Bored, restless, privileged teenagers Sandy, David, and Peter meet while vacationing with their families on remote Greensward Island. The two boys, both sixteen, are immediately entranced by Sandy’s beauty and frank sexuality.
Over the course of the summer, the trio creates an illicit teenage paradise far removed from adult supervision. Stolen beers and lustful teasing lead to more nefarious games, however, when Rhoda appears. Shy, quiet, and unsophisticated, the fifteen-year-old desperately wants to fit in with her more glamorous peers. Her awkwardness brings out a vicious cruel streak in Sandy, who has David and Peter so tightly wrapped around her finger they’ll do whatever she wants—even if it means destroying an innocent life.
A fearless, unflinching portrait of youth gone wild, Last Summer was the basis for an Academy Award–nominated film starring Barbara Hershey, Bruce Davison, Richard Thomas, and Catherine Burns. Originally published in 1968 and heralded by Cosmopolitan as “the most chilling novel of this—or any—autumn,” Last Summer transforms a coming-of-age story into a dark and twisted fable and confirms Evan Hunter’s reputation as a master of suspense.
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By Evan Hunter
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1968 Evan Hunter
All rights reserved.
We spent last summer, when I was just sixteen, on an island mistakenly named Greensward, its shores only thinly vegetated with beach grass and plum, its single forest destroyed by fire more than twenty years before. There were perhaps fifty summer homes on the island, most of them gray and clustered safely on the bay side, the remainder strung out along the island's flanks and on the point jutting insanely into the Atlantic.
It was there that the sea was wildest. It was there that we first met Sandy.
She was standing close to the shoreline as David and I came up the beach behind her, spume exploding on her left, pebbles rolling and tossing in a muddy backwash, a tall girl wearing a white bikini, her hair the color of the dunes, a pale gold that fell loose and long about her face. Her head was studiously bent. Hands on hips, legs widespread, she stood tense and silent, studying something in the sand at her feet. It was a very hot day. The sky over the ocean seemed stretched too tight. An invisible sun seared the naked beach, turning everything intensely white, the bursting waves dissolving into foam, the glaring sky, the endless stretch of sand, the girl standing motionless, her pale hair only faintly stirring. We approached on her left, walking between her and the ocean, turning for a look at her face, her small breasts in the scanty bra top, the gentle curve of her hips above the white bikini pants, the long line of her legs.
The thing lying at her feet in the sand was a sea gull.
"He's still alive," she said suddenly, and raised her head to meet our gaze.
Her eyes were a vivid blue, set wide, her nose narrow, flaring suddenly at the nostrils, combining with a full upper lip that curled outward and away from her teeth to give her face a feral look. I guessed she was about fifteen years old. We looked down at the gull. He was a large bird, gray and white. His eyes were closed. He kept working his beak, as though trying to suck in air.
"Yes, he's alive," David said.
We were standing with the sun behind us. David was taller than I last summer, a strapping six-footer who'd been lifting weights for four years, ever since he was twelve. I'd always liked his looks, from the first day I met him. He had broad shoulders even then, a narrow waist, chest and abdominal muscles as clean as Alley Oop's. His eyes were blue, flecked with white, his hair a dusty blond. He had good features, too, and a strong jaw and brow; he looked solid and reliable. My own appearance last summer suggested a sort of vague maturity. I was trying very hard to achieve a sophisticated look, so I wore my brown hair long and combed sideways across my forehead, almost hiding my eyes, which were also brown. But my nose was growing faster than the rest of my face, and my mouth was sprinkled with acne at one corner, and it was pretty difficult to maintain a cool against such odds.
"Get out of the sun," the girl said, "he needs the sun."
"Can't you see he's dying?"
"What's that got to do with the sun?"
"What happened to him, anyway?" David asked.
"I don't know. I was just walking along, and there he was."
"Which house are you in?" I asked.
"Up the beach. The Stern house."
"What's your name?" David said.
"I'm David. This is Peter."
"Hi," I said.
"Hi. Will you help me take him off the beach?"
"Get him out of the sun," Sandy said.
David and I looked at each other.
"Gulls are pretty dirty animals," David said.
"He'll die if we don't help him," Sandy said.
"He'll die anyway," I said.
"Never mind, I'll do it myself," Sandy said.
She brushed a strand of hair away from her face, getting sand on her cheek, and then walked off toward the dune while David and I watched. She almost fell climbing the dune, but neither of us dared laugh. She disappeared into the tall beach grass and came back with a large weathered shingle which she carried directly to where the bird was lying on his back in the sand. She did not look at us. Her face was very serious as she bent over the bird and started to shove the shingle under him. The bird gave a shriek just then, and tried to flap his wings. Sandy dropped the shingle, and screamed. She started to turn, and then in her haste merely back-pedaled away from the noisy bird, her eyes wide, her mouth still open around the scream.
"You rats," she said, standing at a respectable distance from the bird, who was now silent, "why won't you help me?"
"Because we don't want to get bit," I said.
"You can get rabies from those damn things," David said.
"Oh, rabies, my ass," Sandy said, and walked back to the gull again, frowning. Gingerly, she picked up the shingle and then cautiously edged it under the bird, who remained motionless and silent this time. Holding him out at arm's length on the shingle, she began walking toward the dune again. We followed her. The bird attempted to flap his wings again, but all he could manage was a weak flutter. All the while, he kept sucking in air, his beak working. When my grandmother was dying of cancer at New York Hospital, she looked the same way. My father said to me in the corridor outside, "Your grandmother is dying," and I said, "I know," but all could think of was how disgusting she looked trying to suck in air through her open mouth.
Sandy walked up over the dune and then onto the boardwalk, a narrow path about two feet wide, made up of wooden slats loosely strung together. David and I kept following her at a distance, perhaps ten feet or so behind her. When she reached her house, she climbed up onto the deck, put the gull on his shingle down in the shade, walked to the screen door, turned to us before she opened it, and said, "Watch him. I'll be right back."
The screen door banged shut behind her. We turned to watch the bird. Nothing happened. That is, nothing different. He didn't shriek again, or try to flap his wings, but neither did he die. He simply lay there on his shingle, moving his beak spasmodically, trying to suck in air. The surf was extremely rough that day. The Stern house, which Sandy was living in that summer, was up on a dune perhaps a hundred yards from the shore. I could hear the waves pounding in, and then echoing on the air, a strange vast hollow sound, like voices in an angry argument very far away.
"He'll die," David said.
"Mm." I was thinking of my grandmother. I had never liked her, anyway.
"I wonder what happened to him."
"Maybe he flew into something."
"What could he have flown into?"
"Maybe," David said.
We kept looking down at the gull.
"What do you suppose she's doing in there?"
"I don't know."
"Maybe we ought to split."
"No, let's see if he dies," David said.
Sandy came out about five minutes later with an old towel and a bowl of hot soup. She bent over the gull and wrapped him in the towel, holding the poor bird's wings against his body while she did so. Then she took out a spoon she had tucked into the bra part of her bikini, dipped some soup out of the bowl, and carefully brought it to the gull's beak.
"You've got to be kidding," David said.
"Shut up," Sandy said.
"She thinks she's in a Walt Disney movie."
"You're only going to kill him quicker," David said.
"He's in shock," Sandy answered, and tilted the soup into his open beak. Naturally, the bird gave another shriek. She backed away from him again, but she wasn't quite as frightened this time, maybe because he was all wrapped up in the towel and couldn't move.
"See?" she said, as if she had proved some idiotic point.
"Yeah, he doesn't like it," David said.
"Gulls like everything," Sandy said. "They eat all kinds of crap," and glanced toward the screen door. I figured her mother was inside the house. "See?" she said, forcing more soup down his throat. "He does like it."
"He's going to have convulsions any minute," I said.
"No, he won't."
"Besides, gulls are scavengers. You should let him die."
"Sure," David said. "They're like sharks."
"He's a sweet old bird," Sandy said, and fed him another spoonful of soup.
"Wait'll that sweet old bird bites you," David said.
"What kind of soup is that?" I asked.
"It smells good."
"You can have what's left over."
"Thanks, from his mouth?"
"What're you gonna do with that damn bird, anyway?" David asked.
"Make him my pet."
"What'll he do, sleep at the foot of your bed?"
"What'll you name him? Rover?"
Sandy didn't even look up at us. She merely kept spooning soup into the bird's mouth. I was sure he would choke at any moment. Finally, she put down the spoon and the bowl, and stood up, and nodded, and walked toward the screen door again. "Watch him," she said, and again she went inside. We looked at the bird. He didn't look any better than he had on the beach.
"I give him about ten minutes," David said.
"That soup sure smells good."
"Why don't you finish it?" David said, and gave me an elbow and a grin.
"Yeah, yeah." I looked at the gull again. "You think its a male?"
"I don't know."
"How can you tell if it is or not?"
"The males have pricks, same as you and me."
"Shh," I said, and glanced toward the screen door.
David shrugged, "When he dies," he said, "we'll take a look."
"If he does."
"Oh, he'll die, all right."
"Not if she has anything to say about it."
"A sea gull for a pet," David said, and shook his head.
"I knew a girl at camp had a raccoon for a pet."
"Raccoons aren't sea gulls." He boosted himself up onto the deck railing. The sun was behind him, limning his head. He began humming. The bird gave a little peep just then, as though trying to sing along.
"When he dies," I said, "let's go over to The Captain's for some hamburgers."
"Okay," David said.
"You want to ask her to come?"
"She'll probably have to attend the funeral," David said.
The screen door swung open.
"Is he still alive?" Sandy asked.
"I figure another three or four minutes," David said, and winked at me.
"Go to hell," Sandy said. This time she did not bother to look toward the screen door. She was holding a long piece of clothesline in her hand.
"What're you gonna do with that?" I asked.
"You'll see," she said, and bent down over the bird again. His feet were sticking out of the bottom of the towel, he looked like a consumptive old man at a Turkish bath. Sandy knotted one end of the clothesline around his right leg, and then carried the other end to the deck railing. She looped it swiftly around one of the stanchions, made a double knot in it, stood up, put her hands on her hips and said, "There."
"Very good," David said. "You've got a half-dead bird tied to the deck railing."
"All I need now is a box," she said, and went into the house again.
"I think she's nuts," David said.
"I do, too. Let's split."
"Look at him."
We both looked. He was still working his beak, gasping for air, his eyes closed.
"What's that in his neck there?" David said.
"There, what is that thing?"
"Where? I don't see ..."
"Look at it! Can't you see it?"
"That's a fishhook. He's swallowed a fishhook!"
"Oh, man, that's disgusting."
"Sure, that's the tip sticking out of his neck!"
"God, look at that!"
"What is it?" Sandy said, rushing out of the house. The screen door slammed shut behind her. The deck was suddenly very still.
"He's got a fishhook caught in his throat," David said.
Sandy looked down at the gull. She was carrying a cardboard box which she dropped to the deck behind her. Then she knelt quietly beside the bird and stared at the protruding tip of the hook.
"I didn't see it," she said, "did you? I mean before?"
"No," David said.
"I didn't see it, either."
"But there's no blood."
"You'll have to take it out," Sandy said.
"Me?" David said. "You're out of your mind."
"Please," she said.
"I couldn't do it, really," she said. "I can't even take one out of a fish."
"Uh-uh, not me," David said.
"Peter?" she said, and looked up. I didn't answer at first. She kept looking at me, her eyes on my face, one hand extended toward me. "He'll die otherwise."
"So what?" David said. "He's just a crumby gull."
She did not take her eyes from me. Her voice had sounded doubtful, but her eyes were confident; she knew damn well I couldn't leave that hook in the bird's throat.
"All right," I said, "hold him."
"Who?" David said.
"I'll hold him," Sandy said.
"Never mind, I'll hold him," David said. "I swear to God, if he bites me ..."
"He won't bite you."
"Okay, let's do it already," I said.
"I'll hold his feet," Sandy said.
"We don't need anybody to hold his feet," David said. "Just get the hell out of the way." He made a move toward the bird's head, and just then the beak opened and closed again. He pulled his hand back, watching the bird warily. Then he reached out suddenly with both hands and grabbed the beak, immediately forcing it open. "Hurry up," he said, "pull the damn thing out."
I got the hook out pretty fast, considering. There wasn't any blood while it was still in the gull's throat, but the minute I eased it loose, the blood began to flow, pouring into the bird's ruff. David got some on his hands; I could just imagine how much that thrilled him. I kept thinking of my grandmother. I was wondering why someone hadn't stuck his hand down her open throat and pulled out the cancer, just the way I'd pulled out the hook. Sandy ran inside for peroxide and bandages, and finally we got the gull all cleaned up and bandaged and tucked away in his towel inside the cardboard box, with one leg tied to the porch railing.
So we asked Sandy, after all, if she'd like to have a hamburger with us down at The Captain's.
That Saturday night, they held a dance at the firehouse for all the teenage kids on the island.
The firehouse was down by the bay, the first thing you saw when you came over from the mainland. It was almost directly back of the ferry slip, and on the right of it was the post office, and on the left was the general store run by Mr. Porter, who everyone said was a millionaire, but which probably wasn't true. The firehouse was built in 1945 immediately after the big fire that destroyed the pine forest in the center of the island. The forest had always terrified me. I had been to it only once or twice, but it was the bleakest spot imaginable, with charred dead Australian pines, a ghostlike silence hanging over the entire place. Just miles and miles of burned-out trees, black and twisted against the sky, surrounded by stunted second growth.
The dance at the firehouse had about forty chaperones to supervise three-dozen kids. A table was set up just inside the door, with Mr. Gorham sitting behind it taking admissions, and with a little cash box near his right hand. We gave him fifty cents apiece (actually, David gave him a buck for both of us, knowing I'd square it with him later), and then we went in and stood close to the table; it's always difficult coming into a dance, even if you know all the kids there. A tall pretty girl was standing across the room, near the ladders hanging on the cinder-block wall. She didn't even look at us. She had red hair cut in bangs across her forehead and coming down to about the nape of her neck.
"Who's that?" I said.
"There. Near the ladders."
"I don't know."
We looked at her again, and she looked back at us this time and then let her gaze wander right past us. The expression on her face was very sophisticated and cool, as though she had only inadvertently stumbled into these teenage proceedings and was utterly bored to tears.
"Let's find out who she is," I said.
"Okay," David said, and shrugged, and we started across the room toward her. She was still being very blasé, her eyes smokily and lazily taking in the surroundings, her beautiful red hair clipped sharp and clean like a copper helmet — oh my, she just couldn't have cared less for all these grubby little children milling around. And then, when we were about three feet away from her, she suddenly turned toward us, her blue eyes snapping, her mouth twisting up into a triumphant little grin. She bent over almost double, the way a fast-draw gunslick does in a Western movie, slapped her thigh with one hand, drew an imaginary pistol, straight-armed it at us, and shouted, "Ha, got you!"
It was Sandy.
She looked great. In addition to the red wig, she was wearing a blue sweater and chinos, and she was barefoot, with a gold bracelet on her left ankle. We walked around her, appraising the wig. She did a little model's turn for us, with her head and nose tilted up, and then said, "What do you think?"
"Where'd you get it?"
"It's my mother's."
"It cost three hundred and fifty dollars."
"Where's your own hair?" I asked.
Excerpted from Last Summer by Evan Hunter. Copyright © 1968 Evan Hunter. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Just rediscovered this book. I have been searching for a long time. Memorable story of friends, rivals and jealousy . Bullies are nothing new when teens run loose without boundaries. Hope this story is as riveting as I remember .