's 2017 Horror Write-off:

The Hoard

Submitted by Rahkshasarani

>My grandmother was a hoarder.

Five little words with so much behind them. Can I put into words the utter grossness of that mess of trash? Is there a way I can make you smell that smell, the stench that any relative of a hoarder knows by heart? Can I make you feel the utter, joyless lack of hope that buzzed around the topic of my grandmother? Maybe I can't, if you haven't experienced this sort of thing for yourself. But if I can do one thing, just one thing at all, I want to warn you.

My grandmother's hoarding started just after my grandpa died. They had bought this big old lovely country house that she began filling with trash the day she brought her husband's ashes home. In addition to all the usual upsetting habits that come with hoarding, my grandmother was also a thief. She stole from her children and their spouses and her own grandchildren, little things of more sentimental than monetary value. I remember my mother bought a book on grief to help her through her own father's death, only for it to turn up months later at my grandmother's house with her own name written onto the spine. I can just see grandma now, her egg-shaped body squeezing down the tight passages left in the junk of her house like a spider down an ant hole. There was something predatory about her, the way she insisted her children spend every holiday at her trash nest, how she would try to coax her grandchildren into the deeper regions of the house for some promised toy.

Any mention of their mother, my father and his siblings would go blank as if the weight of her existence was too much to bear. It was just how she was, they insisted. All we had to do was bear it for a few days a year. My dad was the most funloving, involved parent he could be, but dealing with his mother reduced him to a hopeless shell.

I remember the day my mother snapped. We were getting ready to pile into the car and spend thanksgiving at a house where we couldn't even eat as a family because the big dining-room table was covered with junk. My father tried to insist that my mother bring cranberry sauce not in tupperware, but the cut-glass bowl she'd inherited from her grandmother. Mom knew if she brought it there she'd never get it back. We all did. So she erupted.

Why in the hell was she supposed to just roll over and sacrifice every holiday to a woman who stole from them? Why was she the one offering up her time, her children, her own goddamn tableware for a woman who never once said thank you? Dad went grayfaced and quietly said that's just how she is.

My mom said if he wanted to push this then she was getting a divorce, and that's just how she was.

I've seen my father cry maybe twice in my life. This was one of those occasions.

My mom let him sob it out and then told him how it would be: no more holidays at his mother's house. We'd start our own family traditions. If he wanted to see her, fine, but us kids were off the table. My dad nodded, looking utterly defeated. I learned a lot about my father that day, but I lost a lot of respect for him in the process.

That was it. I didn't see my grandmother once after that day, because of course she never wanted to visit outside her house. I remember a few instances where my dad would pull one of us aside(usually when mom was out doing something) and ask shamefacedly if we wanted to visit grandma with him. We always said no.

I'm sure my father caught a lot of shit for not offering up his family anymore, but I think his siblings were secretly envious he did what none of them had the balls to do. I think we started a trend because the family gradually drifted away from spending every single holiday at the hoard house. My cousin Liam said the more people pulled away, the more insistent and clingy she became. She promised people treasures from her hoard, supposed valuable antiques that were buried behind old magazines and broken appliances. She got craftier with her theft, lifting wallets and cell phones from purses and pockets. All this just made her children's orbit drift even further from her.

I didn't hear about her death for over a month. An aunt was doing her mandatory wellness check and found that grandma had been keeled over for some time beneath a wall of trash that finally collapsed on her. The body was so dessicated it was hard to get an approximate time of death. Now that she was gone none of them, not one of her children who had sacrificed their family's time and health for this woman, wanted anything to do with emptying the house. Can't say I blame them. It had been bad when we quit going, but there had actually been space to stand up in a room then. By the time she died, the rooms were wall-to-ceiling junk with little tunnels carved out here and there. It was a claustrophobic nightmare. My cousin Liam was the one who finally went in and tried to clear out the mess. He was out there maybe a week before he called me and told me to come over.

Be clear: I wasn't about to set one foot in that place out of some misguided sense of familial responsibility. But Liam hinted that he'd found something amazing, something that made the whole thing worthwhile, something he wouldn't tell me about over the phone, the big tease. Call me greedy, call me a heartless vulture, but this woman made my father cry. I had no fondness left for her.

The house was at the end of a long red clay driveway that wound through empty green fields. It was odd, most hoarders I knew of had at least one shed on their property also crammed with stuff. But grandma's junk was always confined to the house alone. I parked next to Liam's jeep, but I could not see the man himself. There were a few neat piles outside the front door, but only a few. Liam had been at this for a week. What was he doing?

I stretched my legs a little and waited. The front door hung open, leaning on one hinge. The hoard peeked out the doorway as if the house itself was ready to burst at the seams.

I heard my name.

Liam's voice echoed out of the doorway, as he were calling from far away. I leaned into the doorway, reluctant to set foot inside unless I really had to. I called to Liam.

"Oh good, you're here." His voice did not seem to come  from any particular direction. "I've been waiting. Come on in and I'll show you what I was talking about."

"About that," I said, trying not to sound resistant, "what do you need to show me?"

"Can't tell you, you just need to see."

I very, very, very reluctantly found a clean place on the floor to set my foot. The boards creaked dangerously. I was afraid that my weight would be the last bit needed to overload the wood and me and the hoard would be sent plummeting into the darkness. But it held. I took my second step inside.

The front room was completely dark. As my eyes readjusted, I saw that the hoard was so tall and tightly packed it blocked the widows. There had been a small living area carved out the last time I'd been here, with room enough for a chair and the old television. Now the room was a solid floor-to-ceiling mass with only a small path to let me through.

"This way," Liam called, "follow the sound of my voice."

I obeyed. The path was so small I had to bend double, flinching at every creak of the piles around me. I nearly fell once and put out a hand to steady myself. I felt a rope stretched out beside me.

"My lifeline," Liam said before I could ask, "c'mon, you don't think I'd brave this mess without it, do you?"

The rope was almost taut. I used it as a guide to lead me deeper into the house. At this point the weak light from the open front door was far behind me. I had to light my way with my phone's flashlight. The air was thick with dust motes and god knows what else, so I pulled my shirt up over my nose. Even so that brown smell leaked through. The smell that has haunted me well into adulthood. The smell that made me feel unclean, no matter how many showers I took.

I was daydreaming of a scalding hot bath when I just happened to glance to my left and saw Professor Brown. God, there was a memory. Professor Brown was my teddy bear when I was seven, my inseparable companion until the day my cousins came over to play. When they went home, Professor Brown disappeared. After a week of looking with no hope in sight, mom phoned my aunt.

Oh dear, looks like our Angela mistakenly packed the bear with her own toys, the toys she took over to grandma's.

I remember my mother's face hardening as she hung up the phone. I remember the tight feeling of loss in my chest, so tight I couldn't even squeeze out tears. I put my hand out.

It wasn't Professor Brown. It was the tail end of a ratty old shawl and a lumpy pillow. But it had been Professor Brown. I had been so sure a second ago. I stared at the place he'd been.

The rope creaked and shifted.

"You coming, cousin?"

I resumed crawling through the tunnel.

If you've never had a chance to carve a path through a hoarder's home, you've never gotten a chance to see something fascinating: a billion would-be-useful things crammed together like fossil-bearing shale, held together by pressure and hope and who knows what else. I wondered where and how grandma acquired so much on her little widow's pension, especially…

I slowed down.

...especially since she never went outside. Sure, she could steal things from her visiting family, but where had she gotten that couch? Those lamps? That chainsaw sculpture that looked too heavy for one old woman to lift?

"Liam," I called.

"Yeah?" His voice seemed no closer. I felt like I had been traveling so long. Too long, with no branches or turns. How deep was the house? Certainly not deep.

"Where are you?"

"Just ahead." His voice seemed cheerful, gave no indication of malice.

"No, I mean where. Are you in a bathroom, a bedroom, the basement?"

"Hard to tell. Can't see the walls."

Of course. I switched tactics. "Can you just tell me what you want me to see?"

"No. You have to see yourself."

"Gimme a hint at least."

"When you see it, you'll flip."

I don't know why that statement gave me a sudden, pressing feeling of dread, it just did. I didn't want to flip, not at all.

"Buddy, I'm not prepared for this," I lied, "I need to get a respirator or something, and my clothes are all filthy."

"You can wash ‘em later." I heard something shift, a long ways down the hall. I hadn't noticed before, but the floor had a distinct downhill slope. At some point the floorboards had turned to dirt. "Here, I can come up and help you down."

"No!" I shouted a little louder than I meant to.


Then the rope at my side began vibrating.

It wasn't easy to turn around, even harder to move fast. It felt like everything that made up the tunnel was pointing so that it was much easier to go down than up. I had nightmare visions about triggering an avalanche, getting trapped beneath all that junk and lying prone for Liam or whoever it was that was chasing after me. The rope beside me twanged like a guitar string. I thought of grandma, lying under all that junk, dry like a bug that a spider's been after. How she tried to get us to come deeper into her hoard so many times. Liam, alone in this house.

When you see it, you'll flip. When you see it, you'll flip. When you see it, you'll flip.

I scraped my shoulder pretty bad, shooting out that broken doorway. I landed on my stomach and elbows, knocked the wind right out of me. I crawled away from the house, waiting for something to leap out of that doorway and end me.

Nothing. Nothing but the aches in my body.

"Liam!" I called out. No answer.

My clothes, which had been a white shirt and denim jeans, were now indistinguishable under the brown of all that dust. Blood smeared over the places where I'd ripped through. I held my throbbing shoulder.

"Liam!" I called again. The only reply was the sound of the hoard shifting.

I left. Never went back. Never told anyone I'd been in there. Liam's parent's unenthusiastically reported him missing after a respectable interval. I saw his mother, my aunt, during that time. She couldn't even look me in the eye. She knew.

The cops ruled that Liam was missing, presumed dead, and slapped a "condemned" sticker on the house. Nothing else much happened to it until it caught on fire not long after. Maybe it was arson. Maybe it was me. I'm not saying anything conclusively. I'm just warning you whatever was in there is bad news.

And I don't think it was the only one.