"Who entereth herein, a conqueror hath bin;
Who slayeth the dragon, the shield he shall win." - Edgar Allan Poe, The Fall of the House of Usher
It is not without depravity that my partner and I live our lives. During the whole of a dark, moonless night in the winter of the year, with reluctant rainclouds scarring the field of stars above, we had been engaging in one of our depraved and insufferable acts. That we are experts in our chosen occupation provides us with misplaced and obsequious senses of superiority. We are better than our fellow man - the fairer gender included - and if we cannot have what we feel we deserve, then we shall simply obtain it by any feasible means.
The large house - one easily described as a manor or a mansion - stands as the lone structure on nearly 50 acres of property in southwestern New York. The plot of land appears inviting, serene - and it is most certainly peaceful out here - while the house itself exudes a melancholy aura, as if the very wood and metals it is comprised are embarrassed at their intrusion on an area so pristinely natural, save, of course, for the existence of its foundation, its walls, and its many heavily draped windows. There has been talk of the proprietors erecting other structures - a barn, a guesthouse, a separate quarters for the few employed servants - but the lady of the house, a self-professed follower of Transcendentalism, has so far won out the arguments she often partakes in with her far-too enamored spouse.
My partner and I had been observing the tenants of the home for almost four years. There is a popular utterance among the more professional of our peers that one should never, and I quote, work in one's backyard. And, in light of our own professionalism and the fortuitousness of having both married into wealthy families, my partner and I adhered to this philosophy as if we were the star disciples of Aristotle and Socrates. We had bantered about plying our trade the first winter when each of us noticed - at varying times - that the inhabitants of the manor were absent for nearly a fortnight, leaving only one retired deputy to protect the manor and the grounds, though the grounds themselves needed no protection. The second winter we had even surveilled the property, noting that the deputy, despite his aptitude with the firearm, failed to notice even our footprints slowly filling in with snow just a few feet from the kitchen door on the reverse side of the structure. By the third winter we had managed to draw plans of the house by peering in each window and, on more than one humorous occasion, even sketched the sleeping deputy while standing arrogantly in full view, had he but awoken from his slumber.
And, so, my partner and I decided that should the residents of the house take an extended leave from their abode a fourth straight winter season, then my partner and I shall break our long-held belief and alleviate the residence of its possessions of value.
Though we had both remained calm experiencing an instinctual inclination that something was amiss - there were no signs or hints that the deputy was present, and all the drapes to all of the windows, including those of the higher floors, were drawn shut - we proceeded as we had so carefully devised over the course of the past year. The bolt on the solid oak double doors of the music room turned simply enough, my partner extraordinarily adept at aligning the tumblers of a lock without the use of its appropriate key.
Neither of us were prepared for the fetid and putrid odor that each of our acute senses of smell were assaulted with. My partner immediately turned, covering his mouth, in a futile attempt at preventing his evening meal from committing rebellious upheaval. We were not murderers, though we must both reluctantly admit that we were guilty of having killed, and the familiar stench of death both alerted us to the predicament at hand and invigorated senescent memories of our most vile of acts.
Our intent upon entering the abode was to seal the doors behind us and allow our eyes to adjust to the relative darkness before we began our task. The unpleasant fragrance emanating from the room - my partner theorized the entire house - prevented us from a quick entry and instilled in us an irresistible desire to see. Hastily I created an improvised torch using oil from a mounted lamp and a discarded stick from a pile of stacked firewood nearby. My partner, in the process of gathering his fortitude, queried my decision to not simply remove the lamp from the wall, but resolved himself that the handle might provide whatever creature - imagined or substantial - responsible for the odor additional opportunity to audibly track us through our exploration of the manor.
It is not without hesitation that my partner and I live our lives. During the whole of a dark, moonless night in the winter of the year, with reluctant rainclouds scarring the field of stars above, we hesitated for an eternity before proceeding further and farther into the darkness. That we are the only known souls within miles provides us with a misplaced and fallacious sense of responsibility. There are dead here - perhaps something else - and, like the black cat, curiosities to be sated.
*Continued in A Winter Tale, Part II