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Dark Shadows: The Christmas Presence

“Quentin Collins cordially invites you to spend Christmas in his company. On behalf of all those present here at Collinwood… I bid you welcome.”

It’s not the listeners of this audioplay Quentin extends this invitation to in his opening monologue–although, of course, we can feel free to drop in at Collinwood for the holidays too. The people he’s reaching out to, through means both commonplace and esoteric, are “those loyal to the Collins family” in Collinsport as well as “the missing members of our family” in hopes that they might be “reunited in the coming days.”

Christmas Presence

Quentin’s feeling sentimental as he plans an old-fashioned Christmas celebration, and the other inhabitants of Collinwood try to get into the holiday spirit to go along with him. Maggie Evans has come to cook the dinner and tries to get Barnabas (now voiced by Andrew Collins) to kiss her under the mistletoe. But even though he’s in a new body, Barnabas is still a vampire, and vampires don’t kiss; they just give hickeys. Angelique decorates a Christmas tree, and amuses herself with taunting Willie Loomis about how the townsfolk will come to blame him for the disappearance of their children.

A number of Collinsport children have been taken from their homes, from “under their parents’ noses” recently, but their abductor isn’t Willie, nor any mortal man. A scene at the beginning of this drama reveals one child’s abduction after his grandmother leaves him tucked up in bed in his room. Someone who says that he “could be” Santa appears and converses with the little boy, asks him what he wants. When the boy realizes that this isn’t Santa, it reveals its true self. The next thing you know, the child has joined this creature’s choir of voices.

Meanwhile, strange things are going on at Collinwood. Barnabas has brought Maggie a freshly dead turkey for the dinner–head, feathers, feet, and all–and it comes back to life to chase her around the kitchen. No one believes her when she tells them about it, since the turkey has somehow gotten plucked and dressed and is roasting in the oven.

Maggie: “If it’s in there, it must’ve climbed in by itself.”

The only person to respond to Quentin’s invitation is our old friend, Professor T. Eliot Stokes (voiced by Toby Longworth, doing a gravelly echo of Thayer David, who has long since passed on). He shows unexpectedly at the front door on Christmas Eve and is heartily made welcome. But something seems a little off about the professor. He seems strangely sympathetic to Barnabas’s adjustment to living in a new body.

That the “Santa” creature is also voiced by Toby Longworth gives us a clue as to what’s going on.

Outside Collinwood, the voices of carolers, including a singing child, can be heard even though it’s snowing heavily. Angelique is the first to hear them and to investigate–and she’s the first to be drawn in by them and join the choir. “Join us… and you need never worry again.”

Just after this, Barnabas overhears the supposed Professor Stokes chatting with the ghostly choristers about “the lady” who is now with them, and grows suspicious.

The House of DespairWhen confronted, “Stokes” readily acknowledges that he isn’t who he appears to be. He’s happy to explain: the real Stokes, attempting to combat the dark forces that were overtaking Collinsport in the first of this audio series, sought supernatural allies and called upon something “in the dreamscape” that turned out to be just as bad as the powers he hoped to defeat. That first entity was destroyed by Quentin, Angelique, and Barnabas, but the being summoned by the professor has remained around the town. It has been drawing its strength from the dreams and imagination of the innocent–those missing children–and is now turning to the more complex and sophisticated dreams, as well as nightmares, of those who aren’t so innocent.

One by one, the others encounter “Stokes” and his choir; they struggle, and succumb. Quentin, Maggie, Willie… until at last it’s up to Barnabas to stand up to “Stokes” alone. He’s offered his own special temptation–to be reunited with Josette–and ends up taking drastic and surprising measures to put a stop to this dream-being and to rescue his friends and the children who are under its power.

Barnabas (as he dispatches the faux Professor Stokes):

“Goodbye… and Merry Christmas.”

I’m not sure where this story is placed in the Legend Reborn series, and I don’t think it really matters. Although I’ve only listened to the first two audio-plays in the series so far, I don’t feel as if I’ve missed anything by going on to this one next. It has the distinct air of a seasonable special, outside of the main plot. The only thing that advances the overarching mystery of what happened to the rest of the Collinses occurs at the very end, when Quentin receives a somewhat cryptic note signed “Carolyn”.

As for the story itself, it sets a good atmosphere of menace around the inhabitants of  Collinwood, but I had to listen to some scenes three or four times to understand what exactly this creature was, what he and his choir of captured souls were up to, and why they considered it so important to get Barnabas to join them.

Toby Longworth carries this side of the audio-play, considering that he has to cover three characters in one: the gruff but more gentle sounding “Santa” who visits and speaks to the child, Professor Stokes, and the dream-creature revealed.  He does a creditable impression of Thayer David, and in all three cases, the writing supports him; his lines often have dark undertones or wry, double meanings. The phrase “joyful and triumphant” has never sounded so ominous as it does when “Stokes” says it.

In matters of sound, the delicate use of Josette’s music-box theme is put to good use when Barnabas is tempted, and again when he makes a farewell to her memory.

On the other hand, I was bothered by the inconsistency in the sound of the carolers, who are supposed to be the dream-creature’s victims. He is said to have abducted several children, but we only ever hear one little boy’s voice. The rest of the choir seems to be adults. Their “carols” sound more like monks chanting than children singing. So what happened to the rest of the kids?

 

 

 

 

About Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats. As well as being the author of numerous short stories, novellas, and essays, she is the author of "Maiden in Light," "The Wizard's Son," and "Sonnedragon," novels set on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period. All three are part of an intended series of fantasy novels that mostly take place in a dukedom called the Northlands, a part of the Norman Empire that roughly covers the north-eastern U.S.
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