Mary Hades is drawn back into the world of the macabre as she moves with her family into the mysterious old house, Ravenswood. The mere mention of Ravenswood induces terror among the locals, and when strange things begin to occur, Mary and Lacey decide to get to the bottom of the secret hidden in the historic house once and for all.
As a dark power gathers, Mary finds her life becomes interconnected with the disturbing events that transpired in 1847 to eleven year old Liza Blair. The more Mary is drawn into Liza's story, the more she realises someone close to her is in grave danger from the sinister energy at Ravenswood.
Set in the backdrop of an unsettling forest, and with strange neighbour Emmaline Delacroix obsessed with death and séances, Possess will take you even deeper into the murky depths of Mary Hades's unusual life.
With strong language and scenes of horror this book is best suited to readers aged fifteen and over.
Release date: November 30, 2014
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
Print pages: 286
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A sigh spread through the house. It began from some unknown place—an ancient, shadowy location—and it moved with purpose, working its way through the night, rustling the leaves of the trees that line the drive, passing the long front lawn and causing the tree swing to rock back and forth. Back and forth. It hesitated for the briefest of moments, waiting in front of the tall town house standing ahead with windows gleaming in the light of the full moon. Like a long moan it climbed the front steps and slipped through the keyhole into the hall. Had anyone been awake, they would have felt the pulse in the walls and the way the presence filled the rooms. The great exhale.
Up and up from the foundations it went, moving between bricks, under floorboards, seeping through cracks, passing the spiders lurking in dark corners. It flowed over stacked books and children’s toys, over the copper kettle and the lace shawls. It seemed all places at once and yet never there. It seemed always and forever and non-existent.
In their bedrooms the people turned. They sniffed in their sleep, half-conscious of the change. A man curled up his lip and sneezed, his nose tickled by his moustache. Next to him, his wife rolled over and let her arm hang down from the bed. A girl of thirteen lay on her back with her mouth open, breathing calmly. But when a cold chill caught at her fingers, her throat closed and she gulped in the bitter air, gulping down the sigh along with it. She rolled over and her breathing returned to its regular rhythmical state. Down by the kitchen slept a housekeeper. She was middle-aged with greying hair. Curled around her fingers was a string of beads. When the sigh passed over her, the beads dropped to the floor, taking the crucifix with it.
And lastly, one little girl of eleven years old sat up in bed. She rubbed her eyes and blinked into the gloom. It was an unwelcome darkness, somehow a living thing, throbbing with energy. She reached for her candle and the box of matches by her bed. When the flame was lit, she calmed, her muscles loosening and her chest relaxing. She placed the candle on her bedside table and reached under the bed for a small box. After pulling out a drawer from the box, she removed a small notebook and pencil.
May 12th 1847. Tonight is our first night at Ravenswood, she wrote.
I fell asleep this afternoon. With the sunlight streaming in through my skylight, I decided to stay in my bedroom and relax. I laid my head down on the pillow and I tried to read a book. It was a romance novel about a girl falling in love with a boy, you know, the usual: meet-cute, different classes, secret kisses. Their parents didn’t approve, of course. It’s one of those Romeo and Juliet types, except without as much stabbing and poison. Mum lent it to me and it seemed like a fun read for a Sunday. Only I drifted into a slumber after two chapters.
Then the unease set in.
Whenever I wake, my dreams are always fuzzy. There are small scenes that stand out, but the narrative drifts away as soon as I wake. This time, the image that remains clear in my mind is of a swarm.
Not bees or birds or butterflies. It was unlike any living creature in the world. It resembled a gathering of large dust particles, but very dark, similar to bits of black rubber or flakes of coal. They congregated and moved as though they belonged together. At first they were far apart. I didn’t see them because they disappeared between clouds in the sky. It was like being in the gloom during twilight. But once they began to move, I found myself transfixed.
The closer they got, the more of a dark lump they formed, and the more the unease spread through me, lifting every hair on my skin. My throat went dry. My stomach turned to water.
You might think that it sounds ridiculous. You might think that I’m hyper-sensitive or silly. But it wasn’t so much the sight of the swarm, it was the way it made me feel.
It’s coming for me.
I know it as I know my own reflection. The swarm is coming for me and it won’t stop until it has found me. Every time I think of the dream, that one thought comes back to me and won’t go away. Long after I woke on my sweat-soaked pillow, long after I took a shower to compose myself, that sensation remains with me and won’t leave. Every time I turn, I expect to see that same swarm of black waiting for me. Every time, its absence both surprises and disappoints me as though a dark part of me longs for it.
I grip the Athamé with stiff, frozen fingers, running as fast as I can. There it is, the flick and swoosh of an ethereal body moving through the darkness. We’re on a quiet street, chasing down the spirit that’s been terrorising the people who live near the abandoned church. We followed it out of the graveyard down the hill, hurrying as it ducked between parked cars and faded houses. It’s late. The night is midnight-blue; the street lights pool silken yellow over the pavement like urban polka dots. Lacey is electric, darting forward and back, wrestling with the grey shadow and falling back when she fails to stop it, her blonde hair spilling over her hoody—always the same, never changing, caught in a time loop.
The silence hangs in the air. No cars move—only us—running, running. Shoes scuff granite. The hint of a bat swoops through the sky, fluttering away as quick as my breaths. I could stop, right now, next to the comforting light from a terraced house, and I could leave, go back to my warm home—via two buses and a ten minute walk; we’ve come far into the city for this—and return another time. The ghost will still be here; at least, I believe it will. Where else would it go? I dismiss the thought as quickly as it enters my mind. I keep going. That’s the only option now.
Lacey jerks closer, her image crackling. “It took the next right.” Her voice is a hiss.
A cat yowls out as I trip over its tail, my clumsy feet tangled with its torso. “Sorry, kitty.” I glance back over my shoulder, catching a glimpse of its narrowed, glowing eyes and raised hackles.
This street is even more still. The houses thin out into half-collapsed dry stone walls and weeds. We’ve run out to the halfway point between the city and the countryside, where small fields are interspersed with streets of semi-detached houses.
“Where did it go?” I say, stopping to catch my breath. Slim I may be, but fit, not so much.
The ghost we’re chasing is old, a young Victorian woman with ragged skirts and bulging bosoms coming up over her corset. We heard the tale of her haunting from a café. The baristas talked about their “mate” who went to the cemetery to “bone a ho” late one night. According to this mate, the girl screamed at the top of her lungs, shouted about a woman, then proceeded to scratch his face until it bled, claiming that men were “devils never to be trusted”.
“Where do you think?” Lacey replies. She nods to the field on our right.
I groan. Of course she ran into the field. Where else would a ghost lead its prey? Right into the deepest, darkest, most isolated area they could find. “This is way too similar to Nettleby.”
Lacey gives me a lopsided grin. “It’s not exactly the moors. It’s barely bigger than a park. Stop being a wimp.” Her eyes shine bright in the night, brought alive by the chase. The rest of her is pale, resembling a faded corpse.
I let out a laugh. “Hey, I’m not a wimp. You’re the one lagging behind.”
She shrugs. “I was just being polite. Ladies first, because hell knows I’m no lady.”
I shake my head at her and put my hands on top of the limestone. Dry stone walls are always well built and surprisingly sturdy. It’s not too difficult to hoist myself up and over, though I scrape my bare arms in the process. My feet find the slightly sodden ground on the opposite side, making little sound on the cushioned grass surface.
Moving away from the town seems to exaggerate the stillness in the air. It’s a warm summer night and my neck is damp from running. My hair is tied into a long ponytail that swings behind me. I wore a t-shirt, jeans and trainers for my ghost hunt. When I left the house two and a half hours ago, I told my parents I was going to an eighteenth birthday party for a friend from school. Mum frowned at my outfit and asked me why I wasn’t even wearing make-up. The truth is, I wasn’t invited to the party.
“Listen,” I say to the night. “I get that you’re hurting. We read about you, you know. We read the news report, and what happened to you wasn’t fair. Dying in the street like that, attacked by those men… I don’t care what you did for a living; you shouldn’t have gone through that. No one should. I’m sorry about the pain you feel. I’m sorry for your hard life. Working on the streets must have been tough. But you need to let go of your anger. You need to move on now. It’s Elizabeth, isn’t it? Your name? I’m sorry, Elizabeth. I’m so sorry.”
A prickle of cold begins at my wrist and works its way up my arm to the nape of my neck. Lacey is next to me, emitting the electricity of an anxious spirit. Her jaw is clenched and her expression pinched. She senses it too. My instincts tell me to turn around. When I give in to that urge it waits for me. Warning me.
It’s a Thing. A child this time, which freezes the breath in my throat. My jaw goes slack. At one time, this little boy would’ve had a bowl cut of cute blond hair, bright blue eyes. Now, as it places its finger to its lips, its red irises shine out into the night, its skin hangs loose from its jawbone. Its hair is greasy, non-coloured, grey and dirty.
“What is it?” I whisper.
Lacey looks at me, her brow furrowed, questioning.
“I think the ghost is about to attack,” I say. The Things, these zombie beings that I see, always warn me of danger.
It all happens at once. There’s a rush of wind. I spin around and the boy is gone; instead, Elizabeth runs for me, her dress billowing out behind her. As she flies at me, her body crackles on and off like a bad television picture. Her arms outstretch, revealing long, claw-like fingernails, each one bloodied. Her jaw opens wide, dislocating the joints, as large and deadly as the mouth of a shark. Her sharp teeth glint through the dark. As she comes closer, the blood drains from my face. Her hair floats out behind her as though in water. Her eyes are white orbs, speckled with burst blood vessels.
“Mary! The circle of protection!” Lacey shouts.
I’m stuck—made impotent by fear, shock. A vision enters my head, of the long, stretching moors and the child ghost terrorising me. I let the fear creep into me, spreading through me like poison.
Lacey shoves me and an electric shock pulses up my spine. All at once I come to life, and I spring to action, lifting the Athamé at the same moment Elizabeth’s claw-nails come down on me. I slash at her, and the ghost recoils. She stares at the cut on her hand, saddened and confused. I had no idea the Athamé could do that until now.
“The circle,” Lacey reminds me.
I sweep the ceremonial knife in great arcs, carving the symbol in the air. I have four to perform before I can trap the spirit in the circle. I have to move fast. Lacey and I have only done this once so far, on the moors near Nettleby, a tiny village in North Yorkshire. A murdered child called Amy turned vengeful in her spirit form, killing off men in the area. I froze up that time, forgetting the symbols, letting her get away. This time I have to be fast. I can’t hesitate.
But the spirit collects herself. She turns to me, hatred emanating from her being, steam emitting from her mouth. The grass around her shrivels and dies. Beneath my feet the ground trembles from her wrath, knocking me back. The Athamé drops from my fingers.
A blur of grey hoody and yellow hair flies through the dark, knocking the vengeful spirit to the ground. I scoop up the knife, jump to my feet and race towards them. Lacey is thrown back by the ghost, but I’m ready. The second symbol is carved. Now to the third.
“Damn you,” she says. “Damn you to hell. You filth. How dare you?”
“I’m helping you,” I reply. “You can’t stay here. This isn’t an existence, not anymore.”
She swipes her claws at my face but I duck and she catches my shoulder instead, ripping a gash in my t-shirt. Lacey swoops in behind her to grasp her wrists.
“Do it now,” she orders.
The third symbol lights the night sky in an amber glow, resembling a sparkler on bonfire night. I move on to the fourth.
“Why are you doing this?” growls the ghost. “I don’t want to go.”
“Why?” I say. “What are you doing here apart from causing pain and suffering? You’re hurting people, Elizabeth, and I can’t let you do that.”
As I finish the last symbol, Lacey lets her go, being careful not to get trapped in the circle. As a ghost, she is susceptible to the power of the Athamé. She steps around the spirit and comes to my side.
“Why do you get to stay?” Elizabeth asks, gesturing to Lacey. “What do you have here?”
As the circle of protection cools the vengeful spirit, I begin to see her how she used to be: thin, scruffy, in a dress too tight, hair loose and wild, eyes sunken into her skull with dark circles beneath. Her cheekbones protrude and her lips are too thin for her face. She has the furtive expression of a child who doesn’t know where her next meal will come from.
“I’m staying to help my friend stop other spirits harming people,” Lacey answers.
Elizabeth tips her head back and laughs. “Is that what you tell yourself? You’re afraid, aren’t yer? Like I am. And how long is your friend going to want you around, eh? She’ll get bored. And then what are you going to do?”
Lacey staggers away from the ghost. “Mary, do it. Make her go away.”
“Are you sure, Lace?” I glance at my friend, seeing the way her jaw is clenched and her lips are pressed thin. Neither of us is fond of the idea of forcing a spirit to leave when they don’t want to go. But this time, it seems as though we’ll have to.
Elizabeth tries to move away from us, but she’s trapped by the Athamé’s magic. “No, no! I don’t know what awaits me. What if it’s them? What if it’s those men?”
“What if it’s peace?” I reply.
“You don’t know that for sure,” she says.
“No, I don’t. But you can’t keep hurting people. You can’t remain. I’m sorry.” I step forward and she cowers, lifting her hands to her face.
Lacey moves closer to the spirit. “I understand how you feel. Believe me, I do. But there’s no place for you here anymore. I get what you’re afraid of. It’s the nothingness, isn’t it?”
Elizabeth drops her hands and nods. “You’ve felt it too?”
“Yes, sometimes it pulls me. But we don’t know for sure that it’s the nothingness waiting for us when we move on.”
“No, I suppose not,” Elizabeth admits. “But I’m frightened of it… and them. I’m frightened of what is next.”
“Are you frightened of losing yourself?” Lacey continues. “Because that’s what you’re doing right now. You’re losing all parts of yourself. You’re becoming a monster.”
Elizabeth’s gaze flits from me to Lacey. “I am? Oh, no. I’m becoming a monster? I… I hurt people. I can’t keep doing that, can I?”
Lacey shakes her head.
Elizabeth steps towards us, her eyes bright and wide. For the first time, I see how young she was when she died. Twenty at the oldest. My heart twists for her, for what she went through. “What if I promise never to do hurt another human again?”
“How long will it last?” Lacey says. “A month, a year, twenty years? How long are you going to stay here and let yourself fade into the same monster you were before?”
“She’s right,” I say. “It’s time for you to go. I’m sorry, Elizabeth.” Somehow it seems important to say her name, to mark her existence. By saying her name again it’s as though I’ve kept the memory of her alive for at least a little bit longer. A thought pops into my mind. “Where are you buried?”
“The broken tombstone in the fifth row,” she answers in a low, bitter tone. “No one came to my grave when I died. No one brought me flowers. My brother paid for the stone, but that’s all he did. All he ever did to help me.”
“I’ll visit your grave,” I say.
“Do you mean it?”
“Yes,” I reply.
Her features soften a little more, letting the girl shine through the ghost. “Thank you.”
I steel myself for what’s about to come. The Athamé grows heavy in my hand as I approach the spirit. She stares at me, bright-eyed and human. Her ghost form has lifted from her like a mask.
“Will it hurt?” she asks.
“No, I don’t think so,” I reply.
“Do it quickly.”
After taking a deep breath, I plunge the knife through the circle of protection and deep into her flesh. It cuts through her like a hot knife through butter, deep into her, into her heart. And in a bright flash she lights up. Her face relaxes. Her arms open wide as though embracing us all. She looks down and smiles at us.
“They always look as though they’re at peace,” Lacey says. “Maybe they are.”
“I hope so,” I say, ignoring a little squirming sensation in my stomach. It’s a niggle of doubt, a wariness of what lies ahead, what comes to us all when we pass on. No matter what I see, I never feel complacent about death.
The bus journey is cold. I sit behind a man who opens the narrow window and sits dabbing sweat from his forehead. At the front of the bus a bedraggled, overweight woman talks to herself. At the back of the bus is a stag party passing a bottle of vodka among them. I could easily have a conversation with Lacey and no one would think anything of it, but instead we stare silently ahead.
Three stops away from my house a man sits next to me, right on top of Lacey. She slips out from under him with a scowl.
The man wears a dirty anorak, has strangely dilated pupils, and smells of bitter alcohol.
“On yer own, love?” he slurs.
I nod and take my phone out of my pocket, pretending to get a text message.
“Shouldn’t be on yer own at this time of night.” He belches and swings forward as the bus stops at a traffic light.
“I’m fine,” I mumble.
“Yer got some change then, eh? I need t’get home an’ that.”
“Fancy phone that, in’t it?” he says. “Yer must be from a nice family, eh?” He smiles, revealing yellow teeth that turn my stomach.
“This guy needs teaching some manners,” Lacey says. “Waster.”
I turn away and stare out of the window. Two more stops.
The man pokes me in the thigh and I move away from him.
“I’m talkin’ to yer. I said yer must be rich, eh? An’ yer can’t give us any money. Yer a fuckin’ bitch, in’t yer? Yer a nasty cow—”
Lacey slaps him hard across the face, pulling her shoulder back and hitting him with her full palm. “Don’t you dare speak to her like that!”
The man straightens up and stares towards Lacey with his face white as a sheet. “Yer what? Did yer do that? Did yer hit me?” He grabs me by the shoulder and shakes me. “Did yer?”
I try to pull away from his bony fingers. The man in front glances at me sideways and then turns away. The lads on the stag do haven’t even noticed. The bus driver keeps his face forward, focussing on the road. I press the button for the next stop and try to stand.
“Get. Off. Me,” I say between gritted teeth.
Lacey punches him in the crotch and he folds over with a moan. I get up and scuttle past him, dashing to the front of the bus. When my stop comes up, I keep checking behind me, hoping the man doesn’t follow me off. The brakes screech as the bus comes to a halt and I jump down and hurry along my street.
“That’s right! Jog on!” Lacey yells at the bus as it passes us.
“You do realise the bus can’t hear you,” I point out.
She ignores me. “Did you see that? I sorted that bastard right out,” she says, beaming from ear to ear.
“Yeah, I saw you. It was bad-ass. But what if he’d followed me off the bus? You know you can’t hit things for long. I would’ve been screwed.”
“Nah, you have the Athamé. Face it, we’re effin’ indestructible, us.” She opens out her arms on the pavement of my street.
I can’t help but laugh, half happy, half sad. Sometimes I really believe I am indestructible, but I’m not sure whether that’s simply Lacey’s influence. And yet at the same time her presence is a reminder of what can happen, about how you can live a half-life. Existing but not feeling. I shake my head and carry on up the road, the steep, familiar street of terraced houses.
My fingers shake as I put my key in the front door.
Our house is narrow, and the door opens into a hallway partly cut off by the stairs. When you get in, you have to wrestle with the line of coats on the left, and usually trip up on Dad’s work shoes left by the mat, an act of laziness that Mum always complains about but which never changes. Lacey slips through and dances up and down the corridor, flicking out her hair, energised from the night’s events. I shut the door as quietly as I can and glance at my phone. Half-past midnight. Not too bad. Certainly not the latest I’ve ever come home, but still, half an hour late. I push the phone into my jeans pocket, remove my shoes and place a hand on the banister of the stairs. That’s when I hear the voice.
“Mary, get in here. Now.”
Lacey stops dancing and looks at me. “Uh-oh.”
My stomach drops.
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