When I heard my parents were going to be opening a video store, I was ecstatic. It wasn’t going to be a Blockbuster or a Family Video, it was going to be *ours*. My older brother and I eagerly awaited as renovations and setup got underway, making lists of films we would watch when the store was open, debating on the order in which we should watch them.
Life was good then. Our parents were happy, I remember. I look back and I recall realizing that those were two people who were truly in love. They weren’t all lovey dovey, but there was just a general electricity of true happiness between them.
Construction on the store finished during the summer before I was going to enter 3rd grade, my brother 7th. I remember going to school and bragging about the video store, and even telling everyone that one day it would be mine. I exaggerated my importance and value to the store, making wildly outlandish claims that my parents relied on my brother and I to keep it afloat.
We spent most of our time there. When the school year started, Alex and I would take the bus to the nearest stop and walk the 15 minutes to the store. In the office was a TV that we watched movies on while doing schoolwork, and it was without question instrumental to my lifelong love for film and television. Other times, we would go to the back of the building and go through the boxes of newly-delivered movies, and more than once we tried taking movies our parents weren’t legally allowed to distribute yet, much to our parent’s annoyance.
Then things changed.
It was a day just like any other. I was in fifth grade, Alex a freshman in high school. By this point, Alex would usually just escort me to the store and go his separate way after checking in with our parents. We walked into the store and found our parents behind the counter talking to two men neither of us recognized.
Alex and I said hi, but our chipper greetings were met with a brusque direction to the office from our dad. We obeyed, figuring they were in some sort of meeting, brushing off the fact that our dad seemed in a particularly bad mood. I had just gotten my schoolwork out and was preparing to watch Signs for the millionth time while Alex simply sat waiting for one of our parents to come in and let him leave.
We were in the office for about a half hour before our parents finally came in. I remember looking at my mom, her eyes puffy and red, asked her what was wrong.
“Get your stuff together, you’re going home.” Dad spoke before Mom could.
“What? Me too?” Alex asked.
“Yes, let’s go.”
“I’m supposed to meet Mike at the–”
“Well Mike is just gonna have to deal with it!” Dad snapped back.
“James!” Mom interjected. She leaned in and whispered something in his ear, but that kind of forceful whisper you do when you need to yell but can’t have anyone else hear it.
“Sorry, Alex.” Dad then said, forcing a calm tone. “Please, just…let’s go. Get your stuff, your mom is taking you home.”
Alex was irritated, but he ultimately complied.
As we rode in the car, our mom tried to compose herself as much as she could.
“You boys won’t be going to the store after school anymore. You won’t be going to the store at all anymore, unless it’s with your father and I.” she said.
“Why not?” Alex asked.
Mom took a breath.
“It’s just a…it’s a place for business, not a place for kids to sit around.” It was the same answer our parents would give us the next 50 times we asked why we couldn’t go there.
“Okay…” Alex wasn’t buying it.
“From now on, you’ll be walking your brother home and staying there. *Both of you.*
“What?! Mom!” Alex tried to argue, but our mom cut him off.
“Alex! Please.” her voice was shaking, like she was holding back tears.
My brother crossed his arms and sat silent for the rest of the ride home.
For the rest of my fifth grade year, I was given the “stranger danger” talk about once a week, and made to recite the plan for if someone I didn’t know tried to get me to go somewhere with them. By the time sixth grade rolled around, though, I was able to walk home by myself, and my brother wasn’t confined to the house after school anymore, save for seemingly random pockets of time when our proverbial leashes would get considerably shorter. These times could last a single day or a couple of weeks, but we’d learned that begging and inquiring didn’t do us any good.
Alex and I speculated more than a few times on the real reason we weren’t allowed at the store anymore and came up with some ideas, but none that were ever confirmed. During this time, too, a noticeable strain between our parents developed, one that got increasingly worse as time went on, with seemingly no peak. What was once the strongest example of true love and happiness I had became a tense, anger-filled union between two people who could no longer stand each other.
That was life until I reached high school. My freshman year, I was finally given the freedoms of a normal person my age, though I still wasn’t allowed at the store. When hanging out with friends, we’d sometimes stop in to pick up a movie, but my parents would always hurry us along. Of all the rules our parents ever enforced, keeping us out of the store seemed to be the one that never wavered.
During my sophomore year, I was sleeping over at my friend Ryan’s house. Ryan was essentially every parent’s worst nightmare; he was the kid parents warned about. He’s who I went to my first party with, who I smoked my first bowl with, who I stole my first bottle of booze and got drunk with. On this particular night, Ryan wanted to sneak out and roam around the town.
“Let’s go to your store.” Ryan said while we wandered aimlessly, all but chain-smoking joints we’d rolled before departing from his house.
“The video store? Eh…I don’t know. Why?”
“Come on dude, we can watch…something.” Ryan and I both laughed harder than necessary.
It may have been because I was high, or it could’ve been fueled by some deep-seated resentment I harbored for being banned from my favorite place as a kid, but when we were done laughing, I acquiesced.
“We have to go to my house and get the key.”
We turned around and walked to my house. When we turned down my street, I saw both my parent’s cars in the driveway; my brother’s was nowhere to be found. I’d snuck out of my house before, but never into. I knew my window would be unlocked, so I crawled through and made my way to the kitchen. In the same place it had been collecting dust since third grade, a drawer opposite the sink, sat the spare key. I went out the same way I’d come in, and found Ryan lighting another joint in my backyard.
“You got it?” he said with his lungs full of smoke.
I held up the key as confirmation and we continued on our way. It took us about a half hour to get there, but conversation and marijuana made it so that before we knew it, we were standing in front of Video West at just after 2am.
We walked in, and I quickly noticed a security system counting down. I tried the same combination my parents used for the lockbox in our house: a combination of mine and my brother’s birthdays. With the alarm disabled, we were free to roam. While Ryan scoured the aisles, I walked over to the office, the room I’d looked forward to sitting in after school for so long, and found it to be little more than a hoarding room for papers.
Several Mountain Dews sent me to the employee bathroom, and when I walked out, I couldn’t find Ryan. I called out for him in a kind of loud whisper, but didn’t hear anything in response. Suddenly, the doors to the back of the store opened behind me, making me almost jump out of my skin. After Ryan was done laughing at me, he told me he was going to check out the basement.
The only way I can describe the stairs leading down to the basement are that they are an amalgamation of every horror movie you’ve ever seen. The basement itself was no different. Ryan and I were navigating around the boxes of posters, spare light bulbs, and retired cardboard movie cutouts when a cobweb wrapped itself around Ryan’s face, sending him stumbling into the wall, a wall that I noticed became concave as he steadied himself on it.
I walked over as he cleared the webs from his face and pressed on the wall, finding it to not be the same solid cement as the rest of the basement walls, instead just crudely painted to look like them. Ryan took interest in this as well, and we began feeling around for an edge. Once we found it, we pulled back, and it opened another area of the basement.
The windowless room too had boxes, but instead of DVDs (as the medium had primarily shifted to by this time), they were filled with videotapes in generic sleeves and handwritten labels.
11-19-2004 – S12 – F – 15
4-2-2004 – G2 – F – 22
9-26-2003 – N5 – F – 9
Each video had a label in that same format, which of course meant nothing to us besides the dates. On top of each box was a number of papers, each listing various addresses and initials, some of which were crossed out.
Also in the room, which was lit by a single bulb only when we found a string hanging from the ceiling, was a TV/VCR combo unit. Ryan pulled a tape from deeper down in the box, one labeled 9-10-2005 – G11 – F – 26. He put the tape in the VCR and the video opened with a camera being rocked around and then steadied, presumably on a tripod. It then pans around in a 180, finally stopping and centering on a young woman tied to a chair.
She had duct tape around her mouth, and her wrists and ankles were duct tapes to rungs on the chair and the legs of the chair, respectively. To the right, just barely in the frame, was a table, on which were a variety of knives, saws, hammers, and other tools.
A man walked into frame. Covering the man’s head was a white mask with no holes for seeing or breathing. It looked like spandex, and made his face nothing but a pristine white surface with a small lump where his nose jutted out.
“Dude, what the…fuck?” Ryan said. I didn’t know what to say, so I just kept watching.
The man walked over to the table and picked up a hammer and a chisel.
“Uh…” Ryan began.
The man held up the hammer and chisel to the camera, and then walked behind the sobbing woman.
“Dude…” Ryan continued.
The man lined up the chisel on top of the woman’s head. She moved her head around trying to break free from her bindings, but to no avail. The man lined up the chisel in the center of the top of her head. He brought the hammer up, ready to swing.
“NOPE. We need to go, now.” Ryan said, taking the video out of the VCR and placing it back in the box he grabbed it from, making sure to put it back in the same spot. I clicked the light off as we stepped out of the room, and we both quickly replaced the false wall. We hurried up the stairs and made it to the back of the store.
That’s when we heard people talking.
The voices of two men drifted from the front of the store to the back.
“Alarm is off.” one of the voices asked.
“Maybe one of em’ forgot something.” the other replied.
“And left the alarm disabled? Parking lot is empty.”
Ryan and I swiftly but silently made our way to the back exit and got outside, carefully closing the door behind us. From there, we sprinted. We ran and we ran and we ran, until our legs wouldn’t allow us to run anymore. We stopped at a bench near a playground in one of the neighborhood parks.
“Dude…” Ryan said in between panting. “I thought your fuckin’…parents owned the store.”
“They do….” I started. “My parents and my aunt and uncle. But that didn’t sound like my dad or my uncle.”
“That fucking video, dude…” Ryan said, clearly chaken.
“Yeah.” I replied. “I kn–”
I was cut off by my cell phone ringing. It was my dad. I showed it to Ryan, who told me to answer it, but to make myself sound like I was sleeping. In my groggiest voice, I answered.
“Hey, Nick…where are you?” my dad asked.
“Ryan’s…I just fell asleep. What’s wrong?” I said in my most confused, concerned voice.
“Yeah, bud. We’re fine. Just couldn’t remember where you said you’d be tonight.” my dad replied.
“Oh…yeah. I’m at Ryan’s.”
“Alright, well. I’ll see you tomorrow then. Sorry to wake you.” my dad said.
“All good, no problem.
“Say, hey, Nick. Have you been to the store recently?” my dad finally asked, dropping his fake concern for my whereabouts and getting to the real point of the call.
“The video store? I was there like two months ago with Mike. Why?”
“No reason, just popped into my head. We moved some stuff around, thought I’d ask how you liked the new setup. Sorry to bother you, buddy. Get some sleep.”
“Alright…bye dad.” I ended the call and looked to Ryan, who was shaking his head.
“Dude, uh. We gotta call the cops. Those guys there, they probably own all that shit in the basement.” I said to Ryan.
“It’s your parent’s store’s basement, dude. They’ll arrest them too.” Ryan warned.
“Well what the fuck…if they didn’t do anything wrong, they’ll have nothing to worry about. Let’s go find a payphone. That was fucking sick, dude. Jesus Christ.”
Ryan didn’t oppose me, I think because he knew I’d already made up my mind several blocks ago. We clung to shadows and skulked through backyards to get to a convenience store, outside of which sat one of the only operational payphones still in our area. I quickly dialed 9-1-1.
“9-1-1, what is your location?” the operator asked upon answering the call.
“Hi, yeah, I’d like to report something. There’s…like…videos of people being killed in the basement of Video West.”
“I’m sorry, you said videos of people being killed?”
“Yeah, at Video West, the video store on 7th. There’s a bunch of tapes in the basement.”
“Okay, I’m gonna connect you to an officer.”
“No, no, just…go to the basement, there’s a fake wall and a bunch of boxes full of tapes. There were two guys there, maybe more. Be careful. Thanks, okay…bye.”
The operator started saying something but I hung up. When I turned around, Ryan was fighting against the breeze to light another joint. We sat outside the convenience store for a short while, smoking and talking about what we’d found. Before long, Ryan suggested we go back and watch them bust the video store. In my inebriated state, I thought it would be a good idea. I pondered the prospect of my entire life changing, but what we’d seen couldn’t go unreported.
We made the 20 minutes run back towards the store, and once it was within eyeshot, Ryan and I crouched down behind some bushes. Being that we lived in a small town, the police were already there by the time we arrived, and their car was parked next to another one, one I recognized. It was the Dodge pickup truck my dad had bought a year before. In the space next to my dad’s truck was another truck, that one a Chevy pickup.
Ryan and I watched as the lights inside the store shut off, and my parents, a cop walked out. They talked for a few minutes, shook hands, and each got into their cars. While my parents drove away, the cop sat in his car, and in the darkness of night we could see the glow from a cell phone light up the car. The cop appeared to make a call, and after about 10 seconds, the glow disappeared, he started his car, and drove off.
Ryan and I walked back to his house, discussing what we’d seen.
- There were murder videos in the basement of my parent’s video store. That was a fact.
- There was a possibility that my parents didn’t know about it, no matter how unlikely.
- But I’d told the police exactly where to look, false wall and everything, so how did they not find it?
“We need to go back and get proof.” he proposed.
“How though? Obviously those dudes were aware as soon we went in, even though I shut off the security thing.”
“One problem at a time, man.” Ryan insisted. “Think about it, if we can get in and get a tape – fuck I knew I should have taken one – if we can get one and we turn it in, it won’t matter. Cops will protect us.”
“So what, we just go back? Whoever those dudes were, they’re probably cleaning it out right now.”
“Well…the cops didn’t do anything, so maybe they think everything is all good? They don’t know why the cops showed up, they probably think it was the alarm or something. We just gotta go back tomorrow night and get a tape, in and out. It might…you know, get your parents store shut down and fuck their lives up, but like you said, they probably don’t know anything about it.”
It didn’t sound right. I knew full well that if there was a hidden room in the basement of Video West, my parents knew about. I figured there had to be a reason though, for them to know about it and not do anything.
We made it back to Ryan’s and while he eventually fell asleep, I sat up the rest of the night in an uneasy consciousness.
I called my brother for a ride, but unsurprisingly he didn’t answer. Since he turned 18, he’d spent less and less time at home. I walked with my right hand in my pocket, fumbling the key around. On my way home, I took a short detour and got a copy of the key made for our apparent return to Video West later that night.
When I finally got home, there were two police cars parked in front of my house. Only my brother’s car and my mom’s were in the driveway. My heart leapt to my throat, and I was terrified. Had the cops somehow known it was me who made the call? Did my parents know it was me who had been in the store? I decided not to delay the inevitable and trudged up the walkway to my house.
I stepped through my front door and looked to my left, finding two police officers standing in the living room with my brother, who was sitting on the couch, his head in his hands.
“What’s going on?” I asked.
“Hi, son.” the taller of the cops said. Either one of the cops in my living room could have been the one my parents had met with last night; we’d was too far away to see any defining features. “You uh, you wanna sit down?”
I looked at my brother, who raised his head from his hands long enough for me to see that he was crying.
“What the fuck is going on?” I demanded.
“Your parents, uh. Your parents were in a car accident last night.” the tall cop explained, regret in his voice.
My heart sank from my throat to my stomach.
“And…and they–” I began.
“Yeah.” the short cop was kind enough to not make me say it. “They uh…yeah. I’m so sorry.”
I didn’t know what to say. My whole body felt numb. My vision narrowed.
My parents were dead.