges Chip on. Although he never spoke to them on the flight, Chip often imagines that he had conversations with the family. He believes that the parents blame him for the death of their daughter who will never grow up after being impaled in the crash.
"Ashley needs friends, she deserves to have friends," The ghost tells him and Chip with pearl knife in hand approaches the greenhouse.
Did the ghost say friend though or friends? Does he need to kill both of the girls?
A moment of clarity rushes to Chip and instead he wounds himself.
The spell created by the herbalists is broken. They have been using Chip, creating the ghosts to see if they could get him to give over one of the twin in sacrifice as it always has to be a twin. But Chip has gotten a hold of himself and broken free.
The girls continue to play outside in the greenhouse only alerted by the screams as Chip staggers with a knife in his stomach. Taken to the nearest hospital, it is brought to Emily's attention that Chip may be having flashbacks and need to be put in a psychiatric hospital.Emily believes that he needs the help, even though she is already on the inside.
Everyone in the town is part of what goes on here. The doctors, the law firm where she works. Even the police.
All the women have renamed themselves after a type of plant in the greenhouse where they grow their herbs.
Emily is becoming one of them. Even the girls have been enjoying their gifts of books on pagan ritual and instruction on growing herbs. They want to become the apprentices they have been promised.
They are told they will be given new identities as well when they are part of the group.
Becoming Cali and Rosemary
The herbalists debate which is of the twins get to stay.
A man visits Chip, telling his own chilling tale of how it was the remains of his own twin brother that was sacrificed for the group. Devastated that his mother had been under their influence and allowed for her own son to be killed, the police spun the tale that the young boy had slashed his wrists in a suicide, but everyone knew better.
Stealing back his remains to have buried in the room in the basement, his mother spent the rest of her life in fear of her neighbors.
Hearing this, Chip now understands that Emily will be forced to give up one of the girls in the same fashion that the man had lost his brother. Only will Emily also crumble under the pressure?
Presented with their new identities, Cali and Rosemary, the twins are ready to become part of the group.
Years later, the book zooms in to the returning of Cali from college where she has been studying botany, her parents happily living in their same house although her mother has also embraced her new name.
It has been years since the family has thought about the story of Rosemary's death in that tragic car accident that had also killed a few of the herbalists.
In retrospect, Cali hardly remembers her life before moving here and remembers very little of Rosemary. Ever since Rosemary had died, her health had greatly improved and she hadn't had a seizure since.
The Night Strangers is a powerful read, a fast page turner that keeps you on the edge of your seat. Where I was really intrigued at the planning of how everything was set in place to get the family to move into the town, luring them with the realtor, the job. It seemed a bit unreasonable that someone would go to that much effort to make sure that someone with twins moved into the home to carry on the ritual.
It also is even mentioned in the book that the herbalists had debated if the twins even had any trauma from the plane crash or if it was their father that harbored all the guilt.
What was really an unbelievable turn in the books last few pages is that family now knowing what was planned still went along with the herbalists and assumed the identities needed after the death of Rosemary.
Although in parts the story seemed like no parent would ever go along with the guise of killing one of their children, the interweaving of the trauma from Chip's PTSD made you wonder why he was the one that could break free but his wife that was presented as the strong one all along was the one to succumb, so she could find belonging.
The Night Strangers is a psychological terror that is worth the read.