Not many seventeen year old girls have a best friend who’s a ghost, but then Mary Hades isn’t your average teenager. Scarred physically and mentally from a fire, her parents decide a holiday to an idyllic village in North Yorkshire will help her recover. Nestled in the middle of five moors, Mary expects to have a boring week stuck in a caravan with her parents. Little does she know, evil lurks in the campsite…
Seth Lockwood—a local fairground worker with a dark secret—might be the key to uncovering the murky history that has blighted Nettleby. But Mary is drawn to him in a way that has her questioning her judgement.
Helped by her dead best friend and a quirky gay Goth couple, Mary must stop the unusual deaths occurring in Nettleby. But can she prevent her heart from being broken?
The first in a series of dark YA novels, Mary Hades follows on from the bestselling Kindle Single My Daylight Monsters. A spine-tingling tale with romance, readers will be shocked and entertained in equal measure.
The promise of July: sunglasses and cut off shorts, feeling the warm blades of grass between your toes, trips to the brook at the edge of the woods, short nights that seem to go on forever—smothering you with oppressive heat until you wake up gasping for breath, your hair plastered to the back of your neck.
The long days provide freedom from school and parents, and often even friends. It’s a time to be alone, to let yourself grow, to shed another layer of skin as you progress through adolescence. Each summer tracks your maturity with the flakes of skin trailing your footsteps. Those layers are childhood husks. You know that when you go back to school, passing notes in class will become a thing of the past; too immature for us now. Crushes become relationships. Gossip turns from who snogged who to who shagged who.
We are in the midst of that rarest of things—a warm and sunny English summer. It has lasted for almost two weeks and even the old ladies at the bus stop have stopped talking about the weather. No one wants to jinx it. No one wants to frighten the sun away. We treat it like a bird in the garden, tip-toeing our way through the lawn, trying not to startle it into taking to its wings and abandoning us.
I’ve been waiting for this moment. Since the fire, my burns have taken time to heal. Now the bandages are off, and I can go out in the sunshine. I want to enjoy the rest of my summer before it fades into September and brings the school term with it. The thought of exams and coursework make my abdomen clench with anxiety. Right now, I want to forget about all that, enjoy being alive, enjoy my well-earned freedom.
But as soon as the opportunity is within my grasp, it’s snatched away by those who-think-they-know-best. I find myself pouting like a little girl, regressing into the stereotypical teen, whinging away at my parents.
“You’ll enjoy it, Mary.” Mum has her back to me, folding clean clothes into three neat piles. One of those piles is mine. “It’s nice to get away from here. There will be plenty of people your age.”
“Camping?” I say again. “I shouldn’t be going camping with my parents anymore. I’m seventeen.” The words it’s not fair are within dangerous proximity. I’m a cliché.
She turns towards me and seizes a t-shirt from the basket. “It’s a static caravan on a campsite. It’s not like you’ll be in a tent. Discos every night—”
She purses her lips. “The holiday will be what you make of it.” Her eyes dart to the door and back again. She lowers her voice. “It’s all we can afford this year. You know, since your father lost that job.” She mouths the last words as though she’s ashamed to say them.
Dad used to teach at a private school. It was a good job, bringing in a high salary. But they decided to cut back in the science department and now he’s had to take a job at a comprehensive school in Leeds. It’s an hour’s commute and less pay. I see less of him, and he spends a large portion of his salary on petrol. Mum’s a full time office manager, but her firm has had a freeze on pay-rises for the last three years, due to the recession.
“You should be proud of his new job,” I say. “There’s nothing wrong with it.”
“I am,” she replies. “But your father isn’t. That’s why it’s easiest to avoid the subject.” A silence hangs for a moment. No matter what she says, I hear that tone in her voice, the one that speaks louder than her words. Now she can’t turn her nose up at the riff-raff at the office, or attend the Christmas prom at Dad’s old school wearing her one diamond necklace. She’s back to being a regular wife. “Mary, take these clothes up to your room and start packing.”
The bundle of clothes is thrust into my arms and I pull it to my body, inhaling the clean scent. My feet pad across the carpet.
When I’m halfway to the hall, Mum calls out, “Hey, you never know, you could have a holiday romance.” She waggles her eyebrows for emphasis.
“In Nettleby, North Yorkshire? I’d be lucky to find anyone under sixty,” I reply. But somehow the tension fades and we both laugh at the same time.
She pauses before she says, “You know, I hope there is a nice boy in Nettleby. It would do you good.” Her eyes drift to the scars on my neck and the smile fades from my face.
I shake the uneasy feeling away, the one that tells me my mum wants someone to make me feel attractive again. Maybe she’s right. Maybe it won’t be so bad. After everything that has happened in the last few months, it’ll be nice to spend some time with my parents. And to be honest, Nettleby does sound peaceful, and peace is what I could do with, right now.
My fingers fumble with the door handle to my room. My room. The one place in this house I can call my own.
The summer has turned it into a hot house, with sunlight streaming through the attic window. Tiny specks of dust are illuminated as they hang in the air like daylight stars. I flop down on the bed, the motion wobbling the mirror-ball I keep on my bedside table where it catches the light from the window. Squares of gold move along the pastel blue curtains, dance over my dressing table, and travel shakily across my MGMT poster.
I bury my head in the duvet, inhaling the scent of lavender from Mum’s brand of washing powder. As much as we clash with each other, if she was hurt or died, I would come into my room, smell the lavender, and have the world pulled from under my feet. She’s a rock, and I have to remind myself of that, even when she’s really annoying.
She helped me get better.
Well, she tried.
As my mind drifts from daylight stars to daylight monsters, the temperature of the room dips, and my muscles tense. A prickling cold spreads over my skin. Someone is here.
A light film of sweat forms on my forehead as I inch myself up on my elbows. At the end of the bed stands a girl, about my age, and most definitely dead.
Not that you can tell.
Her blond hair falls into her eyes, which are ringed in black. She wears a grey hoody, with the hood down, and grey jogging bottoms without a cord or belt. Her blue eyes bore into mine. Her jaw opens to speak…
“’Sup, Mares? Give you a fright did I? Couldn’t knock or owt, what with the… you know.”
“Inability to take corporeal form?” I say.
“That’s the one.” She grins at me. “So what’s the news? The afterlife is boring as hell.”
A shiver of guilt passes down my spine.
Did I forget to mention that my best friend is a ghost? Well, it’s complicated. I was in a mental institute at the time—so was Lacey—and we had a murderer to find. The day that he found us, I had expected to die; instead, he killed Lacey. He stabbed her in the back. Since then she’s stuck around.
“We’re going camping,” I say with a groan. “Can you believe it?”
Lacey leaps forward to grab my arm, but her form crackles like electricity and fails to make contact. “Damn it, stupid ghost form. Camping though, mate. That’s awesome! I used to love camping. Can I come?”
I laugh. “Sure, you can come. You know the drill though, right?”
Lacey chuckles. “You mean I’m not allowed to stand next to people pulling faces and twerking on them?”
“Oh man, I got thrown out of that cinema but it was so worth it.” I can’t keep the grin off my face as I remember Lacey dancing around the cinema, rubbing her bum against the unsuspecting people on the front row. I almost choked on my popcorn. Unfortunately, my then boyfriend didn’t find it so amusing. “Mo still hasn’t called. I can’t believe he ended it like that.”
“Fuck him,” she says. “Actually, no, don’t. Delete him. Delete his number, burn the photos—get him out of your life. He’s not worth it. You would think after everything he’s been through he’d have more of an open mind.”
I met Mo on Magdelena Ward. I was in for schizo hallucinations, he was in for paranoid schizophrenia. I guess it was always doomed to fail, but the final nail hit the coffin when I told him about Lacey. He reckoned my “negativity” and inability to “see the truth” could tip him over the edge when it came to his mental health. I don’t blame him, to be honest. But that doesn’t mean I’m not disappointed in him. Why couldn’t he trust in me?
Lacey leans forward and my skin chills again. “Seriously. Forget about him. He’s not worth it. He’s not worth you.”
Lacey Holloway, the one-woman-ghost committed to bolstering my self-esteem. It’s a tough job, but someone’s got to do it. A hesitant smile forms on my lips, but then I remember how Lacey will never have another relationship and that smile is replaced by a heavy feeling of guilt: like a woollen blanket, familiar but itchy.
“Mum said I might have a holiday romance,” I say.
“That is a perfect idea. You need to get over Mo.” Her eyes widen with excitement. “I can be your wing-ghost.”
I start laughing, but then catch my reflection in my dressing table mirror. My hair is long, thick and dark. Destined to never be tamed, it falls over my eyes and ripples down to my collar bones. But from the laughter, I’ve shaken it away from my pale, oval face.
My fingers rise to my throat, which has become exposed from me tipping my head back. There I trace the lasting reminder from the fire at Magdelena. There I trace the translucent white marks left to me by Dr. Gethen. My nightmares are filled with that night. I replay it over and over. My skin warms beneath my fingertips, as though I’m there again. I pull myself away, move my hair over my neck, and try not to think about it.
“You’re coming camping with me, then?” I ask Lacey. “Because there’s no way I’m getting through the week on my own.”
She winks at me. “Do ducks fart underwater?”
I frown. “Eh?”
She laughs. “I dunno, my dad used to say it. Yes, Mary, of course I’m coming!”
To drown out the sound of me talking to a ghost, I put on the Yeah Yeah Yeahs at full blast. Before long we’re wailing along with Karen O. Lacey dances around the room, crackling and sparking like a broken television. My suitcase fills up and I don’t even care about camping, anymore. At some point, I forget that Lacey is dead. I forget about how her body is in the graveyard three miles away, off the main road heading north. The Lacey I know is the vibrant, dancing, singing girl pogoing up and down with her arms spread wide. A rush of something—I don’t know what—fills me up from my toes to my ears. Maybe it’s that freedom I wanted.
A few hours later—after a greasy meal at the motorway service station—we leave the major roads behind at last, and navigate the twisting rural lanes of North Yorkshire. It’s moorland here, heather growing amongst the spongy grass, stretching out for what feels like forever. Jagged rocks peek out of hillsides. The occasional sheep looks up and stares at our car, chewing its grass in a languid, deliberate motion, as though its mind is occupied elsewhere.
I lean forward, hitting the back of Mum’s seat with my shoulder. “There’s nothing here. What are we going to be doing?”
“We’re not there yet,” Dad reminds me, grinning at me in the rear view mirror. “Positive thinking, Mares.”
I sigh and lean back into my seat. I guess he’s right. I let my head swing to one side, watching the world go by. This bit—I like.
I love the way the greens and browns merge together as the car travels through the countryside. Beneath me the car rocks like a cradle. I used to read wherever we went somewhere, but now I follow the landscape with my eyes, picking out the occasional stream, the flowers in the grass verge, and the black and white splodges of cows.
A fleeting memory pops into my mind—driving through the countryside with Dad, him slowing the car to a crawl so I can reach out of the open window and pick the long flowers swaying above the reedy grass. He had one of those ‘Dad’ smiles—the ones where their eyes are sad because you’re growing up so fast. Then he whispered, “Don’t tell your mum. If she knew you’d had even a finger out of that window…” I’d giggled. Knowing that we were breaking Mum’s car-rules made it even more fun.
But then the world changes. That safe feeling is pulled out from underneath me, as though I’ve leapt high into the air before glancing down to see the trampoline disappear. My heart freezes before it quickens and the hairs stand up on the back of my neck. My throat tightens. I clutch the edge of the seat so hard I feel the blood drain from my hands.
You would think I’m used to seeing them now, but I’m not. I never will be.
Standing like a scarecrow in the middle of a crop field, is one of them. Its skull shines through its face, and haunting sunken eyes stare at me, dark as night. A chill passes over my body.
This is a warning.
Sarah grew up in the middle of nowhere in the countryside of Derbyshire and as a result has an over-active imagination. She has been an avid reader for most of her life, taking inspiration from the stories she read as a child, and the novels she devoured as an adult.
Sarah mainly writes speculative fiction for a Young Adult audience and has had pieces of short fiction published in the Medulla Literary Review, PANK magazine and the British Fantasy Society publication Dark Horizons. Her short story 'Vampires Wear Chanel' is featured in the Wyvern Publication Fangtales available here:
Sarah's debut novel The Blemished is a fast paced young adult dystopia set in a fractured Britain. It follows the events of Mina Hart, a young Blemished girl who has a dangerous secret, as she tries to escape the dreaded Operation and get out of Area 14.
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