It can’t be amnesia. I know who I am, Caroline concluded. I know where I am. I’m home. Where I belong. Her green eyes scanned a wasteland of musty possessions. Mountains of clothing, books, magazines, newspapers, bottles, toys—collections she’d been meaning to organize, but never got around to, each holding a special indispensable significance.
A thick odor clung to the interior of the house, as integral to its superstructure as nails to wood. A mélange of dust, decay and animal feces that would offend the rare visitor, but to her seemed odorless.
Pain traveled up her spinal cord to the tip of her head, striking the top of her skull like a slow battering ram. “… My leg…” She croaked. All along there was an incessant pulse from her lower body, a beacon ebbing neurotransmissions of hurt. She peered above the rolling hills of her paunch and realized that her senses were incorrect; it wasn’t her leg, but her left ankle that was broken. Twisted in grotesque fashion, bone protruding through skin, toes pointed northwest.
Caroline carefully shifted her weight and let out a deflated sigh, noticing an empty light socket hanging up above. And then she recalled what happened: She fell when she tried to replace the lightbulb, hit her head and broke her ankle on the way down. How long had she been out for? Was it day or night? Where were the dogs?
“Bear?! … Wolfie?!… Bear?!” She cried.
Caroline waited. No reply from the mutts. The living room was quiet. The space where she lay was a thin corridor betwixt a mountain range of detritus that rose in a series of flat six-to-eight foot peaks. Her eyes traveled across her multitude of possessions, each as precious as the next, then to the ceiling. She gritted her teeth at the realization of how damn big the room was and how small she had made it. The house which she had lived in since the 60s was an old Victorian in Midwood, Brooklyn, back before all the black hat Jews had moved into the neighborhood.
Re-assimilating her surroundings, her heart sank on a dull green La-Z-Boy recliner that rested a few feet away from the television, covered in a thin film of dust, a king’s throne. It belonged to her late husband, David. He died in that very spot three years ago. Guilt buoyed in her chest. It took her two days to realize he was dead. He would sit in his comfy chair day-and-night, unmoving, watching, sleeping, and listening. It wasn’t until the smell of his dead body coupled with the cries of the dogs did Caroline figure out that her beloved had passed. The dogs always knew when something was wrong.
Another flare of pain ripped her from melancholy and a new more pressing thought flitted into her mind: The phone. I have to get to the phone—where was it? The dining room—somewhere out there… Jesus, when was the last time I used the damn thing? When did I last use most of this crap? I have to pay more attention to my life.
Slowly she began to squirm along the germ filled carpet, caked with layers of soot and dog urine. A long time ago it was blue, but had since been overtaken by a more dominant spread of mustard-black. Centimeter by centimeter, inch by inch, she navigated a labyrinth of her externalized psyche.
“Wolfie!? Bear!?—Wolfie?!” Then, she heard them in the muted distance, faint barks and woofs. They’re outside. She had let them into the backyard earlier to go out and pee. It’s cold out, maybe the neighbors will hear them and call 911. She blotted the positive thought from her mind. If anything, they’d complain. They despised the dogs and her household nearly as much she did them. She began to wish the neighbors wouldn’t notice, they’d probably call the Humane Society.
Caroline had always loved animals more than people. Outside of her husband, she despised the human species. Long ago she decided that people didn’t like her, and that was fine. “I’m a bitch,” she would blatantly state to anyone she got into an argument with. Pets brought her much happiness, much solace, unlike people they could be controlled. Unlike people they were obedient and loved unconditionally. She’s had a collection over the years: Dogs, cats, fish, and horses. Her lovely horses. Both had died. Their portraits hung above the unused dining table. Everything she ever loved died.
As much as she adored animals, she treasured possessions. What one owns doesn’t go away. So long as it’s taken care of, it stays with you and never leaves. It becomes part of your identity. A possession will never turn against, or abandon its owner. In its own way, stuff is loyal. And unlike animals, stuff never dies.
After five minutes of crawling something strange happened. Amongst a large pile of books, a teddy bear poked its head out. It had been at least a decade since she last saw Rupert, he was looking rather feral. Bluish-white mold had grown across his face and legs. The store price-tag was still attached to his rotting foot. He was the first and only toy they ever bought for…
The toy stood upright—waved its paw, head tilting to the side as if the little plush had a secret it was hiding. Apparently it did—“Hello,” said Rupert in a monotone voice.
She froze, eyes dilated. The way the bear spoke almost sounded as if it were holding back a reservoir of anger, resentful at having been purchased and never played with. Left to slowly die without meaning or purpose. I must be hallucinating, she decided. Maybe I really am nuts. Maybe the neighbors were right. Rupert carefully skipped from the book pile to a mound of trash bags, sliding across the black plastic and landing directly in front of Caroline. It knelt, peering at her with two black beady eyes.
“Well, aren’t you going to say hi?”
“Hello,” she squeaked.
“We’ve been waiting for you. Waiting a long time.”
“Who?” She asked.
“Your horde,” Rupert whispered.
Slowly the teddy backed away as dark things crept to life. The faces on the magazines, characters from the comic strips, each waved to her with crinkled smiles that had been pissed on by the dogs. Button down shirts crawled out from abandoned laundry bags, one by one, saluting her with their sleeves. Then, all of her possessions began to bundle together at the center of the room. It was as if an invisible sphere had spontaneously appeared; bending space-time, generating a gravitational pull that magnetized everything, including Caroline.
A sharp number two pencil rolled across the floor and Rupert snatched it. Caroline felt herself being lifted into a shifting sea of debris; desperately she grabbed the corner of a wooden beam, holding tightly. Splinters dug into her hands, tears bled down her face, her ankle was screaming and still, in the distance, she could hear the dim howls of her loyal hounds.
Then, the pull released its grip and she turned at the monstrosity that now dominated her living room. It was a demon like no other. Black and silver, comprised of all of her possessions, it rose 12 feet tall, refracting dim light in a million directions. In each shard of glass was a mirror image of Caroline’s terrified face.
“What are you?! What do you want?!” She screamed.
The evil spoke with a hideous tone which cut through her soul like a rusty hatchet. “We already told you. We’re your horde. Over the years, you’ve horded many things Caroline. Each hatred, each grudge, each pain is the cumulation that stands before you. And today the time has come to complete your collection. There’s only one missing piece—you.”
Caroline screamed, attempting to crawl away, heading for the front door. The demon released a sickening gargle, “We are your horde and we’ve come to horde you!” Then, like liquid against gravity the mass splashed to the ground. Gradually it began to reform into a slow building, slow moving tidal wave of trash.
In the wake of Black Death, the pain from her ankle evaporated, replaced by fear and adrenalin. Caroline quickly dragged her body, ignoring the hellish pain that arced across nerve and spine. In a blink the door went from fifteen to ten and now five feet away. Her hands sprinted across the floor. As she reached the entrance, another voice cut through the air – familiar and warm. “Carrie, baby.”
She froze, sitting in the throne was her late husband, David. He was there, just as she remembered, chubby and kind — a good man. They stared at each other as the dark wave began to curl in its suspended sentience. David sat in his chair, pale blue skin, eyes full of soul. “Carrie, let it go.”
“David … David, oh, David. Let what go?”
“Everything.” He said urgently. “The only way you’ll be able to walk out that door is if you let it all go. The possessions, the grudges, the feeling of bitterness and loss. Me … your father … the baby.”
The tsunami of shit moved ever closer. A mouth opened, bearing jagged teeth as it released a sound that forever haunted her. The sound of a crying toddler—her lost child.
“STOP IT!” she screamed. “STOP!”
Rupert appeared at the wave’s apex, riding the crest with the pencil aimed like a lance. Caroline leapt across the floor, followed by the beast, its gruesome jaw unhinging with the radius of a Megalodon, devouring wooden floorboards in its wake.
“Just let it go,” David pressed. “That’s all you have to do and you’ll walk free out that door.” He reached towards her with a hand. “Carrie, if you don’t, it will consume you. Consume your soul.”
Everything seemed to slow down as she switched vantages between death and her husband—searching for what she felt inside. Then, she knew what was within. She’d known all along. Quite suddenly Caroline lifted her hand to the cold door knob, that gateway to freedom. There was a definitive sound of a CLICK—as the door-lock snapped into place.
She purposely locked herself in.
David’s ghost leaned forward—eyes wide, mouth agape, “Caroline! Why?!”
“I know who I am,” Caroline concluded. “I know where I am. I’m home. Where I belong.”
The horde swallowed her whole as the dogs howled into the black night.
Joshua Sky© 2017
Joshua Sky is a multi-award winning writer based in LA. He has written for Marvel, Heeb, Motherboard, Geeks and is represented by Abrams Artist Agency.
This article first appeared in omni. It has been republished with permission from the author.