In the faux-documentary style of The Blair Witch Project comes the campfire story of a missing girl, a vengeful ghost, and the girl who is determined to find her sister—at all costs.
Once a year, a road appears in the forest. And at the end of it, the ghost of Lucy Gallows beckons. Lucy's game isn't for the faint of heart. If you win, you escape with your life. But if you lose....
Sara's sister disappeared one year ago—and only Sara knows where she is. Becca went to find the ghost of Lucy Gallows and is trapped on the road that leads to her. In the sleepy town of Briar Glen, Lucy's road is nothing more than local lore. But Sara knows it's real, and she's going to find it.
When Sara and her skeptical friends meet in the forest to search for Becca, the mysterious road unfurls before them. All they have to do is walk down it. But the path to Lucy is not of this world, and it has its own rules. Every mistake summons new horrors. Vengeful spirits and broken, angry creatures are waiting for them to slip, and no one is guaranteed safe passage. The only certainty is this: the road has a toll and it will be paid.
Sara knows that if she steps onto the road, she might not come back. But Becca needs her.
And Lucy is waiting.
Release date: September 24, 2019
Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Print pages: 416
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Rules for Vanishing
Kate Alice Marshall
May 9, 2017
ASHFORD: I’m starting the recording now. This is the first interview with Sara Donoghue concerning the disappearances in Briar Glen, Massachusetts. Today is May 9, 2017. Present are Sara Donoghue and myself, Dr. Andrew Ashford. Thank you for joining us today, Miss Donoghue.
SARA: You’re welcome. I guess. I don’t know what you expect me to tell you.
ASHFORD: The truth, Miss Donoghue. I think you’ll find we are some of the few people who are willing to hear it.
SARA: So you believe me, then?
ASHFORD: Is there a reason I shouldn’t?
Sara begins to laugh, a low sound that croaks in the back of her throat.
ASHFORD: Miss Donoghue—
Sara’s laughter continues, her shoulders shaking. Her hands cover her face.
??: Pay attention.
Text message received by all Briar Glen High School students on Monday, April 17, 2017
DO YOU WANT TO KNOW WHERE LUCY WENT?
SHE WENT TO PLAY THE GAME.
YOU CAN PLAY, TOO.
FIND A PARTNER.
FIND A KEY.
FIND THE ROAD.
YOU HAVE TWO DAYS.
The message arrives overnight, and by Monday morning it’s all anyone is talking about. People cluster around their phones, as if by reading the text again, comparing the identical messages, they might reveal some new clue about who sent them.
“Hey, Sara! Do you want to play the game?” Tyler Martinez asks, lunging toward me as I walk inside, the first bell ringing. He waggles his eyebrows at me and swings away, laughing at his own joke. I cross my arms over my ribs and lean forward, as if pushing against a current.
Whispers of Lucy are everywhere. And the game. People in clots, heads leaned together.
I’ve timed things so that I arrive just before the bell, and the hallway is emptying out as the threat of tardy slips overwhelms the urge to gossip. A few stragglers give me odd looks. Odder than usual.I bet she sent it, I imagine them whispering. She’s obsessed.
The game. Lucy Gallows. And Wednesday is the anniversary. It doesn’t take a genius. I’d probably blame me, too.
I slide into first period and take my seat, as close to the back corner as I can get.
“Hey. Sara.” Trina sits at the group table in front of mine, and she has to twist around in her seat and lean to talk to me. Her blue eyes are piercing in their exquisite concern, her blonde hair swept up in a casual ponytail that looks more glamorous than anything I’ve managed since the days when she would sit behind me for hours, coercing my mousy hair into french braids and fishtails. “How are you doing?”
“Fine,” I mutter. I can’t look her in the eye. Her expression is too painfully sympathetic. It would be one thing if it was a performance, but it’s genuine. And it’s there every time she looks at me, like she’s worried that I’m going to crumple under the strain of my personal tragedies at any moment.
“I don’t think you did it,” she says, leaning closer. Which means that people are already saying that I did.
She nods slowly. “Don’t let anyone give you crap for it,” she says.
“How do you suggest I stop them?” I ask. She flinches back a little, but she’s spared the need to answer by the second bell, marking the beginning of class. She straightens in her seat. I slouch down as Mr. Vincent launches into his daily preamble, complete with the terrible joke he inflicts on us every day.
“—and he says, ‘Me? I’m a giant heavy metal fan.’” He wraps up just as the door opens. Anthony Beck steps into the room to the sound of groans, and slaps a hand to his forehead.
“I missed the joke of the day?” he asks in exaggerated despair. He flashes a smile, his dimples deep, his brown eyes bright and half-hidden by his wavy black hair. Back when we were younger, when we were friends, he was skinny as a rail, all elbows and knees, his smile too big for his body. The last year or two he’s started to add muscle, and the nerd who’d tripped over his own feet is co-captain of the lacrosse and soccer teams, an athletic scholarship waiting for him at Northeastern. He got his ear pierced over break, and the silver stud winks.
“I hope you have a good reason for missing out on my effervescent wit,” Mr. Vincent says.
“It took me all morning to text the entire school. My thumbs are cramping like you wouldn’t believe,” Anthony says with a joker’s grin. “Sorry, Mr. V. Won’t happen again.” His gaze roves around the room, and his grin wobbles a moment when he sees me. We’re assigned to the same small group for our current project, which means we’ve been sitting together for the past couple of weeks, but we’ve managed not to exchange more than a dozen words. He’s been responsible for eleven of them.
He slings himself into the chair beside me. It’s much too cramped for his tall frame, and I shrink farther back into the corner, away from him. Mr. Vincent shakes his head.
Anthony sneaks a glance at me. I duck over my notebook, trying to ignore him. It isn’t easy.
Anthony Beck and Trina Jeffries used to be two of my best friends. There were six of us—seven when we let Trina’s little brother, Kyle, hang out—a roving gang of miscreants who stuck together from first grade until high school. We even had a stupid group name. The Wildcats. It was the Unicorn Wildcats until fifth grade, a compromise that Trina had worked out when the vote was split down the middle—my sister, Becca, and I on opposite sides of the debate, as usual. I was pulling for the Unicorns, of course. Back then my aesthetic was 70 percent glitter, before the severe color allergy I developed in middle school. Becca, though? She was fierce from the start.
We all linked hands, crossing our arms to grab the person on the opposite side, and shook on it.We are the Unicorn Wildcats. Friends forever and ever. No matter what.
To a bunch of first graders, it felt like an unbreakable bond. Forever felt possible. It felt inevitable. But now Becca is gone, and I haven’t spoken to any of them about more than the Cold War or sine and cosine for almost a year.
Mr. Vincent is starting to outline the day’s agenda when a hand shoots up in the second row. He pauses, rhythm disrupted. The corner of his mouth tightens, but that’s the only sign of irritation. “Vanessa. If you need help with your current project, we can talk during check-in.”
“It’s not about my w-work,” Vanessa says. “It’s about the t-t-text message we all g-got.”
“Yes. I saw that. And obviously, it’s intriguing,” Mr. Vincent says. He settles back against his desk. “But I’m not sure how it’s relevant to the Industrial Revolution.”
“But it’s r-relevant to history. Local history,” Vanessa says, pushing her round glasses up her nose.
From my angle I can only see the curve of her cheek and the back of her head, but like most of the people in the room, I’ve known Vanessa Han since kindergarten, and I can imagine the familiar expression of intense interest she must have fixed on Mr. Vincent. She wears thick-framed glasses and leggings with wild, colorful patterns, a look both bold and self-assuredly nerdy, much like Vanessa herself.
“Local history,” Mr. Vincent echoes. “You mean the reference to Lucy? Meaning Lucy Gallows.” He rubs his chin. “All right. It has nothing to do with nineteenth-century methods of production and their impact on the idea of the nuclear family, but what the hell. All right, who can tell me the story of Lucy Gallows?”
Half a dozen hands go up. He points. Jenny Stewart speaks up first. “Wasn’t she, like, this girl from a hundred years ago? Her brother killed her and buried her body in the woods, and now the woods are haunted.”
Vanessa gives her a withering look. “Th-that’s not—” The next word tangles itself up in her mouth, and she falls silent for a beat before continuing in a firm, steady tone. “That’s not true.”
“Now, that’s an interesting thought,” Mr. Vincent says. “What’s true, and what isn’t? And how do we determine the difference? Let’s set aside the supernatural for the moment. Whether or not there’s a ghost in the woods of Briar Glen, it’s part of local legend, and it must have come from somewhere. So was that somewhere a complete fiction, concocted by some creative soul and embellished over the years? Or does it have a seed of truth?”
I shut my eyes. No one knows what really happened to her. Which is probably why she’s stuck around in the town’s memory for so long.
My eyes snap open. Mr. Vincent is looking at me.
“Last semester, when we were doing the project on assessing unusual historical sources, you used the legend of Lucy Gallows for your paper, didn’t you?”
“I don’t—” My mouth is dry. I lick my lips. I was hoping he wouldn’t remember. Not that anyone is likely to have forgotten, when I spent months burying myself in stories of Lucy and making no attempt to hide it. “Yes,” I say.
“And what did you find out?”
All eyes are on me, heads swiveling, bodies turning in their cramped seats. Except for Anthony, looking off into the distance conspicuously. Trina catches my eye and smiles a little, encouraging. I clear my throat. If there’s anyone left who doesn’t suspect me already, they will now. “There wasn’t a girl named Lucy Gallows. But there was a girl named Lucy Callow, and she did go missing in the forest,” I say haltingly.
“And her ghost kidnapped your sister, right?” Jeremy Polk says. Attention snaps to him. Anthony makes a sound in the back of his throat a little like a growl, glaring daggers at his best friend and co-captain. Jeremy’s smile flicks off like a light. “Sorry,” he mutters.
“What the fuck, Jeremy?” Anthony says.
Mr. Vincent pushes off from the desk, his voice pitched low and level. “Jeremy, I know that you’re aware that’s an inappropriate comment. We’ll talk about it after class. And, Anthony? Let’s all try to keep things civil.”
Jeremy ducks his head, muttering another apology and rubbing his neck just under where one of his hearing aids sits, a habit he’s had as long as I’ve known him. My heart pounds in my chest, my mouth dry as the surface of Mars.Do you want to know where Lucy went?
Because Becca went there, too.
“Sara is right,” Mr. Vincent says, redirecting with hardly a hitch. “Lucy Callow was fifteen in April of 1953, when she went missing. The name change came later, as the ghost story evolved. In cases like this, it’s important to go back to official, contemporary records as much as possible. With Lucy Callow, there’s still a great deal we don’t know, but many of the popular stories are easily disproved. But even if those stories aren’t factually true, they can help teach us about the people who told them. What was important to them, what scared them. Ghost stories are a vibrant, essential part of local culture.”
He keeps going, prompting students to supply other ghost stories and urban legends, coming up with ideas for how to track down their origins.
I hardly hear it. All I hear are the last words my sister spoke, muttering into her phone. On April 18, one year ago.
We know where the road is. We’ve got the keys. That’s all we need to find her. I’m not backing down now. Not after everything we’ve done to get this close.
And then she turned and saw me. Slammed her bedroom door closed.
The next morning she was gone, and she never came home.
“The Legend of Lucy Gallows”
Excerpted from Local Lore: Stories of Briar Glen by Jason Sweet
It was a Sunday—April 19, 1953—and Lucy Gallows’s sister was getting married on a sprawling property at the edge of the Briar Glen Woods. Little Lucy, age twelve, was the flower girl. But following an argument with her mother, she ran away into the woods in her crisp white dress with its blue ribbon around the waist. Everyone expected she’d be back in a minute or two, as soon as she calmed down, but ten minutes later she hadn’t returned—and then twenty minutes, and then half an hour.
Lucy’s brother, Billy, was sent to fetch his sister. He walked into the woods. The only way forward was a narrow track, a deer trail through the trees. He called her name—Lucy! Lucy!—but received no answer except the calling of crows.
And then he saw it: the road. There were roads here and there in the woods, the remnants of the original settlement of Briar Glen, which had burned down in 1863. These roads were now often nothing more than a stretch of trees planted in too straight a line to spring from nature, or one stone pressed up against another where all the rest had long since been knocked astray. At first this road was like that, a dimple in the underbrush and a few scattered stones marked with the tools of men. But as Billy chased it, the road widened, and the stones knocked up against each other, beginning to form a smooth path through the thick forest.
He was certain that Lucy had followed the road, though he couldn’t explain the strength of the conviction to anyone who had asked afterward. And yet for all that conviction, every step he took seemed to be more difficult than the one before. As the road grew easier, his way grew harder, as if he was laboring against an invisible force.
His feet got heavier and heavier. The air seemed to push against him. It became almost unbearable, and then—there was Lucy. He could see her ahead of him, around a slight bend in the road. She was talking to someone—a man in a patchy brown suit and a wide-brimmed hat. Billy called her name. She didn’t turn. The man bent slightly to talk to her, smiling. He put out his hand.
Billy screamed his sister’s name and thrashed toward her. But Lucy didn’t seem to hear him. She took the stranger’s hand, and together they walked down the road. They moved swiftly, not burdened as Billy was, and the road seemed to follow, vanishing beneath Billy’s feet. In moments the road and the man and little Lucy Gallows were gone.
Townspeople searched the woods for weeks, but no sign of Lucy was ever found. But every so often, someone stumbles across the road, winding through the woods, and sees a girl running down it, dressed in a white dress with a blue ribbon. You can never catch up with her, they say, and you will find yourself alone in the bewildering woods, with no sign of a road or a girl or a clear way home.
So be careful what roads you take, and be careful who you follow down them.
May 9, 2017
Sara Donoghue sits in the interview room. It is hard to tell what sort of building it might belong to. The walls are cinder block, painted a dingy white. An empty metal bookshelf stands against one wall; the table in the center is a cheap folding picnic table.
Dr. Andrew Ashford enters the room and settles into the chair opposite Sara Donoghue once again. Ashford is black, dark skinned, hair silver. A dark web of scars puckers the skin on the back of one hand. He carries a briefcase, which he sets beside him on the floor. Sara Donoghue, in contrast, is a slight girl with medium-brown hair. She wears black jeans, a black tank top, and a black sweater that has slipped down one shoulder, baring a freckled shoulder. She seems tucked in on herself and tense with nervous energy.
ASHFORD: I’m sorry about that. Our equipment is usually reliable, but we occasionally encounter technical difficulties around these sorts of events.
Sara looks to the side, as if uninterested.
ASHFORD: Tell me about your sister.
ASHFORD: Do you have another sister?
SARA: No, it’s just—what do you want to know? There’s a lot in the reports. Official records.
ASHFORD: I want to know about your sister from your perspective. Before her disappearance. What was she like? Did she have a lot of friends?
Sara hesitates. She speaks carefully, as if worried Ashford will get the wrong impression.
SARA: She had us. The five of us.
ASHFORD: The “Wildcats”?
SARA: Yeah. But by the time she disappeared, we weren’t really hanging out together anymore. We hit high school, and Anthony and Trina got involved with sports. Mel started spending all her time with the theater kids, and Becca . . . I don’t really know what happened with Becca.
ASHFORD: Did she have other friends?
SARA: She was friendly with almost everyone. But she didn’t have close friends, other than us.
ASHFORD: She didn’t meet anyone new she clicked with?
SARA: You mean her boyfriend? I guess. But she was never serious about him.
ASHFORD: What makes you say that?
SARA: She liked him because he listened to her. But they didn’t belong together.
Sara chews on her thumbnail.
SARA: You always got the sense she didn’t belong here at all.
ASHFORD: Did that have anything to do with the fact that she was adopted?
SARA: What? No. I mean, it wasn’t always easy for her, I guess. Briar Glen’s about as white as you can get, and people can be pretty racist even if they don’t mean to be, but at least at home, that was never a problem. It wasn’t aboutnot belonging, I guess. More like she deserved to belong somewhere . . . bigger. Better.
ASHFORD: Like where?
SARA: New York. LA. Paris. Someplace where her art could really take off.
ASHFORD: I’ve seen some of her photographs.
Ashford opens a folder on the table and spreads out several glossy photos. The top photo shows six preteens. A printed label has been affixed to the front, identifying each of the children. Becca and Sara stand at the center, arms around each other, Becca’s outline slightly blurred as if she’s barely managed to dash back into the frame. Despite their different ethnicities—Sara white, Becca Asian—there is something about their stances that marks them as obviously related. Anthony Beck and Nick Dessen, both white, stand to the left of the sisters, Anthony with his chin tilted up in a too-cool pose he hasn’t grown into and Nick, a skinny kid in an oversize windbreaker, mimicking him. On the right, Trina Jeffries breaks the mood with a smile, her hand lifted to tuck her hair behind her ear, and Melanie Whittaker, a black girl in a denim jacket covered in iron-on patches, curls the corner of her mouth like she can’t quite take herself seriously.
Ashford slides this photograph to the side, baring another. Sara frowns, a faint line of confusion between her brows. He taps the new photo, an image of a young man with his face in blank shadow. The light is odd at his shoulders, as if his outline is fracturing.
ASHFORD: What do you know about this photograph?
SARA: I haven’t seen that one before.
ASHFORD: What can you tell me about Nick Dessen?
SARA: Aren’t you going to ask about the other photo?
ASHFORD: Which one? This one?
He moves aside the photo of Nick Dessen and places another on the center of the table. It shows Sara, her hair damp and hanging limply around her face, standing next to a young woman wearing a white dress with a slash of blue ribbon across her waist. The girl has extended her hand; Sara has begun to lift her own, as if to take it.
ASHFORD: You find this photo remarkable?
SARA: Don’t you?
ASHFORD: Not particularly. Two girls. About to hold hands.
SARA: But she’s . . .
ASHFORD: She’s Lucy Callow? She does bear a resemblance to the photos we have, but existing photos of Lucy Callow aren’t high quality. This could be anyone. [Pause] But it isn’t, is it? It is Lucy. You found her.
Sara meets Ashford’s eyes. She’s silent for a moment. Then she lets out a quick, choked-off laugh.
SARA: No. We didn’t find Lucy.
SARA: She found us.
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