Tag Archives: Ghost story

They All Hate Hetty! (1975)

Published: Bunty PSL #146

Artists: Cover – Jack Martin; story – Mario Capaldi

Writer: Unknown

Special thanks to Goof for making the entry possible with scans.

Plot

Hester “Hetty” Mellish and her parents have only just moved to the isolated village of Widdivale when Dad is hospitalised in a road accident and Mum has to go to lodgings to be near him. Hetty is left in charge of a neighbour, Mrs Jones.

Hetty is curious to track down her great-grandmother, a Mrs Turvy who lived in Cubby’s Cottage in Widdivale. When Hetty finds Cubby’s Cottage, it is a rundown, neglected place, and then a couple of children suddenly run away in terror when they see her there. Tracking them down to sort things out, Hetty finds their mother, Mrs Preston, acting equally hostile and scared at her poking around Cubby’s Cottage. Mrs Preston warns Hetty to stay away from there and then slams the door in her face.

Next stop is the churchyard, where Hetty hopes to find her great-grandmother’s grave. She eventually finds it behind an overgrown bush, and the headstone bears the name Hester Turvy, the same first name as hers. But Hetty is astonished that the headstone is so neglected and kept behind the overgrown bush while every other headstone is kept immaculate – as if someone wanted it out of sight and mind. She tries to clean up the grave.

While she does, Sam Wiles, the man in charge of the graves, turns up. When he hears Hester Turvy was her great-grandmother, shares the same first name, and even looks like her, he suddenly goes scared and crazy and goes off spreading wild tales that Hetty is descended from Hester Turvy the village witch, come back to plague the village. Witch beliefs still persist in the village, and great-grandmother Turvy was believed to be a witch. From what Hetty and Mrs Jones can gather, it was all rumour mongering that arose because she lived alone, looked rather formidable, and, as the story later reveals, had a recipe book, which must have sparked tales of “a spell book”.

The whole village turns against Hetty, now believed to be a witch like her great-grandmother. When Hetty comes, people flee in terror, jeer and throw stones, or slam their doors shut. Wiles is spearheading the campaign to drive her out. He takes to the soapbox on a tree stump in the village square rabble-rousing the villagers, fanning the flames against Hetty, and urging people to burn down Cubby’s Cottage, saying it must be the source of her power. He even pays off Freddy and his friend Tom to spy on Hetty for any “witch” activity.

Mrs Jones remains Hetty’s only friend and staunchly stands up for her against Wiles, the persecution, and the crazy stories that get going. She knows how those villagers are so easily infected by gossip as they don’t have much else to occupy their minds with.

As is usual with these types of stories, strange things seem to happen and attract themselves to Hetty. The villagers start to imagine things that started when Hetty arrived. Good deeds Hetty tries to do to prove she’s all right just go wrong and look like more witchcraft. All of them inflame hatred against Hetty. There are rational explanations, and Mrs Jones helps Hetty to scotch a number of them, but it can’t really stop the persecution or Sam Wiles and his hate mongering.

Among them, Hetty tries to clean up the cottage and makes a makeshift broom for the job, but when the villagers see the broom, it sparks rumours it’s a witch’s broomstick. She acquires a cat, Tinker, who got left behind when his previous owner moved. Although the villagers know Tinker, they scream he’s the witch’s cat as he’s black, and throw stones at him. The frightened cat takes refuge in Cubby’s Cottage. While looking for Tinker in the cottage, Hetty finds great-grandmother’s old recipe book and tries a recipe for cowslip tea. She does not realise Wiles and his spies are watching her, and Wiles orders them to watch Hetty and that “spell book” very closely. The boys steal the cowslip tea, and Tom dares Freddy to drink it. Soon after, Freddy grows ill and his mother accuses Hetty of poisoning him with her witch’s brew. However, when Mrs Jones and Hetty investigate, they find Freddy is merely sick from eating too many sweets, which he admits were bought with the money Wiles gave him for information received.

The village fete comes up, and Mrs Jones is sure it will distract the villagers from Hetty. Hetty decides to contribute a doll in the hopes it will help the villagers to see she’s okay. No such luck.

When Hetty tries to be friendly and smiling to the villagers, crazy old Wiles starts the rumour that the “witch-girl” will harm Mrs Jones, the way Hester Turvy used to harm “innocent folk”. Oh, no, we can guess what happens next…

Sure enough, Mrs Jones soon has an accident and is sent to hospital. Hetty is blamed when the villagers see the doll – the doll’s dress is made from the same material as Mrs Jones’ and a needle is stuck where Mrs Jones got injured. It looks like Wiles’ “prediction” that Hetty would harm Mrs Jones by witchcraft has come true. At any rate, Hetty has lost her only friend and now faces the villagers’ hostility alone. She decides to stick things out so as not to worry her parents.

When Hetty donates the doll to the fete, the villagers refuse to touch it. Then a violent storm strikes, and the villagers blame Hetty although the weather forecast had warned about sudden storms. Wiles renews the call to burn down Cubby’s Cottage. Back home, there’s a note on the gate: “Get Out, Witch!”

Next day, Hetty decides to do just that. She packs a suitcase and strikes out for her mother’s lodgings, to tell her what’s been going on. But then, something tells her to go back to Cubby’s Cottage.

At Cubby’s Cottage, Hetty finds Freddy and Tom have been at it again. They tried to burn down Cubby’s Cottage for a lark, but it backfired on them when the fire got out of control. The cottage is going up like a torch, and Freddy is trapped in there. Hetty braves the flames to rescue him, but is soon in danger of becoming trapped herself. Then great-grandmother’s ghost appears and helps them both to safety.

After this, the villagers decide the great-grandmother wasn’t a witch after all and stop their persecution of Hetty. Weeks later, after Dad has recovered, the villagers want to make it up to Hetty, and they start by cleaning up great-grandmother’s grave. As Hetty and her mother inspect their work, great-grandmother’s ghost is doing the same and smiling.

Thoughts

Lingering witch beliefs in British villages have inspired numerous girls’ serials with the “descended from the village witch” formula. Other stories to use it include “Bad-Luck Barbara” (Mandy) and “Witch!” (Bunty). The formula is used to make a statement about the stupidities of witch beliefs, superstition and mass hysteria, and that 20th century people ought to be living in the 20th century, not the 16th century. And of course, illustrate how idiotic gossip and rumour-mongering can get as rapidly and dangerously out of control as the fire in the story.

The story is a little different from the formula its counterparts usually take, which makes it more interesting and novel. Usually there is an ambivalence about the things that happen, leaving readers to wonder if there really is something weird going on and the girl really is developing strange powers, or if it’s all coincidence, rational explanations, law of attraction or whatever. Here, the strange things all have rational explanations. In the end, it turns out there really is a supernatural force after all (something these types of stories usually hint at but keep ambiguous) – great-grandmother’s ghost, but it turns out to be benign and had nothing to do with the goings on the villagers blamed on Hetty. Also, instead of being a pervasive influence throughout the story, which is the more usual pattern, it only appears at the climax. It doesn’t even manifest during Hetty’s earlier visits to Cubby’s Cottage.

The story is also different in having males as the main persecutors. More often, they are female and don’t seem to be in it for much more than bullying, though personal gain can be linked to it. But it is logical to have ringleader as an older man, perhaps old enough to remember great-grandmother when she was alive, and his occupation (sexton) ties in well with how the whole thing starts. Being a man, and a respected one as the village sexton, would give him a whole lot more authority and power as a rabble-rouser against Hetty. Having the two boys as the main antagonists in the persecution and Wiles’ flunkies also makes sense. By nature they are scamps, and it’s obvious they get into all sorts of mischief. Persecuting a “witch” is the perfect excuse to cause mischief and worse with impunity, plus there’s money in it. After nearly getting themselves killed by their own mischief, maybe they will think twice about pranks and dares in future.

There is always a single person in these types of stories who serves as the girl’s only friend and sticks up for her against the persecutors (the girl’s parents are always useless for one reason or other). Usually it’s another girl who’s new to the village and therefore does not think the way the superstitious village idiots do. But this case, the story takes the unusual step of making her an adult who’s lived there for a long time, knows those gossiping, small-minded villagers all too well, and has friends among them. An adult is much more effective as an ally than a mere girl. An adult, and certainly one like Mrs Jones, is much more capable of standing up to those village idiots and trying to talk sense into them, or at least try to make them shut up.

As is common with similar stories DCT has produced, the protagonist eventually loses her only supporter, making her position even more precarious. And no matter how she tries to ride the storm, the situation inevitably reaches crisis point. If not for the supernatural intervention, Hetty and her parents would have been forced to leave the village altogether, which happened in “Witch!”

The ending – the persecution ending with the girl proving her goodness by saving lives and being accepted as a heroine – has been seen before in these types of stories. It usually comes off as pat and unrealistic because in real life, once witch believers think someone’s a witch, the label sticks and cannot be unstuck. But here we have a supernatural element taking a hand, and when there is one, we know things will be all right, which makes the ending more acceptable. And, unlike similar stories, we get to see the original “witch” finally happy and able to rest in peace after being persecuted in both life and death, which makes it even more satisfying.

The Barn [1995]

Published: Mandy Picture Story Library #226

Artist: Unknown

Writer: Unknown

We continue commemorating the Halloween season with “The Barn”, as it’s got owls and a haunted barn.

Plot

Beth Braden and her parents move to the countryside when Dad gets a job on an estate with Mr Horden. Beth is soon settling into the country life, though Horden rapidly makes it clear he is not the nicest of bosses to work for. Beth soon discovers that Horden has big plans for developing the estate. Moreover, he does not care how he goes about it, or who or what gets in the way.

Beth comes across an old barn and immediately likes it for its character and historical feel. She also finds a love heart carving that says BB loves LD, and is struck at how she shares the same initials as BB. She is dismayed to hear Horden is planning to develop the area for a luxury villa, which would look awful in that area. It would also demolish Beth’s beloved barn, which looks like it has heritage values too. Unfortunately she can’t do anything to put Dad’s job in jeopardy. Later she learns she has BB’s old room in their new cottage when she stumbles across BB’s box hidden under the floorboards. The box contains a pressed flower and a silver owl brooch.

At the village disco Beth meets a boy who has the same initials as LD – Luke Daniels. Beth learns that Luke’s father lost his job on the estate when Horden took it over, and for this reason he gets frigid with her once he hears who her father works for. But they soon come together again when they find an injured barn owl. Luke has been taught a few things in how to nurse the owl. They decide to keep her in the old barn where they can continue to nurse her. There is an owl window in the barn too, which suggests it has been used for owl watching before.

Then Beth and Luke overhear a conversation between Horden and Councillor Roberts. They realise Roberts is helping Horden to get council permission for the development plans as part of an illegal deal.

Beth’s father also tells her that Horden is trying to get permission to pull down an oak tree despite it having a protection order because it houses rare bats. Learning that buildings that house rare creatures could get them protected too, Beth realises that if they can get the barn owl to settle in the barn, they could get it protected. But it’s not just because of the owls; it’s also for BB and LD because Beth senses it means a lot to them. Beth also feels there is a presence in the barn that does not want the barn to go.

The owl begins to settle into the barn, and her mate turns up to feed her. But Horden’s application for council consent to convert the barn is now moving, so they have to come up with a way to stop it, and without Horden knowing Beth is part of it. They hit on the idea of entering a photo of the owls in a junior wildlife photo competition in the newspaper, with a note to say where the owls live, in accordance with the rules. But it will be entered under Luke’s name only to protect Beth.

There is something spooky about what happens when Luke takes the photo of the owl feeding its mate. Beth could swear she heard someone gasp as it was being taken. Luke thinks there was something odd about it too – he is not much good at photography, yet he seemed to know when to take the photo. Beth now really begins to suspect something in the barn wants it to be left intact. It’s no surprise that the photograph wins the competition.

The owls have settled into the barn so well that they have started nesting. A reporter who runs the nature column in the newspaper comes to do an article on the owls and hears about Horden’s application for planning approval. He gets the application blocked, much to Horden’s fury and Luke and Beth’s delight.

However, Beth and Luke soon learn that Horden is not going to take it lying down. He poisons the two nesting owls and all that is left are their new chicks. The kids now raise the chicks themselves, and it is not long before the chicks are learning to fly.

Then BB’s diary turns up from under the floorboards. It dates from 1913 and also contains a record of owl watching, which BB used to conduct with a boyfriend called Len. Their chicks are almost ready to fly by the time Len goes into the army. The silver owl brooch was his parting gift to BB, and she says the owls would help to keep them close. Sadly, Len was KIA. The diary ends with BB reporting hearing strange noises in the barn and thinks it is a tramp. Luke and Beth then find evidence that there was a fire in the barn once. BB does not mention this in her diary, which suggests that the fire was after her time.

All of a sudden, fire strikes again in the barn, courtesy of an arsonist. The smoke nearly claims the lives of Beth and the owls, but Mr Daniels puts the fire out in time. He then explains that BB – full name Beth Baxter – perished in the other fire, which was accidentally started by the tramp. Sure enough, she used to live in the cottage and she was owl watching too.

Horden is jailed for attempted bribery of the council. So he has been forced to sell up. The new owner is a much nicer man who is happy to employ both Mr Braden and Mr Daniels. He also agrees to leave the barn and its owls as they are.

Thoughts

 This is a story you have to love for the wildlife caring, the dash of the supernatural and the hints of romance. Though there is no sign of romance between Beth and Luke and they seem little more than close friends, we will not be surprised if it goes that way at some point. That was the way it went between the two predecessors who parallel with them so much, right down to the initials. Even before we learn the full story and names of BB and LD, we get the impression that their story ended tragically. After all, how else could the haunting have started? We get the feeling the story is going to go in the direction of a haunting once Beth sees the love heart in the barn, even before the supernatural is introduced. The supernatural touches are very deftly and cleverly done. Instead of apparitions, objects moving and spectral warnings, the haunting is kept indistinct and gives little more than subtle nudges here and there to influence events in saving the owls and the barn.

Many could regard Mr Horden as just a ruthless, greedy man who stops at nothing and nobody to get what he wants. Yet he can also be seen as an allegory of the destructive forces of greed and profit at the expense of the environment and driving our fellow species into extinction (as exemplified in bowling over the rare owls and bats), and not giving a damn about it. Councillor Roberts could be regarded as even more distasteful because he’s corrupt. He’s breaking council rules and the law in order to help Horden because he stands to have his share of money out of Horden’s venture. Just how these two are caught out is not revealed, evidently because there were not enough pages to go into those details. Perhaps the arsonist was caught and made a confession.

The artwork does a brilliant job of bringing the story to life. It has a rugged, even heavy feel at times that blends in perfectly with the rural setting and depicting the owls and the barn, especially when the supernatural elements are introduced.