Apr 21, 2023 | Pulp Horror

by Christopher Pike

© 1990 by Christopher Pike. Cover Art by Brian Kotzky.



Spoiler-Free Review:

Witch had a few things I appreciated. The shift in perspectives from chapter to chapter kept things interesting. I liked the theme of power coming at a great cost. I enjoyed many of the side characters, from Sally the dumb waitress to the station wagon full of creepy old lady witches. In fact, I kinda wanted a story that focused exclusively on the station wagon full of old ladies. Beyond that, Witch bears the unfortunate distinction of being one of Pike’s blandest works that I have read. It delivered some of the expected brutal violence but took the narrative in a more somber and serious direction than I would have liked. While it didn’t come anywhere near the sanctimonious preaching of Remember Me 2, it still got cheesy. The whole book felt like Pike was playing it safe. I like Pike best when he goes unapologetically weird while still delivering an emotional throughline. I think Witch was trying to be like Road to Nowhere, but it lacked the twist and the heart to land that sort of punch. Compared with his other books, Witch just felt kinda forgettable. It’s not bad, there are no glaring flaws or anything. It’s just… meh.


Score: 3


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Observations & Spoilers:

Julia’s been really sad since the death of her mother last June. Everyone loved her mother, who was a nurse with a magic touch of sorts. Julia’s best friend Amy had always called her Mother Florence. She knew there was something very special about Julia and her mother. It’s been three months, but grief is a beast. Amy and Scott invite Juila to come to the football game with them that Friday night. Julia doesn’t want to but agrees to meet them. First, she wants to spend her afternoon next to her pond. There’s a special pond in the woods that she has always been able to sit beside and explore the world. She can see all sorts of people in their private lives, but she cannot hear or speak with them. Her mother had known about this gift and had one stern warning for Julia: never look into moonlight reflected off the water. Well, Julia fucks up and does exactly that.


Without noticing the passage of time, Julia finds herself still sitting beside the pond as the moon rises. She catches a glimpse of the future. A boy she has never met is killed in a gas station robbery. Freaked out by the experience she goes to meet her friends at the game. Scott brought along a waitress he met who doesn’t realize he’s still in high school. Sally is kinda dim, but Scott also seems like a douche. Amy is excited to introduce everyone to her new boyfriend Jim. Jim plays for the rival team. Amy’s just in the middle of getting shit from their friend Randy for fraternizing with the enemy when Juila shows up. Amy can tell that something is off right away. What Julia won’t tell her: Jim is the boy she witnessed get shot in her vision. 


Julia tries to stop them from stopping at a gas station. She only succeeds in preventing Jim from entering; Scott still goes inside. Julia watches from the car and sees that something is wrong before anyone else does. Because she knew there would be before they got there. The gas station is being held up by two meth addicts. She runs inside but is too late to stop Scott from getting shot in the head. She manages to hit one of the guys with some kind of psychic blast. It doesn’t kill him but it fucks up something in his stomach. The two men get away on their motorcycles and Juila finds out that she is more powerful than she knew. But like her mother always warned her; great power comes at great cost.


At the hospital, the prognosis is not good for Scott. He’s put on life support but is not expected to make it. Julia becomes enraged and decides to set off on a quest for revenge. She recruits Jim to help her. First, they go back to her house so she can return to the pond. She looks into the water and spies on the two men who robbed the gas station. She sees them getting high on meth. The one she hit with her psychic blast isn’t doing too well. Finally, she sees the list of gas stations they plan to hit next. Julia then tells Jim they need to leave immediately. She can tell that her aunt is looking for her. That’s because Julia’s aunt has powers like her. Julia and her mother had long been estranged from her aunt and her aunt’s friends. Julia doesn’t want to deal with them. So Julia and Jim just narrowly miss the station wagon full of weird old ladies pulling up to her house. There’s a better story than the one in this book lurking here, just waiting to be told. I want my weird Christopher Pike book about this station wagon full of old witchy ladies with questionable ethics and nefarious purposes. That might mean I have to write it myself.


Back at the hospital, Amy gets interrogated by Julia’s aunt. The woman seems impossibly old and has purple eyes. She doesn’t turn any children into mice but I was picturing the unmasked Witches of my childhood Roald Dhal-inspired nightmares. Suffice it to say the woman is intense and scary. They leave Amy, who is now alone at the hospital while Scott remains in a coma. She recruits their friend Randy, who works weekends at the hospital as an orderly. He helps get Amy into the hospital records room. This was easier in the pre-HiPPA days, I imagine. Though maybe not this easy. Amy decides she needs to find out more about what happened when Julia’s mother died. After working all night she finally comes across the file that stands out. A girl had been brought in after a motorcycle accident. The girl’s boyfriend had been drunk. Both the girl and Julia’s mother died three days later. Amy copies down the girl’s address so she and Randy can go investigate.


The girl in the accident was named Kary Florence. Her father was Julia’s father, and her Mother was Florence’s ex-husband. Julia’s father had left her and her mother when she was an infant. Got creeped out by all the magic or something. Then he had another kid that he didn’t run away from. The girl was Kary. Kary had been on the motorcycle with her good-for-nothing boyfriend Frank. Julia’s father was devastated and sought the help of his ex-wife to save his daughter. Mother Florence did what she could. She gave her life, in fact. But Kary still succumbed to her wounds and died. DWI laws being much laxer, Frank was somehow not charged with anything. Julia’s father tells Amy to be careful, and that he would like to see Julia if she wants to meet him. Amy and Randy leave him and go on to their next destination: Frank’s house.


Meanwhile, Julia is having some pretty wild dreams about drowning along with Scott after they are attacked by some kind of sea monster. She tells Jim that they need to buy guns. Jim finds himself captivated by Julia in spite of only knowing her for less than 24 hours. Amy had predicted this would happen. Julia remains hellbent on revenge. They get their guns, show up at the gas station a few minutes before closing, and wait for the two men to roll up on their motorcycles. Jim suggests warning the shop owner, but Julia thinks he might close the store and scare off her prey. She knocks Jim unconscious right when they show up, then goes inside to waste them herself. First, she blows off the fat guy’s knee. Then she pins Frank down in the back room. The lone shopkeeper has been knocked unconscious. Here, she and Frank finally talk. That’s right, the meth addict who shot Scott is the same one who crashed his motorcycle while drunk and killed Kary. Jim regains consciousness and comes in to help Julia. But the shopkeeper comes to and shoots Jim. Julia tries to save him but once again is too late.


Meanwhile, Amy and Randy find Frank’s house empty. They see a picture of him with Julia’s half-sister. they also find his drugs and a list of the gas stations he was planning to hit. They call the police and warn them about the robbery, then they go off to find Amy. At some point, I don’t recall exactly which point, they see Julia’s aunt and her station wagon at a gas station. Randy pretends to be a gas station attendant and sabotages their car to buy Julia some time. The scene was pretty funny. I really wanted more time with this coven of witches. Amy and Randy show up at the gas station to find Jim bleeding out while Julia has Frank pinned down in the back. A fire started somehow. I also don’t remember exactly what happened to the shopkeeper. I think maybe Frank shot him. Anyway. Jim shares his dying words with Amy and she holds him while he passes. Then she goes to try and save her friend.


Julia manages to get the upper hand on Frank. All the revelations come pouring out about Frank. He was in denial over being drunk the night he killed Kary. Julia finds out that she had a half-sister and the real reason her mother died. She has a moment of clarity, realizing how wrong she had been to seek revenge. She suddenly knows exactly what she needs to do. She takes Amy’s car and goes back to the hospital before anyone can stop her. Amy and Randy steal a cop car and try to catch her. They end up pulling over Julia’s aunt in the station wagon instead and seeking their help. But they won’t make it in time to stop her. Julia can’t be stopped.


Julia gets to the hospital and runs into Sally, the dim waitress from earlier. She had stopped by to bring Scott some cake not realizing he was in a coma. Julia asks Sally for a favor. She gives her Scott’s video camera, and then has her pretend to be a local news reporter to distract the doctors. Sally does great with this and it works. Alone with Scott, Julia does some magic shit where she talks to him. She tells him when all of this is done to go to her pond after the snow melts. She also tells him he and Amy need to go to Tahiti together as they’ve always said. Then Julia does some spirit shit with her mother. She realizes that in order to save Scott she must die in his place. With her mother’s guidance, she pushes through and does the deed. When Amy and her aunt arrive at the hospital, Juila is dead and Scott has been inexplicably healed.


Julia leaves her house to Amy and Scott in her will. As per her instructions, the three surviving kids return to Julia’s pond that spring. There they can see Julia with her mother ascending to some higher plane. And that is more or less how it ends. I breezed over a lot of the spiritual stuff because it was kinda hokey, especially when compared to the far superior Road to Nowhere and Midnight Club. All of my favorite scenes revolved around the station wagon of old ladies. The characters were solid, but the story they got placed in just didn’t do all that much for me. I can’t even hate it, really. I am very curious to see if the Netflix adaptation did more with it, though. 


Score Card:

For the scoring of each book, I decided to rate them based on five criteria worth 2 points each.
I then split that in two to give it a rating out of 5 stars. Those criteria are:
Concept: the strength of the overall idea
Execution: the mechanics of storytelling
Character: the protagonists, antagonists, and villains
Intent: does it succeed in being the kind of book it wants to be?
Originality: subversion and reliance on genre tropes


Concept: 1/2
The concept was clear and solid. It just felt safer than a lot of Pike’s work. It left me wanting more from it.

Execution: 1/2
I liked that we got different points of view. It managed to go to several places I didn’t expect. The ending was a tad on the cheesy side, but nowhere near Remember Me 2 levels.

Character: 2/2
The characters felt real and well-rounded, each with their own understandable motives. Even the dumb waitress was pretty great. I wanted more time spent with the weird aunt and her station wagon full of old ladies, but their presence was appreciated nonetheless.

Intent: 1/2
I think this book accomplished what it set out to do, I just wish that it did more. It was less scary than it was tragic. I suppose it had a good lesson in it about revenge and taking on burdens that aren’t ours to bear. 

Originality: 1/2
This wasn’t unoriginal, but compared to some of Pike’s other wildly original shit; it’s almost bland.



Don’t miss the next post in the Pulp Horror blog series:
Lois Duncan’s Stranger with My Face


Also, be sure to check out the latest from my Fear Street blog series:
Fear Street #31: Switched


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