Hoarding & Horrors by Noelani Pardini

Hoarding & Horrors

Thump. Thump. Thump.  

The continuous sound of floorboards banging above catches Tanner’s attention. He stares upwards, as though he could see through the ceiling, trying to identify the cause. As if on cue, the second he looks, the noise stops. He shrugs, dismissing it, but can’t fight the shiver that runs down his spine. Perhaps it’s just a coincidencejust coincidence. Perhaps he was only hearing things. He is tired, after all.

He had arrived at his best friend William’s house in search of his belongings. The place was ridden with cobwebs and an unsettling stench. The desolate atmosphere was another reason he’d assumed he’d heard such a thing; his mind was playing tricks on his senses. Although William had died over a year ago,, his house still had strange trinkets that the boy used to collect. Some would call him a hoarder, but Tanner prefers the word  collector. 

Heading up the stairs, they creak underfoot. This doesn’t frighten him, as he’s well aware the house is old. William always strived for a more ‘vintage’ setting, and apparently, to him ‘vintage’ meant ‘barely usable.’ The memory caused Tanner to snicker, but what once would be a sad snicker now simply felt bittersweet. By now, he’d moved on. Not completely, of course, but enough to feel more joy than melancholy when remembering his friend.

Reaching the top floor, his eyes scan his surroundings. He’s searching for something simple; a quill-shaped key made of rusted gold. The key doesn’t unlock anything, it was purely for decoration, but Tanner wanted it for himself. The majority of Will’s trinkets Tanner had reluctantly passed on, not wanting to hoard the way people had claimed William did. This key, though, was simply too important to the boys to let it collect dust in an antique market. 

Bugs crawled up walls, causing Tanner’s shivers to worsen. It was freaky in every way of the word, but still, he felt no fear. (He felt some fear, but not enough for him to consider counting.) Eventually, his eyes  locked on the key, sitting carefully on the mantle of a dust-covered fireplace. Huh. He’d sworn the last time he’d seen it, it’d been on the dresser in the bedroom across the hall. He shrugged, finding it to be another coincidence. Perhaps his memory was running thin, at only 17. How unfortunate. 

Picking up the key and placing it into his pocket, he gave a sigh of a job well done. He turned on his heel and walked out of the room, down the creaking stairs yet again, and towards the door frame. He paused for a moment, part of him waiting to hear the thumping again. Nothing came. With a shrug, he supposed this solidified his assumption that he was just hearing things, and left the home.

Tanner placed the key on his nightstand when he got home, in the hopes of keeping his friend close to him. Plus, it was a good, empty space to place the small thing in. Rolling over in bed, Tanner expected to sleep more sound than he ever had before, at peace with his friend by his side. The way he’d been when they were little. Brothers in all but blood.

Blood. Blood. Blood? Tanner opened an eye to see nothing but red, quickly shutting it again. He rushed to the bathroom, nearly tripping over his feet as he tried to find the sink. Splashing water on his face, he fumbled to reach for a towel to wipe the liquid from it. Looking down through blurred vision, he felt his stomach drop. His face, coated in blood, and his sink, hands, and towel- all bloodied as well. He frantically searched his head for a wound, but nothing showed. There was nothing actively bleeding. Shakily, he cleaned the rest of the blood from his face and hands, and stared dreadfully at the mess of a bathroom he now inhabited. How did this happen? Where did it come from?

“Tanner!” A voice exclaimed excitedly from outside the bathroom door. Tanner, who’d not closed it in a rush, turned slowly to meet the voice. There, standing- no, floating- in the hall, stood William. His hands coated in dripping blood, his eyes a bright, glowing white, his body desaturated and slightly opaque. “I’ve missed you, Tanner! Thank you for bringing me home with you. Please excuse the mess, I was only trying to braid your hair. Like we used to, when we were young?”

The cheer in the voice of his friend- if that was even what this was- only added to the bile rising in Tanner’s throat. Surely, this was just a bad dream. Ghosts weren’t real, and William was gone. William was gone, not floating in his bathroom doorway. Not cheerily exclaiming facts of their past while coated in wet, glistening blood.

“What’s wrong, Tanner? Aren’t you happy to see me? It’s been so long,” he started, approaching his friend properly. As he moved through the air, only a few feet above the ground, he left a trail of blood droplets. Turning to the mirror, he smeared his hand across it. Instead of a hand imprint, it left words reading ‘I’m here.’ When Tanner slowly turned to see it, he felt his legs give out. How terribly clichée.

“Tanner! What’s wrong? Answer me, Tanner. We’re best friends, Tanner. You brought me home, Tanner. Don’t you want me here?” The voice rose from cheerful to angry, from angry to hurt. It was impossible to tell what the apparition was feeling. Tanner wasn’t sure what he was feeling, either. He squeezed his eyes shut as his knees hit the cold floor, praying for his nightmare to end soon. 

“You won’t even look at me. Of course, of course- you wouldn’t want to. You wouldn’t want to look upon your past mistakes. You know it was your fault, don’t you, Tanner? You feel guilt, don’t you, Tanner? That’s why you can’t look at me,” rising a few more feet above the ground, William splashes blood across the walls as he extends his hands outwardly. “You’re not scared of me, Tanner. You’re scared of what you did. I’m only the outcome of that.” 

The room turned pitch black for a moment, and Tanner held his breath in silent prayer that this meant he would be awakening. Foolish, he was, as seconds later, a piercing, dog-whistle type noise rang out through the house. Opening his eyes, he they found themselves confused. The world was a mix of black and red lines, scribbling and scratching his surroundings, both three dimensional and two dimensional all at once. Eyestrain in every sense way of the word, the visual matched with audio made him clench his eyes shut again, pulling at his hair in overwhelmed frustration and agony.

“This is how you feel, isn’t it, Tanner? This represents how you feel. You think you moved on, but you only moved on from me- not from what you did to me. You killed me, Tanner,” The voice was still cheerful as it spoke these words, like it was singing to the other something sweet. Like it wasn’t saying the words it was saying. The tone continued to offput Tanner. 

“I didn’t kill you!” He finally yelled, trying to raise his voice louder than the screeching in his ears, “I didn’t! You died on your own, you did this to yourself! I tried to be there for you. You didn’t let me. This isn’t how I feel, this is how you felt! You killed yourself. I didn’t cause that!” His chest rises and falls with the exhaustion of hollering, and he finds himself collapsing fully on the ground.

Suddenly, the hollering stops. Tanner debates opening his eyes for a full five minutes, not wanting to come to terms with the fact that he’s likely gone deaf. 

Finally succumbing to the urge to see what’s gone on, he opens an eyelid. Then another. Taking in his surroundings, he sees there is nothing. His bathroom has returned to normal, there is no blood- the only evidence anything had even happened remains on his towel being messily ripped from its handle. Had he imagined it all? Has the grief finally caught up to his mind?

Shakily, he rises. He’s sure he won’t be able to sleep, after such an event- but the floor isn’t comfortable to lay on while disoriented. He trudges and drags himself towards his bed, falling onto it with exhaustion. Slowly, Tanner rolls to his side, groggily opening an eye to check the time by his bed. Regardless of what had happened, he still had things to do tomorrow. His life wouldn’t live itself.

Reading the clock, he saw the numbers through blurry vision- and decided it didn’t matter. The sun wasn’t up, and it wasn’t beeping, which meant he still had time to attempt to sleep. Though, through the blur, something else caught his eye. Or, the lack thereof, moreso. 

Where had that key gone? He supposed he’d have to retrieve another trinket from William’s home tomorrow. Afterall, it’s not hoarding if they disappear, is it?