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Recap / Swamp Thing Volume 2 Issue 45 Ghost Dance

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"The sound of the hammers must never stop, they said. Made her build a house to appease them so they'd let her be...Built with nails, the way Cambridge bullets built a country...Bang! Bang! Bang! Hahahaha!"
— David

In San Miguel, California, two married couples—David and Linda, Rod and Judy—pay a late-night visit to the abandoned Cambridge Mansion. David explains that the house belonged to Amy Cambridge, heir to the makers of the Cambridge Repeater, a popular rifle during The Wild West era. According to legend, she asked the ghosts of all those—people and animals—whom her family's guns had killed what she must do so they'd stop haunting her. They told her to build a mansion according to their specifications, and to keep adding to it, because as long as the sound of hammers persisted, they'd stay away. Construction went on continuously for nearly four decades, yielding a bizarre, labyrinthine structure of one hundred and sixty rooms.

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Rod and Linda, in between flirting openly with each other, dismiss the story as superstition, and Rod suggests, over David's meek objection, they all head inside. On the way in, Judy apologizes to David for Rod's behaviour and suggests he be more assertive with Linda, in light of her constant put-downs.

Due to the confounding architecture, the four soon become separated. Rod wanders up to a third-story bedroom, where a naked woman, whom he takes for Linda, silently seduces him. As they begin to make love, he discovers it isn't Linda, but a ghost with a bleeding bullet hole through her head. Rod flees through the nearest door, realizing too late that it opens right outside, into thin air. He plummets to his death.

Linda follows the sound of gunfire and discovers the ghosts of two cowboys shooting each other to pieces over a card game. Watching in horror, she turns to see several blindfolded ghosts of firing squad victims converging on her. She passes out.

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Judy opens a freestanding wardrobe and sees a herd of ghost buffalo charging toward her, then screams and shuts the doors. After a few moments, she decides it was just a hallucination and laughs it off. Then the buffalo burst through the doors and trample her to death.

David runs in terror through the house, past the ghosts of Native Americans, cowboys, suicides and other Cambridge victims. Focusing on rescuing his wife, he thinks of the "Knock wood" superstition, and stops short in front of the Swamp Thing. Laughing at the appropriateness of a "wood elemental" come to save him, David quickly tells him Amy's story, then begs him to get Linda safely outside. He collapses, sobbing.

The Swamp Thing walks past yet more ghosts and finds Linda, alive but still unconscious. Recalling what David told him, he simulates the sound of hammers by banging his fists on a table until every last ghost has fled up the chimneys. He carries Linda outside and walks off.

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David soon finds his wife and wakes her, then tells her the bad news about Rod and Judy. Linda gets upset that it was Rod who died instead of her husband. David assumes she's in shock and doesn't mean that, until she reveals that she and Rod had been carrying on an affair for six months. Collecting herself, she heads to the car, as the stunned David quietly follows behind her.

Nearby, Constantine greets the Swamp Thing, who's in a fatalistic mood, resigned to never learning "the truth" from him. "The truth?" says Constantine. "Well, why didn't you say?" He introduces the creature to his associates Benjamin Cox and Frank North, whom he's recruited to help with the "final stages" of his plan. John tells the bewildered Swamp Thing that the four of them are off to see the end of the universe, where he'll at last learn the truth.

Later, David buys a Cambridge Repeater and feels part of a "huge, secret fraternity" of the gun's owners. Smiling, he heads home to have a "little talk with Linda."

Tropes

  • Arc Words: "Bang. Bang. Bang. The sound of the hammers must never stop."
  • Beware the Nice Ones: David is meek, unassuming and forgiving, until a night in a Haunted House pushes his sanity to the brink and then he learns his wife's not only been cheating on him, but she wishes he'd died and her lover had lived, whereupon he decides to kill her.
  • Daydream Believer: When Benjamin meets the Swamp Thing, he comments on his resemblance to "the spawn of Shub-Niggurath" that H. P. Lovecraft wrote about. Recall that Benjamin believes Lovecraft's Old Ones are real.
  • Deadly Euphemism: David's planned "little talk with Linda."
  • Extreme Doormat: David, as Judy lampshades. Subverted when he learns of Linda's infidelity.
  • Fictional Counterpart: The Cambridge Mansion is this, to the Real Life Winchester Mansion, and the Cambridge Repeater to the Winchester rifle (which the story briefly name-checks, the Cambridge said to be a cheap knockoff of it). See below under Very Loosely Based on a True Story.
  • Fixing the Game: The story opens with a gunfight between the ghosts of cowboys Ed Cutty and The Dutchman. It's a grisly replay, to the last body part, of their original 1851 shooting match over Cutty's claim that The Dutchman had been using a marked deck.
  • Gun Struggle: Exaggerated. At a later stage of the above-mentioned gunfight, Cutty's severed hand and The Dutchman's forearm grapple for possession of a six-shooter.
  • Haunted House Historian: David, a folklore enthusiast, fills in the other three visitors—and, more crucially, the Swamp Thing—on the Cambridge Mansion's history.
  • I Love the Dead: A naked woman ghost (wearing a wig to conceal her bullet holes) seduces Rod who, in the dark, mistakes her for Linda until he spots the blood.
  • Laughing Mad: David, after a panicked run through the ghost-filled house, comes upon the Swamp Thing and laughs at how fitting it is for a "wood elemental" to respond to his silent, desperate pleas for help, punctuated with a "Knock wood." Downplayed, in that while he laughs a few more times (with Phlegmings to emphasize further his distraught mental state), he retains enough sanity not to dissolve completely into laughter and remains capable of coherent speech, and a heartfelt plea to save Linda.
  • Malevolent Architecture: Like its real-world counterpart, the Cambridge Mansion has a maze-like layout and design features that defy sense. There's a door that opens on a brick wall, a skylight built into a floor, a hall that narrows "from three yards to six inches," a closet "half an inch deep, and another the size of an apartment." Worst of all, for Rod and Judy respectively, there's a door that opens into the air three stories up, and a foot-deep closet which somehow conceals a stampeding herd of buffalo.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: Human or animal, the Cambridge ghosts aren't translucent apparitions, but fully materialized beings, capable of having sex with, trampling, or otherwise tangibly interacting with the living.
  • Pretty Little Headshots: Mostly played straight, except for Ed Cutty, who graphically (by 1986 DC standards) shoots off the top of The Dutchman's head.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: The epilogue is as blatant about the fact David is going to murder Linda for both cheating on him and telling him she would have rather had him die and Rod lived as it can get without stating the obvious.
  • Shout-Out
    • The issue title is a reference to the Ghost Dance Native American new religious movement of 1889-1890. Its adoption by the Lakota (Sioux) nation's pockets of resistance to white expansion played a part in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre of 153 Lakota people, hence its relevance to this story which includes Native Americans among the ghosts of rifle victims.
    • Rod makes light of the Haunted House legend by telling Linda "You be Shelley Duvall, I'll be Jack Nicholson!", then saying "Heeeeeere's Roddeeee!" as he chases her inside. The reference is to Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, with Nicholson's famous "Here's Johnny!" line taken in turn from Ed McMahon's signature introduction of Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show.
    • When Judy convinces herself that the stampeding buffalo were a hallucination, she thinks of a Porky Pig cartoon and begins to laugh. That cartoon is the 1952 Fool's Coverage, toward the end of which a parade of elephants unexpectedly charges through Porky's house.
  • Ungrateful Bastard: Linda responds to David saving her by lamenting that she wishes he had died so she could have been with her lover Rod instead.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story: The inspiration for this tale is the Winchester Mystery House, a giant mansion begun in 1884 by Sarah L. Winchester, and under construction continuously until her death thirty-eight years later. It features hundreds of false doors, dead ends, stairways to nowhere, and closets that open into five-bedroom suites in an attempt to confuse the alleged ghosts of people who were shot to death by the Winchester rifles her family made.
  • Your Cheating Heart: Rod and Linda have been cheating on their spouses with each other for six months.
  • You Should Have Died Instead: When Linda learns of Rod's death, she wishes David had died in his place.
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