Natchez, MS is -- hands down -- my favorite place to escape. It's a wonderful oasis of calm, where whatever concerns involving my real life take a breather, and I can just relax. Likewise, it is the one destination that, without fail, fuels my muse like nothing else. Even before I first vacationed in Natchez, I was inspired by the architecture of its many antebellum homes to the point I set a story there at age 11. My mother, whose obsession with Natchez exceeds my own, had a collection of coffee-table books detailing the majesty and history of old houses in the South. Lost Wages of Sin is the first of several books that will feature Natchez as either a setting or reference it in some way. I can't help it; I just love it there.
My most recent venture took place this last weekend. Therefore, I have decided to post pictures of the various homes and locations that served as the backdrop of some scenes in Lost Wages of Sin. Some of these pictures are a few years old, as places such as Under the Hill and "Whytecliffe" were inaccessible due to recent flooding.
Thanks for indulging me. :)
I'll start with the Natchez Cemetery, which is hauntingly beautiful. I haven't yet been able to capture it in full grandeur in photos, sadly.
The three goons strolling drunkenly down Cemetery Road were no different. The second they set their sights on her, her wish was granted. “Well, well, boys,” said the first demon, a lecherous grin stretching across his deformed lips. “What’ve we got here?”
Had there ever been a time when that line was fresh?
The second demon cast her a look that she, quite frankly, didn’t want to analyze. “Wanna dance, little girl?”
Her lips twitched. She’d complain to others, but in truth, she loved this part. The bigger they were and all that. Ava looked human, smelled human and sounded human. Only a handful of earthbound demons knew otherwise. Even those demons didn’t know as much as they thought they did. Lucifer didn’t want word getting out he had her kind in his arsenal.
Next, to Longbourne.
Ava turned down a wooded path, crossing her arms. The air felt thicker here, almost electric. Something was close. One of her demon admirers, a brother or sister, or Lucifer himself, she didn’t know. Sleep remained a distant yearning. She wouldn’t get any rest with so much in the air.
The path broke into a fork. A sign on the left announcing what lay ahead was one of the tour houses, this one called Longbourne. It stood as one of the many monuments to the Civil War left behind and relegated to history buffs and field trips, so the current generation could experience what became of their ancestors and speculate how people in America had lived prior to TiVo. Every step she took made her skin tingle.
Now, to Avonlea where Dante and Ava met with Pixley, the curator. I have several pictures, including one I pulled off the Internet showing how this home looked before it burned. The modern shots were taken by yours truly.
Her feet hit the gravel drive before she saw the worn sign warding off trespassers. The home sat about a hundred yards off the closest thing Natchez had to an expressway, though Ava didn’t remember the streets being this busy the night before. She kept grabbing Dante’s shoulder and shoving him off the curb and into the weedy grass. A motorist wouldn’t injure him, true, but she still didn’t want to have to explain why a trip to the ER wasn’t necessary, or have someone in a panic over their lack of insurance.Like most demons, Ava’s eyes adjusted rapidly to darkness. She saw just as well at night as she did during the day, perhaps better given the situation. Still nothing could prevent the same creepy feeling she’d endured walking up Longbourne’s drive from hijacking her senses. It didn’t matter that tonight’s situation was completely different to
last night’s, wherein her feeling seemed justified. Longbourne sat a mile or so off the beaten track in the midst of a dense thicket of trees. This home, called Avonlea according to the worn historic monument post, felt much closer to civilization. Yet the sense of cold panic had her insides gripped, steadfastly refusing relief.
It also bore notable cosmetic differences. Ava hadn’t had much chance to admire any of the antebellum homes for which Natchez was famous, but she definitely had felt a more regal presence the night before. Perhaps that was due to Longbourne’s odd architecture—it looked like something one might find in India rather than the Old South. Avonlea, as far as she could tell, held a much more traditional façade, or had before fire had raped away its dignity. It was a great, two-story piece of history, rotted with burnt wood and crumbled plaster. A lamppost entwined with strings of ivy guarded what had once been a grand circle drive, while scorched columns held up a slanted veranda. It was a solid silhouette, cold, unfeeling, abandoned, and the solitude moved her beyond reproach.
“What is it with you and old houses?” Dante asked, glancing over his shoulder. The road was barely visible through the weeds, but the headlights of oncoming traffic kept the path from complete darkness.
Ava shrugged, barely able to explain it herself. “It’s not that old. Just a couple hundred years or so.”
“Old by today’s standards.”
She snickered. “Anything prior to 1976 is considered old by today’s standards.”
Dante favored her with a quick grin. “I got it. You just like the ambiance.”
“I like the privacy,” Ava replied. “This is a small town, and if summoning an angel is
anything like summoning a demon, we’re gonna want to be as far from attracting attention as possible.
Onward to Natchez Under the Hill. I couldn't take many photos due to the flooding at the river.
In the mid-nineteenth century, the area called Under the Hill represented the very worst sort of place for a woman to show her head—at least the sort of woman with a reputation to protect. What now stood as a small strip of land along the river landing had once been a large sub-community that entertained thieves, knife fights and the world’s oldest profession. So sordid was the reputation of the Hill not even police would venture along its seedy path. Now in the era of tourism and family friendly entertainment, the Hill had been reduced to a string of restaurants, gift shops and a casino showboat. One walkway ended and another began just as quickly, leaving little room between establishments. It still wasn’t the safest place to venture after night fell, but Natchez had far darker corners.
It was here Dante had parked the mustard-colored Oldsmobile he’d lifted off a drug trafficker in New Orleans. He usually wasn’t one for petty larceny, but the second he’d learned Ava’s location, he’d abandoned everything for the need to rush to her side. And until the marvelously horribly-timed visit from her sisters, he’d forgotten he had a car on hand, at all.
He was fucking glad he had it now. Ava had descended into a state of desperate panic. Such to the point even now she managed to pull ahead of him in her small, anxious strides. They hurried along in silence, passing restaurants and laughing couples and people who had no idea Hell was literally upon them.
Finally, to the Ruins of Whytecliffe. These were taken a few years ago; due to the flooding, we weren't able to go out there on this trip. The drawing of the home was done by someone's memory, and stands in a display case beside the ruins to give tourists an idea of what the home once looked like.
Undoubtedly, the remains had once been grand, though age had worn them to nothing more than another tourist attraction. Yet unlike the antebellum homes in Natchez, the Ruins of Whytecliff stood at least thirty miles down Highway 60 and off two other country roads. It was the sort of thing one had to be looking for in order to find, though even in the dead of night with her human eyes, Ava saw.
Whytecliff had been palatial before falling to time. The pillars stood straggled between each other, marking where a house once stood. Large, gothic columns scarred by flame and aged with unkind winds and rain blocked off a small piece of grass.
It was large and beautiful, and it might be the last ground upon which she stood.
Yes, this certainly was the place to convene. Far enough from civilization to avoid attention while maintaining an ethereal, almost royal presence. Ava shivered as Dante helped her over the small fence marking the stopping point for tourists. The area hummed with energy almost to the point of suffocation, but she didn’t see anyone.
“Maybe the party ended early,” Dante murmured.
“Don’t think so.”
Ava turned around, her steps stumbling backward. Then her gaze scaled up the columns, and she saw them. Situated upon each pillar stood a member of her family—all of them—with Lucifer in the center.
I really hope someone enjoys looking at these. In the meantime, thanks for humoring me.