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Literature / Goat Dance

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Don't go in the house alone. That's exactly what it wants.

Goat Dance is a 1989 horror novel by Douglas Clegg. Set in late 1986 through early 1987, Goat Dance tells the story of Malcolm "Cup" Coffey; an underachiever who, as the story begins is recovering from an alcoholic bender following the abrupt demise of his teaching career. Cup is also suffering from vivid recurring nightmares which, at the urging of his therapist, he is recording in a diary he calls his "nightmare journal." Cup's past is even darker than his present, however. Twelve years earlier, while Cup was a high school student at a prestigious prep school in Pontefract, Virginia, he and his family were forced to leave town following Cup's involvement in a tragic accident. When Cup receives a cryptic phone call from the person he was with on that fateful night, it pulls him out of his tailspin and he returns to Pontefract determined to face what he has been running from for over a decade.


Meanwhile, Pontefract has a new local celebrity: a little girl who returned from the dead. Following resuscitation after drowning, Theodora "Teddy" Amory seemingly displays psychic powers that her mother is determined to profit on and which, unbeknownst to either of them, Teddy's older brother has sinister plans for...

On their separate journeys through the sleepy antebellum town, Cup and Teddy encounter the town's bizarre, often cruel denizens in both natural and unnatural forms, unaware of the true horror awaiting them at the ancient eldritch location known as the Goat Dance...


This work contains examples of the following:

  • The '80s: The era in which the book is written and peppered with cultural references thereof.
  • Abusive Parents: Billy Bates, a child whose behavior bears all the hallmarks of an up-and-coming serial killer, indicates that his behavior is a reflection of regular beatings he receives at the hands of his father.
    • Clare Cammack, who was raped by her father, maybe...
    • Tommy Mckenzie Jr. is so psychologically and physically dominated by his violent father that he doesn't even question it anymore and just assumes all families work the same way his does.
  • Adult Fear: Clare Cammack, after experiencing a failed marriage and watching her sister die during a miscarriage, must now care for her father alone as he slips away due to Alzheimer's Disease.
  • The Alcoholic: Cup teeters dangerously close to the precipice, staying sober most of the time but remaining drunk for days on end when feeling defeated or depressed.
    • Tommy Mckenzie Sr. is one of the abusive variety.
    • Waren Whalen: a sleazy womanizer who is also the town drunk.
  • Alien Geometries: The interior of the Marlow-Houston House comes to resemble something out of a Salvador Dalí and then it keeps getting worse from there.
  • Alliterative Name: Clare Cammack, Cup Coffey, Warren Whalen.
  • And I Must Scream: The Eater Of Souls keeps Theodora locked in a permanent epileptic seizure.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Background characters frequently step up to helm their own viewpoint chapters. But since Anyone Can Die and Zombie Apocalypse are in effect this is frequently A Death In The Limelight.
  • And Then John Was a Zombie: Happens to most of the cast!
  • Anxiety Dreams: Cup has nightmares about children who are buried in the ground up to their necks where he murders them with a lawnmower, probably due to the fact that he once killed a boy. He parts ways with his therapist over it when the latter writes the lawnmower off as being symbolic of Cup's phallus. It turns out the therapist is right.
  • Anyone Can Die
  • Apocalyptic Log: Worthy Houston's 19th century diary which chronicles his own battles with the Eater Of Souls.
    • Cup Coffey's "Nightmare Book" which comprises much of the novel's narration.
    • Warren Whalen's audio cassette. Being Wrong Genre Savvy, he thinks he'll use it to catch either a blackmailer or practical joker in the act. Instead he records his own gruesome death.
  • Arc Words: "What kind of monster are you?"
    • "Do you know what it feels like to burn from the inside out?"
    • "He says you cheat." - An utterance that always signifies that the enemy - specifically Bart Kinter - have arrived.
    • "Pipe thing!"
  • Asshole Victim: Pontefract, Virginia is home to so many sleazy, loathsome people that it's almost easier to count the victims this trope doesn't apply to. Nevertheless, there are some stand-outs:
    • Bart Kinter: school bully and would-be rapist. While his death is technically an accident, the Goatman already had him marked and turns him undead almost instantly.
    • Howie Mccormick: a pervert who stalks his crush by stealing her love letters and masturbating to them, and then bombarding her with harassing phone calls. The Goatman's minion, Jake Amory, drowns Howie in a toilet full of his own vomit.
    • Warren Whalen: a drunken womanizer who caused his wife's death when the shock of discovering his affair with her sister triggered a fatal miscarriage. The undead use illusions to compel him to scratch his own skin off.
  • Attempted Rape: Bart Kinter to Lily Cammack when he learns the latter has had abortions. He doesn't actually go through with it, at least according to Lily. In undead form, he is successful, however, and boasts that he has essentially kept her as an undead sex slave all these years. This may, however, just be an illusion the Eater Of Souls creates to mess with Cup.
    • Undead!Mr. Cammack to Clare, preying upon the latter's either repressed or false memory of a similar encounter when she was a child.
  • Battle in the Center of the Mind
  • Big Good: Surprisingly, Prescott Nagle turns out to be this. In his last moments he figures out how to meld the last survivors into a crude hivemind, better able to resist the Eater Of Soul's undead one.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The Eater Of Souls is defeated, but at the cost of Sheriff Connally, Dr. Nagle, and Lyle Boydston's lives, Clare's eyesight, and the countless other casualties among the townsfolk.
  • Broken Bird: Clare Cammack: the dissolution of her marriage, a destructive affair with her brother in law, the death of her sister and unborn nephew, and her father's mental deterioration have all done a number on her.
  • Cain and Abel: Clare and Lily Cammack. Younger Lily is doted on, to the point that their father even refers to Lily as his "good" daughter. It messes with them both in its own way.
  • The Can Kicked Him: One victim is in the bathroom recovering from throwing up when an assailant enters behind him and drowns him in the toilet. Later, a teenaged trespasser in the Marlowe-Houston House stops to use the floor toilet in the basement and is promptly yanked down it to his death.
  • Casanova Wannabe: Warren Whalen
  • Chekhov's Gun: Prescott's lighter.
  • Chekhov's Lecture: Throughout the story, Prescott can never remember the word "lighter." He uses this confusion to his advantage during the climax in order to resist the Goatman's mental probing, thus rendering it unable to stop him from using the lighter to ignite the methane gas within its lair. He even manages to invoke this trope twice simultaneously, repeating a poem he recited earlier in the novel in order to stay focused and complete the task at hand.
  • Closed Circle: After learning the truth about Lily from Prescott, Cup attempts to head back home but is stopped by the sheriff, who comes to inform him that Lily's husband has been murdered.
  • Cool Teacher: Dr. Prescott Nagle: he's the one teacher at Pontefract Prep that all the students like and won't mess with. As head of the local Historical Society, he's a walking encyclopedia of knowledge about the town, and the one person who is taking its mysterious happenings seriously.
  • Covers Always Lie - The original paperback edition had a frontispiece painting depicting a goat-headed demon presiding over tormented souls burning in a lake of fire. While this image is thematically appropriate to the story, it's not what actually happens. Later editions, such as the one depicted above, correct this by focusing on the Marlowe-Houston House where many of the story's crucial events take place.
  • Demonic Possession: Theodora Amory is convinced that her powers are the result of this. Ironically, her brother is afflicted with a truer version and said entity needs Theodora for its plans.
    • Cup Coffey, when the Goatman enters him and tries to force him to eat Theodora alive. It is likely that this is also what was happening when Worthy Houston raped his sister, except he managed to snap out of it afterward.
  • Doomed Hometown: Inverted. Pontefract's destruction is caused by Cup's return instead of provoking his departure.
  • The Dragon: Jake Amory serves as this to the Eater Of Souls at first, but is eventually eaten once it gains enough strength to act on its own. Bart Kinter is also implied to have once served this role before Cup accidentally killed him.
  • Evil Redhead: Jake Amory
  • Evil vs. Evil: The cruel, violent Pontefract settlers and the equally cruel, violent Natives whom they war with work together to exterminate the Tenebro tribe who are worse than all of them.
  • Face Your Fears: The Eater Of Souls likes to go after people using the bodies of their loved ones while manifesting hallucinations of the victims' fears and bad memories of said loved ones.
  • Fan Disservice: If a female character becomes a zombie, it's highly likely she will engage in coitus or appear nude at some point.
  • Faux Affably Evil: The Eater Of Souls and its minions revel in this trope. They put up a friendly face to lure the loved ones of the people whose corpses they use, but they get mean quick.
  • Groin Attack: One victim is rendered unconscious by having his scrotum squeezed and punctured by an undead minion.
  • Haunted House: The Marlowe-Houston House: a mansion built on the edge of the Goat Dance and the preferred base of operations for the Goat Dance's denizens.
  • Hive Mind: The undead servants of the Eater Of Souls function as this and can read the thoughts of the living.
  • Hope Spot: After the sheriff rescues Tommy and is confronting the Goatman in its Boy-Eating Spider form he menaces it with a road flare. It turns out the flare has gone bad, (the incompetent deputy Lyle failed to follow the replacement schedule,) and the sheriff is devoured as a result.
  • Horror Doesn't Settle for Simple Tuesday - The bad guys set their plan in motion as Pontefract's local Founder's Day holiday draws near.
  • I Have Many Names: The Goat Dance entity has gone by a variety of epithets throughout the centuries. Eater Of Souls, Mother Of Nightmares, and Goatman are the most popular. According to Virginia Houston, (speaking through Teddy Amory,) its true name is unpronounceable to humans.
  • I'm a Humanitarian: The Tenebro Indians engaged in cannibalistic rites upon the land that is now the Goat Dance.
  • Indian Burial Ground: Played completely straight to suprisingly good effect.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted with Lily Cammack's baby that dies in childbirth and Cappie Hartstone's children. Played straight with Teddy Amory who survives until the end.
  • It's the Only Way to Be Sure: By the end of the novel, both Teddy and Cup have learned that all of the Goat Dance needs to be destroyed, not just the house. The story ends with them lighting it on fire.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Eater Of Souls' zombie bodies exude flammable natural gas.
  • Laughing Mad: Deputy Boydston, after escaping from the undead.
  • Living MacGuffin: Teddy Amory: The Eater Of Souls needs her in order to serve as the door through which it will enter our world. Cup is the key to open the door, and thus serves as the second half of what is really a two-piece Living MacGuffin.
  • The Load: Clare Cammack. She leaves the group and promptly gets herself and Tommy captured, spends most of the final fight helpless, and then doesn't really contribute to it once she's rescued.
  • The Lost Lenore: Prescott Nagle never remarried following the death of his wife Cassie forty years earlier. Her suitor, Gower Lowery never got over it either. The Eater Of Souls takes advantage of this in its dealings with both of them.
    • Cup can't have healthy relationships with women because he's still in love with Lily Cammack, whom he hasn't had contact with in twelve years and who could be dead for all he knows. He later learns that she is.
  • Madness Mantra: "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out..."
  • Malaproper - Teddy once mispronounced "apocalypse" as "pocket lips" and her brother Jake, being the jerk ass that he is, took the term and ran with it.
    • The Goat Dance itself got its name due to the Pontefract settlers being like this. "Goat Dance" is a bastardization of "Ghost Dance," referring to the rites once held by the Tenebro Indians upon the site.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane: An unusual example: that the Eater Of Souls is supernatural is not questioned, but it is ambiguous whether the phantasmagoria it creates are magic illusions, real creatures/objects, hallucinations brought on by the toxic gas, or a combination thereof.
  • Meaningful Name: It makes sense that an entity that haunts a place called Goat Dance would be called the Goatman. the name GOATMAN is actually an acronym; each letter standing for the first initial of one of its earliest victims.
  • Mirror Match: When Cup faces the Eater Of Souls for the last time, he sees it as a corrupted version of himself, bearing physical stigmata of all of his mental anguish from the last twelve years. Subverted in that Cup doesn't actually try to fight it. He just chooses to burn to death, forcing it to burn to death with him and prevent it from advancing upon Teddy.
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: Malcolm Coffey. He prefers to be called Cup.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: Like most zombies, they give off toxic odors, display rot, mortal wounds, and worse, and live only to relentlessly feed upon the flesh of the living. But they can also use a form of glamour to appear intact, shapeshift into other deceased individuals or even monsters, and make up a Hive Mind that is either created by or comprises an Eldritch Abomination.
  • Outrun the Fireball
  • Phone Call from the Dead: Sets the plot in motion for Cup Coffey and later lures several other characters to their deaths.
  • Reality Is Unrealistic - When Tommy and his friend Rick go to get a look at a real murder scene Rick is disappointed that it doesn't look more like a crime scene on TV. Tommy calls him on it.
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Quite a few of the townsfolk fall for the beckonings of their dead relatives. There are quite a few others who don't and who leave the town when things begin to get bad.
  • Snow Means Death: Pontefract's Zombie Apocalypse begins as the town is facing its worst snow storm in over forty years.
  • The Starscream: Deputy Lyle Boydston: son of Pontefract's previous sheriff. He dreams of being a hero and deposing the current sheriff.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting
  • Vagina Dentata: Both male and female undead can manifest these.
  • Vomit Indiscretion Shot: If the book had ended immediately after the scene where Howie Mccormick enters his bathroom, it would still be considered a horror novel.
    • Happens practically any time Sheriff Connally encounters something gruesome, to the point that it's almost a running gag, no pun intended.
  • Wham Line: Cup's call from Lily shocks Prescott into telling Cup the truth bluntly: Lily died a year ago.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Deputy Lyle's wife works the switchboard at the sheriff's office. She skips out when things begin to get crazy, but it is not revealed what happened to her after that.
    • Sheriff Connally's wife winds up hospitalized. Her fate after that is not revealed.
  • White Hair, Black Heart: Bart Kinter
  • Womb Level: By the time Cup reaches the floor toilet/septic tank in the Marlowe-Houston cellar it has become this.
  • Wretched Hive: Pontefract. Its genteel Southern charm conceals a teaming mass of wife beaters, drunks, and malicious gossips.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: And Cup muses that it's better if no one does.
  • Zombie Apocalypse: Based on what happens in Pontefract, it's likely that the Goatman's emergence into our world would cause this.

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