Published: Misty 18 November 1978 – 3 February 1979
Artist: Eduardo Feito
Writer: Pat Mills
Reprints: Best of Misty Monthly 3
Lisa Harvey is a popular girl at school, and Jackie and Janis are her best friends. Life is not perfect for Lisa, though. At home, Lisa’s mother is not devoting the attention to Lisa that she ought because she’s too wrapped up with her career in beauty consultation. At school, Lisa has an enemy in Rosie Belcher, “The Incredible Bulk”. Rosie is jealous that Lisa is popular while she is not. Rosie never thinks that she never does anything to make herself popular. She is a bully and is not kind or polite to anyone. Worse, she has very disgusting eating habits and manners that she likes to nauseate the girls with. We learn later the whole Belcher household is this way; Rosie’s brother Mervyn is apparently even worse than she is, and his nickname is “Gobber”. Rosie blames everyone but herself for being so unpopular: “It’s victimisation. They always pick on me.” Rosie does not appreciate that Lisa is kinder to her than the other girls: “Rosie lives next door and I feel a bit sorry for her.” They tell Lisa she is too nice for her own good and she would be wiser to avoid Rosie.
But Lisa’s problems really start when a strange woman starts following her around. Eventually Lisa decides enough is enough and confronts the woman, who says she will be in touch with her soon. In the wake of the woman’s appearance, Lisa starts experiencing strange bouts where she acts like a four-year-old girl, and then returns to normal.
Lisa also starts having nightmares in which she sees such a little girl in her dreams. She screams “Mummy-mummy-mummy! Let me out!”. The first time this happens she tries to get out of her bedroom window, which puts her in danger of falling. Her parents stop her in the nick of time. Out in the street, the woman is watching and seems to know what is going on. She thinks “Hush, hush, sweet Rachel, don’t you cry. We’ll soon be together – you and I. All your sorrows are nearly over.”
At school, Lisa’s odd bouts of acting like a four-year-old are worsening. Rosie intends to take advantage of it to get her revenge on Lisa. And as Rosie lives next door to Lisa and Lisa foolishly lets her get closer to her than the others do, this will make whatever Rosie plans easier to carry out.
The woman still follows Lisa around. Lisa snaps and tells her to clear off or she’ll call the police. The woman says she is “sure now” and has Lisa tell her parents she will call tomorrow evening. Scared, Lisa turns to Janis and Jackie for support as her mother won’t listen.
At the fun fair, Lisa raises Rosie’s temper, so she runs into the crazy house to get away from her. In the crazy house, Lisa is chased by a terrifying man who threatens to punish her for not taking her medicine. When the man corners Rosie, she reverts to her strange childish behaviour and screams, “Mummy-mummy-mummy, let me out!” When she comes out of the crazy house, there is no sign of the horrible man. The strange woman takes the shaken Lisa off for a soothing cuppa. The woman introduces herself as Mrs Prendergast, and she once had a beautiful daughter named Rachel. Rachel had a teddy bear just like the one Lisa has just won at the fair, which we suspect helped to trigger Lisa’s fit. She shows Lisa a photo of Rachel, which shows she is the girl from Lisa’s nightmare, but reveals little else.
Mrs Harvey doesn’t take what Lisa says about Mrs Prendergast seriously and thinks Mrs Prendergast is interested in her beauty products. But the Harvey parents get a shock when Mrs Prendergast tells her story. She lost her beloved Rachel at the age of four. Mrs Prendergast could still feel Rachel’s presence for some reason, and at her doctor’s advice went abroad, but she has never really come to terms with her grief. Mrs Prendergast stumbled across reincarnation, and in particular how a child who dies in tragic circumstances, before their time, can remember their previous incarnation if they come back too soon. When she returned to Britain, Mrs Prendergast saw a ghost of Rachel, which disappeared inside Lisa’s body. Realising how much Lisa reminds her of Rachel, Mrs Prendergast did some investigating and discovered Lisa was born at the same time Rachel died, and in the same hospital. So Mrs Prendergast believes Lisa is the reincarnation of Rachel, and for this reason she wants to visit Lisa regularly.
The Harvey family are naturally shocked and angry and tell Mrs Prendergast to go away. Lisa also notices a curious omission in Mrs Prendergast’s story – she did not explain how Rachel died. The parents want to forget the whole thing, and don’t take Lisa’s claims of strange nightmares seriously, but Jackie and Janis listen to Lisa more.
Lisa’s odd behaviour of reverting to four-year-old behaviour gets worse at school. Realising that this behaviour is triggered when Lisa is called “Rachel” (but Lisa returns to normal if she is called “Lisa”), Rosie begins to take advantage to ‘befriend’ Lisa when she is in Rachel mode and get her into trouble. She starts by having ‘Rachel’ scrawl pictures all over the classroom walls, and is very annoyed when the teacher decides leniency is the best approach. Suspicious, Jackie and Janis check Rosie’s desk and find the markers Rosie helped ‘Rachel’ with. They warn Lisa that she must well and truly watch out for Rosie now.
Lisa finds Mrs Prendergast is still hanging around. She follows Mrs Prendergast to Rachel’s grave. When Lisa finds she was indeed born on the same day Rachel died, she accepts what Mrs Prendergast says as true and begs Rachel to set her free. Mrs Prendergast overhears, and evades the question of how Rachel died when Lisa asks her directly. Instead, Mrs Prendergast repeats her desire to get close to Lisa, and even tries to bribe her into it. Lisa tells her to go away and runs off. Meanwhile, Jackie and Janis try to tell Mrs Harvey about Lisa’s strange behaviour at school, but she just dismisses it.
Rosie visits Lisa’s house and makes her act like Rachel, which enables her to steal money that Lisa was saving for a new skirt for the disco. After Rosie leaves, Jackie and Janis find Lisa still in Rachel mode, and are shocked when Lisa’s reflection changes to Rachel in a mirror. They plead with Rachel to leave Lisa alone. Rachel replies she is lost and does not know where to go. They tell her to go home, at which Rachel shows them an image of her house. This is followed by images of Rachel crying in her bedroom, and then banging on her bedroom window while screaming “Mummy-mummy-mummy-let-me-out!” Then the mirror explodes. Jackie and Janis decide to track down the house.
Meanwhile, Lisa enrages Rosie further by getting the money she pinched back off her and buys the skirt. While Lisa enjoys herself at the disco, Jackie and Janis head off to check the house. But while they do so, Rosie bullies her way in (by stealing another girl’s ticket) and gets Lisa to act like Rachel so she can use it to humiliate her in public. Rosie gets ‘Rachel’ to put on makeup in a manner that will make her look like a clown. Rosie thinks that the girls will get such a laugh out of the joke that she will become popular at last.
While they are all out, Mrs Prendergast phones Mrs Harvey to say Lisa is in danger because Rachel was reincarnated too soon, which means an early death. Mrs Harvey won’t listen because she is afraid of losing Lisa, which is the reason she’s been burying her head in the sand about the whole matter. She feels she has to carry on as if everything is normal, so she returns to her lingerie party, and hope the trouble will all go away.
Jackie and Janis find Rachel’s house burned out and abandoned, which is the first clue as to how she died. They also encounter a nasty man trimming the hedge, who calls them ghouls who wallow in other people’s misery and tells them to go away. Following this, they decide to investigate the house after dark.
Then Janis’s Uncle Bill comes along, and he is able to tell them what happened. Rachel’s father had a terrible temper and always made her suffer for it. One day he locked Rachel in her room, at the top of the house, as a punishment. But a fire broke out, the cause of which was never determined. Rachel was unable to escape because the door was locked and the window had been made childproof. This was how Rachel came to be banging on the window and screaming as she did. Mr Prendergast was too far away trimming the hedge to hear Rachel’s cries for help. By the time he did, it was too late. The fire claimed him as well when he tried to rescue Rachel, possibly because he felt too guilty to try to escape. When the girls ask for a description of Mr Prendergast, they find it matches the description of the man they saw – so his ghost has come back as well? After this, Janis and Jackie are too scared to enter the house after dark and head back to the disco.
They arrive back at the disco just in time to see how Rosie is humiliating ‘Rachel’, and get her back to normal mode. Rosie is banned from the hall for this and for her bullying of the other girl. Lisa heads for home, but Rachel’s power draws her to the Prendergast house, where Mrs Prendergast says it is time for them to be together.
Mr Prendergast’s ghost tries to warn Lisa off, but she recognises him as the horrible man who chased her in the crazy house and does not listen. She heads for Rachel’s bedroom, where Mrs Prendergast is waiting. Lisa starts the banging behaviour on the window and screaming for Mummy to let her out. Mummy now does so by opening the window. She then directs Lisa out the window, where they will both be free and the mistake of Rachel coming back too soon will finally be rectified.
Meanwhile, Jackie and Janis have called at Lisa’s house to check on her, and found her not there. Mrs Harvey tells them what Mrs Prendergast said and now regrets not having the situation seriously instead of trying to deny it. They head out to the Prendergast house, where they are horrified to see Mrs Prendergast and Lisa on the window ledge. When they call “No, Lisa! No!”, Lisa snaps out of Rachel mode. Once Lisa realises where she is, she tries to fight Mrs Prendergast. The struggle results in Mrs Prendergast falling to her death. Lisa realises the return of Mrs Prendergast was what stirred up the ghosts and memories of her Prendergast incarnation. So now that Mrs Prendergast is gone, they cease to plague Lisa.
Misty drew on much of the popular horror, fantasy and SF films and literature of her day. Hush, Hush Sweet Rachel is Misty’s version of Audrey Rose. Audrey Rose Hoover dies in a burning car while banging and screaming against the window. She is reincarnated as Ivy Templeton, but the reincarnation came too soon. This meant there was an insufficient in-between resolution period for Audrey Rose’s soul and its karma in the astral planes, and this is having adverse effects on the current incarnation.
Audrey Rose’s father Elliot starts interfering in the lives of Ivy’s family because he figured out the reincarnation and wants to get close to his daughter again through her reincarnation. This triggers nightmares in Ivy in which she keeps reliving the death throes of Audrey Rose screaming and banging against the car window while the fire rages. The only one who can handle Ivy’s fits is Elliot, but this eventually lands him in court on charges of kidnapping Ivy, with the existence of reincarnation on trial.
Unlike Audrey Rose, which is taken from the adults’ perspective rather than Ivy’s, Sweet Rachel is taken from the schoolgirl perspective of the protagonist and her two best friends. The parents are what they so often are in girls’ comics – completely useless because either they don’t listen or they don’t treat it with the seriousness it requires until near the end. Sometimes they don’t even wake up to it at all, as in Mandy’s Bad Luck Barbara. At least we get more insights into the psychology of it all than we usually do. At first Mrs Harvey comes across as a neglectful, thoughtless mother, but gradually we learn that she does genuinely love Lisa. Her cavalier attitude was motivated by fear and trying to evade the situation instead of facing it. Unfortunately, this led to her constantly failing Lisa until near the end. As for Mr Harvey, we hardly see anything of him except for the meeting with Mrs Prendergast, where he tells her to leave them alone.
Lisa’s nightmares of Rachel’s death throes parallel those that Ivy experiences. But, considering that visions and apparitions of Rachel do appear in the story, it’s hard to say whether Lisa’s odd behaviour stems from her just being a reincarnation of Rachel or if Rachel came back as a ghost and is possessing Lisa. When the ghost of Mr Prendergast is introduced, it becomes clear that the ghost theme is as strong as the reincarnation theme, and they overlap so much that it is hard to tell just what is going on with Lisa. Is it a disturbed reincarnation or a ghostly possession, or is it a blend of the two?
Also unlike Audrey Rose, Sweet Rachel goes along the path of a mystery story (which girl readers just loved) that needs to be unravelled. This stems from Mrs Prendergast not telling the whole story. For some reason she won’t say how Rachel died, and this is clearly linked with the strange nightmares Lisa is having. Mrs Prendergast has seen for them for herself, but unlike Elliot Hoover she does not explain what the nightmares are about or help to stop the nightmares when they occur.
As the story is told from the girls’ perspective, the school environment, school bullying and the teen scene take the stage rather than the theology of reincarnation, which gets so heavy in Audrey Rose. Rosie Belcher comes from a long line of jealous, unpopular girls who want to bring down the protagonist because she’s so popular, and set out to do it by playing upon the problem the protagonist develops in the story. In this case, Rosie is taking advantage of Lisa’s ‘Rachel’ behaviour to humiliate her, get her into trouble, and destroy everything she hates in Lisa. But every step of the way she fails, and her nasty tricks only serve to make her even more unpopular. Not that she sees it that way. Rosie just cannot understand that it is her own conduct that makes her so unpopular.
Just what the inspiration was for Rosie’s repulsive eating habits is harder to understand though. Perhaps it was based on a real person Pat Mills knew at school or real-life neighbours who were just like the Belcher family. Or, as this is Misty, did the Misty team decide to go for the gross-out with Rosie to make her a more interesting character? Or are the Belchers reincarnated pigs or something?
Rosie brings something to the story that Audrey Rose did not have – a villain. There are no villains in Audrey Rose, so Sweet Rachel definitely has more edge and menace there. Unlike Elliot Hoover, Mrs Prendergast can also be regarded as a villain. For one thing, she is clearly not giving the whole story. Hoover was upfront on how Audrey Rose died straight from the start, but Mrs Prendergast is evasive on how Rachel died, which makes her a more suspicious and ominous character. Moreover, while Hoover genuinely wants to help Ivy/Audrey work through an unsettled reincarnation, Mrs Prendergast is clearly trying to get Lisa/Rachel out of possessiveness, even if it means killing them both on the window ledge. For these reasons, Mrs Prendergast does not come across as a particularly sympathetic character, although her tragic story does make us feel sorry for her in many ways. She is a character who gives both Lisa and us the creeps, especially when we read her remarks that she and Rachel are soon going to be together. We don’t trust her at all. And it is very odd for Mrs Prendergast to warn Mrs Harvey that the hasty reincarnation could mean an early death for Lisa (now why would that be so?) and she could be in danger when it turns out Mrs Prendergast herself is the danger to Lisa/Rachel.
When we learn more about Rachel’s home life, we have to decide which Prendergast parent is more deserving of our sympathy. The dangers Mrs Prendergast posed to Lisa/Rachel have already been described. On the other hand, Mrs Prendergast was clearly the kind, caring parent who gave Rachel the love that she needed against a father who was borderline abusive. In fact, Mr Prendergast even looks like an ogre with a tall, burly build, a squint, and even red eyes! We have to wonder why Mrs Prendergast married him in the first place. Yet Mr Prendergast has more redeeming qualities than his wife. Although he is set up as a villain with his appearance and terrifying, aggressive conduct, it turns out he is not the true villain after all. Moreover, guilt over the tragedy redeemed him and his harsh parenting, and he tried to save Rachel twice. On the second round he is more successful, even if it is just because Lisa’s mother and friends arrived in the nick of time.
Eduardo Feito’s artwork really adds to the creepy atmosphere of the story, particularly in its use of tippling, etching, light brushwork, and shadowing, and even adding a dash of feral to it. The innocence in the expressions on Lisa’s face has a soft childlike quality, which blends in with the concept of possession by a four-year-old.
8 thoughts on “Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel (1978-79)”
Great review! As well as the links with Audrey Rose (which was adapted into a film in 1977), the title also refers to a film called Hush Hush Sweet Charlotte (1964), and perhaps also the TV movie Sweet, Sweet Rachel (1971). I know Pat Mills has commented he didn’t like the art on this as much as Armstrong’s work on Moonchild, but I agree with you and think it’s great.
Yes, I read Pat’s comment that his preference for drawing this story was John Armstrong, which he thinks would have made the story even more popular than it was. But I think Eduardo Feito is an excellent match too.
It’s been a while since I read this, I must have remembered some things wrong, because I thought the father had survived the fire but was hanging around due to guilt. Time for a re-read!
John Armstrong was a popular artist but I agree Eduardo Feito did a good job here and he is also a favourite with many people.
In a way, the father was hanging around due to guilt.
Eduardo Feito was one of my favourite artists.
Thanks for this. This is a story I have heard a lot about but didn’t know in detail. Agree that Feito is a very atmospheric artist, I like his work a lot.
I slightly wonder what Pat Mills was doing with making his antagonist fat; it feels like he is making that into a specific parallel with her moral failings. On the one hand lots has changed since then in the field of political correctness, and on the other hand I don’t suppose Pat was ever enamoured of PC for PC’s sake! But that does come across as pretty crude stereotyping to me at this distance in time.
I’m more intrigued as to why Rosie was depicted as being so gross and having such revolting eating habits.
Oddly, Rosie’s brother is not fat in the one panel we see of him, though we hear schoolgirl gossip that his eating habits are more disgusting than hers.
It is a pity Eduardo Feito never drew a Jinty story. John Armstrong never did either. At least readers got a bit of Armstrong art with recycled Strange Stories as Gypsy Roses, but that was not the case with Feito. They only sample Feito’s art in the reprint of “Rona Rides Again” in one of the Jinty annuals.