“Being a mental patient seems to make anything possible.”
So we might as well gently check ourselves into an asylum, is what I’m saying. It’s about time, and it doesn’t appear like anyone’s going to do it for us. I think at this point we could all do with a little rest cure at a home for the mentally unwell, if only to hang out with the rest of the Dark Shadows fanbase.
In other words, it’s time to visit once again with Marilyn Ross and the rest of the gang at the Paperback Library, which at this point in the show is still churning out a hundred and fifty-seven pages of mildly Dark Shadows infused literature every month, available to the public at sixty cents a throw. Ross wrote 32 Dark Shadows gothics between 1966 and 1972, and today, we’re going to look at November 1970’s offering, book #23 — Barnabas, Quentin and the Scorpio Curse.
The book doesn’t really have a curse in it, as far as I can tell, and the Scorpio connection is fairly tenuous, so I suspect that once again the higher-ups at PBL are just throwing titles at Ross to see what happens. The last book we looked at, Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse, didn’t have a witch or a curse, and whether it included “Quentin” is up for debate.
The larger storyline that we’ve been following in the development of the Dark Shadows gothics has been the books’ evolving portrayal of its principal characters. The heroine for the first five books was, of course, Victoria Winters, the girl governess who arrived at Collins House looking for a Mr. Rochester who never quite came together. She lasted until book #5, The Curse of Collinwood, which I haven’t read and don’t intend to. Once Barnabas arrived, Vicki faded away, and since then, the role of harried heroine has been shared round-robin between Maggie and Carolyn, with occasional original characters like Anita Burgess, Lara Balfour, or, in today’s case, Diana Collins.
Barnabas took over as the male lead in the sixth book, Barnabas Collins. He began as a devastatingly handsome vampire pedophile, who matured over the next several books to become a kind, thoughtful and mysterious figure who the heroine falls in love with, until the end of the book when he hands her off to somebody else.
Then Quentin Collins was introduced, kind of, in book #14, Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon, and how his character fits in is still being actively investigated. The Quentin in Quentin’s Demon was a pale, troubled figure who bore precisely no relation to any other Quentin ever seen. Starting with book #16, Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse, Quentin became a mischievous scamp who appeared in disguise in each book and turned into a werewolf a couple times, before disappearing without much impact on the plot. That was also the case in #17, Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost.
The most recent book that we’ve looked at was #20, Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse, when Quentin stepped out of the shadows and became a well-known practitioner of the dark arts, by which I mean that he owned a human skull and tried to hypnotize people sometimes.
We’re going to be checking out at least a few more of these PBL classics before the series ends, and Quentin is going to keep throwing us curve balls, until he finally transitions into more or less what we’d expect. But for now, at least, Quentin is in disguise once again, and he’s the meanest person that you ever met. Except for Diana’s sister, of course, who’s a nuclear weapon in a dress.
Diana Collins is a delicately hopeless case, a twenty-three year old with lovely gray eyes, an attractive oval face, black hair worn in pageboy style, and a nervous condition. Her rich father died in a private plane crash, and now she sits around and feels bad about herself for a living.
Here’s the current diagnosis:
Lately, a black velvet curtain had been descending on her mind, blotting out memory and allowing her to behave in an uncontrolled and frightening manner. Whether she dared to face reality or not, whether she allowed the words to cross her mind or not, the grim truth of it all remained. She was mad!
Naturally, this grim madwoman is distantly related to the Collinses of Collinwood, and she used to come and visit with Elizabeth and Carolyn on summer vacations, although after a while the invites dried up, I wonder why. She is currently returning to Collinwood for an afternoon visit with Elizabeth before she moves on to her new place of residence, a nearby institute for the highly-strung. She’s accompanied by her younger sister Carol, who is blonde, lovely, and perpetually enraged.
Diana said, “It’s all so familiar!”
Carol slowed the car as they came to the driveway of Collinwood and gave her a worried glance. “You sound very strange. Are you feeling all right?”
Diana winced slightly. Sighing, she said in a small voice, “I’m all right.”
“You don’t sound it,” Carol said suspiciously.
Diana became nervous, almost panicky. “It’s just returning here again and remembering all those other good times.”
Carol braked the car to a halt. “You’re the sentimental one. I never cared for Collinwood all that much. I always felt angry that Dad didn’t send us to some posh summer girls’ camp. We were so isolated here!”
So that’s Carol, ready to stop the car and have a pointless disagreement at any moment. Paperback Library characters are usually given one physical attribute and one character trait each, so you always know what you’re getting when they turn up on the page. Carol actually has two settings — first, she’s vicious, passive-aggressive and insulting, and second, she gets so worked up that she storms out of the room. I like Carol a lot.
They manage to get up the driveway and all the way inside Collinwood without physical violence, where Elizabeth greets them with tea and food and exposition. It turns out that the asylum is located at Turnbridge House, an old rickety maze of a place that’s within walking distance of Collinwood, which is handy given the number of screwballs who show up in this town on a regular basis.
Diana is checking in at the asylum later this afternoon, and for some reason, Dr. Meyer has offered to provide an extra room for Carol, so that she can be close to her sister, who she despises.
“That will be nice for you,” Elizabeth said sympathetically.
Carol spoke up in her crisp way. “I didn’t want to leave Diana alone. I’m not sure that Dr. Meyer can help her. I want to see if there is any daily improvement.”
Elizabeth looked at Diana with concerned eyes. “I must say you don’t look at all ill to me.”
“Thank you,” Diana said gratefully. At least she could be relieved that it didn’t show.
Carol said, “Diana isn’t at all well. Since Father’s death she’s had these blackouts. And when she comes to, she is never able to recall what she’s been doing or anything else.”
“Your father’s tragic accident must have been a dreadful shock to both of you,” Elizabeth said in a troubled voice. “Especially with your mother gone and having no other close relatives.”
“It was a shocking blow,” Diana said, a tremor in her voice at the memory of her father’s kind face and the warm feeling of security she’d known when he was alive — a security lost to her now.
“I think that was what brought Diana’s trouble to the crisis point,” her sister said over her teacup. And then she added acidly, “Though you must know from your own memories of her that she was always on the nervous side.”
Carol is great, isn’t she? This is going to be the best posh girls’ mental health sleepover camp ever. The biggest problem with this book is that sometimes Carol isn’t in it.
And here’s more good news: another member of the Collins family is also a patient at Turnbridge House, and guess who it is, it’s Barnabas Collins!
Elizabeth shows off the portrait in the Collinwood foyer, and explains that their distant cousin bears a remarkable resemblance to this portrait of his namesake.
“What’s wrong with him?” Carol asked.
Elizabeth said, “For a number of years he was unable to bear daylight. He remained in his home during the daylight hours, or at least inside if he happened to be traveling or living here at the old house.”
Carol in her brash way said, “And now he’s crazy?”
Elizabeth looked displeased. “Not at all. He has overcome his reluctance to appear in the daylight hours, and he now feels he needs psychiatric help for the new life open to him so he won’t revert to his former state. He is handsome and very pleasant. Both you girls will find him charming.”
“He sounds very nice,” Diana said, brightening. The news had cheered her for the first time in many days.
Her younger sister looked unimpressed. “There must surely be something wrong with him, or Dr. Meyer wouldn’t accept him as a patient.”
So, several things to unpack here, starting with: How great is Carol? It’s likely that I will end up quoting every devastatingly hurtful Carol line, which is every line that she says.
Also: Barnabas has overcome his what? Yes, that’s right: for the duration of this 157-page boneshaker, Barnabas Collins is not a vampire, and never was. It was all a delusion, or a hobby, or a practical joke. He has now cured himself of this aberration using common sense and will power, and he’s voluntarily checked himself into Dr. Hugo Meyer’s care to help him re-adjust to normal human society.
And, of course, here on page 10 is the first time that Barnabas is referred to as handsome, so it’s time for the ritual counting of the handsomes, a service that I provide for Paperback Library fans at no extra charge. No matter what condition Barnabas is in — natural, supernatural, or otherwise — the Paperback Library is on record stating that he is unquestionably and unstoppably gorgeous, and they back that up by describing him as handsome as often as they possibly can.
In this opus, Barnabas is described as handsome 18 times, including twice on page 18, page 97 and page 157. That means Scorpio Curse is tied for second place with Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon among the PBL books we’ve read so far. It seems that we’ll never top the original Barnabas Collins book, which called him handsome 24 times, but at least we’ve reversed the prevailing trend in 1970.
Here’s how the books stack up, in publication order:
Barnabas Collins (Nov 1968) : 24 handsomes
Barnabas Collins vs the Warlock (Oct 1969) : 16
Barnabas Collins and Quentin’s Demon (Feb 1970) : 18
Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse (April 1970) : 11
Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost (May 1970) : 8
Barnabas, Quentin and the Witch’s Curse (Aug 1970) : 7
Barnabas, Quentin and the Scorpio Curse (Nov 1970) : 18
So you can see how troubling this was getting over the course of 1970; it seemed like the addition of Quentin to the titles was steadily devaluing Barnabas’ handsomeness. Thankfully, we’re back at a level that inspires confidence in our newly devamped hero.
Also, in case you were wondering, Barnabas is also charming (8 times) and gaunt (6 times), and has deep-set eyes (5 times). You’re welcome, now on with the story.
It’s time to check in at the looney bin, so the sisters tear themselves away from Elizabeth. As they drive away from Collinwood, Carol gets to trash their host (they have nothing in common) and swipe at her sister (they seldom agree on anything, and maybe she shouldn’t have come).
Most importantly, they talk about Graham Weeds, a young lawyer who has been handling the sisters’ affairs since their father died. Graham was engaged to Diana at one point, but then suddenly broke off with her, and switched his affections to Carol. This caused an incident that we’ll hear a lot more about soon. Naturally, the more that Diana wants to avoid a subject, the more Carol wants to discuss it.
Carol sighed. “Sometimes I wonder. I have an idea you’ve never forgiven me for taking Graham from you.”
Diana fought to keep from trembling. This was a subject she preferred to stay away from. She said, “People can’t help falling in love. Graham found out he loved you rather than me.”
“But I know you’re still in love with him!”
This was dangerously close to the truth. Diana gave her sister a despairing look. “I did care for Graham. Too much for my own good. But now I’m trying to forget that. It isn’t easy for me yet. So I’d rather not talk about it.”
“I’m sorry,” Carol said. “I guess it worries me, too.”
I want to highlight that passage, because I believe it’s the only time in the book that Carol ever admits to human weakness. Also, I really like the name Graham Weeds.
We arrive at Turnbridge House at last, and Diana goes straight into her first appointment with Dr. Hugo Meyer, who I’m going to go out on a limb and say is not a very skilled therapist.
“According to the report I have here, there was an attack made on this Graham Weeds by you during one of your blackouts.”
“Yes,” she said faintly.
“You stabbed him when your blacked-out mind had lost some of the normal restraints! Doesn’t that suggest that you are being torn by your resentment of what happened?”
She looked down. “I suppose so. I don’t know. I can’t remember any of it!”
“Yet your sister found the young lawyer on the floor bleeding from a knife wound in his side while you stood over him in a dazed state. Had she not quickly called an ambulance, he would have surely died.”
“Yes! Yes!” she cried frantically. “Don’t go over it, please! Don’t make me think about it!”
“I’m sorry,” the doctor said. “But making you think about it may be an important step in my attempting to cure you.”
This is basically happening a minute after she walks in the door of this institution. I’m not sure that she’s even taken her coat off yet. Dr. Toughlove could probably dial it back a notch, without doing irreparable harm to his treatment protocol. I guess he’s just really worried about Graham Weeds; we all are.
Then Diana and the doctor have a weird little conversation about astrology, which is Diana’s depressing hobby. It turns out that Dr. Meyer is into the star-charters as well, and they both have the same star sign, Scorpio. You might think that this would be an important detail, given that the name of the book is BQ and the Scorpio Curse. This does not turn out to be the case.
Oh, and the doctor also tells her that the building might be haunted.
“This old house is a place of legend and mystery much the same as Collinwood, with which you’re familiar, I believe.”
“Yes. I am.”
“You’ll find this house has many similarities to Collinwood though different in structure. These are the kinds of places in which you picture phantoms lurking in every corner. And yet it has proved ideal for my clinic.”
Has it, though? is my question.
So now that he’s wound Diana up about as far as she can go, he releases her out into the spook-haunted halls of his nightmare boarding school for the mentally enfeebled. And as we approach the end of chapter 1, we have the traditional random terror-strike.
Suddenly out of the shadows a weird figure gradually took shape before her. A tall, broad male figure was coming toward her and she was at once filled with a chilling fear. The newcomer had a shaved bald head, was youngish and not bad-looking, but his eyes were what made her tremble. There was a cruel light of madness in them.
The man glared at her in the semi-darkness. Then he savagely seized her by the wrist. She drew back with a cry of fear, certain she was confronted by a lunatic, and frantic to escape his grasp!
Don’t worry about it, she’ll be fine. It turns out that the frightening man with the shaved head is actually Dr. Nils Ayler, one of the trio of daffy docs mismanaging this establishment, who browbeats her about why she’s walking around in the hall. “This is a hospital for mental cases, and we have to be extremely cautious,” he says.
This is just one example of the novel’s sensitive treatment of people with mental illness, who are shamed mercilessly at all times, and constantly reminded of their inferior condition. “Mental case” is actually pretty tame; they use the word “demented” a lot, as well as crazy, insane, sick, neurotic, lunatic, addled, unstable, psychotic and disturbed. All of these words are used interchangeably by every character, from the patients to the doctors to the inevitable police investigators, about themselves and everyone else.
But never mind the cruel and officious Dr. Ayler, because this is the point where Barnabas Collins enters the picture, hurray! The heroines in these books are universally afflicted with worries and concerns, and the handsome Paperback Barnabas, whose cold lips belie a warm heart, is the most sympathetic and comforting person of all time.
Diana found herself alone with the handsome Barnabas Collins. Mustering a forlorn smile, she said, “Thank you. I didn’t seem to be making out very well until you came along.”
“I’ve looked forward to our meeting,” he told her gallantly. “I’m sure you’ll find Dr. Meyer a dedicated doctor and you’ll leave here in good health.”
“The doctors don’t appear enthusiastic over Carol coming.”
“I wouldn’t let that worry me. Speaking for the patients, I’m certain we look forward to a normal member being added to our group.”
Diana smiled forlornly. “You seem completely normal to me.”
He shook his head. “Don’t be deceived. I’m as sick as you or anyone else here. Otherwise Dr. Meyer wouldn’t have accepted me as a patient.”
And that’s how things go, in this book. The patients all cheerfully admit that they’re abnormal and broken, and they either accept it as a permanent state of being, decide that they’re suddenly cured, or get horribly murdered.
To cheer Diana up, Barnabas tells her the gruesome and frightening legend of the Lost Lady of Turnbridge, who was jilted by her fiance and threw herself from the top of the house in response. It’s a shame that the Lost Lady didn’t just go after her ex-fiance with a carving knife, like Diana did; you don’t go to jail, and you get to live in a haunted mansion rent-free for as long as you like.
The Lost Lady of Turnbridge is said to appear in a long flowing cape and hood, but only to people who will shortly die. This is a great legend to have around in a paperback gothic, because basically anybody can put on a cape, so you can portend people’s deaths from sundown to sunup, spreading fear and despondency on all sides, and then you take off the cape and you’re just another abnormal mental case, like every other person that you know.
Then Diana and Barnabas have a conversation about astrology that is so exquisite that I will now present it to you in full. I encourage you to read this out loud, to get the full value out of every perfectly-formed sentence.
“My chief hobby is astrology,” she said with a small smile. “Do you take any interest in the stars and the science of prediction by them?”
“I know a little about it,” Barnabas said. “We must talk about sidereal time.”
Diana’s eyes opened wide with pleasure. “You do know something about astrology!”
“As an amateur,” he said modestly.
“Few amateurs could discuss sidereal time,” she said truthfully. Clocks are regulated by solar time, and it was her experience that this was the only time most people knew about. But astrologists reckoned with sidereal time, the time indicated by the stars beyond the sun. The length of a sidereal day is the time it takes a certain star to make a complete journey around to its highest point. A sidereal day, which is about four minutes shorter than a solar day, is very important in astrology.
“My sign is Leo,” Barnabas said.
“And mine is Scorpio,” she told him. “Our signs aren’t opposed, but neither are they well-matched.”
Barnabas laughed easily. “We won’t worry about it. And I’m certain you’ll find other Scorpios living here.”
“I have already. Dr. Meyer is one.”
“Really? I wasn’t aware of that,” he replied.
Said the two human beings who live on the planet Earth. For some reason, they don’t ever get around to having that long chat about sidereal time, which is a shame; it could have perked up chapter ten to a significant extent.
Barnabas escorts Diana to her quarters, and says that he’ll see her at dinner. So far, this insane asylum feels a lot like a cruise; I wonder if they’re going to sit at the captain’s table.
In her room, Diana starts unpacking the several suitcases full of clothes that she brought with her for some reason, and her delightful sister Carol walks in to cause trouble.
“He may be your type, but he’s surely not mine,” says Carol. “And why do you suppose he’s here? He must be insane,” says Carol. “It seems to me Dr. Meyer will have to make you think straight before he can hope to cure you,” says Carol. “And if you think straight you’ll remember the night you and Graham had that awful quarrel about breaking up,” says Carol. “When I discovered you, there was a bloodstained kitchen knife in your hand and you’d lapsed into one of your blackouts,” says Carol. “Graham was stretched out on the floor bleeding badly,” says Carol. “It was lucky for you it was only a flesh wound and I managed to get a doctor at once, or you might have found yourself in the hands of the police,” says Carol. “And if that wasn’t the act of a lunatic, I can’t think of one!” says Carol. “It’s just that I’ve lived in fear of what you might do ever since,” says Carol. “I’m asking you not to excite yourself and to try and ward off any further blackouts here,” says Carol. “You might do some awful thing when you’re in one of them,” says Carol. “You can’t blame me for Graham turning from you to me,” says Carol. “In any case, I don’t consider Graham your type,” says Carol. “I think you mistook kindness for love,” says Carol. “Eventually Graham had to be honest and disentangle himself from a wildly unsuitable alliance,” says Carol. “Let me warn you, I can tell one of your spells is coming on,” says Carol. “Wait and see!” says Carol. “And try to remember that I only came to this isolated, awful place to be near you and try and give you some extra protection!”
And then Carol turns and strides out of the room, because honestly, there’s only so much a girl can take.
And the chapter’s not even over yet! Diana gets dressed and goes downstairs for dinner, and she gets to meet the rest of the merry band at the Turnbridge home for the ill at ease. The first thing she finds is her sister getting friendly with the impatient Dr. Ayler; he is described as “cruel” 23 times in this book, so obviously he and Carol are instant besties.
“Dr. Ayler has been telling me the most fascinating things about the work they are doing here,” Carol gushed.
“I’m sure it’s interesting,” Diana said politely.
The doctor looked at her mockingly. “Of course I have spared her some of the details. I made no mention of the spartan white cells far under the house where we can place violent cases. Nor did I speak of straitjackets, the whirlpool baths of running lukewarm water, or the padded walls. The ugly side of our therapy is perhaps best skipped over.”
So you can see how he and Carol are made for each other; they have so much in common. By the way, I’m not sure what’s so scary about a whirlpool bath of running lukewarm water, which sounds pleasant to me; if I was Diana, I would sign up for that before all the spots are taken.
Then the affable Scorpio Dr. Meyer comes along and introduces her to some more patients.
They went first to a corner in the living room where Dr. Decker was standing in conversation with a somewhat overweight dark-haired young man with a round jolly face and a very attractive titian-haired girl who was terribly thin and seemed even more nervous than Diana herself.
Dr. Meyer paused to introduce her to them. “This is our new guest, Miss Diana Collins. I’d like you to meet Brian Dale and Mrs. Hope Fenway.”
“Welcome to our friendly circle,” Mrs. Fenway said in a warm voice.
The stout young man offered her a pudgy hand. “Dr. Meyer shows better taste in choosing his patients all the time,” he told her with a twinkle in his eyes.
Dr. Meyer warned her, “Brian has a gift for flattery. Beware of him. Now we must go on and see the others.” When they had moved a small distance away from the little circle, the doctor said, “You mustn’t feel self-conscious with any of these people. They are all as sick as you.”
So, wow, a huge diss on Brian, who’s just trying to be nice. It’s a shame they hit the overweight angle so hard with the stout Brian and his pudgy hands, because he’s the secondary romantic interest, who Barnabas suddenly hands Diana off to when he decides to break things off with her on the last page of the book. This doesn’t happen with Maggie or Carolyn, but when the heroine of one of these Dark Shadows gothics is an original character, there’s always a second guy waiting on the fringes so that someone’s there to catch her when Barnabas lets her go. Beware of him indeed.
Then they approach Barnabas and another patient, Paul Miles, who was once one of America’s most prominent architects. Paul has uneasy, small eyes and not very much to say, so Dr. Meyer drags Paul away, and leaves Diana with Barnabas and his romantic, deep-set eyes.
Now that she’s been introduced to most of the patients, Barnabas gives her a helping of hot goss. “They are products of our modern neurotic world,” he says, and here are the deets:
Brian Dale wrote a successful Broadway play, but then he got writer’s block and started drinking. “He had always been a heavy drinker,” Barnabas says, “and he wound up with suicidal tendencies.”
Hope Fenway is married to a wealthy man, but began to obsess over the idea that her husband is having an affair with every pretty girl he sees. “Only when she became so demented she no longer cared about her children, home, or appearance did he have her come here,” according to Barnabas.
Paul Miles murdered his wife, and recently finished a long prison term, which does not seem to have improved him in any way.
Dawn Walsh, who Diana hasn’t met yet, was a famous fashion model, but her face was disfigured in a car accident. “A half-dozen surgery operations restored her beauty almost completely,” according to Barnabas’ judgment, “but by that time her mind had become more severely scarred than her face. She still sees herself as horribly mutilated.”
Oh, and one more thing: Dr. Decker, the third of three doctors on staff at this wacky shack, was “one of Hitler’s trusted doctors in those camps of horror during the last war in Germany.” Seriously! This book features Josef Mengele as a supporting character, and he’s actually nicer than the other two doctors. So that is the environment that we are trapped in for the next 127 pages.
Going back to her room, Diana thinks that she sees the hooded figure of the Lost Lady of Turnbridge.
Diana stared at the apparition with terrified eyes, not certain whether it was a product of her imagination. Did it mean that her own death was near?
The figure suddenly moved closer to her. A quavering voice said, “You are Diana Collins!”
She swallowed hard. “Yes, she answered weakly.
“I had to come to you,” the phantom intoned.
“To welcome you. I couldn’t manage meeting you downstairs,” the ghostly creature went on in a fretful voice. “I was too ill, but I wanted to say hello. My name is Dawn Walsh. I’m a patient here, too.”
The speech gave her a flood of relief.
Okay, so we need to review that situation, and get a tighter grip on the mentality of the main character. She’s speaking to a human being, but still thinks that it’s a “ghostly creature” even after it’s spoken four sentences to her. It takes all the way until Dawn says her name for Diana to understand that the entity that she’s having a friendly conversation with is a real person and not a phantom. How do you deal with somebody like that?
I mean, I understand that she’s being presented to us specifically in the role of a certified nutcase, but this feels to me like it’s more of a systemic issue with Paperback Library heroines. It’s possible that the main character in every Dark Shadows gothic should be under inpatient psychiatric care, and this is the first time they’ve had the courage to admit it.
Knowing that Dawn is a deeply unhappy person with chronic self-esteem issues, Diana treats her with sensitivity and respect, for about two seconds. Then she spends the next two and a half pages disagreeing with literally everything that Dawn says.
Dawn: The darkness is kind. I wish the dawn would never come.
Diana: You shouldn’t feel that way.
Dawn: You haven’t seen my face! I’m a gargoyle!
Diana: Barnabas says that isn’t true!
Dawn: Then Barnabas is a liar! Until a little while ago, he was a creature of the shadows himself! Did he tell you that?
Dawn: You are a Collins, so you must have been to Collinwood and heard its legends.
Diana: I haven’t spent any time there since my childhood; the legends are blurred in my mind.
Dawn: Surely you recall the tales of werewolves and vampires? You must have heard about Quentin Collins, who could transform himself into a werewolf at will?
Diana: I remember the werewolf thing vaguely.
So that feels unlikely to me. How do you not remember a werewolf thing? Werewolves are possibly the most interesting thing you can talk about. But Dawn has more exposition bulletins, sent directly from the head office. It’s uncanny how well-informed she is about things that Marilyn Ross would like us to know.
Dawn: Barnabas has thrown off the vampire curse. He’s attempting to adjust to becoming a normal human again, and not a ghostly creature of the night preying on young women for their blood!
Diana: He could never have been that!
Dawn: He was! And in the daylight he retired to his casket.
Diana: You’re making it up!
Dawn: Wait until he decides to turn back to his old game and sink his teeth in your pretty throat!
Then Dawn says that Barnabas is a puppet of the radical-left socialists, who’s using mail-in voting to defund the police. Once she leaves, Diana tries to make sense of the outrageous
and then she’s suddenly outside, walking along a path by the edge of a cliff.
She’s had one of her little spells, which proves that Carol was right all along. Unfortunately, this incident doesn’t involve mayhem and malfeasance, so it’s kind of a letdown; basically, she realizes that she blacked out, and then she goes back to the asylum that she’s unintentionally escaped from, and goes to bed. I was hoping she’d stab Graham Weeds again, or at least kick him in the shin, or throw an egg at his car. Graham Weeds has been getting a free ride for too long, and Diana needs to buckle down and stop wasting blackouts.
The next morning, she has an appointment with Dr. Meyer, and he pinpoints the real trouble.
He gave her a sharp glance. “What baffles me is the guilt you feel about your illness.”
She nervously clasped her hands in her lap. “I can’t help it.”
“Mental illness is no more a thing to be ashamed of than physical illness,” Dr. Meyer said. “Your attitude is old-fashioned, and I’m surprised by it.”
Diana looked down. “I can’t forget I committed a crime during one of my attacks. That if it hadn’t been my sister and the man I was engaged to, I could have been charged in court.”
The doctor looked understanding. “So that is what is bothering you. I don’t think you should let it.”
So that feels like a breakthrough to me; Diana still feels as rotten as ever, but at least the doctor feels a little better. It was probably keeping him up nights, wondering why Diana was so surprisingly old-fashioned in her attitude.
Anyway, his view is that she should wait a while, and then all of her problems will just go away, like it’s a miracle; they might even make a vaccine for it. Meanwhile, she should go to the sanitarium library and read some books about astrology to cheer her up.
“Try to feel you are a guest here rather than a patient,” says Dr Meyer, but she basically is a guest rather than a patient. Her therapy sessions seem to be casual chats with a bossy person, and most of the day she just roams around and has awkward encounters with people. Nobody even notices if she wanders out of the building at night and falls off a cliff. Even the posh summer girls’ camp would have had stricter discipline than this.
Diana heads for the bookshelves, where she finds Hope Fenway, who’s in charge of the library as a part of her treatment. “Being occupied is supposed to be good for me,” she says, although how occupied can you get running a library in a house with ten people, including you?
Hope hands her a couple of books on astrology, and says, “Better to place your faith in the stars than in people.”
Not sure how to react, Diana says, “I’ve never given that any thought,” which just riles up Hope even more.
“My husband didn’t put me in here to be cured,” she insists. “He wants to drive me to insanity. He wants me kept here so he can do as he likes on the outside. All the doctors are plotting with him — they’re all devils!”
Diana tries to leave the room, but Hope follows her, saying, “You think I’m a lunatic, don’t you?” Diana says something bland, and Hope says, “Wait! You’ll find out everything I’ve told you is true.” So this running-the-library therapy is clearly a roaring success; Dr. Meyer should patent it, and put it out in pill form.
Diana takes the books out onto the lawn and starts to read, which is just asking for trouble. As soon as she gets comfortable, the terrible Dr. Ayler comes along and starts in with the merciless mockery.
“So astrology is your obsession?” Dr. Ayler said.
Diana frowned. “It has nothing to do with my illness.”
“Most patients are emphatic in their denial of fixations,” he observed coldly and picked up the other book which she had placed on the bench beside her and flipped its pages.
“‘Mansions of the moon are a series of twenty-eight divisions of the moon’s travel through the Zodiac,'” he read in a derisive tone. Then he gave her a sour smile. “No wonder your mind is addled, if you fill it with such drivel.”
“That’s not drivel! Astrology is a science!”
“A science that preaches teleportation! The transfer of an individual’s astral body from one place to another without physical aid,” the shaven-headed young man said scornfully. “You ask me to take that seriously?”
“Medicine accepts new theories every year,” she reminded him.
Do they? That seems like a pretty high turnover, for medicine. Is there an open call process, or you have to mail in coupons, or what? Also, does astrology really preach teleportation?
So Dr. Ayler is just snide and upsetting, until he finally leaves to go report her to the medical board or something, and Dr. Decker walks up for some conversation. Decker is much kinder and more sympathetic than Ayler, which is amazing considering that Decker was a Nazi death-camp doctor. I mean, if your bedside manner compares poorly to Josef Mengele, then you should probably reassess your entire approach from the ground up.
Decker’s got some more gossip from the sickroom: Paul Miles has suddenly become violent, I wonder why, and now he’s downstairs, chained up.
The picture of a mad Paul Miles locked in one of the spartan cells in the dark underground area of the house was not a pleasant one.
“You don’t usually treat violent patients, do you?” she asks.
“No,” he frowned. “If the condition doesn’t correct istelf in a short time, we have to turn the patient over to a regular mental institution.”
“You are not equipped to handle dangerous psychotics?”
“No, Dr. Meyer does not feel that is our best area.”
Yeah, that’s probably because Turnbridge is pro-psychotic, rather than anti-. I hope Paul’s condition corrects itself. Things usually do, if you wait long enough.
Diana goes back to reading her astrology book, and then there’s the following passage, which I can not explain the existence of. I mean, they did a whole paragraph on sidereal time in the previous chapter, so I suppose I should be prepared for anything, but this is bizarre, even by Paperback Library standards:
She came upon an account of Louis de Wohl which she found fascinating. He was a Hungarian astrologer who helped the British Admiralty defeat the Italian fleet in World War II. He knew Hitler’s astrologers and their methods and offered his services to counteract the work of the German astrologers. Using the German calculations, he suspected that the Italian fleet would be ordered out in the Mediterranean Sea at a certain time to prey on British shipping. De Wohl had the British fleet waiting for them, inflicting on the Italians a disastrous defeat in the battle of Taranto Bay.
Now, that’s actually an intriguing anecdote, and it may even be true, but I can’t explain what it’s doing on page 42. It’s just sitting there, telling a more interesting story than the one it’s suddenly in the middle of.
By the way, absolutely nothing in the plot of this book relates to astrology in anything more than a glancing way. It turns out that it’s actually pretty difficult to write a thrilling adventure story that hinges on astrology, because vague predictions are not, in and of themselves, very suspenseful. Dark Shadows tried to make a big deal out of Liz’s unfinished horoscope a while ago, and it led precisely nowhere.
Anyway, Diana decides that she’s bored with reading and wants to be imperiled, so she goes and takes a walk down into some dark, gloomy area of the grounds and suddenly a rough hand is clasped over her mouth!
Unusually, this chapter-ending cliffhanger isn’t just a misunderstanding. There’s an actual miscreant on the other end of that rough hand, and it quickly bundles Diana into a cell and slams the door shut. She sees a movement in the cell, and guess who, it’s Paul Miles.
“Paul Miles,” she repeated his name in fear-stricken tones. “Don’t you remember me? I’m Diana Collins, one of the other patients.”
The beady eyes never moved from her. “Louise,” he murmured.
“No,” she protested.
“Louise!” his voice rose, and he came a step closer.
Now, at this point, Marilyn Ross tells us, “There was a blank expression on the broad face, but his small eyes were alive with hatred,” and if you can arrange a mental picture of that description, then you’re more imaginative than I am, cause it beats me how anyone could accomplish it.
Diana screams, and then suddenly Barnabas Collins throws back the bolts, deftly whisks her from the cell, and closes the door again just in time, because he is made of magic. What is he doing down here in the cellar? It doesn’t matter. Diana is saved!
So they leave, and Diana says that she thinks it was probably the despicable Dr. Ayler who threw her into the madman’s cage, for no particular reason other than sheer inborn orneriness. She considers telling Dr. Meyer, but Barnabas says, “It may be that you’d find out more if you said nothing about it.” She also might get attacked again if she says nothing about it, but I guess we’ll see how it goes. Everybody always decides to say nothing about crimes in these PBL gothics; the Paperback police are drastically under-informed.
“The fright I had there ruins the entire place for me,” Diana says. “I’ll never forget that cell. I don’t see how I can gain any good treatment here now.” This is going to be one hell of a Yelp review.
So Barnabas and Diana do a walk and talk, and she brings up Dawn’s wild claims.
“She suggested you had been tainted by the vampire curse and that is why you are here.”
Barnabas looked at her very directly. “Does anything that insane girl said matter to you?”
“She frightened me with her weird claims,” Diana admitted.
The handsome Britisher smiled wryly. “Do I suggest a vampire to you?”
“Of course not!” she protested. “I’m only telling you what she said.”
So that is that. Being handsome solves everything, that’s why Barnabas is the handsomest.
They discuss Dr. Ayler some more, and Barnabas says, “I’d like the whole story about Ayler’s past. I’ll have to check through my own channels.” Barnabas has channels. It turns out that Meyer allows Barnabas to come and go from the institution whenever he wants, so he can investigate things. His actual house is within walking distance of the asylum, so it’s not clear to me in what sense Barnabas is actually a patient here.
And then Diana gets a non-shocking shock.
Diana allowed her eyes to lift to the top of the cliffs and she at once saw a figure standing up there watching them. She gave a tiny startled cry and at the same time squeezed Barnabas’ arm.
“Look!” she said.
He glanced up quickly, and his brown eyes strained to discover who it was. As he watched, the figure suddenly turned and vanished. He said, “I think that was Brian Dale. He often takes a walk on the grounds. If it was him, you needn’t worry about it.”
Well, if it was anybody, she needn’t worry about it. People are allowed to stand places. Other people exist in the world, Diana, and you can’t freak out every time you catch sight of one. When I think how close she was to falling off a cliff fifteen pages ago, it makes me want to cry.
And then it’s time for another Carol scene! It goes like this:
So you’re finally back.
I saw you were out with that Barnabas. I watched you come up from the beach together, strolling along like lovers.
You oughtn’t to forget that he is a patient here. That he is mad!
The facts speak for themselves. He is a patient here, and so are you. I’d expect you to be extremely discreet.
What about Dr. Ayler?
It’s my opinion you made it up because you’re jealous of the kindness he’s shown me. He’s very nice, and I am entitled to some pleasure here. I am burying myself in this dreadful place to try and help you.
I won’t answer that. I’ll allow you to think about it. I’m sure you’ll regret what you’ve said in due time.
And then she sweeps out of the room again. Honestly, she gives and she gives.
Then Dr. Decker comes in to give Diana some medication, and she asks a bunch of questions about when he came from Germany to America. She tries leading him into a conversation about his wartime activities, but he dodges the subject and quickly leaves, so Diana realizes that Barnabas was right, and that Dr. Decker contributed to Hitler’s reign of terror. This information will not influence the plot in any way.
Diana drifts downstairs to dinner, and Barnabas isn’t there, so she’s stuck talking to pleasant playwright Brian Dale. He tells her all about how unhappy and tormented he’s been, which you think would be pure catnip to a PBL heroine, but she’s got other things on her mind.
“I hear you’ve a great interest in astrology,” Brian said, “and you were born under the sign of Scorpio.”
She laughed. “You’ve got all the data.”
He gave her a sharp glance. “Do you think the stars can tell our future?”
“I wish you’d work on mine,” he said. “I’m a Pisces.”
“I’ll need more than that,” she told him. “I’ll have to have the day and hour of your birth, and a lot of other things.”
“Great,” he said. “It will be something for us to do.”
“I wonder where Barnabas is,” she said.
So that’s a swing and a miss for Brian Dale, which is not going to assist in his treatment one bit. But Diana doesn’t care, all she can think about is Barnabas, so she wafts outside to see if she can find him. And then she’s attacked by a werewolf.
The creature is grayish-yellow, with fearsome fangs and burning amber eyes, a cavernous mouth and slavering jaws. It springs at Diana, and she tries to
and then she wakes up in her own bedroom, alone.
She’s had another blackout, and this one is pretty much the best case scenario, zapping her from a duel with death straight home again. Her dress is moist, indicating that she was laying on the wet grass for a while. She has no idea what’s going on. Nobody does.
And then Carol barges in, just in time to make everything worse.
“Where were you?” she demands. “You’re a sight! Your clothes are wet, and your hair is damp and plastered about your head!” There’s no need to criticize the coiffure.
“Another blackout!” she screams. “You must have been out in the fog to be in that state!”
“Barnabas again!” she hollers. “What kind of story are you trying to make me swallow? Are you starting to have delusions, as well as blackouts?”
“A werewolf!” she snaps contemptuously. “Surely you can do better than that. You moon around all hours of the night waiting for that Barnabas and then take one of your spells. That’s bad enough, without your making up stories as a cover!”
You know, you wouldn’t think that a person could ever prefer a life-or-death face-off with a slavering werewolf instead of a conversation with their own sister, but that just means you’ve never seen a sister like Carol. She is a Lucy van Pelt level fussbudget, and after a conversation with her, you know you’ve been in a fight.
“You’re getting worse!” Carol continues. “You know that! You can’t go on this way! You had no right to be out on this dark, foggy night looking for him! You were wrong in doing even that! That’s only wishful thinking!” This goes on for three pages. “When I came into the room that night, you were standing over Graham with a knife in your hand! What do you think he’ll say when I tell him you’re still having these spells? You are misbehaving! Trying to impress someone who is probably as mentally sick as you! I only know you had no right to leave this house in the darkness and expose yourself to a situation that induced another of your spells! It had better not happen again!”
And then there’s that dreadful, impossible moment when it turns out that Carol was right all along. Oh, we’re never going to hear the end of this.
Carol stopped suddenly and stood staring at the dresser. “What’s that?” she asked in a startled voice.
Diana glanced in the direction her sister had pointed, and a shadow of horror crossed her own face. She saw a knife on the dresser top! A knife that had no business being there — and had not been there before.
“I don’t know,” she faltered. She forced herself to go over to the dresser to examine the knife, but when she came close to it, she halted in horror. Both the blade and handle of the ordinary kitchen knife were dark and sticky with blood!
Naturally, Carol is extremely sympathetic about this new development. “You know very well what I mean!” she says, and “That’s what you said before!” and “Who did you attack in your madness this time?”
Utterly exasperated, Carol pulls out a hankie, picks up the gore-streaked knife, and says she’s going to dispose of it somewhere. Diana points out that she might be covering up a crime, and Carol says, yeah, yours, and then she walks out and shuts the door behind her. And there you have it, the perfect scene.
In the morning, Diana learns that Hope Fenway was found near the cliffs this morning, with several stab wounds and a picture of a spider or something drawn on her forehead in lipstick. Now who are they going to find who can run the library? This is a nightmare.
“Because of the tragedy, our entire routine here will be disrupted,” Dr. Meyer said sternly. “We had given strict orders to Mrs. Fenway never to leave Turnbridge House at night, but she didn’t listen.”
“Have you any idea who did it?” Diana questioned him in a taut voice.
He shook his head. “No. But it must have been some demented person with a strong belief in astrology. Wouldn’t you agree, Dr. Decker?”
He nodded. “Yes. I’m sure the rough drawing left on the victim’s head was a scorpion. It would have to relate to the sign Scorpio.”
Naturally, it would have to do no such thing, but never mind; we’ve finally got the Scorpio Curse up and running. I have no idea how you would recognize a drawing of a scorpion left on someone’s forehead in lipstick in the first place; a scorpion is a difficult shape to render accurately at the best of times, and immediately after you stab someone to death is not really the moment to master it.
So everyone stands around and speculates about suspects for a page or two, and then it’s time for another encounter with the person who is quickly becoming my favorite figure in American literature.
At that moment the front door opened, and Carol came in looking poised and attractive in a white tennis outfit. She gave Diana a warning glance while Brian’s back was still turned her way, then when Brian swung around to greet her, she smiled at him.
“It’s a wonderful warm morning after the fog,” she said. And to Diana, “You should be outside enjoying it.”
“Your sister, like me, has been too shocked by the news of Hope Fenway’s murder to think about the fine morning,” Brian told her reprovingly.
Carol didn’t appear at all upset by his words or tone. “Days like this are so rare in October we shouldn’t ignore them. Dr. Ayler had promised me a game of tennis before the tragedy broke, and he managed to get enough time off to keep his word.”
Tennis! I didn’t realize they had a tennis court at this four-star luxury establishment, but I guess a grisly murder means there’s one less person ahead of you on the sign-up sheet, as far as Carol is concerned.
She invites her sister out for a stroll in the open air, and lets her know that she dropped the knife down an old boarded-up well, where no one will ever find it except for the police, almost immediately.
“This is not the place or the time to go over it all,” Carol told her. “I merely wanted to tell you I’d gotten the knife disposed of. I’m doing my best to help you.”
“You should at least have some belief in me,” Diana begged.
Carol’s blue eyes were cold. “It’s past that. I know you are mentally unstable,” she said. “I have to be realistic. All I can do is try and protect you.”
Near tears, Diana said, “If I thought I were a murderess, I’d go to Dr. Meyer and confess!”
“I’d call that very silly,” Carol said, “unless you want to be placed in some madhouse for the rest of your life.”
“Please don’t say such things!”
“We have to face facts. I’m trying to help you. You’d be wise to leave it at that!”
“But I’m in torment!” Diana protested. “I feel sure I’m innocent, but everything points to my guilt!”
“I’m glad you’re aware of that,” Carol said in her cool way. “And if the knife is found, I’ll deny ever having seen it. You’ll be on your own.”
So I honestly don’t know how I’ve lived all these years without knowing about Carol; surely, someone should have flagged this for me decades ago. There is both a werewolf and a Nazi concentration camp doctor in this book, and even working together, they have nothing on Carol. She leaves them entirely in the shade.
So do you know why chapter 5 featured nothing but tragedy, despair, blood, obstruction of justice, and inappropriate tennis? Because Barnabas wasn’t in it!
But don’t worry; he reappears at the beginning of chapter 6, and he and Diana recap to each other for a full four pages. Yes, Barnabas was the one who carried Diana upstairs last night after her collapse on the wet lawn, but he didn’t see any werewolf, just a mental case, napping in the moonlight. Then Diana tells him about the blood-stained knife and Carol throwing it down a well, and now everybody’s all caught up.
Now it’s time to be questioned by the police, and the interrogation includes some unusual lines of inquiry.
The officer was studying her attentively as he asked her a blunt question, “Miss Collins, would you consider yourself a dangerous psychotic?”
Startled, she replied, “No, I wouldn’t say so.”
“Why are you here?”
“I’m very nervous. And my nervousness brings on memory blackouts. Dr. Meyer hopes to help me.”
“Then you wouldn’t consider yourself as demented as Paul Miles or Dawn Walsh?”
So I don’t know why this guy is trying to be a police officer; he’s clearly qualified to be a doctor at Turnbridge.
Then his shrewd eyes met hers once more. “Do you believe in ghosts, Miss Collins?”
“That’s a hard question to answer directly,” she said.
“I can’t,” she told him. “I believe in the supernatural, but my interpretation of ghosts might be different from yours.”
That seems like an unhelpful answer, even from someone as loopy as Diana, but I’m not sure what the officer’s getting at anyway. I wonder if he’s interested in astrology?
After that, Diana has a little interlude with her sister, which passes mostly without incident. Carol brings up the mean stories about Barnabas attacking girls in the village, but that’s just Paperback Library background chatter, and is not up to Carol’s usual standard. She must be saving her energy for something truly earth-shattering later on.
Then Dr. Meyer brings everyone together to announce that a) the police think that one of the inmates is the murderer, b) he does not, c) but he does think that the inmates are in terrible danger, plus d) he thinks that the crime was committed by a strong believer in astrology, but e) that he can’t think of any offhand. Then the police announce that they’ve found the knife.
All of this tension is making Diana’s head hurt, and we don’t want that; the last thing we need is another murder weapon that she doesn’t remember where it came from.
Dr. Meyer announces that the knife came from the Turnbridge kitchen, so the police believe that the murderer was someone in the building. “While this state of tension continues,” he says, “there will be no regular treatment periods. If any of you has a particular problem, do not hesitate to call on me.” And then he leaves the room, mission accomplished.
Dr. Decker says that it would probably be best if everyone stays in their rooms as much as possible, but feel free to get some exercise around the house and grounds, especially if you want to murder somebody, or destroy evidence.
Paul Miles was released from lockup in the last chapter, and is currently standing around looking dazed and sedated, and given the fact that he murdered his wife and recently menaced Diana, it might be a good idea to keep him out of circulation. Nobody does anything about it.
Helping Diana to her room and giving her a couple of tablets to avert the oncoming collapse, Dr. Decker selects a suitably unnerving topic of conversation.
“Paul Miles is also suffering from all that has happened,” he said. I feel we might have brought him back to normal if the murder hadn’t taken place. Now he seems to be slowly drifting away from us again. His condition remains on the edge of violence.”
She ventured, “Perhaps Paul Miles is the killer. He had the opportunity.”
The old German doctor looked startled. “You really think that?”
Oh, for pete’s sake. Yes! You have a dangerous lunatic roaming around your institute for dangerous lunatics, and you’re not even trying to keep an eye on him. Who knows where he could be right now, armed with lipstick and ready to pounce? You need to invest in some doors with locks.
I mean, I’m not trying to tell somebody how to manage their imaginary home for the beleaguered, but sometimes the incompetence just cries out for a management consultant.
Decker tells Diana that he has an idea who the murderer is, but he doesn’t want to tell her anything specific until he’s really sure. “I have almost enough proof,” he says, which means he’s going to be murdered next, and obviously that’s exactly what happens, eight pages from now. “Rest and wait!” he tells her, which is health care.
There’s a mild Carol outbreak at this point, which doesn’t amount to much — she just tells Diana that she looks desperately ill, that they don’t know if she’s a murderer or not, that Barnabas is a madman who behaved like a vampire, and that Graham Weeds is coming to visit them tomorrow and see if they’ve been murdered or not.
Heading downstairs for dinner, Diana finds that Barnabas is gone again — he told Brian that he was going to Collinwood for a while. “He spends a lot of time there,” Brian says, so why he doesn’t just stay home I don’t know. I would think that you wouldn’t want to deliberately stay at a murder hotel like this, if you have your own place nearby, but I guess there are murders everywhere that Barnabas ever goes, so he’s used to it.
There’s a little moment with Carol that isn’t really worth mentioning, but I’ll tell you about it anyway:
After dinner, Diana saw Carol and Dr. Nils Ayler go into the living room and seat themselves in a remote corner. It struck her that it might be infatuation for the bizarre-looking young doctor, rather than concern for her, that was keeping her sister at the clinic despite the sinister turn of events. Diana wondered what Graham Weeds would think if he knew the arrogant psychiatrist and Carol were nearly always together.
Like I said, not super interesting, but I’m bringing it up because Dr. Ayler is obviously Quentin with a shaved head. Somebody is always Quentin in these Barnabas, Quentin and… books, in some kind of unconvincing disguise, and then he gets exposed and he turns into a werewolf and runs away. The odd thing about this particular novel is that usually the characters spend the entire book wondering which one Quentin is, but here, he’s not getting a lot of play.
Quentin got an introduction back in chapter 3, when Dawn Walsh announced all the backstory, but after that, I don’t think they’ve even mentioned him again. We’ve heard about sidereal time, and how the Hungarian astrologer won World War II, but Quentin does not seem to be uppermost in anyone’s mind, even after the werewolf attack.
Anyway, he’s Dr. Ayler, who’s cruel and sadistic and is obviously the villain of the piece. It’s not clear why Quentin has decided to practice his supervillainy in this particular way. If you’re going to be in disguise working your wicked will, why pretend to be a psychiatrist in a mental institution with a population of five and falling? I don’t really get it.
Then Brian Dale comes up to her and says, “How does it feel to be here in a house filled with evil?” Swing and a miss!
So we might as well get to the next murder, I suppose; we’re not getting any younger, and some of us aren’t going to get very much older.
That night, Diana wakes up from a literal nightmare to discover that she’s still involved in the same figurative nightmare. Her dream was about being choked by the skeleton hands of the evil Dr. Ayler, and the thing that actually happens to her next is worse. If your nightmares are having trouble keeping up with your actual lifestyle, then you really do need to discuss that with somebody, preferably somewhere where there isn’t a current murder spree.
She gets out of bed, and goes out into the dark hallway, thinking that maybe she’ll run into Barnabas or something, when she sees Dr. Decker standing on the stairway, just waiting for a cloaked figure to run up, and push him backwards down the stairs to his death. And guess what
and we’re outside again, clothed in a filmy nightgown and walking barefoot across the damp grass.
Diana realizes that she’s had another blackout, and then Paul Miles looms in the darkness.
“No!” the mad architect croaked hoarsely, taking a step nearer her.
“Go away!” she pleaded.
“Louise!” he said in an odd voice that clearly indicated he was lost in dementia once again.
“I’m not your Louise!” she said fearfully.
Coming close, he reached out and took her by the arms. She stared at him in horror as she tried to think of some way to escape from him.
And then Barnabas comes along and Paul runs away, vanishing into the night, unhinged and uncared about. Barnabas and Diana basically forget about him completely as soon as he’s gone; they certainly don’t tell anyone that he’s haring around in the darkness, thinking that people are Louise.
It’s about eight pages before Dr. Meyer finds out that Paul is running amuck, and even then, he says, “As soon as this trouble is settled, I will have him sent away from here — unless we find him guilty of the murders, in which case the police will take responsibility for him.”
Which is fine, except there’s a third option, which is that Paul keeps on murdering everyone, up to and including the police. They won’t be able to do something about him “as soon as this trouble is settled,” because Paul is part of the trouble that you are not settling. What is the matter with people?
Barnabas and Diana review the case, and come to unsettling conclusions. Decker was found dead at the bottom of the stairs, with a Scorpio design drawn on his forehead with lipstick. Nobody seems to wonder where the lipstick came from, or where it might be now, because that would be a clue, and the Paperback Library has no interest whatsoever in clues. They also don’t believe in alibis or motives, or anything that you would assume a murder mystery would want to assemble. People just figure that the killer must be the person that they like the least.
And that’s certainly true of Carol, who likes her sister less than colon cancer.
Carol’s face was deathly white. “You are a Scorpio!”
“What of it?”
“Your sign was left on both victims,” her sister said accusingly. “Why did you do it?”
Diana stared at her incredulously. “I didn’t do it!”
Carol came up and grasped her by the arm. “I’m sorry, but I can’t accept that! You were on hand for both murders! Each time you had one of your spells! Why not admit you had a fantasy? They can’t punish you severely if you’re mentally ill. At the worst, they’ll put you away somewhere for a few years.”
Diana’s eyes widened with panic and anger. “I’m not going to admit to things I didn’t do and rot away in some insane asylum for the rest of my life.”
Carol released her and turned away. She shook her head. “I don’t know what to do or say. How can I help you, when you’re so clearly guilty?”
Carol’s a peach, isn’t she? I don’t know what I’d do without her.
Then Dr. Meyer comes by for a chat, and tells Diana that it’s possible that she’s the murderer, and that her vision of a cloaked figure pushing Dr. Decker down the stairs may have been a delusion based on hearing the stories of the Lost Lady of Turnbridge. He also says that the murderer was probably a Scorpio, which means it might be Diana, or it might be Paul Miles or Dawn Walsh, who are also Scorpios, go figure. Or possibly Decker was killed by someone else, and then one of the Scorpios came up later and drew the scorpion on his forehead. Or maybe it was all a misunderstanding, or a coincidence, or market forces.
“I wish there was some sort of lock for our rooms at night,” Diana said.
Dr. Meyer looked annoyed. “You brought that up before.”
“I no longer feel safe here.”
“The arrangement is for your good,” he told her. “In the future, it would seem, we must have a night guard or nurse. At least until the murders have been solved.”
“A guard can’t watch all the rooms at the same time,” she protested.
“I’m sure it will offer adequate protection,” he said with some annoyance. “But that is something to think of later. Just now I’m expecting the police momentarily.” He gave her a curt nod and went out.
So it’s an interesting approach to mental health care, putting insecure people in the most stressful possible situations and letting them figure it out for themselves. Whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, I suppose, except sometimes it actually does kill you, which can set your progress back considerably.
Well, the nice thing about being a suspected murderer at a minimum-security institution is that nobody bothers to watch you or hinder your movements in any way, so Diana is free to roam around and have coffee. She runs into Dr. Ayler, who says that he thinks she’s responsible for Decker’s death, although at this point that’s hardly stop-press news.
She has another heart-to-heart with the ever-handsome Barnabas, who’s got some dirt on Dr. Ayler. Remember when he said he was going to check through his own channels? He’s done that, and his channels say that the Dr. Nils Ayler who left his practice in Hollywood last year went to Hawaii, not Maine, so the Ayler they’ve got on the premises is a fraud. Diana asks if it’s possible that there are two Dr. Aylers, and Barnabas said, no, he checked with the American Medical Association, and they only have one Ayler listed. I think that’s cute, the momentary possibility that there could be two Dr. Nils Aylers. I’m surprised there’s even one.
“Diana was stunned,” the book informs us. “While she had always disliked the cruel shaven-headed young man, she had never dreamed that he might not be a doctor. He had surely played the role of a medical man well.” In what way?
She urges Barnabas to go and expose Dr. Ayler, but Barnabas reminds her that he’s still a mental case, and Ayler wouldn’t believe him. “If I went directly to him at this moment and burst out with the story,” Barnabas says, “he’d probably have me confined to a solitary cell without even bothering to check on Dr. Ayler, and while I was treated as violently insane, Ayler would be carrying on as before.” I wish this wasn’t so plausible, but yeah, that sounds about right.
But then he bursts out with an even wilder story.
“You remember the night you saw that monster animal with the amber eyes? I think you did see a werewolf, and there is only one explanation for that. Quentin Collins is back in the area. As usual, in some disguise.”
“Quentin Collins?” she said.
“He’s the one who has caused the trouble before. And it seems we have had him here under our noses. The shaven head threw me off the track, but give him dark hair and sideburns, and I’m sure the features of Dr. Ayler would match those of Quentin.”
So there’s Quentin, finally back in play. I was hoping that Carol could be Quentin in disguise, but you can’t have everything.
Diana’s questioned by the police, who demonstrate the Collinsport constabulary’s usual level of competence.
The Inspector shifted in his chair. “I’m trying to be considerate of you, Miss Collins. This is a mental hospital, and you are a patient. Are you asking me to accept your account of this phantom as fact?”
“It’s asking a lot,” he said drily.
“I could have kept silent,” she said. “That way I wouldn’t have been involved.”
He took a moment to consider this before he said, “That’s quite true. But since you are a mental case, it’s not likely you’d do the wise thing, even though you might realize what it was.”
I invite you to read that last sentence again, and see if you can figure out what the hell it’s trying to say. It beats me.
So the Inspector walks Diana through the case as he understands it, because the Collinsport cops are always willing to tell potential suspects everything that flits through their minds.
“The Scorpio lipstick drawing is surely the work of one of the inmates here,” the Inspector went on. “But that was done after Dr. Decker’s death. I don’t think it has to mean the one who did it is anything but demented. It needn’t indicate the person was a murderer.”
“I see,” she said. “So it’s only my story you have to go on.”
“And it’s not much,” the Inspector said with resignation. “Even you have to admit that.”
“It was vivid enough to send me into a blackout.”
“The blackout might have come first, and then you imagined the other,” the officer said. “You might even be the one who drew those Scorpio signs on the girl’s head and on Decker’s.”
“Because I’m a Scorpio?”
He nodded. “A Scorpio and a mental patient.”
She smiled bitterly. “That part of being a mental patient seems to make anything possible.”
Yeah, you can say that again. I wonder if they’ve cleaned out Hope’s room yet? This Inspector could probably move right in, no questions asked. That’s how the asylum stays in business; most of the patients are just police officers who were investigating prior outbreaks.
“If you should decide that that phantom business was all in your mind, I won’t be angry,” says the Inspector. “You can get in touch with me at any time. I’ll always be glad to hear amended testimony from you.” Bye, Felicia.
And then you’ll never guess who drops by for a visit: Graham Weeds! He’s a sandy-haired, weakly good-looking young man whose eyes are set too narrow in his thin face, and you can only imagine what that does to a girl. He’s actually very nice, by which I mean he doesn’t seem to hate Diana as much as pretty much every other character in the book. Still, Carol’s there to keep things interesting.
Standing in the background, Carol spoke, “She’s full of aggressive tendencies. Dr. Ayler thinks is in no way responsible for what she says or does.”
Diana tried hard to control her rage. “I see your time catering to Dr. Ayler hasn’t been wasted.” Turning to Graham she added, “You should see them together. Very romantic!”
Carol crossed to her angrily. “If you weren’t insane, I wouldn’t let you get away with saying that.”
“I feel very sane at this moment,” she told her.
Carol smiled jeeringly. “That’s what I’d expect you to say.”
Graham Weeds looked concerned.
Yeah, no kidding, I think we all look that way at this point. And Diana’s like, oh my god I totally hate my sister so much, you’re embarrassing me in front of Graham Weeds!!!
Diana escapes, and heads for the library, where she finds Dawn Walsh, who’s one of the patients who hasn’t been murdered yet. Dawn mentions werewolves again, and Diana asks what she’s talking about. Then in comes Dr. Nils Ayler aka the disguised Quentin Collins, who’s furious that people who he’s menaced as a werewolf are talking about werewolves.
“Didn’t I give you orders to remain in your room?” Dr. Ayler says, and then he says, “We have a way of dealing with patients who refuse to do as they are told,” and then she says, “Let me go!” and before you know it, she’s downstairs in the padded cell she’s been simply begging for this entire time.
“Maybe this will teach you a lesson!” says the cruel Dr. Ayler, aka the renegade Quentin Collins, and leaves her alone in her dungeon cell. This is less dramatic than you might imagine. She stays down there from late afternoon until sometime after dinner, thinking about her perilous predicament, and gradually weakening from lack of food and drink. On the other hand, she can’t be attacked by dazed lunatics, and she can’t be accused of murdering anybody, and best of all, Carol isn’t there, so honestly this is pretty much best-case scenario for how Diana’s evening could play out.
Eventually, Barnabas and Dr. Meyer find her down there and unlock the door, and she says that Dr. Ayler imprisoned her, and Meyer wonders if maybe Dr. Ayler isn’t all that he could be, judged as an associate in a mental health practice. He totters off to go be useless somewhere else, and Barnabas brings her to her room and gives her sandwiches.
So at this point, I think we the readership are well within our rights to wonder if maybe 60 cents is too high a price for this lukewarm dish of fishwater. I mean, you’ve got a house full of lunatics, a murderer, a vampire and a werewolf, and now we’re sitting here nibbling at sandwiches. Dr. Ayler said that he wanted to teach us a lesson, and unfortunately, I think this is it.
Barnabas came over to her and smiled. He tenderly touched her hair and then bent down to kiss her with great gentleness. “You are an unusual girl,” he said. “If we weren’t both unfortunates in this mad house, I’d be tempted to tell you I’ve fallen in love with you.”
Her eyes met his dreamily. “Tell me, anyway.”
“Not the time or place,” he said. “There are still too many puzzles to solve.”
“I hate the puzzles, and I hate everything about here — except you.”
But who is it, really, that Diana Collins doesn’t hate? What is this handsome thing with deep-set eyes, that kisses unusual girls with great gentleness? He’s not a vampire. He has channels, but no powers. He can’t even recognize Quentin, given the bare minimum of disguise. He’s very kind, and very well-mannered, and I guess he’s more fascinating than poor Brian Dale, the man that charm forgot, but once you’ve said that, there’s not much to him.
Oh, and speaking of Brian, somebody tries to kill him, too, and make it look like suicide. They find him comatose and think that he’s tried to kill himself again by taking too many pills, but after a stomach pump and a glass of orange juice he tells them that his pills were switched with a higher dosage, and when he realized they were too strong, he lost consciousness. This is approximately as exciting as it sounds. Well, at least they’re not talking about astrology.
Barnabas now decides that he’s concerned about Carol spending time with Dr. Ayler, and when he learns that they went to Collinwood together this evening, he gets a pass from Dr. Meyer to drive over there with Diana and make sure that Carol’s okay. When they get to Collinwood, they find out that Carol and Dr. Ayler went down to the Blue Whale, so Barnabas decides they must be fine, and they might as well do something else.
He takes her to the Old House, which is an enormous mansion filled with candlelight and antique furnishings, so now Diana is even more in love with him than she already was. Getting an eyeful of the furnishings usually has that effect.
So he takes her downstairs to the basement, and shows her the coffin room.
“The casket is empty and shouldn’t scare you,” Barnabas said, staring at it with a melancholy expression. “During my long years of illness, that was my bed in the daytime hours. I left it only at dusk and returned to it at dawn.”
Her eyes were wide with amazement. She studied him and said, “So it is true. That when you were ill you believed yourself to be a vampire, one of the living dead?”
“I had the conviction the curse had descended to me,” Barnabas said, “and so for years I lived the life of a vampire.”
She stared up at him anxiously. “That was when you were mentally ill. You can’t be blamed for that. You are cured now.”
He smiled at her, a troubled smile. “Yet there will always be the lingering fear that the condition will return.”
“Let me help you,” she begged. “And you can be a marvelous aid to me. Together we’ll fight for keeping our sanity! Why don’t we get married, Barnabas?”
He stood there in the eerie room, the casket in the background, and a wistful expression crossed his gaunt face. “I can think of nothing I’d like better,” he told her.
So that’s your pitch, lonely people of November 1970: a gaunt, melancholy man, fighting to keep his sanity, and the sanity of others. It doesn’t sound like much to me, but I’ve never been interested in the appeal of the romantic consumptive.
This is the first book in the series that offers us an unvamped Barnabas, and as far as I know, it’s the only one. This graveside betrothal is basically the only scene in the book that requires Jonathan Frid to show up for work; for the rest of the book, he could be pretty much anyone.
That strategy is going to reverse in a big way — the next book we’ll be looking at is Barnabas, Quentin and the Magic Potion, published two months from now, which goes deeper into Barnabas’ vampire lifestyle choices than we’ve seen since his debut in book #6. A human Barnabas is the road not taken, and it’s pretty easy to see why. A book that has a vampire in it is more interesting than a book that doesn’t have a vampire in it. It’s just math.
Diana goes and visits with the recuperating Brian, who’s decided that he’s not suicidal anymore, and he’s ready to leave the sanitarium. Diana’s decided the same thing, so I guess Dr. Meyer was right; all they needed was some rest, a minimum of therapy sessions and several brushes with death to perk them right up and get them to take an interest in things again. This is how mental health works; you give it a little time, and the demented are mended again.
So things drift along for the rest of the day, with Diana having perplexing conversations with Carol, and Dawn, and then she reads for a while and thinks about how mean Dr. Ayler is. This is what happens when you write a murder mystery without clues, you run out of things to do. I don’t know what happened to the police investigation; they seem to have quietly given up, just waiting to see if everybody kills each other and the situation resolves itself.
Only twelve and a half pages left in the book, and it feels like we’re becalmed. Barnabas finally told Dr. Meyer that Dr. Ayler is a fraud, and Meyer does actually believe him, but then Barnabas leaves and doesn’t come back for the rest of the day. Diana floats downstairs and talks to Dr. Meyer about how they don’t know where Barnabas is, and then they have dinner, and then Diana goes upstairs and reads until it’s time to go to bed.
She’s awoken by the sound of someone entering the room, and she sees that it’s Dawn in the guise of the Lost Lady of Turnbridge, and that means Dawn’s the murderess, and
oh, Diana’s had another blackout, and now it’s later and there are a whole bunch of people in the room. There’s Dawn Walsh on the floor, and oh, she has a kitchen knife through the chest and a lipstick scorpion on her forehead, I wonder how that got there.
Naturally, Carol screams that Diana killed Dawn, but Barnabas and Meyer tell her to go away and do something useful. Then there’s this passage, which I love:
As they went down the hallway they could hear Dr. Ayler talking to the police on the phone. He appeared to be having difficulty making them understand there had been another murder.
And that pretty much says everything about the adults in the room, doesn’t it? Not only have the police given up on solving the first two murders, now they don’t even want to hear about a third murder. They’re probably busy; someone has been murdering people at police headquarters, and they can’t figure out what to do about it.
Everyone moves aimlessly: Brian wants to come downstairs, Paul and Carol have wandered off together, Meyer knows that Ayler isn’t Ayler but doesn’t feel like confronting him yet. He gives Diana some greenish stuff to drink, and she drinks it. Then the police arrive.
They waited. Eventually Dr. Meyer returned with the Inspector. The police officer looked down at her wearily. “I have some questions to ask you,” he told her.
“Very well,” she said quietly.
She replied to all the questions already put to her by Dr. Meyer and Barnabas. The Inspector wrote her replies down with a bored expression on his weathered face.
So, holy cow, what are we supposed to do with a weary, bored police inspector who isn’t interested in three murders? He eventually says that he thinks Diana’s guilty, but he’ll let her stay here for the rest of the night anyway, and talk to her in the morning, probably. They’ll leave some cops outside, in case somebody needs to be shot accidentally.
So Dr. Meyer calls Dr. Ayler and Carol downstairs to talk, and he finally tells Ayler that he knows he’s secretly Quentin Collins.
Carol had been watching the cruel-faced young man. “No!” she cried. “It isn’t so! You’re not Quentin!”
The shaven-headed man had backed to the door, and there was a mean-looking small gun in his hand. “All right,” he said viciously, “so I’m Quentin. It’s not going to do you any good! I’ll shoot the first one who tries to follow me.”
So that’s odd; apparently just being Quentin Collins is an event, all by itself. He’s not being accused of the murders, at least not yet; they’re just saying he’s a fraud, and all of a sudden there are firearms.
Carol sobbed out, “I don’t care whether you’re Quentin or not, take me with you!”
He laughed harshly. “You crazy little fool! Why should I want anything to do with a parcel of trouble like you! Tell them about the phantom lady!” he taunted, and with a final mocking laugh he backed out the door.
They all stood transfixed for a moment, paralyzed by the swift change of events. Then Carol let out a sob and rushed out the door after Quentin Collins.
This is an ending, apparently. I wasn’t sure there was even going to be one, but here it is. Outside, Quentin turns into a werewolf and runs away, with no explanation of what he was trying to do, or whether he succeeded. He just runs off, leaving a parcel of trouble behind, and Carol is caught in a pointless blaze of police gunfire.
Diana doesn’t get to marry Barnabas, of course; they need him for the next book, so he just says that he might be a vampire after all, and she goes off with Brian.
And Carol, my darling Carol, is dead. I’ll leave you with her final words, which explain everything.
I killed Dawn. I was the one. Killed Hope, as well. And Dr. Decker. Wanted it blamed on you!
I was the phantom lady. Came with you to get you in bad trouble. Graham made me do it. He was no truer to me than Quentin. Bad luck with men!
After Graham left you, he pretended to love me. A lie! He’s deep in debt to the estate. Played game to keep me quiet. When I found out, I stabbed him. You found him with knife in him and blacked out. He promised not to incriminate me if I got rid of you. So I came here and fell in love with Quentin!
Quentin helped me. But didn’t tell me who he was. Tricked me just like Graham. We changed tablets on Brian because we thought he suspected us.
I wanted you to think you were the killer and be placed in an asylum or have you kill yourself. It didn’t work out. I’m the unlucky sister!
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, in 1971.
Tomorrow’s post is one of those complicated ones that’s mostly aimed at people with a graduate degree in DSED. If you have a spare minute, you might want to brush up a bit on these earlier posts:
Episode 531: The Interpretation of Dreams
Episode 659: Gone Girl
Episode 980: Next Stop Keystone City
Episode 1051: PTED: Destroyer of Worlds
Episode 1062: Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)
Episode 1109: The Last Straw
and the Fort Wayne section of Episode 497: Frid’s Big Week
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Quentin yells at Gerard, “Get out of here! I don’t want to look at you,” there’s a cough from offstage.
Gerard tells Quentin, “Falling in love is a voluntary in — a voluntary thing!”
Gerard tells Mordecai, “Naturally, ah, in the affair of this, uh, trial on witchcraft, I would like my public appearance to be that of neutrality.”
Gerard reminds Mordecai that the note might be used in the trial, “so my name shouldn’t not appear anywhere.”
Gerard dictates, “I would appreciate very much for you coming here as rapidly as you possibly can, for I have unrecovered certain evidence that will show with a reasonable doubt the guilt of Quentin Collins.”
Gerard tells Mordecai, “I am certainly relieved that you took all this load off my poor head.” Mordecai chuckles, and says, “You took a load off my mind, too.”
As Mordecai lies dying, he takes a look at the camera to make sure that it’s time for him to say his line.
Tomorrow: Meanwhile, in 1971.
— Danny Horn