Granddad’s Cellar (Horror) written by Grant Kauffman
Jacob Rustin’s granddaddy was a witness to the boy’s first breath in this world, taking in that same sterile hospital air the boy inhaled during his first few seconds of this journey called life. In fact, he was the only family member to hold baby Jacob that day. The newest Rustin arrived courtesy of an emergency Cesarean, so Mama spent the first twenty-four hours recovering from what turned out to be a very difficult surgery. Grandpa Rustin has been close to that boy ever since, by his side for nearly all of his seventeen years, a surrogate father if you will. You see, Jacob’s real father was killed in Iraq when he was but a month away from entering this world. It’s a tough thing for a boy to be raised without his daddy. And as for Jacob’s mama, she never did recover from her broken heart after losing the only man she had ever loved; after Jacob was born she became reclusive, spending much of her time in bed. Thank the good Lord for his granddaddy, a true family man—been there for that boy and his mama ever since the day of his birth. That’s an honorable thing to do, to help raise his dead son’s boy. But then again, the Rustins are a very tight family, always have been. It’s a family tradition, I suppose.
For over one-hundred-fifty years, the Rustin family has owned a little piece of paradise, a small plantation on the outskirts of the beautiful little town of Nacogdoches, Texas. Their land sits along the outer perimeter of Pecan Acres Park. It is a small working ranch by Texas standards with only a hundred acres. But where it’s short on size, it’s magnificent with its topography. An abundance of pecan trees, tall maple and oak trees adorn the property, although there are plenty of the indigenous pines as well for which this area is known. There is also a smattering of cypress trees along the short stretch of the Bayou La Nana stream which runs through their property.
Their home, by modern standards, is a nice two-story house, but nothing spectacular. Now, that wasn’t always the case. Back in the mid 1800s, the plantation home was a source of great pride for the good folks of Nacogdoches, at least the privileged ones. And in case you’re wondering, yes, the Rustins owned their share of slaves. I know folks don’t like to talk much about those types of things anymore but it’s an important part of the rich history of our town and this story. For reasons not known by many, the slaves from the Rustin Plantation seemed, by all outward appearances, to be content. Happy isn’t the proper word. I can’t imagine a slave who could ever be truly happy, but if one could find contentment, well, that was probably a small victory. In nearly every historical document mentioning the Rustins and their plantation, there is an emphasis on how well the family’s slaves were treated—almost like an extension of the family itself. Almost.
Something that must be understood about the Rustins is that they have had an extraordinary run of good luck, as if the Almighty Himself cast His eternal good blessings on their family. Already boasting of the most productive cotton crop in the region, it was revealed that an astonishingly rich oil reserve lay in wait deep below the surface where the family resided. Soon after the discovery of the oil, the cotton crop became a thing of the past. The prosperity river has been flowing at a healthy pitch ever since. As one can imagine, they became the envy of town, something they further promoted by hosting some of the most remarkable social functions Nacogdoches has ever seen. It wasn’t long before an invitation to a Rustin family event became quite the commodity, like a sign of good standing in the community, a subject of desire among most of the townspeople. In fact, if there is one thing that hasn’t changed since the late 1800s, it is that the Rustin name is a Nacogdoches jewel, a local label that several generations of family members have worn with pride, something none of them has ever questioned. That is until recently.
It all started on a late summer day when teenage Jacob was wandering about the town square doing what most seventeen-year-olds do on a lazy, hot summer afternoon: looking for something, anything, to occupy his time and cure the boredom blues. What he found would forever change his outlook on his beloved family and their place in East Texas history.
The afternoon was hot as young Jacob Rustin made his way along the outskirts of downtown up Warren Drive. He passed by a nondescript alley, one he’d walked by countless times, each time giving it not an ounce of second thought. On this particular day, however, something strange caught his eye, someone emerging from the alley. She was a peculiar sight, yet an oddly attractive one: an abrasive-looking young woman, possibly homeless, definitely in need of a shower and a fresh change of clothes, moving at a brisk pace toward him. He continued walking even though he was certain she was coming after him. He could hear her footsteps kicking up loose gravel and broken glass on the alley floor. She was in hot pursuit of something, getting closer to Jacob, but the young man kept his same pace, playing it cool.
“Hey, you!” she said in a loud whisper. He stopped and turned around.
“I know who you are. Do you?” she asked, out of breath and clearly using a confrontational tone.
“Uh, do I know you?”
“That’s irrelevant. I asked if you knew who you were.”
Jacob let out a nasal laugh, shook his head and turned to walk away.
“Ever been inside your granddaddy’s cellar?”
Jacob slowed his pace to a stop and turned to face his stalker.
“What’s that you say?” he questioned.
“The cellar. You ever seen it?”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about or who you are.”
“Ah, so you don’t know. Interesting.”
“I know I’m gonna regret asking this, but what is so interesting?” Besides this surprisingly cute ragamuffin before me, he thought.
“I find it interesting that you don’t know about your granddaddy’s cellar. It’s an important part of this town, of your family, of you.”
Jacob stood looking at the girl. Probably a bit older than me but close enough, he thought. Has to be from around here. She clearly has no sense of self pride when it comes to presenting herself to the world. But man is she cute! There is something about her eyes, those dark green eyes.
“Look, I’m sure you’re a nice person and all, but I don’t know you, you obviously don’t know me, and I have no idea what you’re talking about. I gotta go.” Jacob began to walk away.
“Well, if you ever wanna know who you really are, go to Justin’s Bookstore and ask for Victor. Tell him Spyder says to show you the Rustin Albums.”
“Yeah, that’s me, but spelled with a ‘y’. S-P-Y-D-E-R.”
“Seriously? You call yourself Spyder?”
Jacob gave her another once-over and quickly concluded that Spyder did, in fact, possess characteristics reminiscent of a spider. She had long, skinny arms and legs, black stringy hair, and she wore a hoodie over her head which cast shadows on her gaunt face. Gaunt but really cute in a grungy, Goth sort of way.
“Yep, they call me Spyder and you need to go see Victor at Justin’s Bookstore.” She turned to walk away and as she did, Jacob got a better look at her, at the old clothes, at what appeared to be authentic retro attire. Her jeans were especially tattered, decorated with a variety of holes. One in particular near her rear end gave Jacob a window to the beginnings of the curvature of seemingly the only healthy part of her body, her well-defined derriere. That sole attribute immediately elevated her status to intrigue level for the young man, a virgin who’d grown accustomed to the window-shopping technique of courting the opposite sex.
“Wait,” he cried out in an attempt to prolong the conversation now that his curiosity was pricked. “Don’t you want to know my name?”
“Oh, but I already do know your name…Jacob.”
“How do you know me?”
“I know a lot of things.”
As Spyder began to scurry away back toward the same alley from which she had appeared only moments ago, Jacob’s lustful curiosity skyrocketed, his heart fluttered, and he was suddenly full of adolescent adrenaline.
“Justin’s Bookstore, Victor, Spyder, and what else?” he shouted, his focus on that one hole in her jeans.
“The Rustin Albums. That’s all you need to know. Have a nice day, Jacob.”
“Wait, Spyder,” he called timidly, not fully comfortable calling her such a name. “Do I come find you after I do all these things?”
“Nope. Just do what you’re doing now. Wander around town, and I’ll find you.”
“Okay, but I have to warn you…” he was quickly interrupted by the absence of her presence. She had slipped back into the crack which was the alley but not before making an unforgettable impression on young Jacob. The boy quickly went on his way, feeling a mixture of excitement and frustration. He was also seriously confused. Granddad’s cellar. What in the world does that even mean? he thought. We don’t even have cellars in Texas. His pace quickened to match his racing mind, and soon he found his way back to his family’s plantation home.
It was sometime after dinner when Jacob took a cold soda out on the front porch to enjoy a brief whirl on the porch swing. He often found himself out on that swing, one of the few places where the atmosphere coughed up a breeze strong enough to penetrate the oppressive Texas heat. It was also one of the few places guaranteed to provide some peace, but on this particular night, he wasn’t using it as a place to cool off or to contemplate his life’s purpose. It was utilized, instead, as bait, a trap, something that would surely lure his granddad out of the house to join him. There were questions that needed to be answered, and he was certain his granddaddy would provide them. In all his years, Jacob had never known his granddad to lie to him. In fact, integrity and honesty were virtues he’d emphasized to him growing up. A man who lies is an insecure person who has something to hide, he’d said to Jacob on many occasions. If you come across a liar, someone who you know is blatantly lying to your face, make a mental note of it. And know that every time you talk to that person, they are just as likely to be lying to you as telling the truth.
It wasn’t long before the bait was taken and Granddad came out with his evening beverage of choice, a frosty mug filled with his favorite Texas-brewed beer, a local draft called Harvey’s Snakebite Ale. The old man walked out, sitting his half-empty bottle of brew on the side table and lifting the frost-covered glass mug to his mouth, taking in the rich, creamy dark draft.
“Ahhhh, that’s good beer right there,” he said. “Nothing like an ice-cold brew on a muggy summer night.”
“That’s so cliché, Granddad.”
“Yep, it is, but boy is it ever true.” There was a healthy pause as they slowly rocked that swing. The only sounds were the metallic creaking from the chain holding the swing to the porch’s ceiling and the scraping of shoe tips on the treated wooden porch.
“Do we have a cellar?” Jacob asked, the abruptness of the question cutting through the silence like an explosive clap of thunder.
“A cellar, Granddad. Do we have a cellar?”
“I have no earthly idea what you’re talking about. Now drink your soda and let’s talk about something worth talking about, like baseball.”
The two Rustin men quickly changed the subject, focusing not on the silly questions of a curious teen, but rather on something far more important: the Texas Rangers and where they stood in the American League West standings. Granddad rambled on about a weak bullpen and how it would be the death of the Rangers this season. Jacob nodded and offered up a few “yeahs” and “uh-huhs” at the proper times. But Jacob’s mind was a long way from Texas Ranger baseball. He was somewhere else, making mental notes, thinking about an old bookstore and a girl named Spyder, and even more, he was trying to process the fact that for the first time in his life, he was certain his granddad was lying.
The official opening time listed on Justin’s Bookstore’s front door was ten, but the doors were unlocked thirty minutes early to accommodate the furious pacing of the teenage boy on its front sidewalk. Curiosity over the kid’s purpose was too tempting for ol’ Justin Blue to take.
“Come on in, young lad.” The forty-something proprietor greeted Jacob. His large frame and long locks with the matching salt and pepper beard made him look years older than he was. His appearance screamed of a comic book store or possibly a retro music store owner. He dressed like a skateboarder, although the sixty extra pounds had most likely kept him off his board for years. His attire hadn’t missed a beat, though; it appeared as if he hadn’t changed from his middle school days much at all.
“What in the world has got you all worked up so early?” he asked, looking at Jacob, who was looking everywhere but back in Justin’s eyes.
“Uh, I’m just, uh, I was told, um.”
“You were told what, exactly?”
“I was told that I should come talk to Victor.” Immediately, Justin’s happy demeanor seemed to turn sour. His smiling, inquisitive face turned serious, and it was obvious to Jacob that this statement had struck some kind of chord.
“Who told you to come see Victor?” The change in mood was troubling to Jacob.
“Uh, there was this girl.”
“Young man, there’s always a girl. The quicker you learn that, the better.”
“Her name is Spyder, and she told me to come ask for Victor.” Justin paused for a moment.
“She did, did she?”
“Yeah, she said I should come see him about something.”
“And what would that something be?”
Jacob wasn’t sure he should be sharing any of this with Justin. He played it coy.
“It’s nothing really, not a big deal, but I was told I needed to speak with Victor.”
Justin took a deep breath and let out a steady flow of air which smelled of stale coffee.
Justin locked the front door and led Jacob to the back room, a concrete block of a room that was littered with large boxes and wooden shelves filled with books. It was dusty and cool, which made Jacob feel both comfortable and uncomfortable. Justin led him to a staircase at the back of the warehouse whose steps plunged down into the kind of darkness that made one’s skin produce award-winning chill bumps. As if on cue, they began to rise all over Jacob’s body. He also felt his stomach turn somewhat ill, to some degree with nervous excitement but also with something a bit more disagreeable, like he was about to witness something he had no business witnessing. The burly, long-haired and bearded man began his descent, and while every fiber of his being screamed out in opposition, Jacob followed him into the darkness.
Jacob had crept down only four stairs into the blackness when he decided he’d tipped his toes as far as he was willing to go. As long as he was operating blindly, there was only so much he was willing to risk. However, before he could voice his concern, he heard a clicking noise followed by the birth of a dim light. Justin had obviously developed an instinct for negotiating the pitch-black basement, having made his way easily to the lone source of light: a dangling bulb and chain, which was now swinging gently in the center of the room. Jacob continued down the stairs and joined Justin and his troop of dancing shadows, moving in perfect synchronicity with the swaying light bulb.
The basement was the younger sibling of the warehouse—a cold, dusty cement room decorated with every form of literature imaginable. Without speaking, Justin led Jacob to a door in the back corner, one that reeked of bad intentions. The creak of the hinges made Jacob chuckle. How cliché—a rusty-hinged door, leading to death. Classic. The light from the back room was equally as dim as the swinging bulb, but it gave the young Rustin boy enough confidence to at least enter the room. At first glance, this room seemed no different, but just a few steps in, Jacob began to get the feeling that it was far more sinister than he first thought. His insides began to rumble again; his skull pounded with pressure and his chest tightened. He felt a sensation unlike any he’d ever known: Jacob Rustin was genuinely scared.
“Please, sit,” Justin said, motioning to a small table pushed to one side of the room. There were three chairs around the table, filling the only three available sides. The fourth side of the table was nestled into the hardness of the concrete wall. Jacob sat.
“So you came to see Victor, huh?”
“Yes, sir. I mean, that’s what Spyder told me to do.”
“So you’ve said,” Justin let out a nasal laugh and shook his head ever so slightly. “She’s an amazing kid. Relentless.”
“Is Victor coming?” the young man asked tentatively.
“Oh, he’s here. In fact, he’s standing before you right now.” Jacob looked around but saw no one. There was a brief moment when he was certain Justin was introducing him to a ghost, but that thought soon dissipated. “I’m Victor.”
“I thought you were Justin.”
“Everyone does, so I’ve always just let them call me that. My actual name is Victor. The store is named after my favorite candy. A rather silly slice of trivia but true.”
“Oh, well, that’s cool, I guess.”
“So I’m assuming that since Spyder sent you, you are seeking access to a rather classified bit of information.”
“Yes, sir. I think so. She told me to come see Victor, er, uh, you about the Rustin Albums.”
“The Rustin Albums? Hmmm. Interesting. And what exactly is your interest in the Rustin Albums?”
“I don’t really know, other than my name is Jacob Rustin and she told me to come and see you.”
“Well, that is truly fantastic, man!” he said, surprising Jacob. Victor’s response was a relief to Jacob, whose fear was then overpowered by Victor’s positive energy. “Do you know how important you are to this town?”
“Well, no. I don’t know. I mean, I’ve heard stories about how much people have loved our family over the years but—”
“Stop!” Victor barked. “Say no more.” With that, the store owner walked over to a dusty-looking box resting comfortably in its wooden-shelved crypt and removed it. Setting the box on the table, he pulled out its contents, an equally grungy-looking stack of photo albums, and plopped them down on the table in front of Jacob, the dust billowing out in all directions. “If this is what you’ve come to find, then this is what you shall have. I just hope you’re ready for this.” Victor slid one of the two largest photo albums directly in front of Jacob, who was altogether unprepared for what he was about to see.
Jacob fought the temptation to peruse the photo album the way he did magazines, from the back to the front, an odd habit to be certain. Instead, he opened to the first page, and what he saw immediately chilled him to the bone. In handwritten script, accompanied by an old black and white photo of his granddaddy’s house—his house—were the words “The House of Horrors: The True Rustin Family History”.
“Do you know anything at all about your granddaddy’s cellar, Jacob?” Without taking his eyes off the photo album, Jacob shook his head. “Well then, bud, some of this might be tough to look at. You need to decide now if you want to go any further because, trust me when I tell you this, once you delve into these pictures, there’s no going back, brother.”
Jacob hesitated for an instant but then cautiously turned the page and was met by what appeared to be an old hunting photo, similar to ones he’d seen many times before. Standing before him, permanently etched on photo paper, was the grainy black and white image of faces that looked, well, like him. It was a family gathering of men of all ages, some barely old enough to stand. They were obviously Rustin men, all standing and smiling at the camera with the day’s kill, gutted and skinned, strung up beside them. On the far left were four older men, some he thought he’d seen before in family photo albums. Next to them were the carcasses of their hunt, and next in the picture were the faces of younger Rustin men. To the far right were four young boys, one who couldn’t have been more than three years old.
“This looks like a hunting photo. I’ve seen dozens of shots like this. What am I supposed to be looking at?” Victor walked up beside Jacob and put his right hand on his shoulder and then pointed to the photo. His finger landed on the blurry face of the youngest Rustin.
“We are almost certain that’s your granddad’s granddaddy right there,” he said.
“Ok. I can see the resemblance. So what’s the big deal?”
“Jacob, take a closer look at the photo, at what’s hanging between them.”
Jacob shifted his eyes to the dead animals and examined the old grainy black and white image more closely. Suddenly, a cold sweat broke out all over his body, and a sickness fell upon him like a cresting wave. The animals were not animals at all—they were humans. Jacob felt the bile rise up in his throat. There were three men, black men, hanging by their bound ankles from ropes, their bodies split down the middle and their innards gutted. They were shells of human beings, resembling carcasses suspended in a slaughter house, not men. He looked up at Victor, a pleading look in his eye.
“What is this?”
“I know it’s tough to look at. I still can’t handle all that’s in there.”
Jacob continued through the album slowly, reluctantly, only to find an even greater collection of macabre images, all of them featuring members of his family tree, he assumed, all supposedly taken on the Rustin property. He wanted to throw up. There were photos of dismembered hands and feet, photos of people strapped to wooden table tops—alive—looking up at men with cleavers, saws, hammers, and machetes, their palpable fear frozen in time. There was one picture of an amputation happening as the victim lay screaming, several laughing Rustin men standing nearby looking on. And the blood. The blood was everywhere; it looked like watered-down pools of chocolate syrup. Perhaps most disturbing, though, were the eyes, the varied expressions captured forever in print. The hollow, haunting eyes cried out to him from the 1800s for help. There was none to be given. But worse were the eyes that showed no compassion or concern for the slaughter before them, eyes that belonged to his bloodline. Jacob wanted to stop but his morbid sense of curiosity, the same sense that seemed to force him to look at car accidents, images of plane crashes and other horrific pictures of destruction, pulled him further through the book, like a mental tugboat.
It got worse. There were several photos of buckets, each filled with a nightmare. One photo showed severed fingers, another a bucket full of teeth; others had hunks of human cartilage that were once ears, maybe noses, and one showed what appeared to be organs of some sort, though it wasn’t clear enough to make out. Jacob wasn’t sure how much more he could allow himself to see without becoming sick.
Nearly every victim in the photos was black, presumably slaves from the plantation. There were multiple photographs of both men and women suffering the most vicious and humiliating violations imaginable. As the pages turned, the cold sweat engulfing Jacob intensified. He began to breathe heavier, faster, as if trying not to pass out. The final page he looked at, the last one he could stomach, featured two pictures, presumably a before and after. It was a black slave woman standing in a circle of white judgment, the hate in the men’s eyes undeniable. Her expression displayed a fear like nothing Jacob had ever seen. The next picture was of a grotesque mask of a face: the same woman, her eyebrows gone, the nose almost melted away, holes in the cheekbones, and lips that were simply gone. It was a face made up of two eyeballs and a set of white teeth. It was beyond anything he’d ever dreamt from his worst nightmare. Standing in the background with an amused smile as if some great joke had just been told was a Rustin man, his features unmistakable. This was Jacob’s true family legacy.
“Enough!” He pushed back from the table and rested his elbows on his knees, his face buried in his hands. He let out a painful groan but quickly regained his composure. “What the hell is this?”
“It’s the most heinous, dirty secret ever, hidden right here in our beautiful little town. It’s your family history, Jacob.”
In a matter of a few short minutes, the world as Jacob knew it had been shattered into countless fragments, as if a massive puzzle made up of tiny pieces was suddenly knocked off the table, the pieces scattered across the floor. The possibility of his family’s involvement in such things overwhelmed him. And he had yet to connect the dots that while his granddaddy, albeit old, was far too young to be around in the days of slavery, some of the pictures still contained images of a young man Victor swore was Jacob’s granddaddy. But then an odd sense of clarity came to him, an offering of the logical, a defense. There’d really only been one photo that he’d seen, the first one, that awful hunting pose that had been taken at his house. The other photos were from another place, nowhere he’d ever seen or been; certainly they were not taken at the home he’d known for almost eighteen years.
“None of those photos were taken at my house except that first one. They’re all from some other place. So there’s really no way…”
“Yes they are, man,” Victor interrupted. “They’re all at the Rustin Plantation.”
“You say that, but I don’t recognize them at all. How can they be from my house if I don’t recognize them?”
There was an awkward silence. Victor glanced at Jacob almost as if to see if Jacob was serious in his assertion. The young Rustin gazed blankly at the shop keeper, hoping that he’d provided some sort of proof of exoneration for his family.
“Dude,” Victor offered, dropping his voice to a near whisper. “Those photos are from your granddaddy’s cellar.”
Jacob felt a dizziness overtake him. He tried to leave the room, but he stumbled, falling on the unforgiving hardness of the cement floor. Victor quickly rushed over to help him, pulling him to his feet and escorting him out of the basement and back up to the main floor of the bookstore. Jacob gathered his composure in a makeshift break room in the back of the shop, seated at a table with Victor and the girl he’d been thinking about for over a day, Spyder. She looked remarkably different from their first encounter. For the first time, he could see her entire face, a simplistically beautiful face. Her complexion was more olive than pale as he’d originally thought, but her eyes were the same, definitely green and even more beautiful. Her hair wasn’t stringy but brushed out, straight and long, shiny and full, a beautiful head of black hair.
“Are you okay?” she asked him.
“No. Well, yeah, but I’m not really sure what to say or do.”
“You don’t need to do anything…yet. In fact, we need you to go home and act as if nothing is different.”
Jacob nodded his head, unable to find the words to adequately describe his anguish and confusion. He was fighting feelings of anger and embarrassment, and a part of him was rebelling against what he’d seen and the people who had shown him. What’s to say any of this is real? Maybe they are trying to blackmail me. After a good half-hour of mental recovery, Jacob was clear-headed enough to realize that the photos he had seen contained truths he could not ignore. He eventually summoned the strength to get up and return to the only home he knew, one he now knew far too much about. They’re right. I gotta act the same. I can’t let him know I know anything. But normalcy would surely become an unattainable goal. The reality was that the Rustin Albums had changed everything. There was no normal to go back home to.
Before leaving the shop, Jacob had agreed to come back the next day, a promise he kept and continued to keep for the next three weeks. He also kept the promise of using his best poker face around his granddad, not letting the distrust and anger that had now seeped into their relationship show. Yet still, day after day, Victor and Spyder filled Jacob in on the awful history of the Rustin Plantation. They showed him a variety of photos from different eras, some depicting the almost family-like relationship the Rustins had with their slaves. These were some of the same pictures he’d been shown countless times growing up. The smiling black faces standing side by side with the smiling white ones. A perfect example of how racial harmony and slavery can be achieved simultaneously.
“These were the images they wanted the public to see,” Victor told him. “With all those parties and all the many visitors they had, if ever there was a slave who acted differently from how they were instructed to act, they were taken to the cellar. That’s why the slaves were seen smiling and happy all the time. It was not because they were being treated well; it was because they were trying to save their own lives. And the slaves weren’t the only ones taken to the cellar.”
According to the records Victor had shown Jacob, the punishment was usually a reflection of the accused transgression. Steal a bite of food—get teeth pulled or fingers chopped off. The price for an inappropriate comment—a tongue. Stare at one of the Rustin girls—lose an eye, and possibly more. Act in a way not deemed appropriate for a young lady—lose a body part. And if any of the elder Rustin men caught wind that a younger Rustin boy was sneaking off at night and dipping his hand into the cookie jar? Well, that’s what the acid was for. They figured that no man would desire a woman without a face. There would be no mulatto children running around the Rustin Plantation.
Shamefully, the brutality didn’t end with the Emancipation Proclamation. Nor did the photos only contain the faces of black victims in the later albums. As Victor walked Jacob through an awful historical timeline, a transformation occurred; a melting pot of horror played out before him in black and white images. The collective wardrobes of the family began to change, as did hairstyles. The faces of youngsters aged; Rustin fathers became grandfathers. However, through all the years, one thing remained the same: the brutality. Toward the back of the last Rustin Album Jacob saw, the pictures took on a new persona. The photos no longer showed the smiling faces of Rustin men committing heinous acts; the men had all taken to wearing some sort of mask—only these didn’t look like anything one bought at a costume shop. The faces, all different in their appearance yet similar in their expressionless blank stare, were disturbing. They appeared to be human faces, at one time attached to a living being. Now they were only emotionless masks of dried flesh and old hair. They were clearly worn in an attempt to further terrorize the victims. Assuredly, they delivered on their intent. By the time Jacob had negotiated his way through the Rustin Albums and had digested the poisonous offering with which Victor and Spyder had presented him, he was a confused young man, juggling feelings of anger, embarrassment and hopelessness. However, there was also a resolve in him, something that pulled at him to not only help bring this family tradition to a screeching halt, but to bring those still alive to justice.
That resolve only increased the more time he spent with Spyder. The two had become quite chummy with one another, a relationship Jacob was more than willing to foster. They began falling into a regular routine: first they would meet up at the bookstore in the morning for a history lesson with Victor and some of Justin’s organic peanut butter cups (the candy for which Victor’s store was named), then Jacob would take Spyder to lunch and stare into the vast green oasis that were her eyes. She was a tough young lady, that Spyder. But there was a softer side that he figured could be coaxed out as well, a tenderness waiting to display itself for the first person willing to take the time to go fishing. Jacob figured he was just the guy to get that first bite.
“So what’s your real name?” he asked one day during lunch, prompting her to gag a bit on her chicken pesto Panini.
“You don’t like Spyder?”
“Truthfully? I hate it. I don’t want to hang out with a girl named Spyder. It doesn’t feel right.”
“I’ve been called Spyder so long that I almost forgot I have a real name.”
“Okay, and that name is…?”
“I promise not to laugh.”
Spyder took a long sip of her sweet tea and took a deep breath.
“Ah, hahahaha! That is hilarious!”
Spyder threw a hunk of Panini at Jacob.
“I’m totally joking. That’s a beautiful southern name. I love it, Charlotte. Now I don’t know what to call you.”
“You’d better call me Spyder or else…”
“Or else what? What’re you gonna do, tough girl?”
Their playful banter continued for the duration of their lunch until Spyder grew quiet, an expression of concern darkening her countenance.
“Can I tell you something that I’ve never told anyone other than Victor?”
“Sure. Of course.”
“Have you stopped to ask yourself why I’m so interested in your family’s, uh, activities?”
“Not really, but go on.”
“I come from a tough situation, Jacob. I was basically raised by my grandmother and she wasn’t one of those young grandmothers we see these days. She was old—old and arthritic and weak—and I ended up taking care of her, not the other way around. Know what I mean?”
“Yeah, I do,” Jacob responded, even though he didn’t know what she meant.
“You see, my mother wasn’t even sure who my father was. Oh God, that’s so embarrassing to admit that. I don’t know who my dad is. Does that make me a terrible person?” She lowered her head in shame.
“No, not at all. That’s not your fault, Charlotte. You had nothing to do with that. Don’t ever let yourself think that you are a lesser person because of that.”
She smiled and tried to compose herself. She’d never had a boy say something like that to her. Nor had she ever enjoyed hearing anyone say her real name so much.
“Something I’ve definitely learned the past couple of weeks is that we can’t help who we are and where we come from. I mean, look at me. I had nothing to do with the awful things my family has done, and it breaks my heart.” Jacob was now getting emotional, tears welling up in his eyes. “If there’s one person who can understand what you’re dealing with, it’s me. I don’t even want to go home anymore.”
“I know. It’s gotta be tough on you. I never even stopped to consider what impact it might have on you. It’s had such a negative impact on so many of us.”
“Yeah. That’s the other thing. My mother didn’t exactly have the best reputation in town. She spent a lot of time in lockup, but only for short stretches.” Spyder became emotional again. “She tried so hard to break her habits. But she couldn’t do it. And your granddad…” She lowered her head.
“What?” A stunned Jacob asked. “He didn’t…”
All Spyder could do was shake her head to let him know that he had, in fact, done it. Charlotte’s mother had fallen victim to the cellar as well.
“Oh my God. I’m so sorry, Char. I don’t even know what to say.” He covered his mouth with his right hand and then pulled it away, a look of intensity coming over his face. “That son of a bitch!”
Three important events transpired as a result of that lunch. First of all, Jacob and Charlotte became close, very close, and that’s exactly what Jacob wanted, what he needed at this point in his life. Second, Jacob became determined that he was going to help right the wrongs of the past, and he made a commitment to himself to put his granddad in prison. The third thing was that a decision was made that Jacob and Spyder were going to meet up later that week and go find the source of so much horror and misery…his granddad’s cellar.
Over the next several nights, Jacob lay awake in his bed, mentally and emotionally processing the photos, the awful images which told the sad and embarrassing story of the purest form of evil he’d ever witnessed. The eyes were what consumed him day and night, God, those awful eyes. It was all too much to bear: the horrified expressions, the blank stares of the dead or nearly dead, the body parts, the gore, the blood, the smiling faces of his family. The image that haunted him the most was the young woman, the slave girl whose face had been transformed into a grotesque mask as punishment for some unknown crime. They’d poured acid on her, burning her flesh to the bone, laughing the whole while. The cruelty was staggering.
So were the recent revelations for a young man who’d been brought up to be proud of his heritage. These findings ate away at Jacob, gnawing at his soul from every direction. I mean, it was one thing to discover such a shocking bit of family lore. It was another thing altogether to come up with a plan to not only stop it, assuming it was still going on, but also to help turn family members over to the police. After all, his granddaddy was the only father he’d ever known. And the boy wasn’t even sure there was a cellar on his property. He and Charlotte would get it figured out. He was confident about that. In the midst of everything he’d just learned and the ensuing pain, Jacob found himself feeling grateful that he’d met someone like her. He was in desperate need of a friend, and he felt more confident around her, better as a person even. Young Jacob was learning his first lessons in the classroom of love. He drifted off to sleep thinking of her eyes and the way her lips moved when she spoke. Her voice soothed him, and it was that comforting voice that eventually lulled him to sleep. However, it was a sleep that he’d soon wake from in a cold sweat from a frightful dream about a wooden table, Charlotte, her mother, and the men he’d seen with those horrific human masks.
Midnight walks were not uncommon for the young Rustin boy, a wanderer at heart. He loved how the moon splashed its light on the property, the rich detailed shadows it created. There had always been something spiritual about the star-filled Texas sky to Jacob, a tapestry of possibilities of what his future could be. However, now as he gazed out his bedroom window, the landscape of his home felt different. This night the stars held no hope, only dread. The rich, beautiful shadows now took on a sinister form to Jacob, like charcoal-colored spirits, evil spirits, agents of torment, slithering their way across the Rustin grounds. The only two things that gave him solace were that he frequently went out on late night strolls, so he was confident no one would know he was gone, and more importantly, he was about to embark on his first midnight love rendezvous. He made his way through the house and out the back door. He looked to the driveway and saw a shadowy figure lurking near his car. The figure was short with gangly arms and legs. Jacob laughed and shook his head.
“You don’t make a very scary prowler,” he said in a voice far too loud for Charlotte’s comfort.
“You don’t make a very good stealth investigator with all that loud talking,” she whispered back.
A smiling Jacob was excited to see her, and he gave her a hug, which she eagerly accepted and promptly returned. It lasted longer than most, warming their souls. She didn’t want him to pull away; she wanted to stay in his arms. Suddenly she saw the future and it both thrilled and scared her. She wanted so badly to say what was really on her mind: Jacob should go get some of his things and run away with her. Girls don’t ask boys to run away. It’s the other way around. Silly thought. They both took a deep breath and focused on the matter at hand.
They made their way across the backyard and entered a wooded area that provided a natural barrier between Jacob’s home and the outside world. The area had been his personal playground for as long as he could walk. He loved the trees, had climbed as many as a boy possibly could during a childhood filled with magical adventures and gallant victories over evil forces. The trees were his own private army, his bodyguards, his friends. But now they, too, had betrayed him. The trees no longer seemed like playful companions; rather, they were co-conspirators in a deception that had cut the boy deep in his heart. Jacob felt like the brunt of a sick joke in which the entire plantation was a participant. He didn’t trust it any longer; Jacob was being forced to accept the loss of everything he held dear.
He led Charlotte through the woods in a playful yet serious manner, prompting more than one scolding.
“We are not here to screw around, Jacob,” she whispered in a harsh tone, only to break out in a little smile each time.
Jacob and Charlotte’s midnight tour of the plantation took ninety minutes and they had covered quite a bit of ground. He showed Charlotte nearly all there was to see, and each time they discovered something new, he’d point out the lack of a cellar. They went through the woods, around the barn, and across the road to the most remote locations of the Rustin estate and found nothing.
“I tried to tell you guys—it’s not here. There is only one place in this entire area that I’ve never been,” he said, his words trailing off as he realized the obvious.
“Gee, Einstein, you think that maybe we should go see that area next?”Jacob shot Charlotte a playful, evil stare.
The area he’d never been to was the only part of the property deemed “off limits” by Granddad, a fairly small area, no bigger than a small playground. It was protected by an unmemorable chain-link fence. As the two approached it, they could see that just inside the perimeter lay a thicket of shrubbery, long grass, and tall trees, which made it an unwelcoming host. Several of the trees had trunks overgrown by vines, and the entire area had been infiltrated by unattended weeds. They decided to walk around the outer edge of the fence in hopes of finding an entrance.
“He always told me there was nothing but electrical boxes and hazards back here. There’s the box there,” Jacob said, pointing as they passed by a large green transformer just inside the fence line. Its high-pitched hum blended in well with the sounds of midnight. “Nice of him to tell the truth about something.”
When they reached the back side of the fence, Jacob suddenly paused, startling Charlotte enough for her to generate a slight gasping sound as she bumped into him from behind. He nodded to his left, acknowledging an eerie sight. There was a narrow gate integrated into the fence, an opening leading to the unexplored parcel of land. For Jacob, it was the first actual bit of physical evidence that what he’d seen in those images was true. His skin began to crawl as he pictured the many strangers who had passed through the same gate on their way to the unimaginable. The gate produced very little sound as it swung open. The two stepped inside and looked at the path ahead of them. It was dark and filled with natural obstacles. Jacob reached in his pocket and pulled out his cell phone, launching the flashlight app. He had told Charlotte that he wasn’t bringing a flashlight for fear that they’d be seen. However, now it was too dark, and if the cellar was where that small dirt path led, then he needed to have a light source. They each took a deep breath and slowly stepped into the thicket, feeling the scraping of branches on their bare legs.
“Suddenly shorts don’t seem like the right fashion play,” Jacob whispered. Charlotte giggled.
At approximately thirty paces, they reached a small clearing, a square-shaped swath of land guarded by trees, which appeared to have been planted strategically. They continued forward, navigating through the jungle of weeds. Within a few steps, Jacob felt something different under his feet. No longer was it solid ground; it was hollow. A chill went up his spine.
“I think I just found the cellar,” he managed to whisper as a wave of fear and nausea overtook him.
Jacob crouched down and dug through the foliage until his hands connected with steel. There was no doubt that he’d found the doors. He shone his light down and searched for the one thing he hoped he couldn’t find: a handle. It was there, as was a long steel latch, which he tried to move. It moved. Jacob looked up at Charlotte and took another deep, troubled breath, feeling the same fear he’d experienced the first time he went down into the basement at Justin’s Bookstore. There was a great unknown before them. Only now, he wasn’t alone. He again had no idea what to expect, but he knew enough to know this unknown wouldn’t be pleasant. He turned the latch, releasing the lock, and slowly lifted the door. The tangle of weeds easily fell to the side, revealing they’d been placed there recently for cover, the perfect camouflage.
The musty air from the cellar rose up like a hand from the grave, reaching for them both. Every instinct in Jacob’s body said to get the hell out of there, except for the one seeking the truth…and justice. His desire to do right by the deceased overpowered the desire to flee that had overtaken his body. He pointed his light into the black rectangular hole that lay before them. It revealed a dust-littered path of concrete steps leading into a mouth of darkness, the entryway to hell. The visions of those photos flashed inside his mind and Charlotte’s; this was the same path those poor people—Charlotte’s mother included—had been forced to travel. The sour bile rose up in her throat from the visualization of her mother’s horror. This was a one-way road to Satan’s living room, and both of them were about to be guests.
The steps before them had been overgrown by roots and blanketed by a healthy layer of dust and tiny fragments of earth. One by one they negotiated those steps, the ripe odor of death serving as their tour guide. Five steps in, Jacob was overcome by anxiety. His scalp came alive with tingles; nausea invaded his gut. Charlotte held on to the belt loops at the back of his pants, the only enjoyable aspect of the moment for him. Seven steps, eight, nine, and on the tenth step, something went wrong. Jacob’s foot fell victim to a naughty little prank. A mischievous root tripped him, sending both of them tumbling down the remaining few steps. His phone fell from his hand, smashing onto the concrete floor. He could hear the sound of the battery scraping across the hard surface. Jacob hit the ground first, quickly followed by Charlotte and her sharp, bony elbows and knees. She landed directly on top of him, her right elbow making direct contact with this throat. He winced with pain as he instinctively reached out and grabbed her. His hands came into contact with parts of her he hadn’t meant to touch, parts that he’d never before encountered. For a brief moment, they lay there in the dark, on a cold dusty floor, locked in an unintentional embrace. Wanting like crazy to be anywhere but in the cellar but not wanting to be anywhere but in each other’s arms—it was an odd dilemma.
The first thing Jacob did was try to re-establish his composure, first by focusing on his breathing. Slowly he took in the stale, torturous air, and then exhaled it in a steady stream. A calm came over him. He gathered himself to his knees and began crawling on the cellar floor, reaching out in front of him for his phone and battery. He’d seen where the phone went down so he went as best he could to that very spot. Within a few moments, he’d found the phone. He continued forward searching for the battery. His fingertips skimmed over the tiny fragments of dirt covering the century-old concrete. They soon collided with a wall, so he reached to his left, feeling along the crevice in the floor for that battery. He found it. Within seconds, he’d gotten the phone back together. Powering up was another story. It seemed to take forever, but finally, it was back on and he immediately fired up the flashlight app.
Neither Jacob nor Charlotte was exactly sure what to expect, but it certainly wasn’t what lay before them. The room in which they sat was a small, non-descript room with nothing but bare concrete walls decorated by water stains and the occasional stray root. It was like a small foyer, the entry point leading to a far more complex interior than could be imagined. They walked through a doorway and entered another dimension of darkness. Charlotte now clung to Jacob, her arms interlocked with his, her body pressing up against him. They passed into another small room resembling an underground tool shed, a well-equipped garage with every tool imaginable hanging on the walls. There was a shelf lined with bottles of chemicals, empty tubs and pails, a pile of rubber gloves, several pairs of goggles, and at least three butchers’ aprons hanging from a hook. The images of the photos came to Jacob, haunting him. He was standing face to face with an awful reality, a genealogical nightmare.
There is no way to know what occurred first: the realization that the tools were well kept, not covered in cobwebs and dust, and thus recently used, or the ghostly moans of a young girl. It hit Jacob with the force of a crippling sucker punch to the gut: whatever had been happening down in the cellar in the past was still going on today. The goose bumps rose on his flesh, covering him like a disease. He froze, unable to move. Now it was Charlotte leading the way. Jacob pulled at her, stopping her. He held his index finger to his lips, asking for silence. It was granted. Jacob then turned off his light, and the two of them stood as still as frightened lovers could, a perfect duet of possum. The cool cellar suddenly felt hot; beads of sweat formed on his brow. His heart rate increased and he suddenly found his breathing labored. For several minutes, the boy stood frozen in the dark, each of his senses on high alert. Charlotte felt an odd sense of calm come over her; she realized that she instinctively trusted Jacob to take care of her.
He was about to turn the flashlight back on when they heard it again, the faint, ghostly sound of a girl’s moan. It was barely audible, yet its impact delivered a powerful blow to their psyche. Again, another moan. This one was louder, confirming that there actually was a person in that cellar with them. The fear rose up with the bile. Jacob took several deep breaths and turned his light back on. They cautiously proceeded to the next room where they were met with a sight that sucked the breath out of their lungs; Charlotte gasped, her hand catapulting to her mouth. There were two long rectangular tables with thick wooden tops. Butcher’s block. One was empty. The other was not. Lying there before them was a young woman—bound, mouth covered with duct tape, eyes blindfolded. She was fully clothed, though filthy; perspiration stained her shirt in several places. She moved ever so slightly as if drugged, semi-conscious or possibly both. Jacob shined his light on her hands, revealing leather straps on her wrists. He looked at her feet and saw the same on her ankles.
“Hello?” he asked, his voice cracking on the second syllable. There was no response. “Are you awake?” Again, nothing.
Charlotte moved to her, brushing the hair from her face.
“I don’t recognize her, Jacob, do you?” Jacob shook his head. “Well we still have to help her.”
Charlotte gently removed the blindfold and prompted Jacob to shine the light in her eyes. Her response was limited. She had clearly been drugged and seemed a good distance yet from cognizant. The girl was not in any condition to get up and walk on her own. Jacob carefully removed the tape covering her mouth in hopes that the air, no matter how stale and tainted, would breathe some life into her. She didn’t respond, other than an occasional moan. The two removed the leather straps, freeing the girl. They pulled her to a seated position, and her head bobbed forward like a rag doll. Jacob positioned his hands under her arms and managed to lift her from the table. Charlotte grabbed her by the feet, and together they carried her away from what they could only assume would end in her death.
They got her up the stairs and out of the cellar. The midnight air felt good to them; they had never felt so privileged just to be alive. They set her down in the weeds and closed the door behind them, doing their best to cover the steel door with the foliage. Jacob and Charlotte picked her up in the same manner and made their way back through the clearing and out the narrow gate. They set her down next to a tree to catch their breath and discuss their next move.
“What are we going to do with her?” Jacob asked, getting his first good look at the woman. She appeared to be in her early twenties, had medium-length blonde hair and a nice face. It was hard to tell how nice, but from where Jacob was sitting, she seemed like a pretty girl. Her clothes were far from conservative, bordering on risqué. She looked as if she had been dressed for a night club, possibly even a prostitute. Why are you so judgmental, Jacob? You don’t even know her and you’re already calling her a hooker?
Stealing a page from his newly discovered Guide to Cure a Recently Discovered Bleeding Heart, Jacob made a non-verbal commitment to himself to take this strange girl to safety, and it seemed as though Charlotte agreed. The shame of his recent discovery was manipulating him, controlling him like a puppet master. He had no choice but to rescue someone he’d never met, no matter the risk.
“We’ve got to get her out of here,” Jacob said.
“Where do we take her?”
“I don’t know,” he replied, thinking of a place they could leave her, a place where she’d be safe.
“How about the bookstore?”
Charlotte thought about it and couldn’t come up with any reason not to leave her there. So they made the decision to drop her on the front step of Justin’s Bookstore, assuming that she’d probably wake up before Victor arrived to work. They picked her back up and carried her toward the main house, following the same route through the woods, Jacob, all the while, cursing the towering pine strangers he thought he’d always known. They quietly padded across the back lawn, carrying the girl through the moonlit night; it was like a scene from an old war movie, the brave soldiers bringing their fallen brother to safety. The only thing missing was the triumphant score. They made it to Jacob’s car and set her down in the front seat. As he ran inside to get his keys, there was a quiet moment of introspection for Charlotte, who couldn’t help but think about her own mother, a poor single woman trying to raise a baby on her own. She wondered if the woman they’d found had any kids. There was no ring on her finger, so Charlotte concluded that she was probably alone. Alone is a bad place for a woman to be. She should know. Jacob rushed back to the car and hopped in, Charlotte in the back seat. He started it up and slowly pulled away from the property, feeling proud at what they’d just done to try to save a life. It was exciting to him that he and Charlotte had been on the same page; their focus was singular, their tenacity unquestioned. In fact, their concentration had been so absolute that they had failed to notice that their valiant effort was played out before an audience. Had either of them looked back up at the house, they would have seen the haunting silhouette, an overseer standing guard in the window of his granddaddy’s bedroom.
The next evening after dinner, Jacob went out to the porch swing, knowing the devil that was his granddaddy would soon join him like he always did. Jacob had never felt so alone; Spyder was the only person he knew he could trust completely. He had no idea which other family members may be involved in this whole conspiracy. Not long after starting his deceptively normal and familiar slow rhythm of the swing, the front door opened, and a stranger he’d known for over seventeen years appeared, the same loyal, frosty cold mug of beer in his hand.
Jacob sat in awkward silence, feeling equal parts anger, fear, disappointment—even a hint of shame for hiding his activities from his granddad. He wanted so badly to confront the man he thought he knew, but he refrained. He wanted to say something to break the silence, the torturous silence. Jacob’s granddad sat swinging, sipping his beer, his face with the same placid, unruffled expression Jacob had seen for years. Jacob struggled with what to do, what to say. Don’t say anything.
“We got us a good town here, son,” his Granddaddy said. There was no response, only the squeaking of the rusty hooks and links of the chain rubbing against one another. “Yes sir, we are certainly blessed people.”
The two swung in silence, looking straight ahead at the porch and the old plantation grounds beyond.
“The other night, you asked me about a cellar,” the old man said. Jacob nodded. “Well, I wasn’t totally honest with you and I’m not proud of that.” He took another sip of beer, this time a long drink. “Here’s the thing, Jacob. There are people who will ask you all sorts of interesting questions in this lifetime. Some folks claim they know certain things, that they understand them when they don’t. That question about the cellar, I’m guessing it came from someone in town, probably a stranger. Am I right?”
Jacob nodded, amazed at how his granddad would know such things.
“Yeah, I figured as much. I’ve lived many years in this town, this wonderful town, and I’m so proud of our family name and what we’ve done for the fine people of Nacogdoches. It’s a good town, Jacob, a safe town. Great place for honest folk to raise a family.”
The old man took one more long drink, emptying the last of his mug’s foamy contents down his throat.
“I’m gonna say this just one time, and you’re gonna have to decide how you respond. As far as the cellar goes, you best be letting that one go, young Jacob. Those types of stories and rumors don’t belong in this God-fearing town. The people of today don’t understand the issues of yesteryear. In fact, many people in this town don’t even understand the issues that we face as a community today. They are cowards, impotent to do right, so they criticize those that do. So leave that one alone, Jacob. You don’t want to be one of them. You hear?” Jacob tentatively nodded yes. “I’m serious now, son. Leave that one alone.” The old man’s gaze met Jacob’s, and for the first time in Jacob’s life, it was not love in those familiar eyes. This gaze was something Jacob had never seen before. There was evil in those eyes, something deep and dark. Bad intentions. It frightened him to look into the eyes of the stranger who he called Granddaddy. The old man stood up and left without saying another word.
Late that night, Jacob, once again, was wresting hard against the Sandman. As he lay there alone, he finally came to a decision, one that was certainly not an easy one to make. He had to go back down to the cellar. After all, he hadn’t seen everything. Once he had rescued the girl, he had left without looking in the back room. He had to see everything, especially if he was going to confront his granddaddy. He still had so many questions about what exactly was going on here. Why? Who all was involved? Why was a young woman still being tortured today? The youngest Rustin got dressed and headed down the same path he and Charlotte traversed the previous night.
Once he’d located and lifted the heavy steel door, he turned on the flashlight app on his phone and gingerly stepped back into the cold, musty cellar. Having experienced it the night before only partially took the fear from him, partly because this time, he was alone. He had wrestled with the idea of bringing Charlotte back here with him, but he knew it had been emotional for her to do once, let alone twice. So with determination, he pressed on, stepping into the first room, then the second, each step slower than the one before. Once inside, he flashed his light to the table where the girl had been strapped. It was empty, but he saw something that wasn’t there before.
Upon closer examination, he was shocked to see a small pool of fresh blood, still wet, spreading out to one side of the table and dripping onto the floor. His fear increased, as did his suspicion that he was not alone. The sweat began to form across his brow, and he suddenly felt the uneasy sensation of being both steamy hot and goose bump-generating cold at the same time. He shined his light on another dark opening: the entrance to the back room. Cautiously, he carried on, the bluish glow from his phone struggling to fight its way through the dust-littered blackness.
Inside the third room—what appeared to be the final room—he inspected the outer perimeter and noticed more tools hanging on the wall. He also saw masks, like the ones he’d seen in the photos. They looked like ghastly faces, complete with hair and a band which went around the head of whoever wore it. He touched one. It felt hard, stiff, like dried-out leather, but the hair felt real, human-like. He lifted the mask and gave it a slight sniff. It didn’t smell of leather as he’d imagined it would. It had a bitter smell, one that seemed to stick to the inside of his nostrils. He suddenly felt nauseated and withdrew his hand. As he stepped back, he became almost certain he had just taken a whiff of a peeled human face, petrified by time and whatever crazy chemical his granddaddy had in this cellar.
Jacob turned and faced the middle of the room, his light responsible for the creation of more eerie shadows than comfort. As he took a few more steps forward, there was a feeling in the room that made him uneasy. He approached yet another table, one very much like the one in the previous room. There was a still form on top of it—a body, a female with blonde hair, which was matted and stiff with blood. His hands began to shake as he noticed her clothing and realized the girl was the same one from the night before. He wanted to scream but couldn’t. Instead, he ran his light over her body and noticed that her left arm now ended in a stump, covered in part by a blood-soaked cloth. He continued up her body to her face, where he saw something that stopped him in his tracks. Her face was no longer there. Like the slave girl, it had been burned off, and now there was nothing more than a grotesque series of holes, two eyeballs, teeth, and a lump of cartilage where the nose had been. Her wounds were fresh and raw, wet with blood and some kind of ointment.
Jacob wanted to throw up but made a decision that he’d run first. He needed to get out of that cellar and do it fast. Just as he turned to flee, he collided with something sturdy, hard, like a body, a large body. He was jolted backward and stumbled into the table. He shined his light in front of him to detect the path of least resistance to the exit, but instead, he was confronted with yet another nightmare. In front of was a large man wearing a mask similar to those on the wall. Before he could make another attempt at escape, five more dead faces appeared out of the blackness. The six people stood motionless, staring at him through expressionless dried flesh. The people slowly stepped toward him in unison, all six, moving like zombies. He quickly backtracked but ran dead into the arms of another person who’d been behind him hiding in the corner. There were now seven people with dead faces, all looking at him. He was about to try to run through them, like a fullback busting through the line, when a voice sounded out.
“I told you to leave it alone!” his granddaddy bellowed. “Now look what you’ve done!”
“You’re a monster!” the boy shouted back as he tried to run. He was immediately restrained by two large men wearing masks. “Let me go!”
“I’m sorry, Jacob, but you can’t go anywhere yet.”
He struggled for a brief time but was soon subdued by the larger, stronger men.
“Listen to me, son. You come from a long line of wonderful men, the protectors of this fine town. It used to be that a young boy was brought up to understand what it is we do here. But times have changed. Oh, God, how they’ve changed. All this technology and constant scrutiny from all the spineless so-called men who are walking around America like neutered dogs. It’s a goddamn shame. We don’t have many real men left in this country. The remaining few are afraid to speak their minds for fear of being called a bigot or whatever else people call good men these days.”
“Whatever you’re saying doesn’t make any sense. You’re nothing but a liar and a murderer! You’re the devil!” Jacob yelled.
“No, son. I’m not. But the devil has been mighty busy lately, hasn’t he? We got a country full of possessed souls. Makes it a lot harder. It was much easier when I was a boy. It was really just us against them. White versus black. Every now and then there’d be one of our own we’d have to take care of, but it was a much easier fight. Now they’re everywhere—whores wrecking the lives of our young men, men who steal because they refuse to work, on and on it goes—this is the moral landslide of this once-great nation. But this is God’s country and we’re His people. He’s given us a job to do, so we find ‘em, and we make sure they never hurt our good town of Nacogdoches again.”
Jacob looked at the expressionless mask hiding his grandfather. He could see the familiar eyes from behind the dead skin he was wearing, but it was the dead face that kept him at bay.
“Son, you’re going to have to make a choice. I was hoping it would be a process to teach you about our family, something I was about to begin just as soon as you turned eighteen.”
“What are you talking about?” Jacob asked, struggling to be free from the grip of his captors.
“Unfortunately, Jacob, you have left me with no choice; you have to decide right here and now—are you going to join us and carry on the family tradition? Or
are you gonna end up like all the other no-good filthy trash in this town?”
“Join you? Ha! I’m gonna let everyone know exactly who you are. And before you get any ideas, I’ve already told Sherriff Calhoun that if something happened to me tonight, he was to open a package I left him at the station. You’re gonna fry for this! You’re a monster! You’re not my granddad—you’re a monster! I wish my father never got killed in that stupid war so we didn’t have to live here. I hate you!”
There was silence. The room grew even more tense as the only sound was the breathing muffled by the masks.
“I’m sorry you feel that way,” the old man said, nodding to another person.
Just then, a piercing pain shot through Jacob’s neck as a needle carrying a powerful medicine that burned upon entering his system delivered a sedative. The boy immediately felt weak, dizzy; his vision blurred and he fell to the ground. He saw nothing but blackness, hearing only the sounds of the masked people carrying out their assignments. Jacob could feel himself being lifted in the air and set down on a table. He felt the arm and leg restraints tighten on his wrists and ankles. Through his blurred vision he caught the occasional glimpse of a dead face. He suddenly felt pretty good, silly almost, although he was still lucid enough to know that something was not right. He watched helplessly as the people worked around him, but he no longer seemed to care. The only emotion he could fully grasp was a deep sadness, a loss, but he was unable to remember exactly why he felt this way; maybe it had something to do with his grandfather, maybe it had something to do with a girl named Charlotte.
“It’s a sad day for me, like nothing I’ve experienced since back in the late nineties. It’s an awful feeling when your offspring rebels against you, even worse when your grandchildren do it. So helpless. Jacob, you are just like your daddy—so sad. And just so you know, he wasn’t killed in the war. He wasn’t a hero. He was a worthless, unappreciative maggot like you. A coward who was unwilling to take his place in this family and accept his calling.”
Jacob struggled to swim to the surface of his mental fog, but upon hearing the mention of his father’s name in such a context, he gave in and sank back down under the current of his despair and sedation.
“Oh, and as far as you talking to Sherriff Calhoun about me, well…”
Just then, a large figure wearing a dead face stepped up to the table and removed his mask. It was Sherriff Calhoun. Any remaining effects of the anesthetic seemed to fade completely, and he immediately felt sick. He managed to string together some slurred words.
“Da whooole town? In oooon dis?”
“Oh, dear God, no,” the old man said. “The good people of Nacogdoches would never publicly stand for this, even though they benefit from all we do. Cowards, most of ‘em. No, they are not in on this. Only a few of us are. We do the dirty work so the fine citizens of our wonderful town don’t have to. We take out the trash, like your little friend there. She’s a street walker, a lady of the night, and she needed to be taught a lesson. Jacob, do you know what that little tramp did after you and your trashy new friend ‘rescued’ her? The very next night she was out on the street selling herself again. We simply cannot have that here in this town, in this great nation. I am deeply sorry you made such an awful choice, son, but all choices have consequences, and this is yours.”
With that, another needle injected more medication into Jacob’s bloodstream, only this time it wasn’t so bad; he welcomed any form of escape from the cellar. He felt a heavy feeling, a great sleepiness. He closed his eyes and now only heard voices and his own breathing. Soon, all he heard was his breathing and his heartbeat. Then, just the heartbeat, and finally, Jacob experienced absolute blackness. Jacob Rustin’s granddaddy was a witness to the boy’s last breath in this world, the final seconds of this journey called life.
So that’s about it for ‘ol Jacob Rustin. It was a sad, sad tale and one that not many people know, of course not until now. There are a couple of important bits of information that I need to share. Number one, soon after that night, Jacob’s granddaddy reported to the police that the boy, along with his new girlfriend, were missing. They held a press conference and everything. Put on quite a show. They brought in a bunch of volunteers and searched the whole town, even the surroundin’ woods, but there was nothing to find. With each passing day, there were various reports about Jacob Rustin and his girlfriend, plenty of speculation about good kids gone bad. Some folks said they was young lovers who just up and ran away. Truth be told, I think that’s what most people thought.
At one point, they even brought in Victor for questioning, called him “a person of interest”. Of course, they didn’t hold him or nothin’. It was just for show. Funny though that no one involved ever bothered to look at the Rustin place. They never do. No tellin’ how many bodies are back there, how many souls haunt that land. All I know is that far too many bad things have happened out there on that land. Locals love to brag about the lack of crime in Nacogdoches, a point of pride here. They’re right; the crime stats are pretty impressive. But so are the tales both locals and visitors have been telling for years—that to this day, strange voices, ghostly voices, can be heard for miles coming from that wooded area just beyond the Rustin property line. Perhaps the spirits of the tormented aren’t quite ready to leave yet. Perhaps they have some business of their own to attend to before they do. Either way, folks finally gave up the search for poor Jacob and Charlotte. There was nothing to find. No boy, no girl, and no cellar. They never find the cellar. But if you ain’t behavin’ yourself in Nacogdoches, Texas, the cellar just might find you.
Granddad’s Cellar is the cover story from the book Rattlebone Tales, Volume 1, a collection of short, scary stories. You can find the paperback and ebook on Amazon.com.
Grant Kauffman is also the author of Project 14: The Legend of Beelzebub’s Bluff, a young adult adventure/fantasy novel available as an ebook and in paperback on Amazon.com.