Buried deep below the cold ground of a Rhode Island cemetery, the remains of 14-year-old Haley Brown’s ancestor, Mercy Brown, offer up a sordid story of disease, death and superstition perfect for her history assignment. But will this twisted tale of hearts beating in the grave and vampires lurking in the family tree cause Haley to come to real harm?

To find out, you’ll need to read Portland author Sarah L. Thomson’s latest young adult novel, “Mercy: The Last New England Vampire.” The fast-paced thrill ride will have you sleeping with the lights on and checking your TV screen for messages from the beyond.

And this Saturday, you can journey into the novel’s supernatural world during a book-launch party in Portland’s historic Eastern Cemetery.

Co-sponsored by Islandport Press, the Portland Public Library, Spirits Alive and Curious City, the free event features undead makeovers (with your choice of vampire, zombie or ghost), a Spirits Alive tour of teens buried in the cemetery, a ghoulish photo booth and sightings of Mercy’s ghost.

“It’s a completely gruesome story about something that lurks in our past,” said Kirsten Cappy of Curious City, who is organizing the launch party.

This haunting tale is based on an actual incident that took place in 1892 in Exeter, R.I. After many family members perish from consumption (the romantic name for tuberculosis), Mercy Brown succumbs as well. But when her brother takes ill, the townspeople pressure her father into digging up Mercy’s grave and checking her heart for fresh blood.

When the grave diggers find red blood in Mercy’s dead heart, the townspeople believe they’ve found their culprit. So they burn the heart and feed it to her brother in hopes of saving him. But he too passes away.

“I was hunting around for vampire traditions that weren’t eastern European,” Thomson said of how she found the story’s inspiration. “When you find out about something like this and you’re an author, you have to write about it.”

Thomson changed some of the historical details to suit her tale, and sets most of the book in the present day. Still, the book dips into the 19th century on occasion to weave together a story that is equal parts chilling and enthralling.

“This is my first attempt at something downright creepy,” said Thomson, who has more than 25 children’s and young adult books to her credit. “It’s very hard to know what will be scary to other people. The most challenging part was to keep the mystery of who the bad guy would be and to figure out where I would drop the clues.”

On Saturday, the clues will lead straight to Portland’s oldest cemetery, where plenty of other tales lurk below the ground.

“My passion is to help kids have hands-on experiences with books,” said Cappy. “I’d really like a teenager to come to this event and then go back and explore the cemetery (later on). I want them to walk away with a little chill.”

And maybe a little vampire face paint. 

Staff Writer Avery Yale Kamila can be contacted at 791-6297 or at:

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Twitter: AveryYaleKamila