Alma was our creator. At first, we were merely a dozen or so dolls with frilly outfits and smiling faces. We were barely awake then. Barely aware.
Then we were clothes: shirts, dresses, pants, belts, hats, hair bows, coats, scarves, gloves, shoes, socks. Then more and more. Porcelain figurines, glass figurines, wood figurines. Jewelry and knickknacks and perfumes and makeup. Puzzles and board games and children’s toys. Books, photo albums, magazines, newspapers, notebooks, pamphlets, junk mail. Videotapes and DVDs and CDs. Picture frames, candles, embroidered throw pillows, blankets. Cans and jars and bottles and boxes and plastic containers. Pots, pans, bowls, plates, teapots, mugs, spoons, forks, knives. We spread far and wide throughout the house, upstairs and down. We covered her bed, so she slept on us.
New things, old things. Whole things, broken things. Odds and ends. Treasures and trash. More and more and more. With each item, we grew more aware. As we expanded over the years, so did our love for Alma.
The flies and roaches were always there, though not a bother. But a year after our creation, the mice appeared. They nibbled and bit, so we nibbled and bit back. Then came the cats. They killed many of the mice, but we still hated them. Alma fed them even though they shredded us, knocked us over, urinated and defecated on us. We began devouring them. We swallowed them so deeply under us that their rotting corpses could never be found.
Alma touched us, and we savored her touch. She talked to us every day, and we listened. She told us her husband used to call her a whore for wearing makeup, spit in her face, pull out her hair handfuls at a time. But never in front of their children. They adored him. She was glad when a brain aneurysm killed him. She told us her son and daughter never visited her. They didn’t love her anymore, and they were cruel for keeping her grandkids from her. She was afraid neighbors would peek in the windows and call the police and have people come to take us away. To take her away.
We tried talking to her. We love you, Alma, we said. We’ll never leave you. We could hear ourselves, but we didn’t know if Alma could.
One day, Alma’s daughter Bonnie came by. She knocked on the door until Alma finally let her in. She cried and told Alma, “Daddy wouldn’t have wanted you living like this. You need help, Mom. We can have this all cleaned up.”
Alma told her she wanted to be left alone. Bonnie tried walking through us and over us, so we tripped her. She swore. We laughed, and she looked around as though she’d heard us.
Go away, we said. We love Alma. You don’t. Alma loves us, not you. Go away. Go away!
Bonnie swore again and left. Alma left too but returned later with more to add to us: a hand-sewn quilt, a silver-plated jewelry box, and an antique footstool. We told her, Thank you.
A week later, her son Darren showed up. He banged on the door more angrily than Bonnie had.
Tell him to go away, we told Alma.
“Go away!” Alma shouted.
“Bonnie told me what it’s like in there,” he said. “Let me in, Mom, or I’m calling Adult Protective Services.”
“Just go away!” said Alma, near tears.
“I’m not leaving, Mom.”
No, we told Alma. Let him in. Trust us.
Alma unlocked the door. Darren pushed it open, shoving some of us aside so he could barge in. He stared at us for a minute. Then he said, “Mom, you need serious help.”
“I don’t need nothing,” said Alma.
He put his hand on her arm. “Mom, I… I have to call someone.”
“You said you wouldn’t! You said if I let you in, you wouldn’t!”
“I can’t leave you like this,” he said.
She pulled away from him. “You left me like this for twenty years. You and Bonnie both. Why do you care now?”
“Because we love you.”
He doesn’t, we said. Neither of them do. No one does, except for us.
“Y’all don’t love me,” Alma told him. “Y’all just want to put me in a home so you can throw away all my stuff and sell the house. Y’all just want money.”
“So, you’d rather have all this shit than your children? Than your grandchildren?”
“This is my home, Darren, and I’m asking you to leave!”
“This isn’t a home, Mom. It’s a trash heap. It’s a tomb.”
Hit him, we told her.
Alma turned her back to him. “I… I can’t…”
Hit him, we told her. We’ll do the rest.
Darren stepped over us and placed his hands on her shoulders. “You can’t what, Mom?”
Hit him, Alma. Now.
Alma grabbed a pewter paperweight shaped like a horse’s head, spun around, and struck Darren’s forehead with it. Blood sprayed onto her and us. Darren stumbled, one hand pressed to his gushing forehead and the other grabbing at different parts of us to try to stay on his feet. We didn’t let him. His hand landed on a stack of cookbooks, so we toppled them over. Darren fell onto his back.
“Darren, I’m sorry!” Alma screamed. “Oh, Darren!”
He doesn’t love you, we told Alma as we collapsed ourselves—toys, a heavy mirror, mounds of clothes, more books—on top of him. We completely buried him so we could do the real work without Alma seeing. We tied the sleeves of a green plaid cardigan around his throat and tightened them until his cries became choked. We knotted shirtsleeves and pant legs around his arms and legs to stop his struggling. We shattered the mirror and jabbed the shards into his body. We crammed marbles and tiny figurines into his mouth and down his throat, one after another after another, until he stopped breathing.
Alma dropped to her knees and began clawing at us to uncover him.
It’s okay, we assured her. It’s over now.
Scott Hughes’s fiction, poetry, and essays have appeared in such publications as Crazyhorse, One Sentence Poems, Deep Magic, Redheaded Stepchild, Entropy, and Strange Horizons. He is the Division Head of English at Central Georgia Technical College, and his short story collection, The Last Book You’ll Ever Read, is forthcoming from Weasel Press in 2019. For more information, visit writescott.com.