This is a story of life and death. But mostly just death. A story that starts on a Thursday. On a hill. On the outside of a town named River’s Edge.
As with all stories, this one finds its roots with a character.
His name was Dawson Cromwell.
The hill was perfect. Dawson took a deep breath, let it settle in his lungs. The air out here was much cleaner than the air in San Francisco. Here it was untouched. Here it was crisp enough to drink.
He turned to his property purveyor, Trevor, and said, “I would like to purchase the full one hundred acres.”
Trevor nodded and ground out his cigarette, mashing and killing the grass beneath until it was nothing but pulp. “I’ll start the paperwork as soon as we’re back in town. What is your offering price?”
“Offer what he is asking.”
“Even with the stories? We could use the curse as leverage, go in at a lower price—”
“I don’t believe in curses,” Dawson said. “The occult is for the naïve.” He clasped his hands behind his back, his jacket tightening across his middle. As he surveyed the land, he mentally cut the trees he’d need to clear in order to accommodate the grand estate he envisioned. He wanted red brick. He wanted three stories. He wanted a tower and a dozen fireplaces and a den with coffered ceilings and bookcases to hold his leather-bound collections.
Yes, this was the place. And his soon-to-be bride would love it just as much as he did.
He couldn’t wait to show her.
And this here is where my story starts. The story of a house. Of Cromwell Mansion.
Likely you’ve heard the phrase, “If walls could talk.”
Listen then. My walls are made of breath and bone.
And I have many secrets to tell.
Mrs. Margaret Cromwell.
Maggie wasn’t quite used to it yet. She much preferred her maiden name, van der Prame. It said so many things in so few syllables. Sophisticated, wealthy, cultured, that’s what the van der Prames were known for and Maggie wasn’t sure she wanted to start over with Cromwell.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to start over in any sense. Her name. Her life. Her home.
She made a turn in the Cromwell Mansion’s foyer, the house built from her dowry, no doubt. It was grand in a garish way, with too many curves and flourishes. It was as if Dawson saw the Kensington Palace and thought, It is beautiful. But I can do better.
But more was not always better.
“What do you think, love?” Dawson came up alongside her and took her elbow in his hand. He smelled of tobacco and gasoline and when he smiled, his thick moustache rose an inch upwards, like it was attached to puppet strings.
It made Maggie’s stomach waltz. And Maggie hated the waltz.
“It’s lovely, Dawson,” she said, stitching a smile on her face. Her mother taught her that. Just another lesson passed through the generations. When marriages were made based on wealth and prestige and business, such lessons were important. And Mother knew a lot on that particular subject.
The only reason the van der Prame name was still as respected as it once was a hundred years ago was because Maggie’s mother, the eldest Torion daughter of five married the eldest van der Prame. It was her money that propped up the van der Prame estate.
“Let me give you the tour,” Dawson said. “There is much to see.”
Maggie feigned a yawn. “I’m so tired after the long drive here. Would you mind if I rested first?”
Dawson blinked back a sliver of disappointment. Clearly he’d been looking forward to this moment after months and months of construction, but Maggie enjoyed crushing his heart on a regular basis and he made this instance far too easy.
“Of course. I’ll show you to your room.”
Her room. She’d made it a requirement when he’d decided to move them clear across the country. “If you are to uproot me from the only place I’ve ever known,” she’d said, “to a state such as Michigan—” she’d said Michigan like it was synonymous with tuberculosis because she just couldn’t help herself “—then I want my own quarters.”
He’d nodded. “That’s perfectly reasonable. I’ll make sure it’s the nicest room in the house.”
Dawson led her to the grand staircase directly across from the foyer. It rose to a landing where the stairs branched off to the left and right. Dawson went right. Maggie trailed her gloved hand along the banister, the cherry wood gleaming in the sunlight. While the house itself was not her style, she suddenly, and quite thrillingly, felt a connection to it.
It had good energy, this house and she wondered if perhaps they had a mutual agreement that there were too many frills and crystals and filigrees on its surface. That beneath all that was it’s true character, its strength.
Perhaps she would like living here after all.
Here is my first secret: I killed Maggie one hundred forty-seven days later.
But I’m getting ahead of myself.