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Fatal Fun in the Sun: Bury Me Deep and Spring Break 


Fatal Fun in the Sun: <em>Bury Me Deep</em> and <em>Spring Break</em> 

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Fatal Fun in the Sun: Bury Me Deep and Spring Break 

Everyone needs to back away from the SCUBA gear.


Published on April 18, 2024

Book covers of Christopher Pike's Bury Me Deep and Barbara Steiner's Spring Break

If teen horror has taught us anything, it’s that when left to their own devices, teenagers find all sorts of trouble, whether realistic (hit and runs, stalking) or supernatural (ghosts, aliens, and all manner of monsters). These characters get in plenty of trouble in their daily lives close to home, but the stakes are definitely higher when they hit the road. In both Christopher Pike’s Bury Me Deep (1991) and Barbara Steiner’s Spring Break (1996), groups of unsupervised teenagers head out for some fun in the sun and instead find mystery, horror, and cases of ghostly mistaken identity. 

Pike’s Bury Me Deep focuses on three teenage girls who are headed to a Hawaiian resort for spring break: Jean Fiscal, Mandy Bart, and Michele Kala. As the book starts, Mandy and Michele are already in Hawaii and Jean is catching a plane to meet them because of a truly bizarre sequence of events in which Jean missed a chemistry test when her mom made her come home because the dog was having puppies and Jean’s chemistry teacher told her the only time she could make up the test was alone in the school with him on a Sunday afternoon (there are half a dozen red flags here, though this whole weird situation is dismissed as simple exposition, left behind with all of Jean’s other cares as she steps on the plane). Jean dozes off on the plane and when she wakes up, there’s a cute boy beside her who wasn’t there before. He introduces himself as Mike Clyde, they have a lovely chat about everything they’re looking forward to doing in Hawaii, and he tells her about a beautiful moonlit cave: “When the moon is full, it lights up the water at night … You can see the dark fish. You can see the caves of colored coral. The fish swim in the caves, and the tide rushes out. When the time is right, the water rushes through the moonlight to the end of the cave” (14). This sounds beautiful but it’s a bit odd that Mike is sharing these incredibly specific details when this is his first trip to Hawaii and he’s presumably never seen this cave before, but that soon becomes the least of their worries when Mike says “Why is this happening again?” (16), then has a violent seizure and dies. 

Jean is understandably traumatized when she lands in Hawaii, but she decides the best course of action is to try to forget all about Mike and his inexplicable death, and just focus on having a good time. Hawaii is warm and beautiful, and Jean is thrilled to see her best friend Mandy, but there are plenty of interpersonal tensions and conflicts even on spring break. Jean and Mandy go to school with Michele, but they don’t really know her all that well; she just kind of joined in and invited herself along when she heard they were going to Hawaii for spring break. Michele has been to Hawaii before, though she’s pretty cagey about when she was there, what she did, and why she has chosen to come back just now. Jean’s on a tight budget and the girls bought the trip as a package deal, which means there are some financial disagreements and stressors, like Mandy and Michele upgrading their rental car for an additional charge without making sure it’s okay with Jean. This package also includes some kind of coupon-based system, but “The trouble was, they didn’t have enough coupons for all the possible activities. For example, if they went for a boat ride to Lanai—a small island off Maui—they couldn’t go snorkeling at Molokini, a submerged volcano also off Maui. They had to plan carefully, which Mandy liked to do about as much as she liked homework. Jean worried that Mandy and Michele had already wasted some of their most valuable coupons” (23). And Jean is right to worry. Mandy and Michele have been having a great time without her and every time she objects to a missed opportunity or an additional expense, they just shrug and tell her “Don’t worry about it” (23), clearly speaking from a more privileged position than their friend, either insensitive or oblivious to the differences in their financial situations. 

Jean doesn’t really want to take a scuba diving lesson at the hotel pool, but Mandy and Michele peer pressure her into it, mostly so they can flirt with the two scuba diving instructors, Dave and Johnny. In addition to hotel work and scuba tours, Dave and Johnny are also intrepid treasure hunters on the search for the riches from a sunken yacht, and have their own tragic backstory following the mysterious death of their third partner, who is (seriously) named Ringo. Michele has gone scuba diving before and Jean turns out to be a natural, but Mandy struggles, regularly panicking and needing assistance. After a very brief—and unsuccessful, on Mandy’s part—lesson in the pool, the guys take the three girls scuba diving in the ocean, which seems like an incredibly bad idea. Mandy struggles on a grander scale and uses up her air much faster than her fellow divers, which cuts the dive short for all of them. Jean was having a great time and is angry with Mandy because they have to wrap up their dive early, but Mandy’s mad at Jean too, because she told Jean she was interested in Johnny, but Johnny only has eyes for Jean. (Michele is having sex with Dave in the girls’ hotel room every chance they get, so there’s no romantic competition there, but Jean and Mandy do spend a lot of time sleeping on a cot in the suite’s living room as a result). Jean also keeps having unsettling dreams about Mike and almost sleepwalks right off the hotel balcony. 

Mandy is a grumpy fifth wheel when the girls tag along on Dave and Johnny’s tour boat excursion to the island of Lanai for some more scuba diving. Dave’s pretty unhappy with this arrangement too, because the girls are coming along for free and the boat is already filled to capacity with paying customers. He invited Michele along as his special guest, but he didn’t know that Johnny invited Jean or that Jean said she wouldn’t come unless Mandy could come along too, which makes for a pretty tense morning at the dock. In the end, they all set off for the island and have a pretty great time, scuba diving with the large group. Jean feels an inexplicable draw to the other side of the island and asks Johnny to take her over there for another dive. Mandy tags along, runs out of air early (again), and cuts their dive short, though Jean decides she’ll just stay behind when Johnny accompanies Mandy to the surface, diving deeper than she should … though as far as she’s concerned, this complete disregard for safety regulations and good choices pays off when she finds Mike’s mystery cave and a skeleton hidden within.  Jean gets stuck in the cave, panics, and nearly drowns, but Johnny comes to her rescue. Johnny and Dave are both pissed about her reckless behavior, though Dave does go down to take a look at the cave and comes back reporting that there’s no skeleton, dismissing Jean’s macabre encounter as a hallucination. (Who’s taking care of the boat full of tourists while all of this is going on? Are they having a good time or getting cranky at being abandoned by their guides? Do they know anything’s amiss? It’s a mystery). 

Things only get weirder from here: once they return to the island, Jean does some investigatory work and finds out that Mike’s been dead for a month, having died from ascending too quickly from one hundred feet down on a scuba dive. She spent her flight chatting up a ghost, but this ghost did give her the clues she needed to find where he died and why. He’s buried on the island, so she goes to visit his grave, where she gets clonked on the head by a falling branch, and has an astral conversation with Mike, who shows her all the details of the night he died, when someone intentionally stripped him of his weight belt and messed with his buoyancy control, which caused his rapid ascent and resulting death. Jean wakes up and returns to the hotel with this newfound knowledge, only to discover that Mandy is dead, having jumped or been pushed from the balcony of their hotel room. 

Jean connects the dots, decides Dave is the killer and has murdered Mike and Mandy to cover up the discovery of the skeleton in the cave (presumably Ringo). Jean is obviously next on his hit list and she decides the only reasonable course of action is to clonk Dave on the head, steal one of the jet skis from the guys’ boat, take it to the island, and go on a solo night dive back to the super dangerous cave, and recover the skeleton herself. Then everyone will HAVE to believe her. This is a terrible plan and (unsurprisingly) almost gets Jean killed: first, because as an inexperienced diver, she is putting herself in an incredibly dangerous situation and second, because the murderer is actually Johnny, who she called to tell all about her plan and who shows up to kill her the same way he killed Mike. She figures it out in the end and manages to not get murdered, by tricking Johnny into fatally crashing his jet ski into an outcropping of coral. Before she and Michele head back home, Jean goes to visit Mike’s grave again, where he thanks her and tells her that he and Mandy are very happy together, seeming to release her from any sense of lingering guilt or responsibility as he tells her “Goodbye, Jean. You’ve done well” (210). It has definitely been an unforgettable spring break, though it’s one whose losses and traumas will stay with Jean long after she boards the plane back home. 

In Steiner’s Spring Break, the teens are staying much closer to home for their vacation, road-tripping from Houston to Galveston, Texas for some fun and sun on the Gulf Coast. Angie Hendrix, Kerry Cole, Paula Lantz, and Chad Grindle are all close friends, looking forward to a week away from school and adult supervision. Their spring break road trip gang is rounded out by Chad’s dog Brandy and Angie’s brother Justin, who at eighteen is a year older than the others, a responsible senior in high school, and legally an adult, which is why Angie and Justin’s parents have insisted that he go along with the group as a chaperone. This is ill-advised and shaky logic, but Justin is more serious-minded and responsible than the others, so he initially seems to be a good stabilizing influence, at least until he develops a crush on Paula and all “responsible adult” bets are off. As much as the teens have been looking forward to this trip to Galveston, they haven’t really planned ahead and when they arrive, they have no place to stay: they didn’t make any reservations and since it’s spring break for a lot of the high schools and colleges in the surrounding areas, everything’s full. It looks like they might be camping out (which they did, at least, come prepared for), until they have the dubious good luck of getting a lead from a grocery store proprietor named Myra Adams on “the old Jamison place” (8), a large, isolated beachfront house that’s in the middle of being renovated and reputedly haunted. 

After a brief discussion with the house’s owner—a creepy old man named Eldon Minor who spends the next few days randomly showing up at the house to “check in” on the teens and leer at the girls in their swimsuits—they decide it’s better than nothing and rent the old Jamison place for the week. It’s old and musty, still filled with the furnishings of the family who abandoned it more than a decade ago, and it isn’t long before they start hearing ghostly music and voices from the attic. To their credit, the teens decide to investigate to see what kind of danger they’re dealing with: sure, it COULD be ghosts, but it certainly seems more likely that squatters could have taken up residence in the abandoned house and be hiding there, a possibility they give serious consideration. They have a difficult time finding the stairs to the attic, though when they do make their way up there, it seems to be just a large, empty, ballroom-like space, still decorated with streamers for the house’s last party. 

After Paula and Justin start making eyes at each other, Angie feels like a bit of a fifth wheel, until she stumbles on a mystery of a more romantic sort: a handsome stranger named Val who just shows up on the beach one day. Angie quickly develops feelings for Val, despite the fact that he frequently disappears without a trace and is very cagey about where he’s been and what he’s been doing. (No red flags there.) The group invites Val to join them in the house, though he says he’s got a camp set up a ways down the beach and enjoys the outdoors, so thanks but no thanks. 

The ghostly music and voices continue throughout the week, though the teens do their best to ignore them, filling their time with sunbathing, swimming, cookouts, and bonfires. When a tropical storm front rolls in, they finally convince Val to stay with them in the house. The thunder rolls, the electricity goes out, and then people start disappearing. First, they can’t find Chad and then Brandy disappears, presumably having gone to look for him. Val is the next to disappear, then Justin, leaving the girls to fend for themselves. After Angie is locked in the boathouse and they find Brandy murdered in the marshes, they begin to panic, but there’s nowhere they can go: they can’t leave their friends behind and if they could (even if it were just for long enough to go get help), someone has siphoned all of the gas out of their car. Even creepy Eldon isn’t coming around like he used to, so there’s no one to help them and no way out. 

The house’s ghost story is the only viable path forward in solving this mystery and the plot thickens when the girls return from their traumatic search to find party invitations for Caroline Jamison’s eighteenth birthday waiting on their pillows, summoning them to the attic. When they make their way to the attic, they find Chad and Justin, sitting in “straight-backed chairs, looking out at the storm, at the water sluicing the windowpanes” (176), with their arms around a woman with long blonde hair sitting between them. Angie jumps to the relieved conclusion that this has all been an elaborate prank and that the blonde in the middle must be Val in a wig, though all of the evidence—the boys’ creepy silence, the murdered dog—argues against this. This dubious relief doesn’t last long anyway, as the girls charge around to the front of the chairs to confront the boys, only to discover that the guys are unconscious, their arms looped around the shoulders of a dead girl. This mysterious girl has been dead for a while and the “Parts of the girl’s body that showed out of the long dress were leathery, mummified. Arms, shriveled to nothing but bone covered by dried skin, lay folded together in her lap. Bony fingers held a bouquet of fresh flowers” (178). This is Caroline Jamison, the purported ghost of the old house, though the ghost story itself fails to acknowledge the tragedy and aftermath of this young woman’s death. 

Val emerges from the shadows (never trust a mysterious stranger you meet on vacation, no matter how handsome!) and tells them that Caroline was his sister. On the day of her party, Val had built a raft for Caroline’s birthday, pestering her to go out on the ocean with him until she finally gave up and agreed. A storm came in, the raft fell apart, and Caroline instructed Val to hang on to the floating debris while she swam for help, but she never made it back to shore. Val blames himself, with the telling of his story alternating between his present-tense voice and regression to that of his childhood self. Following their daughter’s tragic death, the Jamisons almost immediately abandoned their house, despite the fact that Caroline’s body had not yet been found, and while it initially seemed like Val was recovering from his traumatic experience, that wasn’t the case. We don’t get any specific details on Val’s behavior, just Myra’s wrap-up explanation that “he started acting so strange, and they had to give up on him. I heard they put him in that hospital” (201), though he escaped from the hospital to go back home and find his sister’s body. Angie relies on her connection with Val and their blossoming relationship to try to talk some sense into him, but is unsuccessful, and he locks them all in the old house’s attic and sets it on fire. Creepy Eldon ends up being an unlikely hero, showing up to check on the kids with a ladder luckily stowed in his truck, which allows them to climb down through the attic windows. Much like the ocean claims Johnny at the end of Bury Me Deep when he dies on the coral outcropping, in Spring Break, Val turns to the ocean for comfort and release, swimming out into the dangerous and storm-tossed seas, presumably in the hope of finally being reunited with his sister. 

Neither of these beach vacations were quite what the teens had in mind and they get a different kind of excitement than they expected, as mystery and murder take the place of fun in the sun. While they have set out looking for a break from the worries and stresses of their everyday lives, they find that horrible things happen in even the most beautiful of places, often leaving a dark legacy behind. While ghostly intervention may offer some clues and potential paths forward, the first step is to figure out who’s ACTUALLY a ghost: in Bury Me Deep, Jean is certain that Mike was alive on the plane, a tragic but real encounter, while the ghostly voices of Spring Break are Val all along, and these revelations hold the clues to solving their respective mysteries. The rules for surviving a teen horror spring break seem to be pretty straightforward: stick close to your friends despite whatever romantic intrigues and conflicts threaten to separate you, don’t jump to conclusions about who’s a ghost and who isn’t, and stay away from handsome strangers. icon-paragraph-end

About the Author

Alissa Burger


Alissa Burger is an associate professor at Culver-Stockton College in Canton, Missouri. She writes about horror, queer representation in literature and popular culture, graphic novels, and Stephen King. She loves yoga, cats, and cheese.
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