In a follow-up to Lorrsadmin’s discussion of 15 of her favourite Misty short stories, I am going to discuss 10 of the Misty stories that have really stuck with me. Some of my favourite short stories, “Mr Walenski’s Secret”, “Don’t Look Now!”, “Room for One More”, “Fancy Another Jelly Baby?”, “Prisoner in the Attic” and “The Evil Djinn”, have been omitted here as Lorrsadmin has already discussed them. For this reason, I am not going to discuss the following stories in order of preference.
1: The Girl Who Walked on Water
Artist: José Canovas
Writer: Barry Clements (?)
Nancy Pierce has caused her parents so much trouble that they have disowned her and dumped her on Social Services. Social Services are making no headway with Nancy, so they send her to Mrs West, who has an “astonishing” success rate at reforming delinquents. Mrs West keeps photographs of Nancy’s predecessors on the mantelpiece; Nancy attacks photographs when she hears those girls have all reformed. But this does not affect the calm, unruffled Mrs West in the slightest, nor do any other attempts to annoy her.
While walking on the beach, Nancy is amazed to see a girl walking on the water. When Nancy tackles her about how she does it, the girl says to leave her alone. Mrs West denies any knowledge about the girl walking on water.
Nancy keeps an eye out for the girl. When she reappears, Nancy rows up to her, and recognises her as one of Mrs West’s girls from the photographs. The girl warns Nancy not to pursue the question of how she can walk on water, for it is not the good thing it appears to be. But Nancy persists and resorts to force to get what she wants out of her. The girl says it is the shoes, which she forced off another Mrs West girl in the same manner that Nancy is doing now. Still not listening to the girl’s warnings that she will regret it, Nancy makes her remove the shoes.
When Nancy puts on the shoes, she is thrilled to be walking on water. But then she discovers the catch – the shoes do make her walk on water, but they also make her sink on land. And now the shoes will not come off, which means Nancy is now trapped on the water. She will remain so until the next Mrs West girl comes along and, in turn, force her to remove the shoes. When that happens, Nancy will be free and add to Mrs West’s astonishing success rate. As the girl goes up to Mrs West’s house, the lady takes down her photograph and replaces it with Nancy’s.
The story falls into the category of what I call “The Greed Trap”. An unsavoury person is lured by greed to an object, place or power. Too late they discover it is a trap. They become its prisoner until the next unsavoury person arrives (if they ever do) and replaces them by falling into the same trap. The concept has been used in several Misty stories, such as “Full Circle” and “The Final Piece”. But what makes this story so striking is how it turns the whole concept of walking on water inside out. We all know the story of Jesus walking on water, and how the feat has been hailed as a miracle. So it is a real twist here to see the concept walking on water being turned on its head to become a punishment instead of a miracle.
It’s also slightly different from the usual greed trap stories, where the trap catches the person completely unawares. Here Nancy had plenty of warning – from the girl. We also suspect she had a chance to change at Mrs West’s house (everything free and easy, nice place in a beach setting, the lady being kind and not getting wound up by Nancy’s misbehaviour). But Nancy did not heed any of it and so she went on to suffer Mrs West’s special treatment. Still, at least Nancy will one day regain her freedom and start a new life as a reformed girl. This is not the case with the delinquent girl in our next story…
2: The Treatment
Artist: Mario Capaldi
Glenda Barton is a problem girl and her parents have sent her to Country Park Corrective School. It is not a bad place; many of the other inmates seem to like it and respond to its therapy. But the school’s methods make no headway with Glenda and she wants to escape. She gets no help from the other girls, but the cook agrees to help her in exchange for money. But in fact Cook let her out on orders on the staff, who have decided she needs “The Treatment”, which the school reserves for incorrigible cases like her. When Glenda enters a wooded area Cook directed her to, The Treatment begins: She undergoes a terrifying transformation into a tree. A strange plant then releases a duplicate of Glenda to the staff. This Glenda is completely different in personality, and she will be the ‘reformed’ Glenda for her parents to take home. The Treatment is the bargain they have made with the plant: send in hopeless cases to be “adopted by the woods” in exchange for good-natured doubles.
Glenda had her chance to reform at the corrective school, as many of the other girls have done, without resorting to “The Treatment”. Indeed, many of Misty’s unpleasant characters are given a chance to change (warnings for example). But like most of them, Glenda persists with her unpleasant ways. So it’s comeuppance Misty style, and there is no mercy or release for the girl this time.
Perhaps the strongest point of this story is its most frightening moment at the climax and the artwork that renders it – Glenda’s transformation into the tree. It begins with her hand, spreads across her body, and she screams for help until she is fully transformed and then there is only silence until the staff come for her double. But the most disturbing part of all is the terrified face that remains on the trunk, in wooden form. We even see what could be beads of sweat on it in the final panel of the story. We are left wondering if that face in the final panel was her last expression before she was fully transformed, or if it is actually looking on in horror and helplessness as her double takes her place. We are never told what happens to her mind after her transformation, and we are left to ponder whether or not it is still functioning, trapped in the tree form. If her mind is still working, could she be finally thinking about changing her ways, but too late? At any rate, there is no release from this trap for problem girls.
3: The Chase
Artist: Douglas Perry
Two pet fish, Sammy and Joey, always seem to be chasing each other around the tank as if they are playing tag. One day Sammy is found floating, with a gash in his side. The protagonist (no name is given) feeds Joey while saying she can’t play with him as Sammy could and he must miss Sammy a lot. Then Joey stares at her in an odd, hypnotic manner. She goes all dizzy and then finds herself in the fish tank with Joey. She agrees to play tag, and she will be “he”. But when she suggests they swap, Joey chases her in a killer-fish manner and puts a gash in her leg. The protagonist now realises it isn’t a game of tag; Joey is out to kill her and this was how Sammy went. When Joey corners the protagonist, she throws a stone at him. This stuns Joey and frees the protagonist from his spell. She finds herself back in the living room in a badly shaken state. Her mother thinks she just had a nightmare and she goes out for fresh air to recover. Then she finds the gash in her leg and realises it really happened. Then the protagonist hears her mother making a comment that has her realise that Joey is now staring at her mother in the same hypnotic manner, and she starts screaming after her…
Misty had several stories showing that even animals considered small and harmless (rabbits, snails, tadpoles) can strike horror, terror or revulsion if handled the right way. And here it is the turn of goldfish. Goldfish are supposed to be harmless fish for you admire every time you see a tank full of them. You would never consider them to be dangerous or killers. But this is precisely what happens in this story and shows that a fish does not need to be a shark or piranha to be a killer fish rivalling “Jaws”. Once Joey has the protagonist in the tank, he sure looks like Jaws in the way he bares his teeth when he chases her around the tank and puts the gash in her leg.
4: Sticks and Stones
Artist: John Richardson
Joan Cook is a nasty poison pen gossip columnist. All she cares about is making a name for herself with her poison pen and she really enjoys hurting people with the names she calls them. The editor knows this and is concerned, but does not really deal with her despite the trouble her poison pen has caused for him. Meanwhile, Joan’s shelves are groaning with files on all the dirt on people she has collected over the years. Her assistant Carol warns her that the shelves are dangerously overloaded from the files and could collapse at any time. But Joan won’t hear of pruning the collection, saying they are her life’s blood and will make a name for her. They will only go when she does.
A crossed wire enables Joan to overhear a conversation that Dr Garrett, a top scientist, is making with his assistant. The assistant asks how things are coming along with Gert, but Garrett makes a guarded answer. Based on this conversation, Joan writes a smear piece on Garrett, saying he is having an affair with a woman called Gert while his wife is sick in hospital. This makes life hell for Garrett’s daughter Marilyn, who gets targeted by nasty gossips and bullies at school and on the street. Marilyn tries to fall on the old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. But as the bullying continues, she finds it is far from the truth – names can and do hurt. Marilyn’s friend Anne sticks by her, saying there must be a logical explanation. And there is – G.E.R.T. is the acronym for the machine her father has developed for treating her mother, and it proves successful too.
Meanwhile, the adage “names will never hurt me” bites Joan as well. Her groaning shelves finally collapse – right on top of her – and she gets crushed to death under all the files of the names of people she has collected dirt on.
Does this one remind you of the popular cartoon joke where someone defiantly says to a heckler “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” – and then they get hit by a dictionary? The joke has cropped up in Garfield and Wizard of Id among others. The old adage is a fallacy – words not only hurt as much as sticks and stones but they can also destroy your own name and even your life.
Other word-related adages are played on as well. One is “famous last words”, where Joan says she is staking her life that she got her facts straight on Garrett. She didn’t (as usual) and does lose her life. Another is “eating your words”, where Joan says she will go when her files do – and that is precisely what happens.
Using a gossip columnist for the comeuppance makes a nice change from the usual bullies, problem children, abusers and thieves. And who wouldn’t want a poison pen columnist to get it? The beauty is that Misty shows she can give someone a comeuppance without any supernatural or SF elements at all. Instead, Joan brings about her own destruction by her lack of common sense as much as her nastiness.
5: The Purple Emperor
Artist: Isidro Mones
Betty regards butterflies as nothing more than specimens for her butterfly collection and the more rare they are, the greater her triumph. Betty’s kinder sister Sharon is horrified at how cruel she is to butterflies. Betty becomes obsessed at catching a Purple Emperor for her collection. When Sharon saves one from her, Betty further demonstrates her cruelty by slapping Sharon’s face and threatening to tear wings off a Purple Emperor just to spite her. Betty sets out on another attempt to catch a Purple Emperor, but has an accident and hits her head. She then has a terrifying experience (or dream from the blow on her head?) of a giant who is a Purple Emperor. He captures her with a butterfly net and throws her into a killing jar to suffocate and be added to his collection. She starts screaming that she must be imagining it and begs to wake up soon…
The story of the horrible butterfly-collecting girl who becomes a specimen herself and suffocates in a killing jar is one that has struck a cord in fandom. It is still mentioned in many Misty discussions. The artwork certainly helps to bring it off. The splash panel of Betty gloating evilly over a butterfly as she is about to stick a pin in it, and speaking her triumph in a jagged speech balloon rather than a regular one tells it all – the horror, the cruelty, the disregard for the life or beauty of nature, and what sort of comeuppance is in store. This panel takes the cover spot, which must have helped the story to endure in readers’ memory. Printing the story in full colour further enhances it. We can see the beauty of the butterflies in full colour, and the Purple Emperor giant in all his purple glory. He would have been far less effective if it had been in the usual black-and-white pages.
6: The Gravedigger’s Daughter
Artist: John Armstrong
In an earlier period, Katey Malden is being bullied because her father is the local gravedigger. The bullying gets so bad that Katey runs off. By the time she is found she has contracted pneumonia, for which there was then no cure. Before she dies, she whispers something to her father.
The whole town turns out for the funeral, with people expressing regret that they did not take action against the bullying. The bullies themselves are remorseful except for the ringleader, Mary Douglas. The other bullies tell Mary go to Katey’s grave, lay down some flowers they give her and beg forgiveness, or they will never speak to her again. Mary goes to the grave and puts the flowers on it, but only to please the other girls. She has no intention of asking forgiveness and that is what she says at the grave. Then a hand shoots out of the grave Carrie-style and strangles Mary. Her body is found the next day. People think she died of fright, but Mr Malden guesses the truth, because the last thing Katey said to him was: “I shall never, never forgive!”
Misty ran a lot of complete stories on the seriousness of bullying, but even she seldom went as far as to touch on the most extreme consequence of bullying – when it leads to the victim’s death. But that is the case here. The victim dies because of the bullying. We hear of it so often in the news, but seldom did it appear in the comics. So this sets the story apart more from Misty’s other stories about bullying.
Misty certainly is not going to allow the chief bully to get away with causing someone’s death, especially as the bully does not feel in the least bit guilty about it. And can the mere laying of flowers on the grave really right the wrong done to the victim or earn forgiveness for the bully? It does not sound likely. On the other hand, would a genuine show of contrition have brought forgiveness, since Katey had vowed with her dying breath never to forgive the bullies? Or would Katey have killed Mary anyway, regardless of her attitude at the grave? With this possibility in mind, it makes a better story to keep the chief bully an unsympathetic character that has no remorse for the death her bullying caused. The arm shooting out of the grave is a bit clichéd, but the artwork of John Armstrong really brings it off in the expression on Mary’s face as the hand throttles her.
7: Vengeance is Green…
Artist: José Ariza
Nobody cares for Nina Parker. Girls bully her at school, the teachers don’t listen or intervene, and there is no help from her callous gran either. One day during the bullying, Nina finds an ivy plant that also got damaged from the bullies. She takes it home, pots it up, and starts caring for it as her only friend. Her gran is scornful, but the ivy begins to thrive. Nina finds that talking to the plant makes it grow faster and she pours out her bullied heart to it. One day the bullies overhear her and pounce. Then the ivy attacks the ringleader, Marion, and threatens to choke her. To save Marion, Nina is forced to destroy the ivy, her only friend.
The comeuppance of the ivy attacking the bully is no surprise because of the buildup (talking to the plant, telling it all about the bullying, caring for it, looking for sympathy from it, and the plant thriving under it all). What is a surprise, and also a heart-breaking twist, is that Nina is forced to destroy her only friend with her own hands to save the bully, who would have been killed otherwise. One sure hopes the bully appreciated it and left Nina alone after that.
8: Monster of Greenacres
Artist: Jacques Goudon
Greenacres is being terrorised by a strange madman who kills people and police are completely baffled as to his identity. He seemed to start by merely making a nuisance of himself, but once people got more used to it, he stepped up to murder after murder. Nobody is more scared of him than Polly. When she has a narrow escape from him, it drives her and her family out of Greenacres. This starts a stampede where everybody flees Greenacres to get away from the madman and it turns into a ghost town. There is nothing and nobody left in Greenacres but the killer himself – who is the scarecrow on the farm where Polly and her parents lived. The scarecrow did what he did because he just likes to scare and doesn’t know where to stop. But now there is nobody and nothing left for him to scare.
Here Misty portrays an evil that never gets destroyed. How can the police possibly figure out that the murderer is a scarecrow? There is no supernatural force of any sort that comes in and destroys him either. And the irony is that it is the scarecrow on the property where Polly lives – the one who fears him most. And it was his attempt to scare Polly that triggered the stampede that leaves the scarecrow with nobody left to scare. He has become a victim of his own success and presumably stands on the old farm bored stiff because he has left himself with nothing to scare. He has created his own punishment. It is not on the same level as him being destroyed and Greenacres becoming safe to live in again. But in some girls’ stories you can’t always win against evil or score a total victory against it. This is the case here, and it has the story end on a grim, sad note that makes it a better story.
9: The Monkey
Artist: Mario Capaldi
Kitty is a bully, and her worst vitriol is reserved for Benny, the organ grinder’s monkey. Every time she passes Benny she teases him, though she is disturbed by the way he looks at her. She does not heed admonishing from her parents or classmates to leave the monkey alone. One day Kitty pushes Benny too far and he bites her; the organ grinder says it is the great law giving her what she deserves. Soon after, Kitty starts acting very strangely. She acts like a monkey and seems to hear the organ grinder’s music out of nowhere. Every time she hears the music she behaves like a monkey. Deciding it must have something to do with the monkey bite, she goes to the organ grinder’s house to sort it out. There she finds Benny, who stares at her with burning eyes that seem “strangely human”. She goes into a strange trance that is full of more organ-grinding music. When she comes out of it, she finds that Benny has somehow switched bodies with her. He escapes in her body. She is condemned to spend the rest of her life in Benny’s body and forced to dance to the hated organ-grinding music while Benny gloats from inside her body.
This story has something that was rare in Misty – humour. It sure is funny, the way Kitty behaves like a monkey: walking like one, climbing trees, eating peanuts. But it’s black comedy of course, and we know the girl is going to be punished for bullying and animal cruelty. And when Kitty becomes trapped in the monkey’s body, she finds that being an organ grinder’s monkey is cruel too. Though the organ grinder is not a cruel person and loves Benny, Misty shows the monkey leads an unpleasant life, dressing up in tutus and other costumes and dance for people’s money and entertainment. We also see the monkey is kept in a cage at home, which is a far cry from his natural habitat and no other monkeys for company. And this story was written in the 1970s, when it was less un-PC than it is now to use organ grinder monkeys or when fewer people gave thought to how unnatural it for exotic animals to be used for entertainment. It was a bit ahead of its time on that score.
10: Danse Macabre
Artist: Maria Barrera
It is nearing the end-of-term production by Madame Krepskaya’s dancing academy. She has to choose between Nadia Nerona and Lois Hills for the star role. Nadia manages to cheat her way into the role. After all-day practice for the show the next day, Nadia asks to borrow the ballet shoes Madame wore at the height of her success for luck at the show. Madame refuses, saying luck is immaterial for a professional dancer, and furthermore, the shoes brought her success, but someone like Nadia has no idea of the price.
Scheming Nadia steals the shoes and takes them to the academy stage to try out. She is astonished to find ballet music coming out of nowhere and the shoes have a life of their own and can dance anything beautifully. She realises that the shoes were the secret of Madame’s success. But then comes the snag Madame hinted at – Nadia finds the shoes just won’t stop. They go on dancing and dancing, regardless of how exhausted Nadia is getting or the injuries her feet are taking from the non-stop dancing. Things get even more terrifying when Nadia discovers that the music is coming from the orchestra pit and the musicians are all skeletons! The same goes for the corps de ballet and the danseur who now partners her. And when the ballet turns to “Giselle”, Nadia really panics – the protagonist in that ballet dies and is carried off by the spirits of death (actually, the part about the spirits of death is not correct, which shows lack of proper research there). The ballet dancing with the skeletons gets more and more wild until Nadia finally blacks out on the stage and everything goes quiet. Nadia is found next morning and taken to hospital with badly damaged feet. Lois gets the role after all, and is a “towering success”. Lois also asked Madame if she could borrow the shoes for luck. Madame said an artist like her does not need shoes like that, and in any case, the shoes have been danced to pieces.
When reading this story, one is reminded of the fairy tale of “The Red Shoes” where a vain girl is put through a merciless punishment of being locked into red shoes that will not stop dancing. She has to get her feet amputated by a headsman to break free of the spell. Though the story doesn’t go that far, it is excruciating and more than terrifying enough for the ballerina. Those skeletons would strike terror and nightmares into anyone. But they should not be a surprise to the readers with a title like “Danse Macabre”. For a moment we have to wonder if Nadia was meant to dance until she was a skeleton herself – there was a hint of it when the ballet turned to “Giselle” (which also has spirits forcing people to dance until they die) – but some editorial censorship stepped in. Or maybe it was the coming of dawn, though this is not mentioned. After all, daybreak stops the evil spirits in “Giselle” and the skeleton dance in the orchestral “Danse Macabre”.