Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander: Devil Wind (Dark Forces #4)

There’s an absolutely terrifying ghost story by M. R. James called “Oh Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.

Don’t be impressed: I didn’t remember that title, just the story, but searching for “ghost story whistle” brought it up. It still terrifies me on rereading it, too.

(It also contains one of my favourite sentences ever, when a youngish professor is about to leave on vacation and someone jokes about coming with him: “The Professor quivered, but managed to laugh in a courteous manner.” My introvert heart understands completely.)

Anyway, Devil Wind puts me in mind of that, only it’s American, and has more witchcraft and demonology in it.

Scan_20170627 (2)In keeping with what must have been the theme of the Dark Forces series, messing around with ANYTHING (in this case an antique whistle) is just basically asking to have something show up and possess you. I imagine if you sat down and read them back to back you’d be afraid to ever leave the house again.

Before we get down to demons, though, I have to point out the world’s most confusing author note. Amazon informs me: “Writing under the pen name of “Laurie Bridges & Paul Alexander”, he wrote several titles in the Young Adult “Dark Forces” series of teen horror novels (published as mass market paperback originals by Bantam Books), including “Devil Wind”, “Swamp Witch” and “Magic Show” while he lived in New York.

That…makes it sound as if Laurie Bridges DOESN’T EXIST, except as part of a pen name. Right?

Except Laurie Bridges has a goodreads page (though one WITHOUT A PICTURE), and one of the books in this series (The Ashton Horror) lists her as the author, so…how did that happen?

IS LAURIE BRIDGES A GHOST?

Have I found a LITERAL ghost writer?

Or is that Amazon author note about Paul Alexander Zink just unnecessarily confusing?

***

But back to the book. Devil Wind opens with a one-paragraph prologue in which Simon Wardwell is executed, but not before dropping a whistle and casting a curse. Excellent. Continue reading “Laurie Bridges and Paul Alexander: Devil Wind (Dark Forces #4)”

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Rex Sparger: The Doll (Dark Forces #3)

dark forces the dollWell, this was disturbing in every possible way.

I’m creeped out by dolls anyway (even perfectly ordinary dolls are a little bit spooky to me), so the “this is what Chelsea Clinton would look like if she were inanimate and also possessed” thing going on in the cover art really freaks me out.

The book lives up to the cover.

Cassie, our heroine, is a doll collector. She persuades her father to go to the State Fair a day early, because she’s eager to share every possible moment with her long-distance farmboy boyfriend, Jack.

Cassie’s attending the fair to enter her doll collection in a competition, and Jack’s there, because his kid brother, Nate, has entered his cutting horse, Pebbles.

Jack and Cassie met at the previous year’s fair, and Cassie’s father is an agricultural agent, so we’re in wholesome rural territory here.

A fortune-teller warns Jack that he’ll have to be strong, and sees “very black clouds” in Cassie’s immediate future. The presence of a fortune-teller on the “good” side of things temporarily ruined my theory that this entire series sprang out of someone’s desire to write a whole bunch of Chick-Tract style religious fears into a horror series, but she’s…awfully Christian for a fortune-teller:

She hesitated. “Do you believe in God?”

The question surprised Jack. “Yes, I do,” he replied a bit warily.

“So do I.” She stared at him. “Why do you look astonished?”

“But I thought—I thought you believed in—”

“The occult?” she prompted.

“Right,” Jack responded, nodding.

“But why is that so strange? The occult is concerned with supernatural forces. And what is more supernatural than God?” (p. 26)

I mean, I’m pretty sure Jack Chick would still say she was putting her soul at risk by reading Tarot cards, but that’s pretty Christian-ish for a random fortune teller. When you add in the part where the Protestant minister who does the end-of-book exorcism is her adoptive father, it kind of reinforces my theory that these skewed heavily towards Christian superstition/indoctrination territory.

Anyway. Cassie sees a doll being offered as a prize for a dart game, and immediately becomes obsessed with it. Jack promises to win it for her. When the game finally opens another guy almost wins it for his girlfriend, but Cassie distracts him by throwing her darts into his leg. Yeah. I’m not sure if that’s meant to be “the evil doll is influencing Cassie,” or if it’s “the doll wants to be with Cassie because Cassie is already a little bit evil.”

Pebbles wins her competition, but then something awful happens. There really should be warnings for animal deaths in books. This one is particularly horrible. I only teared up a little when the cutting horse (it’s a skill set, not a breed) went crazy at the sight of Cassie and her evil doll, ending up breaking her leg and having to be killed, but I flat-out BAWLED at this part:

Hearing something, Jack looked up. He recognized the man who had been sitting in front of him in the grandstand. He was holding a gangly colt in his arms.

He put the colt down, and the little mare stood on shaky legs.

Puzzled, Nate looked at the colt, then at the man, who seemed somewhat embarrassed.

“Son, this here colt is a direct descendant of Powder Puff. Her daddy’s that stallion Warrior. I want you to train her.” The man paused. “We’ll go halves if you’ll do it.”

Nate stood up, and reached out to the colt. The little mare nuzzled him. Nate could not help smiling.

“Will you do it, boy?” the man asked.

“Is she weaned?” Nate asked.

“We lost her mom, she’s being bottle fed.”

“What’s her name?” Nate asked.

“Ain’t named her yet,” the man answered. “You do that.” (p. 58)

Also this:

“Yes, the working cowboys. They want a stone, and they have decided on what it should say—that is, with your approval, of course.”

Nate started to say something, but the fair official continued, “They want the marker to say, ‘Pebbles—the best damned cutting horse we ever saw.'” (p. 60)

Other bad things happen—Cassie’s other dolls get destroyed, and her and her fathers trailer is trashed (except for the doll. DUN DUN DUN)—but since I was still literally crying over the dead horse and the kindness of various strangers, the increasing creepiness had less of an effect on me than you’d expect.

Also, Cassie is being bitchy and horrible. I know this is meant to be because she’s starting to be possessed, but honestly if someone got a horse killed right in front of me and then snapped at me every time I criticized her increasingly-large (yes, it’s growing) doll with it’s creepy human hair, I’d just abandon her to her evil hobby. Jeez. So I guess I’d be less than useful in a case of possession.

Aside from growing, the doll is also changing its hair and eye colour until it looks like Cassie.

Eventually Jack confides in Maria, who drives them out to visit an elderly minister. He turns out to be her father, and also an experienced exorcist. Cue typical exorcism scene.

The demon tempts him by pretending the minister’s dear friend and co-exorcist, a now-deceased Catholic priest, sold his soul and is “here with me.” The minister recognizes bullshit, proceeds with the exorcism, and dies in the end—but he dies untainted, and is reunited with his dead friend, so…happy ending? I guess?

Also Cassie’s saved from the demon inhabiting the doll, although I found it slightly hard to care.

Dark Forces #1: The Game

Title: The Game

the game
My own copy is even more battered than this one. Because I read it MULTIPLE TIMES. Not entirely sure what long-term effect that had on me.

Author: Les Logan

I’m not sure where to even BEGIN describing this book, or the series it belongs to. I’d honestly forgotten these books existed, and then someone in a Facebook group posted a link to an article called What Children’s Book Do You Remember That No One Else Does? and suddenly I had to go digging around to find my copies.

To really get into the spirit (ha) of this series, you need to read some satanic panic stories, check out what backwards masking was, and read up on how nuts people went over D&D.

To prepare yourself for this particular book? Maybe go watch The Exorcist and then envision a version of it aimed at eleven year olds. Because that’s what this is: it’s The Exorcist minus the copious vomit, and with the hardcore self-abuse replaced by “making a pass at my twin sister’s boyfriend.”

Also [SPOILER ALERT] the priest lives in this one, which was vastly reassuring to me when I was young. For some reason I’d read my parents’ paperback copy of The Exorcist BEFORE I read this (I sneaked it off their bookshelf, it wasn’t a reading choice they’d approved or anything). I vividly remember being terrified the first time I read The Game, because I thought the priest might die. Like, I guess I just thought that was how all exorcisms ended: with the patient saved, but the priest dead.

The book starts with teenager Julie Mitchell driving in a rainstorm at night, while her father worries that he should be driving and her twin sister Terri daydreams in the back seat. Julie sees a shadowy figure in the road, crashes the car, and ends up in a wheelchair.

She’s angry and self-pitying, and her parents are having fights (her father feels so guilty that he wants to coddle her, while her mother wants to push her toward recovery or at least independence). That felt fairly realistic, actually. She’s also jealous of her sister, which again is believable, and has a bit of a crush on Terri’s boyfriend Scott-the-lifeguard.

Julie rallies briefly when an old family friend, Mrs. Barnes, visits. But then Mrs. Barnes unexpectedly dies of a heart attack. It’s never stated that this is BECAUSE of the evil spirit, but it feels that way, as though having caused the car accident it’s now trying to further isolate Julie by eliminating the one person whose company she enjoys.

At the estate sale of her stuff Julie buys an ominous dark trunk. Terri is suspicious, because she doesn’t remember ever having seen it at Mrs. Barnes house. At home they break it open and it’s full of fabric scraps and…DUN DUN DUN…a Ouija board.

So now Julie has two new hobbies: talking to a spirit using the Ouija board, and using a pair of binoculars to spy on Terri and Scott on the beach. I’m not sure which is creepier.

She sees Terri talking to some new boy and immediately assumed Terri is flirting and doesn’t appreciate Scott, when Terri is actually hoping the new boy will turn out to be a match for Julie. Julie, meanwhile, has made her own match, thankyouverymuch:

Only the spirit knew how much she suffered. Only the spirit knew how alone she was. In a life on earth, the spirit had been a handsome young man. It remembered what earth was like, it told her. It heard her cry of pain across the cold black silence and came to her, drawn by her pain and by her beauty. Julie watched hypnotically as the words were spelled out. (p. 44)

Terri, meanwhile, notices Julie’s bedroom is always cold now and smells like rotting meat. Their parents notice…nothing. On the twins’ birthday they give their daughters identical gold crosses, and when Julie puts hers on she starts to choke; later, Terri sees the burn mark on her sister’s neck.

Before she could knock, a voice boomed in her ears.

“Get away!”

Terri jumped back.

It wasn’t Julie’s voice. It wasn’t even a human voice. It was a voice straight out of hell. (p. 61)

Terri confides in Scott, and Scott takes her to see Father Shea. I’m not sure why Terri just didn’t go see Fr. Shea on her own, since she notes that his office hasn’t changed since she was a child, so obviously her family are Catholic too. But, whatever. Scott’s our hero.

Well, no, actually Fr. Shea is our hero. He listens seriously to Terri, and agrees to come see Julie.

No, he thought, it couldn’t be. Not possibly.

But the seed of fear was already there. It had been since he first heard of the Mitchell girl’s accident. Now it was coming into flower. (p. 66)

Father Shea visits the Mitchells, and when the girls’ father is showing him around the garden they discover all the tomatoes have withered. At dinner Julie can’t eat, and then gets sick (in the bathroom), and before he leaves Fr. Shea hears the evil voice telling him to go away. And THEN we get to see the priest’s thoughts, which are about the family who originally owned the house the Mitchells live in:

If Joe Campbell had lived, he’d be forty-one now. Old enough to have married. Old enough to have children. Old enough to have done a lot of things–if he hadn’t died on his sixteenth birthday. (p. 73)

Joe was (clearly) possessed, and died in a car crash on the same road where Julie had her accident.

The ambulance crew had to scrape Joe Campbell’s body out of the wreckage. (p. 79)

You just don’t see sentences like that in YA fiction anymore.

Anyway. Terri throws a party, and Julie thinks Jim Peterson (the new guy Terri has picked out as potential boyfriend for her creepy possessed sister) is boring. She throws herself out of his arms near the bonfire to make it look like he dropped her. Wow, I know she’s possessed and I still want to slap her.

Scott (her sister’s boyfriend) very nicely carries her up to her bedroom, where she kisses him. He’s sort of into it for a minute.

He couldn’t believe it, but he did. It was almost like kissing Terri. And, after all, if Julie wanted him so badly–

No. This was all wrong. The realization of what he was doing washed over him like ice water, killing his desire. Terri was the one he loved. And he was hurting Terri by being with her sister. (p. 99)

After Scott leaves the spirit comforts Julie by telling her they can be together forever if she invites him into her heart. Only then Terri shows up, horrified because Julie had promised her she’d thrown out the Ouija board. Julie grabs it and takes it outside, where she and Scott use up “a whole can of fluid” in order to get the board to burn.

Mr. and Mrs. Mitchell get called away by the sudden unexpected death of her brother-in-law.

So now the girls are alone, and the house goes full-tilt possessed, with a levitating bed and mysterious showers of rocks and mounds of foul-smelling garbage everywhere. They can’t phone out, and Julie’s wheelchair dies and their house is too far from everything for Terri to push her to safety.

But Scott can’t call Terri, either, and he realizes something is wrong. He goes to their house and is properly horrified, and promises to get help. He gets into a car crash on his way to get Father Shea, but the local cops get Father Shea for him, and then there’s an exorcism.

If I’m making that sound anti-climactic, it’s because it was. No description of a winged scaly figure or whatever is EVER going to be as creepy as the more subtle hints of evil (the voice, and the coldness, and the horrible smelling room) that preceded it. But Father Shea gets the job done and banishes the evil, and as I said earlier, he even lives through it.

Also, good news: the doctor calls to let them know that Julie’s nerves are regenerating and with lots of physiotherapy she’ll be able to walk again. Because in the 80s, disabled characters had to be “fixed” by the end in order to have a happy ending.