You have to open the wine cellar
Read Episode 1
I woke up to the sun casting striped shadows on the wall and I jumped up in bed, only to groan as my body remembered yesterday’s ordeal.
A breakfast tray sat on the overbed table and a smiling nurse rolled it closer. I ignored it and asked her about Jake, making sure not to mention his name, and she told me he was in recovery. When I asked to see him, she said it’d be up to the detectives who were waiting to talk to me.
As if on cue, Detective Crawford walked into the room with a tray of coffee and muffins. Another man joined him, this one holding a large file.
“Good morning, son. I’m Detective Ross. We thought you might appreciate something fresh for breakfast.”
Detective Crawford placed the coffee and muffins on the overbed table before they each took a cup and sat down. The muffins smelled a lot more tempting than the slab of yellow on my breakfast tray and I nodded in thanks as I reached for one.
After a few ravenous bites, I decided to try coffee for the first time in my life. I took a sip and grimaced, disappointed that it didn’t taste as amazing as it smelled. I didn’t understand why people in movies were always drinking it. Detectives Crawford and Ross didn’t seem to mind it either. I washed out the taste with water and went back to devouring my muffin.
As I ate, Detective Crawford placed a black object on the table in front of me. “We’re going to be recording this conversation,” he said, “so we’d appreciate it if you could be a little more talkative than you were yesterday.”
I didn’t reply as I watched Detective Ross pull out a paper from his file and flip it over to me. It was a photo of a middle-aged man. I furrowed my brow. He placed it on the overbed table and pulled out another, holding it in front of me for a few seconds before placing it on top of the first. He did this five more times before he held up a photo of Nan, exactly as we'd seen her. I think the recognition was obvious on my face as Detective Ross pointed to the photo.
“It seems like you know this woman in photo number 1-07.”
I tried to remain unresponsive, but my concern was overpowering. “Is she okay?”
Detective Crawford sat up. “Finally, good to have you join us. How about you give us your name as a start?”
“I just wanna know if Nan’s okay.”
“How about this, son,” Detective Ross said, “You tell us everything you know, and we’ll tell you everything we know.”
I knew an unfair deal when I heard one. I shook my head.
Detective Ross wasn’t deterred. “You called this woman Nan just now. H—”
“No, I didn’t.”
“Yes, you did. How do you know her?”
“I just wanna know if she’s okay.”
“Son, we’re on your side. As far as we can see, you’re a victim too. We know your experience was daunting but, rest assured, you’re safe here.”
I frowned as I wondered if this was one of the tricks cops pulled to ease you into spilling your secrets.
“I can tell you care about Nan,” Detective Ross continued. “We all do, so how about you help us out? This case has gotten us thrown for a loop and we can definitely benefit from your knowledge.”
“Why won’t you tell me if she’s okay?”
“Because we need to hear your statement first,” Detective Crawford said with slight impatience. “We’ll tell you afterwards.”
Desperate to know what happened, I caved, but I twisted the truth just enough to protect myself and Jake. “My name is Bill Preston and my friend is Ted Logan. We was hiking and got lost and we saw the cabin and thought it was empty for us to rest in, but it wasn’t. But Nan was very nice and told us it was okay.
“We did some cleaning and talked and stuff and she was real nice, but then four bad guys broke in and me and J—…Ted tried to protect Nan but the bad guys tied us up in bags and we didn’t know what happened after ‘til you cops showed up.”
Throughout my statement, Detectives Ross and Crawford stared at me with the most perplexed looks on their faces, and I broke out in a cold sweat as I wondered if they could sense I was lying.
Detective Ross held up the photo of Nan. “You’re saying you saw this lady in photo number 1-07, Nan, yesterday?"
“Yes. What happened to her? They didn’t hurt her, did they?” I asked, my voice cracking with guilt.
“The bad guys!”
Detective Crawford pulled out one of the crime scene photos. “Are these four men in the crime scene photos the ‘bad guys’?"
I winced as I looked at the horrifying image again. “Yes.”
“Do you know who they are?”
“Do you know who did this to them?”
“Did you hear or see anything suspicious? Violent movement? A struggle? Did you see or hear anyone else approach or leave the cabin?”
“No, it was dark and stuffy in the bags and we was making lots of noise ‘cause we was trying to escape.”
Detective Crawford sighed, but Detective Ross said, “Son, why don’t you tell us what you know about Nan."
“She’s real nice,” I said, “but I think she’s senile. She kept repeating herself, always asking us to bury the old ashes in her oven ‘cause she was scared the smoke’s gonna kill us. She also talked a bunch ‘bout wine. Some vintage 1990 in her cellar. She also talked ‘bout—”
“Wait, cellar?” Detective Ross interrupted as he rifled through his papers. “We searched the entire property, there are no subterranean rooms.”
“She said it was outside underground.”
“Did you see it yourself?”
“No, but you can ask Ronald, she said he knew ‘bout it.”
“Do you know Ronald?”
He pulled out the photo of the middle-aged man again. “This man, in photo 1-03, is Ronald. Nan’s son. Have you seen him before?”
I studied Ronald’s square-jawed face with a skeptical frown. He had Nan’s blue eyes, but he lacked her warm, sympathetic features. “That’s her son?”
“Yes. Do you know him?”
He spread the other photos on top of the overbed table. “Do you know any of these people?”
I gave them a quick scan. “No.”
“Do you know any members of her family?”
“What else can you tell us about Nan?” he asked as he flipped through his file.
“I ain’t got nothing else. She mostly kept repeating lots ‘bout the wine and the ashes in the oven and her grandkids.”
Detective Ross looked up. “What did she say about her grandkids?”
“She’s got five.” I counted off on my fingers. “Denise is smart, Liam is brave, Skylar is talented, Victor visits her every Wednesday night, and Natalie loves her lullabies.”
“Did she say anything else about Natalie?” he asked, sliding his chair closer.
“Um, she said she needed to rest, I think. Just that, and that she loves lullabies.”
“Needed to rest? What did she mean by that?”
“I don’t know. We didn’t talk much more before the bad guys showed up. Now can you tell me what happened to Nan?”
“That’s what we’re hoping you can tell us.” Detective Ross pointed to Nan’s photo. “This is Mrs. Arlene Jones-Marshall, affectionately known as Nan by her grandchildren. She went missing over a year ago along with her granddaughter Natalie.”
“Exactly. When I overheard Detective Crawford talking about his case, the location caught my attention. It was a long shot, coming to see you, since this case is cold. I certainly wasn’t expecting the connection to be this solid. You can see why I’m very interested in your story.”
“Well, I can tell you she ain’t been missing,” I said. “She lives right in that cabin. Ask Victor.”
“Victor Marshall has been checking up on the cabin every Wednesday evening since her disappearance and never once encountered his grandmother,” Detective Ross said.
“But she talked ‘bout him visiting! She was there yesterday! Is…is she missing? Is that it? You didn’t find her?” My voice squeaked with panic.
“She’s technically been missing for over a year,” Detective Crawford said.
“Did you see her secret room? She hides there, it’s in the back bedroom!”
“Yes we did, and it was empty. There’s no—”
“Maybe she ran away after she saw the murders! You should look for her in the woods!”
“As much as we’d love to believe your story, there is no recent evidence of Mrs. Jones-Marshall in that cabin at all.”
“Maybe it’s ‘cause we cleaned up. The place was a damned dust factory, I ain’t got no clue how her family can leave her like that. Maybe that’s why she hides from them. They should be arrested for…for old people abuse!”
“Alright, son, calm down,” Detective Ross said. “So, you met Nan. Did she tell you where she’s been for the past year, three months, and four days?”
“No. But I bet she hides in her secret room.”
“Did she tell you why she’s avoided contact with her family?”
“No. But I bet it’s ‘cause they’re assholes. And why are you wasting time? You have to find her! She’s lost in the woods, all old and afraid and senile!”
“I’ve got to say, ‘Bill’,” Detective Crawford said with a derisive cross of his arms, “this story of yours is starting to sound like quite an 'excellent adventure'.”
I cringed, wishing I’d used a more obscure movie for name references.
“It looks like you and your friend ‘Ted’ are ghosts and this doesn’t help us one bit,” Detective Ross said. “No IDs. No records. Fake names. Scars. Shaved heads. Alphanumeric tattoos. Unidentifiable uniforms, one with bleached bloodstains. Who are you? Who are you hiding from?
“You boys don’t have any priors, son. Why don’t you talk to us? You’ll be relieved. It’s obvious you and your friend have been through something stressful and we can help you. We will keep you safe, trust me.”
Their attention had shifted from Nan to me, and that wasn’t good. As much as I wanted them to find her, I didn’t trust them. I wasn’t about to jeopardize Jake and my safety for her sake.
“I ain’t got nothing to say,” I mumbled as I looked away. “I wanna see Ted.”
To my surprise, they agreed to escort me to Jake’s room. The moment I stepped through the door, I ran up to his bed, but my joy disappeared when he didn’t recognize me. I'd never seen him look scared and lost before, and my emotions rapidly mirrored his as I looked up at the detectives.
“Is he okay?” I asked, my voice shaking.
“He woke from surgery claiming he doesn’t know what happened nor who he is,” Detective Crawford said. “We’re hoping seeing you would help dispel his amnesia.”
Not sure what to do, I sat on the chair next to Jake’s bed and looked at him with wide eyes, willing him to remember me. He held my gaze, frowning as though I was a stranger.
“You can talk to him,” Detective Ross said. “Jog his memory, remind him of who he is and of what happened yesterday.”
I had no idea how to do that without revealing our past, so I blurted out the same story I told Detectives Crawford and Ross.
Detective Crawford sighed in exasperation, but Detective Ross said, “Son, the only way your friend will regain his memory is if you tell him the truth. Your story will only confuse him. I know you’re afraid and you’re protecting yourselves, but you can trust us. You’re safe here.”
I turned to Jake, desperate for guidance, but he just looked back at me in utter bewilderment.
A chill clutched at my heart. Jake was the smart one. He risked a lot to get us out. He promised to look out for me. Now, I was alone. I wouldn’t know how to do this alone. I wouldn’t know how to protect Jake.
My distress and vulnerability overwhelmed me and I broke down, crying into my hands. A nurse escorted me back to my room, and the detectives said they’d return once I had a chance to relax and think things through.
It was impossible to relax, every suspicious noise in the hallway making me jump as I imagined The Taipan’s thugs barging in. I wrung the bed sheets as I tried to come up with a plan, tears dripping off my chin. Jake used to train with the thugs, so he had real-life experience out here, but all I knew were the movies. Jake told me movies weren’t reality, and I had no idea what to do.
Later that afternoon, before my dread and desolation could suffocate me, I gasped in disbelief as Jake entered my room fully dressed and on crutches.
“Get dressed, we’re leaving,” he whispered as he hurried closer, tossed a bag of clothes at me, and pulled out my IV.
I sputtered out a relieved laugh. I should have guessed he was faking. He’d have known I wouldn’t have been able to keep my mouth shut and he didn’t want our stories to clash. I followed Jake’s orders and we managed to get the hell out of town.
The world really was different than the movies, and it was nothing like the cult I grew up in either, but Jake’s experience came in handy as he found us an apartment, jobs, and people to help us as we settled in a different state.
We got new ID’s and Jake let me pick my name. I was Thomas Anderson now. Jake made us eighteen too so we could be adults. We also let our hair grow out, literally. It was pretty exciting and I couldn’t help wasting a little bit of my hard-earned money on hair gel. Jake stopped shaving, and I was ready to do the same once my mustache and beard started growing.
Jake said we had to change our names and appearance because The Taipan and his thugs were still looking for us.
So were the police.
We were wanted for questioning in relation to Nan’s disappearance, and I wished I'd kept my mouth shut. The police had distributed sketches of our faces, and they included a description of the alphanumeric tattoos we had on our wrists. Jake was smart, though, and he burned off our tattoos the moment he got the chance. It hurt, but afterwards I felt truly free.
He took the time to teach me how to function in this world, showing me how to use computers and smartphones and introducing me to the internet. He also found me a tutor. She was very pleased with my progress and Jake said that I’d probably be smarter than he was in a few months’ time. I knew that’d never happen, but his encouragement did make me buckle down and study harder.
When my reading comprehension improved enough, I began keeping tabs on the case by checking news articles online, hoping that Nan had been found and that the mystery of what happened that day had been solved.
The main spokesperson for the Marshall family was Nan’s son, Ronald. I recognized his smug, square-jawed face from the photo Detective Ross showed me. Ronald was a successful politician with a lot of clout, but in the article photos, he looked more like a hitman, standing tall and wide in his business suit.
Nan was still missing, and when Jake and I met her, she’d been “missing” for over a year. Before she disappeared, she used to live in her cabin and Ronald and Victor would alternate as they dropped by every other day to make sure she was cared for. Nan would also occasionally babysit Ronald’s infant daughter, Natalie, whose mother died during her birth.
Tragedy struck when, one day, both Nan and Natalie went missing from the cabin without a trace. Ronald had called the police right away, but after only a month, the case went cold and was forgotten...
….until now, over a year later, when it was reopened thanks to my foolish rambling at the hospital.
Reading about both Nan’s case and the thugs’ case was as fascinating as it was disturbing. Along with all the grim details, the media enjoyed covering the “eerie” humming that could be heard inside the cabin. I found it funny that they’d focus on a broken radio out of all things, but I guess sensationalism sold well.
The media had even more material to exploit when the police solved the thugs’ case. Although their identities remained unknown, evidence showed that their own weapons were used in the bloodbath and it was reasoned that they went mad and committed suicide.
The suggested cause was said to be an airborne hallucinogen, and I was grateful for the stroke of luck that spared Nan, Jake, and me. The hallucinogen had yet to be identified, but it seemed as though even masks were ineffective against it.
A masked journalist had snuck into the roped-off cabin one evening to solve the mystery of the humming radio, and she ended up suffocating herself with one of the couch’s cushions. Her assistant, who stayed in the car, became suspicious when the humming stopped but the journalist remained inside, and when he peeked through the door and saw her body, he bolted and called the police. Her death was especially tragic because she'd lost a child to SIDS a few months prior, and the media milked it for all it was worth.
What caused even more of a media uproar a few weeks later, and shook me deep, were the contents of Nan’s oven. The police had found charred remains between the ashes…
...and analysis revealed them to be Natalie’s, with the time of death being around when she and Nan disappeared.
Ronald was questioned, and he tearfully claimed that he never imagined his mother could do something so heinous. The public rallied with the devastated father, and any lingering concern regarding Nan’s disappearance vanished along with her as Ronald asked the police to close the case.
The news weighed down my heart. I now understood why Nan kept telling us to bury the ashes so her granddaughter could rest, but I didn’t want to believe that was a confession. Jake and I met her and she seemed like the sweetest, most harmless person. It wasn’t fair of her family to shun her when the truth remained known.
Nan could have witnessed someone murdering the baby and ran away in fear. Even if she really did kill her granddaughter, it couldn’t have been on purpose. She was senile. Maybe she forgot she was babysitting and, when the baby died, Nan panicked and got rid of the evidence before she went into hiding. Ronald knew his mother had memory problems, he shouldn’t have left his child in her care.
Another thing neither the police nor the media could explain was how Nan had been surviving for the one year, three months, and three days before Jake and I broke into her cabin, and how Victor claimed he never saw her even though she mentioned his Wednesday visits. This struck me as suspicious, and after some thought, I began to wonder if Ronald and Victor were lying.
The original case went cold after only a month, even though both Nan and Natalie’s whereabouts remained unknown. I was certain a father wouldn’t give up on both his mother and his daughter unless he already knew where they were. Ronald must have believed Nan killed his daughter, located Nan himself, and decided to keep her prisoner in the cabin with only Victor dropping by once a week to check up on her.
And now, just as the case was reopened, Ronald asked the police to close it again after the discovery of Natalie’s remains, even though Nan was still missing. I was certain Victor found Nan when he dropped by that night, and he must have hid her before he called the police about the four mutilated corpses and the two strange, leather sacks.
He had to have locked her up somewhere nearby, and my eyes went wide as my thoughts turned to the mysterious wine cellar. Nan said that Ronald knew about it, but the police had no idea it existed. It must be where they were keeping her prisoner.
I was itching to confirm my theory, but I didn’t want to get myself and Jake in trouble. Although Nan’s case was closed, Jake and I were still wanted by the police for questioning and the sketches of our faces continued to circulate in the media.
After a few days of stressful mulling, my concern and curiosity got the best of me and I decided to contact Ronald. Afraid of drawing attention to myself, I asked a friend for help. She was nice enough to let me use her laptop, which she said had VPN, and I built up the courage to email Ronald.
Dear Mr Marshall
My name is Emmett Brown and Im a freind of your mom Arlene. I herd about your baby Natalie and Im very sorry for your loss.
Thank you for your email and your condolences. It has indeed been a difficult time, and I’m touched that a friend of my mother’s has reached out to me. I’m certain this news is difficult for you as well. If you don’t mind me asking, how did you come to know her?
We had scool together and we did letters and calls some times. She is a very nice and kind person and I dont beleev she can do some thing bad like hurt her grand kid. Are you still looking for her?
My mother didn’t talk about her friends, so I must say it’s an honor to be communicating with you. As for the case of her disappearance, ever since my daughter’s remains were found in her oven, I’ve abandoned the search and asked the police to close the case. As painful as it is for me to admit, my mother killed my daughter and I don’t want to spend any more resources, energy, and emotions on her. I hope you understand.
Yes of course. I’m sorry I know this is a hard time for you. Arlene talked a lot of good things about you and all her grandkids. She also said you and her put wine in her seller but when I visited her I didn’t see a seller. Where is it? Just curious.
Ah, yes, the wine cellar. It's just outside her kitchen window. It's been buried under dirt for a while now, though, ever since my mother lost her taste for wine. Are you a fellow wine connoisseur?
The moment he confirmed the location of the wine cellar, I stopped communicating with him and sent an anonymous email to the police.
Dear Police Officers,
You have to open Arlene Jones Marshalls case again. I think her son Ronald is keeping her a prisoner in the wine cellar under the kitchen window of her cabin. Its under dirt so you have to dig. Please save her!
Some body who cares
I then kept my eye on the news, my fingers crossed.