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.
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.
Next we meet Peter Wardwell, who is out on his boat blowing a whistle he found at the site of an old house that was being torn down. A sudden squall forces him to shelter briefly in a cove he’s never seen before. There’s a disgusting smell there, and Peter decides to take his girlfriend there the next day. Uh, why?
He anchors the boat, and they discuss the bad smell but go swimming anyway. On the beach at Poo Cove (not its actual name) they nap, and then suddenly a thick fog spreads from the forest to the beach while a strong wind blows in the opposite direction. The fog is so thick they become disoriented, and Mary Anne makes it to the water (and swims back to the boat, which comes unanchored but won’t start). Meanwhile Peter gets lost in the woods, has creepy visions of being in bed in a cabin, and knocks himself unconscious on a tree.
An old fisherman named Sam Hopkins shows up and rescues Mary Anne. He recognizes her description of Eerie Stink Cove (not its actual name) and heads ashore in his lifeboat to rescue Peter.
Peter’s parents accept Mr. Hopkins’ vague explanation of finding Peter in the woods, and take their son for x-rays. But one of the problems with medicine in the 80s (and now, I guess) is its inability to recognize possession. They send him home with painkillers and instructions to rest. LIKE THAT WILL HELP WHEN YOUR SATANIC ANCESTOR TRIES TO TAKE OVER YOUR BODY.
At school Peter is sullen and spaced out and starts avoiding Mary Anne. Once again, I would be useless in any sort of possession situation, because I would’ve just dumped him and moved on. Mary Anne, being the plucky heroine of a Dark Forces book, instead takes the advice of her elderly neighbour Miss Durham and is determined not to abandon Peter.
Miss Durham, not incidentally, is descended from the good, God-powered witch who “bound” Simon Wardwell back in 1683 so the villagers could execute him.
The historically important headstones belonging to the main families of the town, the ones who killed Simon, get vandalized: someone chips away the stone to erase their names. The fairly useless town cops promise the vicar they’ll patrol more.
Meanwhile dogs are turning up dead and mutilated, and Peter is waking up exhausted every morning as though he’s been out running at night. Uh-oh. Peter attributes his exhaustion to his extremely vivid dreams about the animal mutilations, so he hasn’t just inherited evilness but also a large share of dumb.
Miss Durham suddenly takes ill and is nearly dying, and gives Mary Anne a ring that belonged to her ancestor, warning Mary Anne that if she doesn’t defeat Simon he’ll possess Peter and return fully. Also, now it’s Halloween night.
Sam Hopkins offers to drive Mary Anne to Noxious Smellcove (not its real name) for the showdown. They stop at her house so she can grab some maps, but there are claw marks everywhere (and blood, leading her to think her dog is dead), and the walls and floors are covered in trails of goo. I was briefly hoping for giant slugs, but no, it’s just demons.
So I guess the maps are completely unnecessary, because they drive to Cold Harbor (that’s its real name) anyway. Mary Anne goes into shock at the sight of the demons and dead people gathered around Peter (he’s lying on an altar/stone thing). Sam charges in, armed only with a gold cross from around his neck, but he doesn’t have enough power to defeat Simon.
But then Mary Anne recovers, and by recovers I mean “is sort of possessed by the good witch, Catherine Boyden.” She challenges Simon and then throws the ring at him, and he and all his minions burst into flame and disappear.
Mary Anne wakes up in the hospital. Peter, also hospitalized, comes to visit her. Ugh, she’s still dating him.
Poor Sam Hopkins hasn’t been found and is presumed dead, but Miss Durham has recovered completely, and Mary Anne’s dog survived.
There is something profoundly unsatisfying about that ending. I liked Sam, damn it. If he couldn’t survive, the other characters could at least have MISSED him more than they did, or erected a headstone or something.