Something was wrong with Clement Morecote. Something terrible.
On the outskirts of Saginaw, Michigan, the old man lived in an old house on the top of a hill. It was a once remarkable house, and he was a once remarkable man. There was little to be said about the hill. Surrounded by woods, except for a clearing on the east side, and with a poorly maintained road that no longer allowed approach by horse or carriage, the way was mostly overgrown and nearly impassible. Morecote Manor was constructed from wood and stone taken from the immediate surroundings: mostly oak and elm with decorative work being done in maple. There was an obvious disdain for the cheaper white pines that had made Clement his fortune. Limestone quarried locally at the Bay Port mines gave the house a fortress-like appearance. Lake Superior red sandstone trimmed the edges. The house was an imposing structure, much like the man who claimed to have built it, though both had lived better days.
“I erected my home from the bones of the Earth,” he was fond of saying, “by my own two hands! I cut every board and drove every nail. I dug every stone and hammered every hinge.” While an impressive brag, it was not at all true. It would not have been possible for one man to create such a sprawling residence. It took hundreds of workmen months to complete: artisans, masons, carpenters, gardeners, carvers, and painters. Clement did have a hand in nearly everything, did much of the iron and brass work, felled trees, laid brick, helped dig the foundation, and forged many of the iron fixtures, hardware accessories, and even the nails. He was most certainly not above getting his hands dirty, but Clement did not do it alone. “I brought this dwelling into being. I made this!” Perhaps he was trying to convince himself.
The property was surrounded by a high winding fence of stone and wrought-iron. Clement believed it was important that all structures on his property be built from materials at hand. Only lead glass and raw iron ore were imported. Once beautifully landscaped, much of the land was now overrun with noxious weeds and grasses. The barn had long since collapsed and the stables were in disuse. There were no longer any gardens on the estate, and both the ornate fountains were now full of stagnant water, slime, and the remains of drowned animals.
Born in Maryland in 1806, Clement made his way West some thirty years later. He was a man in search of a fortune and a wife. He found both in Michigan. Clement became known as a timber baron, but had additional investments in furs, salt, mining, and other mercantile interests. In 1840 he married a woman ten years his senior. She was a twice widowed without children, her first husband lost to some unremembered conflict with the French or Indians, her second to the pox. Clement was her third husband. He was a virgin when they met and married, and he was a virgin on his deathbed. His wife was no virgin, and was only too happy to leave such things behind. Both believed the sole purpose of fornication was procreation, and without the possibility for offspring there was no point to consummating their union. In any case, there was little desire, and no interest in domestic acts of affection by either party. Their marriage was one of appearance and convenience.
In 1872 Clement’s wife passed away, and if Clement was the visionary and driving forced behind Morecote, she was its soul. When she died the staff slowly abandoned him, and when his fortune dried up, he was left truly alone. The groundskeepers and stablehands, the maids and kitchen staff, his carriage-man and footman, all abandoned him.
He barely noticed.
Clement had never wanted children. His house was to be his legacy, his true passion and love, his vision. It was quite possible, and once too common, for people to get lost in Morecote Manor. The halls were bewildering winding narrow passages between rooms. Ornate staircases ascended into unfinished and forgotten quarters, storage, and crawlspaces, or descended into wine cellars, storm shelters, and rooms without purpose. There were bedrooms and studies, kitchens, conference rooms, closets, multiple attics, a theater, and even a nursery.
Some said Morecote was haunted (both house and man), but Clement was the only ghost to walk the halls. He did not need to remember his way about the manor, every room and corridor imprinted on his soul. He was the house.
On good days, he could no longer recall the name of his wife; on bad, he could not remember even his own.