(This story contains historical atrocities. Reader discresion is advised.)
Unity. A town of nearly 10,000 residents, and home to a mixture of small-town charm and big city businesses. A place where you can chat it up with a few familiar faces at the franchised coffeeshop, then walk around a park and rest at the gazebo in its center, ahead of going to shop at one of the big-box stores several blocks away pass the church-run homeless shelter. Just like any place in the world, it’s got its good and bad, but this town has something that is a special kind of bad. That something is an abandoned and decrepit manor over on the outskirts known as the Merchant House; a manor that was owned by Unity’s founder Christopher Merchant.
Christopher Merchant was born to a wealthy family in England. As he grew up, he developed increasingly worrisome behaviors his family would have a harder and harder time trying to cover up. By the time he left with his cousin to help settle the Americas, the authorities were seeking him for questioning about unusual circumstances surrounding the fatal hunting accident of one of his uncles.
When the settlers arrived, they moved further inland until reaching what was a stretch of land, which held no outstanding significance except to the indigenous tribe whose home it was at the time. Knowing of already uneasy ties between other colonists and indigenous folk around the region, Christopher’s cousin wanted to establish a trading relationship to ease animosities. The day he and Christopher left to visit the tribe to make a deal, only Christopher came back later, as the only survivor of a supposed ambush he blamed on the natives. He led the settlers in a surprise attack on the tribe’s village, slaying all men, women, and children in the brutal and swift massacre. For his leadership described as, “a heroic action against an act of grave cowardice,” he was made the new town’s leader and given the honor of becoming the town’s founder.
As Unity was settled and quickly grew, Merchant had his estate built on top of where the now extinct tribe’s village used to be, then bought slaves to work his fields and care for the manor. In conjunction with the typical harsh conditions slaves would face, Christopher would use any reason to personally punish his slaves. Limbs were amputated for escape attempts, whippings were for lower harvest yields, fingers were boiled for subpar cooking, fingernails were pried off for not being clean enough, yet not many of them died. It was said he would always make sure they were cared for, to be healthy enough to live through their maiming, which caused the residents of Unity to grow resentment against the slaves’ perceived robustness. This was especially strong when famine and illness struck the town.
During this time, Merchant was married to his late cousin’s wife Esther. Whatever the town felt about the goings-on at the estate as news trickled out over time, she was well liked by the colonists. Other than the times her and her husband would go to church, she would routinely travel with one or two personal houseslaves to visit the shops and marketplace to usually browse or talk to the locals. She was friendly, but it was always noted how she tended to carry an air of sadness and often wore oddly thick applications of makeup on her face. Eventually, Esther seemed to stop coming to the town, and only Christopher came to church. When inquired on the whereabouts of his wife, he would say that she was treating a light malady. Everyone found nothing suspicious about that explanation except for a shop owner, who was holding her order that she made the day preceding her stopped visits. One morning, the shop owner with his apprentice decided to pay a visit to the Merchant estate to personally deliver the item and check on her welfare. They were greeted by a houseslave, who escorted the two to the manor’s study; its doors still closed since last night when Christopher Merchant ordered his slaves to do so for his privacy. When the door was opened, the smell of smoke and charred flesh hit everyone, followed by the grisly sight of the master’s burned corpse stuffed inside the simmering fireplace. Despite the scene, Esther was nowhere to be found.
With Christopher dead and Esther still missing, the fears of a brewing slave rebellion immediately took hold of the townspeople. Since nobody else in Unity owned slaves, the solution to quell any possible uprising was simple. All the slaves of the estate were rounded up and lynched, then the slave’s quarters were razed to the ground. The only things left standing on the abandoned property afterwards were the barn, the crops, and the manor itself.
Throughout the years since, there were only two other owners. The first was a retired commodore, who was an avid game hunter, fascinated by spiritualism and the occult. When he purchased the Merchant House, he had it renovated with some new rooms and fixtures added. During the reconstruction, the crews seemed to be plagued by serious and fatal accidents. When the manor was finished, the commodore, a small housekeeping staff, and his three hunting dogs became its new residents. Within a couple of weeks, the staff who visited town told of strange and disturbing happenings over at the manor, which convinced the owner to reach out to a few known acquaintances to join him in holding a séance to find answers. These acquaintances arrived more than several days later to an empty building. The commodore, his dogs, and the staff had all vanished. The only signs that anyone used to live there were all the furniture, personal belongings, and food; a lot of which were splashed with blood.
The second and last owner of the Merchant House was not its resident, but a proprietor of the business that called it home. After another brief period of renovation and accidents, the manor became a gambling hall and cathouse that served illegal alcohol. It was a popular establishment at the time for Unity and the surrounding towns and cities. Any deaths by or of clientele or staff were kept quiet or explained away, with new folks easily replacing them and none being the wiser. It continued that way for almost a couple of years until the owner and his partners had a falling out over how to split the profits. The former partners decided to send some associates to put Merchant House out of business by turning it into what the police described as a slaughterhouse. The massacre led to the manor’s final abandonment.
Though the place had only three recognizable owners, it still had many more victims than one could conceivably quantify. The most well-known incident occurred during a particularly harsh winter, when an immigrant family were forced to shelter themselves there after the citizens of Unity refused them any room and board to wait out the coming blizzard. When cholera struck the town shortly after, blame was eventually somehow pinned on the family. A mob arrived at the Merchant House to run the immigrants out. The wagons were still there, but the horses were dead and frozen from the snowstorm collapsing the barn. When the townspeople broke into the manor, they found the entire family brutally butchered, which they laid all blame upon the father and chalked it up to being foreigners.
The family weren’t the first or last victims after the times Merchant House was left abandoned. Vagabonds, missionaries, footpads, highwaymen, runaways, escapees, travelling salesmen, hippies, Klansmen, cops, lost tourists, addicts, drug dealers, meth cooks, amateur ghost hunters, schemers, and dreamers alike; even a serial killer if some rumors were to be believed. It didn’t matter who they were or what drew them to the manor, anyone seen heading down in that direction were never seen again.
The population of Unity knew of its reputation for the longest time. They continued living their lives, but they knew to keep away from the manor, which was always there waiting for its next unwitting victim. They felt it was best to ignore and mention it as little as possible. It was just part of Unity and they just had to live with it looming from the edge of town, always lurking in its shadows. However, as the older population passed on the stories less and passed away more, the tragedies became urban legend, and the younger generations became jaded and skeptical of the local superstitions. It was only a matter of time when the Merchant House would strike again.