It was a car crash that killed them. My aunt and grandfather. She was driving him back to the nursing home where my grandmother was waiting. I wasn't close with them. We don’t speak to my mother’s family unless there’s a funeral or on select holidays.
“I need you to go to the farm and clean up the house to get it ready for sale,” mom says through the phone.
“Please, Charlotte, I–I can’t go back there.” She never asks me to do anything for her, which makes saying no to this one request impossible.
“The estate lawyer can meet with you and she will deal with everything. Thank you, Charlotte,” Then she hangs up. I call my brother, and leave a message, he never answers when I call. But then again, I don’t answer when he calls.
You could say our family is dysfunctional. I think that would be appropriate. Mom never talks about her childhood: my aunt was high-strung and easily scared. My mom is a different kind of nervous, the kind where she’s constantly checking over her shoulder, but she and her sister are not close. And now they never will be because my aunt is dead. It still feels weird to say, or even think. She's dead.
But the worst part is that where the car ran off the road, there were no brake marks on the pavement.
The Weston farmhouse has been in my mom’s family since the civil war. It’s in the middle-of-nowhere Missouri where the closest neighbors are a mile away and the currency is corn and pork. Thankfully, our family was never interested in slaughtering pigs, they mostly dealt with the corn part of that equation. When my car rumbles up the unpaved driveway, I feel an overwhelming sense of dread fall over me.
I was seven the last time we were here, and my brother was nine. Mom had been crying the night before we left but dad told her we had to go. So, we all packed up into the car and drove the eight hours to the farmhouse, mom didn’t speak the whole time.
My aunt was already there, and she was on her third glass of vodka with a pink tinge in her cheeks and her eyes were wide and unblinking. My grandparents were sitting in the living room, silent and still.
My brother and I ran around through the fields, to get away from the stench of the house, when I came upon a small golden locket laying in an un-farmed patch of dirt by the property line. I picked it up and waved it in my brother’s face before running back to the house to show off my treasure.
I handed it to my mom, who nearly passed out at the sight of the rusted necklace in my open palm. But when my grandfather saw it, he snatched it out of my hand, grabbed me by the shoulders and shook me while snarling:
“Little brats have no business snooping through my things.”
Mom pushed him away from me, and then he slapped her. My aunt screamed and dropped her glass. We got right back into the car and drove home.
That was the last time I was on the Weston farm.
I lock my car door and make my way up to the broken-down front door. The screen creaks as I pull it open and enter the dark, abandoned home. It smells like dust and rusting iron. All the remaining furniture is covered in a sheet and the windows have been nailed shut. There’s a card on the dining room table, it’s the name of the lawyer and a note that I should call her when I get there. There's no cell service out here, so I have to use the rotary phone hanging in the kitchen
“Hi, Alyssa? This is Charlotte Nash, I’m the granddaughter of Thomas Weston…who just passed away?”
“Hi, Charlotte, I spoke to your mom, Eloise, I’m so sorry for your loss! How are you?” I’m shocked that anyone would be sorry that Thomas Weston is dead. I know my mom isn’t.
I tell the lawyer we won’t be keeping anything from the house, and we intend to sell it all. When we hang up, she says she’ll be at the house in two days and in the meantime, I should look at everything in the house and appraise it.
I take a long glance around myself. The kitchen probably hasn’t been used in months. I manage to make myself a small dinner which I eat alone on the back porch. The sun sets over the cornfields leaving the old house in a nice light. It almost makes me wish I’d spent more time up here. Almost.
My uncle died when I was nine. He and my aunt had been spending a lot of time at the Weston farm. It was sudden. He fell down the stairs into the basement while my aunt and grandfather were out grocery shopping. They got back to the farm and found his body sprawled on the cement of the unfinished basement, in a pool of his own blood and grandmother was upstairs in bed. My mom refused to go to the funeral, I think that was the first major rift between them. My brother and I stood over his casket while they buried him in a local cemetery nearby the farm.
We left straight after the burial. My father didn’t let go of our hands the entire time.
I was up until two in the morning, going through the house and checking prices on my computer, seeing how much we could get for the mahogany dining set, the coffee tables, and the old couch. There's a sticky note on nearly everything on the first floor by the time I'm ready to sleep.
Once the sun finally rises, I'm already awake and exhausted. Of course, there’s no coffee in the house so I decide to take a drive through town to find a coffee shop.
But, a coffee shop was aiming too high for this place, so I had to settle for gas station ‘coffee’.
“Rough night?” The girl at the register asks, as I hand her my credit card. I stifle a snort,
“You could say that.”
“I need an ID, to check against the credit card,” she tells me, “It’s store policy, sorry, I know it’s weird.” All I can do is shrug as I hand her my license. Her eyes widen when she looks at it,
“You’re related to Thomas and Marion Weston?” I look at her, shocked. This girl couldn’t be older than twenty. I’m five years her senior, how does she know me? My family?
“Uh…yeah, I’m their granddaughter. We weren't close though.” Her lips tighten into a line.
“I don’t want to pry but…are the rumors true?” She whispers as though she’s just told me a secret.
“What rumors?” I ask in the same tone,
“About the girls?” She answers and hands me my coffee.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about…sorry,” She smiles sadly,
“There are just...town rumors about your grandparents, and you know…all the males in your family.” I feel a sudden surge of anger.
“Can I have my card back.” I say, demanding more than asking. The girl nods.
“Of course, here.” She hands it to me, and before she can ask any other oddly pointed questions, I rush out of the gas station back to my car. Then I sit in the driveway of the farmhouse crying for about ten minutes until I can muster the strength to go inside.
There’s no place for tears in this house.
My father died eleven years ago. I was fourteen. Our grandmother had just been put in the nursing home (grandfather wouldn’t join her for three more years). Mom had refused to go visit her and she was adamant that no one in this family would be going up there. They argued a lot about it, eventually, dad went alone.
He said, "when it’s us in the nursing home, I would hope that our children put aside their anger and differences to come visit us."
He died in a car accident on the way home. He’d fallen asleep behind the wheel. There was a high concentration of sleeping medication in him. My grandfather tried to get mom to bury him alongside the other Westons, but my mom never returned those calls. No one from my mom’s side was at the funeral.
There was no place for Weston’s at that funeral.
I found the key in my grandmother’s nightstand. It was old, shiny, and a mystery.
“I found a key, it doesn't fit anywhere in the house, maybe it's for a safe deposit box? Can you call me back please at the landline, my cell isn’t working here.” I said to my mom's voicemail.
It was a few hours before she called back to say that there was no safe deposit box for anyone in our family.
I continued going through everything upstairs and saved a decent amount of my grandmother’s clothes to bring to the nursing home. I took all the photos out of the frames and unplugged every lamp. All the beds were stripped with every sheet and blanket folded. The house was full of notes with price ranges for the bed frames, dressers, nightstands, and old jewelry. But really, we don’t care how much it sells for. We just want it gone.
The key stayed in the back of my mind. So, I put my grandmother’s boxed clothes into the back of the car and looking carefully at an old road map, made my way to the nursing home.
I followed a woman named Lisa down a hall into a small corner room that was flooded with light. A woman with a neat grey braid running down her back was sitting in a chair by a window looking at her hand.
“Marion? You have a visitor!” Lisa nudged me forward and I set the box of clothes at the end of the bed and sat next to the box.
“Hi…uhm, g–grandma?” Marion looked up plainly, but she seemed to stare right through me.
“Eloise…” She whispers. People have always said I look like my mom.
“I have a box of your clothing here!” I pull out an old sweater and lay it on her lap. She picks it up and runs her hands through the fabric.
“Eloise…” Marion says again, but I just shake my head.
“My mom isn’t here, grandma, I’m your granddaughter, Charlotte! Do you remember me?” She doesn't respond and I have to remind myself not to get upset. Why would she remember me? I don’t even recognize the woman and I’m twenty-five with a perfectly healthy memory.
With a deep breath, I pull the key out of my pocket and hold it out for her to see.
“I found this key, while I was cleaning your house. Where does this key go?” Then something changes. Her face contorts, her hands start shaking and she pushes the sweater off her lap. Her head snaps up and she looks at me, really looks at me.
Little brats have no business snooping through my things
But she doesn’t yell, she's not like her husband. She inhales deeply and shoves my hand away from her.
“They will not be like him. They will never be like him.” Then she’s muttering names, most of which I don’t catch.
“Sara, Casey, Sophie, Lucy, Anna, Olivia, Maria…” She starts rocking back and forth in her chair, her mouth moving faster, the names getting quieter.
“Marion, where does this key go?” I ask again, a little louder, as if volume was the problem. She looks at me, and her face softens.
“I can’t, I can’t. Never tell a soul. The attic is safe. Eloise…” She stops moving and reaches her hand out to brush my cheek, “He will never be like him.”
“Knock, knock,” Lisa reappeared in the doorway, “How is it going? Oh,” She rushes over to my grandmother and puts a hand on her shoulder,
“Marion? Marion? You’re okay,” she shouts something into the hallway and a man appears. He takes over Lisa’s spot who turns to me, “Sorry Charlotte, you should leave.” I don’t need to be told twice.
“Is she always like that?” I ask Lisa, who nods solemnly.
“She’s actually gotten a little better since her husband, your grandfather, passed.”
“Can I ask, why was my grandfather out of the home?” Lisa clams up at my question and her face pales.
“You can speak to our lawyer if you’d like,” her voice is clipped, and I try not to show my shock at the sudden change in tone.
“No, that won’t be necessary. Did he...leave on his own? Or did my Aunt take him out for the day?” Lisa looks extremely uncomfortable,
“I really shouldn’t…”
She sighs, “Your Aunt checked him out, we told her it wasn’t a good idea, but she was insistent. Said there was old family business he needed to attend to. She was driving him back to the home when they got in the accident. I’m very sorry,”
My Aunt had a son. He was very young when he died. They’d been at Weston farms and he suffocated in his sleep. They said it was SIDS. I was four. We never spent another night at my grandparents’ place.
The house looks just as uninviting this afternoon as it did yesterday.
The attic is safe
That’s what she’d said. But there’s no attic.
I trek upstairs to the second floor and going room by room, I watch the ceiling looking for a pulldown ladder. It’s not until I get to the grandparents’ closet that I find what I’m looking for. I pull an old chair over and hook my finger around a small loop which brings a ladder crashing down, nearly knocking me over. My stomach drops.
There is an attic. I take my phone with me and turn on the flashlight before ascending the creaking rungs of the ladder.
Once my head breaks through to the dark space, I’m overwhelmed by the smell of bleach. I have to steady myself to stop the pounding in my head.
A small metal rope hits my cheek and I pull it to turn on the single lightbulb that illuminates the space. There are no windows and it’s very small and cramped, so I have to crane my neck to keep form hitting the ceiling.
On the floor there are three boxes, and I can see in the dust, old footprints which shows that someone has been up here in the last year. I pull one of the boxes towards me and open it.
There’s nothing but clothing in it, which looks like it could have belonged to my mother or aunt based on the styling. The jeans are from old brands I've never heard of and all the shirts are cropped. But at the bottom of the box there's an old metal chain with a cuff at the end, covered in something that looks suspiciously like blood. I have to swallow the vomit making its way up my throat.
The second box has a rusty pair of pliers sitting atop old newspapers from the town. They detail stories of missing girls:
Sara, Casey, Sophie, Lucy, Anna, Olivia, Maria.
The third box contains a small safe with a key hole to protect the contents. My heart pounds against my ribs as I pull the small key from my pocket.
When my brother was six, he lost his first tooth. Blood was streaming down his chin as he proudly ran to my mom and put the tooth in her open palm. She dropped it and screamed.
My father had to come home from work after my panicking brother called him. Mom stayed in her room for three days after that. We were told that the Tooth Fairy doesn’t come to our house, and that if we lost a tooth, we should just throw it out and tell dad about it later.
The small metal safe pops open after I cranked the old key into it. My heart stops in my chest and everything goes cold.
Teeth, hundreds of teeth. They rattled around as my hand shakily drops the box to the floor.
The attic is safe
“Oh my god,” is all I can muster. Waves of nausea are rolling over me.
Attic. Bleach. Chains. Clothing. The old locket. Newspapers. Pliers. Teeth.
All those teeth.
I feel like I could pass out, because suddenly it all makes sense. My mom and aunt grew up in fear. Fearful of their father. Their father, who would bring girls home, whose faces then showed up in the paper the next week. Their father who would keep jewelry around the house that he had never bought. Their father who murdered all those girls.
A small velvet jewelry bag fell out and landed beside my leg. I gingerly open the bag and out into my palm tumbled three things.
Two wedding bands. And a small baby rattle.
They will not be like him. They will never be like him.
One of the wedding bands is strangely similar to my mom’s. Turning it in my hand I look for the marker, the engraved words I used to read over and over on my father’s ring.
To my husband, Love Eloise
“Eloise…He will never be like him.”
My father, my uncle, my baby cousin, will never be like him. They will never be like Thomas Weston. Because Marion made sure they would never have the chance.