The Perils of Time Traveling Teens: More From Christopher Pike’s Tales of Terror

While some of the stories in Pike’s Tales of Terror collections are serious, filled with revenge, murder and mayhem, like those addressed in the previous column, others are less bound by reality, exploring the porous borders of time, space, and perspective, with results ranging from deeply philosophical to incredibly amusing. 

Time travel and interconnectedness across time and space are a frequent theme in Pike’s books and Pike dives into this in his short stories with “Last Dawn” and “Time Spell” in Tales of Terror and in “The Tomb of Time” in Tales of Terror 2. Both “Last Dawn” and “The Tomb of Time” feature characters who get visits from future versions of themselves, who give them instructions on how they can avoid the apocalypse and the extermination of humanity. In “Last Dawn” the end has already come and gone, with an alien presence that has blocked out the sun’s light, dropped the Earth into a deep freeze, and killed almost all humans, with the exception of teenage brother and sister Jim and Dardee. A mysterious stranger shows up at their house, long after Jim and Dardee have assumed everyone else is dead, and they invite him to join them by the fire, trying to figure out who he is and where he has come from. Dardee goes outside to investigate an ominous sound and her brother is so absorbed in the visitor’s story of love, loss, and grief that he doesn’t realize his sister hasn’t come back until it’s too late. The visitor turns out to be Future Jim, who is responsible for the apocalypse and is now repentant, telling his young self that Dardee’s death was predestined: she died on this day in his own timeline (when she was hit by a boat while swimming) and she has now died on the same day. There’s no way to avoid her loss or Jim’s own pain, but young Jim can choose to not follow his future self’s dark path, avoid the blocking of the sun, and sidestep the otherwise inevitable apocalypse. 

In “The Tomb of Time,” the apocalypse hasn’t come yet, but is just around the corner, foretold by a series of earthquakes and interdimensional visitations from older, younger, and blonde alternate versions of teenage girl Shannon White, who attempt to warn her and make sure she gets together with Joel Kennealy, the guy she’s had a crush on all through high school. The fate of the entire universe apparently hangs on whether or not Shannon and Joel hook up, with two alien races cloning Shannon’s body in the future to send back these doppelgangers in an attempt to shift the course of events in their favor. In order to keep things on the positive path, Shannon must kill her evil blonde self, though that imposter is confident that “You cannot kill me … To kill is against your intrinsic nature,” to which Shannon responds “But I’m having a bad day” (105). While “a bad day” doesn’t really seem like reasonable justification for murder, the fate of humanity is a pretty good one and Shannon discovers that she’s actually capable of killing this evil version of herself, then setting up an ice cream date with Joel. There’s some confusion as Joel struggles to reconcile all the weirdness, but at some vaguely determined moment, the timeline simply resets, he forgets blonde Shannon and all the odd things that happened, and he and the real Shannon are free to go on their merry way. 

“Time Spell” is hands-down the funniest story in either collection, doubling down on interdimensional travel and teenage desire. The story begins millions of years in the future, with four disembodied “creatures of pure energy” (113) who are curious about their ancient ancestors, the humans. They are initially dismissive of the stories they have heard about humans being ruled primarily by strong emotions and biological desires, but once each of the four energy forces becomes grounded in the body of a 1990s teenager, they are quickly subsumed by their hosts’ feelings and sexual frustrations. Virginal Debra Firestone is dating Tony Keyes, who it turns out has been having sex with Debra’s best friend, Pam Church. Loner Mark Grunge has a crush on Pam, but she doesn’t know he exists. Add to all this conflict the fact that it’s Homecoming, with Debra and Pam pitted against one another for Homecoming Queen, and it’s a powder keg just waiting for a spark. The pure energy beings quickly become mired in the teenagers’ complex interrelationships, bantering their way through a dozen different colorful euphemisms for sex and casting aspersions on Tony by calling him “a weenie” (132). They end up manipulating their human hosts into all sorts of romantic and sexual entanglements, before discovering that their meddling may have changed the course of history, when Pam and Mark conceive a child who will grow up to become President of the United States and then start a nuclear war. The only solution to this problem is MORE sex: if they can get Debra and Tony to make up, have sex, and conceive a child, they have a 50/50 chance of saving humanity: if the baby is a boy, destruction will carry on in its preordained path, but it it’s a girl, Pam and Mark’s son will fall in love with her and become a better man, presumably the kind of man who does not order an all-out nuclear strike that will destroy humanity. The energy beings scheme and seduce, all the teenagers have sex, and both girls end up pregnant (though what this teenage pregnancy will mean for their lives and post-graduate plans never really comes up, other than avoiding future nuclear devastation). After wreaking all this mayhem, the energy beings return to their plane of existence, wiser and wittier. 

“Dark Walk”, in Tales of Terror, is an anomaly in ‘90s teen horror, with most of the scares being internally experienced rather than due to any specific external threat, and while this story foregrounds perspective similarly to “Time Spell,” this story’s humor is much darker. Not much actually happens in “Dark Walk,” at least right up until the shocking conclusion. Tim goes for a walk at night, then comes back to the house and tells his girlfriend Rachel all about it. He had trouble seeing (because it was dark) and got disoriented. He had a couple of scares when a dog growled at him and an apparently homeless man sleeping in the woods asked him if he had any booze. Tim swam out to a float anchored offshore, and when it came time to swim back, he became utterly convinced that there was a giant shark waiting under the dark water to bite his legs off.He had to nerve himself up to jump back in and swim like hell (and while Pike seems to suggest that there is no shark and no real reason for Tim to think there might be, there’s always the possibility that there could be, and that possibility remains absolutely unverifiable unless and until the Schrodinger’s shark bites off Tim’s legs—which it doesn’t). Tim’s walk back is much less uneventful and when he goes to tell Rachel of his exploits, she tells him “Stop … You’re scaring me” (186). Tim really feels the need to see his story through to the end though and just keeps talking. Once he’s finished, Rachel leads Tim into the backyard, tells him that “I get weird when I get scared … I do weird things, I can’t help it” (195) before braining him with a shovel and burying him in an already pretty darn crowded shallow grave in the backyard. There’s no real theme or message: a weird thing happens (Tim’s walk) and then it gets even weirder (Rachel’s unexpected murder-y habits). It’s odd and a bit nonsensical, but a good, fun punch of a story. 

Finally, many of Pike’s novels, including the Last Vampire series (1994-2013), explore different philosophical and spiritual traditions, including reincarnation, which is a theme Pike returns to in the short story “Bamboo” in Tales of Terror 2. “Bamboo” is bittersweet and quietly lovely. The story revolves around three friends—Gary, Teri, and Mark (the story’s narrator)—who all grow up together in the same California neighborhood. The trio is inseparable, but as they hit adolescence, some fissures begin to appear: Mark loves Teri, but Teri loves Gary. And while in another ‘90s teen story, this could be a catalyst for jealousy and violence, Mark only wants his friends to be happy, supporting them even when it breaks his own heart. The friends meet an old Indian man, Mr. Shambu, who moves to the neighborhood when they are children, and he graciously shares his hospitality, his food, and his stories with them, even when Gary is rude and dismissive. One of the stories Mr. Shambu shares with them is about bamboo. As he tells the kids, “bamboo is what is called a pranic tube … Prana is the subtle life force of your breath. It is what leaves your body when you die. It is the container for your soul, and bamboo has the unique property of being able to contain the prana” (118). He tells them the story of a man named Dhund whose soul was imprisoned in a stalk of bamboo following his death. The man’s sister Parvati completes a seven day long reading of the Bhagavad Purana in the bamboo and as each day is completed, one section of the bamboo stalk would “make a large popping sound … Each evening they would hear this sound. Finally, on the last day, when the ritual was completed, the top of the bamboo cracked open and a loud sigh faded away. At that moment, Parvati knew her brother had been set free” (119-20). Teri and Mark are moved by the story and while Gary remains skeptical and dismissive, Mr. Shambu’s tale sticks with them as they grow up. Their lives take some pretty tragic twists and turns: Teri and Gary get married, Gary is killed in action while serving in the military overseas, and Teri attempts to take her own life, overdosing and ending up in a coma. Though she is braindead, Teri’s parents are unable to let her go, and remembering Mr. Shambu’s story of the bamboo, Mark goes to the field of bamboo the old man planted and sets it on fire, which metaphysically releases Teri’s soul, frees her body (she dies in the hospital as the field burns), and grants her peace. While Mark is transformed by his grief, the love and friendship they all shared gives him a way to help Teri when all other recourse becomes impossible.

Pike’s Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror 2 offer a new perspective on this ‘90s teen horror icon. Some of the themes from Pike’s novels resonate and echo through these stories, providing brief detours and rabbit holes that Pike dives into to explore specific questions and play around with “what ifs?”. While many of Pike’s plot trajectories in his novels offer unique perspectives or a fresh take on a familiar narrative, leading readers on a merry chase, these stories ground the audience in a particular salient moment, a point of tension around which the story’s concise narrative revolves. We may not get to know Pike’s characters as intimately in some cases in these short stories and the worlds he creates are often more limited, but regardless of these shifts, each of the stories in Tales of Terror and Tales of Terror 2 welcome readers into Pike’s unique world, immersing us in their horrors, humors, and tragedies.  icon-paragraph-end

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