When Ryan, Chelle and Josh miss their bus home, Ryan and Chelle are convinced that they're Dead Meat. Their return tickets won't be accepted by any other bus lines, they can't buy tickets for other lines because they haven't got any money, and to make matters worse, they aren't supposed to be in Magwhite in the first place. Unless they want to spend the rest of the summer grounded, calling home for a ride is out of the question.
But the plan doesn't pan out, and so they fall back on a secondary, less-than-honest plan: They rob a wishing well.
Then next day, looking into the steamy bathroom mirror, Ryan sees something totally unexpected and somewhat terrifying:
The Ryan face that he could see in the streak of clear glass had both eyes closed. The lashes were dark and spiky with moisture, and beneath them tears flowed freely down the face. The eyelids, both upper and lower, were trembling as if they were struggling to stay open or fighting to stay closed. Then both eyes started to open, and murky water flooded between the lids and bubbled down the cheeks.
Disturbing visions are only a small part of their troubles -- Ryan's knuckles are suddenly covered in strange wart-like bumps, machines have started to go haywire around Josh, and Chelle has started to uncontrollably babble words that aren't her own. The witch of the well is not happy, and as far as they can tell, the only way back to normal for Ryan, Chelle and Josh is to grant the wishes they stole.
A chapter in, and I was worried that Fly By Night had been a fluke. The prose felt forced, and some of the description felt like the author was trying too hard -- like this bit from the first page:
The bus's engine gave a long, exasperated sigh and shrugged its weight forward as if* hulking its shoulders against the rain...
It just didn't feel right to me. Too much, somehow. I apologize for not explaining this better -- it's a gut reaction, and very probably a personal one.
But. Two chapters in, and I'd put my quibbles aside and was solidly hooked on the story. Because, wow. I never thought I'd be creeped out by shopping carts. Yes, Hardinge very definitely delivers in terms of the Creep Factor. Not just because of the shopping carts or due to the yicky eye imagery, but because it becomes a supernatural AND psychological thriller. And because, as with any good (in my opinion, of course) spooky story about the supernatural, regular life issues go on regardless of The Other the kids are dealing with -- Josh is still almost always in trouble for one thing or another, Ryan's parents are still fighting, Chelle is still uncomfortable (for no definable reason) around her parents' friend Miss Gossamer.
I need to stress to fans of her first book that I can't really imagine anything more different from Fly By Night. Be aware of that going in. But if you're looking for a spooky story for an extremely rainy night, give Verdigris Deep a try. Regardless of my issues with it, I'll be watching for her next book.
*I will say that as much as I ended up enjoying the story, I grew to dread those two words: As if. They were used a whole lot, almost always like this:
His mother was standing at a table, pulling and poking at an orchid in a vase as if she was straightening the uniform of a child.
It made Ryan's father raise his eyebrows and smile, as if he was trying to catch an expert magician palming a card.
Ryan felt his stomach plummet as if he'd trusted his foot to a rotten plank and was not watching the splintered timber tumbling over and over itself as it fell towards black and distant water.
I actually like the first example, but the repetition of the sentence structure got to me, and again, I got that trying-too-hard feeling from the second two examples. But maybe that's just a matter of different reading tastes.