Publication: 18 December 1976-26 February 1977
Reprint: Jinty annual 1983
Artist: Trini Tinturé
Sisters Tessa and Martine Freeman are pursuing promising careers in the arts; Tessa is preparing for a ballet audition at a ballet company while Martine has landed the starring role in Nigel Ropley’s drama, “The Demon Within”. Unfortunately this is where the trouble begins and it creates the titular mystery that is never really solved.
Martine is playing the role of Vivien, a crazed, grasping, demented woman who has an obsession about getting her old house back from its current owner. She stops at nothing, “as if some demon was inside her” and increasingly acts in a manner that suggests she is possessed. Whenever Martine, onstage playing Vivien, hatches some sinister machination to take back the house, she clicks her bangles in a manner that sounds sinister, even off stage. The play climaxes with Vivien burning down the house when she decides she cannot get it back – with her enemy inside. Even when she is arrested, she still looks triumphant. The play is also triumphant, but Tessa soon finds that Martine still acts like Vivien, even off stage. The same facial expressions, vocal expressions, bangles, clothes – as if she is becoming Vivien in real life.
And there is a disturbing parallel with Vivien’s situation – Tessa’s current ballet school used to be the Freemans’ home. Now Martine is becoming obsessed with getting that house back Vivien-style. She starts hanging around the ballet school, clicking those bangles and staring at the house in the sinister manner of Vivien. She starts regarding the ballet teacher, Miss Bond, in the same manner that Vivien regards the woman who took over her house. At home, Martine starts behaving like Vivien to Tessa and other people, which is truly frightening. It also causes trouble with the other tenants in the apartment block. It doesn’t happen all the time – she usually returns to normal, but then she starts acting like Vivien again. Tessa is astonished when Martine agrees to pay her ballet fees, but she soon finds that this is a Vivien plot – it was a ploy to get into the ballet school and start harassing Miss Bond.
In the midst of all this trouble, Tessa still has to keep practising for her audition. Amazingly, she still manages to keep up with it. But of course there has to be a jealous rival out to make trouble, and in this case her name is Julie Worral. Julie starts causing trouble when Martine leaves a nasty note to Miss Bond “You are in my house. Get out or face the consequences”. Miss Bond throws the note in the bin and tells Tessa her concerns about how this will affect her dancing. If it proves detrimental to Tessa passing the audition, Julie is the next choice for it. They do not realise Julie has overheard.
Martine’s harassment of Miss Bond gets worse. She removes Miss Bond’s furniture and tries to move her new purchases of furniture into the house. Tessa has the furniture taken to their flat, but this gets the Freemans threatened with eviction. Tessa tries to get Martine removed from the play, but Martine convinces Nigel that Tessa is just jealous. Meanwhile, Julie retrieves the nasty note and tries to use it to blackmail Tessa into backing out of the audition. And then Tessa remembers that Vivien burned down the house she could not reclaim and realises that this is what Martine will do.
Sure enough, Martine is heading to the ballet school with a petrol can. However, an accidental fire (caused by Julie) starts instead and Martine is found unconscious on the lawn. The reason – Nigel noticed things and came to realise that Tessa was right. However, he decided that the solution was to rewrite the ending of the play. The new ending has Vivien’s personality changing from evil to good (and also makes for a far better play). The moment Nigel finished it, Martine says she felt Vivien go out of her and she was herself again, and then she just passed out. They are still not sure how it happened and conclude they never will know. But everything is sorted out happily, of course. The play, with its revised ending, goes to London where it is a huge success while Tessa passes the audition. Both sisters can now look forward to being stars.
This is an evil influence story, but with two major differences from the formula. First, it is never revealed just what the influence was or what caused it. This is a complete deviation from the standard formula, where it is always obvious what the evil influence is – at least, to the reader. The victim may start off knowing what it is herself as well, as in Jinty’s “Slave of the Mirror”. Or the victim does not realise what is going on until something – or an astute someone – tips her off, as in “Prisoner of the Bell”, also from Jinty. Either way, the reader is usually informed as to what it is that is taking hold of the protagonist in the first episode. Yet in this case, the reader is kept in the dark. Readers must have expected that everything will be explained by the final episode. But no – right up to the end it remains just as much a mystery to the reader as it is to the protagonists – and becomes a double pun on the “Mystery” in the title. Instead, readers are left to draw their own conclusions. Was it some kind of psychological cause? Was Martine getting so wrapped up in the role of Vivien that life started to imitate art, so to speak? Or was there truly some supernatural force at work? Indeed, there are hints of demons and possession in the play, and Nigel’s solution to the problem sounds ominously like exorcism. The mystery of it all makes it even more frightening because we do not understand what it is exactly that is making Martine act like Vivien.
Second, the evil influence story usually focuses on the point of view of the victim of the influence. We see her thoughts as she falls under the influence and her reactions to it: confusion, terror, bewilderment, desperation, torture, trying to make sense of it all and finding ways to deal with it. But here the story is told from the POV of the sister who is watching it all from a terrified, bewildered and desperate standpoint. We never get Martine’s point of view or thought bubbles that tell us what is going on in her head. And because we do not see this, we do not have the insight that can shed light on just what is happening to Martine. Nor can we see just what she is planning when Vivien takes over, so we have no idea just how or when she will strike. So we are all the more worried and frightened when Martine lurks around the school with that Vivien look and clicking those bangles. So having the POV from the sister rather than the victim makes the story even more frightening and helps to preserve the “mystery”.
Comix minx has commented on how Tinturé “seems particularly good at brunettes with snapping glares”. This is perfect for the facial expressions of the seemingly possessed, demented, crazed Viviene/Martine, such as where she sits on a chair, clicking her bangles, and her face is “terribly transformed!” There is even a wild look about her flowing black hair that further enhances her terrifying Vivien look and must have sent shudders up the spines of readers.