Tamara Wilhite is a technical writer, industrial engineer, mother of two, and published sci-fi and horror author.
The Unbearable Weight, a Horror Story
Helena opened the neatly maintained front yard and was shocked by the hoarder’s horror inside. No wonder the family had been willing to pay so much for someone to come by and clean it – almost no one would want to take on a job like this.
A voice in the back of her head whispered that there had to be something bad here. You could smell the rotting something. Were there dead cats or rats buried under the newspapers, food wrappers, boxes with uncertain contents? Maybe that was why the family paid her so much cash up front to take on the job; it really required a hazardous material suit to do and they didn’t want to have public health involved.
She was able to get the door open a little wider and brought in her cleaning supplies. The trash was piled up toward the ceiling at the edge of the rooms, little pathways carved through it though you likely had to step over stuff. It would take months to clean this place out, but the family said it had been empty for a couple years. They had to get it cleaned out to sell it, they said, but no one had the heart to do so. Or the stomach, Helena thought. The old woman must have died here, surrounded by this stuff, slowly suffocated by it emotionally until she was buried in an avalanche and actually suffocated to death.
Helena tried to breathe through her mouth to minimize the stench. Could she leave the door open? The family asked for privacy, since they wanted the house cleaned for sale instead of razed and ruined if public health found out. Silence, secrecy … maybe that’s why they hired her, an illegal alien, instead of a local person. She’d take the money, finish the job and go somewhere else without talking about it.
Helena surveyed the piles, stacks, mounds and general mess, at a loss for where to start. Maybe that was why they were so desperate for a professional and couldn’t do it themselves, it was just too emotionally overwhelming. She turned to close the door to hide the scene, as the family had requested.
A few loose papers slid and made her stance uneven. Helena looked down at them. Yes, she’d start here by the door, carving out space to live and work and breathe. She picked up the first sheets of paper and put them in a small pile. Then she put down the box of trash bags, pulled one out and flipped it to open it wide.
As the trash bag drifted own, she thought she saw a picture of the old woman who had lived here. She’d just flipped the trash bag up and down, some papers must have been moved. As she started to stuff papers in the bag, she heard movement. Yes, she’d likely started a paper avalanche on the other side of the room. She continued to start piling the papers into the trash bag and threw in a stupid looking curio. That’s when a different noise occurred.
Helena looked up and saw nothing for a moment but the trash around her. Had the shifting weights caused by her activity made something fall? She’d have to be careful. She’d definitely start around the door and only move forward as everything else was cleared in that space, until the whole house was clean. God above, that stench, too. She’d have to leave the door open, because it was getting suffocating and she’d hardly started. Helena tied up the first trash bag and started to open the door, ready to throw the bag outside. She screamed as the form of the old woman coalesced out of paper, dust and bits of unknown items, blocking her path. Helena backed away from the ghost and crashed into the pile of mismatched incorrigible trash that seemed to go back several feet beyond which there might be a wall. The ghost seemed to say something, but the shifting mass behind her drowned out the sound. Helena screamed as the ghost reached for the trash bag, its hand passing through Helena’s to grab the twist ties, daggers of ice cutting through her flesh. Helena dropped the bag and the ghost wrapped itself around the bag, brushing against her leg on the way down.
The sight of the ghost and the strange feelings in her flesh made Helena unable to move and made her struggle to catch her breath. Helena had wondered why the family had had trouble finding someone to take the job though they’d tried to hire someone. A ghost? Oh, God, a ghost? No wonder the woman’s daughter had said no one had been able to do the job. They’d complained people took the money and ran, tried and failed and never came back … yeah, she understood that now. And she could feel a little in her hand now. Could she move? Yes, her feet could move, as if she’d become a little acclimated to the terror.
Helena slowly shifted and moved along the edge of the walls of trash in a slow circle in a move for the door, eager to give the ghost as much space as possible in the now claustrophobic space. She was now close to the door hinge and ready to reach for the door handle and pull it open.
The ghost pulled up from the trash and rushed to the door, blocking it with its semi-solid form. And now Helena knew she heard it. “You can’t let them see this! They can’t see me like this! You can’t let them see the mess like this!” The voice was an angry panic, rising up to a shrill scream at the end. Helena screamed wordlessly at it, reaching through the ghost to try to open the door. The freezing sensation caused her muscles to lock as if frozen by the depths of space, and she could not quite reach the door handle. Worse, the ghost was spreading like a cloud through the claustrophobic space, and as Helena tried to gasp against the pain, part of it seemed to be inhaled. The cold lump in her throat might have been more than her own fear, and she had no way of knowing until she could say this was all a bad dream.
Helena stumbled back from the door. What would get the ghost away from her? It had protected the trash. She stuck her hands into the trash, searching for anything that might be a weapon. It hadn’t seemed to care about the papers and had not made itself clear until she was going to throw out the curio. She found solid somethings and pulled it out toward her.
One was a weird carved wooden something you might have bought on vacation and brought back because it was the only thing you could afford after spending all the rest of your cash. The other at first looked like a Halloween decoration until Helena realized it was part of a limb. No, an arm, because she could see the base of a thumb and palm … Helena felt her stomach start to churn. If she threw up, would the ghost notice or care? She collapsed down on her knees, trying to breathe and not wretch, the acid in her stomach making the rotting flesh’s odor all the worse. A wave formed in the trash around her before avalanching down, surrounding her to her waist.
She could get up if she could get up. She could still leave, she told herself. And the unbearable weight of the horror and the trash held her still. The ghost formed into an old woman’s clear form and lay upon a recliner in the living room. “It is mine, all mine, and I will never give it up, never leave it, not as long as I live.”
“You’re dead,” Helena said. “You did and you died. Now let me leave, and I’ll never come back here as long as I live.”
“Why are you in my home, trying to take my things?”
“A woman sent me, your daughter, she paid me …” The ghost waded through the trash as the loose papers on top floated in a dust devil to come face to face with Helena.
“Probably paid you with my money.”
“They just paid me to clean it all up.”
The ghost pulled back as if pissed off. “It’s mine!” the ghost screamed.
“They want the house cleaned so they can sell it as part of the inheritance, because you’re dead,” Helena explained, “but I won’t if –“
“It is mine, all mine, and you’re helping them take it all away from me!” The trash and clutter and debris began to shift like an earthquake, forming waves like in the ocean. “No one is going to take it away from me!” Helena struggled to her feet and reached for the door, but a wall of trash reached it first and blocked her path. Then it carried her to the wall and held her there. She was afraid for a moment she’d suffocate under the mass that buried her, and then it simply crushed her under the weight.
A middle aged woman walked up to the porch of the house and peered in the windows. Everything outside was perfect thanks to the excellent landscaper she paid to maintain the exterior of Mom’s house, which also kept the HOA happy. She opened the door a crack and asked, “Helena, are you there?” There was nothing but a rustling of papers as if there were a wind outside rushing inside through the small crack. The woman looked through the crack at the hoard and saw that nothing had changed from the last time; even the smell remained just as bad. “God, I wish Mom would let someone clean up this damned mess.”
She closed the door and wondered how much longer they’d all go on living this way and whether or not the last housekeeper had lived to tell the tale no one would believe. But she couldn’t deal with the unbearable weight of sadness, guilt and grief to try to tackle the ghosts of her mother’s memory and mess herself.