Tag Archives: possession

What’s Wrong with Rhona? (1977)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 7 May 1977 to 23 July 1977

Episodes: 12

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl annual 1983 (some material cut); Tina Sterstrip 5 in 1983 as ‘Zomaar een pop…?’ (Just any doll…?).

We continue our exploration of “possession” serials with one of Tammys’ forays into science fiction. Incidentally, the SF serial was something Tammy did not delve into frequently, probably because she placed more emphasis on dark serials laden with emotion, cruelty and exploitation. It was seen more often in Jinty.

Plot

Rhona French is the star athlete of her school. While on a training run on Salisbury Plain, Rhona and her friends are surprised by a strange scorching smell. Then Rhona finds a doll. Its eyes are closed. She takes it for safe-keeping, hoping to find its owner. But before long, everyone who sees the doll is creeped out by it, including Rhona’s brother Tim and best friend Helen. They say it’s weird and feels like it’s made of flesh. 

Just before the second half of a crucial hockey match, Rhona is surprised to find the doll’s eyes open. During the match she gets a splitting headache and then starts playing badly because her body doesn’t seem to have its usual agility. She is benched, her team loses, and Rhona finds herself in Coventry. She is surprised by it all because she has absolutely no memory of what happened. The doll’s eyes are closed again.

And so the pattern is set for the story: When Rhona is near the doll, the doll’s eyes open. Rhona gets a splitting headache and everything goes blank. Then she acts totally out of character, moving clumsily and awkwardly while her behaviour is cold, aloof and chilling and her eyes give off an alarming stare that makes everyone shiver. She walks in a manner that mows down everyone in her path. She also thinks and talks in a manner that is not herself, suggesting something or someone else is in control. Then there’s another splitting headache, Rhona returns to normal with no memory of what happened, and the doll’s eyes are closed again. And of course how she behaves in between those headaches gets her into a whole heap of trouble that she can’t explain. Mum thinks Rhona is ill or something, but Dad keeps reacting angrily and thinks a good thrashing is in order. Rhona also begins to experience visions of strange technology. 

A weakness is suggested early on: when Mum sprays air freshener in the kitchen, the strange possession reacts badly to it: it coughs badly, feels like it’s choking, and flings the air freshener out the window. This suggests it has a reaction to aerosols.

Another weakness is revealed when Rhona’s poor coordination while under the possession causes her to have a road accident. Still under the possession, she walks out of the hospital, yelling to the doctors that if she does not get home within the hour, both of them will die. This suggests a time limit. She is forced back to the hospital and nearly dies before the doll is brought in (in the nick of time, maybe?).

The possession takes over in class. Under it, Rhona treats the teacher arrogantly, saying what she is teaching is far too elementary and childish and should be capable of a higher standard of teaching. When the teacher lays a hand on her, the reaction is very angry: she shoves the teacher aside: “How dare you touch me, you horrid woman!” The headmistress sends Rhona home with a note about her conduct.

On the way home, the possessed Rhona also reacts angrily to a market stall man and upsets his apple cart when he slights her. But that’s not the worst of it. It also has her steal a calculator from a store because it wants to work on vital calculations. The police are called in. By this time Rhona has returned to normal, she not only can’t explain her conduct in class but the theft either, because she has no memory of them. Dad manages to get her off the hook with the police but is furious with her and has no time for Mum’s pleas that Rhona has been ill.

Mum is among those who have noticed how oddly Rhona has been behaving since she picked up the strange doll and decides to send it to a cousin in Scotland. Overhearing this while under the possession, Rhona hides the doll in a box of Christmas decorations. When she returns to normal, the doll seems to have disappeared and Rhona thinks her problems are over. For a brief time they seem that way.

Then something pulls Rhona to the box of decorations, and there’s the doll with its eyes open again. Under the possession she goes out. Helen sees this, and realising the trouble has resurfaced, follows her. The trail leads to Stonehenge. Using the stolen calculator, it calculates the approach angle for a rescue shuttle craft, which is set to come at sunrise next day. Through its speech and thought bubbles, it becomes apparent that an alien is taking over Rhona’s body, and when it does, its conduct is cold and arrogant. It considers its own race as superior to Earthlings in terms of intellect. But manoeuvring Rhona’s body is difficult because it’s too large for the alien (not surprising, considering Rhona’s body is a giant compared to the doll-sized body of the alien!). Its own body cannot cope with Earth’s atmosphere and it was placed into a state of suspension until its spaceship returned. It is using Rhona to “regain [its] freedom” i.e. “leave this disgusting planet!”, but it can only stay in Rhona’s body for 12 hours, after which both it and “that stupid Rhona” die if it does not return to its own body in time. 

Meanwhile, Mum and Tim find the doll/alien and, seeing how creepy it is, dispatch it to the cousin in Scotland. Discovering this, the possessed Rhona sets off after it. She ends up jumping a train to retrieve it, pulling the emergency cord, and then jumping off, taking a fall down a slope. It is very surprised to experience pain, something unknown to its race, and retreats, letting Rhona return to normal. Not remembering what happened, Rhona stumbles home with the parcel. Only once she arrives home does she check the parcel, discover she brought that weird doll home again, and realise her mother was trying to get rid of it.

Helen comes over to discuss things with Rhona about the doll. After writing everything down they see the pattern of the doll’s eyes opening and closing, Rhona being near it at the time, and then the blank spells. Recalling the incident with the air freshener, Rhona tries it out on the doll. Sure enough, the air freshener forces the doll’s eyes closed again when they open. However, Rhona loses the air freshener next time the doll’s eyes open, and it takes her over again. It sets off for the rendezvous at Stonehenge, with Tim and Helen in pursuit once they find Rhona and the doll gone again.

At dawn, Rhona is very surprised to find herself at Stonehenge. A ray of light hits the alien/doll and it comes out of suspended animation. It introduces itself as Srewana of the starship Opsilon. Srewana explains she was left behind when her starship took off for emergency repairs, but now it is returning. She has using Rhona’s body for survival reasons, as she can’t use her own in Earth’s atmosphere. Her people, who look like doll-sized humans, built Stonehenge for a spaceport, with the altar stone as the landing platform. In some parts of the world they became worshipped as gods because their superior technology looked like magic. Then a comet collided with Earth and changed the atmosphere, which proved detrimental to the aliens (and explains the weakness to aerosols).

The spaceship arrives and lands on the altar stone. Srewana forces Rhona into the spaceship as a specimen for her race. However, when the captain hears what Srewana has been doing to Rhona, he is furious because Srewana broke their laws about non-interference with inhabitants on the planets they visit (sounds like times have changed since Srewana’s race interfered with human development) and tells Srewana she will be punished. He apologises to Rhona for the trouble Srewana caused her, lets her go, and asks her to stay silent about her alien encounter. So when Tim and Helen catch up, Rhona merely says “the weird doll” is gone forever and the trouble’s all over. Helen notices a strange burning smell, the same as the one when they first found the doll.

Thoughts

Here we have the possession serial story done with a stranded E.T. that is not friendly or endearing like the Spielberg version. Srewana justifies what she does, including breaking the laws of her own people, in the name of survival. We should be thankful that the alien was only doing it for self-preservation purposes when she could easily have had more sinister reasons for taking over a human body. Still, we don’t have much sympathy with Srewana, even though she is doing it for survival, because of the way she behaves when she is in Rhona’s body. We might feel more sorry for Srewana if she had proved much nicer or feeling like a fish out of water during the periods when she was in Rhona’s body. Instead, her conduct shows she is a “little horror” as Rhona calls her when she finally confronts her.

After we see the more likeable and less arrogant starship captain, we realise Srewana’s arrogance, coldness, and aggressiveness when she is crossed in any way have more to do with her personality than any superiority complex that her race might have because they are far more advanced than Earth. After comparing the captain with the “horror” Srewana, Rhona muses, “I suppose there are good and bad among all people.” It was just her rotten luck to encounter a bad example of that race.

The story is unusual in being very quick to establish the red flags that there is an evil object afoot. The moment Helen and Rhona’s mother and brother see the doll they find it creepy and chilling; they are quick to realise Rhona’s strange behaviour started when she found it; and they are not surprised by any theories that there is a link. Usually it takes a while before anyone catches on, and in the meantime the protagonist gets into a ton of trouble she can’t explain because she was doing it under the power of the evil object. Not everyone is convinced of course. Rhona’s father certainly isn’t, nor does he believe it’s because Rhona’s ill. However, he is unusual in being more the exception than the rule in an “evil object” story in not believing something weird is responsible for the goings-on.

There is an amusing side to the aliens being doll-sized. We also giggle when the flying saucer arrives because Rhona thinks “it’s like a toy”, and it’s so small it can fit on the altar platform of Stonehenge. We wouldn’t be surprised if these aliens gave rise to fairy and leprechaun legends as well as being worshipped as gods. And when Rhona confronts Srewana, angrily calling her a little horror for what she’s done, Srewana actually cowers in fear and begs Rhona not to hurt her. Rhona replies, “Oh, stop whining! I can’t thrash a tiny thing like you, much though you deserve it!”. Really, after demonstrating her power to take over Rhona’s body and considering herself the superior intellect, we expect Srewana to have far more defiance and arrogance than that! Perhaps it’s the difference in size between them rather than the difference in advancement. Still, small size should not be underestimated. As Srewana has demonstrated, being small does not mean you’re harmless. 

Secret of the Skulls (1976)

Sample Images

Published: Tammy 1 May 1976 to 17 July 1976

Episodes: 12

Artist: Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Translations/reprints: Girl Annual 1986; Translated as ‘Het geheim van de schedels’ (The Secret of the Skulls) in Groot Tina Winterboek 1983.

Ghosts, the hauntings, the graveyards, the witches, the possessions, the evil spells, the terror and the macabre, and this Tammy story from 1976 has got the lot. And they don’t come more macabre than this one with human skulls as the gruesome stars of the show. Normally stories like these would be reserved for Halloween time, but of late there has been discussion about the possession serial in girls’ comics at Comics UK, and its close relatives, the evil influence serial and the doppelgänger serial (the latter of which neither Tammy nor Jinty used, but it was seen frequently at DCT). So we are going to look at a few, beginning with this one.

Plot

In the year 1666 Parson Sylvester and his daughter Prue run a parish at St Leofric’s, London. A lightning bolt opens up a secret crypt under the church, and the one-eyed (watch this) gravedigger Israel Quist is shocked to find it is full of human skulls. Everyone is screaming that the skull crypt is full of evil, and their advice ranges from re-sealing the crypt to destroying the skulls, but Parson Sylvester hesitates because of his religious convictions and is not sure what to do about the skulls. Even when he discovers that the skulls inexplicably give off heat and blister the skin when touched, he doesn’t take action. While he hesitates, he leaves the crypt open, which is an open invitation for weird things. 

Sure enough, weird things start to happen. It starts with the parson’s housekeeper Mrs March bringing one of the skulls into the house. Prue soon notices that Mrs March is acting strangely. She denies taking the skull, but Prue can see the tell-tale blisters on her hands, and then Mrs March falls ill and then acts totally out of character, becoming domineering, bullying and abusive. In the middle of the night Prue hears the church organ playing by itself and the door slamming on its own. On another night she sees the organ playing by itself – and images of horrible glowing skulls as well! The coffins in the crypt belonging to Sir Clive Collyngwood, a man with an evil reputation and the son of a previous parson, move around. There are rumours Sir Clive haunts the graveyard. Some of the skulls are stolen from the crypt by the roguish Rufus Doggett, who runs a novelty shop – of the macabre kind by the looks of the live skull and crossbones set on his shop sign. Prue and her father are shocked to find Doggett painting up the skulls and selling them as ornaments and candle holders to the gentry. Doggett offers one to the parson, who of course won’t touch it.

The parson goes to the Bishop of Canterbury for advice, leaving Prue on her own with Mrs March. That night Prudence hears screaming and in the church she finds strange mystical signs drawn on the floor of the church. The Collyngwood crypt seems to go up in flames, and then looks unscathed. But inside, Prue and Quist find signs of charring and Sir Clive’s coffin reduced to ash, and there is a skull from the crypt on the floor. Quist, who had been urging the crypt be sealed up again from the moment it opened, does precisely that. Prue begins to wonder if there is some connection with the evil reputation of Sir Clive, and Quist informs her that there was a book written about it somewhere. 

Meanwhile, the parson’s carriage is nearing Canterbury when the horses rear, causing a bad accident. And what do you know – there’s a skull! Added to that, he is attacked and robbed as well. Later, Mrs March gloats to Prue that her father will be delayed indefinitely. Parson Sylvester arrives at the bishop’s residence in such a ragged state that he is taken for a vagrant and roughly sent off. 

Prue looks for the skull Mrs March took, but there is no sign of it. When she tackles Mrs March over it, Mrs March attacks her and locks her in. Prue hears hammering noises from the crypt and fears it is the skulls wanting to bust out. A strange girl, Lucy Wendover, wanders in, and Mrs March says they are to be friends. But Lucy soon acts like a sadist, enjoying hurting things and cruelly mocking Prue, and taking over the place.

Prue finds the crypt ripped open and more skulls gone. Suspecting Doggett, she goes off to see him. He tells her all the skulls are gone and paid for (except for the one he reserved for the parson), but he does have information about Sir Clive. Sir Clive and an accomplice were evil witch hunters who “terrorised London” and sent hundreds of women to the stake for witchcraft until plague struck them down. He raises a hint that witches could be responsible for the weird goings-on. Later, Prue suspects Dogged knows more than he’s letting on. But as we shall see, she does not get the chance to question him further.

Back home, Prue finds Quist has no knowledge of Lucy Wendover. He shows her a grave showing that Lucy Wendover died over 50 years before and the Wendover line died with her. But in her own room Prue finds Lucy, with yet more blistering skulls, which she uses to torture Prue. Prue notes the skulls burn her but not Lucy. When Prue demands Mrs March remove the skulls, Mrs March says they will all be going all right, “and then the fun will really begin, as Rufus Doggett’s finding out…” Prue heads back to Doggett’s shop and finds it ablaze, with the unfortunate Doggett unable to escape.

The parson arrives back home in such a bad state he has to be confined to bed. Mrs March gloats over him that “it is our revenge”. She takes him to the church and shows him the organ playing by itself and skulls on the altar. She has the parish shut to worshippers. Prue finds a gravestone with her own name on it and next day’s date, but when she tries to point it out to Quist later on, the gravestone is gone and in its place is a freshly dug grave. The parson is now gravely ill, rambling about the skulls coming for him. The doctor says a witch’s curse has been put on him. 

Prue heads off to see Lord Farleigh about things. There she discovers Lord Farleigh has bought some of Doggetts’ skull ornaments and Lucy is his adopted daughter. In Lord Farleigh’s library Prue finds a book: “Stories of English Witchfinders”. It informs her that Sir Clive and his apprentice Jacob Stave were the most feared witchfinders in England who burned the innocent and the guilty alike in the name of bounty. They collected the skulls of their victims from the executions – hence the origin of the skulls. Then the plague killed Sir Clive and struck down Stave, who was also shot in the eye by a victim’s husband. After reading this, Prue realises their one-eyed gravedigger is really Jacob Stave under an assumed name. Then she is attacked by Lucy, who rips up the book and trashes Lord Farleigh’s library. When Lord Farleigh intervenes, he tells Prue the girl is indeed strange but his wife is besotted by her – as if she were under a spell. 

Prue still has a torn page from the book. It tells her that there were only one or two genuine witches among Sir Clive’s victims out of the hundreds he burned. One (Martha Rackshaw) swore vengeance on London, saying it would burn just as she had. 

Back home, Quist shows Prue that the crypt of skulls is now completely empty. All the skulls have gone. When Prue confronts him about being Jacob Stave he doesn’t deny it. He regrets his witch-hunting days and placed the skulls in the crypt as an act of remorse. He believes Mrs March has been possessed by Martha Rackshaw, who is out for revenge on London. Of course it’s to be the Great Fire of London, with the skulls themselves as the firestarters; they can grow so hot they can burst into flames when needed. 

It’s already started at Lord Farleigh’s mansion where Lucy has set the ornamental skulls ablaze to burn the mansion down. She hears her mistress calling (the possessed Mrs March) and comes to the parsonage. Quist and Prue overhear Mrs March telling Lucy the skulls have been planted at Pudding Lane and they will have their revenge. Prue finds her father under a spell and has been turned into a zombie who serves the witch. Under Mrs March’s power he planted the skulls at Pudding Lane. Mrs March tries to hypnotise Prue too, but Quist intervenes. The witch finds him familiar, but she does realise he is Jacob Stave. Quist and Prue break away. 

Quist urges Prue to head to Pudding Lane to warn them. But it’s too late – blazing skulls in the oven have started the Great Fire of London. More of them have been planted like bombs all over the city, and now they’re going off and spreading more flames. While panicking people evacuate, Parson Sylvester wanders through the flames, still in his zombie state. Lucy gloats at the sight of London burning, and Prue realises she is possessed too.

Back home, Quist informs her that Mrs March is burning down the church as well. Recalling that everything started when Mrs March took a skull from the crypt, they head back to the crypt in search of it. Sure enough, they find it there, and realise it is the true source of all the evil (Martha Rackshaw’s skull). They throw it into the flames that are burning up the church. There is a tremendous explosion, and the fire goes out. The parson, Mrs March and Lucy return to normal, and they are bewildered, as they don’t remember what happened to them. After the Great Fire of London burns out, Lord Farleigh promises Parson Sylvester that his church will be among the first to be rebuilt.

There is just one thing that worries Prue. It is not clear if there was one witch or two. What if there were two and they only destroyed one? Quist assures her there was just one and the evil is gone forever. But in the 20th century, on the old Pudding Lane site, workmen find a skull that is red-hot to the touch…

Thoughts

Phew … is your head whirling from reading all that? It ought to be. Once the weird things start happening, they come on thick and fast and just pile up, one after the after, at breath-taking speed, to send your head into a spin and confusion. So many things to confuse you as much as terrify you. The organ playing by itself, doors slamming, illusions, skulls that can burn your skin, screams in the night, the housekeeper acting crazy, a demented girl let loose in your house … the list goes on and on. Prue herself feels her head spinning about all the things that started happening when the skull crypt was opened, as there were so many of them happening.

The pervading thread through it all is those creepy death heads that just keep popping up as much as they mysteriously disappear. Wherever they go, we know something terrible will happen. Human skulls have a long association with hauntings. There are plenty of stories and legends to bear witness to that, such as Owd Nance, the Screaming Skulls of Calgarth, and the skull of William Corder the Red Barn murderer. These particular skulls have the added terror of always associated with heat and fire, from burning when touched to being used as candle holders, so it’s no real surprise to see they can burst into flames and act as firestarters. We aren’t surprised to see the story build up to the Great Fire of London either; we knew it from the period the story was set in.

Witches and victims of witch hunts wanting revenge for their burning/persecution and laying curses that are activated years later are not an uncommon thing in girls’ comics. We have seen it in stories like “The Painting” and “Sharon’s Stone” from Bunty and “Bad Luck Barbara” from Mandy. But seldom has it been done on this scale – laying waste to an entire city. Centuries before the IRA, we had Martha Rackshaw and her skulls launching a terrorist attack on London with skulls that can explode, burn and destroy. We can see the cunning behind it all, having Mrs March take Martha Rackshaw’s skull and thus possessing her. Allowing (or even influencing) Rufus Doggett to take the skulls and start selling them all around as painted up ornaments was a crafty way to distribute time bombs all set to go off when the time was right. Hypnotising Parson Sylvester into planting the rest all over London and using an oven to light the fuse were also inspired. The combined heat from the skulls and the oven was the perfect combustion. 

The motives for possessing Lucy are not so clear, and it’s never established how she became possessed. It’s a bit hard to understand what Rackshaw was trying to gain by it other than tormenting Prue and setting fire to Lord Farleigh’s house. We presume she was somehow possessed by the second witch as she was not hypnotised into being a servant like Parson Sylvester. Perhaps the possession was so Rackshaw could have a willing accomplice and one with handy access to the gentry. Whatever it is, the possessed Lucy is a riot in all the scenes she appears and she ramps up the excitement and horror even more.

Although Martha Rackshaw is evil, we might have some sneaking degree of sympathy for her, and more so for the other victims. After all, they were innocent people executed in the name of profit and superstition. The real blame lies in the evil, profiteering Sir Clive and his witch hunting. Or we might not be so sympathetic to Rackshaw, as she is inflicting revenge on innocent people, not the ones responsible for her burning. Anyway, she is evil and has to be destroyed. 

Sir Clive is also to blame for the catastrophe by collecting those skulls in the first place as much as for his witch-hunting. In so doing he unwittingly created the weapons the witches used for their revenge. What the hell was he thinking there, collecting the skulls? Was he some sort of ghoul or trophy hunter? The purpose of burning witches is to destroy their evil, so no trace of them must remain. Anyway, how was he able to collect those skulls from the burnings when they should have been burned in the fires? Did he (ulp) behead his victims before burning them? And the irony is, Jacob Stave/Israel Quist unwittingly facilitated the witches’ revenge through his act of remorse as much as his acts of witch-hunting by secretly placing the skulls in the crypt. In so doing he created a ticking time bomb waiting to be discovered. 

The story has a strong but curious message about the evils of witch hunting. Although the people believe in witches, the condemnation of Sir Clive for his witch hunting is strong and he is regarded as evil for this reason. Rufus Doggett says “may his name be forever cursed”, “stands to reason [Sir Clive’s victims] couldn’t all be witches but those two creatures made ‘em confess nevertheless” and their downfall was “the good God at work”. The book on witch hunters does not praise Sir Clive and Stave either; it says they burned the innocent and guilty alike because of the profit they made from it. We even get sceptics who don’t believe in witches. For example, Parson Sylvester always regarded such things as “foolish” and Prue believed the same until the skulls persuaded her otherwise. However, considering that this is also a witch’s revenge story with genuine witches, the message feels rather mixed.

When I first came across the story in the Girl annual reprint I thought it must be reprinted from Misty, what with all these creepy skulls being allowed to feature in gay abandon and freak out any girl to read the story. It was a surprise to learn it originally appeared in Tammy and two years before IPC’s famous queen of the screams title was launched. A story laden with skulls was certainly a bold, audacious move, and ahead of its time in being two years before Misty. It just goes to show the older IPC girls titles could rival Misty for scares when they needed to. The story is worthy of Misty herself, and the artwork of Mario Capaldi really brings off both the macabre elements, the historical setting, and the grim, dark atmosphere of the story. This story is guaranteed to both frighten and thrill any girl to read it and have any parent up in arms (the latter of which would delight the Misty team, as it was a sign they had done things right). It is a story Misty would be proud of. 

Spell of Fog (1983)

Sample Images

Fog 1

Fog 2

Fog 3

Published: Tammy 29 October 1983 to 17 December 1983

Episodes: 8

Artist: Tony Coleman (credited as George Anthony)

Writer: Jake Adams (probably a pseudonym)

Translations/reprints: none known

Plot

A film crew arrives in the village of Wolfen to make a film about Alice Compton, a victim of witch persecution by none other than Mathew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General. Her so-called crimes included bewitching cattle and an artistic style that was ahead of its time and dubbed “the Devil’s likeness”. Nobody spoke up for her because they were too scared of Hopkins. Hopkins applied the usual junk witch tests of the day, which were sometimes augmented by fraud, to ‘prove’ Alice was a witch. After Alice’s burning at the stake her ashes were scattered on the marsh. Predictably, her ghost is said to haunt the spot.

Sally Groves, who feels very strongly about Alice’s fate, is shocked to hear the film director is going to depict Alice as the “devil’s handmaiden” with a “dark, malignant force beneath her almost angelic appearance” who brought evil to the village instead of “the innocent victim of ignorance and superstition” she really was. When Sally protests against this portrayal, the film director has her thrown out. Several people, including the film director, are saying Sally is stupid to get worked up over something that happened centuries ago. Nobody else speaks out against the way the film portrays Alice.

Alice’s self-portrait in the vicarage shows that Sally bears a striking resemblance to her – oh dear! That never bodes well for the protagonist in a serial that features witch-hunting. It is never established as to whether the resemblance is due to Sally being a descendant of some sort, which is the usual assumption in other witch-hunting stories. The self-portrait is the only one of Alice’s pictures to survive; the rest were burned with her. It shows her looking really sad, but that’s all there is. No sign of any malice or evil is present in the portrait.

A mist arises on the marsh where Alice’s remains lie. Sally and her friend Jenny immediately notice it is coming towards them when the wind should be blowing it away. Believing this is Alice’s angry reaction to how the film depicts her, Sally tries to spread the warning, but the director does not listen and continues with his version of Alice Compton. However, the mist comes into the village, stops the filming cold, and has a lot of people running scared.

The mist soon has the film crew trapped in the inn run by the Groves family – and then breaks a window and makes its way in. And they’re not the only ones – the mist has everyone trapped in their homes and nothing keeps it out; it is even breaking down doors to get in.

That’s only the beginning, of course. Next, the mist cuts Wolfen off from the outside world and forces it to revert to a 17th century pattern. All modern technology, including running water, stops working. All modern clothes rot while the 17th century costumes from the film remain intact so people have no choice but to wear them, and they have to cook, clean, fetch water etc the way they did in the 17th century.

But the fog is making one conspicuous exception – Sally Groves. Her modern clothes are the only ones to stay intact. This not only makes her stick out like a sore thumb but also makes her a target of the hysteria, panic, confusion and terror the fog has aroused. These are bringing out the primeval instincts that can turn even civilised people into hysterical idiots and witch-hunting mobs. Gradually, people mutter and then scream that Sally has something to do with the fog, she summoned it, that she’s a witch, she’s Alice Compton returned for revenge etc. Sally becomes the target of persecution, with kids throwing things at her and such. Jenny defends Sally at first, but then goes as nutty as the rest of the villagers when the fog shows up at the attack on Sally. Sally herself has an awful nightmare of the villagers taking her for Alice Compton because of the resemblance they share and burning her at the stake, and is terrified it will become reality.

Sally believes Alice must be behind the fog and what’s happening but can’t understand why Alice is doing this to her when she was speaking up for her. Was she wrong and Alice was a real witch after all who is out for revenge? The portrait betrays no clues and just continues to show Alice looking sad.

There is no doubt in Sally’s mind that the film production is what started it all. When she tells villagers this they try to remove the film crew and equipment in a most violent manner, much to Sally’s horror; she did not mean that. In any case, when the villagers try to throw the film crew out of the village, actual figures appear in the fog and block them, saying there is no escape. The figures look like Puritans from Alice’s time, but Alice herself is not present at all. However, nobody grasps the significance of this clue (that maybe it is not Alice who is behind the fog?).

Then the fog touches everyone in the village, causing intense pain as it does so. Again, Sally is the exception. After this, the villagers think they are the actual 17th century villagers from Alice’s time. They talk, think and act like 17th century people. They can’t even see the now-useless 20th century technology whereas Sally can. These Puritan-thinking people react with horror and outrage at her 20th century clothes. They also believe she is Alice Compton the witch, and Sally’s efforts to convince them that this is the 20th century are misconstrued as further proof of witchcraft. Sally’s parents, which are likewise affected, change her “godless apparel” for 17th century dress, and again try to help her escape, but are blocked again. This time, it is by the possessed villagers and the film director, who now thinks he is Mathew Hopkins the Witchfinder General (it sure is perfect casting!).

The stage is set for the re-enactment of the persecution of Alice Compton and so it ensues (above): sham trial; crazed, ignorant hysterical people on all sides providing testimony; Witchfinder General twisting everything Sally says about this being the 20th century to prove she’s a witch and taking advantage of the villagers’ hysteria; the junk tests/fraud to prove witchcraft; and only sporadic, token protests (from Jenny). The Witchfinder General declares Sally a witch and she is tied to the stake to be burnt.

At this moment the fog reappears, extinguishes the fire, and returns the villagers and film director to normal. The villagers are shocked and ashamed at what they almost did to Sally.

The figures in the fog reappear. They are the original persecutors of Alice Compton. In death they came to realise what they did to Alice and how Hopkins took advantage of them. They cannot rest because they are so ashamed of their crime. And when the film production started it was too much for them and brought them back. With apologies to Sally, they had the villagers re-enact the Alice Compton persecution, right down to the thinking behind it. This was so they too would emerge from it feeling the same way and understand that witch-hunting is not just something ignorant, superstitious people did in times past. All humans, in any age, are capable of it because they all carry the same primeval instincts that fuel it: unreason, prejudice and fear of what they do not understand. The ghosts also did it because they want to entrust with the villagers with two things: first, consecrate Alice’s remains on the marsh so both she and they will find rest; second, a warning not to let a modern witchfinder take advantage of them too.

When Alice’s remains are consecrated her own foggy figure finally appears in the story. Alice tells Sally she knows about her sharing the same pain of persecution and hopes they will now share the same joy. She says farewell and departs for the next world.

Within days Wolfen returns to normal and everything modern is back and functioning. The film director (who must have realised the ghosts also did it to teach some people a lesson) scraps the film and makes one about the recent events so as to spread the warning. Sally approves of this film and is sure Alice will too. The vicar finds Alice’s portrait has gone from looking sad to all smiles, but reckons Alice will be even happier if the portrait was gifted to Sally.

Thoughts

Tammy started this story in her last Halloween issue because it is a spooky one. It sure is; it’s got themes about ghosts, witches, the Devil, possession, a grip of terror and hysteria, persecution, a historical setting, and above all, that mist. No villager from Wolfen would look at mist the same way again after this experience.

As the mist takes hold, it gets creepier and creepier. It is clear that this is no ordinary mist. It is intensifying in thickness and intenseness, and it is taking over the whole village. It can even break down windows and doors. It is forcing people back into the 17th century, but its reasons for this are hard to discern. Is it Alice returning for revenge? If so, she seems to be taking a very odd approach, including making the girl defending her a target of persecution. When those figures in the fog appear, it suggests it may not be Alice after all. Or are these figures trying to protect the villagers from the mist? And where is Alice? Nothing has been seen or heard from her at all during all the time the mist is taking over the village. It’s all very confusing; we don’t know what to think (or have we guessed?). All we know is, it’s a time bomb that has been ticking ever since Alice was burned, and the film production has detonated it. The question is: where will the fallout from the blast end up?

This story has been mentioned before on this blog, in the Shadow on the Fen entry, as there are echoes of Fen (Witchfinder General references, girl threatened with burning for witchcraft, modern villagers turning into witch-hunting idiots, strong message against the evils of witch hunting and a fog that cuts a village off from the outside world) in this story that has me wondering if it was the same writer.

There have been plenty of stories of murdered witches, both innocent and guilty, returning from beyond the grave or leaving a curse behind them. Examples are “Secret of the Skulls” (Tammy), “Sharon’s Stone”, (Bunty) “The Painting” (Bunty), “Witch!” (Bunty), and “Bad Luck Barbara” (Mandy). There have also been stories that condemn superstitious people for persecuting people in this manner and ones portraying witch hunters as the true evil, including “Shadow on the Fen”. Misty took delight in complete stories about witch hunters and witch-hunting mobs meeting their downfall at the hands of a protagonist with genuine powers.

But this is the only serial I have seen where former witch persecutors return from the grave because they are remorseful and want to make amends and find peace. Their repentance is far more believable than the repentance of witch-persecuting villagers in stories like Jinty’s “Wenna the Witch” and “Mark of the Witch!”. The villagers in these stories just change their minds when they see the girl they persecute perform a heroic act, while the ghost villagers learned it in the afterlife where, we presume, were condemned until they had made amends for their act.

It certainly is a twist to have the former persecutors to be the ones behind it all. From the outset we expect Alice to be behind any creepy stuff that ensues in the story, especially when we hear how the film is going to depict her. To our mind it’s not who’s behind it but what she intends to do and where it’s all going to lead. But then, making it Alice is a bit too obvious and clichéd, isn’t it?

The way the ghost villagers go about their redemption certainly takes you aback. Forcing modern people to re-enact the witch persecution of long ago? Putting an innocent girl through a terrifying ordeal of being persecuted for witchcraft? Inflicting terror on an entire village and forcing it to revert to the 17th century? Wow! But anyone going through that would emerge never assuming witch hunting is just a thing of the past ever again. It can occur anywhere, anytime, because the mechanisms behind it (hysteria, fear, prejudice, hatred of the other) are part of human nature, regardless of the day and age. When the atmosphere is right (such as the terror the fog induces or fear of the growing threat of Communism) all that is needed is the spark to strip away all common sense and sanity and turn apparently reasonable, civilised people into hysterical, witch-hunting idiots and for someone to rise and take advantage of it. Just look at the examples of the Communist witch-hunts and the Satanic Ritual Abuse scares. Or look at the hysterical villagers. It didn’t take much for their common sense, sanity and belief that Alice was just a victim of superstition to be stripped away and for them to become witch-hunting idiots, even before the fog had turned them into complete persecutors.

Hush, Hush, Sweet Rachel (1978-79)

Sample Images

Hush Hush Sweet Rachel 1Hush Hush Sweet Rachel 1aHush Hush Sweet Rachel 1bHush Hush Sweet Rachel 1d

Published: Misty 18 November 1978 – 3 February 1979

Episodes: 11

Artist: Eduardo Feito

Writer: Pat Mills

Reprints: Best of Misty Monthly 3

Plot

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.

Thoughts

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.

The Mystery of Martine (1976-77)

Sample images

Martine 1

(Click thru)

Martine 2

(Click thru)

Martine 3

Publication: 18 December 1976-26 February 1977

Reprint: Jinty annual 1983

Artist: Trini Tinturé

Summary

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.

Thoughts

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.