I bought this Dark Shadows dramatic reading CD at the same time I bought The Ghost Watcher. Of the two, I liked that one better. I picked this one because it had to do with that period just after Quentin Collins’s departure from Collinwood in 1897, which is a part of the story I thought I’d like to hear more about.
This audio story begins with that gramophone music of Quentin’s that we’ve heard 400 times before, a sweet and sentimental old waltz. Quentin (read by David Selby, as always) announces that he’s “the last man standing, as ever.” Locked in a room, all alone. No, wait. Angelique (read by Lara Parker) whispers in the background until Quentin finally hears her. The two strike up a conversation.
After some banter about the old days, Quentin settles in to tell Angelique the story of what happened to him after he left Collinwood.
He says that he arrived in New York City in 1899–which is odd, since that’s where he was headed for when he got on a train at the Collinsport station in the autumn of 1897. Either that was a very long trip, or else in his sleepless and brandified state, he got on the wrong train, ended up on the far side of the country, and took some months to get back to the East Coast.
Quentin also says that he was 29 at this time; only two years had passed since Charles Delaware Tate painted his Dorian-Gray-like portrait, and he hadn’t appreciated its full effect yet. He would heal very quickly after injuries–and he did get into a lot of bar fights–but it wasn’t until he was well into his 30s that people began to remark on how young he looked and he started to lie about his age.
In New York, he became a party-boy among what he calls “the upper-class degenerates” where he had “no home, but always a bed.”
Late one night, he stumbled upon a ceremony being held by an occult group that called themselves the Skinwalkers. They all had pentagrams on the palms of their hands. Their purpose was to “rid the world of the wolf”–that is, the curse of the werewolf.
But the Skinwalkers already knew about Quentin Collins. Hearing of him from the Gypsy tribe of King Johnny Romano, they’d been on the lookout for Quentin for some time, although they didn’t know about his cure through the painting. They kidnapped Quentin from a party and conducted experiments on him to try and “awaken the beast”. When that failed, they moved on to test–and torture–him to find the limits of his healing powers. This part of the story, as Quentin tells it, is horrific. A “postmortem on a man who couldn’t die”: electrocution, skin peeled off to regrow, attempts to kill him. None of it took. He doesn’t say how long this went on.
The only thing that didn’t heal right away, that took years to fade, was the pentagram brand they placed on his palm to match their own. Then they released him, knowing that he would choose to return one day. After that, he saw Skinwalkers all over New York, on people in positions of power as well as ordinary citizens on the streets.
Before Quentin got to this part of the story, Angelique had asked him about a diary in his possession belonging to a woman named Katelynn Matthews; the pages dated November 8 through December 17, 1899, is all about Quentin. Angelique, always jealous of other women where the Collins men she considers hers are concerned, wanted to know what this woman was to Quentin. Quentin had first seen Katelynn at that party where he was kidnapped, and met her again after he was free. Katelynn, and the wolf that was also in the same alley. It was a night of a full moon.
He tells Angelique that he went home with Katelynn that night, but he doesn’t remember what happened.
Angelique: “How disappointing.”
After a blackout, Quentin awoke in a strange bed (far from the first time), with blood on the sheets and his chest healing from fresh scratches. The blood wasn’t all his. He learned later that 11 people had been killed on the streets of Manhattan that night, all with the pentagram on their palms, but he denies fiercely that he was responsible for that.
Between the dates mentioned in Katelynn’s diary, he stayed with her and her family, two stepchildren she had promised to look after. “Werelings,” Angelique identifies the children as werewolf pups right away. But did Katelynn realize what Quentin was? Quentin thought so, and he soon realized that the Skinwalkers were as interested in this little family as they were in him. He wanted to protect them. Probably, he also felt a certain amount of guilt about his own children–the son he never saw and the daughter he had to give up.
They were happy for a while, but of course it didn’t last. Eventually, the Skinwalkers threatened the children and Quentin found himself heading back to that place where he was tortured to confront them. That was when he found out the connection between that group and the family he wanted to protect. By the end of the story, he’ll come to see that he hasn’t understood the situation at all.
Nor has the listener, when we discover exactly who Angelique has been talking to, and who Quentin has been telling his story to.
Good points: David Selby’s reading of the story is very good; he “does all the voices” and is especially effective with the voice of Lowell, the principle Skinwalker Quentin has to deal with. The passage about the time Quentin spent imprisoned by them is truly chilling. And the ending is poignant. As he winds up his tale, Quentin concludes that Katelynn’s diary is all he managed to save. Katelynn herself, if she survived, would be dead by this time anyway. He knows he’ll outlive anybody he cares about.
I suppose what irks me is that the romance never really comes off. How many times have we been presented with Quentin’s one great love? That, and the whole Skinwalkers cult, though grotesque, didn’t grab me. I couldn’t care about them and their conflict with Katelynn. The conversations, the relationship between this Angelique and Quentin when everyone else is gone, are much more interesting to me than the story they frame.