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Literature / The Shapes of Midnight

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"Stay back! The shadow places shelter secrets that are best left undisturbed. Hear me! Or don't."
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The Shapes of Midnight is Joseph Payne Brennan's short story collection published in 1980. It features twelve of his short stories - spanning Brennan's career from 1953 to 1973 - many of which had been previously published in Weird Tales, Brennan's own magazine Macabre and other anthologies. The book features an introduction by no less an authority than Stephen King and cover art by Kirk Reinert.

Long of print, it was republished by Dover in July, 2019. However, it omitted "Canavan's Back Yard" and "Slime" because of their earlier inclusion in Nine Horrors and a Dream (which Dover also reprinted). The Stephen King introduction was also be left out of the Dover reissue, making the original 80s paperback worth obtaining despite the reprint.


  • "Diary of a Werewolf": A former heroin addict from New York City moves to the town of Juniper Hill on the advice of his doctor. There, he keeps a diary of his experiences and feels strangely drawn to the nearby forest. Originally published in Macabre in 1960.
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  • "The Corpse of Charlie Rull": Alcoholic heart attack victim Charlie Rull is resurrected as an unstoppable killing machine after he falls into a swamp polluted with radioactive chemicals from a Freak Lab Accident. Originally published in The Dark Returners in 1959.
  • "Canavan's Back Yard": Rare book dealer Canavan can't shake the eerie feeling that there is something... "wrong" with his backyard. Originally published in Nine Horrors and a Dream in 1958.
  • "The Pavilion": Murderer Niles Glendon goes to check up on the spot where he buried a victim and gets more than he bargained for. Originally published in The Dark Returners in 1959.
  • "House of Memory": Tara Sutter's childhood house appears seemingly out of thin air. Originally published in Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine in 1967.
  • "The Willow Platform": Juniper Hill resident Henry Crotell finds an ancient book in the cellar of hermit Hannibal Trobish's house. Reading the book, he becomes obsessed with it and begins building a gigantic platform of willow saplings from the top of which he plans to summon an evil entity. Originally published in Whispers in 1973.
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  • "Who Was He?": A man recovering from heart surgery begins to suspect that the hospital's barber might be a Serial Killer. Originally published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine in 1969.
  • "Disappearance": Dan Mellmer disappeared years ago, survived by his identical twin brother Russell. Only after Russell dies do the police learn the terrible truth. Originally published in 1959 in The Dark Returners.
  • "The Horror at Chilton Castle": A scientist visiting Chilton Castle in Ireland is invited to witness the secret Rite of Passage which Frederick Chilton-Payne must undergo following the death of his father Robert, the Thirteenth Earl of Chilton. Originally published in Scream at Midnight in 1963.
  • "The Impulse to Kill": A man starts getting urges to commit murder. Originally published in The Dark Returners in 1959.
  • "The House on Hazel Street": A man starts becoming weirdly obsessed with the Old, Dark House he passes by every day. One day, the front door opens and the owner, an elderly man named Jonathan Sellerby, invites him in. Originally published in Macabre in 1961.
  • "Slime": An Blob Monster preys on the denizens of the town of Clinton Center after a storm. Originally published in Weird Tales in 1953.

Makeup artist and voice actor Edward E. French has done excellent adaptations of four of the stories from the book, which can be found here: "Diary of a Werewolf," "The Corpse of Charlie Rull," "The Pavilion" and "Slime" (in three parts: here, here and here).

The Shapes of Midnight contains examples of:

  • Acquitted Too Late: Henry in "Slime." Pegged by Underbeck as the murderer of Barnaby and Jason, he is eventually acquitted after one of Underbeck's own men survives an encounter with the blob to tell the truth, forcing Underbeck to admit that Henry, "far from being the murderer, was just one more victim."
  • Adult Fear: All over the place. The protagonist's third victim in "Diary of a Werewolf" is Debra, a little girl walking home alone after going out to pick blueberries. Imagine being her poor parents. And poor Mrs. Mellett in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull." A stranger shows up out of nowhere, covered in blood, chasing her daughter. They survive by hiding in some tall grass while the stranger - Charlie - trashes their house and kills their horse.
  • Age Without Youth: Lady Susan Glanville in "The Horror at Chilton Castle." A witch, she made a Deal with the Devil to live forever, but he made it so she still aged like a regular person. By the time Frederick and the narrator are introduced to her by Cowath, she's a hideous, old monster.
  • Agent Mulder: Dave Baines in "The Willow Platform." He's got a pretty workable - if outlandish - theory for pretty much everything involving the weird stuff Henry Crotell gets up to, right down to offering up a plausible explanation for the Eldritch Abomination.
  • The Alcoholic: A favorite trope of Brennan's. They usually come to bad ends, often ending up as one of the monster's victims (Freddy Camberwell in "Diary of a Werewolf" and Henry Hossing in "Slime"), or the monster themselves (Charlie Rull).
  • Alliterative Name:
    • "House of Memory": Mellisa Mowerly.
    • "Slime": Henry Hossing, Giles Gowse and Jim Jelinson.
  • Angry Mob: One forms outside of Hemlock House to lynch the protagonist in the first story after his attack against the couple in the car. His diary abruptly ends there. A postscript concerning his trial and eventual incarceration in an insane asylum reveals he was rescued from them by Sheriff Macelin's police force.
    • One also figures into the backstory of "Canavan's Back Yard," as part of the Witch Hunt against Goodie Larkins.
  • Antagonist Title: "Slime."
  • Apocalyptic Log: The diary in "Diary of a Werewolf."
  • Anonymous Killer Narrator: The nameless protagonists in "Diary of a Werewolf" and "The Impulse to Kill."
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Lady Susan Glanville in "The Horror at Chilton Castle."
  • Auto Erotica: Two people have sex in a car in "Diary of a Werewolf."
  • Asshole Victim:
    • Zombie!Charlie's first and second victims in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull." The first was about to commit a hit and run crime after running Charlie over with his car, and the second is a Serial Killer posing as a hitchhiker.
    • The protagonist in "The Impulse to Kill" explicitly chooses victims he believes "deserve it."
    • Barnaby in "Slime" might qualify to modern readers.
  • The Bad Guy Wins: "The Impulse to Kill" and "Disappearance."
  • Baleful Polymorph: In addition to being Driven to Madness, poor Canavan in "Canavan's Back Yard" ends up turned into a ferocious dog as part of the Curse he was unaware had been placed on his land years ago.
  • Bedlam House: Where the protagonist in "Diary of a Werewolf" ends up.
  • Big Ol' Eyebrows: The barber in "Who Was He?" has 'em. They're one of his defining physical characteristics. Or at least one of the defining characteristics of his mask.
  • Blob Monster: The title creature in "Slime," of the Eldritch Abomination Sea Monster variety (washed ashore in a storm).
  • Breather Episode: "House of Memory" and "The House on Hazel Street" are more whimsical/unusual than scary.
  • Burn the Witch!: Susan Glanville barely avoided this due to being a noblewoman, but her own family chained her up forever in Chilton Castle's secret room.
  • By the Lights of Their Eyes: The first thing Frederick and the narrator see of Susan in "The Horror of Chilton Castle" are her spoiler Glowing Eyes of Doom in the darkness.
  • Came Back Wrong: "The Corpse of Charlie Rull."
  • Cloud Cuckoo Lander:
    • Henry Crotell is known as a local eccentric around Juniper Hill in "The Willow Platform" even before he finds Hannibal Trobish's book.
    • Giles Gowse in "Slime," due to his insistence that Wharton's Swamp is haunted.
  • Covers Always Lie: A mild example. The cover (depicting a scene from "Slime") shows Matson and Storr in county sheriff's uniforms. In the actual story, however, Clinton Center's police force aren't a county sheriff's department.
    • The Dover reprint also features a werewolf, likely in reference to "Diary of a Werewolf," even though the diarist in the story never actually becomes a wolfman.
  • Curse
    • Frank discovers that the reason the backyard in "Canavan's Back Yard" is an Eldritch Location is due to a curse placed on it by accused witch Goodie Larkins in the 1800s. Accused of turning a child into a dog, she was condemned to be torn apart by dogs in a swamp, and as she died she cursed the land to be a portal to Hell and turn everyone who ventured into into dogs.
    • In "The Horror at Chilton Castle," a curse requires the dead Earl of Chilton to be eaten by Madwoman in the Attic Susan Glanville, and only by witnessing this can his son become the next earl.
  • Da Chief: The captain in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" is the "take charge and yell a lot" kind while Chief Miles Underbeck in "Slime" is the Reasonable Authority Figure variety.
  • Deal with the Devil: Lady Susan Glanville, an ancestor of the Chilton-Paynes in "The Horror at Chilton Castle," made a pact with Satan to live forever because she was afraid of death. Because Satan is a jerk, however, Susan is immortal but still ages.
  • Disposable Vagrant:
    • Averted in "Diary of a Werewolf." The protagonist's first victim is Freddy Camberwell, the town drunk, but not only is he found right away, he was a target of opportunity rather than choice; the protagonist simply happened to encounter him on the road.
    • In "The Corpse of Charlie Rull," Charlie Rull dies of a heart attack and becomes a zombie. However, no one notices his initial death because he's a homeless man who lives near the dump, and because of the short time frame; even his fellow homeless men don't realize anything has happened to him until encountering him in his zombified state.
    • In "The Impulse to Kill," the protagonist explicitly chooses criminals to murder, figuring no one will care about them.
    • In "Slime," the monster's first victim is homeless man Henry Hossing. When he goes missing, everyone just assumes he's left town.
  • Death Of Achild: [[spoiler:In "Diary of a Werewolf," quite cruelly.
  • Dramatic Thunder: Used during William Cowath's conversation with the narrator in "The Horror at Chilton Castle."
  • Driven to Madness: Several characters:
    • "Diary of a Werewolf": The main character, clearly.
    • "Canavan's Back Yard": Canavan himself. Frank almost does, too, but manages to resist the backyard's hellish allure and escape.
    • "The Pavilion": Niles, after he can't find where he buried Kurt's corpse.
    • "The Willow Platform": Henry, on account of his obsession with Hannibal Trobish's book.
    • "The Horror at Chilton Castle": Frederick after discovering the terrible secret of the Chilton-Payne family. Cowath is concerned he might even die due to his already poor physical health.
    • "Slime": The Sole Survivors of the slime's final two attacks, Dolores Rell and Patrolman Fred Storr.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The entity Henry Crotell is intent on summoning up in "The Willow Platform," Baines' insistence that the thing has a perfectly logical explanation notwithstanding, while the creature in "Slime" is naturally-occurring, but so ancient and powerful it certainly qualifies.
  • Eldritch Location: The bottom of the sea and the swamp in "Slime," and the title location in "Canavan's Back Yard."
  • Everything's Deader with Zombies: "The Corpse of Charlie Rull."
  • Evil Is Not a Toy: Henry Crotell finds this out the hard way in "The Willow Platform."
  • Finish Him!: Used to great effect at the end of "The Corpse of Charlie Rull," with the police captain hysterically screaming "Keep firing, you fools! Keep firing! Did I tell you to stop?! Finish it! Finish it!" after his men briefly freeze up in horror.
  • Food Porn: Henry Hossing's $2 breakfast in "Slime."
  • For the Evulz: Seems to be the protagonist's entire motivation in "The Impulse to Kill," his attempt at giving a pseudo-Darwinian explanation to his urges aside. This is also about the only reason anyone can figure the barber was killing people in "Who Was He?" because he escapes from the security guard and can't be questioned.
  • Haunted Castle: Chilton Castle. Sort of. The structure itself isn't really haunted, but does contain the most unpleasant permanent resident of Lady Susan Glanville chained up in a secret room.
  • Have a Gay Old Time: In "The Horror at Chilton Castle," Cowath is described as retrieving and lighting a "faggot torch," and in "Slime," Barnaby considers Gowse to be "queer."
  • The Hermit: Two in "The Willow Platform."
    • The late Hannibal Trobish (the original owner of the Tome of Eldritch Lore and presumably the Ring of Power, too) was known as a reclusive Jerkass who lived alone, rarely coming outside except to chase people off his property with a gun.
    • And then there's Henry Crotell, the unwitting inheritor of Hannibal's book and ring. He lives by himself in a shack and sustains himself with a private garden and by doing odd jobs around Juniper Hill. He's a harmless Cloud Cuckoo Lander and a lot nicer variety of hermit than Hannibal... until he finds the book, that is.
  • High-Pressure Blood: One of the things the diarist in "Diary of a Werewolf" writes about, either in horror or in joy, depending on his mood, is the gushing blood from when he bites his victims' throats out.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Brennan is fond of characters dying from heart failure:
    • "The Corpse of Charlie Rull": This is how Charlie dies.
    • "Who Was He?": Whoever sees the killer's Nightmare Face.
    • "Disappearance": Russell dies of a heart attack at the beginning.
  • Hospital Hottie: The nurse's aide in "Who Was He?"
  • I am a Humanitarian:
    • Apart from one failed attempt to catch a rabbit, the protagonist in "Diary of a Werewolf" eschews hunting (or even hurting) animals, targeting humans to eat exclusively.
    • In "The Horror at Chilton Castle," one of the legends of the hidden room is that members of a rival family of the Chilton-Paynes, the Gowers, were sealed in there until they starved and ate one one another. At the end, it's revealed that the cursed, immortal Lady Susan eats the corpse of the recently deceased Earl of Chilton upon his death as part of a Deal with the Devil she made. At the time she is introduced to Frederick and the narrator by Cowath, she's just gotten done gobbling up Frederick's father Robert Chilton-Payne.
  • Improbable Infant Survival: Played straight in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull."
  • It Was a Dark and Stormy Night: How "The Horror at Chilton Castle" and "Slime" start.
  • Janitor Impersonation Infiltration: The killer in "Who Was He?" posed as the hospital's barber to gain access to his victims.
  • Karma Houdini:
    • "Who Was He?": Although he is prevented from claiming any further victims, the killer escapes the hospital security guard.
    • "The Horror at Chilton Castle": Although she remains trapped as the Madwoman in the Attic, Susan, being immortal, will survive and likely go on to eat Frederick, assuming he doesn't die of shock after learning the awful truth. Similarly, Cowath survives the story and even intuits that if Frederick does die, Susan will eat his corpse and the protagonist will become the heir as the closest living relative, and the curse will continue.
    • "Disappearance": Russell Mellmer lives a long life and dies of natural causes after murdering his twin brother and stuffing him into a scarecrow to hide the body.
    • "The Impulse to Kill": The protagonist escapes to continue killing.
  • Karma Houdini Warranty: Niles gets away with murder at the beginning of "The Pavilion." He eventually gets his just desserts at the end, though.
  • Kill It with Fire: "Slime."
  • Latex Perfection: "Who Was He?" Until the end, no one realizes the killer was wearing a mask.
  • Lightning Reveal: When Cowath and the protagonist first pull up to Chilton Castle during storm at night, the main character doesn't see the castle until it's revealed in a sudden flash of lightning.
  • The Lost Woods: The pine forest near Hemlock House in "Diary of a Werewolf." It's noted that the people of Juniper Hill generally avoid it if they can, and when he visits it, the main character notes that he encounters no animal life. He also feels strangely drawn to the site, and it's after his first visit that he begins feeling compelled to run around on all fours. It's unclear how much of this is in his head, though.
  • Madwoman in the Attic: Lady Susan Glanville in "The Horror at Chilton Castle," kept chained in a secret room.
  • Man Bites Man: And elderly woman. And little girl. Because the "werewolf" in the first story never actually transforms, his attacks against his victims are this.
  • Maybe Magic, Maybe Mundane:
    • We never do learn if there's anything "off" about The Lost Woods in "Diary of a Werewolf."
    • Baines seems to think the Eldritch Abomination in "The Willow Platform" is entirely explainable by science, as opposed to being a supernatural creature.
  • Mortality Phobia: What drives Lady Susan in "The Horror at Chilton Castle" to make her Deal with the Devil.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Frank, the protagonist in "Canavan's Back Yard," is an author.
  • Nameless Narrative: "Who Was He?" The only characters identified by name are the killer's victims - after they've already died. The protagonist, who is a patient at the hospital, is never named, and the only characters of note besides him and the killer are the nurse's aide, the security guard and (eventually) the hospital's actual barber. None of them are named, either.
  • Never Found the Body:
    • "Canavan's Back Yard": Canavan simply vanishes. Turns out his backyard might be a portal to hell, and he got lost in it and turned into a wild dog after being Driven to Madness.
    • "The Pavilion": Niles Glendon murdered his friend Kurt Resinger and buried the body under the pier at a beach pavilion. The cops never found the body. In a twist, neither does Niles himself, at least until the end. It turns out the tide pulled Kurt's corpse free, and a wave rushing in brings Kurt with it, scaring Niles to death.
    • "Disappearance": Dan Mellmer disappears. Sheriff Kellington and his deputy strongly suspect his twin brother Russell killed him after a fight, but they never can prove it without a corpse. They're right. After Russell dies, Kellington finally finds that all these years, Dan's corpse was disguised as a scarecrow on the Mellmer farm.
    • "The House on Hazel Street": Jonathan Sellerby.
  • Never My Fault: During his more manic episodes, the nameless protagonist in "Diary of a Werewolf" excuses and rationalizes his actions. He blames his attack on Freddy Camberwell, for instance, entirely on poor Freddy, insisting (more to himself than anyone else) that Freddy just happened along at exactly the wrong moment.
  • Nightmare Face: Turns out the fake barber in "Who Was He?" was disfigured and wearing a mask, and was so hideous he had but to remove to his mask to give his victims heart attacks.
  • Ninja Pirate Robot Zombie: The radioactive zombie hobo in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull."
  • No Body Left Behind: "Slime." 'Cause the slime creature ate them.
  • No Name Given: Very few of the protagonists are identified by name. "Canavan's Back Yard" and "House of Memory" barely avoid it by having other characters refer to the narrator as Frank and Kirk respectively, whilst "The Horror at Chilton Castle" establishes that the otherwise nameless protagonist is Brennan himself (he mentions that his ancestors, distant cousins of the Chilton-Paynes, were once called the O'Braonains but are today the Brennans).
  • "Nothing" is Scarier: "Canavan's Back Yard" and some parts of "Slime." We also never actually get to have the phony hospital barber's Nightmare Face described to us. We're also never told what exactly will happen if Susan isn't fed the dead earl's corpse and if his son isn't made privy to this as part of his Rite of Passage in "The Horror at Chilton Castle." The one time not following through comes up, Cowath simply says "The consequences of breaking the pact are too terrible to describe."
  • Nuclear Nasty: Charlie the radioactive zombie murderer in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull."
  • Off with His Head!:
    • "The Corpse of Charlie Rull": Charlie tears off the salesman's head. He later has his own head shot clean off by the police sergeant, although it continues living for a while.
    • "The Horror at Chilton Castle": This was the fate of Thomas Wentworth, the "thieving Earl" who once took the estates of the O'Braonains during "the British confiscation."
  • Old, Dark House: The titular residence in "The House on Hazel Street."
  • Old Flame: Melissa Mowerly for Kirk in "House of Memory."
    • Old Flame Fizzle: However, when they meet up again at the Sutters' house party, nothing much happens between them because Kirk keeps his old feelings for Melissa to himself.
  • Old Retainer: William Cowath in "The Horror at Chilton Castle."
  • Our Werewolves Are Different: "Diary of a Werewolf." He doesn't actually turn into a wolf, he simply becomes bestial and ravenous for the taste of human flesh. He also doesn't need the full moon to undergo the change. A simple trip to The Lost Woods and he feels compelled to run around on all fours.
  • Our Zombies Are Different: The title character in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" is undead, all right, but he's also radioactive, and rather than being driven by a desire to eat human flesh, he simply is constantly in pain from the radioactive energy coursing through him, and commits violent acts as a means of expending that energy. He is also driven by an intense hatred of all life that isn't in the same kind of pain as him. And he can take a lot of punishment, as the Newbridge police find out; nothing short of getting shot to pieces puts an end to his reign of terror.
  • Police Are Useless: A trope Brennan generally likes to avert. From Sheriff Macelin in "Diary of a Werewolf" to Chief Underbeck in "Slime," his cop characters are generally pretty quick on the uptake and well-equipped to handle the threat(s), or to summon outside help when they can't.
    • That said, Constable Walter Frawley in "The Willow Platform" doesn't exactly acquit himself in trying to get to the bottom of what it is Henry Crotell is up to beyond a few timid questions about where Henry might have acquired the Ring of Power, even though he seems to suspect Henry stole it.
  • Rant-Inducing Slight: In "The Pavilion," Niles killed Kurt Resinger because Kurt wouldn't loan him $500.
  • Red Eyes, Take Warning: Susan Glanville, or, rather, the creature she has become, in "The Horror at Chilton Castle."
  • Ring of Power: Henry Crotell has one in "The Willow Platform" to go along with Hannibal Trobish's Tome of Eldritch Lore. It's silver inlaid with veins of blue, and although the stone is flat, black and "lusterless," Henry claims, "Throws out light, she does! Light enough to read by!" when explaining how he's able to read Trobish's book at night.
  • Rite of Passage: As part of curse she placed on her family, whenever the current Earl of Chilton dies, his son must witness his father's corpse get eaten by the Elderly Immortal Lady Susan, who is kept chained up in a secret room in a castle, before he can become the next earl.
  • Scary Scarecrow: In "Disappearance." Turns out it contains Dan Mellmer's corpse.
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: The main character in "The Impulse to Kill" is a rich man who wants to become a serial killer.
  • Secret Keeper: William Cowath, the Chilton-Paynes' Old Retainer and Factor of Chilton Castle in "The Horror at Chilton Castle." He's one of the only people (besides whoever is the current earl) who knows the hidden room's awful secret.
  • Serial Killer: Several:
    • The protagonist in "Diary of a Werewolf" becomes one because he believes himself to be a werewolf.
    • The title character in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" comes back wrong and goes on a murderous rampage.
    • In the same story, Charlie's second victim is a serial killer himself.
    • The barber in "Who Was He?" He scares patients with heart conditions to death and then spreads earth from graveyards around their corpses.
    • Then there's the Villain Protagonist in "The Impulse to Kill."
  • Sex Equals Death: The protagonist's final victims in "Diary of a Werewolf" include a couple having sex in a car.
  • The Sheriff: Sheriff Macelin in "Diary of a Werewolf" and Sheriff Kellington in "Disappearance."
  • Spoiler Cover: Another mild example. The pretty dynamic cover by Kirk Reinert spoils the attack against Chief Underbeck's officers in "Slime," telling the reader that art least one cop is a goner, although it doesn't identify whether it's Luke Matson or Fred Storr being engulfed by the creature.
  • Swamps Are Evil: Canavan's property in "Canavan's Back Yard" turns out to have been built on a swamp cursed by a witch. Then there's the purportedly haunted Wharton's Swamp in "Slime," where the title creature takes up residence.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Hannibal Trobish's book in "The Willow Platform."
  • The Un-Reveal: "Who Was He?" We learn the killer wasn't the real barber, and only posing as the barber, and we learn how he murdered his victims, and get a (more or less) decent explanation for his actions (assuming "he was a disfigured homicidal maniac" is a satisfying enough explanation), but as for the actual question posed by the title, it goes unanswered; we never learn the murderer's identity.
  • Witch Hunt: In "Canavan's Back Yard," Frank learns that in the 1800s a woman named Goodie Larkins was accused of witchcraft and killed by wild dogs in the area currently occupied by Canavan's property. She placed a Curse on the land as she died.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Both the unnamed protagonist in "Diary of a Werewolf" as well as the zombified Charlie Rull. Poor Debra in the former dies rather gruesomely, while Cynthia in "The Corpse of Charlie Rull" is luckier thanks to her mom's quick thinking.
  • You Have to Believe Me!: Several characters in "Slime," Old Man Gowse in particular. The police are skeptical at first, but eventually they do start listening, especially after one of their own officers ends up on the slime's menu.
  • Your Mind Makes It Real: The reason Tara's childhood home in "House of Memory" appears is apparently because she believed hard enough that it still existed, despite the fact it'd been torn down years ago.

"This is his book. Dare you make it yours?"


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