(M.J.E. / Writings / Book Reviews / Horror /
Johnson: Adams' / The "Abyss" Connection)
The "Abyss" Connection
Interesting connections between Let's Go Play at the Adams'
by Mendal W. Johnson and The Abyss by Steve Vance
Several years ago I read an absorbing horror novel by the U.S. writer Steve
Vance called The Abyss which I felt was far from routine, although it does not
appear to be well known, and I don't even know if it's still in print. But, in
connection with Mendal W. Johnson's novel Let's Go Play at the Adams', what is
interesting is that Vance's novel makes obvious and detailed references to the
plot of Johnson's novel, and attributes those details to a novel one of the
characters read, even though he avoids naming the novel, and disguises the name
of its author and his widow.
In this essay, I would like to examine these references in some detail,
since they seem to be very interesting, and raise one's curiosity about why
Vance put in these references. Anyone who has read my Amazon.com review of
Johnson's novel (included on this web site) and who noticed my brief mention of
the connections with Vance's novel may find the following interesting.
It would be especially interesting to read both novels, and to note the
connections. Unfortunately, Vance's novel does not appear to be easily
available, and may even be out of print - just as I believe Johnson's novel
Please note that the description of Vance's book which is about to follow
does not purport to be a balanced discussion of the book as a whole, but focuses
on the connections between Vance's and Johnson's novels, and has just enough
details of the plot to give some sense of context to those connections.
I will need to quote extensively from The Abyss, and will use
indenting of all lines to indicate quotes longer than a sentence or two. I
include these quotes with the permission of the author, Steve Vance.
The novel is quite complex in its structure, and features flashbacks at
times. When I paraphrase a sequence of events, to keep things clear, I will use
the past tense to relate flashbacks, and the present tense for action in the
novel taking place directly and "now".
I have read that The Abyss by Steve Vance (1952 - ) was published by
Leisure Books, but my 1989 edition is marked:
Book Margins, Inc.
This is all the bibliographic information given in the copy. "The
Encyclopedia of Science Fiction" by John Clute and Peter Nicholls gives 1989 as
the publication year of the novel, and notes that Vance "began writing with some
unremarkable but competently conceived sf adventures", but concentrated on
horror since the late 1980s.
A BMI Edition
Published by special arrangement with Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.
Copyright (C) 1989 by Steve Vance
Printed in the United States of America
The front cover of my edition of The Abyss features what appears to
be a picture of the well of a spiral staircase, the view looking straight down
to the bottom, where there is a gaping maw with sharp teeth, which is metaphoric
only, because, while there are strange and mysterious apparitions and events in
this book, there is no actual toothy monster in the usual naive, crude sense in
this book. The human monsters in it are more than bad enough, and the
explanation for some of the apparitions is horrific beyond belief, almost
grotesquely Laymonesque, but makes a kind of sense - it's definitely one of the
most chilling books I've ever read.
Above the title is the slogan: "A descent into the mouth of hell". This is
a fair description of the contents of the novel.
The blurb on the back cover reads thus:
ABANDON HOPE, ALL YE WHO ENTER YORK HOUSE
It's been a few years since I last read it, and it's a complex story, but
it centres around a youth named Greg Hoode who visits an American country town
and finds sinister things going on, and people disappearing mysteriously, and
these events seem to revolve around an old mansion called York House; but there
are many other characters besides Greg Hoode, some of whom have major viewpoint
roles in the novel.
It was such a lovely old house, elegant and airy, but it had one minor
flaw. The people who checked in, never checked out - alive.
Undaunted by rumors of evil, Cathy Lockwood walked right into the festering
heart of the crumbling mansion, determined to find her brother. She was
sure he was alive - in some form - and she swore she'd rip York House
apart, timber by timber, to find him.
She thought nothing human or inhuman could scare her away - until she
confronted the horrifying secret that waited for her in the dark, fetid
basement. Then she could scream to high heaven, but only hell would hear
I won't try to summarize the entire story, even briefly. That would be a
complex task in itself, and after I've reread the book I will at a future time
review it in its own right. Until I do reread it, I can't do it full justice in
itself; so for now, I will focus on the connections with Mendal Johnson's novel,
and discuss the plot sufficiently to give a context to how allusions to Let's Go
Play at the Adams' come into the story. The references do not seem to be
absolutely central to the plot, actually, and they are concentrated in just a
few parts of the novel, not scattered throughout; but they are extremely
prominent in the places where they occur, and they are linked to the main plot
enough to entirely justify their inclusion in the novel. Apart from specific
episodes which bear a strong resemblance to events in Johnson's novel, The
Abyss is not particularly like it in content or style, and in no way could it be
regarded as plagiarizing it.
There is a group of strange people in some sort of cult who abduct people
and hold them prisoner for long periods of time. (I won't introduce spoilers in
case you haven't read the book but would like to one day, so I won't try to give
reasons for everything I mention, even when I know the reasons well.)
Kevin and Pamela Durben, husband and wife, are two of these prisoners. The
cult uses some kind of gas which has mind-altering effects on those who breathe
it, and strange experiments with it appear to be carried out on the prisoners.
The gas appears to have life-sustaining properties, because the prisoners are
never fed, and become horribly emaciated, but survive longer than one normally
would if not fed.
One of the keepers of the prisoners ask some of them to relate stories of
terrible things they've done in the past, but "The first twelve captives had
exhausted their meager supplies of depravity days before". Anyone who doesn't
come up with horrific enough stories is beaten brutally, and one emaciated man
had his face chopped to ribbons with a leather strap a few words into his story
when the captors believed he was lying. (From the context it was not clear
whether this description of his beating was metaphorical or literal. And it
However, Kevin Durben does have more to tell than the others. At first he
tells his captors to go to hell, but is beaten into submission, and is forced to
tell his story when his wife is tortured (fingers broken one by one) for not
being able to think of anything to tell (presumably because she had no such
incidents in her life).
His story is then related in a 13-page first person narrative. Fifteen
years earlier, at the age of 14, Kevin holidayed at a lakeside cabin, and there
was a group of kids he knew, and they wanted to do something to mark what they
thought would be their last summer as kids. What to do? Sex is no good,
because some of them were already doing that anyway. Most of them were still a
bit too "brother and sister" to get into incest, although a brother and sister
in the group were already doing that.
In the end, the seven of them, four boys and three girls, gathered together
and read porn out loud, sometimes acted it, but grew bored with it fairly
quickly, and finally realized it was the violence that intrigued them more than
the sex, and they graduated to "real" novels that dealt with "interesting
themes". Some of these novels mentioned in the narrative are First Blood, Open
Season, an unnamed novel by Ed McBain about a woman who kidnaps a man and holds
him for 10 years, and another book about a secret club in which the initiation
was to kill three people, one of whom you knew personally, and John Fowles' The
I don't know who brought the next book - yes, I do, but I won't say, just
like I won't say the title of the novel. I've been trying to forget all of
that for fifteen years, even though I've read it word for word at least a
[M.J.E.: It is interesting that Vance names the other books his characters read,
at least some of which I know to be real; but not the last one. It is not named
anywhere in The Abyss.]
It was a newly published book, and I don't think it enjoyed any real
success, though it was reviewed in the New York Times Book Review. They
didn't like it. To us, however, it was a heavenly revelation.
[M.J.E.: "Leopold and Loeb" refers to a famous murder case where two students
in Chicago murdered a teenage boy for no apparent reason beyond that they
thought they could get away with it. But they were in fact caught quite
It combined the best elements of The Collector and Lord of the Flies, the
only good novel we'd ever been forced to read in school. It had an attractive
young woman as the captive and the kids in charge. God, this is so... I'm
sorry... yes, yes, I'll go on.
The book was about a bunch of spoiled rich kids like us who overpower and
tie up their live-in babysitter while their parents are away for a week or
two. At first, they do it only as a game, so that they and their friends can
enjoy freedom from adult rule for the week, even though the girl was only
twenty or so. But things progress, as they always do, and they begin to
torture the babysitter and then to rape her. Finally, they realize that they
can do what they honestly have always wanted to do and kill her. They wanted
this from the start, but they didn't recognize it early on in themselves. So
they strangle her, shoot a tramp, and blame it all on him. And, of course,
they get away with it. That was the most important part - what Leopold and
Loeb couldn't manage.
That book was almost three hundred pages long, and we read it aloud in
[M.J.E.: Whew! That must be close to a page a minute, I'd say.]
Next follows the narrator Kevin Durben's recollection that the kids had
no-one to kill, since they didn't have a babysitter. But the plan nevertheless
grew in the kids' minds. Then one day, one of the boys' parents went away for
the day, leaving behind their "huge, beautiful RV" [M.J.E.: recreational
vehicle, or camper], and they used that to drive to a distant summer festival,
with vague fantasies in mind of picking up someone to play games with, although
one boy resisted the idea because "I'm not going to spend the rest of my life in
prison for rape and murder, no matter what that stupid book said". Mona came
"It won't be like that. We'll take her, to show that we can,...
[M.J.E.: I seem to recall a very similar reason being given in Let's Go Play at
the Adams' for doing certain things to Barbara: "because we can".]
... drive her around in the camper, scare her a little, and then let her go
out in the sticks somewhere and be back at the lake, a hundred miles from
here, before she reaches a telephone. No one will even suspect us."
[M.J.E.: The victim won't even remember such a distinctive vehicle as a camper?
Come on, pull the other one! Silly, naive girl! Why, you wouldn't be able to
say "Jack Robinson" before the police would be quizzing every R.V. dealer within
hundreds of miles, checking registration records, etc., etc. It would be like
homing pigeons coming home, like iron filings drawn to a magnet.]
Persuaded by Mona's brainless reasoning, the kids went ahead with their
plans. They managed to pick up a student nurse at a first aid station,
overpower her, and drag her to the camper, where Derek had two pairs of
handcuffs and a leather bondage hood equipped with a gag and zippers over the
eyes to cut off vision; her feet were cuffed, and her hands cuffed behind her
back, and the hood put on her head, and then the kids drove off in the camper,
and went back to their lakeside cabin, and began wondering what to do with the
We've got the cabin, stupid, and nobody but us ever goes there.
They didn't let her go the next day though, partly because Derek was still
mad at the way she scratched him while the kids were overpowering her at the
start. They just left her cuffed and hooded while they went about their
routine, and checked uneasily on her from time to time, and opened the flap on
her hood to give her water.
That's where we put her, still cuffed and masked, crying inside the
leather. Suddenly it wasn't fun any more.
I didn't sleep at all, because every time I closed my eyes, I saw prison
bars before them. I was so scared that I vomited. I could only pray that the
sun would hurry and rise so that we could carry her away into Pennsylvania or
maybe Virginia, and let her go and be done. I kept hearing those terrible
sounds that she made and the way she trembled all of the time.
Then she escaped on the second night of her captivity: somehow she hopped
into the woods, still cuffed and blinded by the hood; the next day the kids
hunted for her, but didn't find her until dusk the next day, "half-dead from
fear, hunger, thirst, and the injuries that she had inflicted on herself while
trying to escape blindly that way".
It sounds crazy now, but we felt betrayed by the girl, and we all went a
little... insane. The seven of us stayed at the cabin for the rest of the
night. We tore off her clothes and... we did everything that had been in the
novels and more, everything short of killing her.
This went on for the next two or three weeks, and they looked at the nurse
as a thing, not a person. [M.J.E.: I don't
know what happened to the parents who had gone away for a day, whose R.V. the kids used. Perhaps their cabin was far enough away that there was no chance of them coming near the cabin the kids were in.] Then they got bored, and began leaving her alone in the cabin for two or three days running without feeding or cleaning her.
... but finally we began listening to her when she was ungagged to eat.
They took to leaving her ungagged whenever there was anyone around to talk
with her, but left the hood on and left her chained almost all the time. She
was afraid she would go blind inside the mask, but they left it on, because they
couldn't take the risk of letting her get to know what they looked like.
Her name was Angie, Angela Broughton; she was nineteen, a student nurse
who was engaged to be married... and she was a person, not some kind of
masturbation tool. There's a psychological phenomenon - I think it's called
the Stockholm Syndrome - and it develops between captor and captive. I began
to like her.
There were times when it was almost like she was in charge of us, and
only those small links of steel chain kept her from reversing the roles
They found Angie a burden rather than an amusement, but they kept her
because they couldn't sit down and decide when and where to let her go. Kevin
swore to God that they never really wanted to kill her, that they never
degenerated into that.
... in the other novel, the kids really had wanted to kill Barbara from the
first, so they did.
[M.J.E.: Note that Vance identifies the victim's name, and it is the same name
that Johnson used in his novel.]
Nevertheless, they couldn't let her go for fear that she would have them
arrested, in spite of her promise not to do so.
We were trapped by a stupid, childish joke that had grown of its own
volition, an idiotic thumb of the nose toward adulthood that had in turn
devoured us. Now we had to live with it or Angie had to die with it. And we
all had such bright futures.
So they planned to kill her, although they didn't tell her of this, and she
still believed she would be released within a few days and be back home again.
They put her into the camper, and, while they drove, Wesley, the "sickest" one
amongst them, began wrapping her in heavy duct tape, which made her panic,
because she knew they wouldn't do that if they were going to let her go. He
started at her ankles, removing her ankle cuffs, and worked upwards. [M.J.E.:
A well-known procedure in B.D.S.M. circles known as "mummification"; the
B.D.S.M. imagery and overtones from this section of the novel are suffocatingly
It was harder to get her arms strapped to her body after we had uncuffed her
wrists, but we did it. Most of us were crying as we did.
[M.J.E.: That last sentence gives me a feeling of déjà vu. In Let's Go Play at
the Adams', Freedom Five wept after they tortured Barbara to death. "Oddly, with
Then we had to take off the mask, which she had worn for almost three
months. It smelled awful naturally, and some of her hair fell out with it,
but the worst part were [sic] her eyes. After all that time, her pupils
were like black marbles, but she could still see, even in the dark inside the
RV. She stared straight at us... at me... and she said, Don't let them do
this. You can stop this. I didn't say anything.
[M.J.E.: More déjà vu. Some time before her death, the helplessly tied-up
Barbara pleads with Bobby, who seems the most reasonable of the kids, to ]
Finally her head and face were covered with duct tape, but they could still
hear her a little. They drove her deep into the forest to finish the job of
dealing with her.
Only then did she start to scream, and I can still hear her screams and
Then Derek tried to strangle her.
[M.J.E.: Some very obvious parallels there.]
It only looks easy on television and in the movies. She shouldn't have
been able to fight him, wrapped the way she was, but, by God, she did. After
a while, he had to give up.
Now I tell myself that I was being merciful. I could see how much this
was torturing her, and I couldn't stand it, so I picked up a large stone and
struck her in the head. She stopped moving.
Derek said, All right, now we all do it.
Each of them took the stone and hit her once, though we had to force
Peter and Michele to do it.
Then we left her there and drove back to the lake. She wasn't found until
October or identified until a month after that.
[M.J.E.: It is not plain from the context what the reference to "my own child"
means: clearly Angie was not literally the 14-year-old Kevin's child.]
We're all responsible, Derek said, back at the lake. We all hit her, so
we don't know whose blow killed her. That means no one ever tells about this,
or we'll all fry for it.
But that's not true. I know who killed her. It was me, that first
time. I destroyed an innocent young woman and my own child with one swing of
that Goddamned rock.
This story creates a sensation amongst all the listeners - captors and
captives alike. Pamela, Kevin's wife, is very upset, and can't believe her
husband could have done such things; but one of the captors, a psychic,
pronounces "every word" to be true.
[Continuation of the narrative, now in the novel's present, soon after the finish
of the story.]
"He was lying. He couldn't do that!" [Pamela cried.]
Recriminations continue further, and Kevin reveals that almost half of that
group of kids are now dead, mostly from violence or suicide, and the rest are
"falling apart", because "you don't just go on living after doing something like
that to another human being".
Jereboam [the psychic captor] grinned crookedly.
"What are you worried about, lady?" Carl [another captor] asked. "They
got away with it, didn't they? Just like in the books."
"Got away with it?" Kevin repeated in whistling disbelief. "I didn't
'get away' with anything, you incredible idiot! We weren't caught by the
police, but we didn't get away with anything. It's not like in the books. I
haven't had one complete night's sleep in fifteen years without resorting to
drugs or booze. She haunts me all of the time, and I don't even believe in
the afterlife! Jesus, before I met Pamela my greatest wish in life was that I
could be dead instead of Angie!"
The story moves on to other things, and no further reference is made to
this for more than another 100 pages. Near the climax of the novel, Kevin tells
his story again to the assembled cult members in the vast and labyrinthine
cellars of York House, in an atmosphere that is getting quite apocalyptic (I
won't give anything away about that, though, in case it spoils the novel for
future readers of it). This telling of grisly but true stories seems to be
quite an integral part of what these weirdos are all about: how a person reacts
to these stories seems to be part of a test as to how truly that person is one
of the faithful.
However, this repeating of the story (only summarized in a paragraph now)
adds nothing to what we already know from the previous, very detailed telling of
At the end of the book, Pamela Durben escapes from the clutches of the
cult, but Kevin doesn't. (Perhaps this is something of a spoiler, but I can't
avoid it if I am to discuss one of the most important references in the entire
novel to Johnson and "Let's Go Play...". At any rate, it's not the major
spoiler of the novel.)
The third section of the long Epilogue sees a couple of characters
experiencing drug-induced visions or hallucinations. In Pamela's case, her
vision is of two years later, on the grey, rainy afternoon of Friday, 17 May,
pulling up in a taxi outside a quiet, well-kept house in an unidentified
This date gives us yet another connection with Johnson's novel: 17 May was
a Friday in 1985, 1991, and 1996, these being the only years in which it was a
Friday which are even remotely close enough to the probable time of the novel's
action. If we assume the bulk of the novel takes place in the year of its
publication, 1989, then this section of the epilogue, which is two years later,
must be in 1991, so it all fits.
Was she doing the right thing? The entire trip was woefully spur of the
moment and ill-prepared. When she could no longer wrestle with the demons of
that night and what had happened to her husband and why, she had called the
publishing company on impulse to get an address for the author of that cursed
book, and being Pamela Durben (which was a very big deal these days), she had
received an almost immediate reply.
[M.J.E.: Note, though, that Vance doesn't give the name!]
It was not a recent address, as the publishing company's last contact
with the man had been 16 years before, but it was enough of a start. She
could have checked further, called his home or hired private detectives to
gain a perspective on the man she would be accusing, but she was afraid that
her anger and need for vengeance would not survive the effort. This was
something that had to be done face to face and as soon as possible.
Naturally, she had wondered why the man hadn't published anything other
than that single novel, but she liked to think that what he had done in that
single novel had somehow come back to haunt him in a way that even a printed
sequel couldn't dispell [sic]. The last name on the mail box was correct,
and Pamela was confident that the long suffering was about over for her.
They discuss the past events a little, while Emily brings tea and biscuits.
Emily reveals that if she hadn't had treatments from the vapour the cult had
earlier been using, whose medicinal properties had earlier come to light, she
would not be alive now. She doesn't give more details.
She crossed the porch and rang the bell.
The woman who answered seemed to be about 60. She was small, no more
than five-foot three, and a touch overweight, as if she, too, had about ten
pounds that she continually promised to lose. Her hair was fine, black, and
pulled rather severely back by ornate combs. Her eyes were brown and lively.
"Good afternoon," Pamela began. "My name is Pamela Durben, and -"
"Oh, I know," the woman said excitedly. "I saw you coming up the walk
and I recognized your face from television, from all of the news programs and
documentaries. Won't you please come in? Excuse my enthusiasm, but I must
tell you, you saved my life."
Wrapped in a cloud of bustling excitement, Pamela was ushered inside the
warm and neat home, seated on the comfortable living room sofa, and calling
the woman Emily (by request) before she could get around to the purpose of her
visit. She could feel her sense of commitment eroding before this warm
welcome, but she steeled herself to say what she felt had to be said if the
past were to be ever truly laid to rest.
"... All that aside, though, I fear I've been monopolizing the conversation.
What can I do for you, Ms. Durben?"
Something seems to give way in Pamela and she pours out the whole story, in
"Pamela, please," she said. "Actually, Emily, I've come to see your
The other woman looked slightly startled. "My husband?"
"Martin." Taking a short breath, she plunged ahead. "I want to talk to
him about something he wrote that ruined my husband's life and almost
Emily looked physically hurt, her eyes changing in an instant from bright
to clouded with sorrow.
When the story was told and she found herself regaining her self-control,
Pamela said, "I know that Martin is not legally or even morally responsible
for what happened. I also have to come to the conclusion that making an
author responsible for his fictional creativity would deprive us of more in
the way of freedom of thought than it would provide in safety. But these
logical arguments can't ease my feelings. I have to see the man who thought
that writing this," she produced a worn, well-thumbed copy of the novel that
had been found in the ruins of the York home in her husbands [sic] effects,
"in the name of entertainment justifies what it caused a decent and loving man
[M.J.E.: The real-life Mendal Johnson died on 6 February, 1976.]
Only then did Emily turn to face her, and the woman's expression was an
odd mixture of sadness and relief, for she had just learned a truth that had
worried her for many years. "Pamela, Martin didn't write that book to cause
pain or suffering for anyone," she said quietly. "It was a novel, nothing
Pamela felt the dam filling again, threatening to burst and sweep her
away again. "Let him tell me that," she said, more sharply than she had
"He can't. He died sixteen years ago."
It was Pamela's turn to stare in disbelief at the other woman. She'd
never even considered this possibility. Why not? Was it because it meant
that he had escaped her wrath, her moment of vengeance? Her voice was weak
with surprise and a considerable amount of pity when she said, "I'm sorry. I
didn't know." Much of the pity was for herself. "I must seem terribly
ridiculous to you - and cold-hearted."
"Not at all," Emily replied. Her tone had remained comforting throughout
the confession, even though much of the content of it had been harshly
directed toward a loved one whom she had lost. She crossed the room and sat
again close to Pamela. "I won't lie to you. I really don't believe that
Martin incited the murder any more than did any of those other books that your
husband's group read, because though writers can help a person to... to
recognize himself, they never create what isn't already there. The man who
went on to other murders - Wesley, was it? His personality would have driven
him to that had he never heard anything worse than the Bible. But I'll tell
you what I do believe. I think that you've helped yourself greatly just
coming here and telling me this."
"It doesn't feel that way."
"Not now, perhaps, but it will. Give yourself time. And you have eased
a burden that I've lived with for a long time, too."
Pamela sat up straight and blinked her damp eyes until they were clear
again. "What do you mean?"
Rather than answering, Emily took a tiny key from an apron pocket and
unlocked a drawer that was built into the coffee table that sat between the
two of them. Inside were a number of papers, many old and yellowing, and she
selected two which she then handed to Pamela.
"These are photocopies," she said. "The police have the originals,
though they never were able to make good use of them. We received them in a
packet in December, after the girl's body had been identified in November.
Martin had taken sick three months before, though he seemed to be improving,
and he had great hopes that he would fight his way through it. After he saw
these, something went out of him. He died the next February."
Pamela looked in horror at the slightly faded copies in her hands. The
first was taken from a newspaper article that had been roughly cut. It
described the discovery of the identity of 19-year-old Anglea Leona Broughton,
whose body had been found a month earlier in an Ohio forest, and it went into
detail concerning the various, unthinkable tortures that she had been
subjected to before being beaten to death by a heavy rock found at the site.
Atop the article and about its margins were the words, "You made me do this!"
written again and again in the much younger but still recognizable hand of
Kevin Durben. The second sheet consisted of eleven snapshots taken of the
girl while she was bound but before she had been wrapped in the tape. There
was no doubt as to their authenticity.
That is the last mention in The Abyss of any connections with Johnson,
his widow, and his novel, even though the Epilogue contains a further section
about other characters; in fact, I believe I have either quoted or paraphrased
every passage of The Abyss which has any relevance to Mendal Johnson and his
"So, you see," Emily continued, "you had your revenge anyway. I'm
certain that knowing that this had taken place contributed to Martin's death,
and, just like Kevin, he had his nightmares before the end came. He even
mentioned Angie once or twice."
"I didn't want revenge. I didn't come here for that," Pamela said
pleadingly. "You've got to believe that."
"I do," Emily assured her. She patted her shoulder and took the
photocopies from her trembling hands. "At last I can burn these and be done
"Don't... don't you think that you should keep them in case the police
need them for some reason?"
"The police? Are you going to tell them about this?"
Pamela took the copy of the novel from the table and replaced it in her
purse. Soon the fire would get this, too. "I just assumed that you
"Kevin is dead, and from what you've told me, his death was no easier
than Angela's, if quicker. What about the others?"
"Wesley's dead, as I said, and so are Peter, who committed suicide, and
Michele, who was murdered. Mona and Derick [sic] were tried and convicted
of killing her after I provided some information anonymously last year, and
though the truth didn't come to light completely - the prosecution worked on
the love triangle theory - they both received life sentences."
"The third girl?"
"Donna, Donna Jeptha. I haven't been able to locate her. I've used
detectives and everything, but there's just no trace of her. I'm convinced
that she's changed her name and moved away maybe even out of the country."
Emily began sipping her tea again. "I would imagine that she's suffering
her own punishment."
Pamela wanted to force this finally into the past, but there were still
questions to consider. "What about Angela's parents? Don't you think that
they would want to know why their daughter died?"
Emily paused. "I can't answer that. All I can say is that you have both
put my mind at ease and stirred up extremely painful memories by coming here
today. You'll have to decide for yourself whether or not the truth would be
worth what they would have to go through all over again. I wouldn't want to
see Martin's name brought up in connection with something like this, but I
won't fight you if you decide to reveal it all to them."
Tomorrow, Pamela thought, another thing to do on some far tomorrow. She
started to stand. "Well, I thank you for your time, Emily, but I should be -"
"Must you leave so soon?" Emily asked, and Pamela could see in her eyes
the desperate need for company at that moment. "If you stay, we could talk
for a while, sort of help one another through it."
Pamela smiled. "Of course. I'd be glad to stay a while."
And so they talked and cried and even laughed a little over the ways that
tragedy had linked their lives and taken someone of incalculable worth from
each of them. Late in the afternoon, the sun came out.
When Pamela returned to her home following that meeting, she found a
message from Greg Hoode, whom she hadn't seen in two years.
Well, all this seems to give rise to more questions than answers, and I
cannot end this account anything other than ambiguously. It seems pretty
obvious to me that Martin is Mendal Johnson, and Emily is Ellen Argo Johnson;
but I have no idea whether any of the details about them given here are true or
not. At least one seems to be false, and that is the implication that
Martin/Mendal's wife survived him for as long as 16 years. Whether this is from
ignorance, mistake, or poetic license because the plot required it, I don't
Obviously, fact and fiction (provided you accept that the novel is talking
about Mendal and Ellen and Let's Go Play at the Adams') seem to be linked
intricately, so that without exhaustive research it might be impossible to sort
out fact from fiction. It seems certain that the actual details about Angie's
horrific death and what inspired it are fictional; yet they are directly linked
with the cause of Martin/Mendal's death. Of course it might be possible that
some real-life crime inspired by Johnson's book might have given him the shock
that contributed to his decline in health which is attributed in The Abyss to
Martin, and that crime might be quite different from the one invented by Vance;
but it would be easy enough for Vance simply to substitute the fictional crime
for the real-life one, and thus provide the link he wanted with his novel. But
I am merely speculating; I know nothing whatever about the circumstances of
Johnson's death. But, in spite of a few errors, Vance seems to have got enough
right to at least make you speculate along such lines.
If I had written The Abyss, I would have felt obliged to write an afterword
clearly indicating where fact ended and fiction began; but Vance seems to have
almost gone out of his way to explicitly avoid naming any of the real people or
Johnson's novel's real-life title. I suggested earlier that there might
possibly be legal reasons for this.
I will certainly observe with interest if any further details about Mendal
Johnson, his wife, and Let's Go Play at the Adams' come to light at some future
time, and also anything that may shed light on the possible links with Steve
Vance's The Abyss.
Originally written Saturday, 8 January, 2000.
Revised Friday, 7 April, 2000.
E-mail me about this book.
Click here if you need an
explanation for the strange appearance of the e-mail address which will appear
when you click on the e-mail link, or if you don't know what you need to do to
make the e-mail address work properly.
Portions of this essay written by myself: Copyright (C) 2000, by Michael Edwards.
Text quoted from The Abyss: Copyright (C) 1989, by Steve Vance, and used here with his permission.
Search at AddALL.com for a used copy of The Abyss.
NOTE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THIS PAGE - Tuesday, 5 June, 2001:
This page is obviously incomplete, as will be immediately apparent to
anyone who reads it through. Please go here for
an explanation about the setback that is responsible for my not completing this
page, and why it may never be completed, or why it may happen only very slowly.
Not that this makes any real difference to someone who would like to see the
page complete - but I feel I should at least explain the situation.
I will leave this page here, incomplete as it is, in case the information
already written is useful to some readers researching a topic they may have
difficulty finding information about on the Internet.
The page is actually very nearly complete: there are a few gaps in the text
itself which I left open because I needed to research them in more detail; and
I need to write a few concluding paragraphs to this essay, drawing conclusions
and generally tying ends together. Therefore, of the incompleted pages, this is
one that stands a greater chance than some others of being completed in the
reasonably short-term future.
Introduction - Front page, which leads to Contents
Web Site of Michael Edwards - Contents
Writings by Michael Edwards
Mendal W. Johnson: Let's Go Play at the Adams'
The "Abyss" Connection (this page)
This page created on Tuesday, 11 April, 2000 - suppressed temorarily by disabling links until copyright clearance obtained;
made public on web site, and links enabled, on Wednesday, 12 April, 2000, after permission was given to quote from The Abyss;
page last modified on Tuesday, 5 June, 2001.