This short fiction story takes places in the fictional town of Tecumseh, Indiana that involves Thanksgiving, a disgruntled Grandma with murder in her heart, a tornado, a family secret that is hidden in a basement deep freezer.
“You best get out of my kitchen, Old Man, or I’ll gut you with this knife like you was one of those fishes you pretend you’re catching out at Porcupine Lake.”
“I know what you’re really up to every time you spend the night away from here,” my grandma said, interrupting the chopping up of the onions and celery to go in her Thanksgiving dressing. Everyone who heard her chuckled.
The rest of the family always ignored her when she threatened to murder my grandpa, but not me. I knew she wanted to see him dead. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind she meant what she said.
There was an enormous amount of animosity between the two of them. I predicted the events about to transpire like I was watching it unfold on television playing an old black and white horror movie.
Grandma’s hatred started when she found out about the woman grandpa was keeping in the trailer park south of town. What made her mad wasn’t that he was cheating. He was the sort of man who always had a woman on the side, so she was used to it. The thing that had her so riled this time was he was doing it with one of her close friends.
I heard all the details through an open window while I was trimming their hedges last summer. Grandma started yelling at my grandpa about the other woman. I tried to talk to my parents about the volatile situation, but they wouldn’t listen to me because I’m just a kid.
The way things turned out, they should have been paying attention.
Grandpa must have thought it would be good for his health to get out of the kitchen. He shuffled into the living room and lowered himself into his favorite chair. A football game was playing on the television.
I don’t remember what teams were going at it, but I remember the words Grandma said as soon as he left.
“I should figure out how to make a bomb and set the timer to blow him up right after the two-minute warning at the end of one of those stupid games with his favorite team playing.”
“That way, he’d spend eternity in hell, not knowing who won.” An evil smile spread across her face as she chuckled at the image of grandpa and his favorite chair being blown to smithereens.
My dad was standing next to her when she made the threat. He waited until everyone but me had left the room before he said, “Mom, you shouldn’t say things like that in front of people. They might take your threats toward Dad seriously. The family will think you’ve lost your mind.”
“Do I give a damn about what people think? They don’t have to live with him. If they did, they’d know exactly why I dream up at least five ways to kill the old bastard before I lay my head on my pillow at night.”
“I’ll keep doing it as long as I have breath in my body. I might even work up enough energy to follow through one of these days.”
“If you hate him so much, why don’t you just leave? You could file for divorce.” Dad whispered in a low voice, so none of the family in the living room would hear him.
“I tried that once. I didn’t even make it down the block. That old man whipped me all the way home. The whole neighborhood was watching from behind their closed curtains.
“I couldn’t sit down for a week or show my face around here for a month.” Grandma took an onion and chopped it into little pieces before she went to work on the celery. The woman had considerable skills with a knife
“Times have changed. People would call the police if they saw him do that in this day and age. They even have shelters where you could go if you don’t have a place to stay. You could live with us for a while if you didn’t want to go there.” I heard my dad say.
“No, I’m never going to leave the old bastard. I have a considerable amount of time invested in this marriage. I’m not about to take the easy way out. I said until death do us part, and I meant every word of it.”
“The only way one of us is getting free of the other is to be planted six feet underground. My thought is to make sure he goes first.”
Grandma slammed a white plastic bowl onto the counter and filled it with the ingredients to make the Thanksgiving stuffing. “Besides, he couldn’t lift a hand to whip me now. His arthritis is so bad he can’t even make a fist.
“I’ve been biding my time. That old man is going to pay for what he did.” Grandma wiped her hands on a red and white dishrag. She moved to the stove and slid her mac & cheese into the oven. “It ain’t the fact he’s shacking up with my ex-best friend over at that sleazy trailer park that has me so riled. It’s that Ellie ain’t sitting here at my dining room table because of him.”
I’d never met my aunt Ellie. Grandpa claimed she ran away when she was seventeen. It was more like she was thrown out of the family because she was caught sleeping with a black man.
I don’t know the whole story. Nobody in the family ever talks about what happened back then. Grandma bringing her up now was the first time I’d ever heard her name mentioned at a family function. I’d heard whispered snatches of conversation about where Ellie ended up after she left Tecumseh.
The most popular rumor was she went out to California and lived as a hippie for a while. Someone else said she was a drug addict, and another claimed the man she got caught sleeping with killed her a year after she ran away.
It would be nice if Ellie was still alive. Someday I would like to meet her. We’re both outcasts in this family, so we already have one thing in common.
Grandpa can hardly stand to look at me because I came out last spring about being gay. The man wouldn’t dare run me off the way he chased off Ellie. Grandma would murder him in his sleep without giving it a second thought.
She told grandpa that she would run a knife through his heart if he exiled me from the family like he did Ellie. The old man could tell by the look in her eye she’d make good on that one threat. He still expects me to mow his lawn and clean his gutters, but he hasn’t spoken a single word to me since the big reveal.
There were some folks you were never going to change, and Grandpa was one of them. He didn’t like my dad much either. He held anger against his youngest son because he was the only one of the kids who took up for Grandma. I guess as far as families go, ours is pretty screwed up.
We’re so nasty to one another. My Mom refuses to come to Thanksgiving dinner with my dad’s people. She goes over to her brother’s house, where they are friendly to one another, and you don’t have to worry about being murdered by one of your kin. Her side of the family doesn’t care about me being gay. Next year, I’m going with her.
A collective moan broke out in the living room. There must have been a bad call on a play. I noticed tears forming at the corner of my grandma’s eyes and knew it wasn’t from peeling the onions.
“The two of you better get in there, or you’ll miss the game.”
I stood up from the table and walked into the living room with my dad. A worried look was spread across his face when we joined the rest of the family.
They were concentrating so hard on the television screen they didn’t bother to make a negative comment when we strolled through the arched doorway.
When I look back on it now, I believe Dad was starting to think the situation between his parents was moving toward disaster. The state of affairs was past the point of pretending like grandma wasn’t serious about ending her husband’s life.
Nobody said a word to us when we took a seat. They’d pretended I didn’t exist since the minute I walked into the house.
They didn’t say a word about me being gay, but their coldness towards me sent the message they didn’t want to breathe the same air for fear of being infected with some form of a deadly homosexual disease.
The family finally sit down to eat. They almost seemed normal until the dessert was passed around. “You know, Mike, the next time you go fishing, I want to come along. I’d wait until after your fifth beer before I tie a twenty-pound weight to your feet.”
“On second thought, make that a fifty. I bet you’ll cause a big splash when I push you into the water. I wonder if the noise would carry across the lake. We wouldn’t want to attract attention to the big event.”
“Folks might get suspicious if they heard a big splash. No worries. You never wear a life jacket, and everyone knows you’re not a good swimmer. It would look like an accident, except for those damn weights tied to your legs.”
Oh well, back to the drawing board. What does everyone want, pie or cake?” Grandma pointed the blade of the knife she was holding in grandpa’s direction and waited for a response.
“I’ll take a slice of cake if you don’t mind.” My grandpa croaked out the words. I could hear the anxiety in his voice.
I almost choked on the bite of turkey I was chewing. In my mind, I couldn’t help but think that was number three for the day. She still had to come up with at least two more ways to kill grandpa before she fell asleep.
It was an exercise in creative thinking when you considered the way she was going about plotting his murder.
In the spring, a killer tornado touched down in Tecumseh. It left a path of destruction before it lifted back into the sky. Most of the city lost power for three days. Nobody had seen grandpa for a week before the twister came to town. Grandma said he went on a fishing trip to Lake Michigan with Artie Jackson.
The funny thing was I ran into Artie at the hardware store, and he didn’t mention a word about a fishing trip. I figured Grandpa was shacking up somewhere with the trailer park woman. If he thought he had Grandma fooled, he had another think coming. The man was playing with fire, staying gone so long.
What he was doing with the trailer park woman was the equivalent of dangling a mouse in front of a cat and not expecting the feline to pounce on the damn rodent. I’ll admit it would get tiring living with a woman who was drawing up a new blueprint on how she was going to bring about your death five times a day, but that was no reason to disappear without leaving word about where you’d gone.
I was cleaning up the storm damage out of my grandparent’s yard when I caught a whiff of a disgusting odor I couldn’t identify. It was nastier than month-old garbage, roadkill lying in the hot summer sun, and the spray from an angry skunk combined into one sickening stink.
I was loading branches the wind tore down near the broken window leading to the cellar when the smell first caught my attention. My grandparents live in a hundred-year-old house. You couldn’t enter their basement from inside.
A person had to come around to the backyard, open a door, and climb down some steep stairs to get to the old cellar.
Grandpa had a small woodshop down there. It was also where they kept their deep freezer. Every year Grandpa would buy a butchered hog.
Dad and I would come over and help him load the meat into the long white coffin shaped refrigeration unit. The electricity had been out for days. I figured the horrible odor I was experiencing was from hog flesh rotting in the sweltering summer heat.
I opened the cellar door, and I knew I was right. The distinct odor of decaying flesh smacked me in the face as I descended the steep stairway. I tied the shop rag I was carrying around my nose to block some of the smell and stepped onto the concrete floor.
I scanned the area until my eyes adjusted to the dark. My gaze settled on the white freezer in the corner.
It took me a few minutes to work up the nerve to cross the room and open the lid. What I saw inside the deep freeze sent fear mingled with disgust surging through every nerve ending in my body. The sight I witnessed lying in the refrigeration unit turned my stomach to mush.
Grandpa wasn’t shacked up with a bimbo in a trailer park on the other side of town because his body was crammed at an odd angle inside the freezer.
His vacant dead eyes bore into me like he expected me to do something about his condition. Blood was caked under his fingernails. I could see traces of it on the inside of the lid.
It looked like he tried to claw his way out of the makeshift coffin before he took his final breath. A wave of pity for the old man washed over me. I imagined his death was slow and filled with pain.
I heard a noise and turned around. My grandma was standing at the top of the stairs. Her chubby body blocked out the light as she made her way down the steps one rung at a time.
“I told him exactly how I was going to kill him when we were down here together a week before the storm. I warned him I was serious as a heart attack this time, but he laughed in my face. He made me so mad I hit him over the head with a hammer.
“What happened was all the old bastard’s fault. He should never have laughed at me.”
“I used a car jack to stick him in there. “
Grandma pointed a fat finger in the direction of the open freezer. “He woke up after a while and started making a lot of noise. I sat on the lid for the longest time to make sure he didn’t get free.
“I didn’t count on the storm or the power being out for so long. He’s starting to stink now. You need to help me dig a hole in the backyard. He’ll rest easy out there.”
“We have to call the police and tell them about what happened here.”
“Or we could just leave him there till he decomposes. I’ve been thinking about visiting my sister down in Florida. By the time I get back, the smell will have settled down some.”
The look in my grandma’s eyes made me think I might be her next victim if I didn’t get out of the basement. “That sounds like a good idea to me. You’ll never be able to use the freezer again, but it shouldn’t take him much longer to rot in this heat.”
“You should book a flight tonight. I need to get going. Dad expects me home before dark. I’ll come back over tomorrow with the dolly, and haul him and the freezer out of the basement.”
I tried to keep my voice calm as I backed up the stairs. My eyes were glued to her the entire time I did my climb. There was no way I was going to turn my back on the murderous old woman. I ran to my car and jumped behind the steering wheel.
The odor of my dead grandpa lingered in my nostrils as I drove across town.
The tires of my old Chevy threw gravel into the air when I backed out of the driveway. I waited until I was a block down the street and was out of sight before I reached for my cell phone and dialed 911.
Grandma hissed at me when the police slapped the handcuffs on her wrists. She screamed it was my fault she got caught. I knew I’d never go to another family Thanksgiving at her house if Grandma managed to get away with her crime. She’d put poison in my food for ratting her out to the authorities.
There’s a chance grandma might get away with the murder. Her lawyer is having her plead insanity. People in Tecumseh are standing in line to testify to the fact she is certifiable. Dad said I did the right thing by calling the police.
She should have never stuffed the old man’s body in the freezer if she didn’t want to get caught.
He claimed she had more reason than most to do the killing, but there were certain lines you shouldn’t cross even if you had a good excuse.
There were things about my grandpa I didn’t know. He said you could pick your friends, but not your family. Sometimes you had to play with the hand you’d been dealt or fold and walk away
I decided I don’t have a future in Tecumseh. I plan to get out of town as soon as they hand me my high school diploma. Five minutes after I graduate, I’m hopping on a bus bound for Fort Benjamin Harrison.
I figure the best odds I have of living on the right side of Normal street is to put a lot of distance between myself and my family.
The therapist I went to after the trauma of finding Grandpa in the freezer suggested I join the army and see the world at their expense. It sounded like a solid plan to me. I have the enlistment papers all filled out and ready to go.
Twisted Grandma and the rest of the family can have their turkey and dressing without me next year. With any luck, I’ll be eating army food in Afghanistan on Thanksgiving day.
Molly Shea is an accomplished fictional short story writer from Indiana, who writes short stories and novels about a fictional town called Tecumseh. To read more of her short stories and adventures click here.
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