This story has been officially published in a literary collection. The story appears on page 5. Feel free to check out my author's page or blog to learn more details about this.
I always enjoyed my Sunday visits with Grandpa. He wasn't able to take care of himself anymore so the family had moved him into a retirement community. Being an independent person, Grandpa had made a big fuss about moving in at first. However, once he started to get to know the other residents and learned about all of the activities that went on at the home, he felt a little better about being there.
After Grandpa moved in, I would visit him every Sunday and join in at the weekly game challenge. The game changed depending on the week. Sometimes it was gin rummy. Other times it was shuffle board. Sometimes it was Bingo. The games were chosen ahead of time by the residents from a list that had all of the available games written on it. When the game was decided upon, the entire hall would be converted into an arena for the game of choice. This week the residents had chosen to play backgammon, admittedly not one of my favorites. After we played a few rounds of the weekly game, Grandpa and I would get some lunch from the retirement home dining hall and then head back to his room so he could tell me one of his favorite stories.
Grandpa told all sorts of stories about gnomes, fairies, giants, and other supernatural creatures. He even told me about the urban legends like the alligators living under the sewer he had heard while growing up in New Jersey. It was always great fun hearing grandpa’s stories and I always looked forward to hearing a new one every week. The years passed and I entered high school. I didn't stop by to visit grandpa as often anymore because I became busy with hanging out with friends, doing homework, and starting to date girls for the first time. Even though I didn't have the same amount of free time as when I was younger, I would still try to visit Grandpa as often as I could and join in on the Sunday games.
I would have lunch with Grandpa, and listen to one of his tall tales when we went back to his room. I was older but I still loved listening to his stories. It seemed like he would never run out of subjects to talk about. He even told me about his experiences as a pilot in WWII. It was always great fun listening to the trouble he got in as a pilot, flying under billboards to see how low he could make his personal plane that he bought after the war go.
Finally it came time for me to go off to college. I would not be back for a while so I wanted to spend a lot of time with Grandpa before I left. I noticed that his health had taken a turn for the worst but he never brought it up. I never brought it up either because I didn't like to think about the fact that Grandpa’s health was fading. I visited him like usual up until the last day I had free before the start of the new semester. This would turn out to be a visit that I would never forget.
We had our usual schedule; play a game, chat over lunch about all of the new things in both of our lives, and go back to his room for a cup of coffee, butterscotch cookies, and one of his tall tales. We sat at the table next to one another, dunking our cookies into the hot coffee and eating them one by one. Today Grandpa seemed more introverted than usual. He hadn't really said much over lunch either. I figured that this was because he was having one of his ‘bad days’ or the days when his bones ached and he had a hard time getting around.
However, I didn't think this anymore when I saw Grandpa promptly stop eating the cookies in front of him and give me the most serious look I had ever seen him give me in his life. I put down my cookies as well and listened for whatever it was grandpa was about to tell me. He cleared his throat and in a grey tone said, “You are older now Thomas. You are about to go off to university and experience a whole new chapter in your life. That is why today I have to give you some advice.”
I smiled and urged for him to go on. Grandpa nodded and continued where he left off.
“You are the first person I am telling this story to. I told myself I would only tell my most devoted grandchild the story in the hopes that they would not make the same mistakes I did in life. And you must promise me that you will only tell this story to your most devoted grandchild so that every generation is given a fair warning.”
Grandpa paused and made sure I was going to keep the promise. I swore that I would on my life and then he continued on.
“You know about your grandmother don’t you? You were only five or so when she passed away.”
At this he paused when he saw my expression changed a bit. After patting my shoulder for a moment he went on.
“Yes I miss her too. I always loved her dearly. It is at my old age that I've had a lot of time to reflect on my past actions. I wish that when we were married I could have treated her better. If I had treated her better maybe she wouldn't have turned out like that.”
I was taken aback a bit by his statement.
“What do you mean?”
“This is what I want to talk to you about. Some advice I want to offer for you as you head off into the world and want to make a life for yourself.”
“You see, your grandmother and I got married in the fifties. In those times, men were king of the house and their wives had to attend to their every need. I’m not saying it is right. It is just the way things were back then.”
“I was the same as most men of that era; I was fresh out of my military service from WWII and had just settled down with your grandmother. We bought a cheap house under a government program to encourage home ownership and I got a job working at an office. Unfortunately like most men of the era I was always very hard on your grandmother, who like most women of that era stayed at home.”
“I always demanded the best from her; the best housework, the best meals, the best hosting when we had the neighbors over. I insisted that she always dress up, wear makeup, and put on her fine jewelry when managing the house. No wife of mine was going to be a slob and get me mocked by the neighbors. Looking back now I realize how silly I was to demand all of that of her. But I suppose we were both victims of the culture of that time.”
“I think my strictness got to your grandmother at times because there were occasions when I would see her weeping to herself as she made dinner in the kitchen. When she was like that I would leave her alone. I had tried to suggest that she watch one of her shows on the women’s network or listen to a cooking show on the radio but my suggestions always just made her more upset. So I learned to give her space when she was in one of her moods.”
“However, one night, she was so upset that she burned our meal. Even after burning it, she still served it in both of our dishes at the table and sat down to eat her own portion, still weeping as she shoveled the burnt pieces into her mouth. This was unacceptable to me. I chastised her for what she had done and told her to go back in the kitchen and make a new dinner for us both. I told her if she couldn't get herself together to simply make me a sandwich. That ought to calm her down a bit. It was then that something changed in her. Her tears suddenly stopped and a small smile crept over her face. She laughed a bit and I laughed along too. The whole situation was a bit comical.”
“I apologize for being strict and she shook the whole thing off. She brought the dishes back to the kitchen and set forth to making a second meal which when served for the second time was up to the usual quality of her cooking. After that incident, your grandmother didn't cry again. She went about happily doing the housework and preparing the meals. When she was chastised she would just smile and say she’d do better. She was the model housewife.”
“It was around that time that one of my good friends Jerry went missing. Your grandmother knew his wife, Edith, and together they got all of the housewives involved in trying to find him. They put up fliers and the like. But unfortunately, Jerry was not seen again. It was a few months later when another one of my friends Stan went missing. The housewives got together again and tried to find him with little success. After that, the excitement died down. Although the men were not found, no one else went missing from the neighborhood. It became somewhat of a local mystery.”
“None of the men had a reason to go missing. They both worked at the same office that I did and they both had stable home lives. Even to this day the neighborhood is still talking about the circumstances surrounding their disappearances. The incident did bring the community closer together. The housewives ended up forming their own club which became a national sorority. It was open for many years and during that time donated a lot of its time helping less fortune people in the community.”
“I was one of the people who always wondered what had happened to Jerry and Stan. They were good friends and I was always sad to lose them. It was when your grandmother’s health was failing many years later that we got to talking about my old time friends.”
Here my grandfather paused as if the subject was hard to talk about, but when he saw my concerned expression he continued on.
“Ah don’t worry about me lad. I’ll be okay. Now where was I? Oh yes. Many years later your grandmother and I were talking about Jerry and Stan. And that is when she brought up all of the great things she cooked while we were looking for them. The mouthwatering roast she had prepared and fed to all of the members of the search party. The roast beef sandwiches she had packed for the lunches I took to the office. The blood pudding she had made for the neighbors. She went on like this, naming off all of the different meats she had cured and served to people over the years.”
“I recalled all of her meals with warmth but was a bit confused to why she would have brought it up when I was talking about my old friends. And that is when the smile came over her face. That same smile that had come over her face at the dinner table those many years ago. An unsettling kind of grin that seemed to reach in and tug at my very soul.”
‘They've already been cooked dear.’ She said in a crackling uneven tone.
“I felt myself retch a bit at the thought of consuming the terrible thing that I had. Your grandmother just chuckled and continued on.”
‘I cooked them along with all of the people you complained about at your job. Remember how you complained about Stan and Jerry getting promoted before you? I took care of that did I? I made sure the supervisors who were bullying you moved away. Of course they didn’t really go anywhere other than my cooking pot. I always made sure to cook a perfect meal out of all of the naysayers just for you.’
Grandpa stopped his tale to retch a bit and I stared at him with my mouth open. I could feel the color draining from my face. At this point I was visibly shaking. When he got ahold of himself he continued on.
“Shortly after your grandmother told me that she passed away peacefully in her sleep. That same creepy smile was painted on her lips when I found her. After her funeral came and went her last words haunted me. I wanted to know more. I started reading though her old journals and I learned that the women’s club she had formed, The Jersey White Hat Club, had a very dark practice that they put into place. Should any man give them a hard time, it was not above them to punish him in any way possible.”
“They outlined all of the ways they could punish their significant others, boyfriends, or other troublesome men in their lives. There were recipes for poisons. Instructions on how to psychologically torture people. There were so many dark things I read in those journals that I don’t even want to repeat them. But one of their most twisted games was taking a friend of the troublesome men in their lives and serving it to him in the form of food. They had all sorts of recipes about cooking and preparing human beings. Those journals were some of the most horrible things I have ever read in my life. I would have burned them all if I didn't have to turn them into the police station for evidence. That’s what I did instead. The police read the journals over in complete disbelief.”
“I gave them the journals with the specific conditions of keeping my family out of the media and the investigations. I told them that was the only way I would hand over the evidence. Since I knew the head of the local police station he pulled some strings and focused much of the investigation on the living members of the sorority like your grandmother’s best friend Edith.”
“They investigated the local Jersey White Hat Club and brought in all of the current members for questioning. Our family sat on the sidelines watching the whole thing in disbelief. As you know, Edith had been one of our close family friends for years. Everyone was shocked that she was actually a member of such a dark cult. If they knew everything that I do about your grandmother, they would have been even more horrified. Fortunately, that was not a truth that any of them had to bear.”
“Later, the police found out that every chapter of the sorority across the United States was still practicing the dark rituals written in your grandmother’s journals. They were able to successfully shut down the sorority two years ago after being active for all of those years. But I heard recently a new club started up under a different name. This is the advice I want to give you. If you meet a girl wearing a white opal stone shaped like a moon on her left ring finger under no circumstances have any relationship with her. Report her and whatever club she is affiliated to with the police. That is their secret calling card. And just to be safe…
Here grandpa paused to take a drink of a glass of orange juice beside his coffee to calm his nerves and then continued on.
“Never, I repeat never, mock a girl by asking her to make you a sandwich. Don’t demand anything from her. Treat her equal. Let her do as she pleases. If I had just learned to be kinder to your grandmother all of those years ago, I wouldn't have created the monster she became. Be kind to the ladies in your life grandson. The consequences for doing otherwise are…dire.”
And with this, grandpa fell quiet. His hands were wrapped around the glass with the orange juice for support, but they were visibly shaking. I was shaking too. All of this was too much to take in. I could only sit there staring at my grandfather in silence. Every time words came to my mouth they quickly left me. The two of us didn't talk for the rest our visit. I simply got up from the table and walked to my car without another word when it was time to leave. The words of my grandfather’s story echoed throughout my mind on the long drive home.
Four years after my visit, and shortly after I received by bachelor’s degree, my grandfather passed away. I attended the funeral in the late spring. The whole family was there; my mother, my father, his two brothers, my cousins, my sister and her husband. Oh course the more obscure family members were there too like my grandfather’s sisters, the cousins three or four times removed, and other assorted relatives. Your standard fare for the typical family gatherings.
It was an open casket funeral so the family could come up and look at him lying peacefully in his new home. I came up and paid my respects. I silently promised my grandfather that I wouldn't tell what I knew to anyone in our family and thanked him for all of the good times we shared. It was then that one of my female cousins came up and paid her respects to grandpa too. She tried to lighten the mood a bit by teasing me about finding a girlfriend. I told her that I was in no hurry to find one and she rolled her eyes. As she went to talk to other family members I got the sight of something white on her finger.
My heart started beating loudly in my chest at the sight of it. It was an opal stone cut in the shape of a moon. She wore it on her left ring finger. My eyes shot around the rest of the room. My aunt wore the ring. My female cousins wore the ring. My grandfather’s sisters wore it as well. Even my…my mother wore it. My head started spinning as I realized that all of the female members of the family wore the same ring. I felt my heart pounding louder and louder in my chest. My grandfather had made a big mistake not getting our family involved in the investigation. This thought washed over me as I saw more family members enter the funeral house wearing that infamous ring and the walls felt more and more like they were closing in on me.