Tag Archives: Supernatural

The Secret of the Gipsy Doll (Dolwyn’s Dolls) [1984]

Published: as ‘The Secret of the Gipsy Doll and Two Other Stories about “Dolwyn’s Dolls”’. Bunty PSL #259, 1984.

Reprinted: as ‘3 Great Stories about Dolwyn’s Dolls’. Bunty PSL #378, 1994.

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Unknown

This Bunty PSL presents three stories from “Dolwyn’s Dolls”. On three occasions a visitor walks into Meg Dolwyn’s doll shop while she is mending a doll. She tells them the story of the respective doll she is mending.

Story 1: The Gipsy Doll

In Victorian times a maidservant named Mary, who works at Lancing Manor, tries to run away. But she is caught by the eldest son of her employers, Vernon Vardon, and he looks a very nasty type. Mary’s sweetheart, a gipsy named Romany Smith, goes to Mary’s defence when Vardon threatens to attack her, and he lays quite a punch into Vardon. Vengeful Vardon makes insinuations that he is going to have Smith arrested on trumped-up charges of stealing silverware from Lancing Manor. Worse, Mary seems to believe the accusations against Smith and he pleads his innocence to her in vain.

That night Mary regrets not sticking up for Smith more. But she is shattered to see Smith burning his gipsy caravan, which is the gipsy way of saying he has gone forever. Mary dies of a broken heart over her sweetheart a year later.

On the day Mary dies, a package arrives for her. It is a gipsy doll with the words “look into my heart” embroidered on it. The doll is placed in Mary’s room in case her family come to collect her belongings. Nobody does, and no servant will sleep in there, so the room is left to gather dust.

In the next century Mary’s room is converted into a bedroom for Jenny Vardon. Jenny has strange dreams of the burning gipsy wagon and the gipsy doll, which is crying. Jenny still hears crying when she wakes up and finds it is coming from the cupboard. Inside, she finds the gipsy doll.

Jenny looks into its heart and finds money and a letter for Mary. It is from Smith, who went to Boston, bettered himself, and sent money for Mary to join him. He had also heard that Vardon himself was taking the silverware, and selling it to pay his debts. So the truth is out at last, but it’s come too late for Mary.

Thoughts

Many of the Dolwyn stories had supernatural elements. Some were kept ambiguous while others, such as this one, were more overt. It is not surprising that this story contains supernatural overtones. The room Jenny sleeps in would have a reason for being haunted as a girl died in it from a broken heart, and there are also the Romany elements, which hint at gypsy spells and curses.

This is the saddest, and spookiest, of the three Dolwyn stories in this PSL. The revelations come too late to reunite Mary and Romany Smith in life. Still, the fact that the gipsy doll seemed to lead Jenny to it and look into its heart suggests that it was to help the two lovers rest in peace, and they are now.

Story 2: For the Love of Lindy

Carole’s mother has remarried and they move to a better house. Stepfather says it’s time for Carole to throw out her old doll, Lindy. Carole won’t hear of it, but stepfather does not respect this. As a result Carole runs away with Lindy and goes back to where she lived before. Her old friends can’t put her up, so they help her camp out in an old building and bring her supplies. They also lock the door at her request, but this proves to be a near-fatal mistake.

While Carole is asleep an old tramp accidentally sets the building on fire. By the time Carole is awake, the room is ablaze and she can’t get out because the door is locked. The firemen have arrived but don’t know she is up there. Carole throws Lindy from the window to alert them to her presence. Her dolly SOS works, and she is rescued. After this, stepfather has a new respect for Lindy and arranges a new dress and repairs at Meg’s shop for her.

Thoughts

This “love me, love my doll” story shows you should never underestimate the love for a doll or tell a child that it’s time for them to say goodbye to their dolls. They should be allowed to decide for themselves.

Story 3: The Young, Old Doll

Another visitor, Millie, comments on how the doll Meg is repairing looks so old and ragged. Meg replies that the doll, Daisy, was in fact bought only recently. It sounds like Daisy really has been through the wars then. Sure enough, that’s what her story is about.

Daisy was a birthday present for June, but then June’s dog Rex snatches Daisy and runs off with her. And that’s just the start of really rough adventures that have Daisy ending up at Meg’s shop for repair.

Rex loses interest in Daisy and leaves her to lie on waste ground. Billy Watson and his gang find her and, being a rough lot, use her as target practice for kicks. Billy’s sister Josie comes along and tells him to desist, but what really draws off the boys is that there has just been a road accident. Josie hides Daisy in a makeshift shelter. But she does not come back for some reason, and rain starts.

Another girl, Moira, comes along and finds Daisy. Moira’s home is dysfunctional, with her parents always arguing, and she is particularly anxious to stay out of Dad’s way. When she gets home he is in a really foul mood because he was involved in the road accident. He insists the accident was not his fault: the accident girl just came out in front of him and he had no time to stop. But he is terrified that he will lose his new van driver’s job because of it. When he sees Daisy he gets into such a rage that he throws her out in the street.

Another gang of yobs find Daisy and set about using her as a goal for footy practice. But the female member of the gang proves more kindly. She stops the boys cold and takes Daisy to the hospital for the children’s ward.

As luck would have it, Daisy ends up in the accident girl’s ward, and she is none other than June. June and Daisy are reunited and the sight of Daisy jogs June’s memory about the accident. She makes a statement that clears Moira’s father: the accident happened because she couldn’t find the brakes on her new birthday bike.

Meg finishes the repairs on Daisy. As she does so, she tells Millie that you can’t always tell by appearances, whether it’s dolls or people.

Thoughts

As Meg states, this story is a lesson in how you can’t always judge by appearances. This is best shown with the yobs who find Daisy in the street. The male punks are as rough as they look when they try to use Daisy for footy practice. But the girl, although she has a punk look, shows she has a kind heart. And as with Lindy, this is a “doll saves the day” story, in this case helping to clear the very driver who threw her out into the street.

We do have to wonder how Meg was able to relate all of Daisy’s misadventures from the moment she is snatched from the dog to ending up in June’s ward. How could anyone have been able to find all the people who encountered Daisy in the interim and piece the whole story together?

The Darke Diamonds [1985-1986]

Plot

The Darke Diamonds are the heirloom necklace of the Darke family. Once there were ten diamonds, but over the generations the diamonds have progressively disappeared one way or another (lost, sold, gifted, traded, and even thrown away) and just one is left now. The latest Darke to inherit the last diamond relives the diamonds’ history in a strange dream.

Notes

  • Artist: Paddy Brennan

Appeared

  • The Darke Diamonds – Suzy: #159 (21 September 1985) – #175 (11 January 1986)

Sally’s Secret [1993]

  • Sally’s Secret –  M&J:  #112 (3 July 1993) – #119 (21 August 1993)
  • Artist: Bert Hill

Plot

Linda Brown’s family move to a new estate and she is happy when the family next door has a girl her age. Linda becomes quick friends with Sally Smart, but there is something mysterious about her new friend. Sally’s father is not around, but she says he will join them soon, and then they will be moving on, in the meantime she says they can be friends. Sally is very evasive of any questions about her father and other strange things like saying there’s no point in them installing a phone and that her dad won’t write or call.

When they go to see a film together, there is a scene where the father walks out on the family. Later Linda asks if that’s what happened with Sally’s family and she gets upset. She knows her parents still love each other and really want to be together, even if they cant do that right now.  The girls make up after their fight and Linda though still curious about what the mystery with Mr Smart is, she is a lot more cautious about asking questions.

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More strange things happen, such as Sally’s aunt comes to visit the house, but Sally avoids her and the aunt just lets herself into the house. Later they go back to the house and find, Sally’s aunt has cleared the food out and unplugged the fridge! When the girls start at school, Linda overhears Mrs Smart saying if Sally had played things her way she wouldn’t have to go to school. In art class the teacher has bunch of old newspapers from around the country, Sally is surprised to see something in a newspaper from her old home town. Linda hopes she can read the paper but Sally throws it into a fire, so she can only read part of the headline “Ex-Shaftsbury Man in..”. Again Linda wonders what Mr Smart is involved in. She thinks he may be criminal on the run after seeing news report, but then she sees photos of Mr Smart and he is not either of the men she saw on tv.

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There are other strange things about Sally, like when a teacher talks to Sally about future careers and later Sally says she won’t be working any job when she’s older. Linda wonders how that would be possible, as they don’t seem so rich that she could afford not to work. When they come across a trapped dog and go to rescue it, the dog keeps barking at Sally. At first she thinks it’s  odd as dogs usually like her, then she realises what the problem is but doesn’t elaborate on what that is to Linda.  Afterwards a local reporter wants to do an article about the rescue for the paper, but Sally says she’s too shy. Knowing how outgoing she is, Linda knows this is a lie, but the reporter takes a photo anyway (not very ethical of him!). Linda goes to persuade him not to run the article but it turns out something was wrong with the photo as Sally doesn’t show up in it.

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When the class go on a school trip, Sally notices people from her old school there, she asks Linda to cover for her and she sneaks away, so she won’t have to meet any of them. Later Linda goes to Sally’s house and overhears Mrs Smart telling Sally things are getting too complicated and they may have to go with out her father. Linda is sorry to lose her friend, but Sally is a lot happier when she hears their father will be able to join them after all. The next day Linda says her goodbyes, then a few days later, she sees the Smarts house up for sale. Linda gets talking to the estate agent, who tells her the sad story behind the house, a family just bought the house when the mother and daughter were killed in a car accident in Spain. The father was left in a coma but had recently died, so his sister was putting the house on the market. Linda is shocked it turns out Mr Smart wasn’t the strange one, it was Sally and Mrs Smart who were unusual, as they were ghosts!

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Thoughts

This is a nice little mystery story with solid art by Bert Hill as always. Actually M&J seemed to be quite fond of the mysterious new neigbours storylines (such as Strange Neighbours and Strangers). The ending was unexpected, although the hints were there throughout the story if you took notice, such as Sally saying she won’t have a job in the future and she won’t be able to stay in contact after they leave. Of course this is more obvious once you know the twist. Some of the phrasing also takes on new meaning when the ending is known such as “moving on”, which often is associated with death and grief. There are other times when Sally says things like “we all have sadness in our lives” which has a heavier meaning and makes the ending seem a bit tragic, as Sally is a likable character. Sally is a good friend to Linda, is shown to be generous and ironically for a ghost is full of life! She has a daredevil attitude, and encourages Linda to be more adventurous.

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It’s in the penultimate episode that the potential supernatural element was more apparent, when the dog didn’t like Sally and when she didn’t show up in photo. I like that Linda’s focus (and therefore also the readers) is that there something mysterious about the Mr Smart and how she keeps trying to think of reasons why he isn’t around and why he can’t contact them. I would have thought maybe prison or some witness protection thing first, as I was not thinking of more bizarre reasons.

It does raise some questions such as how were they able to eat and interact with things as ghosts, and how was Sally enrolled in the school, without them knowing about the accident. Also after the Smarts leave, there must have been some fallout, as Sally would disappear and surely others must find out about her, she interacted with so many people, how would they react on finding out ghosts exist, would the reporter do a story on it? Still other than  those questions, it is well paced and like I said the hints were there without being too obvious, so the twist doesn’t come out of no where, but is still effective.

Beyond a Strange Door…

  • Beyond a Strange Door… – Debbie PSL: #150 [1990]

Plot

beyond-a-strange-doorDamian Darke introduces us to four short stories, each involving a strange happenings with mysterious houses.

In the first story a Maddy Thomas moves to a new house in the country with her family. On the first day she sees a shadowy figure in the woods beside the house but then it dissappears. When they settle into the house her father says that now they have a big backyard, Bobby, the dog, can now sleep outside in his new kennel. But Bobby seems to be scared of sleeping outside.He  refuses to eat and even when they take him back inside he seems to be wasting away. At night a boy appears to Maddy demanding she give him back his dog. Her parent’s wake her up from her nightmare, but Maddy’s still sick with worry, s the call a doctor. Maddy overhears the doctor telling her parents, that the dream she had was very strange considering there is a story about the house being haunted by a boy who drowned while looking for his dog. Later, when Mr Thomas is clearing some old furniture they find a diary of Tomas’s father – he tells off  how he had to put downThoamas’ dog, but was afraid to tell his son. That night Maddy goes to the woods to confront Thomas and show him where his dog is buried. Thomas doesn’t believe her at first but then he is reunited with his dog. Maddy wakes up in bed and thinks its all a dream, but Bobby has somehow made a miraculous recovery, so Damian Darke questions how much of it was a dream…

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In the next story siblings Alan and Jean aren’t too happy to have to spend Christmas with their aunt Clarissa, while their parents work. Even though rhey are stuck being with their miserable aunt , who won’t even buy a Christmas tree,  they try to make the best of it. Their laughter and energy seems to awaken two ghost children Edward and Charlotte. They comment on how the house should have more decorations for Christmas, making them appear and not realising that Clarissa can see the things they do. They make it dissappear again, but Clarissa blames Alan and Jean. Clarissa doesn’t lighten up, when Alan and Jean make friends with neighbour children, she gets rid of them quickly, showing her snobbery as she tells Jean and Alan that those children were poor and probably thieves. Edward thinks its time for her to have a few shocks, and plays tricks such as putting pepper all her her dinner. Of course this only makes things worse for the children, which Charlotte had warned him about. After this Charlotte has a better idea, showing Clarissa a happy childhood memory of Christmas and then taking it away. Clarissa is upset and wonders how she has become so hard over the years. Jean and Alan find and comfort her, she makes things up to them, buying christmas tree and inviting neighbours for Christmas.

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In the third story Vicky and her family are holidaying in an old boarding house. Vicky meets a young girl, Margaret, who seems nice but something seems off about her, she says Vicky has the same name as the queen and talks about things that aren’t there. She wonders if the house is haunted, she asks landlady, Mrs Lane, about Margaret saying and is relieved to know she exists. Vicky gets Margeret a doll for her birthday, when she gives it to her, Margaret seems confused saying her birthday was ages ago, but she is delighted with the gift. Later she is confused when Margaret appears calling her a lier, saying that she hasn’t seen her in ages and her mother says she doesn’t exist. Vicky tries t follow her, but finds the room has gone cold and creepy. Vicky is worried about Margaret’s confusion and when she goes to talk to Mrs Lane, she shocked to overhear her  talk so callously about Margaret dying. She tells her parents and they decide they should leave, Mrs Lane is surprised but even more surprised when Vicky says she doesn’t care that her daughter is dying. She tells them she doesn’t have a daughter and introduces her to an old woman Margaret who grew up in the house and had agreed that she could live the rest of her life out in the house. Margaret recognises Vicky and shows her she still has the doll Vicky gave her, it is all old now. It turns out Vicky was the ghost all along!

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In the last story Julia Mason makes friends with her neighbour, Penny when her Mom and her move to new house. Penny seems to be a lonely girl, and Julia says she will help her with her tennis but they will have to do it in secret. Under Julia’s guidance, Penny wins the school tournament. Watching her, Julia doesn’t think Penny will need her any more and she also thinks her Mom will be fine. After the match Penny’s  father introduces her to Ms Mason.  Penny asks her where Julia is, and tells her that Julia has been coaching her. This shocks Ms Mason, because her daughter, a promising tennis player passed away two years ago not long after her father. Seeing that Penny isn’t joking Ms Mason tells her she always felt Julia presence with her too, she invites Penny and her father back to her house. Penny thinks Julia has helped her many ways and may even have found a new mother for her.

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Thoughts

Continuing with more Damian Darke stories for Halloween, this is a good collection of stories. While all stories deal with the supernatural, there is a nice mix of spooky, with some lighter stories too. None of the ghosts are vengeful or vicious, Thomas in the first story comes the closest, as he seems to be a danger to Bobby, but in the end it is not maliciousness but a misunderstanding. The placing of the stories are well done, both the first and third are the creepiest, so there is a nice balance. Some psl books that have a collection of stories (like Scream) use different artists for each story. This book only has one artist, which I guess makes sense as Damian Darke is tying all the stories together and the artist does a good job here. My favourite of the stories is the third story, in a short space it establishes something mysterious with Margaret, then lulls the reader into false security as Mrs Lane knows of Margaret’s existence, so she can’t be a ghost. Then of course the twist at the end that Vicky was the ghost haunting the house.

The book does well in telling satisfying stories in such a short space. Taking into consideration a recent post about Steve MacManus book on the jinty resource site, and that stories were measured by panel numbers, I looked at how these stories measured up.

  • First story – 39 panels
  • Second story – 40 panels
  • Third story – 40 panels
  • Fourth story -21 panels

The first three stories have a pretty even spread. While they are quite short, I was surprised that they do have a lot of panels. Looking at some Damian Darke stories from the weekly Spellbound, those stories had a lot less panels (less than 20 panels for at least 4 stories that I counted). Of course a disadvantage of the psl is what they can do with the panels is more limited, usually pages are split in two rectangular panels or sometimes three panels, there is less space to use more imaginative layout. The first page of this psl is given to Damian Darke’s introduction which is quite effective.

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Damian Darke

  • Damian Darke– Spellbound: #01 (25 Sep. 1976) – #68 (07 Jan. 1978) [not in every issue]
  • Damian Darke– Debbie: #258 (21 Jan. 1978) –  (?)
  • Damian Darke– Mandy: #841 (26 Feb. 1983) – (?)
  • Artists: Various

Plot

damian darkeDamian Darke is a storyteller of  strange and spooky stories. We don’t get  background on where he came from or how he knows such stories, but they seem to be documented in a large book that he keeps with him. He has a very distinctive look, dressed in old fashioned clothes and always accompanied by a raven. While Damian Darke introduces each story and usually had a closing statement about it, each story had it’s own individual title. The  stories were varied from cursed objects, ghost stories, timeslips and other strange occurrences. A List of stories  can be found  here.

I’m going to discuss ten of my own favourite Damian Darke stories here (listed alphabetically rather than a particular ranking).

1.  A Spoonful of Evil…. [Spellbound: #43] 

Carol loves going to auctions, one of her latest purchases is some old cutlery and her flatmate Sue chides for buying such junk. The next day, Carol and Sue are enjoying soup together when suddenly Sue takes ill. It seems to be some sort of food poisoning but Carol has not been effected. Once Sue has recovered she brushes it off as a bug and even is happy to try some soup again, but then Carol falls ill. The doctor is called again, and surprises the girls by asking if he can bring back a friend of his, an expert on local history. The girls can’t see how that could help but agree. The historian asks to exam their cutlery, his suspicions are confirmed when he finds a spoon with the devil’s head stamped on it.

spoonful-of-evil He then tells Sue the story of a Silversmith who claimed to have seen the devil and made a bargain with him, 12 innocent souls in exchange for his. He made a dozen spoons with the devil head mark and into the silver he mixed a deadly poison so that if the spoons were used twice, it was fatal. After 12 people had died from the poisoning he tried to recover the spoons but only found three. Now that the fourth has been found, Damian Darke ends with a warning that eight of the deadly spoons are still out there and asks the reader have they examined the spoons in their kitchen recently…

I like this story, the girls are lucky to have shared the spoon, although one could say they were unlucky to find it in the first place! It is one of those stories where it is not a person that needs a learn a lesson, but an unfortunate happenstance, which is scarier in a way! I like also in the story of the silversmith, it is left vague to whether he did actually see the Devil – the doctor in telling the story says he “imagined” seeing him. We don’t know whether there was some supernatural instance, and what the Silversmith may have done originally to get the attention of the devil, although it seems he was certainly capable of murder. It could have easily have been just a delusion by the man, with deadly consequences.  That we are still left wondering where the other eight spoons are, is also a troubling and compelling ending. (Although in a Nikki reprint they make it the twelfth spoon, taking away some of the fear)

2. Another Pair of Hands…  [Spellbound: #54]

Abigail Barton and her Aunt Ruth move to a remote cottage which was a long walk to the nearby village. Still they are happy with the cottage, but for some reason they are unable to find a housemaid willing to work at the cottage. When Ruth falls sick, it is up to Abigail to keep things running as she doesn’t want to worry her aunt. The work is taking it’s toll on Abigail though and exhausted she falls asleep in the kitchen. She is woken surprised by a young woman, who introduces herself as Biddy Breen and is there to offer her services. Abigail is delighted by the work Biddy does although she is puzzled by why she is always gone in the morning before she gets up.

When the doctor comes to visit Ruth he is happy to see her recovered and rested. Abigail tells him they have got help from a girl Biddy Breen, which shocks him. He tells them Biddy Breen used to work in the cottage but one dark night wandered off the road and was drowned. Finding out the place is haunted, Ruth immediatly wants to pack up and leave, but Abigail persuades her to stay , she tells her Biddy has been a good friend to them and she believes she can get her to leave. That night she stays up until Biddy appears, she thanks her for her help but tells her she can rest now.  Damian tells us Biddy’s  ghost was never seen again and in time the village people stopped fearing the cottage and the Barton’s lived there happily.

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Not all the stories had to have some evil presence, here Biddy is not a ghost to be feared as she is kind spirit who wants to help. Although people still fear the unknown, the village people don’t want to come near the cottage because of the rumors of it being haunted and even Aunt Ruth knowing the help Biddy has given her first instinct is still to run away. It is only Abigail that acknowledges that Biddy has been a friend to them and she also returns the favor by releasing Biddy so she can rest in peace.

3. Behind the Green Door  [Spellbound:  #15]

In 1850, siblings Grace and John were sent out to sell matchboxes every day by their brutish stepfather, who kept all the money they made for himself. In extra money they do make Grace makes sure to hide it away so they can save up to run away from their stepfather. One day when they are out, John can’t resist taking a look behind  a green door that’s ajar. It opens up to a beautiful garden, even more surprising several well dressed people welcome them to join them for tea. They also seem to know their names and give the children money as they leave and invite them back the next day.

Their stepfather, Sykes, is suspicious of what they have been up to as they seem happy, so he follows them the next day. He catches them at the green door and shoves them aside to enter. He is in for a shock though, as unlike the children he doesn’t come across a garden instead he finds himself in the path of a carriage. Grace and John have no means to follow him as the Green door disappeared as Sykes went through. When they go home, they find out that Sykes was killed after he stepped out in front of a runaway dray horse. They are puzzled and they never find the green door again but they live a happier life with Sykes gone.

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There’s some lovely artwork here (it’s the same artist as recent post Little Dolly Demon). When Grace and John find the garden it is quite exquisite with fountains and peacocks. There is a nice contrast of what the people see as they go through the door, and certainly Sykes, terrified look as the carriage come from the fog is very effective. The mysterious door is not explained but it does seem to judge those that go through it – Grace and John are rewarded, while Sykes meets only death.

4. Day of Vengeance  [Spellbound:  #17]

Many years ago, Old Hannah a clothes cleaner, was an irritable and sharp-tongued woman, only one girl; Margot, befriended her. One day while washing clothes, Old Hannah staring into the water suddenly told Margot to run to the men working in the filed near the mountains and to warn them to run as they were in danger. At first the men don’t listen to Margot but when Old Hannah appears something in her voice makes them listen. They are saved before the a giant rockfall comes crashing down. One man Herr Bauer takes special interest in Old Hannah’s premonition an visits her trying to persuade her that working together they could make a profit with her talents. Hannah tells home she rarely gets visions and only talks of them if there is danger and she has no interest in his greed.

Herr Bauer doesn’t take this well, he soon turns the village against Hannah, saying that having a witch in their midst is the cause of disasters such as crops failing. The villagers riled up and went to attack Hannah and burn her cottage down. Despite Margot’s efforts to save her Hannah is stoned and left on the mountain to die. Even then the villagers aren’t sated, seeing how upset Margot is, they begin to question if she was too close to the witch and should be banished. The elders decide to meet to discuss the matter. That night Margot is surprised to hear Hannah out beating clothes, she rushes to see her but then realises she is a ghost, beating 12 bloody clothes and singing a terrifying song. At the elder’s meeting a few days later, the building collapses killing the 12 men, so Old Hannah has her revenge and protects Margot.

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The greed of one man who was quite willing to use Hannah’s supernatural powers for his own means, quickly turns to a righteousness when he is rejected. That he is able to turn the villagers against a woman who saved their lives, shows who quickly fear and superstition can be aroused particularly in the time period the story it is set. Bad enough the fate of Old Hannah but that they then turn their attentions to Margot for trying to help Hannah is unforgivable. Which Old Hannah obviously thinks too and the very creepy image of her beating the clothes, lets us know that she should never have been crossed.

5. Horror in Haunted Woods  [Debbie: #324]

Sue, Karen and Christy are doing a school project about  local legends and get help from knowledgeable Mrs Rivett. She tells them the legend of how the local wood got the name Dog Wood. In the 17th century, the ashes of a witch who’d been burned at the stake were buried under the tallest tree in the wood along with ashes of her two pet dogs. People believed if anyone was to touch the Witch’s Firtree, the Dog-People, half men and half beasts,would rise from their graves to destroy them. On the way home Karen and Christy make Sue touch the tree. She is not worried, she believes what Mrs Rivett told her superstitious people got hurt because they frightened themselves so much.
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A few nights later Sue sees dogs at the window, she tries to  to shoo them but then sees they only have the head of a dog, she is terrified that the dog-people have come to destroy her. Her parents don’t believe her telling it was a dream. But the next day cycling home she sees them again she falls from her bike and is chased, she ends up at the Witch Fir where she sees a figure beneath the tree. Sue thinks her days are numbered and that it is the witch returned, but then it is revealed to be Mrs Rivett. She calls out to the dog people telling them they should be ashamed of scaring the girl, it is then revealed that it is Karen and Christy in masks. They only meant it as a joke, but Mrs Rivett harshly reprimands them. She helps Sue back to her bike and she reassures her, that she needn’t worry about old wive’s tales and if there were such things as ghosts, she believes they would just be ordinary people who would come back to help anyone in trouble. Sue is comforted by this, she tells her parents when she gets home, but they inform her it couldn’t have been Mrs Rivett that helped her as she died from a heart-attack that morning!

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There is some very frightening imagery with the dog people, even though it turns out to be a prank, it’s easy to see how Sue could be so terrified. Mrs Rivett helping her and telling her that maybe ghost just come back to help people is a bittersweet ending as clearly Sue had great admiration for the woman is upset by her death, very well captured with her expression and the tear in the last panel.

6. Mystery at Howlen Hall  [Spellbound:  #21]

Prudence Vane goes to visit her cousin Marella who had wrote to invite her to spooky house she had bought. Marella a flighty young lady was quite excited at the prospect of a ghost hunt. When Prudence arrives at Howlen Hall, she is told Marella has gone travelling and the housekeeper Dorcas does not seem keen for her to stay. When Prudence mentions the ghost, Dorcas seems surprised, then denies that there is a ghost and says Marella was just having a joke. That night Prudence is woken from her sleep by a moaning noise. She goes to investigate, she finds what appears to be Marella’s room and sees all her jewels are there, she begins to worry something is terribly wrong  as Marella wouldn’t travel without her jewels.

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Prudence investigates the house further and is startled by the sudden appearance of an old white haired woman. Dorcas arrives and tells her the woman is just  an old family dependent and Prudence should go back to bed. Prudence is not happy with whatever is going on, Dorcas swears Marcella is safe and gives her word that the truth will be revealed the next day. The following morning, Prudence confronts Dorcas and asks her if the old woman was a ghost. She was no instead she is revealed to be Marcella. It seems that one night Marcella decided she wanted to raise the ghost of Howlen Hall, when the servants returned they found her looking like an old woman and her mind gone. Being so wealthy Dorcas wanted to make sure Prudence was a real friend before revealing the truth. Damian Darke ends telling us Marella never recovered and serves as a warning to those who would delve into unknown forces.

I like the mystery of this story, the twist at the end was unexpected and although we never see how Marcella came to be the way she is, the warning is clear!

7.  Mystery on the Moors  [Debbie #258]

Sally and Pat were spending time hiking in the Yorkshire moors. On their way back to town, they decide to wait for the last bus so they get back before dark. While their waiting, Pat runs down to the nearby stream to freshen up, meanwhile a hearse pulls up to the bus stop and the driver offers her a lift. Sally goes to fetch Pat, but he is gone by the time they get back, Pat thinks he must have got tired of waiting. Soon the bus comes along and Pat is shocked the driver is the same as the man she saw before. She shoves Sally off the bus and tells him they were mistaken they don’t want that bus. Sally is mad at her telling her she has taken the joke  too far. They set off walking towards town, Sally grumbling along the way when they are passed by police cars and ambulances. They come across the scene of the accident, it seems the bus’s brakes failed coming down the hill. The girls had a lucky escape due to the unusual warning!

mystery-on-moors

8. Swamp of Evil  [Spellbound:  #7 / Reprinted – Mandy #841]

Wicked  money-lender Jethro Stern, is delighted to get an invitation to Lady Gladwell’s house. Having heard rumors of her falling on hard times since her her husbands death, he plots to get her house. While dining with Lady Gladwell he also mentally makes inventory of the fine things around him, one painting draws his eye – in it three men drown in a swamp, it makes Jethro’s blood run cold. He tries to concentrate on Lady Gladwell’s conversation as she asks about a possibility of a loan. Noticing his interest in the painting, she invites him to look at the rest of her collection of paintings. He brings him to a room of many strange paintings of Jethro’s victims such as Sammy who was crippled and couldn’t work and Mrs Watson who died in a workhouse.

swamp-of-evil

Jethro is disturbed by the paintings and Lady Gladwell tells him she is not having money problems but brought him here to ask him to release his hold on the poor town folk and leave forever. But Jethro will not tear up his arrangements, she tells him it’s a pity he has made that choice and leads him to the door. Jethro is eager to get away from Gladwell, but he soon finds himself lost in a fog and slowly realizes he seems to be in the Swamp of Evil painting. The next day a servant Mary is cleaning when she notices that the painting now has four figures one of which looks suspiciously like Jethro Stern.

Again the art is very well done here capturing the creepy atmosphere. Jethro Stern certainly seems to be deserving of his punishment. He also gets more of a chance at mercy than others, but he rejects his chance of redemption.

9. The Cavalier’s Cloak  [Spellbound: #37]

Judy and her family were spending Christmas at an old Quaker Cottage. While exploring Judy finds a portrait, with a man wearing a cavalier cloak which is surprising since they are in a Roundhead area. That night Judy is woken by knocking at the door and someone asking to be let in. She goes out to investigate but can’t see anyone, the door slams behind her and she is left out in the cold. An old man approaches her and offers his cloak to shield her from the cold.  She asks if it was him calling out, he says no but tells her a story of the family that lived in the house.

One evening Prudence and her father hear knocking at the door, they find what they think is a royalist, Prudence wants to help but her father does not. Then it turns out to be his son John who had gone fighting for Cromwell, his father is even more repelled at the thought of his son being a turncoat and shuts the door on him without listening to explanation. Prudence can’t sleep listening to John’s continued feeble knocking. She goes out to John, he explains that  a young Royalist soldier fatally wounded gave him the cloak to protect him from the cold. Prudence says she knew he wasn’t a traitor but when they go to return to the house the door has locked behind them. They knock at the door but their father remains stubborn, ignoring the knocking thinking John must learn the error of his ways. He is horrified the next morning to find both his children dead from the cold.

cloak

The man tells Judy that since that night the cottage has been haunted, he reveals himself to be Issac Bunyan the father (and man from the painting) and he has worn the cavalier’s cloak everyday since as penance for his cruelty. He then disappears as Judy’s father comes to the door wondering what Judy is doing outside wearing a tattered rug.

10. Whisper, Whisper… [Spellbound:  #11]

In 1931, Marcia Walton finds a charming cottage for sale cheaply  due to it’s dreadful history. Marcia is not superstitious and is happy to buy it. She starts redecorating and when she finds a mirror in the attic she cleans it up and hangs it above the fireplace. A few weeks a young squire, Mr Martin, is worried when no-one has seen Marcia in some time. He investigates and finds her on the floor thin and drawn and muttering about voices. It turns out the mirror was made by a poor craftsman for a wicked duke who killed him rather than pay him a fair price. Since then the owners of the mirror had been tormented by endless hateful whispering. Not only that but whoever destroy the mirror will never be free of the curse. Marcia also notes it would be evil to give the mirror to anyone else but Mr Martin thinks he has a solution.

Marcia is upset when she sees Mr Martin give the mirror to an old woman, she tries to take it back as she’d rather live with the curse than let a sweet old woman suffer. But then the woman stops her and asks her to write an explanation as she is completely deaf. Then Marcia understands the squire wasn’t being cruel it is in fact the perfect solution as the old woman would never hear the whispers. Damian Darke does muse that it happened many years ago and the mirror must be out there somewhere maybe in an attic waiting to be found.

whisper-whisper

It’s interesting that the cursed object can’t be gotten rid of. Most stories with cursed objects involved some way to break the curse or at least destroying the object would end it. How they solve this problem is a very clever and unexpected.

Final Thoughts

Continuing with the eerie stories for the Halloween season, Damian Darke certainly delivers on the spooky, dark and twisting stories. As discussed before the spooky storyteller was certainly common used to tell short stories. Damian Darke is particularly similar to Diana‘s The Man in Black, which isn’t surprising as Spellbound seemed to be influenced a lot by that comic. Damian Darke proved to be popular enough to survive two mergers, first with Debbie then with Mandy (although the Mandy stories seem to be mostly repeats). Some stories were also reprinted in Nikki, but Damian Darke was edited out and they came under the name Midnight Mystery. Damian Darke also appeared in had several Debbie Picture Story Library books. It’s easy to see why it lasted Storytellers were quite a favored story device and the series produced many engaging stories as well as having some terrific artwork.

 

Malice in Wonderland

  • Malice In Wonderland–  M&J: #01 (18 May 1991) – #08 (06 July 1991)
  • Artist: Oliver Passingham

Plot

Becky Shaw lives in seaside town, Seahaven, when Summer ends the town grows quiet as all the holidaymakers going home. One of the big attractions of the town is the amusement park Wonderland, run by Mrs Jolly. Becky and her friends see Mrs Jolly going around town trying to get the last few tourists to come visit Wonderland. Mrs Jolly has her dog Bones do tricks to attract customers and she isn’t happy when Becky’s dog, Poppy starts copying Bones old to do better than him. She can’t seem nasty in front of other people but soon she gets Becky on her own and offers to buy Poppy or even swap her own dog for him. Of course Becky isn’t having it, but then Mrs Jolly startles Poppy and she runs into Wonderland. Mrs Jolly tells Becky she better find her fast as Wonderland is closing in half hour and won’t open again until next year.

malice-in-wonderland-1

Becky is forced to leave when Wonderland closes but she goes back the next day and manages to get in. She is surprised that all the lights are on and the rides are operational. She finds Poppy but Mrs Jolly has gotten there first, Mrs Jolly says she will make a bargain with Becky – if she successfully goes on all her amusements she will get Poppy back. Becky doesn’t take her on up on this bargain, instead grabbing Poppy she escapes but is suddenly surrounded by fog, she thinks she makes it home only to discover it’s a model of her house and she is still in Wonderland. Becky has no choice but to except the challenge. Helping to keep Becky there are Mrs Jolly’s strange children, who all wear stripy scarves.

malice-in-wonderland-2

First Becky is led down a hall of mirrors and is scared by distorted image of herself. The image also scares Fey one of the young Jolly children,  Mrs Jolly comforts her daughter and tells her things are not always as the seem in Wonderland. Becky uses this advice when playing a game of getting prize from animatronic cat that is now more vicious. She discovers everything in Wonderland is now more dangerous and realistic looking than when the amusements were opened for the summer. Another example of this is the Little Red Riding Hood amusement where she has to avoid the wolves, which are lot scarier now. She gets through, and Mrs Jolly congratulates Becky for passing one test, then her daughter Tarith corrects her reminding her Becky has passed two tests now. Becky thinks she may have an ally in Tarith, but she notices strangely that Mrs Jolly seems to be scared of her daughter and she begins to wonder who is really in charge.

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Tarith seems friendly begins to quiz Becky about her life, but then Becky finds what ever she tells Tarith makes her forget those memories. The memory stealing seems to be connected to a song on jukebox. At the same time Becky still has to go through the challenges the Jollys’ set her. She is led back to the hall of mirrors, she fails at the task, to escape within a set time. Then Tarith appears to help, Becky is startled to see her reflection has Tarith’s face and she has Beckys. She suspects Tarith’s claims that she will help her to escape, actually means Tarith will take her place and Becky will be left trapped. Not seeing any other choice for the moment, she agrees to take Tarith to her house. Again fog appears and Becky knows they haven’t escaped and are back in the model of her house. Becky things back to Mrs Jolly saying things aren’t what they seem, she stands up to Tarith saying everything is an illusion. She walks pass the Jollys saying they aren’t really. A ghostly Tarith comes after her, reaching for her… at that point a hand wakes her up. It’s her mom, it ha all been a dream. Becky fell asleep after playing Jolly Families card game. Becky is worried when she there is no Tarith card, she wonders if she was possibly real, but then Poppy appears chewing a card, which is the Tarith card. Becky is relieved the nightmare is over.

malice-in-wonderland-4

Thoughts

From the story title the ending shouldn’t be such a surprise that it’s all a dream. The story does have a sort of surreal feeling about it, knowing it’s a dream, it makes sense – rules change,  Becky goes home only to actually find she’s still in Wonderland, Jollys popping up sudenly in the fog and the changing villains. The art by Oliver Passingham fits this well, as he has drawn a lot of creepy stories and he captures the changing nature of wonderland well. All the characters are very distinctive, Mrs Jolly looks like the villain with some exaggerated features she is like a caricature, meanwhile Tarith the real villain, looks pretty but he captures intensity with her eyes and creepy sequences like the hall of mirrors.

malice-in-wonderland-5

The shift from Mrs Jolly to Tarith as villain is nicely done.  Mrs Jolly at first shown to be nasty and scary, is shown to be more sympathetic as story goes on, she cares for her children, as shown when she comforts Fey and is scared of Tarith. Tarith when introduced as a possible ally to Becky, also has some sympathetic characteristics as it seems she just wants to escape like Becky, of course the problem is what she is willing to do to achieve that goal – taking over Becky’s life! The ending with it all being a dream would have been more intriguing if they left it with the Tarith card missing. This could leave the reader wondering if Tarith was some supernatural being trying to get at Becky through her dreams. Instead the story was all wrapped up with happy ending, which I’m sure readers were relieved to see!

It’s a short story, only 8 issues, and because of it all being a dream the ending can seem a bit abrupt but it still works well. It would have been interesting to see Becky trying more of the twisted amusements, I was reminded of Goosebumps book “One Day in Horrorland” where kids were trapped in a twisted theme park, although that book came out after this story. So it is a popular  concept that has popped up in other places!

malice-in-wonderland-6

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve – Review

mistyThere has already been quite a few reviews of this new Rebellion reprint of Misty Stories, which is great to see it’s being well received.  This isn’t the first Rebellion book I have got and I was pleased to see the quality I expected continues for this reprint. It’s glossy paper, well bound (which having had books where the pages fall out the first time you open them is an important factor!) and (for the most part) faithful reprinting of the material.

The two stories chosen are certain to be among favorites. Moonchild – inspired by Stephen King’s Carrie and written by Pat Mills with art by John Armstrong was one of the first stories printed in Misty. It follows Rosemary Black a girl with a crescent moon scar on her forehead who develops strange powers. Her oppressive, abusive mother claims it is wickedness in her, while she also has to deal with nasty bullies in school.  The reprint is taken from the 1983 Misty annual rather than the original issues, but unless you’re familiar with the original it is hardly noticeable and doesn’t take away much from the atmospheric story. John Armstrong’s art is great and certainly I am fan of the bigger splash pages he does. Unfortunately because of the use of thin lines the art appears faded in some places, it may distract a little, but it is a minor quibble and Rebellion have done well in reproducing the story.

moonchild       4-faces

The second story is The Four Faces of Eve written by Malcolm Shaw with art by Brian Delaney, it is a mysterious story about Eve, a girl who has amnesia, but then has nightmares about a girl dying. As she tries to unravel the mystery she also finds she has a connection to two other dead girls too. Although it is a close call, this is my favorite of the two stories, the mystery, the questionable parents, the suspenseful build up and the gorgeous art by Brian Delaney. This reprint is more faithful, including the title and recap box for every episode.

Along with the stories there are two crafty features which are a nice addition, a foreword from Pat Mills and profiles of the creators in the back, including Shirley Bellwood who was responsible for the art of cover girl Misty. Although the book may look thin, there is a lot packed in and all of it is good quality (and certainly it’s no thinner than a lot of other trade-paperbacks). It will entertain fans of old girls comics or people who like a good supernatural story and appreciate fantastic artwork.

[Misty: Featuring Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve. Rebellion Publishing, 2016. ISBN 9781781084526]

Read comixminx review focusing on publishing choices here:

Misty: Moonchild & The Four Faces of Eve (2016)

The Revenge of Roxanne

Plot

Roxanne moves to a village where she falls under the power of a vengeful ghost, who is also named Roxanne. The Roxanne ghost forces Roxanne to commit acts of terror against the villagers through a ring she puts on Roxanne’s finger and Roxanne cannot remove. As a result, the villagers think Roxanne is a witch and it culminates in Roxanne being chased by a witch-hunting mob.

Notes

  • Artists: Ron Tiner plus unknown filler artist

Appeared

  • The Revenge of Roxanne – Suzy:  (no publication dates currently available)

 

Scream! (1997)

Scream cover

Mandy Picture Library #272

Published: 1997

Cover: Peter Wilkes?

Writer: Anne Bulcraig

“Scream!” takes a complete break from the usual pattern of girls’ picture libraries. Instead of being one complete story it is a collection of five shorter-length stories, and they are all spooky, creepy stories. Unsavoury girls get their comeuppances while other girls get caught in scary experiences that they may or may not emerge from unscathed. All stories are labelled as a “Scream!”. This take harkens back to the days of horror comics Misty and Spellbound two decades before. It was a trend that was seldom seen after both comics folded and is fondly remembered.

Scream 1: Framed! – artist Norman Lee

Katie Knight feels lonely after her best friend Joanna Bland emigrates, but soon becomes friends with new girl Lisa Jones. Lisa says she and her mother look after animals of all descriptions and invites Katie and her dog Soda around for the weekend.

When Katie arrives, she is surprised to find the walls of the house are lined with paintings of animals done by Mrs Jones, but no real animals are present. Meanwhile, Soda is acting strangely, and when the girls take a walk in the wood, he gets really terrified. Katie thinks the wood is weird too, and eventually realises it has no birds or animals. Later, Katie is baffled to find that a cat she saw in one of the paintings has changed position from when she last saw it.

Then Katie wakes up one night and discovers that Soda has somehow been turned into one of Mrs Jones’ paintings. Katie explains that they have had to turn to pets for their paintings because all the wildlife realised what was going on and fled. What happens next with Katie and the Joneses is not recorded. Some weeks later, a new girl brings a guinea pig with her to a weekend stay with the Joneses….

 Scream 1

Scream 2: Green Fingers – artist Carlos Freixas

Sarah Peters is a very selfish girl who grabs whatever she wants and never helps anyone, not even when it is an emergency. In class Sarah suddenly gets interested in a green issue project when she hears the prize money will pay for the top she has her eye on. On the way home she sees a plant in a window box that has leaves shaped like hearts and cute animals. It is so unusual it is guaranteed to win. She asks the owner if she can have a cutting. The owner says she needs to test Sarah to see if she is a suitable candidate. It turns out to be a test for kindness, and of course the selfish Sarah fails dismally. The owner refuses to give her the cutting, saying the plant has powers to reflect the nature of its owner. Only nice people are safe tending it and it would be dangerous for someone like Sarah. But Sarah is not having that; she sneaks out in the night and helps herself to a cutting.

After one night with Sarah the leaves start changing shape. They are going from hearts and cute animals to ghoulish faces and creepy animals. Sarah is bewildered and revolted at the new shapes, but does not get rid of the plant or reconsider what the lady said. The lady warns Sarah to return the cutting before it is too late, for even she does not fully understand the plant’s powers. Sarah does not listen and denies ever taking the cutting.

When Sarah returns home from school, her mother asks her to go and pick up an urgent prescription for a neighbour who is not well. But Sarah cares far more for watching her favourite television programme and goes into the house to watch. Then, as Sarah approaches her bedroom, she is astonished to find her cutting is now growing so much that it is coming out through the door. She goes into her room, where the plant starts crawling all over her. She screams for help – but the plant has learned its behaviour from the girl who never helps anyone.

Scream 2

Scream 3: House Warning – artist unknown

Julie Wood and her family move into a large house in the country. Julie is bewildered when everyone at her new school avoids her for no apparent reason, and her mother gets the same treatment at the supermarket. A neighbour asks Julie if she is having problems with the house yet, and then things do start going strangely wrong for the family in the house. Eventually, a boy at school tells Julie the reason people avoid her is the house. It seems to be alive and won’t let anyone live in it ever since its owner died the previous year. Julie questions the neighbour again. The neighbour says the house is grieving for its late owner, “Old Kate” Murray. Old Kate loved the house and now it will not accept anyone else.

In the night, a strange lady wakes Julie up, which alerts Julie to a fire. Julie manages to extinguish the fire before it catches proper hold. Then Julie realises the woman was Old Kate and it had been her ghost that was driving people out. But this time Old Kate needed help to save her house from burning down, and got it from Julie. From then on, the Woods have no more trouble with the house.

Scream 3

Scream 4: Skin Deep – artist Maria Dembilio

Nadine Andrews and her family are on holiday at a holiday camp. Nadine is a vain girl who infuriates everyone with her conceit, including her sister Emily. Nadine wants to enter the “Miss Happy Holidays” beauty contest. At the fair Nadine meets a fortune teller, and is surprised that the fortune teller somehow knows she wants to enter the contest. The fortune teller sells Nadine a beauty cream that will guarantee she wins. The effects on Nadine’s face seem like magic and she does win.

But the effect wears off next day. Nadine feels cheated and goes back to the fortune teller to get her money back. Nadine is extremely unreasonable when the fortune teller says she never said the effects were lasting, and becomes rude and insulting to her. Deciding Nadine needs a lesson, the fortune teller gives her an even stronger and longer-lasting cream that is guaranteed to make her really stand out. She says the price will be very high – but it isn’t money, which she refuses to accept. When Nadine puts on the cream, she is shocked to find her face has gone all distorted! The effects wear off eventually and Nadine stops being so vain.

Scream 4

Scream 5: Time Slip – artist Claude Berridge

During half-term break, Trudi Clark accompanies her father on an archaeological excavation at a site where a medieval village is said to be. The dig yields an old box that looks at least three hundred years old and Dad asks Trudi to hold it. But when she does, the whole environment changes to a medieval appearance, with no sign of her family. A boy runs by and tells Trudi to misdirect a man who is chasing him, which she does. She makes friends with the boy, whose name is Carak. Carak comments on her strange clothes. Trudi begins to think she has been transported to the past, when the medieval village existed. But then Carak serves her hamburgers, which were not around in medieval times.

Then Carak notices the box, and says Trudi must have stolen it from the museum. Trudi wants to hold onto it as she hopes it will get her back to her own time. When Carak says it is five hundred years old – not three hundred – Trudi realises that she has been transported to the future, not the past. A replica of the medieval village has been built as a tourist attraction, and the museum has exhibits not only of medieval times but the 20th century as well. Carak is surprised when the cabinet the box is supposed to be in is still sealed. Then he sets off an alarm and the man, Mr Peters, starts chasing them both. They find a place to take refuge in.

Trudi decides to tell Carak what happened. Carak opens the box, which contains three rings. He explains they are time travel devices that can take someone into the past, present or future. The trouble is, nobody knows which ring is which. When Trudi held the box, she must have had her hand too close to the “future” ring. Mr Peters catches up, and Trudi takes a chance on one of the rings. But this ring transports them to the past and the real medieval village. A woman comes in and thinks they are robbers. As they flee, Trudi trips up and a man grabs one of her Wellington boots. They take another shot at the rings, and this time they come to Trudi’s own time period, and the clock time is just before the box was found. Carak takes the box and goes back to his own time.

This time, Dad’s find is the Wellington boot that Trudi lost in medieval times. Trudi hopes he does not look too closely at the boot and realise it has been buried at that spot for years – how will she be able to explain that to him?

Scream 5

Happiness House (1994)

Happiness House logo

Published: M&J #182 (5 November 1994) – #186 (3 December 1994)

Artist: Norman Lee

Writer: Maureen Hartley

Plot

Over the holidays, Laura Willoughby and her family move into Lower End Cottage, where Dad plans to set up a nursery business after losing his job. The cottage is a rundown place, and the villagers soon reveal that it has a reputation for being jinxed. People don’t live there long because they have nothing but bad luck in it. The Willoughbys find themselves avoided by a lot of villagers for this reason.

Happiness House panel 2

Soon the cottage’s reputation for being jinxed becomes manifest – the family have nothing but disaster there, something always goes wrong with everything they do, the cottage seems to hate them at every turn, and they suffer injuries from a lot of accidents. Laura also notices there is something weird about the garden too: no insects buzzing, no birds singing, and no flowers blooming. There is also a dirty pond in the garden (note this).

Then Laura finds an old sign that says the cottage used to be called “Happiness House”. She deduces the problem is that the cottage is unhappy for some reason. As Laura loves the cottage despite everything, she sets out to find out why it is unhappy and if anything can be done to make it happy again.

Enquiries with a more helpful villager, Mrs Broadley, reveal that a little girl named Bessie Sawyer had an accident at the cottage years ago, and there is an old song about it:

Bessie Sawyer, Bessie Sawyer, fell into the muddy water.

Bessie Sawyer’s queen today, now poor Bessie’s gone away.

Happiness

Laura tracks down Bessie’s grave. Most of the inscription has worn away, but what remains reveals that Bessie died 1 May 1865 at the age of seven (the same age as Laura’s sister Jenny). Laura then borrows a diary kept by the vicar of the period. It reveals that when Bessie was christened in March 1858, her parents were overjoyed because they had despaired of ever having children. At this point the cottage was still called Lower End Cottage, and Laura construes that they changed its name to Happiness House because they were so happy to have a child at long last. Next, Laura revisits the dirty pond, and recalling the “muddy water” bit from the rhyme, deduces that it must be the spot where the accident struck seven years later.

Meanwhile, the rest of the family have become fed up of all the bad luck at the cottage and are preparing to move out. As they pack up, Jenny finds an old doll, which Laura retains in case it has some bearing on the Bessie mystery.

At the library, Laura finds the final clue in a display of photographs of village life in the 19th century. Among them is a photograph of May Day celebrations in 1865, and the May Queen is a little girl who wears the same costume as the doll.

Putting all the pieces together, Laura surmises that Bessie was crowned Queen of the May in 1865, and her mother dressed up the doll in the same May Queen costume. But on the same day, Bessie somehow fell into the pond and drowned. The tragedy shattered the happiness of Happiness House and cast a pall over the place that still lingers.

Happiness House panel 3

Not knowing what else to do to put things right, Laura cleans up the doll and takes it to Bessie’s grave. It does the trick: when Laura returns, birds are singing and flowers are blooming in the garden, and the cottage itself looks happier. Within days the family (who know nothing about Bessie or Laura’s investigation) have noticed they seem happier in the cottage and they are having no more bad luck. They decide to give the cottage another chance, while Laura puts the “Happiness House” sign back up.

Thoughts

Stories on jinxed houses that cause trouble for whoever lives there because there is something wrong with the place that needs to be put right (or the house just gets destroyed) have appeared before. But I have seen the premise used more for complete stories in annuals, such as “House of Secrets” in Jinty annual 1978, than for serials. The serial itself could fit into an annual as it is only five episodes long. The short length works well, and enables the mystery to be unravelled in record time without unnecessary padding added to drag it out and prolong the family’s suffering in the place.

Happiness House panel 4

The story is one of my personal M&J favourites. The story is straightforward and engaging. The tragedy of Bessie is certain to bring a tear to the eye, and we also feel for the family as nothing but disaster strikes them. The discovery of the Happiness House sign shows that the cottage is not downright evil; it is acting more like a human being who is unhappy and takes it out on others by dragging them down to the same level of unhappiness. We do notice that the bad luck does not seem to strike Laura herself. Perhaps the house senses that she is trying to help and is leaving her alone? The artwork of Norman Lee also adds to the story. Lee was a popular artist, and his style works well with the rural setting of the story and hints of the period aspects.