- Fran – Friend for a Year – Tracy: #03 (20 October 1979) – #15 (12 January 1980)
- Reprinted as Prisoner of Time – Nikki: #171 (28 May 1988) – #185 (3 September 1988)
- Main Artist: Carlos Laffond
- Second Artist: Candido Ruiz Pueyo
On a Halloween night, Julie Jackson has a party on top of Holly Hill, a place where witches were legend to meet in olden times. Julie has brought an old spell she found in the library which is meant to summon spirits. She is startled by sudden appearance of a girl, causing her to drop the paper into bonfire, before she can recite it. The girl, Fran Gray, joins the party, she has some strange old fashioned sayings and seems to know more about history than modern things. She tells Julie she used to live here a long time ago and has recently returned. She also tells her that 300 years ago witches met at this place and their influence lingers. Julie invites Fran back to her house when it starts to rain. Later after everyone leaves, the Jacksons discover Fran has no home, so invite her to stay. Fran is grateful but she can only be friends with Julie for a time.
The Jacksons end up fostering Fran, but there are many puzzling things about Fran. Julie notices her marking the calendar, she says a year goes by quickly. Fran seems to very knowledgeable, on the first day of school Fran evacuates everyone when she realises the new school has been built on an old mine. Everyone gets out before the school collapses. Reporters want to do a story on her heroism, but Fran shies away from photos and doesn’t want any interviews. At the newspaper office the reporters find an old story about a girl saving children during a bombing, the think the similarities with Fran is curious. With the school closed, Julie and Fran go to stay with her cousin. When they arrive, Fran sees the door plaque for Dr Hawkforth, then when Carol greets them, Fran throws silver dust on her to protect herself from evil. Talking to her family Dr. Hawkforth remembers stories about witches in his family and Fran refuses to stay with them. So they have to leave.
More mysterious behaviour when they go out riding and Fran uses a side sidle. She saves a fox from a hunt as she says she knows what it is like to be hunted. Time passes and soon it is Christmas. Wanting to show her gratitude to the Jacksons Fran digs up old heirlooms to give to them as presents. Christmas is not happy time for Fran though as when the Hawkforths visit, Fran will not interact with them and draws circle around her bed to protect from evil. Seeing the presents Fran gave, Uncle John says he has an old painting of a woman with the brooch and when Julie tells Fran about it, she says it was her mother, but then says she has no mother and no family. When Julie tries to comfort her saying she has them now, Fran replies that it’s only for a year. Fran causes more trouble at a New Year when she hypnotizes a rude girl causing her to throw trifle over herself. She says its one of the many things she learned over the years. When Fran wants to go to Brinton Julie accompanies her and she puts flowers on an ancestors grave. It seems a reporter and pastor are waiting to find out who the mysterious mourner is who leaves flower on the same day over the years on a gravestone too faded to read. On another family outing the girls meet an old woman who is shocked to see Fran as she looks like the girl, Fanny, that they adopted. But Fanny disappeared after a year leaving only a thank you note. They bring some comfort to Mrs Palmer, but Julie again wonders what is Fran’s connection with Fanny.
At home Julie catches Fran putting on make-up to try and look older, and again Fran makes some mysterious comments about some people not getting to be old. Later when out with some friends Fran saves girl from drowning. It seem for a minute, after saving the girl, Fran is going to let the water take her, but then changes her mind, she tells Julie she must follow life through to it’s natural end. Julie begins to get more pieces of the puzzle,when Fran is knocked out by tree rambles about “Don’t burn the witch, spare Sarah Hawkforth until she has freed me”. Then when the Jacksons go looking for a birth certificate for Fran in village she was born in, they can only find a Fran Gray from over 300 years ago. As Fran’s birthday approaches she becomes more unhappy, she promises to reveal everything to Julie soon. Mrs Jackson makes Fran a cake but the 14th candle won’t light. That night Fran sneaks down to grandfather clock and Julie follows her. At midnight the hands spin backwards, Fran tells Julie the spell still holds.
Carol Hawkforth arrives soon after Fran’s birthday, she has been doing some digging into her ancestors and has found out about Black Sarah a witch burnt at the stake. A black cat arrives at the house, Fran says it’s reminding her she can’t stay longer. Finally Fran tells her story – Sarah Hawkforth lodged with her family, but when her father found out she was a witch he cast her out, she cursed Fran with living forever. Sarah was burnt at stake before Fran could get her to reverse the spell. So as Fran stayed 13 forever all her family and friends grew old and died around her. She then for the next stage of her endless journey.
It’s that time of year again, to look at some spooky stories. When this story was first printed it started appropriately around Halloween although the reprint started in May! There were two artists for the story, perhaps because I had gotten used to Laffond but I think he did a better job at portraying the wise qualities of Fran and spookier atmosphere. [Update: Thanks for Goof for the artist names, also I just noticed that the Nikki reprint has 2 extra episodes, I don’t know which episodes are extra as I don’t have the Tracy issues to compare but presumably those that were cut didn’t affect the story and may have to do with Lafford’s early death] Of the story titles, I prefer Prisoner of Time, as it keeps more with the mysterious tone. The first episode in Nikki had a cover that promises it to be the strangest story ever read. I don’t know if that is true but it does come close and the cover was very intriguing. That cover actually takes a lot from the last 2 episodes so readers must have been anticipating when these story elements would be revealed.
It is quite a detailed story, so my summary just covers main points, but there is lot of strange behaviour and sayings like “love apples” for tomatoes that Fran use. It is very interesting that it turns out Fran was cursed by a witch, as she displays some witchy qualities herself, such as saying a spell on Holly Hill to protect Julie from spirits, her use of silver and circles to ward off evil and her putting girl “under a spell” by hypnotizing her. Early in the story I thought it would be revealed that she was persecuted as a witch by the Hawkforths, especially as she mentioned she knew what is was like to hunted like the fox. So the reveal that she was actually cursed by a Hawkforth witch was well done. I do wonder if she met some good witches over her time, and that’s where she learned some spells, perhaps she has sought help to break the curse before. We don’t get to learn much about Fran’s past as we only get hints of it throughout the story, so it does leave room for readers to imagine what the last 300 years has been like for Fran, once her secret is revealed.
Some things don’t quite add up though, such as if she has been alive all this time, even if she still likes old fashion things its odd that she is not also knowledgable about modern things. The ending also leaves some questions, as it plays up the difference in age of Julie and Fran, making out that she is so much younger and naive which contrasts to her worldly presence (The switch in artist for the last 6 parts also makes Fran look younger, I don’t know if that is intentional or just their style). With the Jackson’s knowing the truth and ancestor of Black Sarah among them, you’d think they might try to help Fran instead of letting her go, but maybe that would lead to too many questions by authorities. There are some dark tones in the stories, Fran is certainly a tragic and sympathetic figure, having to watch her family die, to never have permanent friends, it clearly distresses her, so much that she even contemplates suicide at one point! Quite heavy stuff. It is a story that feels fresh in comparison to some other witch stories and a captivating read.