The Troop by Nick Cutter is a dark horror story of a group of young people which has been abandoned on a presumably deserted island. Usually, the island was deserted at the time when Scoutmaster Tim took his five boys on a planned three-day outing. They had food, a radio for emergency communications, and the use of a deserted shack for shelter. During the evening of the first night when most of the boys were just falling asleep, an uninvited stranger appeared on the island. The boys and Tim had heard the motor of his small boat as he landed. The man looked almost skeletal except for an extended stomach. And he was hungry. He ate everything offered by Tim and slept a bit. Tim, a doctor when he wasn’t being a scoutmaster, judged Thomas Padgett to be ill. Following the Hippocratic Oath, Tim felt bound to treat the stranger but he also thought something was strange and could possibly be dangerous for the boys so he initially locked the boys in their bedroom
The stranger’s body was dissolving from the inside. As Tim tried to treat the man, he could not avoid some of the fluids that Thomas coughed up and sprayed on Tim. Knowing that he was dealing with a strange, possibly contagious, situation, Tim ordered the five scouts to embark on a planned orienteering hike of the island. Tim had planned to lead them but felt he had to stay back to treat the dying Thomas. The stranger wanted to do nothing but eat and would eat anything: tree bark, insects, dirt, algae, and anything he could fit into his mouth. This would lead to a rupture of the stomach but Thomas would continue to eat despite the pain. He would eat until he burst and died. Until the worms came out and sought a new host, like Tim.
The five scouts obeyed Tim and left on their hike. There was Kent, the natural leader. Everyone obeyed Kent because it just seemed logical to do so. There was Newton, the nerd. He was accepted by the group but would have managed if he were rejected. He would just read more. There was Max, the survivalist. He was creative and a problem solver. There was Shelley, who was considered weird by other members of the group. He was quiet and not disruptive, but the other scouts did not know of his love for disassembling things, such as insects, cats, and other living things. There was Ephraim who was a fighter and always ready with his fists. He usually didn’t disagree with Kent which was a good thing. Ephraim was violent in a way different from Shelley, he was openly violent.
Author Cutter develops each of his characters well (maybe not the stranger, but he expires early). As the boys go on their hike, the reader will see the backstories for each of the young people. How did they get to form this scout group? Are they all friends? What conflicts exist in the group. We know Ephraim and Max are close friends. What other bonds exist?
When the boys return to the cabin from their hike, they can’t initially find Scoutmaster Tim. He knows he is sick, he knows he is a danger to the scouts. He has hidden and barricaded himself in a closet where he eats wallpaper and passing insects until he eventually bursts and dies. And then the worms came out and sought a new host, like the boys.
From here the story follows a path that is sort of predictable. We know that some of the boys will die. Maybe they all will die. We know that there must be some reaction from a population that is not on the island. When the stranger arrived on his boat, he disabled it so the boys could not get back to the mainland. There was a scheduled pickup by a mainland fisherman but he didn’t show up after the day three scheduled event. He couldn’t because the military had arrived and sealed the island in a quarantine attempt. But parents knew about the boys’ trip and they wanted to get their children back even if they had to mount a rescue attempt. But the military wouldn’t let them do that.
The path of the story is predictable but Cutter keeps our attention through the very graphic descriptions of the destruction caused by the worms. Cutter also does a great job of examining the psychological make-up of the boys and how it changes for each boy as the boys come to accept the fact of their imminent death. And earlier formed relationships change drastically.
And then there is the surprise ending. After all the horror described, there is still a surprise ending. Unfortunately for humanity and our place in the world, it has elements of reality and possibility.