King Cotton – Prologue

 

A New York couple takes ownership of an abandoned cotton plantation and plan to renovate it into their dream home. However, the angry spirits of a failed slave rebellion have other plans in mind.

The South Carolina country side was beyond beautiful; it was damn near idyllic. The weather was moderate, the sky was clear, and the people looked content. It was certainly a change from the urban landscape Deanna Murphy was used to. She liked it, yet, it made her uncomfortable.

She and Micah had been driving for hours. She stretched her legs, allowing her feet to run across the bumpy plastic covering on the passenger side floor. As she ran her finger tips along the tan leather interior she thought about all the dust and pollen outside. This Coop was Micah’s baby; he always kept it impeccable. The thought of her kicking up mud must’ve been driving him nuts.

The town felt like something out of an old time story. Little Mom and Pop shops were everywhere. Not a Starbucks or Rite-Aid or 7-Eleven anywhere in sight. Deanna’s stomach grumbled angrily.

“How much farther?”

“Should be in this town.”

Deanna noticed the agitation in Micah’s voice. He was obviously hungry too. Plus, he’d been driving for most of the trip so he was likely tired too. Normally, she’d take pity on her boyfriend of three years but today, she wasn’t in the mood to have empathy. She hated this idea. He knew she hated this idea and had brushed her concerns aside. This dumb project was his baby and he could suffer through every part of it.

“I’m hungry.” Deanna continued to groan.

“We’ll eat soon.” Micah responded through grit teeth.

In the distance, Deanna could see a shopping square; various little shops huddled together with a cozy parking lot. There was even a major bank and some stores she recognized there. Surely, there was someplace to eat and use the bathroom in one of those stores.

“What about there? Couldn’t we stop in there? Maybe there’s a restaurant, or a café, or a diner.”

“We’re close. We don’t need to stop. We’ve got another…” Micah took a look at the car clock “ten minutes. Fifteen tops.”

“And what are we going to eat when we get there, huh? The place got running water? Electricity? A fully stocked pantry? You know how irritable you get when your blood sugar gets too low.”

“Micah gave Deanna a look of begrudging defeat. He’d known her long enough to recognize that she was being obstinate on purpose. He wasn’t going to win this argument.

A sign at the entrance of the shopping center advertised “Sue’s Diner”.

“See?!?! Micah pull in. The house’ll still be there after we eat, won’t it? Pull in!”

Micah seriously considered speeding past just to spite her but decided to be the adult this time around. Micah turned in to the sleepy shopping center and parked in front of Sue’s.

The nondescript hometown diner didn’t look like much from the outside, but inside it was a clean vintage homage to a “simpler” time.

Seeing no one to greet them at the entrance, Micah and Deanna took a seat at the booth directly in front of their car. From his seat, Micah gave his baby an anxious once over.

An elderly white haired woman clad in a yellow dress and apron approached with a kind smile. Her name tag read: Hi! My Name is Josephine.

“Mornin’ dears!” She greeted them chipperly. “I ain’t seen yall around before. Welcome to Sue’s.”

“Thank you so much Josephine.” Micah answered, suddenly chipper as well. Moving to this town had been his idea, after all, and he was determined to show Deanna what a great decision that was. That should shut her up.

“Can I start you off with some coffee, orange juice?”

“Coffee fresh?”

“No more than 15 minutes or so.”

“Well then I’d love some.”

“Two please. Thank you.” Deanna responded. Josephine gave them a wink before retreating to the kitchen.

She didn’t seem like a real person, Deanna thought to herself. She seemed like something out of a movie. A caricature of the typical hometown waitress who knows everyone and always has a witty one-liner at the ready.

“Pretty cool place huh?” Micah’s question felt more like a statement of fact as he nodded his head in approval.

“Oh please, Micah. You didn’t even want to stop.” Deanna snapped. She knew Micah was trying to play up how great this simple country living would be and she was bored with it by now. Despite this fact, Deanna once again noticed Micah sneaking glances at the car. What was he so anxious about in a town as sleepy as this?

Deanna brushed a lock of grey-white hair behind her ear. She casually glanced over the laminated menu card. Hotcakes, scrambled eggs, bacon, pie, coffee and fresh squeezed orange juice. Typical Americana Diner fair. Nothing too surprising. Nothing too fancy. The simplicity of the menu was one thing Deanna found charming and reassuring.

In her experience, a simple focused menu meant better food.

It didn’t take long for Josephine to return with two empty glasses and a pot of fresh steaming coffee. Deanna took the cup graciously.

“Now that isn’t your natural hair color, is it dear?” Josephine asked reaching out for Deanna’s long grey locks. The motion was a little too familiar for Deanna’s comfort but she did her best not to flinch away or make it a “thing”.

If she and Micah were going to be living here, the last thing she needed was for her new neighbors to think of her as the stuck up city bitch.

“Uh, no. I dyed it.”

“Why a young pretty girl like you wanna dye your hair grey?”

Micah chuckled.

Deanna shot him a hard look before answering in her sweetest possible voice,

“Silver hair is actually pretty trendy these days.”

“Is that a fact? So this old girl is pretty hip, huh? Only took me 67 years.”

Deanna and Micah gasped in mock shock. Josephine looked every bit her 67 years but they both knew when someone was fishing for a compliment.

“67? You gotta be kidding?”

“You are very stylish. Very chic.”

Playfully Josephine did a playful twirl, swishing her dress in dramatic fashion.

The head of a thin balding man popped up abruptly from the kitchen. He seemed to be around the same age as Josephine, if not older. His long beard framed a large toothy grin.

“Quit that twirlin’ before you scare those kids away!”

“Put a sock in it, Jeb!” Josephine snapped back with annoyance. Almost as quickly as she snapped, Josephine returned her attention to her patrons with her signature smile.

“So, yall ready to order, dears?”

“French toast and a side of bacon please.” Deanna said, casually handing over the menu.

“Sure thing. And you?”

“What’s good?” Micah asked. He was still putting on his ‘super friendly hometown guy act. Deanna found it infuriating.

Josephine, unaware of the silent power play at work, beamed a pleasant smile.

“Jeb makes a mean short stack.”

“Sounds like a winner to me.”

“Be back in a few.” Josephine smiled before strutting back to the kitchen. Once she was gone, Micah cut his eyes at Deanna.

“You could be a little more personable.”

“You could do to turn it down a notch.”

“Just being friendly.”

“You DIDN’T EVEN WANT TO STOP HERE!”

“Yeah, well I did stop, didn’t I? Might as well converse. Meet the new neighbors. We’re going to be seeing a lot more of these people – with any luck. Jesus, Deanna, you could at least pretend to be the supportive girlfriend sometimes, can’t you? You took that acting class and everything.”

“Ha. Ha. Funny.” Deanna rolled her eyes. “You can keep playing along if you want. I prefer to just be pleasant and mind my own business. This move isn’t set in stone.”

“Like hell it isn’t. We’ve already invested some serious cash in this place.”

“No. YOU’VE invested. This might be a done deal for you. Not me.”

“Oh please, Deanna you’re being ridiculous.”

“I had a life back in New York. Friends, work. I’m not sold on this ‘dream house’ of yours.”

“Just give it a chance. See the place before you start planning your escape back to New York. Watch, you’re going to fall in love with this place. Air is cleaner, people are friendlier, my folks are an hour away-“

“You say that like it’s a good thing.”

“ – cost of living is WAY more affordable. We are going to BUILD something here.”

“I’m not ready to settle in and die here, Micah.” Deanna’s eyes shifted to Josephine and Jeb, chatting it up in the kitchen of their sleepy diner. In her pleated yellow dress, white hair down and wavy and Jeb’s long mountain man beard and visible arm tattoos – they could easily be a couple of today’s hipsters 50 years down the line. That could be her and Micah. Something about that thought made her shiver. The alternative was to assimilate completely and become a typical southern old lady. She hated that idea even more.

Micah could see that Deanna’s issue with this move was deeper than simply giving up their condo. His heart broke for her. Still, he knew in his gut that that this move was going to be one of the best decisions he’d ever make for them as a couple.

In his old New York City life, Micah has been a stock broker. He was the kind of young, hungry guys that they loved down on wall street and he was good at his job. But when the economy tanked he and a lot of his buddies tried to find new ways to diversify their assets. Meanwhile, Deanna’s love for all things artistic was becoming a drain on their finances and causing lots of money related arguments. They were going down a bad road for a while.

That’s when he got a tip when on the phone with his father. His father has been in real-estate for years and happened to mention a property that was plaguing him. A plantation. It needed repair but it was a sizable piece of property with a lot of potential. No one would touch it though. Locals say that the ground there is haunted.

A haunted plantation seemed, in Micah’s mind, to be a potentially exciting investment opportunity. One that showed promise for a better future. Both for himself and for Deanna.

The two sat in silence until Josephine returned with their plates.

Warm air flowed through the diner as more patrons entered. Two men, one red haired, the other grey – both large with round stomach and long beards strolled through the entrance and took a seat at the bar.

“Mornin’ Josie!” The red-haired patron called out.

“Mornin’ Artie.” Josephine responded. She placed Micah and Deanna’s plates in front of them and patted her hands down on her apron. “Need anything else?”

“No this looks great, thank you.” Micah said.

“Well if you need anything just give a holler.”

“That your car out there, son?” The red haired patron Artie, asked from his perch.

Micah’s face shifted. They were zoning in on dangerous ground. That car was his baby. But Micah quickly put his smiling ‘simple hometown guy’ face back on. Hopefully, before anyone noticed.

Deanna noticed, and smirked.

“Yeah, she’s mine.”

“She’s a beauty.”

“Don’t see many fine cars like that around anymore. Not since the toy factory closed up and all the execs moved their headquarters to China or wherever.” Arties companion added.

“Saw New York plates on ‘er. Yall passin’ through or here for visit?”

Micah relaxed somewhat but was still on alert, unsure of whether or not this friendly banter had an ulterior purpose or not.

“Actually we’re just getting a lay of the land.” Micah answered hesitantly, then with more gusto, “We just purchased some property not too far away.”

“No kiddin’!” Josephine said with delight. She leaned in close on their table, curious to know more. “Jeb! We got some new neighbors! Where yall posted up?”

“Kingsley Plantation.”

And suddenly, it was as though all the air got sucked out of the room. The diner went chillingly silent. The warm smile on Josephine’s face slowly melted away.

Deanna and Micah looked around nervously.

“Something wrong?” Deanna asked confused.

“Awe hunnies. You all got swindled! You can’t live in that place. Who sold you that property? You need to demand your money back! That place ain’t fit for the livin’.”

“Why? Because it’s haunted?” Micah asked, suddenly amused by her genuine concern. “Listen, as far as I’m concerned, whatever happens in the hereafter is the dearly departeds to enjoy. But things that exist here on earth, belong to those who can still enjoy the sunshine. Kingsley Plantation is no exception.”

“That ground is seeped with evil.” Artie growled from his perch. His tone had no hints of nonchalance nor concern. He was deadly serious. “Best stay away if you know what’s good for ya.”

“Is that a threat?” Micah asked suspiciously. He leaned forward in his seat. Something about Artie and his companion had rubbed Micah the wrong way since the moment they opened their mouths about his car. Deanna could tell by the way he was adjusting his body that he was ready for a fight.

With her, Micah was a pushover, all bluster and no bite. But this wall street boy typically had a testy temper and was never afraid to start a fight. It was the last thing they needed right now. Deanna took him by the arm, firmly.

“Micah, calm down will you?”

“No one’s threatenin’ nobody.” Josephine scolded. She tossed Artie a nasty look. Artie put his hands up in a defensive move and shrugged his shoulders.

“She’s right. It ain’t no threat. Just a warning. One concerned citizen to another. That place, it’s evil. It’s best to leave it be.”

“Why would you wanna live there anyway?” Arties companion spoke up. “They tell you what happened there?”

“A failed slave revolt.” Micah said confidently. “What of it?”

“It was worse than that. Damned massacre.”

“Story goes that Jacob Kingsley was a fair man.” Artie interrupted, his eyes glossed over as though lost in the story. “He was a kind master and was respected by his workers. One day some European fella came as a guest to his home. This fella had abolitionist sympathies and apparently stirred up some ill will inside one of the house slaves. After the European guy left, she started plottin with one of the field hands to start a revolt. But when, the time came, none of the rest would join. See, they were loyal to ole Jacob, which complicated things.

“So they had to trick ‘em. One by one, the house slave and the field hand called everyone in to the house saying’ Jacob needed to talk to em. Then, the house slave told Jacob there were men downstairs askin’ to see him. When Jacob got outside and everyone else was inside, the field hand locked the doors, nabbed ole Jacob, and strung him up a tree outside. Everybody inside was howlin’ and cryin’ and causin’ a fuss so – when the two went back to the house – they killed every single livin’ person inside. Man, woman or child, made no difference.”

“Terrible.” Josephine sighed.

“By morning, someone saw ole Jacob swingin’ from the tree and formed a posse to round up any runaways.” Artie continued. “But there was no need, the two rebels were still inside hunting down people. They attacked the posse when they came in the house and got themselves killed right there. Not one man woman or child from Kingsley Plantation was left alive.”

“Yup, and since then, anyone tries to disturb that place meets a bad end.” Arties companion chimed in.

“I remember, my ma said that when she was a little girl, someone bought up the plantation and tried to tear it down, build a new house there.” Josephine said, biting her nails. “He went in to inspect the place, ended up going head first down the steps. Quarry man with him said he was pushed by some kids but there was none there.”

“That ain’t the half.” Said Artie with a mean smile. “When I was a boy, two of my classmates went missin’. None of our folks talked much about it but word went around that they went and spent the night at Kingsley Plantation on a dare.”

“Got ‘emselves chopped to bits is what I heard.” Arties buddies added.

“I don’t believe in ghosts. Or Haunted mansions. Or curses.” Micah laughed. “But thankfully, there are plenty that do, and more that kind of do, but are more curious than anything.”

“Thankfully?” Josephine asked quizzically.

“I plan to make Kingsley Plantation into a home again. The home that Deanna and I deserve. Someplace where we can settle in, start a family, plant some roots. But the legacy connected to that house – the horror, the intrigue; it’s too fascinating to destroy. That’s why I plan to restore Kingsley Plantation. The house, the fields, the slave quarters – everything. Kingsley Plantation isn’t just going to be our dream home. It’s going to be a museum.”

Everyone in the diner looked at Micah flabbergast; including Deanna but for a very different reason. She knew that Kingsley plantation was believed to be haunted but she had no idea there had been so many deaths there since. It made her hate this stupid idea more and more.

Josephine’s slack jawed expression was priceless. Had Deanna not been completely embarrassed by being part of this situation, she could have laughed.

“A museum… you say?”

“It’s still just an idea but yes. Eventually, after we’ve fully restored it, we could create a horror museum.”

“… A horror… museum.”

“Yes,” Deanna grimaced “because apparently that’s what we’ve always wanted. Our dream home is the upstairs of a horror museum which capitalizes on the slaughter of over 20 people.”

The more she said it, the worse it felt. The words tasted bitter in her mouth. She hated this idea. She hated this so much.

Silence reigned supreme across the diner until another warm gust signaled the entrance of more patrons. Josephine did her best to shake off her stupor.

“Just uh…” Josephine called out at the new group of customers “have a seat anywhere. Be with you in a second.”

Artie and his friend returned their attention to their own seats. Deanna could hear them snickering over their shoulders.

Micah returned his focus to his plate as well. He eagerly forked his short stack and took a large heaping bite. Deanna could tell by the look on his face that any appetite he might have had was gone. He was pissed and not in the funny way like back in the car. He had his wall street stock broker face on and it made her stomach flip over.

That look on his face meant that he needed to prove a point. In all the time she’d known him, the one thing he wouldn’t tolerate was having his ideas shrugged off. Being laughed at he could handle, being ignored was unacceptable.

“Hurry and finish your breakfast. We’ve got work to do.”

“Micah, can we talk about this for a sec-”

“Just SEE the place first. Okay?”

“…Okay.” Deanna relented.

There was no way she was getting out of this move. Not unless she left on her own. Micah was a pain in her ass but she wasn’t ready to leave him just yet. After all, she fell in love with him because of his persistence. His ability to make the impossible, possible. Maybe, he could make this work

At least, that’s how she felt in the beginning.

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