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Literature / The Twisted Ones

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I made faces like the faces on the stones, and I twisted myself like the twisted ones, and I lay down flat like the dead ones.

An editor named Melissa (and known as Mouse) travels to North Carolina with her daft hound dog to clear out the house of her much hated grandmother. The experience is miserable since her grandmother was a hoarder, but at least she meets some nice people in the small town. The doll collection is a bit much though. And if only those darn woodpeckers would knock it off... But then she stumbles on the diary of her step-grandfather, which chronicles his descent into madness and dementia while being abused by Mouse's grandmother, and his inability to leave because of fear of mysterious creatures called The White People and The Twisted ones. And then things start to get really strange.

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Ursula Vernon's 2019 take on the horror classic "The White People". It is set in the modern day, but treats The Green Book and conversation on the nature of evil from the original as fact.


More tropes than are healthy for your sanity

  • Action Girl: Foxy, Melissa's hippy neighbor who winds up helping her deal with the horror. Melissa says that she should have been in the CIA, and Foxy mentions that an agent she slept with once agreed.
  • Action Survivor: Mouse isn't any kind of badass, just a normal person who rises under pressure.
  • All Therapists Are Muggles: Mouse finds herself struggling with this in the aftermath. She's deeply traumatized by her experience, but she knows she can't seek therapy without seeming completely insane and being put on anti-psychotics.
  • Ambiguous Situation: The only good radio station Mouse can get is an NPR station, which is having pledge week. At first this is just a "every time you get NPR in a strange place, it's pledge week" joke, but this continues for the entire time she's at her grandmother's house, much longer than a week, with the presenters sounding increasingly exhausted. Mouse, and by extension the reader, never do find out what's going on.
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  • And There Was Much Rejoicing: No one, but no one, is under any illusions as to what Melissa's grandmother was like and are pretty happy she's dead. The closest they'll get is making an effort to be polite in front of Melissa before she assures that it's okay, she knows.
  • Anti-Magic: Downplayed. Melissa's grandmother was the supernatural equivalent of a skunk, not actually dangerous but really unpleasant to be around. Hickory also gives some resistance to glamour when held because hickory trees don't exist in the other world, so it's a piece of your own reality to hold onto.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The effigies. They're incredibly creepy, and they certainly look cool, but individually they aren't much tougher than a person.
  • Awful Wedded Life: When she was a child Mouse witnessed her grandmother being verbally abusive to Cotgrave, and in his diary he talks about her hiding his copy of the Green Book and playing cruel mind games with him. The only reason he married her is because she repelled the magic of the White People and their effigies, and he hoped he'd be able to hide from them...though eventually he decides that it's simply not worth it.
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  • Berserk Button: The one time Mouse actually fights an effigy instead of running away is when one tries to grab Bongo. Do not hurt her dog. And, to a lesser extent, don't touch her truck.
  • Big Friendly Dog: Bongo, full stop.
  • Book Dumb: Foxy is sharp, competent, and very helpful in a tight place. She doesn't know a thing about history though, and never finished high school.
  • Brotherhood of Funny Hats: The peculiar people who turned up at her grandfather's funeral. They're implied to be a mystical order of some kind, but how much actual knowledge they have is up for debate. They certainly didn't notice that Cotgrove had been turned into an effigy.
  • Cell Phones Are Useless: Downplayed. Melissa's phone gets a bad software update that keeps it from charging and leaves it burning battery quickly, and there's not much signal anyway. But there's internet in town, and she manages a few calls. She also takes a picture of one of the stones in the other world, but it comes out badly.
  • Creepy Doll: There is an entire room full of the things, it creeps everyone out to no end. Especially when Melissa picks one up and the eyelids flicker. It's just a mechanism in the eyes, but with the rest of the tension it gets thrown across the room. Even creepier when the Cotgrave/deer effigy constructs a hoard effigy. Mouse says she's lucky only part of it was dolls, because if it had been the whole thing, she'd have been too freaked out to run away. Among other things, the effigy's ribs were doll arms.
  • Daylight Horror: Melissa keeps noting her irrational conviction that the monsters won't appear in daylight, while also knowing that there's no evidence for that and they can probably come for her at any time. She's right, the effigies have no problem with daylight. They just prefer to be sneaky.
  • Dogs Are Dumb: Melissa's hound dog Bongo is not the sharpest knife in the drawer, except where his nose is concerned.
  • Do Not Taunt Cthulhu: Directly mentioned. Don't mimic the creepy statues. Either they don't like it or they really like it, and either way it won't end well for you.
  • Due to the Dead: The White People's puppets always pay their respects, both to the monuments of the masters and to any bodies. Anna exploits this by brutally murdering her companion, giving everyone else time to run. And then Foxy exploits it by shooting Anna after she betrays them a second time.
  • Elder Abuse: Melissa's grandmother treated Cotgrove horrifically. Constantly belittling and insulting him, hiding his things and making fun of him for having a bad memory, and keeping him from sleeping to the point he died from exposure due to sleeping outside.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Stones, creepy carvings that seem to be modeled on (and channels to) powerful and alien entities. Even The White People, who invoked them for power, were also cautious enough of them to keep them in a limnal space and hide themselves from them.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: Played with. Bongo reacts badly to the Stones and effigies at various times, but at others he completely ignores them. And, as Melissa notes, he's been known to spend hours growling and snarling at a garbage can.
  • The Fair Folk: The White People, though it's noted they may well only be one variety of many.
  • Fate Worse than Death: Anna, who we meet in the second half of the book. She is trapped in the city of the White People, being forced to keep trying to have children using the White Stone in an attempt by the Twisted Ones to breed more masters. Constantly accompanied by golems made from her children.
  • Foreshadowing: Mouse and the hippies discuss the movie Alien. Just like in the movie, forced impregnation (although by magic, not aliens) is something the monsters want to do.
  • Genre Savvy: Averted. Mouse knows how stories go, but This Is Reality and nothing goes to script. She notes at one point that on finishing diligently cleaning the house there should be a reward or karmic jackpot of some kind. That's how stories work. But there isn't. Instead it becomes a "Shaggy Dog" Story when she has to burn the house down.
  • Ghostly Goals: Sort of. The Effigies made from people seem to keep some memories and goals, which inform their behavior even if they've forgotten most of it. This is why the deer effigy is stalking the house: it was partly made from Cotgrove. This is also why another is especially vicious. It's made of Mouse's grandmother's hoard, and some of her malice lives on in it.
  • Glamour: referred to as Voor in the Aklo language, there's a lot of powerful stuff like this lying around. Particularly the White Stone.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: The White People are strongly associated with changelings. This is implied to have led to their downfall, breeding with humans to the point that they could no longer survive in their world.
  • Hell Is That Noise: The irregular clacking sound of a woodpecker that turn out to be stones dangling from strings and rattling around in an effigy's chest.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The city of the White People, hidden beneath the Voorish Dome. Hidden from the supernatural side as well, to the point that the White People have died and the others haven't even noticed.
  • Honor Before Reason: Waiting around for Bongo to come back after he runs away was stupid. Mouse knows it's stupid. But you don't abandon your dog, dammit. The same applies when she heads back to the other world after receiving a message asking for help.
  • Implausible Deniability: When Melissa is still in shock and denial over what's happening she keeps on constructing increasingly elaborate explanations for the impossible geography and blatantly supernatural things she's seeing. How much of this is genuine denial and how much is her being sarcastic at herself wildly varies moment to moment.
  • Improvised Golem: A signature of the White People, making horrifying constructs out of corpses and detritus. Except that the White People are all dead. The constructs have been making themselves for several generations now, getting less human each remove.
  • Insistent Terminology: Bongo is named after the antelope, not the drum. As Melissa has had to explain many times.
  • Jerkass: Mouse's grandmother, to a pathological degree. She is described early as the kind of person who would call you to gloat that your dog had died and tell you that you deserved it. And then later we find out that this was Not Hyperbole.
  • Kill It with Fire: Fire kills the creations of the White People, though it's noted that fire kills pretty much anything. Additionally it's noted that with the hoarding the house is a complete firetrap. They burn down the house to kill the last two effigies in this world.
  • Known Only by Their Nickname: Melissa's friends all know her as Mouse.
  • Not Using the "Z" Word: The supernatural beings in this story or at least the beings who made the effigies are some version of The Fair Folk, but they're never referred to as fairies; they're either known as 'the white people' or 'the holler people', since the doorway to their realm is located up in the holler.
  • Madness Mantra: Melissa's step-grandfather fell into this, repeating the litany of the twisted ones to ward off panic attacks. Melissa takes this up herself, but later falls into repeating "sticks and stones and broken bones."
  • Magical Native American: Averted. The only person with actual native ancestry notes that his people are from the other side of the country like sensible people. He doesn't know anything, and won't be dispensing any wisdom.
  • Mercy Kill: A mixed example. Foxy shoots Anna to spare her from her fate, but also as revenge for betraying them, and to buy time by making the effigies that were chasing them pay their respects to her corpse. It's a complicated situation, to say the least.
  • Mood Whiplash: A lot of the horror comes from the supernatural suddenly intruding into a slow slice of life story. This applies even in more fantastic circumstances. One of the most jarring moments is when Mouse is in the field of stones. It's weird, and a bit creepy, but it seems understandable and like something that could almost be part of the normal world. Then she casually mimics one of the stone faces, and finds her face twisting uncontrollably to match it. It's right out of nowhere and reminds you that this is serious and we don't know the rules.
  • More Than Mind Control: The scariest thing about the influence of the stones. It doesn't feel like it's coming from outside you. Instead it's the same internal voice that, when you stand by a ledge, tells you to jump. It just gets stronger, then it starts chiming in with morbid insights and creepy poetry and intrusive thoughts.
  • Muggles Do It Better: Mouse and Foxy aren't immune to the psychic pull of the White Stone, but Mouse has an IUD and Foxy had a hysterectomy years ago, so it can't actually get them pregnant.
  • Mystical Pregnancy: The White Stone is designed to cause these, in some way connected to a fertility god reminiscent of Pan.
  • New-Age Retro Hippie: Melissa's closest neighbors were a group of three. They're very friendly and helpful even when the monsters appear.
  • Non Action Girl: Mouse doesn't know how shoot a gun and, despite making an effort, isn't in particularly good shape. It's a strong contrast to Foxy.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: The city of the White People is even creepier for being empty. It's not a city anymore, it's a ruin. Or if it is a city it belongs to the Twisted Ones now.
  • Older Than They Look: Anna was abducted as a teenager in the 1970s, but when Mouse and Foxy meet her in (presumably) the 2010s, she looks to be no older than her early thirties. However, the magic that preserves Anna's appearance on the surface apparently didn't do the same for the rest of her body, since she's no longer able to have children and may have gone through menopause.
  • Open Secret: The stories about creatures in the woods, to an extent. Most older people and some younger have heard the stories. Some have seen something or even killed one. But very few people are willing to talk about it, all afraid of the consequences if they admit the truth first and aren't believed.
  • Perky Goth: The friendly barista, who never gets dragged into the insanity but gives Mouse a lot of emotional support.
  • Poor Communication Kills: Anna thinks that Mouse can rescue her because her grandfather had the blood of the White People and so she will too. She doesn't, he was her step-grandfather. But, in his dementia, he never communicated the distinction. It was never actually a rescue anyway, instead it was a ploy to find someone to take her place.
  • Portal Crossroad World: The field of carved stones at the top of the mountain that doesn't exist. It is also implied to function as an Afterlife Antechamber, but that's not exactly reliable information. In any case, for practical purposes it is a mystical space accessible both from the regular world and the place of the White People, and is used to connect them.
  • Posthumous Character: Cotgrove and Mouse's grandmother.
  • Real Dreams Are Weirder: Discussed. Mouse has a creepy dream, which does indeed show the influence the other world is having on her, but it doesn't actually communicate any clear or useful information and is mixed in with the ordinary type of dream nonsense.
  • Rule of Symbolism: The puppets are all modeled on 'forms of power' that seem to give them life and purpose.
  • Someone Has to Do It: Not a mystical rule, but enforced. The Twisted Ones are desperate to breed new masters, and for that they need a fertile human woman with at least some blood of The White People. And for now that's Anna, or at least close enough. If she ever tries to leave they hunt her down and drag her back. Anna tries to bargain with them to make Mouse take her place, implying that someone else did the same thing to her decades ago. Bad luck for Anna though, Mouse isn't eligible since a) she doesn't the right bloodline and b) she has an IUD for birth control.
  • Stalker with a Test Tube: The Twisted Ones specifically need a human woman descended even minutely from the White People, and keep Anna trapped in the other world even after she's long lost the ability to have children.
  • The Stoic: The White People and their descendants seem to have this as a trait, being able to face horrific circumstances with far more equanimity than humans. Examples cited include being burned alive and barely seeming to care, not to mention what Anna went through.
  • Sweet Home Alabama: Melissa notes the general attitude of Southern Hospitality among the small town people she meets. She also notes early that under most circumstances she finds it grating, but she's not going to say no to free muscles. And later she needs all the help she can get.
  • Thriving Ghost Town: The city of the White People, as Melissa can't stop herself from noting. There seems to be no one around, but someone is keeping the lamps lit and the oil is coming from somewhere. The White People are all dead, all that remains are their puppets carrying out maintenance without any real understanding of why.
  • Trash of the Titans: Mouse's grandmother was a hoarder, and the state of the house is appalling. Treated seriously, as a sign of mental illness.
  • Wacky Wayside Tribe: An example played deadly serious. The White People may be dead, their city may be in ruins, and their creations may simply be playing out their old standing orders to the best of their limited ability. But to a human that knows nothing it's still a complex and dangerous situation to stumble into.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: While Anna is genuinely in trouble, she's not actually asking Mouse for help. She's trying to lure Mouse into the village in the hope that if the effigies have a suitable replacement for her, they won't chase her when she books it.

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