Mary: Unleashed


By Hillary Monahan

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Mary in the mirror. Mary in the glass. Mary in the water. Mary lurks in the emptiness, in the darkness . . . in the reflection. That is, until Jess unleashes her into the world. Now Mary Worth is out and her haunting is deadlier than ever. No one is safe. Shauna, Kitty, and Jess must band together to unearth the truth about Mary’s death to put her soul to rest for good. Their search leads them back to where it all began???to Solomon’s Folly, a place as dangerous as the ghost who died there a century and a half ago. Quick sand, hidden traps and a phantom fog are the least of their worries. To stop Mary, they need to follow a dark string of clues and piece together a gruesome mystery that spans generations. But time is running out. As chilling facts come to light, Mary inches ever closer to her prey. Can Jess, Shauna, and Kitty break Mary’s curse before it’s too late? Or will history repeat itself until there is no one left to call her name . . . ?


June 24, 1864

Sister Mine,

Below, I have listed my dastardly deeds since you abandoned me for Boston. “But Mary,” you say. “I did not abandon you so much as find a handsome gentleman to kiss me breathless for eternity.” The result is the same, Constance. I have brought a reign of terror to Solomon’s Folly. I will not be sated until I have tainted everything you love with my terribleness.

1. I have claimed your room as my own. The pink sashes are gone because pink is an affront to all that is good in the world. I have replaced it with a shade of green you would abhor. I do this as both a declaration of war and because green is a far superior color.

2. I have taken over your gardening duties. This is not to help Mother but to destroy your handiwork. Plants wither in fear at the sight of my boots. I am not blessed with your green thumb but, as Mother says, a black thumb, and I shall use it to wreak havoc upon your peonies.

3. I have taken your place on the church choir. The psalms you hold so dear are now sung so off pitch, dogs bay thinking me their pack mistress. Our sweet mother has asked if perhaps I would like to do a Sunday reading in lieu of the hymnals, but I remain stalwart.

(To her chagrin, I might add. When I expressed that I preferred the music, she looked much like your peonies—wilted and sad.)

4. Despite your instruction that the shawl you knitted me last winter should not be worn with my shapeless blue frock, I have done just that. I disavow fashion! I want those who look upon me to know repulsion and fear. Your innocent lace is a weapon in my hands.

5. I have taken over your duties with the Spencer girls, and I believe they find me the superior nanny. What better way to vex you than to fatten up the children you love with so much shortbread, they explode. Whilst Mrs. Spencer will undoubtedly take offense to my practices, the children will love me best, and that is all that matters.

(I caught Agatha with two meaty fists in the shortbread pan. The child had eaten half the contents in the three minutes I took to attend her sister’s nappies. I would have been impressed if I was not so horribly afraid she’d get sick.)

6. Mr. Biscuits is a traitor. Your poorly named dog has all but forgotten you. He sleeps at the foot of my bed every night making terrible sounds and equally as terrible smells. Every morning he looks upon me like I am the sun in his furry little world. This is likely because I am the one to feed him the scraps, but let’s pretend he is drawn to my shining disposition.

7. Not only did I not go to the summer dance, I told Thomas Adderly that I would rather wash my hair than attend. I did not do this simply because Thomas is overly ardent and annoying. No, it was to defy your terrible sisterly advice! For shame, Constance! For shame!

(Honestly, the boy is dull, and I’ve seen better teeth in horse mouths. There’s also the Elizabeth Hawthorne problem. Her preference for dull, horse-teethed gentlemen causes me far too much grief. While attending a dance may have been nice, the company was lacking and the repercussions weren’t worthwhile.)

8. Last, but by no means least, I cancel my trek to Boston. Fie upon you and your fancy home! I shall remain in Solomon’s Folly until my skin is withered and my teeth fall out!

(I am suffering a summer cold that has wetted my lungs, and Mother says I must wait to travel. While I do not like postponing, my sickness has kept me abed the last few days. I will write you when I am less apt to play the part of Pestilence. I hope to reschedule soon.)

I hope this letter finds you miserable (blissfully happy) and that Joseph snores in his sleep. (That would be awful. Mr. Biscuits is bad enough. A full-grown man must be thrice as disruptive.)

Write soon, my beloved harpy.

Your sister,


The darkness has a face.

Gray skin stretched over a craggy skull, black veins pulsing at the temples and cheeks. It has no nose, no lips—only voids crusted with liquid decay. Broken teeth jut up from the gums like yellow stalagmites. A white, wormlike tongue wags to taste the air. Tufts of hair top half-rotted ears, leaves and debris tangled in the elbow-length strands.

The darkness has a voice. Sometimes it’s wet, like pipes choking through a clog. Other times it’s dry and slithery, like snake scales gliding over rock. It depends on whether she’s laughing. Mary likes to laugh, but only if she’s bled someone. That’s when the raspiest rattles echo from her throat.

Nothing is normal after a haunting. School, friends, boys…who cares? How can you worry about the mundane when you’ve seen the extraordinary? When one of your best friends was killed by a ghost before your eyes?

I still can’t look in a mirror, because I see her. Mary. She’s tattooed on my brain. Vines swathing her thin frame, clinging to a ragged dress with a copper-splattered bodice. Talons tipping the spindly fingers, the edges as sharp as razors. One leg swollen with water and ready to burst, the other nothing but bone. Beetles everywhere, living inside a walking corpse, scurrying beneath the skin until they gnaw their way out.

The thought of her is enough to send me fleeing to my mother’s side. Last week, I caught a glimpse of my reflection in a picture frame and hit the floor as if I were in an air raid. Mom doesn’t understand my twitchiness. Worse, I can’t explain it. She would never believe me. I hadn’t believed Jess when she’d first told me about it, either.

Jess. She got us into this mess. Bloody Mary Worth was her obsession and we were stupid enough to follow. When Jess positioned us in that bathroom, when she checked her compass points and placed the candle and salt line, we didn’t think anything would happen. It was just a game. Then a ghostly hand pressed against the glass. We should have ended it there, but one more summon, Jess said. Just one. I relented. No, I encouraged my friends to go along with it because I was curious.

Now I’m scarred, Jess is haunted, and Anna’s dead. Regret weighs on me from the moment I wake in the morning until I drift into my dreams. I want to walk away, to let Mary be Jess’s problem, but I have a debt to repay. To Anna. To other girls who’d play the game. Jess will pawn the ghost onto someone sooner or later. Mary will continue torturing girls from the mirror.

I have to do something about it.

The question is…what?

The letter from Mary to Constance Worth Simpson should have made me laugh. It should have warmed me to the authoress from a century and a half ago. I’d have thought her clever and charming. I’d have said something like, “I’d be her friend.”

But this letter had been stuffed inside of Jess McAllister’s notebook, wedged between two pages of handwritten notes about Bloody Mary. Despite the tone, it was no joke, as proven by the three other letters present. They cataloged Mary’s plight from start to end—a smart, funny teenager deteriorating along with her circumstances. A cruel pastor robbing her of her mother, and in turn her humor. Anger filled the gaps, but eventually that was taken, too, when she was murdered at seventeen years old.

The ghost of the legend wasn’t born evil. She was made that way. Two cups tragedy, one tablespoon cruelty, a splash of neglect. It was a recipe for pain.

We tried to stop Mary. Jess even staged another summoning with Kitty, Laurie Carmichael, and Becca Miller, “To save you, Shauna,” she said to me. “To get you unhaunted.” She succeeded, albeit not how she anticipated. Jess planned for Kitty to take on the curse during that last summoning, but I intervened and Jess was grabbed in Kitty’s stead.

We sent Mary back into the mirror, but not before Mary spilled Jess’s blood. We all knew what that meant; Mary wouldn’t let Jess go until Jess died or another girl took the mark from her. It was how it had always been with Bloody Mary. It was how it would be until someone put the ghost to rest. More girls would die.

Like Anna Sasaki died.

It was hard to believe she was gone. Some days, the pain of her loss was raw, like someone branding me with a hot poker. Other days, it was a dull throb, like a bone-deep bruise. I missed Anna’s intelligence. I missed her snark. I missed scribbling notes to her during math class to pass the time.

I missed her.

School resumed a few days after her disappearance. AMBER Alert: Anna Sasaki. The police hadn’t a trace, nor would they find one: Mary dragged Anna through the mirror and into her swampy, black world.

The fog rising on the other side of the mirror. Crimson blood spraying across the glass. Too much to be nonfatal. Too much to grant any hope that Anna survived. Terror and loss and futility dropping on my head like an anvil. Grief crushing me beneath its weight.

The Sasakis would never get the closure they so deserved.

The days after the murder were a fixed reel in a movie, the same twelve-hour clip playing, rewinding, and repeating the next morning. I got up, ate breakfast with my mother, and went to school early. I didn’t like being alone in the house. Every sound in the building sent me scurrying for the only weapon I knew that worked against Mary—salt. It burned her. I had boxes of it squirreled away in my closet in case she returned. There was no reason to expect her, but Jess’s tie to Mary made me uneasy. Would Jess’s haunting be different because she and Mary were related? What would happen if Jess somehow allied with Mary? I put nothing past Jess. She’d sacrificed one friend to the mirror and nearly succeeded in sacrificing a second.

Jess could justify anything when she put her mind to it. Even murder.

At the end of the school day, I would go to Kitty’s house until Mom got out of work. After Anna died, Mom cut her hours at her second job. It was the only good thing to come from the haunting. I loved my mom. I also loved knowing that Mary left me alone whenever Mom was near. We never quite figured out why that was, but I had my suspicions. Mary Worth loved her mother. Other mothers were safe by association.

I spent the last hour of every day alone in my room, lying in bed and gazing at the wall. My thoughts drifted to Anna, to Kitty’s boyfriend, Bronx. He was a star football player before Mary pulled him through a glass window and dropped him three stories. His legs had snapped like twigs. Double casts, metal bolts, surgeries—he was lucky he’d ever walk again, never mind play sports.

Mary took so much from both of them. Thinking about my part in bringing her into this world almost always made me weep into my pillow. It would have been easy to lay it all on Jess, but I wouldn’t fool myself. I’d made bad decisions, too.

Jess liked to remind me of that sometimes. She refused to fade into obscurity. Rapid-fire texts—sometimes apologies, sometimes accusations. I ignored every message. The assault died down after the first few weeks, but I’d still get the occasional plea for help. When she saw me in the halls at school—her eyes sunken in like she hadn’t slept in forever, a fresh cut or scratch marring her skin—I looked away. Sometimes she followed me, calling my name. I ducked into classrooms to avoid her. I left the cafeteria if she tried to eat near me.

It wasn’t just because of what she did. The cuts and bruises told me she hadn’t lost Mary yet. No one near Jess McAllister was safe.

“Shauna, wait up!”

Kitty’s voice sliced through the hall din. The last bell had rung, and kids were eager to exit the school. We were only a week away from summer vacation, and you could feel the anticipation in the air. The chatter was louder and more animated. The attitudes in class were more laissez-faire. I resented it. Anna’s death plagued me every day, while my classmates talked about beach parties. It was too soon. I wasn’t ready for life to go on.

Kitty trotted up to my locker, her book bag slung over her shoulder. Her face was flushed from gym, her heavyset body hugged by a tank top and shorts. She hadn’t changed clothes from class, but then, neither of us could go into the girls’ locker room. That’s where Anna went missing. Kitty usually opted to change in her car. I snuck off to change in the bathrooms near the science labs, my trusty box of salt perched on the toilet tank.

Kitty swept a lock of caramel-brown hair away from her ear. “Let’s get out of here. Tennis in ninety-degree heat is not fun. I’ll roll the windows down in case I stink. Sorry.”

“No problem.” We shouldered our way through the hallway and out the back doors. My backpack weighed fifteen thousand pounds. Finals were upon us, and though I tried to study for the tests, I couldn’t focus. It was like all my textbooks had spontaneously rewritten themselves in a language I didn’t understand.

“I’m avoiding the principal’s office now,” Kitty said as we approached her red SUV. “There’s a memorial for Anna in one of the display cases. Every time I see it, I cry.”

Saying Anna’s name was enough to make Kitty’s voice hitch. I squeezed her shoulder, doing my best to ignore the sweat slicking her skin. Kitty and Anna had been best friends since grade school. Losing Anna on top of Bronx’s accident—if you can call it an accident when a ghost flings your boyfriend out a window—had ruined her. Looking at Anna’s picture every day would be a special kind of torture.

“I’m sorry. At least we’re almost done with school. You’ll get a few months off to recoup.”

Kitty tossed her stuff into the back of the car before climbing into the driver’s side. “Not exactly. We’re still doing that thing with Cody in Solomon’s Folly.”

I wasn’t the only one feeling obligated to end Mary Worth. I told Kitty time and time again that I could handle it without her, that Cody Jackson had volunteered to help so Kitty could stay safe, but Kitty always threw my own words back at me: we’d walked away with our lives, but others might not be so lucky.

We had to do something.

“We started it together, we’ll finish it together. For Anna,” she’d say.

It was always we. It was always for Anna.

I couldn’t quite look at Kitty’s profile. If I’d told Jess no all those weeks ago, if I’d been less of a pushover…

“It’s okay, Shauna.”

She brushed the back of my hand, her fingers tan next to my pasty, befreckled skin. It wasn’t absolution, but it was enough. Kitty put the key in the ignition, opening the windows and sunroof of the truck. A breeze swept in, pushing the oppressive heat away.

As soon as Kitty inched from the parking spot, a green Ford Focus sailed around the line of cars and stopped in front of us. Kitty slammed on the brakes. My hand gripped the dash as I peered down the expanse of the SUV’s hood only to find myself staring at Jess McAllister. So blond. So perfect with that narrow nose and big blue eyes. So injured. A ragged cut bisected her right cheek and top lip. I’d passed her in the hall just yesterday and the cut hadn’t been there.

How’d she explain that to her family? A fight? A bear encounter? She tripped and fell on a shovel?

My pulse pounded in my ears.

She shouted something that the end-of-school-day chaos drowned. I shook my head and looked away, but she shouted again. And again. It wasn’t until Kitty threw the truck into reverse that Jess’s voice finally penetrated.

Read it, Shauna.

Read what? My phone had no messages. She hadn’t given me anything in school. But Jess did know my locker combination. She used to help herself to my stuff all the time. As Kitty peeled from the parking lot to get away from our once-upon-a-time friend, I started digging through my bag. Jess was bad at things like boundaries and personal space. Why would that change now that we weren’t friends?

It only took a minute for me to find the photocopied pages held together by a red paper clip. They were wedged into my English textbook between the cover and the first page. She’d written a note across the back in her familiar hen scratch:

Her last letter was dated the day before her death certificate. This was written the next day. How did Mary die?

October 30, 1864

Mrs. Simpson,

It is with sincere regret that I write you bearing more bad news. I returned from my evening walk to find your sister missing from the church. She must have snuck off before dinnertime. The constable has been informed, but thus far there is no trace of her. It is as if Mary were plucked from us by the hand of God.

I am sorry. I know how upsetting this must be to read.

I bear no ill will toward your sister, so please understand that the things I put to page are for the purposes of enlightenment, not slander. Your sister was rather angry that she could not join you in Boston after your mother’s passing. However, the constable and I agreed that she was better served taking refuge in the church until your husband could collect her. She is a virtuous girl, and comely, too. Allowing her to travel unchaperoned would have left her vulnerable to the world’s atrocities. My conscience would not abide such endangerment.

I explained this to Mary, assuring her that Mr. Simpson would arrive upon the birth of your baby, but she struggled against reason. She has been increasingly agitated since your mother’s death. Doctor Whitten concluded her uncharacteristic aggression was a manifestation of grief. He suggested hospitalization and a steady dose of laudanum, but I respectfully declined. This is a spiritual malady, not a physical one. There is nothing wrong with her that cannot be cured by the firm yet loving hand of our Lord.

We had begun to traverse the path of holy rehabilitation before she disappeared. She continued to fight my influence, questioning my motives and accusing me of unnecessary cruelty. I do not know how your mother raised her, but I modeled my guardianship after Proverbs 13:24:

Whoever spared the rod hates their children,

But the one who loves their children

is careful to discipline them.

I would not brook her caustic demeanor, nor would I “leave her alone” as she so vehemently demanded. Her insistence only steeled my resolve to see her righted. Given time and a modicum of agreeability on your sister’s part, I believe we could have eradicated her discord. She could have lived the life of peace and goodness that God intended.

It is my earnest hope that we find her soon so this can still come to pass.

I met with the constable before writing you, and we are in accord that Mary has fled Solomon’s Folly. This alarms me for many reasons, not the least of which is her decline. No matter what she may believe, I wish for nothing to befall the girl. Perhaps Mary will find her way to your doorstep before this letter does. Should that occur, please write to me at once. I am sick with concern.

I pray for you and yours, Mrs. Simpson.

Your humble servant,

Philip Starkcrowe

Pastor, Southbridge Parish

I read the letter aloud during the drive to Kitty’s house. Her color rose the more I talked, pink tinging her cheeks and the tips of her ears. Her hands throttled the steering wheel.

“He beat her,” Kitty said. “That’s what I’m hearing.”

“It sounds like it.” I reread the scripture passage, my jaw clenching. “The more I learn about Philip Starkcrowe, the more I think he killed her. I guess she could have run away, but it seems too convenient after everything he put her through.”

Kitty nodded. “Exactly. And when would she have had the chance? He locked her in the basement, for crying out loud.”

After what Mary did to me, Anna, and Bronx, I swore I’d never feel sorry for her, but the more story we uncovered, the more my stance softened. If anyone had the right to rise as an angry ghost, it was Mary Worth.

Silence filled the car. I wrestled with my conflicting emotions while Kitty drove. She looked angry. The letter was upsetting, but it shouldn’t have been enough to get her red-faced and stiff.

“You okay?” I reached out to tap her leg. “You look ready to explode.”

“It feels like Jess is trying to lure us into working with her. Like, was this bait? Where the hell is she getting all this stuff?”

“Probably the same place she got the first four letters.” I stuffed the newest letter into the notebook. “Jess never said specifically, but with her relation to Mary, I wouldn’t doubt if there are family archives. A relative or something.”

Kitty’s fingers relaxed on the wheel. “As long as we’re on the same page. I’m not helping her, Shauna. I won’t be bribed with information.”

“That’s fine. Did you see that cut on her face? Mary got her good.”

Kitty shrugged, but I could tell by the faint lines at the sides of her eyes that she wasn’t as aloof as she wanted to appear. “If you don’t want to get attacked by a ghost, don’t summon one.”

That was the gist of it, wasn’t it?

I thought about the question Jess wrote on the back of the letter. Mary Worth’s death certificate listed a date of death but no cause. If Mary ran away from home, it was possible she wasn’t interred in the Southbridge Parish as we initially suspected. We knew about the church from Mary’s letters, which is how we ended up on a Saturday night descending into a dark, cold basement better suited for the bats than teenaged girls. We had just found a dip in the floor when Mary appeared, cutting the investigation short.

We said we’d go back, but we hadn’t. Not yet, anyway. Our research was limited to books and movies. Unfortunately, everything we read about “real hauntings” talked about the history of famous hauntings, not what to do when a murderous ghost tailed you. We were left with theatrics for inspiration, where the haunted heroes always did one of three things: solved the mystery of the ghost’s death, found the body and lit it on fire, or rediscovered a prized possession tying the ghost to the mortal plane.

“Hopefully finding her tomb will help us figure out what to do next,” I said, my fingers worrying the corners of the letter poking up from the notebook top.

“Then what?”

“Destroy the body, I guess.”

Kitty winced. “Gross. I guess it’s fine as long as we don’t have to deal with Jess or actually touch dead people.”

Kitty seemed different since Mary. She’d always been the soft one in our quartet—too pliant when Jess made demands, unwilling to stand up for herself when it mattered most. The haunting changed her. Or maybe it only seemed that way because she used to be with Anna all the time and I was with Jess. Now that we hung out constantly, Kitty’s quiet steel was more evident. Her determination to see Mary stopped. The way she picked herself up off the floor after a particularly sad day. I couldn’t help but think I’d underestimated her all along. Kitty had known the risks of summoning Mary that last time, but she’d done it anyway to save me.

That was brave. Stupid, but brave.

“We’ll stay away from Jess,” I promised. “And I’ll text Cody later about the letter. She’ll have some input.”

Cody Jackson was a thirty-something-year-old woman who lived in Mary Worth’s hometown of Solomon’s Folly. She was also the victim before me. For seventeen years, Mary tormented Cody. Mary took Cody’s eye and several fingers and toes. She scratched Cody so badly, Cody looked like she’d wrestled an alligator.

Yet Cody survived, living in squalor to keep the ghost at bay. There was no glass in her house. No shiny plastic or metal. She never went outside. She’d painted her walls and windowpanes with pig’s blood to stop Mary from tracking her scent. The experience had left her an anxious, surly mess. But I liked her quirks. We talked at least three times a week. She’d invited us to stay with her during the summer break so we could investigate Mary.

Mom had approved the trip, though she thought I was visiting Jess’s grandparents. I’d vacationed with Jess’s family since my Girl Scout days—canoeing, bonfires, horseshoes, and barbecues by the lake. I didn’t like lying to my mother, but she’d never allow me to stay with Cody, a woman she’d never met. It didn’t help that Cody was twitchier than a hair dryer in the bathtub, so introductions were off the table. Mom would have steered me clear of someone so strange.

Cody’s house stinking of pig’s blood. Clouds of flies covering the ceiling. Black paper on the windows. No mirrors, no glass, no reflections. Scars on the skin. Scars on the soul. Fear the only constant companion.

Mom had no idea how close to that I’d come.

We pulled into Kitty’s driveway, me clutching my book bag to my chest, Kitty quiet and broody. I cleared my throat. “I’m wondering if we should bother visiting the church again. A hole in the basement floor isn’t a lot to go on,” I said. “The pastor could be lying in the letter, but remember what Mary wrote about Elizabeth Hawthorne taunting her through the door? People would have heard shouting.” I climbed from the car and followed Kitty to the side door. Her father’s wealth meant they could afford things like a Jacuzzi near the in-ground pool and summer-only cars. The first floor of their house could fit my rinky-dink apartment four times over.

Kitty unlocked the door and dropped her purse in the foyer. “Yeah, but the pastor could have gagged her and tied her up so no one could hear her cry out. I think it’s worth a visit.”



    "This modern take on the popular urban legend is definitely not for the faint of heart."—School Library Journal

On Sale
Sep 1, 2015
Page Count
304 pages

Hillary Monahan

About the Author

Hillary Monahan ( lives outside Boston. She is author of Mary: The Summoning and Mary: Unleashed.

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