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The Haunting of Belford Manor (EBOOK)

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One mansion’s foundation creaks with the weight of its secrets.

Marcus, a convicted felon, serves out his sentence, dreaming of his life before his days were spent eating slop and narrowly avoiding being shanked in the shower. 

Release day comes, and it’s not as sweet as he thought it would be.

Abandoned.

Broke.

Entirely alone.

Maybe he was better off in prison…

But opportunities for felons are few and far between and the famous Belford Manor needs a caretaker. Where others may see a spooky, crumbling estate, Marcus envisions a future for himself, where he can heal and move on. But everything isn’t what it seems, and questions about the house quickly become impossible to ignore.

Now, Marcus is entangled in a mystery older than the dirt the house is built on. Its walls pulse with a fetid horror that makes the lonely felon wish for his cell. The manor wants more than Marcus’s attention. It may very well want his soul too.

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Chapter One

Ancron State Prison wouldn’t miss Marcus Reed, and Marcus Reed wouldn’t miss the prison. For seven long years, Marcus was robbed of his freedom, secluded from the outside world, and labeled a murderer. A wife murderer. His time at the Louisiana prison, marked with the occasional scuffle over bread or borrowed CD players, was only made interesting by Rodney Wilks, a career criminal, and Marcus’s only friend.
Rodney tucked his wavy black hair behind his ears and peered over a book with stern eyes, wire-framed reading glasses on the tip of his nose. His face had deep wrinkles hiding pockmarks from years of drug abuse.
Marcus bent his knees near what he imagined was the foul line of a make-believe basketball court, worn ball in hand, and aimed for a net-less rim. He overshot, and it flew over the backboard and collided with the bare concrete wall. Rodney snorted and resumed reading. Marcus let the ball bounce. The sound of the empty twelve-by-twelve exercise yard seemed different today. Maybe it was his pending release that changed how he heard things. He scooped up the ball and thought of Rodney. How did the ball sound for him?
Rodney had a life sentence but never acted like it, even taking an interest in Marcus’s dreams of the outside. Today, he was reading a book on shed building. Rodney seemed to be treating Marcus’s pending release as if it were his own, reflected in how their talks changed over time. As they drew near Marcus’s seventh and final year, their talks about jobs, houses, beaches, and good food became twice-a-day in-depth conversations, and then, when Marcus began counting down the days, their talks lasted from sunup to sundown.
Marcus looked forward to his meetings with Rodney. Their discussions were lighthearted, realistic, and filled with hope, given their situation. Marcus pretended to dodge an oncoming defender, spun, shot the ball, and hit the back wall again. Rodney sat the book on his knees, and Marcus could feel his eyes on his back.
“You’ll never be a basketball player, but at least you’re a realist,” Rodney grumbled in a husky voice, ruined by countless prison cigarettes.
Marcus ignored him. He knew what he meant. Finding work was going to be a problem. Because even though he did his time, the labels were there. Felon. Murder. Regardless of the truth, that’s what he was called. He hadn’t even considered digging further into his wife’s death. He had waited seven years to cope with it. Prison didn’t suit weak wife-murderers.
“Gonna build a shed in your cell?” Marcus quipped, shot the ball again, missed, and sat down near Rodney.
He would miss the man, despite his snide remarks, because he was the only person who believed his truth. The truth that the judge and jury had refused to hear. The truth of it all, of his wife and his innocence. Marcus learned from Rodney early on that, in prison, everyone was innocent, and rather than face an argument over the facts, post-trial, leading to the inevitable prison-yard fight and additional time, Marcus refused to talk about it again.
Marcus told his story to his court-appointed lawyer, who advised him against testifying to it, stating outlandish claims would be viewed negatively by the jury, and instead begged him to take a plea deal. Marcus refused, told his story, and was sentenced to seven years. Though he was incarcerated, he had his dignity and his honor.
He looked over his hands, calloused with work, as they started to shake. He laid them on his knees. They were one of many terrible side effects from his time behind bars. Terrible, reoccurring nightmares plagued his dreams so badly, Rodney had to hit him from the bottom bunk before he woke up the entire block and they both had to suffer.
“Time check?” Marcus asked Rodney, who looked at a nonexistent watch on his wrist, shot Marcus a glare, then continued reading.
There were no clocks in the yard, but Marcus estimated he had twenty minutes left. He leaned his head against the cold concrete and tried to think about today, but even that was hard. This day seemed like any other. Slow-moving. Repetitive. Mind-numbing. Time moved differently in prison. But he found refuge in the prison library, and that’s where he got to know Rodney. Together, they read self-help and DIY home-building books because they were the only books available. Soon, their imagination joined in, and they really began delving into the DIY books, drawing out plans, and talking about remodeling projects and building a house from the ground up.
One day, the Assistant Warden, a geriatric who was long past retirement, saw Marcus in the prison library, moving around some chairs and mocking up how he would turn them into a table. The old man was interested in restoring furniture and sparked up a conversation with him on the topic, eventually leading to an opportunity to practice what he had been reading about. The Warden granted him the coveted title of Trustee, and soon, Marcus had a job. Rodney kept reading, citing bad knees for his inability to work. He liked the quieter life and preferred to be left alone.
But Marcus had a natural skill, and if it was broken and could be fixed, he could figure out how to do it. Day in and day out, he fixed everything from leaky sinks to wobbly yard benches, then returned to his cell to talk to Rodney.
He leaned over and snatched the book out of Rodney’s hand. In prison, this would have led to a massive brawl, but only resulted in a sigh from the aging man.
“I was deep in my imagination about how to build a trestle.”
Marcus raised an eyebrow and handed the book back. “For your shed?”
“No. To hang myself from.”
They both stared at each other, and Marcus laughed first, then Rodney followed.
After a moment they both leaned their heads against the concrete wall and shut their eyes, mimicking how their talks had been most of the time, an idea followed by how to make it real.
“Construction, right? Build a name for yourself,” Rodney asked. It was an idea Marcus had mulled around for a while and seemed like the best idea.
“That’s the plan. But we’ve already talked that through, remember? It’s your turn. You promised on my release day you’d tell me what you did.”
Rodney sighed. “I did, didn’t I?”
“You seem too smart to be here, man. What happened? I’ve waited seven years for this.”
Rodney opened an eye and Marcus was already looking at him. He shut his eye again, a look of contentment on his face.
“I was the top marketing strategist for a growing car dealership. One day, during a board meeting, my boss, an incompetent prick born into money without a lick of business sense, blamed a failed marketing campaign on me. It was his idea, and after twenty-five years of building that company, I was fired. That night, I took a hammer to his Mercedes in the parking lot while he was asleep.”
“That’s it?” Marcus asked.
“No. When he came to stop me, his head got in the way of my hammer.”
There was silence, then they both broke out into a stomach cramping bout of laughter. They both got up as a guard unlocked the gate to the yard and pushed it open.
Marcus led the way and Rodney asked to his back. “Any word?”
It was a dry question, one which had already been answered many times before. Why release day would be any different, Marcus didn’t know. He assumed Rodney was asking out of courtesy. Marcus had sent letters to nearly every member of his family he could think of, those that were still alive, that is. Distant cousins, a great aunt and a single grandparent were all he could find addresses for from the prison computer. He never got a response, except from Emily, his twin sister. They weren’t close, and her letters reflected that. Short and generic, she sent him news of the family. Most of which was a rise followed by an immense fall.
A successful business followed by a tragic accident. A new investment followed by a market crash. Nothing seemed to work in their family, and Emily remained as callous as ever with her letters. Then, after a while, they stopped coming, and Marcus stopped hoping. It turned out there was a reason behind the sudden stop in communication, and a final letter explained it all.
Within weeks of his release, he had discovered his only surviving immediate family member was dying. His mother, brother, father and soon, his sister. With that bit of news, he pored over the letter, willing himself not to cry. There was another part to the letter near the bottom where Emily detailed a place, an estate the family had pooled their money together to purchase. A place his sister said was meant for her, and they never intended to give to Marcus. But with her soon to be gone, he should take it. The letter contained a final apology from Emily for them not being so close and ended with her hoping he’d find peace. The day he got that letter, Marcus found a place to stay, and found out his sister was dying. Not a great day.
He sat down on his cold steel bunk. Rodney had already taken the mattress for himself and held the letter in his hand. It was the only thing he would leave the prison with. On the back was the address to the estate. Marcus sent a reply letter with the prison phone number, but a few weeks later the Warden followed up with him. Emily had lost her battle with cancer.
Marcus shook his head and pulled out a family photo from behind the letter. It was old, torn on the side with a heavy crease down the middle, obscuring his own twelve-year-old face. Marcus looked much like his father. He had broad shoulders, kind blue eyes and a sharp chin. The main difference was his lips, which were thin, like his mother’s. He also shared his father’s height, towering at six foot three. Marcus flipped the photo over and looked at the address written hastily in black ink. It read #1 Belford Drive, Darlene Louisiana.
Rodney flushed the prison toilet and came around the half-wall, retrieved something from his bunk and held it out to Marcus. It was a white envelope.
“What’s this?” Marcus asked, turning it over.
“Just open it when you get to your castle. It’s almost time.” Rodney grinned, pointing at their shared clock with a grate over it. It read nearly 5:00 PM, the designated release time.
Marcus smiled back and reached out to shake his hand.
“Thanks for everything. I’ll write to you every week.”
“No, you won’t. You’ll be too busy living like a king,” Rodney said smugly.
Marcus opened his arms and hugged him just as a guard arrived to unlock his cell door. He was out-processed quickly and escorted out into the humid, mid-summer air of Louisiana. Though he had been outside the prison walls many times, something about the air outside the gates was different. It felt smooth on his skin, and cleaner in his lungs. It was as if the wind itself knew he was a free man.
Marcus suddenly felt alone, and out of curiosity, couldn’t help but open the letter from Rodney. It was a newspaper clipping, 1994, exactly seven years to the date. It was only a headline, but the message was clear. Renovations on historic estate kill three in house-fire.


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