Rereading My Childhood — Goosebumps: Go Eat Worms! by R. L. Stine
It seems that many of my peers have failed to move past eighth grade. Like many people, I went through a true crime phase while acclimating to different classrooms for different subjects. I read about Jack the Ripper, the Black Dahlia, and even put the Cecil Hotel on my bucket list. I entertained the idea of joining the FBI to hunt down serial killers. But like many of my obsessions, only pieces have remained. I still love Silence of the Lambs and read the occasional true crime book. And my true crime reading has ventured outside of serial killers — just one-time murderers also.
Now there is a certain group of people who buy memorabilia with Pogo the Clown and Dahmer. Recent streaming series exacerbate this unhealthy obsession, and actors are awarded for their glorification of serial killers. Gacy and Dahmer existed, but, more importantly, their victims existed. Their families still exist, and they see the disgusting hero worship of sociopaths. These sociopaths destroyed their lives and Karen is over here calling for more gore in the Netflix Dahmer series.
Though to be fair, I do collect serial killer memorabilia, but Hannibal Lecter is actually Anthony Hopkins — Oscar Award Winning Actor. Jason Voorhees is fictional and so are his victims. What I’m proposing is that the hero worship for real murderers should be transferred to movie monsters whose victims don’t have families you can run into at Wal-Mart. The only reason anyone would be upset if you go to the murder site of Crispin Glover’s character in Friday the 13th Part IV: The Final Chapter is because it’s a sound stage in California and they have to film a segment of The Kelly Clarkson Show.
To the people who troll Etsy for a bracelet modeled after Ed Gein’s nipple belt, I’d like to introduce you to a fake child sociopath you can worship instead.
Todd Barstow likes worms in the same way a serial killer likes victims — he likes to keep them in a small habitat of his choosing and do macabre experiments with them. And like any murderer still on the loose, he’s hunting for more.
His best friend, Danny Fletcher, helps him get more worms. A school-wide science fair is coming up and Todd’s project is about worms. He built them a replica of a house with the side cut out so you can see worm families go from room to room. Again, I don’t understand these science fair projects. What is the question being answered? How little effort can I put into the project and still get a C?
Danny’s project is no better. It’s a model of the solar system. What’s the question? What does the solar system look like without any consideration for scale?
Todd’s sister, Regina, and her best friend, Beth, are also participating in the science fair. They’re making a papier-mâché robin. Are birds made out of pulp and glue? Only this project can answer the tough questions!
Anyway, while Todd and Danny dig up more victims, the ground begins to shake! It’s a quake!
Todd and Danny run into the lunchroom, proving that they don’t live near the San Andreas Fault. No one felt the earthquake — it was localized entirely at Todd’s worm-hunting spot. Everyone laughs at them, and then Regina tells Todd to go eat worms, giving us a book title. Todd does not eat worms but instead puts a worm in Regina’s soup.
Later, Todd and Danny see another student, Patrick MacKay, digging up worms in Todd’s special spot. They confront him and it turns out Patrick is also doing a science fair project on worms that isn’t actually a science fair project. It’s pretty much the exact same project, only with a larger habitat.
Then there’s another earthquake that only they can feel. Once again, no one believes them.
Todd can’t believe that Patrick did the same project and he wants to sabotage it, instead of, you know, just working hard on his project so it’s better. This is the first in Todd’s psychotic behavior. Regina tells him where Patrick lives and, once again, Todd enlists Danny in his extreme actions. They literally break into Patrick’s huge house — not even a dog attack can deter them. Then they rummage through the kitchen and find a ghoul sitting by the window.
The duo bolt from the house and return home. Todd overhears Regina speaking with Beth. Regina gave him the wrong address on purpose!
“I sent them to the old Fosgate mansion,” Regina told Beth. She laughed. “Yeah. Right. That old deserted mansion where those kids had that Halloween party. Yeah. You know. They left that dummy with the weird mask in the window.”
Instead of letting it go and getting into vintage cartoons, Todd vows revenge on his sister. And he has the perfect opportunity at the science fair.
Patrick’s project is a huge worm skyscraper. The teachers put the two next to each other, beckoning comparison. The judges barely speak to Todd about his worm house. However, they ask Patrick a bunch of questions about the worm skyscraper, including, “How many worms are there in total?” and “Can worms survive in a real skyscraper?” Bitch, what do you think? Do you think it’s a real skyscraper? Where’d the school get these judges? The Facebook Marketplace? Where psychological professionals can hire bikini girls to trick stupid lifeguards?
Meanwhile, with Danny’s planet project, Pluto has been popped and the rings of Saturn have fallen off.
When the judges get to Regina’s project, they open the mouth of the sculpture and worms pour out to Todd’s sociopathic delight. Who cares how his sister feels? The only thing that matters is his happiness. Todd doesn’t feel any remorse — not even for a second. He is happy he ruined the project his sister worked hard on.
In the end, after the Facebook judges deliberate, the grand-prize winner is Danny and his Balloon Solar System. He successfully proved that Pluto can deflate, which is why it isn’t a planet anymore. Todd can’t be happy for anyone, so when his friend flashes a thumbs-up, Todd turns his back to him. Then Regina tackles Todd into the worm skyscraper and they tumble into another display.
“No!” a girl screamed. “That’s Liquids and Gases! Look out — it’s Liquids and Gases!”
Just a random girl expressing disdain for the most hated heel duo in ’90s wrestling. They’re fighting The Road Warriors at Wrestlemania.
Luckily, no one is hurt when Liquids and Gases combine. The only casualties are a few worms. Todd doesn’t seem to care — he thinks it’s kind of funny.
A few days later, Todd wants to make amends with Regina and Beth, but even his attempts at human decency are a horror show. He invites them to his room and cuts a worm in half.
All three of them stared at the tabletop as the two worm halves wriggled off in different directions.
“See?” Todd cried, laughing. “Now there are two of them!”
“Sick. Really sick,” his sister muttered.
“That’s really gross, Todd,” Beth agreed, shaking her head.
“But wouldn’t it be cool if people could do that?” Todd exclaimed. “You know. Your bottom half goes to school, and your top half stays home and watches TV!”
“Hey! Look at that!” Regina cried suddenly. She pointed to the glass worm tank.
“Huh? What?” Todd demanded, lowering his eyes to the worms.
“Those worms — they were watching you!” Regina exclaimed. “See? They’re sort of staring at you.”
I’m sure they don’t enjoy watching arthropod Saw.
The next morning, Mrs. Barstow wakes up Todd personally because they can’t afford a second clock radio and they need to save up money for Todd’s impending legal tribulations. Then she worries if he’s “a grunge” because he wears a hat. Yes. Kurt Cobain was famous for wearing baseball caps. Eddie Vedder can’t leave without his bowler.
Anyway, Todd puts on his cap and it’s filled with worms, and they fall all over him. He accuses Regina of the least effective shower, but she insists she didn’t do it. Todd also finds a worm in his milk. Again, he accuses Regina, and, again, she insists she didn’t do it.
At school, Todd laughs at a kid who falls out of their chair and hits their head. Then he almost eats a worm that is in his sandwich. Todd thinks that maybe Patrick is perpetrating these worm attacks, but it turns out Patrick is just creating his own comic strip called “THE ADVENTURES OF TODD THE WORM.” Finally, Todd’s school notebook is inundated with worms. Despite all these events, Todd continues to dig for worms in his special spot.
Lastly, Todd’s bed contains worms. Once again, he blames Regina, but his mother informs him that Regina is at a sleepover. Todd makes a plea to the worms.
“Listen, guys, I’m really sorry,” Todd said, speaking softly. He didn’t want his voice to carry upstairs. If his mom or dad heard him talking to the worms, they’d know he was totally Looney Tunes.
“I’m really sorry about what happened,” he told them. “I mean, about cutting that one in half. It will never happen again. I promise.”
He takes a bath and worms pour out of the faucets! Not really. He imagined them, but he still thinks he needs to get to the bottom of the worm mystery — and he has a plan. Don’t get too excited. The plan is to watch the worms all night.
We are not subjected to pages of worm activities because his father finds him obsessing over the worms immediately. His father orders Todd to give up the worms and return them to the garden. Honestly, it’s probably best for everyone — including the worms.
After all that, Todd overhears Regina talking to Beth. It turns out that Regina put the worms in Todd’s food, notebook, and bed. Once again, instead of letting it go and getting into model cars, Todd vows the ultimate revenge.
Todd goes back to his spot to dig for more worms with Danny. Suddenly, there’s another earthquake and the ground opens up.
And as the ground shook and the rumbling rose to a roar, Todd and Danny both realized that they were gaping in horror at a giant worm.
A worm as thick as a tree trunk.
The worm attacks Todd. Instead of letting Todd go with the worm and befriending Patrick, Danny saves Todd with an assist from Regina and Beth’s science project bird. They scare the mother worm back into the ground with the fake bird. The next day, Todd dumps all his worms in the garden and gets a new hobby.
What’s his new hobby, you may ask? Model trains? Power Rangers? K-pop photocards? It’s none of those. He gets into butterflies.
Oh, that’s nice. Well, not really. Todd is still a walking red flag. He traps butterflies, kills them with chloroform, and then pins them to a board. It’s not a hobby for Todd unless something dies.
Then, one night, Todd gazed up from his work table — and uttered a horrified cry as he saw the big creature fluttering toward him.
An enormous butterfly.
As big as a bedsheet!
Carrying an enormous silver pin.
“What are you going to do?” Todd cried.
Get ’em, Mothra!
We all knew the kid who enjoyed cutting worms in half and burning ants with a magnifying glass, and we stayed the fuck away from him. Todd’s behavior is horrific even for a kid. And it’s not just his behavior with animals. Patrick is perfectly nice to him and he still holds a ludicrous amount of animosity toward him. Regina is his family and he has little to no regard for her feelings. Not even his friends are free from his ire. Instead of being happy for his friend for winning the science fair, he chooses to literally turn his back on his friend. Todd is a villain.
But he isn’t real. He’s a character in a Goosebumps book. There’s no issue if someone wants a duo of bracelets with worms and TODD BARSTOW emblazoned on them. So please, true crime girlies whose tattoos pay homage to society’s greatest monsters, switch to this fictional character. Just think — this kid is bound for a permanent address at a federal correctional facility by the time he’s 35. You can pretend to be his one and only pen pal, instead of one of many.
And stop going to crime sites. Go to a fucked up museum instead.
Rereading My Childhood is written by me, Amy A. Cowan. For a list of every Baby-Sitters Club, Goosebumps, and Fear Street book review I have written and to subscribe to my Substack, go to RereadingMyChildhood.com. To listen to the official podcast, visit the website or search for “Rereading My Childhood” in your favorite podcast app. For more information about me, visit AmyACowan.com.