Widow's Hill Notes to Dark Shadows


A Cliff Notes style Episode Guide to the ABC Gothic soap opera "Dark Shadows", as the story might have been told by Groucho Marx. (Suitable even for those who don't watch Dark Shadows, or like soaps.)

Horror / Humor
Graeme Cree
Age Rating:

Episodes 0 and 1

EPISODE 0: Introduction and Backstory

INTRODUCTION: Dark Shadows was a daytime soap about nighttime creatures, that ran from 1966-1971. The idea was that by airing it during the day, the undead wouldn't see the show and take reprisals against the production crew. The invention of the VCR completely ruined this plan, and surviving cast members now live in nightly fear of their lives, armed to the gills with silver bullets, garlic and wolfsbane.

The General Public only remembers Dark Shadows as 'That Show with Barnabas Collins, and.... some other people.' This is completely unfair, as the show should more properly be remembered as 'The Show With Some Other People, and Barnabas Collins' (in that order!) With its odd combination of Horror and Soap Opera plotting (with a soap opera, that should really read 'plodding'?), and a seamless blending of the sublime and the schlocky, the show managed to be funny long before Barnabas Collins showed his face (and even longer before he showed it in a mirror).

Widow’s Hill Notes is (are?) an Episode Guide to the early, Monster-Lite days of the series, which faithfully re-tell the story scene by scene, episode by episode, in a narrative style which enhances the show's natural quirkiness. Events described are… more or less as they actually happened onscreen. That is, in the same kind of way that American History as told by Bugs Bunny to his nephew Clyde was "more or less" like it really happened.

You do not need to have seen a single episode of Dark Shadows in order to read and enjoy these chronicles. Nor do you have to like soap operas. A sense of humor is required, however.

A Program Guide to the characters in this story can be found at http://tinyurl.com/dscastlist01 . You can't tell the Living from the Dead without a Program Guide.

BACK STORY: Orphan Victoria Winters has grown up in a Foundling Home in New York (in later years, retconned to Boston), always wondering who her real parents are. For years Vicki has gotten monthly checks from an unknown party in Bangor, Maine. Presumably the same unknown party who gave her the traditional Basket-on-the-Doorstep treatment in the first place.
On her 20th birthday Vicki gets a job offer from a complete stranger, in some jerkwater burg (as New Yorkers would call it) called Collinsport, Maine. Bangor and Collinsport are not exactly close to each other (although, since Collinsport is fictional, it's hard to tell), but they are in the same state, therefore Vicki reasons that there must be a connection. And even if there isn't, it's a paying job, which beats living on Ketchup Soup, and Mayonnaise Sandwiches without the bread.

The job offer comes from Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, a reclusive millionaire, who hasn't left her mansion in 18 years. Nobody knows why this is so, but frankly, it will be an enormous let-down if Mrs. Stoddard hasn't got some deep dark secret to guard. Oh, and by the way, Elizabeth lives in a haunted house. Vicki isn't prejudiced, is she?

The job involves being a combination tutor and victim to David Collins, the son of Elizabeth's black sheep brother, Roger. And also to participate in whatever intrigue and mayhem may go on at the Collinwood mansion, as needed. Fortunately, there's plenty of that, because as time goes by, the 'Job Offer From A Complete Stranger' bit begins to seem less and less suspicious. The more you get to know them, the more you get the feeling that people who have never heard of them are the only kind of help the Collins family can get.

And so, at the same time that "That Girl" was leaving the boonies to start life in the Big Apple, Victoria Winters was leaving the Big Apple to start life in the boonies. (The Big Apple came out ahead on the trade.) But, although Vicki may not have Marlo Thomas' famous father, or wacky next-door neighbors, or even a show that's in color, she has got... well, I'm not sure actually, but I'm sure we'll find out in the upcoming episodes.

EPISODE 1: Gothic Governess Victoria Winters arrives in Collinsport, Maine, and meets the obligatory "Mystery Man With a Grudge".

On a train speeding through the night, we meet an attractive, dark-haired girl. Before we can begin to wonder her name, she tells us: "My name is Victoria Winters." Rather than following up with her rank and serial number, she begins to narrate her entire life story. About how she grew up in a Foundling Home, never knew who her real parents are, and has taken a mysterious job offer from an even mysteriouser stranger in a place called Collinwood. Several of the other passengers move to another car, while some attempt suicide on the spot. We may not know who Vicki's real parents are, but she's obviously Ted Stryker's sister.

In a completely different place... it looks some kind of paneled Drawing Room in a mansion... we're definitely not still on the train, unless it's a really fancy part of the train, with no sound effects. Wherever we are, a woman named "Liz" is looking out the window, awaiting the new governess. (What, is the train just going to throw Vicki off like a mailbag as it goes past??) A man named Roger is telling Liz that she's a fool for bringing a stranger into the house. Especially a stranger that they don't even know. For the moment, and until we learn differently, let's take as a working hypothesis that this is that Collinwood place that Vicki mentioned, and that Vicki herself is the new governess.

Liz asks how "David" is doing. One of them lets slip that David is Roger's son, which would make David the new governee that the new governess is going to take care of. Roger also lets slip that he's Liz's brother, before any of us get the idea that Roger and Liz are a married couple. (Because they sure fight like one.) Roger insists that bringing Vicki to Collinwood (so, it is Collinwood!) is a bad idea. Roger suggests giving Vicki a month's pay and sending her back to New York, and he hasn't even heard any of Vicki's stories yet! After all, he explains, this is an old family, living in a spooky old house, loaded with danger, intrigue and adventure. Think what a stranger might learn about them and possibly sell to the National Enquirer! Liz congratulates Roger on an excellent expository speech. If 16 million viewers were to come into the house for the first time today, they'd know exactly what this place is about.

Back on the train, Vicki is trying to figure out what show she's in. Alfred Hitchcock Presents, maybe? It's got that same kind of mood lighting. When the conductor announces that the next stop is Willoughby, Vicki fears that she's landed up in The Twilight Zone, but fortunately, it's just a homage to The Twilight Zone. Some kind of credits sequence goes by, and Vicki learns that the show is named Dark Shadows. That would have been her next guess, if she'd ever heard of it before.

Vicki meets Mrs. Mitchell, a gossipy old lady who wants to know why Vicki would want to go to a nowhere place like Collinsport. Mrs. Mitchell is making out a report for the girls at her Bridge Club about the comings and goings of everyone on the train, and Vicki is the last one she needs to interview. Vicki starts to tell the story, but the doodly-doodly-doodly effect tells us it's going to come in the form of a flashback.

In the past, Vicki is sitting in an office with an older woman named Miss Hopewell. It appears to be the recent past, since Vicki still has the same hairstyle. Either that, or the continuity department just didn't give a darn. Vicki shows Miss Hopewell a letter that came in this morning's mail, from a Mrs. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, living in Collinsport, Maine. Obviously, Elizabeth is the same "Liz" that we saw earlier. (Clearly this show believes in the intelligence of its viewers, and expects them to figure that out for themselves).

Mrs. Stoddard is looking for a governess for a Devil Tot named David. Vicki says she plans to take the job, as it might provide a clue as to who her real parents are. Miss Hopewell doesn't see how, so Vicki launches into another expository speech, about how she's lived here at the Hammond Foundling Home ever since she was left on the doorstep in a basket as an infant. Miss Hopewell, obviously a Monty Python fan, says "Skip a bit, brother." Vicki comes to the point. She had a look in an atlas, and found that Collinsport is only 50 miles from Bangor!!! A musical stinger tells us that this must be a really important plot point, but neither of them explains it.

Funny thing, though. Vicki has never heard of Mrs. Stoddard or Collinsport before, and she certainly never applied for any jobs in Maine. She thought maybe Miss Hopewell had recommended her for the job or something. Miss Hopewell stifles a laugh as she explains no. No, she didn't. But if Vicki is determined to go, to remember to always keep a smile on her face, a song in her heart, and an "I Don't Understand" on her lips. Vicki leaves the office, trying to do all those things simultaneously, as well as chew gum at the same time. Miss Hopewell mutters something just as the flashback ends. It's hard to be sure, but it sounds something like "I thought we'd never get rid of her".

Back in the present, Vicki realizes that the train is pulling up to the Collinsport station. She promises to mail the rest of the story to the gossipy old lady later, but Mrs. Mitchell says not to bother, as she's killing herself later today.

As Vicki gets off the train, the sign on the landing reads "Collinsport: Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here." Obviously somebody's idea of a joke. Oh well, as slogans go, it's still better than "Beaver, Oklahoma: Cow Chip Capital of the World".

Only one other person got off the train with Vicki. A mysterious stranger with a raincoat like Columbo, speech patterns like Shatner, and a jaw like Buzz Lightyear. Vicki strikes up a conversation with the man, who introduces himself as Burke Devlin. For a moment, Vicki is hopeful that she's in the movie The Tarnished Angels, except that this Burke Devlin doesn't look anything like Rock Hudson. Burke explains that his name is yet another homage. Vicki says that if she'd known this show would have so many homages, she'd have asked for her character to be named Dorothy Gale.

Vicki tries to make small talk with the mysterious stranger. This is sure some kind of one-horse town, isn't it? Burke delivers some more exposition. Whoever he is, he grew up in Collinsport, but hasn't been there in several years. When he was last there, the town was so small that the truck stop was a nail, and it doesn't look like anything has changed. When Vicki mentions that she's going to Collinwood, Burke nearly swallows his gum, before claiming to have never heard of the place. Burke says he's got a chauffeured car on the way, and would be glad to give Vicki a lift to the Inn if she likes. He looks like he'd like nothing better than to run out of gas with her, but I guess that's not much fun in a chauffeured car.

Vicki and Burke arrive at the Collinsport Inn. Burke advises Vicki to pack up and go back to New York right away. This town will soon be too dangerous for a girl like her, he explains, without explaining why. Vicki is incredulous that a place like Collinsport could be more dangerous than New York City, and says that she was mugged in Central Park three times in the last week alone.

The innkeeper comes out, and it's Conrad Bain of Diff'rent Strokes fame, of all people! Vicki asks if he's there to teach Arnold some valuable new lesson about life. Conrad insists that that his name is Mr. Wells. And he's got a bad Scandinavian accent, and a nametag that reads "NOT Phillip Drummond" to prove it.

Mr. Wells recognizes Burke, and greets him warmly as though he were a long lost friend. Burke is all business though, and orders a room for himself and a taxi for Vicki. Mr. Wells explains that the taxi will be a bit delayed, as the driver is fixing a flat. (He went to the Truck Stop, you see.)

Burke asks if there are any messages for him. Mr. Wells hands him one, which Burke reads, and then storms out without explanation. Vicki tries to pump Mr. Wells for information. That Devlin guy. Do you know him? Is he always so moody? Mr. Wells explains that he's known Burke since he was knee high to a can of saddle soap, but never saw him like this before, by Yiminy. Vicki asks Conrad "Whatchoo talkin' 'bout, Willis?", and let's just say it doesn't go over very well.

The scene suddenly switches to some seedy bar. A life preserver on the wall informs us that the place is called The Blue Whale. It looks like the local version of Pop Tate's Chock'lit Shoppe, only more Gothic (and more fishy).

Burke enters and sits down with a seedy guy who looks like a poor man's Sam Spade. The guy's name is Strake, and he insists on buying Burke a beer. After all, how often does a guy get a chance to buy his employer a beer? ("Without cyanide in it, hardly ever.")

Burke delivers a short expository speech about how he got Strake's message, and how Strake was hired to dig up all the information he could on the Collins family, and what has he got? Strake hands Burke a copy of the show's Story Bible, written by Art Wallace himself. Burke reads the title, Shadows on the Wall, and chews Strake out for buying the Story Bible for the wrong show!! Strake explains that it's the right show, all right, they just changed the title in pre-production.

Back at the Inn, Vicki seeks refuge in the Coffee Shoppe, where she meets a hard-bitten hash-slinging Florence Jean Kasselbery "Kiss My Grits" style waitress in a blonde wig, who says her name is Maggie Evans. In very short order, Maggie will morph into almost as big an ingénue as Vicki herself (Vicki probably sneezed on her at some point in this conversation). Maggie offers Vicki some of the diner's Tuna Surprise ("If I told you what was in it, it wouldn't be a surprise!")

Maggie bluntly tells Vicki that she's a jerk; J-E-R-K, for even considering working at a nutty place like Collinwood. Yes, Maggie already knows about it. This is a small town, where it's impossible to keep a secret. Maggie delivers another expository speech about how the Collins family owns the biggest mansion, the biggest cannery, the biggest fishing fleet, the biggest egos, and the biggest wad of cash in the county. And they're kooks. Every single one of them. They're Creepy and Kooky! Mysterious and spooky. In fact, they're altogether ooky. The Coll-ins Fa-mi-ly. (Duh-duh-duh-duh! Snap! Snap!)

Maggie insists that Vicki is a jerk for going to Collinwood, but fails to tell her where the bodies are hidden, or anything else that might actually be useful. This triggers another flashback. Maggie doesn't want to hear it, so Vicki just thinks this one to herself.

In the even more recent past, Vicki is in her room at the Foundling Home, packing her suitcase. Her roommate, Sandy promises to think of Vicki... every time she uses their bathroom without having to stand on line. Sandy wants to know why Vicki would want to go to a Nowheresville burg like Collinsport, where even the Zip Code is a fraction. And didn't she just buy season tickets for the Staten Island Fairies? Why, a goil with Vicki's looks and brains could get a job anywhere in "New Yowuk". Vicki admits she does regret leaving before she found out who was buried in Grant's Tomb. (Would you believe a girl with Vicki's looks could get a job anywhere in New York?)

In the diner, Maggie jostles Vicki back to the present. What was she saying about Grant's Tomb? Gee, Vicki is talking to herself already. Maybe she really does belong up in that big house. Vicki says maybe she does, which will turn out to be one of her stock smart-alec answers for everything.

Back at the Blue Whale, Strake is in the middle of yet another long expository speech. Liz Stoddard owns the Collins mansion and cannery, and makes all of the business decisions. Roger is her spineless brother, he just moved back to town about a month ago, bringing his Devil Tot son David with him. Mrs. Stoddard hasn't set foot off the property in 18 years. In fact, not since the day after her husband Paul disappeared without a trace, and she fired all the servants, locked a mysterious room in the basement, and warned everyone not to enter on pain of death. Nobody can imagine what it all means. And if you can imagine, keep it to yourself, until we get around to that subplot.

Back at the Coffee Shoppe, Maggie is telling Vicki that the coffee is on the house. It's the least she can do for somebody who's taking a job up at that spooky old Collinsport place. No, no, Vicki corrects. It's Collinwood. Maggie says yeah, yeah, right. Collinwood. It's only Episode 1, there are bound to be a few mistakes. Gary Coleman pokes his head in and tells Mr. Wells that the taxi is ready. It looks like this was supposed to be an outtake, but somehow it made it into the final cut.

Later, Vicki's taxi pulls up outside of a house that could only be described as the classic "Spooky Old Place". It's a bit more G rated than the Amityville House, though. In fact, it looks exactly like the haunted house in the opening credits of the first season of Scooby Doo, Where Are You?" Since Scooby came later, maybe that was another homage.

Vicki pays the taxi driver and comments about how you usually don't see so many headless hitchhikers back in New York. The taxi driver says "Can I help it if you come from a weird town?"

As Vicki knocks on the front door of the creepy old joint, a loud boom reverberates through the house. Liz herself answers the door with a "You rang?", and invites Vicki to come into her "parlour". In the front Foyer, Vicki comments on what a lovely house it is. "I'm glad you think so," says Liz, as she triple locks the door behind Vicki. Vicki jumps as a scary musical stinger plays. Liz assures her that it's nothing. You know how some houses creak? Well, this one has incidental music.

At this point, we fade to black. As the credits roll, Vicki says it was fun, and promises to see everyone next week. Vicki is shocked to learn that this is a daytime soap opera, and they'll be filming again tomorrow. Vicki's answer is not unprintable, but is decidedly un-Gothic, and so gets blipped by the censor.

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