PHANTOM by Thomas Tessier


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Nine-year-old Ned Covington faces childhood fears of phantoms and devils--in a moody, quiet, not-really-occult novel that stretches an old short-story idea out to slow novel length. Ned's nightmare begins when he moves from Washington, D.C. to the little coastal town of Lynnhaven--with button-down father Michael (an IRS accountant) and nervous, asthmatic, over-protective mother Linda (who almost died in a strange asthmatic attack a few years back). True, Ned quickly finds a couple of good, if unlikely, friends: old coots Peeler and Cloudy, who take him Fishing, tell him Tall Tales, and reassure him about the harmlessness of ghosts. But Ned hears things, feels things, sees things. Something is After Him, he's convinced--especially once he learns that the Covingtons' house is traditionally thought to be haunted (by a mother looking for her dead son). He ventures into a deserted spa, getting stuck in a swamp and seeing ""YOU WILL BE MINE AGAIN"" scrawled in the dust on the floor. There are creepy encounters with spiders and scarecrows, possible hallucinations, an increasing sense of threat: ""It had spoken to him. It had laid hands on him. Oh, yes, it was real. But what was it--a ghost, a phantom, an evil spirit, Satan?"" So finally, after coming down with a strange, violent flu, the feverish child has visions of corpses, of Hell, of a beautiful woman: ""Are you Death?"" he asks; ""Your very own,"" she answers. And Ned realizes at last that the ""phantom"" is Death itself. (Old pal Peeler will in fact die during Ned's fever-dream night.) Like stories by Poe and others, then: a parable about the fear and acceptance of death rather than an active ghost/horror tale--and, though heavily padded in this drawn-out version, moderately effective as such.

Pub Date: Nov. 18th, 1982
Publisher: Atheneum