Tales From the Darkside 217: The Shrine

Offering a Bulwer-Lytton-y start to the proceedings, we begin on a dark and stormy night as a woman naps in her kitchen as another woman bangs away on the door. Christine, the woman outside, uses a spare key to let herself into the house, then finds her mother acting strangely. Not just 'haven't seen you in six years' strangely, but decidedly off. Why are they finally seeing each other after more than half a decade? Christine had a nervous breakdown and they've been awkward for some time since.

The awkwardness only amps up when Christine finds out that she'll be staying in a guest room, since hers has been transformed into a storage area. Despite this entirely plausible claim, when they get to the top of the stairs a light shines from underneath the door in Christine's old room. Could there be someone inside? Mother says no and ushers Christine away, right before the sound of a little girl's voice fills the hall…

The next morning Christine hears the voice and goes to check on the origin of the voice, but her mother assures her that she was merely hearing things. Christine checks the room out for herself and discovers that not only has it not been turned into a storage area, but it's been maintained as a shrine to her absent daughter. Christine confronts her mother about the room, demanding to know why it seems frozen in time while the rest of the house has been redone. Also, what's going on with those ghostly voices?

Mother is saved from an awkward conversation by knock on the door – one of Christine's childhood friends is there delivering purchases from a shop! She gives us an opportunity for some more exposition, letting us know both that Christine's long-term relationship has recently broken up leaving her emotionally distressed, and that mother spends every night in Christine's old room! The friend, it seems, lives across the street and sees the light come on each night at bedtime. The mystery deepens - hopefully Christine's brother, who's arriving that night for dinner, will have some answers to offer!

Chuck, that's his name, by the way, offers reassurances that their mother doesn't secretly hate her for not living a more productive life, but Christine for her part remains unconvinced. Chuck then disappears from the story once more and Christine is left, that night, to further pursue the mystery of the little girl that her mother talks to at night. Sneaking up on the room she peeks through the crack and witnesses something terrifying:

Just who is this little girl that her mother treasures so? Some kind of imp, or bogeywoman? Christine doesn't take the opportunity to question her mother, instead waiting for the next day and ransacking her room, demanding that the little girl make an appearance. The ghostly figure finally complies, and reveals that her name is Chrissy – that's right – she claims to be a child version of Christine! Although Christine doesn't quite see it this way, we're fairly deep in the metaphor territory now. Chrissy explains that mother's wailing desperation for the child she used to adore more than life itself has drawn her to the house. She likes the unconditional love she receives from the mother has no intention of leaving, no matter what Christine threatens her with. Christine so angered by this that she attempts to throttle the little girl, but, naturally, that isn't particularly effective on a manifested apparition of a mother's idealized version of her child.

Having seen a little girl disappear before her eyes, Christine understandably begins to suspect that she might be cracking up once again, although the items in the room being thrown around by an invisible wind would tend to point in another direction. That night she finally confronts Chrissy and the mother when they're playing together, and finds that her mother is so tied up in her fantasy that she can only see Chrissy! No matter how Christine tries to drag mother away she can't manage it. She begs for attention trashes the room, demanding that their mother interact with her as a person rather than a figment of her memories.

Mother isn't taken with the idea and would much rather go off with Chrissy to a place where they can be together forever. It's only when Christine stops criticizing her mother's actions and simply expresses a child's need for help and attention that she's able to get through, making the woman feel like a parent once more. Chrissy disappears with a scream, leaving Christine and her mother alone to try and rebuild their shattered relationship.


So we're firmly back within the realm of metaphor, it would seem, with the episode dramatizing the problem of parents who don't know how to interact with their children once they become adults. It's a true enough issue and an effective enough exploration of it, but I've got to say that I am, as a rule, happier when there's just a monster.

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