The house is as ancient as the evil that inhabits it.

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"Built in 1850 by the McShean family, a devout Irish Catholic clan that immigrated from the old world thirty years earlier, the Immaculate is the oldest original plantation in existence in this county. The slaves' quarters and other out-buildings were all burned during the Civil War, just weeks before Appomattox, and were rebuilt in the years following, some of them quite recently, actually. The manor house, however, remains entirely intact and has been refurbished to its former antebellum glory." Drandon Mascule stood on the front steps of the manor, sweating in an early morning Georgian sun, and examined the small crowd of thirteen guests gathered before him. "As you know, we are normally closed this time of year, due to the start of school and a shortage of cheap, willing help, so do feel a bit... special for having been invited to attend this very special event."

A tall, thin, distinguished man at the back of the bunch raised his hand slightly, betraying his profession as some sort of educator, and remarked glibly, "Will there be ghosts?"

Some of the rest laughed, briefly, nervously. While a few of them, Drandon noted, were true believers, and did not favor the question, except with sour faces and unhappy grumbles.

"Naturally. Mr. Keaton, isn't it?" The man nodded, pleased to be known by his face without a formal introduction. But then, Drandon Mascule was nothing if he was not pleasing to the eye and the ear. "The Immaculate has suffered a long and notorious history, as I'm sure you are all aware."

Drandon climbed the final step and crossed the porch, pausing with his hand on the latch of one massive front door of the mansion. The small group followed and arrayed themselves on the steps, unwilling or afraid to venture onto the ancient porch without permission. Still, they eyed his hand on the latch, then glanced through the windows at the many fans turning within, which spoke of reprieve from September's brutal, stifling, sticky heat.

Drawing on the natural suspense of this moment, Drandon drawled laconically, "This manor stood only five short years in peace. Come December of eighteen hundred and fifty five, the Immaculate had its first taste of blood, when Brannigan McShean, patriarch of the family, went broke in a market downturn and committed suicide in the foyer. Mere feet beyond this door, you know." He stretched a bloody grin across the front of his teeth for show. "After, of course, he murdered his wife, his mother, and three of his children in their sleep. Only one survived. The eldest, Eldon McShean. He had been away to school in England at the time, you see. Lucky him."

They giggled and murmured among themselves, some of them. Drandon tripped the latch, and pushed the tall, wide portal open. A cool wind that reeked of mint and perfume rolled past their host and assaulted the crowd with a promise of mystery and, more pressing at the moment, modern air-conditioning.

As a single body, they surged forward and pushed into the house, thanking and teasing Drandon as they passed. He shook their hands, and exchanged deep, meaningful glances with each of them.

Once inside the foyer, they gathered in small clicks or turned their individual attentions to the artifacts and furnishings that adorned the broad entryway. One of them, a portly, blue haired lady of fading years, groaned, "This room is bigger than my whole apartment!" Several others agreed and marveled at its size.

"That's not so surprising, Mrs. Ashe," noted Drandon, striding across the room to the entrance of the ground floor's main hall, holding them within the foyer for the moment, "When one remembers that this was the most important chamber in the entire house. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is where one first comes to intimately know the Immaculate. For good or ill."

After a few seconds of silence, they returned to a loose formation and focused their attention on his narrative. "If you are unfamiliar with the history of the Immaculate, I am certain your stay here will be enhanced by a summary of it. If you already know, or think you know, something about the Immaculate, you may appreciate a recital of it from my perspective, as I am the last living descendant of the McShean clan.

"After Eldon McShean inherited his birthright so prematurely, he was forced to abandon his artistic studies and return to manage the trivial, mundane affairs that so large an operation demanded. He was wed to a local debutante at the age of fifteen, and she quickly bore him a succession of daughters, but no sons. Indeed, he was thirty three, a man of advanced years in that day, before she bore him a namesake, during the course of which birth she died, leaving him alone to raise their thirteen children."

A face Drandon recognized as being that of Dr. Greer from Scottsdale, Arizona injected, "Thirteen progeny, thirteen guests. A trivial, yet dramatic coincidence."

The youngest of their number, Danse Kenzie of Los Angeles, offered, "Maybe it's not a coincidence, at all."

"Nonsense," returned the professor.

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