Ever since I was a small child, we were never allowed in a certain section of my grandparents’ home. My sister and I were told that it was just a large library full of books we would find too boring or long to find interesting and that the shelves were tall and wobbly so no one could enter. Well, we were now well into our twenties going on thirties and with our grandmother dead and our grandfather recently placed into a long-term care facility, we were given the home.
My sister, Rose, and I lost both of our parents when I was four and Rose just on the peak of being two. Our Grandparents had been given custody and while giving us a roof over our head, our grandfather was a very stern and cruel man. Poor Rose was six when she had been bit by their yellow lab Bigsby, after our grandparents had both told her to leave him alone multiple times. Our grandfather though felt the bite wasn’t enough of a lesson, he called her over to where he was sitting at the kitchen table where he had a lit candle, some black powder and his survival knife laid out in front of him.
“Put your hand on the table.” He demanded, staring at her sternly.
She hesitated but quickly complied. Placing her hand on the table our grandfather picked up the knife and quickly brought it down on Rose’s right pinky finger, she shrieked in terror tears flowing down her flushed face, blood poured down her hand to her elbow, dripping onto the floor. He picked the removed appendage off the table and placed it in a mason jar that was on the counter, and began to pour salt into the jar, shaking it around till the little finger was buried in the white grains. He quickly walked back over to Rose and grabbed her hand dipping the spot where her finger once was into the black powder and brought the candle to it, sparking as it lit up cauterizing the fresh wound.
My grandmother had held me tightly as I watched in terror, I screamed out trying to break free to comfort my sister.
“You shut up!” My grandfather yelled to me. “We told her numerous times to leave the damn dog be. You can’t touch the dog if your missing fingers, now, can you?” He smirked grabbing a towel off the counter wiping the blade of the knife clean. “Next time maybe I’ll just take the whole hand.” He tossed the towel at Rose who was in complete shock, sobbing, unable to take her eyes off her hand. “Now stop your crying and clean up your mess.”
My grandmother released me from her tight grip, and I bolted over to Rose, throwing my arms around her, taking the towel from her and throwing it over the deep crimson puddle that pooled on the floor.
That wasn’t the first time he had been aggressive to get his point across, but it was the first time he had done something so severe to make his message clear, and it was the first time he had done something so drastic to Rose.
That night we were both sent to bed early in the evening with no supper.
Grandfather was a drunk, beer cans would often litter the area surrounding his recliner in the living room, as well as the porch near his wooden chair he would sit in and chain smoke on a hot, humid afternoon. I can remember his skin was wrinkled and rough like leather, tanned from the scorching Carolina sun.
He spent a lot of time in his library, us kids never knew much about what was in there, the door to the room had multiple locks and only Grandfather had the keys. Sometimes we would hear strange sounds coming from that part of the house, but we never questioned what was making the sounds of mechanical grinding and dull thumping. Rose and I were positive we heard distant groans coming from the room some days but agreed it may have just been the old bastard.
Our Grandmother could be just as rotten. I can recall our first summer staying fully with them, she would take meals from us, sometimes not even cooking for us young girls. She would tell us that once we started to earn our keep, we would be able to start being included in the meals. Frequently our plates were scraped right into the dog’s food bowl. We quickly learned to do chores around the house without being asked, dishes laundry, the cleaning, we did it all in hopes for three meals a day.
Once, Rose had woke me up past midnight complaining that her stomach ached from the lack of food. Quietly, I tip toed out of our room and into the small kitchen down the hall. I tried to open the bread box, it let out a high creak, I froze, listening for signs of either of the grandparents. Nothing, I was in the clear. Unwrapping the bag of bread, I pulled out two slices, placing them into the toaster on the counter. I eased over to the cabinet I had seen my grandparents keep their preserves, carefully grabbing a small jar of rhubarb jam down, the toaster finished with a POP that sent goosebumps all over my body. I froze, as the kitchen light flicked on.
“What do you think you’re doing young lady?” Grandmother stood in her pink floral night gown, her face red with rage, staring at me with a look that made me feel physically sick.
“We were hungry, so I- I – “ My words couldn’t come out in a complete sentence. She stormed over to me, turning the front left burner of the stove on as she clenched her hands around my shoulders.
“You ungrateful rotten child! We do everything for you, and you repay us by stealing our food?”
“No- no- I just- “ I stuttered un sure what was going to happen.
“You need to learn it’s not ok to steal, especially from family!” She hollered yanking my arm, forcing my hand onto the red glowing stove burner. I let out a blood curdling scream, she held my hand in place, grandfather stomped into the kitchen with a look of disgust across his face.
“Can you shut your mouth, some of us are trying to get some damn sleep here!’ He spoke sternly, raising his hand and letting it contact with a loud SMACK across my cheek. I fell to the floor unconscious and woke the next morning in bed with Rose net to me. That was the last time we ever tried to sneak out of our room at night, let alone make food on our own.
I never fully knew what she did for work, but she would be gone days, sometimes even weeks at a time. She would always come back late at night or very early in the morning, often carrying a box with mason jars that would clink together. Rose and I could hear the glass jars bumping around as grandmother thumped into the furniture that was on the other side of our small bedroom, usually letting the front screen door slam into place behind her. We never knew where they kept all the mason jars. While they did can their own foods and jams, they never kept many jars in the kitchen. We always assumed they must have been placed in a cabinet out of reach or a closet they used to store items they stocked on. Rose and I were very limited in what we could access in the old farmhouse.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Well, are you ready?” I put the car into park, glancing over at Rose, she stared out her window looking at the dilapidated house.
“I guess -let’s get this shit over with.” She left the car and I followed behind her, the old wooden steps creaked and shifted beneath our feet as we made our way to the front door, green paint was chipped and peeling from the door and framing. I pulled out a set of keys which where were given.
Inside we were greeted with a musty smell of mildew, dust and cat piss. Beer cans surrounded most of the living room, concentrated mostly around the old leather recliner grandfather spent most of his days in. An ash tray overflowed with cigarette butts, butts covering most of the small side table next to the old chair.
“Doesn’t look like much changed after we left.” I stepped over a pile of cans, working my way to the kitchen.
“It’s been what, twelve, thirteen years since we called this shit hole home?” I opened the cupboards looking through the left-over canned foods, and spices.
“You know, Tam, it wasn’t always a nightmare here.” Rose ran her hands across the countertop, rolling dust between her fingers, letting it fall to the floor.
“Yeah, that’s why you’re missing a finger, and my hands so scarred its nearly useless. But hey, the old coots gave us the place.” I entered the main hall, peeking into the bedroom our grandparents used. The bed was unmade, a large quit was crumpled in the center of the queen size bed. The pillows where yellowed from dirt and sweat, large brown and yellow stains marked up most of the sheets that dressed the mattress. Beer cans crumpled up on the one side, both sides of the bed had full ashtrays.
“I just don’t understand why he lived this way even after grandma died.” Rose held her hand over her nose, trying not to inhale the stale smells. Her long brown hair fell into her eyes, she used her free hand to brush it back over her head.
“Rose, neither of them really cared, when we were here and when we were gone, you and I did most of the cleaning.”
I continued down to the end of the hall, past the bathroom, there stood the door to our grandfather’s library. I jiggled the door attempting to open it with no luck. It was locked. I ran my hand over the multiple locks and took out the key ring we were given with the house key. I tired each key, only the top one unlocked. “Dammit” I mumbled under my breath.
“Have you tried the other keys? I’ve always wondered what kind of books grandpa felt where so important to keep locked up this way.” Rose tried taking the keys from my hand to give it a shot, I pulled them back and shoved them in my pocket.
“The keys are useless, but I have another idea.” I walked back towards the living room and out to the front porch. A wooden axe rested against the railing, small splinters of wood protruded from the handle, I pulled the sleeve of sweater over my hand and grabbed it.
“Alright Rose, this should do the trick, just step back.”
I took a deep breath before bringing the axe over my head and giving the door a good WHACK. The door splintered, I swung again, then again, until the door crumbled to bits, only wooden debris stuck to the hinges remained.
A horrendous odor quickly filled up the dust filled air, causing myself and Rose to physically gag. Rose quickly made her way to the front porch. I could hear her upchucking this morning’s breakfast.
I pulled the neck of my sweater up over my nose, focusing on using my mouth to breathe. It was dark in the room. Silhouettes of tall metal shelves surrounded the walls and the center of the large room. I searched the wall nearby for a light switch with no luck. Pulling put my phone and using its flashlight I was able to get a better picture of what we had just discovered. Filling the shelves though where not books, but glass mason jars of various sizes, most full of a strange yellowed liquid. Upon closer inspection I realized a good amount of the jars seemed to contain specimens nestled inside. Some full of mice, or small snakes and lizards, others appeared to hold organs and parts of animals of different sizes. Then I seen it, A large industrial size jar glimmered on top on a small wooden desk in the farthest corner of the room. Hair could be seen floating around inside it. I cautiously released my shirt trying to keep it over my nose as I aimed my phones flashlight on the large jar and struggled to turn the jar around with my free hand. \
“Shit!” I gasped, taking a step back bumping into shelves behind me, the jars clinked together, and a small jar fell and shattered to the ground. It was a head. A god damn human head was sitting in the jar. I quickly realized other jars nearby contained hands, ears, one had eyes, another a foot inside. I was going to be sick.
I booked it out of the room of horrors and made it into the bathroom just in time. I hovered over the toilet for a moment before wiping off my mouth and rinsing my mouth out with water from the tap. “What the fuck” I muttered to myself.
“Rose!” I yelled out as I got myself together and started my way towards the front of the house. “Rose we need to call the cops! There’s a fucking head in that room, we need to call someone right now!” She didn’t respond but I could hear shuffling out by the porch. “Rose?”
I heard a firearm click near my ear as I stepped onto the porch. I stopped dead in my tracks.
“Aren’t you just as ugly as ever.” My stomach dropped and a sickening feeling came over me as I recognized the voice of my grandfather. He stood off to the side, Rose laid unconscious at the bottom of the porch steps.
“What did you do?” I hollered trying to make my way down to her side, but the old bastard stuck out his arm and pinned me up against the siding of the house.
“She’s still alive, for now. Just took a little stumble down the way.” He stroked the side of my face with the barrel of his pistol.
“Why are you here, how did you leave the home?” My mind was racing, and I was trying to get my head back on straight.
“I heard you got the keys, was tipped off by a neighbor who came to visit, you guys got the house. It’s my house you bitch! You and your excuse of a sister have always been so ungrateful. You don’t deserve to be here.” He spat on my face, I winced and started to search around me with my free hand at my side. I felt a large stick propped by my leg, I quickly got a good grasp on it and snapped it over his head. He dropped to the ground holding his head, his pistol falling out of his grasp. I kicked it across the porch away from his reach.
I hurried inside, locking the door behind me, I sprinted to the back where I had left the axe from tearing down the library door. I crept inside the dark room, struggling to be quiet, trying to catch my breath without inhaling too much of the vile air. I was crouched in a corner hidden among the numerous shelves and jars. I could hear the front door bust in, Grandfather huffing and puffing as he stumbled around.
“Quit hiding and get out here now Tammy!” He slurred his words together. Cans clattered around as he flipped over furniture in a rage searching for me. I tried grabbing my phone from my pocket to dial 9-1-1 but my heart dropped as I felt nothing in my pockets. ‘Fuck.’ I thought to myself, I must have lost it in the tussle out front.
The hair on the back of my neck stood up as I heard his steps getting closer and closer to library entryway. Grandfather kicked at the shrapnel that was left of his precious room’s door. “God dammit, do you have no respect?” He hollered grabbing onto whatever shelves, and he could to move around, the glass jars clicking together from the movement.
I calmed my breathing and began to feel around to see what was around me to toss and distract him. I grasped a small mason jar full of white grains. I chucked it across the room, knocking more jars over to shatter around the floor.
“I see you found her finger!” He chuckled, “You better hope I don’t get my hands on you, child.” Grandfather let out a groan, clearly annoyed and furious.
With the axe in hand, I got up on my feet, the room still had very low visibility, I could faintly make out a small sliver of light coming from the wall near me, and I could see there were layers upon layers of newspaper taped up over what use to be a window. I peeled back a corner, letting in some light, illuminating the horrors more vividly in the room.
Grandfather tumbled over the broken glass reaching out towards me, waving his pistol in my direction.
“I’ve got you now Bitch!” His hands trembled as he struggled to keep steady, I I jumped over shards of glass that littered the floor, bringing the axe up before bringing it down right into the crook the of his neck and shoulder. He gasped; I caught my breath as he dropped down clawing at his neck with his hands. The pistol lay on the ground from him, I kicked it away before giving him a strong kick in the head, the axe dropped onto the concrete floor. His body went limp.
“How’s that for your fucking lesson learned.” I spat on his body before stumbling out, I needed to go check on Rose.
She was still laying at the bottom of the stairs; I thought the worst but could see the rise and fall of her chest.
“Thank Fuck!” I kneeled beside her, and searched her pockets for her phone, trying to move her as little as possible. I dialed 9-1-1 and within minutes EMS and the police where on the scene.
That had been our first time back at the house since I was 17, our first time in the library, and that would be our last for both.
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