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The Figure in the Shadows by John Bellairs (illustrated by Mercer Mayer).

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Title: The Figure in the Shadows.
Author: John Bellairs (illustrated by Mercer Mayer).
Genre: Fiction, children's lit, fantasy, YA.
Country: U.S.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1975.
Summary: Lewis is sure that Grandpa Barnavelt's 1859 lucky coin is really a magic talisman in disguise. With its power, he could do anything he wanted - like get back at bully Woody Mingo. But as soon as he begins wearing the coin around his neck, strange things start to happen. Mysterious letters arrive in the dead of night. A strange, shadowy figure seems to be tracking him. And when Lewis finally gets his revenge on Woody he feels as if someone else is inside his body, urging him to go even further. Has Lewis awakened a force beyond his control?

My rating: 8.5/10
My review:


akapiz

♥ While Jonathan was upstairs hunting for the key, Lewis and Rose Rita had a chance to examine the outside of the old trunk. It had a humped lid, which made it look like a pirate chest, but it was really a steamer trunk, a kind of suitcase that people used to take with them on ocean voyages a long time ago. The trunk was made of wood, but it was covered with alligator leather. Three big strips of hammered copper had been nailed across the lid for decoration. They had turned bright green with age. The lockplate was made of copper too, and it was shaped like a baby's face. The baby's mouth was the keyhole.

akapiz

After what seemed like a very long time, Jonathan returned. In his hand he held a small iron key with a cardboard tag dangling from it.

"Where was it?" asked Mrs. Zimmermann. She was trying hard to suppress a giggle.

"Where?" snapped Jonathan. "Where? Exactly where you'd expect it to be. At the bottom of a vase full of Indian head pennies."

♥ Lewis sat there wondering for a few minutes. Then he got out of bed, put on his slippers and bathrobe, and padded downstairs to the front hall. There on the floor, just below the mail slot, lay a postcard.

Lewis picked the card up and carried it over to the hall window. The gray light of a full moon was streaming in. It was bright enough to read by—but there was nothing to read. The card was blank.

Lewis began to feel creepy. What kind of a message was this? He turned the card over, and was relieved to find that the card was stamped and addressed. But the stamp looked very old-fashioned, and the postmark was so blurred that Lewis couldn't tell where the card had been mailed from. The card was addressed in a neat, curlicued hand.

Master Lewis Barnavelt
100 High Street
New Zebedee, Michigan

There was no return address.

Lewis stood there in the moonlight with the card in his hand. Maybe Rose Rita had gotten up in the middle of the night to play him a practical joke. Maybe—but it didn't seem likely. Lewis turned the card over and looked at the blank side again. His eyes opened wide. Now there was writing on the card.

venio

Lewis's hand began to tremble. He had read about writing in invisible ink, but he had always heard that you had to dust the message with special powders or hold it over the fire to make the letters appear. This message had appeared all by itself.

And Lewis knew what the message said. He could read a little Latin, because he had been an altar boy once, and he knew what Venio meant: I come. Suddenly Lewis felt very afraid. He was afraid of being alone in the dark hallway. But as he stepped quickly across the hall to snap on the light, the card slipped out of his hand. It actually felt as if someone had grabbed it and pulled it away. Lewis panicked and flung himself at the wall switch. Warm yellow light flooded the hallway of the old house. There was no one there. But the card was gone.

♥ They had the ship about half finished, but, as often happens, they had gotten hung up on an unimportant detail. Lewis had drawn a picture of Duilius, the great Roman admiral, on the sail, and he had found a motto to go with the picture: IN HOC SIGNO VINCES. The motto came from a carton of Pall Mall cigarettes; it wasn't appropriate, but it was the only one Lewis could find. Rose Rita had informed him that she thought the motto was stupid and senseless. Now the two of them were digging through the Latin books in Jonathan's collection, looking for a reasonable, appropriate, and suitably dignified motto. In other words, they were looking for a motto that Rose Rita liked.

These amulets of which I speak are so powerful that they do not appear to be magic at all. They do not respond to any of the standard tests. Yet, I am told that they will respond to this test:

Place the amulet in your left hand, cross yourself three times, and say the following prayer:


Immo haud daemonorum, umquam et numquam, urbi et orbi, quamquam Azazel magnopere Thoth et Urim et Thummim in nomine Tetragrammaton. Fiat, fiat. Amen.

Then, if the amulet is truly one of those I have described above, it will produce a tingling sensation in the hand. The tingling will last for only a few seconds, and after that the amulet will seem as dull and dead as any ordinary object. It will seem dead, but it will not be dead.

..Lewis stood with his back to the doors. The light fell over his shoulder onto the pages of the book that Rose Rita held up before him. In his left hand, Lewis held the coin. With his right hand, he slowly made the sign of the Cross on himself. He did it three times. Then he began to chant, the way he had heard Father Cahalen do during Mass:

"Immo haud daemonorum, umquam et numquam..."

As Lewis chanted, the room began to get darker. The light faded from the bright orange leaves of the maple tree outside, and now a strong wind was rattling the glass doors. Suddenly the doors flew open, and the wind got into the room. It riffled madly through the dictionary on the library table, scattered papers across the floor, and knocked all the lampshades galley-west. Lewis turned. He stood there silent, staring out into the strange twilight. His hand was still clenched tight around the coin.

buuuu

♥ It would have been hard for Lewis to explain how the coin made him feel. The closest thing he could compare it to was the feeling he got when he went to the Bijou Theatre and saw a pirate movie. Lewis loved the cutlass duels and thundering broadsides and smoke and battles and blood. When he stepped out onto the street after seeing one, he could almost feel the sword hanging at his side and the long pirate pistol stuck in his belt. As he walked home, he imagined that he was wrapped in a heavy cloak and stalking toward the docks in some Spanish port, or pacing moodily on his quarter-deck as the planks under him shook to cannonade after cannonade. He felt grim and strong and brave and heartless and cruel. It was a good feeling, and it usually lasted about half of the way home. Then he was just plain old Lewis again.

♥ And something else was bothering Lewis. He hadn't intended to punch Woody in the nose. It was as if someone had grabbed his arm and brought it smashing down. Lewis knew that the amulet had done it, but all the same, he didn't like it. He didn't like the idea of being jerked around like a puppet on a string. He had wanted magic help, but he had wanted the help to stay under his control.

♥ Lewis closed his eyes. He felt very happy. Then a picture appeared before his closed eyes. A very strange picture.

Lewis often saw pictures in the dark, just before he went to sleep at night.

..The picture that came to Lewis now was the picture of a man walking up the Homer Road toward New Zebedee. The Homer Road was a winding country road that ran between New Zebedee and the very small town of Homer. Lewis had been over the Homer Road quite a few times this last summer, going to and from Mrs. Zimmermann's cottage on Lyon Lake. As Lewis watched, the picture moved. The man was walking straight up the center of the road, leaving footprints in the snow behind him. Since the only light in the picture was moonlight, Lewis could not see too much of the man. In fact, he could not see enough to tell whether the figure was a man or a woman—but somehow he felt sure it was a man. The man had a long coat on—it flapped around his ankles as he walked. And he was walking fast.

shadiz

Lewis opened his eyes and looked out into the snowy yard. He shook his head. He wasn't at all sure he liked the picture that had come before his eyes. He couldn't say why the dark figure frightened him, but it did. He hoped that it was not the company that was supposed to be coming.

♥ The figure walked forward out of the circle of lamplight. Now it was standing before Lewis. Lewis smelled something. He smelled cold ashes. Cold wet ashes.

♥ Late that night, after everyone else was asleep, Rose Rita tiptoed downstairs and opened the front door. She was wearing only her slippers, pajamas, and bathrobe, but she went out anyway, down the shoveled walk and out the front gate. She walked to the corner and stopped by the iron grate of the storm sewer. Water from the melting snow was running down into it with a hollow chuckling sound. Rose Rita took the amulet out of her bathrobe pocket. She dangled it over the grate, swinging it on its chain. All she had to do was let go, and it would be good-bye amulet.

piz

But she didn't let go. A suggestion that seemed to come from outside told her that she shouldn't throw the thing away. Rose Rita stood there a minute, staring at the strange little object that had given Lewis so much trouble.

♥ Lewis kicked his way through the snow that was piling up on the sidewalk. Little glittering spurts rose before him. Now he was passing the Masonic Temple, a tall four-story brick building. It rose over him like a black cliff. There was a dark archway in the front of the building. For some reason, Lewis stopped in front of it. He didn't know why. He just stopped and waited.

Now Lewis heard something. A rustling sound. An old newspaper blew out of the archway. It slithered toward him like a living thing. Lewis was frightened, but then he tried to laugh it away. What was there to be scared of in an old newspaper? It lay at his feet now. He bent over and picked it up. By the light of the lamp that was swinging in the wind at the corner, Lewis could just barely read the masthead. It was the New Zebedee Chronicle, and the date was April 30, 1859. The date on the three-cent piece was 1859.

With a little cry of terror, Lewis let go of the paper. It refused to go, however. Like a friendly cat, the paper wrapped itself around his feet. Frantically, Lewis kicked at the thing. He wanted it to go away. But then he stopped kicking. He turned and looked toward the dark archway. A figure stepped forward from it.

Lewis opened and closed his mouth, but nothing came out. He wanted to say, 'Oh, hi there, Joe!' to reassure himself, but he couldn't. Rooted to the spot, Lewis watched the figure come. A breath of cold ashes swept toward him.

snowiz

Now the figure was standing before Lewis on the snowy walk. It raised a shadowy hand and motioned for him to come. And Lewis felt himself suddenly jolted forward. It was as if there was a dog collar around his neck and the figure was tugging at the leash. He couldn't resist. He had to go. Lewis stumbled forward, following the beckoning shape. The snow closed in and hid them both from sight.

♥ "Hold out your hand!" Mrs. Zimmermann barked.

Rose Rita held out her hand. Mrs. Zimmermann reached into her pocket and pulled out what looked like a piece of phosphorescent chalk. When she put it in Rose Rita's hand, it burned like an icicle.

kakakak

♥ The shadow turned and faced Rose Rita. And now it changed. Before, it had been a hooded, muffled shape. Now it was a ragged, spindly silhouette. A blackened, shrunken corpse with living eyes. It moved toward her with outstretched, hungry arms. And Rose Rita heard what it was saying. She heard the words in her brain, although no sound was uttered. The thing was saying that it would wrap its arms around her and dive with her to the bottom of the dark, icy well. And there they would be, together, face to face, forever.

♥ Rose Rita stood looking down into the well. It fascinated her. For a moment the well seemed like the only thing in the world. It was a great black whirlpool that would swallow her up. It was a dead eyesocket looking out of nothing into nothing. Rose Rita was caught in a sick convulsive shudder. She trembled from head to foot. But when she stopped trembling, her mind was clear.

♥ "When are you going to tell us how you figured out where to go? I mean, how you knew where Lewis was?"

Mrs. Zimmermann turned and smiled. She dipped her index finger in the punch, stirred, and put her finger in her mouth. "Mmm! Good! How did I know? Well, that's a good question. I thought over what you had told me about Lewis's experiences with the magic coin, and one detail kept ringing a bell in my mind. It was a detail that you probably didn't think was very important."

"Which one was that?" asked Lewis.

"The way the ghost smelled. Rose Rita said that you had told her the ghost smelled of wet ashes. It smelled like a fire that has just been put out. Well now, I put this fact together with a couple of others that I knew.' Mrs. Zimmermann held up a finger. 'One: on the night of April 30, 1859, a farmer named Eliphaz Moss was burned to death in his farmhouse out near the Homer Road. My grandfather had a farm near there, and he was part of the bucket brigade that tried to put out the fire. When I was a child, I remember him telling me how awful it was to suddenly see old Eliphaz come tearing out of that house. He was all on fire. Then with a hideous screech (so my grandfather said) he threw himself into—"

"The well?" Lewis asked. His face had turned very pale.

"The well," said Mrs. Zimmermann, nodding grimly. "The well put the poor man's fire out, and it drowned him too. It's a very deep well, and they never recovered the body. Later, after the fire, somebody made a big, granite cover for the well, and the cover became Eliphaz's tombstone. That, by the way, is what your uncle is out doing now—helping Jute get the lid back on the well. ..Of course, that's only part of the tale," she said, pouring herself another cup of punch. "The second part concerns Walter Finzer, the man Grampa Barnavelt won the three-cent piece from. He was Eliphaz Moss's hired man, and everyone always believed that he had set the fire that killed old Eliphaz Moss."

"Why did they think that?" asked Rose Rita.

.."I didn't used to think so, but I do now. It's hard to piece things together from such little scraps and bits of evidence, but I'd say that Walter killed Eliphaz by knocking him unconscious and then setting fire to the house. By the time Eliphaz woke up, the house was on fire and he was, too."

"Why did Walter want to kill old Elly... whosis?" asked Rose Rita.

"To keep Eliphaz from getting back at him. You see, I think Walter stumbled into the house while Eliphaz was performing a magic ritual. Do you remember the date of the fire? April 30, 1859. Anybody remember anything special about April 30? ..You see, April 30 is Walpurgis Night. It's sort of like Halloween—a night that is dear to the hearts of those who dabble in the black arts. Eliphaz dabbled in witchcraft, or at least, most of the farmers in the area thought he did. My grandfather thought so, for one.' Mrs. Zimmermann stopped and stared into her glass. 'You know,' she said slowly, 'it must have been awfully lonely on farms in those days. No TV, no radio, no car to take you into town for a movie. No movies at all. Farmers just kind of holed up for the winter. Some of them read the Bible, and some of them read—other books."

"You read those other books, too, don't you, Mrs. Zimmermann?" said Rose Rita in a small frightened voice.

Mrs. Zimmermann gave her a sour look. "Yes, I do, but I read them so I'll know what to do when something awful happens. And as you saw out there, sometimes it isn't enough to know about all these terrible books. Not when the other side's got more muscle."

.."So old Eliphaz was a wizard. Do you mean he was making the magic amulet when Walter burst in on him?"

"Yes. Walter probably came in for a plug of chewing tobacco or a drink of whiskey after a hard day's work. And there was Eliphaz doing some strange mumbo-jumbo over a little tiny silver coin. A three-cent piece. Well, everybody dreams about having a magic doohickey that will solve all their problems. The two men were alone out there, and Walter was probably by far the stronger. So Walter hit Eliphaz on the head, set fire to the house, and lit out—with the amulet. Then Walter must have decided that it would not be good for him to hang around New Zebedee. So he enlisted in the Army. Then the Civil War came along, Walter ran into Grampa Barnavelt—and you know the rest."

Lewis looked puzzled. "How come the ghost of old Eli... whatever-his-name-is was after me? Did he think I stole his amulet?"

"Not exactly," said Mrs. Zimmermann. "You see, the amulet was supposed to have the power to summon up a spirit from the depths. A spirit that would do Eliphaz Moss's bidding. But when you're fooling around with evil spirits, you've got to be careful, and the way I figure it, Eliphaz was interrupted before he had finished enchanting the coin. So things came out kind of screwy, as they would if you put the wrong ingredients in a cake you were making. And Eliphaz's spirit—his ghost, his soul, call it what you like—his spirit was the one called up when Lewis said the prayer from my book over the coin."

Lewis shuddered. "You mean I called him up? The ghost that smelled like ashes?"

Mrs. Zimmermann nodded. "You most certainly did. The prayer you said is what we professional wizards call a prayer of waking and possession. First, you woke up the spirit that had been asleep, the spirit that haunted the amulet—Eliphaz's spirit. The amulet couldn't do a thing to anybody until you recited that prayer. That is why Walter could never do anything with it, and was finally willing—albeit grudgingly—to toss it into the pot in a poker game. And that is also why Grampa Barnavelt could wear the coin on his belly for forty years and not be affected at all."

"But wait a minute," said Rose Rita. "I handled the coin after Lewis woke it up. How come nothing happened to me?"

"If you'll let me finish, I'll tell you why," said Mrs. Zimmermann patiently. "I said the prayer was a prayer of waking and possession. Lewis not only woke the amulet up, he made it his. His, and his alone. No one else could wield it. Of course, the amulet could be taken from him by force—as it was—but no one else could do anything with it. It was his until it was destroyed. I don't know whether you realize it, Rose Rita, but you wiped out the enchantment that had been laid on the coin when you dropped it into the well. Water is the cleansing element, the element of rebirth. It wipes out all curses. Running water is best, but good old stagnant well water is okay, too. That's why the dark shape vanished when it did. The enchantment was over."

"I still don't see why old whatsisname was after me," said Lewis.

Mrs. Zimmermann sighed. "Well, there again, we can only guess. Eliphaz was trying to make an amulet of power. Amulets of power can be used to call up spirits —usually evil ones—and they can give the owner of the amulet wonderful powers. Simon Magus owned an amulet of power, and it is said that he could fly through the air and make himself invisible."

"Do they help you win fights?" asked Lewis in a weak little voice.

Mrs. Zimmermann chuckled. "Yes, they do. Eliphaz's ghost helped you win that fight with Woody. Eliphaz had been trapped into being the spirit of his own amulet—sort of like a genie in a jug, if you see what I mean. Well, he had to obey the rules. You summoned him, and he gave you power. But then, as time passed, Eliphaz's spirit began to take shape in this world. At first he only sent you messages to let you know he was coming—postcards and the like. Finally, he took on the form you saw under the street lamp, and in the shadows under the arch of the Masonic Temple. Well now, Lewis, if you had been a wizard, there would have been no problem. You would have tamed the spirit. You would have made Eliphaz carry out your commands. But you were just a little boy who didn't know what he was doing, so Eliphaz decided to turn the tables and carry you off to his... his home." Mrs. Zimmermann shuddered and stopped talking. She stared hard at the fire. She was thinking about the well and what was in it.
Tags: 1950s in fiction, 1970s - fiction, 20th century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, american - fiction, art in post, children's lit, fantasy, fiction, my favourite books, mystery, personification, sequels, ya
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