King Cotton: Chapter 1 – Welcome to Kingsley Plantation

Kingsley Plantation was a sprawling country mansion with two floors, a basement, an attic, a cellar and a hidden bunker. It had 6 large bedrooms, not including the living space in the cellar, and 8 bathrooms. There were 14 servant quarters and rows upon rows of grade A Carolina cotton on the land as you passed the main house. All of it sat on 60 acres of pure South Carolina soil. With a price tag of $1,000,000.00 it was almost criminal, it was such a steal.

It was also haunted. Like, really haunted. And it looked like it too.

Deanna felt sick as she and Micah rolled up on the grounds of Kingsley Plantation. She hated this. She hated this so, so, so, so much!

“Micah, this place is haunted.”

“That’s what they say… It’s not though. It hasn’t been kept up, it’s a little overgrown but not haunted.”

Deanna glared at her boyfriend angrily.

Micah’s coup rumbled up the unkempt dirt path. Judging on his intense concentration and snails pace, he was doing his best to keep as much dirt and debris out of her as possible. If it weren’t so far from the main road, Micah probably would have left the car there and forced them to go on foot.

Slowly, weeds and branches gave way to the clearing and Deanna could see their new home in all its horrible, haunted, dilapidated glory.

“Welcome to Kingsley Plantation!” Micah said with a wide grin.

Deanna wanted to slap him. She wanted to slap him so, so, so, so much!

As the car rumbled closer to its destination, they could start make out two people wandering around outside of the estate. Although she couldn’t make out the faces, they looked to be a sprightly looking blond woman and a short, stocky black man. After a moment, the familiar green truck parked outside the entrance caused Deanna to realize who the couple was. She gave an audible moan. Micah chuckled bemused and Deanna wanted to slap him even more.

Kate and Lee Williams were friends of Micah’s from his hometown and they, Kate especially, were the living embodiment of everything Deanna hated about false “southern charm”. Kate was a real estate agent. Lee was a car salesman. Together, they were an unbearable, fake smiling duo espousing half hearted platitudes through a set of perfect veneers just waiting for the perfect chance to shred you to pieces.

They were sharks, and the only shark that Deanna liked was Micah. And even him, only from time to time.

The pair seemed to notice Micah’s car coming up to the manor. Kate waved enthusiastically, flagging them over to a spot in the grass tame enough to park the car. With her bright, super white smile and her bright blue flower print dress billowing in the breeze, she looked as though she were modeling for Better Homes: Haunted Plantation Edition.

Micah rolled to a stop on a soft patch of grass next to Kate and Lee’s truck, his face so bright he could barely contain himself. He was itching to get out and survey his new project. Kate seemed excited too. Her arms were already outstretched in greeting before Micah had a chance to put the car in park.

“Micah!” Kate squealed just outside the car window.

Micah swung open the car door and swooped immediately into Kate’s outstretched arms, lifting her off the grass and twirling a bit as though this were a choreographed scene in a film. It felt so phony, especially from Micah, whom Deanna knew pretended to like the couple much more than he actually did. Deanna suppressed the urge to gag.

“Katie dear!” Micah said, giving her a kiss on the cheek. “You look beautiful.”

“Why thank you so much! Charmer!” Katie gushed. Her southern drawl was notched up to 11. “Welcome to your new home!”

“Good to see you Micah.” Lee crowed from behind his wife. He looked very casual in a crisp pink polo and tan slacks and his toothy veneer smile flashed white against his deep brown skin.

“Lee, my man. Good to see you.” Micah called out, offering a friendly hand in greeting. “How’s the dealership?”

“Beautiful! Life is beautiful. I see Wall Street’s been good to you.” Lee answered, turning his face towards the manor. “Can’t believe you were able to snatch up this place. Sizable little diamond in the rough.”

“Isn’t it though?” said Katie. “I’ve heard this place was damn near un-sellable, pardon my language. I don’t for the life of me understand people sometimes. Just letting it get to this state. This place has so much potential!”

“And so much land!” added Lee.

“So much history!” came Micah’s response.

“So much baggage!” Deanna remarked snidely, letting herself out of the car.

“Oh Deanna!” Katie hopped around to the passenger side of the car and gave Deanna her usual “church hug” – the kind people do to be polite and friendly and affectionate but without getting to close to the other person. She touched cheeks with Deanna and kissed the air dramatically. “You must feel so out of place out here in the country, but trust me, you’ll feel right at home soon enough.”

“It’s a change for sure.” Deanna replied, trying hard not to sound too snotty. “But that’s not really what I’m worried about.”

“Y’all find the place alright?” Katie asked Micah, apparently content with ignoring Deanna completely now that their obligatory pleasantries were out of the way.

“Oh yeah.” Micah responded happily. “It’s an amazing location. Out of the way but not hard to find. Actually,” Micah chuckled again, “ we had a little run in with some of the locals.”

“Run in?” Katie gasped.

“Nothing serious. Just a very spirited debate, I guess you could call it. Folks really seem to have strong opinions about this place.”

“Yes well that’s bound to be the case.” Kate said, twirling a long slender finger across her temple, coyly. “This place ain’t like Charleston. Most of the people who live here haven’t set foot anywhere else in generations. They’re simple, God fearing folks, steeped in local tradition and superstition.”

“And apparently, a big part of that tradition is, don’t go near this place.” Deanna muttered.

Micah shot her a look, and Deanna begrudgingly held her tongue. “Exactly.” He said. “That’s what makes this place great. We fix it up, turn it into a museum. A whole experience! Horror in the Antebellum. We get word out to the thrill seekers, the ghost hunter crowds, the morbid adventurers – “

“There are more and more out there these days.” Nodded Lee.

“ – The history buffs, the casual passerby that was ready to drive right past this place without so much as a second look, and we wet their palette’s with the gruesome history of Kingsley Plantation. And they’ll be hooked before they even come through the door, because those local yokels believe every word of it.”

Micah was getting excited. He rubbed his hands together eagerly and hopped on to the porch. The withered cracked wood creaked painfully beneath his feet sending a chilling moan through the air. Micah stooped down in a grand gesture, “They’ll warn them to stay away, tell them all the horrible things that’ve happened there, get their hair standing on end, and then they’ll HAVE to see what this place is all about. Drawn in like a moth to a flame.” As he spoke, Micah acted out the locals telling weary tourists to ‘stay away from Kingsley Plantation’ and the tourists becoming excited by the stories. Lee and Kate smiled on, amused my Micah’s performance. “I’m telling you, this place is gonna be big! Just watch.”

There was a loud groan beneath Micah’s feet and before anyone could process what the sound was, a huge CRACK sound erupted from the floor and Micah came crashing down through the porch.

Kate shrieked in terror.

“Micah!” Deanna shouted, running up to the hole in the floor where her boyfriend once stood.

“Shit!” Micah yelled from beneath the porch. Hearing him curse with that much gusto calmed Deana’s nerves a bit. “I’m okay.”

“Jesus Micah!”

“Looks like wood rot on the porch my man.” Lee called out. He had calmed Kate and stopped to examine the cracked floorboards.

“I landed on my foot wrong. I might’ve sprained it.” Micah said, a hint of embarrassment in his tone.

“Oh dear.” Said Kate.

“I knew this place was a death trap.” Said Deanna.

“Don’t be dramatic.” Micah replied. Annoyance masked his embarrassment. “We knew the house was old and abandoned, rotten wood shouldn’t be a surprise.”

“Maybe it was vengeful spirits, Micah.” Kate added, recovered from her earlier shock. “Dragging you down to the depths!”

“Well luckily they didn’t pull me too far down.” Micah started to laugh but stopped and winced in pain. “Shit, I really think I might’ve twisted it. Lee, help me up, would ya?”

Lee tested the surrounding floorboards for sturdiness with his foot. He was in no rush to repeat Micah’s trip through the porch.

Micah, meanwhile, waited anxiously. He checked himself over for cuts, bruises, and scrapes. Satisfied that he was otherwise unharmed, he started looking around. He was laying in a small crawl space beneath the porch. He could see support beams connecting the foundation to the upper parts of the house. Despite the wear and tear on the rest of the manor, the foundation and support beams looked solid.

Better than solid. They looked almost pristine.

It was amazing. Micah couldn’t believe his luck. Although he would have preferred to keep the original mansion standing, Micah anticipated that the years of neglect had eaten away at the place and he would have to tear it down and recreate everything inside but that might not have been necessary now. As long as the foundation was intact, restoring the house would be much simpler than he’d imagined.

Lee was finally steadying himself against the cracked floor. Kate held on to his shoulder, cautiously.

Micah peered into the dusty crawl space, wanting a better look at the support beams, still not believing the almost new condition of them when something caught his eye. It looked to be some kind of stained off-white tubing standing in stark contrast against the dark. Long and solid it jutted from the hard ground beneath and branched out into five smaller tubes. It almost seemed, Micah thought, like a skeletal hand. Something you’d see in a prop store.

He initially shook the thought away but as Lee finally reached his hand down, he couldn’t ignore it. He stared harder. It really did look to be the remains of a hand.

“Grab my hand buddy.” Lee called from above. But Micah stared transfixed at the object. He shuffled closer to get a better look when what appeared to be the forefinger, twitched.

“SHIT!” Micah shouted, immediately taking hold of Lee’s outstretched hand.

Any pain Micah felt in his ankle disappeared with the surge of adrenaline through his body. He climbed desperately out of the hole, collapsed on the porch and rolled as far away from the spot where the twitching digit had been.

“You okay baby?” Deanna asked, panicked again.

“There was a hand!”

“A what?”

“A hand! A human hand! A skeleton! It moved! It fucking moved!”

Silence permeated the porch. Kate and Lee exchanged skeptical looks.

“Are you trying to punk us?” Katie asked, voice filled to the brim with suspicion.

It was obviously a joke, Deana surmised. She felt dumb for getting so worried over nothing.

“Asshole.” She said, punching Micah’s shoulder.

“I’m serious.” Micah protested, but even his conviction was starting to waiver. What did he actually see down there? Something white and covered in dirt? It could have been any number of things. “I’m pretty sure they were bones. Like… 80%.”

“Could’ve been a coon.” Lee offered. “Any number of critters could’ve died down there. Might’ve seen mother nature at work there. Maggots and whatnot munching on the remains.”

The idea of maggots devouring an animal carcass, moving and shifting the bones, caused Micah to shiver yet, the explanation was rational enough and likely enough to calm his nerves. He was being ridiculous. The locals at the diner must’ve had a bigger effect on him than he’d realized.

Micah chuckled, embarrassed.

“Well shit.” He shrugged. “You think we can sell this hole in the porch as an added attraction?” Micah struggled to his feet, relief was easing his mind but reminding him of the pain in his ankle. “Mind your step ladies and gentlemen, lest the ghost of old Uncle Remus drag you down to his final resting place beneath the porch. Oooooo!” He mocked in a spooky voice.

“Stop it! You’re horrible!” Kate laughed.

“Doubtful you could sell much of anything with this floor so rickety.” Lee said. “If the inside is anything like this porch, you’re gonna have to level the place. Build a replica mansion.”

“Actually,” Micah perked up a bit, remembering his bit of good news “when I was down there it looked like the foundation and support beams were in really good shape. I might be able to get away with just redoing the floors.”

“That so?” Kate said. “Well looks like your luck is turning right ‘round, isn’t it?”

Deanna rolled her eyes. They hadn’t been on the property more than 10 minutes and there were already serious problems, regardless of how much Kate played up how their ‘luck was turning ‘round’. Deanna wanted nothing more than to grab Micah up, drive to the nearest Quality Inn, take a nap, and drive back home to New York and forget this stupid horror museum plan.

Deanna had never considered herself to be a particularly superstitious person or even a casually religious person for that matter. But there was something about the idea of living in a house where people had been murdered which made her very uncomfortable. This discomfort was not at all helped by the fact that her new potential home was a plantation.

Between the slave quarters still standing on the grounds and Micah’s plan to essentially sell the story of their deaths for profit, Deanna’s white guilt alarm was ringing like crazy.

“Grab the fold out chairs from the trunk, would ya, Deanna?” Lee said, interrupting Deanna’s train of thought.

“Huh?” She responded in confusion. Lee was holding out the keys to his truck for Deanna to take. He had Micah holding on to his shoulder for support.

“You sure you’re okay hun?” Kate asked Micah sympathetically.

“I just need to be able to sit for a bit. Then we can scout out the place, mark off what can be repaired and what needs to be scrapped.”

“WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT, WAIT! Hold on a second!” Said Deanna. “You can’t be serious? You want to stay here? We need to get you to a hospital.”

“Don’t be dramatic.”

“I’m not being dramatic Micah!” Deanna rebuffed, offended. “You’re hurt, we have nothing to treat you with here, and this place obviously isn’t safe to walk around in.”

“Wrong.” Said Micah. “We have ice packs and a first aid kit in the trunk.”

“We do?” Deanna looked suspiciously at the coup.

Having been completely against this move, Deanna did not participate in packing the car. In fact, she actively refused when asked. Deanna felt herself justified in defiantly sitting on the couch watching Micah struggle and shuffle things out of their condo, down the elevator, and into their car. She was unfazed, even as he muttered passive aggressively every time he passed her, a new bag in hand. In retrospect, it would have been better for her to have, at least, packed her own bag, Deanna thought. And certainly, she hadn’t seen him take any ice packs.

“A place like this that’s been abandoned for decades is bound to have few rusty nails. Did you really think I wouldn’t come prepared?” Micah smiled. He was obviously enjoying Deanna’s distress. “We got first aid kits, a cooler full of ice packs, water, and beer, flashlights, an inflatable bed…”

“A what?”

“Lee’s got some fold out chairs and tools.”

“Got the mini generator too.” Lee added.

“Oh awesome. Thanks man.”

“Wait a second, wait a second! No! No, you are not sleeping here.” Deanna protested.

“Yeah well not alone, no.” Micah beamed, relishing the distress the situation was causing her.

Deanna looked at Micah genuinely disgusted for the first time. Not just embarrassed, not just annoyed. Disgusted.

What exactly about this situation did Micah find funny? There was a thin line between bad jokes and pure stupidity and Micah seemed to have crossed that line about 100 miles back. Her skin was beginning to prickle with rage.

“Micah.” Deanna said in a quiet voice.

“You mind grabbing that cooler Lee?” Micah asked Lee, apparently not noticing Deanna’s tone. “With any luck the ice packs kept.”

“Micah.”

“I’ll grab a chair for you hun.” Kate offered, taking the keys from Lee’s hand and opening the back door of her truck.

“Thanks. I think we can get a cursory look of the property -“

“Micah!” Deanna snapped.

Kate gasped in surprise at the “sudden” outburst but continued pulling the chairs from the car. Lee looked over at Micah nervously, then proceeded to help his wife. The atmosphere was notably tense. Even Micah, for the first time, seemed deferential.

“Yes?” He answered.

“A word. Alone. Now!” Deanna was done playing games and Micah could tell. Deanna marched away from the house, away from Kate and Lee and the cars filled with their whole lives, and towards the field. He rolled his eyes and followed suit.

As Deanna walked further from the main house, a cool gust of air whipped past her like an icy hand pushing her urgently away. From where they were, the fields that stretched before her seemed beautiful in a lonely, untouched sort of way.

Yet, as her eyes continued forward she saw the slave quarters. Ramshackle husks of a time best left forgotten. The guilt of being there, trying to profit off the misery of the people that lived there – the embarrassment, the rage she felt was overwhelming. Deanna, no longer wanting to look at the cotton fields and shacks turned and faced Micah, her ears burning.

“I’m going home.” She said defiantly.

“Don’t be like this.” Micah sighed.

“I’m going home!”

“This is our home now.”

“This is NOT our home. This little pet project of yours is not our home! It’s some kind of absurd fantasy. An absurd, reckless, insensitive… racist -”

“Oh come on! Get the hell out of here with that ‘racist’ bullshit.”

“Well what do you want me to call it, huh? Because if by some miracle you actually turn this place into some horror museum, that’s what people will call it. Another white asshole trying to make a quick buck off broken black bodies! Look, he’s charging admission to come see the ‘lynchin’ tree’.”

“Lee doesn’t seem to have a problem with it.”

“So Lee speaks for all black people now?”

“More than you! No one needs your mock PC outrage.”

Deanna was boiling but she willed herself to stay calm. She was so frustrated and angry, she wanted to cry. She didn’t want to look weak. She didn’t want him to think that she had to resort to fake tears to guilt him in to giving in.

“I’m. Going. Home.” She said slowly, her voice shaking.

“Where? How Deanna? With what money? You haven’t had a real job in, what? Two? Two and a half years?”

“Not true. My art is my job.”

“A job that doesn’t pay anything! And don’t get me wrong, I love you. I want you to pursue your passion but you can’t pay rent with minimalist paintings and adult puppet shows. So go back to New York, but you’re not going to have a place to live. Are you going back to your parents house? Is that a conversation you really want to have?”

Deanna went cold. Her parent’s were not exactly supportive of her or her passions. She’d eat her own foot before she went back to them, broke with nowhere to go.

“Then let’s go back together.” Deanna pleaded. “If you want to fix this place up… just… hire some people and do it. Don’t pack up our lives and move into a deathtrap!”

“You know I can’t go back.” Micah said more tenderly than before. Deanna gulped down the lump in her throat.

For weeks they’d skated around the issue. The reason Micah made such a sudden life change.

The economy had been going down the tubes. Micah, ever the shark, sniffed out any way he could to make some sure money in a very unsure market. Not just him, lots of his buddies on the floor did as well as his higher ups. They encouraged it in their own subtle ways.

Insider trading is very serious business.

Deanna had no idea until Micah came home drenched in sweat one afternoon. Micah’s immediate supervisor had been arrested. Perp walked right off the street. It shook Micah and his whole team. He was sure no one would sniff him out for any wrongdoing but he had to be safe. Micah resigned from his position and after putting out a few feelers, although he hadn’t been charged with anything, Micah became acutely aware that he had become un-hirable.

Diversify or die. That was Micah’s father’s motto. After a spirited discussion with his dad, Micah told Deanna about Kingsley Plantation. She ignored it at first. She was sure that their money troubles were temporary. The economy would bounce back, time would settle things, he’d find a new job that paid just as well.

Micah cupped Deanna’s face in his hands. His face was serious now. No more tit for tat.

“This place is all I’ve got. I’ve gotta make it work.” Micah kissed Deanna on the forehead. It was a tender gesture that melted Deanna’s heart just a little. “And I can’t do that without you, babe. I need you to have some faith in me.”

Until that moment none of this had felt real to Deanna. It was a joke. A bad joke. I prank that he was playing to irk her. Suddenly, it was real. They were really about to start living there.

Deanna fought back angry tears. She didn’t want this. She hated this.

But despite how furious he made her, Deanna loved Micah more than anything. She wasn’t going to leave him behind. She exhaled loudly, struggling to keep her composure.

“One week Micah. I’ll stay for one week.”

Micah smiled a devious smile again. Deanna was a pain but she was loyal to a fault.

“Okay then. One week. You’ll see how amazing this place can be.” Micah said, hugging her tight.

The wind blew cold again and despite the feeling of Micah’s strong arms around her, she still felt a chill run through her body. Wisps of gray hair whipped across Deanna’s eyes. As she brushed the hairs away, a flash of grey appeared in her field of vision.  She couldn’t quite catch it. It caught her off guard. Yet, just as soon as it had appeared, it was gone. Deanna chalked it up to a stray strand of hair and erased it from her thoughts as Micah took her by the hand and walked them back to the broken porch of their new home.

 

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