Initial Thoughts: More than any other vintage teen horror series, Dark Forces maintains a verge-of-hysteria Satanic Panic vibe. Everything even slightly supernatural leads inevitably to DEMONS, kids, so stay away from dolls, Ouija boards, stage magic, and penny whistles.
In this book, we learn that if your boyfriend messes with the powers of darkness, you might unbutton your top while you’re in his car. GASP!
Characters: The oddly named Lucy Brainerd.
Her boyfriend, Chris Hansen. Wait, what? I checked twice but that’s his name. The one in the book is a self-absorbed creep, and also an amateur high school magician.
Briefly, we have kindly Mr. Brenner, owner of The Sweet Tooth Shoppe. That’s the least appealing name for a candy store I’ve ever heard.
Recap: We open with Lucy waiting for Chris to pick her up. She catches sight of a conveniently-present framed picture of herself and Chris on a skiing trip, and backstories briefly about how last year’s ski weekend with the Mason High Ski Club was when she and Chris first “discovered that they enjoyed each other’s company.” What an oddly coy sentence.
Lucy and Chris are headed to the candy store, because they’re both on the Spring Festival committee and are in charge of helping Mr. Brenner with the magic show.
Except when they reach the candy store it’s swarming with children, of all things, so they agree to meet with Mr. Brenner some other time. Mr. Brenner tells Chris that he has new tricks to teach him — “special tricks.” Okay, maybe we do actually need the other Chris Hansen to put in an appearance.
That night Chris attempts to borrow his father’s car so he can drop in on Mr. Brenner, but his parents need the car, so he stays home.
That’s extremely unfortunate, because three “big, husky teenage boys” show up at the candy store. They ask for “dirty magazines” and cigarettes, because you buy those in candy stores? And then they put their hideous hands into the candy jars, and dump candy all over the floor. Mr. Brenner starts having chest pains, and then falls down the “steep, dark stairs” to the cellar.
Chris is understandably distressed the next morning when he reads about Mr. Brenner’s death. I’m mostly just amazed at the speed with which the local paper got that in print.
But I stop feeling sorry for Chris during the course of his phone conversation with Lucy, when he manages to make Mr. Brenner’s death all about him:
“Are you doing anything today, Lucy?” There was a note of pleading in his voice.
“Well, Mom is waiting for me right now. I’m going shopping with her — and honestly, Chris, I can’t get out of it today.” She felt like a traitor because she couldn’t be with Chris when he needed her the most.
There was no answer at the other end of the line.
“Look, Chris,” she said, “come on over tonight, and we’ll have a real quiet evening. Maybe we’ll watch TV — or just sit and talk. How about it?”
Chris sounded depressed as he answered, “I really don’t think I feel like going out tonight.”p. 17
So he wanted to be with her, but when he couldn’t have that immediately and on his own terms he didn’t want to anymore? Fuck off, Chris. I hate sullen, sulky man-children.
Also, Lucy, go easy on yourself. You’re a teenager: you should not be feeling guilt that you have obligations that prevent you rushing to Chris’ side. And what is this “when he needed her the most” crap? He’s not dying himself, and he hasn’t lost a parent. Chill.
Staring at the ceiling, he wished he had had the time to learn all the secrets of magic that Mr. Brenner had wanted to teach him. I might have become a famous magician — maybe like Houdini — he thought sadly.p. 18
To take his mind off Mr. Brenner’s death, Chris heads to “the Digs, the favorite teenage hangout.” Eric’s working there, and they briefly chat. We learn (from Chris’ thoughts, not the conversation) that Eric had dated Lucy before she started going out with Chris, and he “was still attracted to her.” Everything in this book is so weird and stilted.
Chris is worried about what will happen to the magic show, but that night Lucy convinces him that he should do it, as a tribute to Mr. Brenner.
The next day Chris learns that Mr. Brenner has left him something, which his Dad brings home that night: an old, wooden box. He and Lucy go to his room to open it, and discover an old book written in German and Latin, some random weird objects, and a ring.
The next day his father says he’s going to visit an old college friend, and suggests Chris bring the book along to show him.
On Saturday night Chris wakes up at 1:25 (is that a significant time or something?). His room is cold, and there’s a weird glow from over by his closet. The glowing mist speaks to him; it’s the ghost or something of Hans Brenner, encouraging Chris to study the book so he can become a great magician. He shows off a bit, giving Chris visions of some of his magical prowess (stuff like turning into an owl). The next time Chris looks at the book, he can sort of kind of read a little of it.
On Tuesday Chris and his father go visit the old college friend. He’s a professor of medieval history, Andrew Van Doren, and he offers to pay Chris a thousand dollars for the book (to add it to the library’s collection, HE CLAIMS).
Chris doesn’t want to sell it, because of the glowing ghost mentorship situation. So he says he feels it would be wrong to give away something he inherited, and he needs to think it over. What a sensitive, convincing lie! I’m sort of impressed.
Some time later Chris is walking in the woods when the ghost appears again, in broad daylight, to chide him for not working hard enough. It’s the standard “don’t you WANT to be a great magician?” kind of thing. Chris heads home, feeling infused with power, and when he gets there the TV isn’t working, and his mother is worried because they can’t afford a new one.
So up in his room, Chris studies the book (he’s more and more able to read it each time), and tries a spell that consists of drawing a television, covering his bedroom floor with a pentagram in a circle, burning the drawing along with some of the herbs-n-spices from the box, and doing a chant. Perfectly standard suburban 80s witchcraft.
A few days later a local business is having a firesale, so now his family can afford a new televison. Yay!
“It’s too bad about the store, though,” Mr. Hansen continued. “I almost hate to take advantage of the sale. I know Ed Whiting, the owner. From what you say, he’s been cleaned out by the fire.”p. 59
Not so yay. Chris doesn’t go with his family to pick up the new TV, because he feels a twinge of guilt. A twinge, really? Just a twinge? You sociopath. Also, not going to the store so you don’t SEE the harm you caused doesn’t ERASE it.
Anyway. At a school basketball game, Chis controls the Clearwater opposition, making them clumsy so the Mason High team will win. Lucy sees him acting strange though, and her eyes are “wide with wonder and a little fear.”
On Saturday (although I’ll be honest: I’ve lost all track of how much time has passed) Chris is practicing magic in his room when his father walks in on him. Awkward. Mr. Hansen lets himself be convinced Chris is just using props to practice for the magic show.
So later Chris wants to drive around looking for a safe place to practice magic in private. What? If you can see it from the road, Chris, how private can it be?
Anyway, he can’t have the car, and while pout-pacing in his room he decides to do a SPELL to get a car. But he CAN’T because he has no PRIVACY. For someone old enough to drive he sure sounds a hell of a lot like me when I was twelve.
So he goes for a run around the lake to cool off, and suddenly finds an abandoned fishing shack! Is that a thing? Isn’t it breaking and entering? Whatever, he moves all his magic gear there and hides it under the floorboards, and early the next morning he heads back to the
Love Magic Shack and does his “gimme a car” spell.
He carefully draws an old, inexpensive-looking car, so that his gain of a car won’t come at a great cost to someone else. That’s an interesting attempt to dodge the Monkey’s Paw effect, but Dark Forces books don’t let anyone get off that lightly.
Oh, he also remembers that yesterday he forgot all about his regular Saturday night date with Lucy. She’s a little cool with him on the phone, but then later that day he’s back at his Magic Shack and he finds a spell to fix that:
Suddenly one spell stood out from the rest. There was something about “burning ardor” and “winged arrows of love”! He could see Lucy’s sweet face in his mind, and he knew instinctively that this was the incantation that he was looking for. All at once it seemed like an eternity until their next Saturday night date.p. 77
The next day when Chris gets home from school his mother tells him that his grandmother has suddenly died, and she’s left Chris her car. Chris knows this is because of his spell.
But she was old, he told himself. She would have died soon anyway, without any help from him. It wasn’t his fault — the spell hadn’t really changed anything.p. 79
Chris is an arsehole. I thought that was a well-written glimpse of how you can talk yourself into being okay with increasingly evil things, though.
What with the funeral and all, it’s Friday before he notices Lucy is gazing at him all starry-eyed and be-spelled. Chris calls her Saturday morning, saying he’s just calling to remind her of their date that night, but really he’s checking that the love spell is really working. So when they get off the phone she’s crushingly disappointed that he didn’t want to spend the day with her (she feels this way because of the spell, obviously; she hasn’t been this drippy all along), and he’s smirking because he could tell from her voice that she’s under his spell. UGH.
I hate him for using magic to coerce her, and if you think about it logically this next scene is very rape-y. But holy hell, the way it’s written made me laugh. It’s very CAUTIONARY TALE FOR YOUNG PEOPLE with a side order of Satanic Panic. Also the whole scene is weirdly stilted and awkward and painfully virginal.
His heart was pounding madly as he tipped her face up and kissed her. He could feel her body straining to get closer to his. Holding her tightly with one arm, he began to fumble with the buttons of her blouse with his free hand.
“Lucy — Lucy,” he whispered hoarsely.
“Oh, Chris, I love you so much,” she said, returning his kisses with a passion that matched his. As his hands moved urgently over her, a blinding light lit up the inside of the car. Chris blinked as the policeman played his light on their two faces and said gruffly, “You kids smoking pot?” Chris opened the car window, and the officer stuck his head inside and sniffed.pp. 84-85
Lucy’s so mortified to have been caught with an unbuttoned blouse that she’s hiding her face with her hands, and when Chris (enraged at the interruption) backs his car out and starts driving her home he realizes she’s crying. He apologizes, but that doesn’t count for anything, because as soon as she’s cheered up and agreed to go for a hamburger before they go home he starts thinking smugly about how there’ll be other nights. Ugh, Chris, you suck.
I’m getting bored, so I’m skipping all the details of Chris doing mind-fuckery on Eric (to punish him for paying attention to Lucy), and the ghost of Mr. Brenner showing up to urge him to take revenge on the three youths that killed him, and Chris flipping a car to save Lucy and then showing off by levitating in front of her in his bedroom. Just take it that that all happens.
Lucy finds out Dr. Van Doren (the professor who offered to buy the magic book) is stopping by to see Chris and his parents, but Chris doesn’t ask her to dinner. So she waits in the driveway that night, and asks Dr. Van Doren if she can talk to him. She tells him everything that’s been going on,, and he says “Now, this is what we’re going to do…” and then the book cuts away so we don’t know what the plan is.
The big night arrives, and Chris dazzles the audience with a competent magic show. But then he picks three volunteers from the audience, and of course they’re the thugs who attacked Mr. Brenner.
Using the items from Brenner’s box, and fueled by Brenner’s desire for vengeance, Chris hypnotizes the boys and then bounces them into the air, leaving them dangling there like puppets. He chatters to the audience, calling it “basic levitation” and jokingly pretending to drop one of the boys, and for some reason this calms the audience down and they all accept that this is an illusion. I’m sorry, do people outside this book believe “basic levitation” is a thing that makes sense? They don’t, right?
The only one who doesn’t accept this all as a normal part of an amateur magic show is Lucy, who’s sitting in the audience, tense and fearful.
Then Chris turns the boys on their sides, still in the air, and starts rotating them as though they’re on a spit.
Chris’ eyes turned deep red, projecting a fine, laserlike beam to the floor. There was a hissing sound, then bright flames rose up and danced wickedly underneath the boys. It was all done so quickly that no one could see what had happened.p. 122
As Chris spit-roasts three teenage boys, and Mr. Brenner urges him on to make them suffer more, a new player enters the gym. (Maybe the reason I don’t find any of this scary is that it’s taking place in a school gymnasium?) It’s Dr. Van Doren, and oh holy Mother of God, I have to quote this description:
But he no longer looked like a college professor.
He was wearing a brilliant blue and gold tunic that flowed to the floor. Embroidered in gold thread on the tunic were hundreds of eyes, plus strange symbols that Chris had only glimpsed in the book, whose meaning were unknown to him yet.
On his head Van Doren wore a crown woven of mistletoe branches, sacred to the ancient Druids. In his hand he held a crooked wand of gleaming gold, with twin snakes, carved from gold, winding around it. And on his finger was a ring much like the one Chris wore.p. 124
Holy crap, why did this never happen at any of my school assemblies?
Anyway, they have a magic-off, which is like a dance-off for people who don’t know how to dance but who have played a lot of D&D. Obviously Van Doren wins, because his heart is pure but also he has the better costume. The ghost of Hans Brenner gets swept down to hell with some Latin incantations, Chris realizes he’s had a close call with evil, and Lucy kisses him.
In the last chapter Chris speaks to Dr. Van Doren on the phone, and agrees to hand over the magic items. He thanks him for having, you know, saved him from evil or whatever. Van Doren says mysteriously that he’ll be in touch some day.
Then there’s an epilogue. Van Doren meets with four men, all of whom put on white robes when they arrive, and mentions that some day Chris will be ready to be initiated into their fraternity.