Drama Crime

Everyone knew Old Man Jenkins was a hoarder. His house had been deemed a fire hazard decades ago, piles of all sorts of everything making the inside of it like a maze, one in almost complete darkness as natural light couldn’t get in through the windows, covered as they were with boxes and piles of rubbish, and no one wanted to turn the lights on for the fear of their bare bulbs sparking a fire on one of the many piles of books, magazines, or papers. It had got so bad his wife had left him before the new millennium had started, sick of state of it.

But none of us knew that he also had the storage unit.

I had taken a call from his eldest daughter, Lorilyn, a few days after Old Man Jenkins’ death. She had found a key to a unit at the local Lok ‘n’ Store. She was struggling with the sheer size of the task in dealing with what was in the house and couldn’t face having to sort through a storage unit as well. Her siblings had washed their hands of the lunacy many years before, not long after their mother had left, and they had no intention of getting involved now. I was retired and Lorilyn knew I had made a living out of hunting through junk shows and antique stores and the like to find to what had value and what didn’t.

In truth there was no trick to it. Everything had value if you could find the correct market for it. The saying one man’s junk was another man’s treasure was true, and so was the reverse of it.

I had known and had a few dealings with Old Man Jenkins over the last thirty years, it would have been difficult not to in a town this size, but he was a difficult man to read or get a feeling for, and so I didn’t know quite what to expect when I made my way to the Lok ‘n’ Store. But I did groan inwardly when I found the key belonged to one of the larger units, the ones you could keep trucks in, or live in if you ignored the Lok ‘n’ Store rules about such things.

I turned the key and removed the padlock and cautiously started to lift the metal shutters. When they got to the top of their track I was just happy the piles of boxes that filled to storage unit floor to ceiling, side to side, and front to back didn’t spill out and collapse on me. Being buried by another man’s junk wasn’t the way I was intending to leave this life.

There didn’t look to be an inch of space in the unit where anything else could have been crammed in. I wondered how long Old Man Jenkins had been filling this space for.

It was difficult to know where to start, and so I went for the logical approach and took down the box from the top right hand corner at the front. It was probably a foot long in all directions and heavier than I had been expecting it to be sat at the top as it was. I lifted the tape holding the cardboard flaps down, pulling it back and opening the top. Inside it was full of fridge magnets. Neatly stacked up within the box. Hundreds of them. From all over the world, and in no particular order. I had a think and couldn’t remember the old man ever leaving town, let alone the state or the country, and yet here were magnets from multiple countries on multiple continents.

I took out the next box and it was the same there, filled with fridge magnets. It carried on with the first three columns at the front of the unit being the same, boxes and boxes of fridge magnets, enough to cover the door of every fridge in town.

Then came the postcards, again boxes and boxes full of them. From the most diverse set of locations possible, again in no particular order. Some of them were in their original state, blank on the back, no one had written on them or sent them. Others had writing on, filled with tales of wonderful trips, or mundane details, written by various people to various other people, with neither the sender nor the recipient being Old Man Jenkins on any of the cards I looked at.

And there was too much for me to look at in any real detail. I had spent far too long looking through the fridge magnets and post cards. If I carried on at this rate it would be months, if not longer before I got through all of the boxes in here. So instead I looked in the boxes, and wrote in marker pen on the side of each what the contents were and tried to pile them together. It all seemed to be piled neatly together in types of item, as if it had all been sorted before being put into the storage unit.

It took another eight hours of following a similar pattern. A box would be full of one type of item; stickers, pens, snow globes, t-shirts, guidebooks, pin badges, key fobs, bottle openers, mugs, caps. A cornucopia of items seen in every cheap tacky tourist gift shop around the world. It was all here. A lot from places I hadn’t even heard of, let alone been to. Far too many separate places for a single person to have visited.

And then came the change. I took out a box and there wasn’t another one directly behind it. There was space there instead. I didn’t even look in that box, I just took it down and placed it behind me. I took out the one below it, then the one to either side and none of them had any other boxes behind them. It seemed clear to me there was an open space in here.

Only for me to continue to remove the boxes and reveal that it wasn’t really an open space. Well, not entirely.

In amongst the piles of floor to ceiling boxes was an open area, surrounded on all four sides by boxes, there was an area about six feet square, and in the middle of that space sat an old hickory style rocking chair. And if that wasn’t unexpected enough, in the chair sat mummified remains. Tattered clothes suggested the body may have been a woman, but the grey tightened skin left no real indication of who this was.

In my shock I suppose I must have let out some kind of scream, as the staff at the Lok ‘n’ Store came to see what the noise was about. I don’t quite think they believed what they were seeing either. Who would?

Eventually one of them regained their wits enough to call the police. And then I was out of the storage unit. There was a barrage of questions, some quite rude, accusing me of setting this up. Only getting them to speak to Lorilyn persuaded them otherwise, but that was after a few hours sat in a cell in the police station. Despite my being friends with the Sheriff for years. Again, difficult not to be when you live in the same town for so long and you’re not part of the criminal fraternity.

They took over with the clearing out of the storage unit, everything being carted away and catalogued and the whole place being processed as a crime scene. There was too much for them to store at the station, and they ended up using a couple of the other units at Lok ‘n’ Store for all the boxes.

Rumours bounced around town as to the identity of the mummified remains, but it was weeks before they were confirmed. Lorilyn rang me to tell me the news. It was her mother. She hadn’t left town because she had gotten tired of Old Man Jenkins’ junk. She had been bludgeoned with something and then encased within the junk, probably because she had hated it so much, her husband had not taken the criticism kindly and decided to put an end to it. Although with him being dead they couldn’t say for certain, but they believed he left the false trail of her leaving, which no one had bothered to question, they were all surprised she had stayed with him for so long.

By my reckoning, there must have been hundreds of thousands of dollars’ worth of items in the boxes in that storage unit, more probably if the right buyers could be found, but Lorilyn, with her siblings agreement, just wanted to get rid of it and it was given away to various charities and thrift shops for them to sell on. At a fraction of what it could have made. But to them it was tainted. It had been the mausoleum for their mother, one they didn’t want to remember. 

February 13, 2023 18:13

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