Thursday, August 04, 2016

The Fall of the House of Wax: Wax by Gina Damico

The town of Paraffin smelled of wax.

It smelled of Citrus Dreams, Tahiti Sunsets, The Night before Christmas, New Car Leather.... Spice and musk and tea and rum. Love and home and peace and America. The town of Paraffin smelled of everything. At the same time.

Each scent layered on top of the other, mixing, fusing and swelling into an odorous abomination.

Other than that, Paraffin was a lovely place to live.

And Poppy Paladino, chief nerd of the theater nerd clique at Paraffin High, has reason to believe that something is rotten in the quaint town of Paraffin.

A picture-perfect Vermont town, Paraffin is nevertheless the fiefdom of the aptly surnamed Chandler family, Anita and Preston, heirs of the century-old Grosholtz Candle Works, a mecca for school field trips and foliage-seeking sightseers, a snare for senior citizen tour buses and the source of products for thousands of scented candle stores in malls everywhere.

The too spooky-perfect Chandlers, sleek jet-setters who rule the town with their perfectly manicured hands, are set to preside over their BiScentennial Celebration, when Poppy and her best friend Jill decide to cash in their celebratory coupons at the candle store which fronts the castle-shaped waxworks. Wandering away from the crowded sales floor, Poppy ventures down the labyrinthine halls and meets up with a very strange old woman, Madame Grosholtz, who confides that she is the spiritual daughter of Madame Tussaud herself and leads Poppy to a warehouse of hollow molded wax figures, all bearing an uncanny resemblance to local townspeople. Madam Grosholtz gives her a special candle and hints that it will reveal something for Poppy's eyes only as it burns. The eerie sight of  a  wax likeness of Smitty, the donut shop owner, and Mrs. Goodwin, her neighbor, remind Poppy of the old-timey horror story of the "hollow people" who escape from the candle works from time to time

Poppycock, thinks Poppy, as she drives Jill home. But when she parks her car at her house, a figure of a teenaged boy pops out of her trunk, fully grown but as innocent and unschooled as a baby. Poppy passes him off as Dud, an exchange student from Tristan d' Cunha assigned to board with them, to her parents. But then she notices his skin is never warm or cool, always room temperature, and a flickering flame can be seen in his throat. He's a ... Hollow, but a seemingly benign one.

But then Poppy begins to notice that there's something strange about Mr. Lincoln, her principal, and then even Mr. Crawford, the dreamboat biology teacher for whom she's long had a crush. And then Smitty at the doughnut shop seems to have an abnormal fear of spilled hot coffee, and soon Poppy realizes that one by one, the people of Paraffin are being replaced by Hollows, wax Stepford Wife-ish clones of themselves. Written beneath the wax of Mdm. Grosholtz' ever-burning candle she learns that the Chandlers are themselves wax clones of their nineteenth-century selves, living in replaceable wax molds which they have compelled the imprisoned Madame Grosholtz to carve for them as they age. And somehow these living Hollows are scheming to destroy the real people of Paraffin, replacing them one by one with their own "living" wax figures. Poppy confides her discovery to Jill and recruits her fellow theater people, the Giddy Committee, to help with her plan to stop the deadly Chandlers before they and all their families are turned to wax.

And then Poppy discovers something terrifying.

Poppy ignored Jill, keeping her eyes on Greg, as she rammed her elbow into the light switch. The room went dark.

Poppy kept her focus squarely on Greg's mouth, expecting a lot of flickering going on in that throat of his.

Nothing. No light in his mouth.

But in the corner of her eye, two small flickering points of light remained.

One in Dud's mouth.

And one in Jill's.

Jill herself a Hollow.

Is the plan already blown, or can Poppy foil the Hollow Jill, and perhaps save her real best friend from the Chandler's deadly Potion?

Gina Damico's forthcoming Wax (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2016) features a sort of Return-of-the-Body-Snatchers-cum-Madame-Tussaud's plotline. Pleasantly creepy, with a properly improbable premise, but with a little willing suspension of belief, what a glow Damico gets going as her plot heats up to the melting point. Poppy is an irrepressibly perky teen heroine with smarts and spunk and a touch of snark in this humorous and offbeat take on a Revenge of the Theater Nerds story. Fans of the tongue-in-cheek horror novel genre will warm to this waxily wacky tall tale of small-town terror.

Damico is also the author of the popular Croak series.

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