Here's the second of three parts of the first chapter of Haunted. Like Part I, this hasn't been edited, so it is obviously and hunmbley a work in progress. I hope you enjoy it!
Side Note: If you read the first part of the chapter before I edited the blog post, some of this might seem a little familiar. Thanks to a mistake on my part, I accidentally blogged a part that was outdated. So here's the real thing! Whoops....
An hour later, Claudia let herself into the dim motel room, dropped her key on the scarred table, and turned the air conditioner down to its lowest setting. She fell back on the bed, stared at the ceiling, and waited for her thoughts to take some sort of recognizable order.
When she’d made the drive from Philadelphia, Claudia had been a college drop out with a black hole as her future. She worked two full time jobs to pay rent on a tiny apartment, and more than once she’d had to choose between food and paying the electricity bill. She was smart, and she wasn’t afraid of hard work, but Claudia had found very few opportunities in life unless they were opportunities she’d created for herself.
Now she found that she was someone else entirely, someone she didn’t know. There would be no more 17 hour work days. There were no more past due bills flooding the tiny, broken post box in the dirty lobby of her crumbling apartment building. Someone else would move into that apartment soon, and they would have their bills, their heartaches, their struggles to face surrounded by those cracked walls. The Claudia Snow that hastily left Philadelphia on a road trip with nothing but gas money and a lot of misgivings would never be back.
Claudia stood up and slowly paced the short length of the room. Despite the exhaustion the unfamiliar heat and confusing rush of emotions left behind, she was restless, and lying still made her more agitated. She paused in front of the spotted mirror and stared at her reflection, almost as if she expected to see that her appearance had changed, as well. Her cheeks were flushed. The red of excitement and being overheated stood out against her pale skin, and her hazel eyes were larger and darker than usual. She pulled her straight dark hair into a pony tail and closed her eyes as the cool breeze from the air conditioner drifted across the back of her neck.
The stack of paperwork she’d signed had been overwhelming. She couldn’t recall half of what Mr. Mason had slid across the desk towards her, but she dimly knew she’d been willed stocks and bonds that were worth more money than she’d earned in her entire life. There were checking and savings accounts - “Accounts with an ‘s’?” she’d asked. “Plural?” - with balances she couldn’t comprehend. She’d signed for them all, plus a small lot of property in Toupolas, an office in the French Quarter, and an old mansion on the outskirts of town.
Her eyes flew open. She owned her own house.
Claudia grinned widely and tried to fight back hysteria. She’d barely been able to pay rent last month on her apartment and now she owned a house bigger than her entire apartment building.
She knew without doubt that Rosemont Manor must be special. Not only did Mr. Mason seem impressed with the old mansion, but Charles Purvell’s will stipulated that Claudia could only inherit his estate if she agreed to reside at Rosemont Manor and refurbish it to its former splendor. According to Mr. Mason, the late Charles Purvell had been an historian, and his pride in his historic family home had been immense.
The mansion was built in 1856 as a sugar cane plantation in the grand Antebellum style, but a house fire destroyed the front portion of the house shortly before the start of the Civil War, and the home went through a series of rebuilding until the front half was completely rebuilt in Victorian style at the turn of the century. Mr. Mason told her that it was a sprawling home, stately and ornate, and refurbishing it wouldn’t be too daunting of a task for someone with an eye for beauty and the type of funds she had at her disposal.
When leaving Mr. Mason’s office, the lawyer had asked his new client how she felt about her cousin’s choice. She’d mumbled something about being grateful, but she now knew that was a ridiculously inadequate reply. Charles Purvell deserved so much more than gratitude. Claudia sat heavily on the hard hotel bed once more and felt a surge of affection for the distant cousin she’d never known.
She lay back and listened to the stillness of the hotel room, broken only by the rattle of the air conditioner. She could feel her heartbeat slow as it pumped blood through her veins - her blood, the same blood that had been in Charles Purvell’s veins, was the only connection she had to Rosemont Manor and her new life in Toupolas, Louisiana.
Claudia drifted effortlessly to sleep, her mind undisturbed by worries for the first time in years.
The next morning, Claudia followed James Mason’s silver Cadillac down an ill maintained highway in the swampy backwoods of the parish. He’d told her the house was outside the town, but she hadn’t realized quite how far out he meant. She felt as if they’d been driving for an eternity.
Kudzu had taken over the trees on either side of the highway, creating bizarre shapes, the likes of which Claudia had never seen before. The towering fingers and rolling hills of leafy vines blocked all of the sunlight except for what was directly overhead, deepening the gloomy effect the strange land was having on her. Occasionally, there were breaks in the dense growth, and Claudia caught glimpses of signs that life had existed here before the Interstate was built and the kudzu was left unchecked. Barely visible amidst the tangled jungle and fallen oaks, she saw the remains of wooden walls leaning so far to one side they were almost touching the earth and crumbling remains of chimneys standing as silent testimony for the homes that had long since been forgotten.
What she saw along the highway began to worry Claudia. Mr. Mason assured her that he had “somewhat recent records” showing where Charles Purvell paid to have routine upkeep done on the house, but there were several areas that were in need of immediate repair. If the condition of everything else in the area was any indication, what exactly would Mr. Mason consider good condition? There was very little to compare it to that could give her any peace. As the drive wore on and Mason’s vague words echoed in her head, she began to worry that Rosemont Manor might be more than she could handle. Would any amount of money be enough to save a house left to fall apart this close to the edge of the bayou?
With a rush of relief, Claudia saw Mr. Mason’s turn signal flicker and the Cadillac begin to slow. She followed the silver sedan between two crumbling brick markers and iron gates that were flung wide against the overgrowth on either side of the entrance. The dirt driveway was sheltered by a canopy of oaks with long limbs reaching towards one another, creating a long moss-covered tunnel. Claudia slowed to a near stop as the car began to jostle down the pitted drive.
She leaned forward, craning to catch a glimpse of the house, and gasped as the house loomed suddenly before her at the end of the drive. The old lawyer’s description of Rosemont Manor had done nothing to prepare her for the decrepit majesty of the old mansion.
The oaks faded away to reveal what had once been a huge manicured yard but was now a sprawling mass of weeds and shrub lined gravel paths to nowhere. A tepid fountain sat in the center of the front lawn, and several shingles had fallen from the arched roof and were lying scattered among the ruins of the grounds.
The house was beautiful.
Claudia stopped the car and stared in awe. Countless windows, their panes dimmed by decades of collected grime, looked across the lawn towards the towering oaks,. The wide front veranda, littered with scattered leaves, was framed by a row of massive columns and a broad sweep of narrow stairs. The entire façade was dominated by a pair of giant oak doors and the ornate frame surrounding them.
The sound of Mr. Mason’s Cadillac door slamming brought Claudia out of her reverie and she turned off her car engine. She stepped out of the car and hesitated. For a house that had been sitting vacant for years, Rosemont Manor felt strangely alive.