New Orleans, 1925
Edward Gracey was a smart man, or rather, he would like to think so anyway. He had just graduated Summa cum Laude from Yale University, landed a job at an infamous firm in New Orleans and was finding good prospects for homes nearby. Luck was in his cards, most assuredly. He smiled as he parked his car down the street from the last prospect: a towering three-story Colonial piece with four large pillars gracing its entrance and iron facades framing the wrap-around porches on the first and second floors. Giant juniper trees stood its height along the right side of the house, symmetrical with the brick chimneys on the left. Overgrown shrubs and wax myrtles framed all corners, enveloping the home in a mysterious beauty.
Edward looked at the piece of scribbled paper in his hand. This couldn't be right. The house was beautiful, but no way could it fit in his price range. His hand went up to the iron gate of the entrance, leaning his head so that he might get a closer look. He felt a prick on the outside of his wrist. A vine full of thorns had snaked through all of the bars--he could have sworn they weren't there moments before but figured it a trick of the light--and they now had decorated themselves with drops of his own blood. Edward nervously chuckled, pushing away a small anxiety rising up in his throat. He heard the car door close shut and his trance broke suddenly at the sight of his fiancée in a buttercup yellow dress. Her rosy cheeks and matching lips suited the color, a vision of Spring in this eternal Autumn.
"Edward, is anything the matter?"
He crumpled the paper in his hand, stealing another glance at the thorns. "I'm afraid I've led us in the wrong direction. Or perhaps the clerk in the land sales office may have transposed the address. This can't be the right house. We will return to the office and I shall inquire--" But her eyes had drifted from him and focused their attention on the manor. Her breath caught in her throat and Edward could honestly not tell if she was breathing. Her lace gloves were wound tightly on the iron bars, the vines now nowhere near her. "Darling, best you stay away. We know nothing of these current residents and their temperaments.”
To his surprise, she turned back and smiled. "Edward, it's beautiful."
He knew that tone. He was all too familiar with it. The vibrato of it shook him, the warm tone of it turned him into mush, the smile that accompanied it made his mind bend to her will. She only used that tone when she had her heart set on something and would do anything to get it. She was tenacious but always a lady; it was always what she didn't say that made Edward jump to her requests. But at this, he would be a broke man in two month's time and with a wedding to plan, it wasn't logical. "Darling, it must be far out of our price range. And who knows if it is even up for sale?"
"But it is for sale," came a voice from the gate.
A relic of a man appeared on the other side. His eyes were sallow and his face skinny; his large nose practically coming at them from the bars. He held an unsightly beagle by a rope leash, his other hand gripping a lantern. Dusk was beginning to fall and the fear on his face indicated dire consequences should the proper street lamps in front of the house were not lit. He stared at Edward and brought an insincere smile to the corner of his lips. As quick as it came, it went--he was unaccustomed to speaking with visitors, Edward guessed. Edward smoothed his waistcoat, stuffing the piece of paper in his pocket. “It is, you say? Unfortunately, I do believe I don’t quite have the means. The sales clerk--”
“If you show an interest, I can bring you up to meet the Mistress. She is preparing for an expedition to the West Indies and would like to sell the home at the earliest, at any price.”
“We would love to see the house,” his beloved blurted, her arm circling and nesting in the crook of his elbow. “Wouldn’t we, Edward?”
He looked into her dark eyes, a glimmer of mischief circling in her irises. It was that tone again. Oh, how she loved to use it and what a fool he was to fall for it. He smiled despite a bead of perspiration dripping down his temple. He looked at the groundskeeper behind the bars--his smile was so forced, it looked painful. There was certainly more than what he was letting on. Edward could swear he heard the whole house creak from where he was standing. Unsettling whispers in the twilight hour settled squarely on his shoulders. His free hand squeezed the piece of paper in his waistcoat pocket. He was a smart man. He’d be foolish to let a good deal go to waste. He swore the groundskeeper gave a subtle shake of the head but ignored it, turning to his fiancee instead. “My dear, sweet Leota, how could I say no?”
The groundskeeper let out a sigh under his breath and unlocked the gate. Vines snapped and Edward thought he heard small screams echoing out from the stems. Caked rust flaked off onto the grass as the groundskeeper held it open for them. “Welcome to Gore Manor.”