Victoria slammed on her brakes the moment she saw the house. It was nothing more than a fleeting glance from far down the quiet winding road, but as she drove past she felt it pulling her back. She was compelled to get a closer look at the imposing structure at the end of a long, twisting drive.
A shiver ran up her spine as she drew nearer – the house was not as aesthetically pleasing as she had first thought, but nevertheless it was love at first sight. She parked in front of it and sat gazing up at her.
It was a dark and brooding building; twisted, sparsely leaved vines clawed their way up her facade like painful arthritic fingers. The wild and unruly grounds reached up from the earth as if they were trying to pull the house down into the comfort of her muddy womb.
Her broken windows were like soulless, sightless eyes. But Victoria knew the building was not soulless – she felt that within those rotting walls lived the souls of many.
Even in the daylight, winter sun shining, the whole area around the house seemed dark, or at least darker than beyond the grounds. It was not a happy place. The whole area felt bad to her but she could not avert her gaze. The stones themselves had called out to her, beckoned her closer so they could work their magic on her and make her fall in love with its flawed and aged beauty. And she did.
Victoria got out of the car and walked around. She ran her fingers over the old discolored brickwork. In some places the stones were crumbling, slate from the roof had fallen to the ground and smashed into pieces. All the windows were broken and the shards of glass were scattered around the building like tears.
The building was old, uncared for, unloved. Until now. Victoria had to have it. Then she saw a For Sale sign struggling to free itself from an ancient ivy that had almost obscured it from view. She punched the number into her mobile phone and called the estate agent immediately.
The agent came to meet her at the property right away. Mr. Wilson was a tall, thin, man with salt and pepper hair – although it had much more salt than pepper – receding at the temples. His hair was unkempt and clumps of it stuck out in all directions. His dark suit was crumpled and looked as if he had slept in it. He was a nervous man with eyes that did not stay still, but darted from side to side and up and down. Victoria wondered why his strange rapid eye movements didn’t make him dizzy.
He introduced himself, gave her a minute history of the building and asked her to follow him inside, all without stopping for breath. She could see that he did not want to spend any more time here than was absolutely necessary. She was sure he flinched when he stepped across the threshold and entered the building.
Victoria followed Mr. Wilson inside. This had most definitely been a grand place long ago. Rich, dark woods framed every door and skirted every wall, spiraled up the huge staircase. The floor had been inlaid with an intricate black and white mosaic that, save for decades of dirt and dust, looked to be completely intact. She smiled as she imagined herself on her hands and knees with a bucket of soapy water and a scrubbing brush, lovingly restoring the floor back to its former glory.
“What was this place, Mr. Wilson?” She asked the twitchy estate agent.
“A seminary. A seminary for apprentice priests. Been lots of things since those days though, aye, lots of things. Hotel last. Empty for a lot of years now, near thirty.”
“Just thirty years?” She asked. “It looks as if it’s been empty a lot longer than that. Looks as if it’s been abandoned for a century. It’s falling apart.”
“No, just thirty years.” He ushered her speedily through the ground floor rooms. He was clearly uncomfortable talking about the house. She wanted to press him further, needed to know more about it. She told him that no matter what stories he related to her about it, no matter how bad, she would still buy it. He would not be coaxed into telling her anything and she was frustrated by this. She was itching to know all she could find out about the place.
She asked him the price of the property and he answered after rubbing his lips together; his mouth was dry and he looked terrified of telling her. He could see this property finally being out of his hands, finally see it not being his responsibility any more but with one series of numbers spilling from his lips, those hopes could be dashed.
“$175,000!” She shouted with a giggle in her throat.
Mr. Wilson’s body seemed to gravitate toward the floor; his knees bent slightly and his shoulders dropped forward.
“I’ll take it!”
“What?” He bolted upright, his legs and shoulders straight, rigid now.
In Victoria’s profession – a solicitor specializing in corporate law and partner in the firm she worked at – her salary was massive and $175,000 for a property was cheap. Some of her colleagues had paid in excess of $500,000 for their homes, which were little more than over-priced boxes in the heart of the city. She was thrilled at the price tag.
“I’ll take it!” She handed him her business card as she asked him to draw up the papers immediately. She wanted to take possession of the house as soon as possible.
The client Victoria was heading to see had been forgotten in the midst of her excitement about the old building. She hastily called her secretary to deliver the good news, and the bad news that she would have to reschedule all her appointments for the rest of the day; she would not be back in the office.
Victoria asked Mr. Wilson if there was a library or somewhere else she could find out about the house. He directed her to it and took off in his car, throwing a hasty goodbye over his shoulder at her as he left.
Victoria didn’t need books or papers to research the building – the old librarian with pure white hair piled up in a bun on top of her head and tiny oblong-lensed spectacles told her all she needed to know. The librarian, Moira, made Victoria a cup of tea and sat her down to tell her the story of The Blair.
The way The Blair looked reflected her history – tragic, sinister, forbidding. There were many good reasons why she now stood empty and decaying. There were many good reasons why she had not been lived in for decades and now stood almost dead.
The house was born in 1861. Earnest Patterson, a whisky distillery owner, built the house for his family. It was a happy place, its vast rooms and corridors all filled with the noises of children at play, the laughter of a devoted couple. The Patterson family lived for each other.
Caroline Patterson, wife of Earnest, died screaming, birthing her seventh child upstairs in the master bedroom. One local legend about the house – and there were many – says that the half-born infant, unable to be pushed out or pulled free, drowned in the blood that flowed from the hemorrhaging womb of her mother. The scarlet torrent ran like a waterfall off the end of the bed and dripped like red rain through the floorboards and onto the other four children at play in the nursery downstairs.
Victoria listened wide-eyed and open-mouthed, fascinated, but not believing a word of it.
After the death of his wife, Earnest Patterson plunged into grief and was held in the grip of unending despair. Early one morning in the winter that soon followed, Mr. Patterson tied seven noose-ended ropes to the limbs of the giant Oak tree that stood in the back garden. He hung each of his children, starting with the youngest and then hung himself. They quivered and twitched in mid air, like strange fruit ready to drop, ripe from the vine.