Your Weekend Prompt: That Wicked Old Scent

Hey writers,

The battle to finish our October issue wages on, and so I’ll again be brief: Here’s to hoping your writing and muses are treating you well. Mine were MIA for the last few days, but I blame it on a week of ominous, slightly frightening scents in the hallway of my otherwise cozy apartment building (see below).

Have a great Friday-Saturday-Sunday!


PROMPT: That Wicked Old Scent
In 500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring, write a story inspired by or containing the following:

“It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.
“Well, do something about it.”
“I always do.”
He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.

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  4. Barbara Y.

    A puff of wind ruffled the Travel Section on the coffee table’s corner and brought the smell of rain into the room. Marco lowered the Book Review, sighted past a bony knee to the sofa arm and beyond that to the wedge of sky framed by the front door and the angle of Westmorland’s roof. The clouds were a smudgy purple gray. He nodded, proven right once more, and turned back to the paper, reading that last paragraph again.

    Just so. He let his eyes close, only enough for comfort while he thought. The Times’ reviewer was precisely right: the more abstract a novel’s theme, the more concrete it needs to be. He’d remember that. It fit with that little essay he was planning. He ought to make a note of that. He’d think about it, though, for a while instead of sitting up and shuffling through the newspaper on the table, his reference books, and Chrys’ heap–what was that yarn for? Knitting paper weights? In there somewhere were six note cards. Five. One was in the trash with half of a Neruda quote and the imprint of an iced tea glass in red–whatever jelly flavor that was.

    He settled into the sofa pillows. Considering abstraction, he enjoyed the sense of being clean. Next to godliness. Clean, godly, with the virtuousness of accomplishing the lawn. He ought to write that down, too, accomplishing the lawn. That was a good one. He stretched his spine against the sofa’s slight resistance, admiring his left big toe, connected to Man and pointing now toward Heaven–through the upstairs spare bath.

    What color was it Chrys was talking about? She was onto paint again. And where was she?

    The creak of the third step from the landing told him that the thought had conjured her, and the amount of noise she made to cross five feet of hallway announced her mood.

    "We," she said, "are going out to eat."

    Marco wondered what he’d done. He held the folded book review before him like a shield. A very small protection.

    She paused behind her wing-back chair, staring down at him, and he felt pinned down like some specimen of insect. She tapped a short nailed finger in a rapid burst like some old film telegrapher’s arcane command to someone down the line. But Marco saw uneasiness in the line of her shoulder and realized her disgust and irritation were not aimed at him.

    "I threw away fourteen dollars worth of tuna steak."

    "I thought that it had gone bad and was smelling up the house."

    "When I finished taking out the trash and cleaning the refrigerator I realized that didn’t help. The kitchen still smelled like something died. It was an onion. One bad onion."

    Outside there was a sudden rush of hard oversized raindrops like clods of dirt hitting the window. Chrys looked surprised.

    Then she smiled. "Come on, Smartass. You can tell me you were right, and why, while you are getting dressed."

  5. S. Petherbridge

    He didn’t need to be reminded again of his place in this building, this city, or this entire country for that matter. To go again to the landlord with a complaint would not be advisable. That had been made clear the last time, as they were told to “go back to where you come from if you don’t like it. You keep knocking on my door and I’ll make sure you get a knock on yours taco John,” the landlord had snarled with a wave of his finger.
    Miguel was learning fast his place here. People didn’t want them around. They resented them being here, and with one phone call could have them sent away. Someone like him had no leverage to ask anything, even if it were merely to keep the rats out of the walls of the overpriced crumbling hovel they now called home.
    He took his hammer and again began knocking holes in the ancient plaster, the room getting colder with each blow, hoping to find the dead rat before they froze themselves or the entire building came down on them from the damage his search was causing. Although that might be just as well, he suddenly thought to himself, but then pushed the thought away just as quickly.
    Esperanza still didn’t understand. “Why can’t you call the city or something,” she reasoned. “Don’t they have departments that deal with stuff like this? He can’t take our rent money and then do nothing when we have a problem!”
    “Esperanza, mi muñeca pequeño,” he thought to himself as he shook his head sadly. She was young and naïve enough to think that they still had some kind of basic human rights despite the fact that they had jumped the fence. She dared think that they were still worth something as people despite their skin color and illegal status, but Miguel knew better. You don’t complain about a stinking rat in the walls when that is all you are yourself in their eyes.
    His wife cried every night and it hurt him to hear it. She was beginning to wonder if coming to El Norte had been the best idea, with him making half of what he’d been promised, and rents being almost double what they’d been told. His eyes began to sting and a lump welled up in his throat as he again thought of the little ones they had left behind with her mother. He raised his sleeve and quickly wiped his eyes, hoping she would think it from the dust of the crumbled plaster.
    “We will find a better place,” he promised, “things will get better.” He hated lying to her now, as he never had needed to before, but lately it seemed to be all he ever did and he was getting tired. Tired of having to lie to her, tired of being looked at like a criminal, but most of all he was tired of being treated as less than human.

  6. Danielle Nash

    Death or Dinner

    Ipark the darks sedan discretely down the street. We approach the building in silence. A crime has been committed.

    I appraise my partner quickly. She is calm, cool. She is holding up well. We’ve been together a long time.

    Inside the decrepit building we find the right apartment with ease. Rita, my partner, opens the door cautiously.

    "Smells like something died in there," she whispers, wrinkling her nose.

    "Go take care of it," I plead.

    "I always do." She goes into stealth mode and disappears ninja like into the apartment. I always get excited when I see her in action. For just a moment I forget about the young couple holed up in here.

    I hate feeling like such a coward, but I don’t know if I can control myself. I still remember the last time. I barely made it out alive.

    I’m not Catholic, but I cross myself for good luck.

    Dread weighs down my feet. Shame forces those hundred pound cement blocks to carry me into the apartment. I scan the scene of the crime. Describing this rathole as small and inexpensive would be grossly overstating its charms. Pun intended!

    The odor seeps like a green fog across the floor. My stomach rolls and lurches violently. "Run!" it screams. "Run before it’s too late!" Sweat seeps out of me like a stuck pig. "Coward!" my heart condemns.

    I panic momentarily. What if Rita fails? I can’t go through with this if she fails.

    I steel myself to face whatever horror lays around the corner. I knew the girl who lives here when she was just an innocent kid. Rage builds to the boiling point when I think of what that creep has done to her.

    Splat…splat…splat! Liquid hits the tile floor as if in slow motion.

    The evidence leads me by the nose into the kitchen. Wickedly, the odor writhes around the room.

    I see my partner first. Rita’s eyes are narrowed in warning. "Keep your mouth shut," they demand. "Don’t screw this up." She knows me well.

    I keep my mouth shut and scan the room for the source of the stench.

    My eyes zoom in on the red spatter on the beige vinyl floor. In a flash my gaze examines the fragile-looking girl. I fling silent accusations like daggers at the scumbag behind her.

    "He says it was just an accident, Mike." Rita’s voice sounds like it is coming from far off. My heartbeat pounds in my ears. I can’t stand the way that creep is standing with his arms rubbing her swollen belly.

    My ears are flaming hot. Blood pressure must be up again. Remember the last time- a small voice inside reminds me. Ten…nine…eight…seven…

    Just when I am under control three things happen at once.

    The creep moves forward to speak bringing with him a whiff of that deathly odor.

    I start forward to take him down.

    Rita blocks my move by jabbing me in the gut with her elbow.

    She IS going to take care of it.

    Rita kneels. She wipes away the red stains. I can’t believe she’s destroying evidence! Traitor!

    She moves quickly, striking like a snake. One moment she is on the ground, the next she’s standing and falling backward into the kitchen counter. In one swift motion the counter is wiped clean of all its contents.

    My God! It’s over!

    Amid the chaos of screaming people and clattering dishes the young girl flees the room.

    I double-time it to the living room.

    She is on the sofa, sobbing.

    "Let’s go, hon." I gotta get out of here. The smell is about to make me hurl. It’s been a close one tonight.

    My partner gives me a nod. I wave the young couple out ahead of us.

    I watch them like a hawk. The scumbag opens the car door for the young mother. He brushes her hair away from her face and tenderly steals a kiss.

    After he closes her door he catches our eyes, mine and Rita’s. In a quiet voice full of conspiracy, he says,"Nice move, Mom. Thanks for dinner, Dad. You know I love her, but your girl’s cooking is gonna kill me!"

    Damn! I’d hate to start liking that kid!


  7. J. Alvey

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.

    “Well, do something about it.”

    “I always do.”

    He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.

    "I will not be eating her chili tonight," he insisted to himself.

    That was his first thought. His second was that lots of young kids were still disappearing in the neighborhood.

    Like they did the last time she said "I always do."

    Like they did the last time she said, "It smells like something has died in the walls."

  8. S.E.Ingraham

    It gets tiresome waiting for the dark but they have devised ways to make the time pass usually; it was just tonight, Lilith was in such a peculiar mood, one he didn’t trust really.

    She had done damage before and Josiah and he were getting fed up with cleaning up her messes so he thought to defuse the situation before it got out of hand.

    Thinking to tease her into good-naturedness,he began to ask about last night’s kill. She patently ignored him, changed the topic immediately.

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.

    “Well, do something about it.”

    “I always do.”

    He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low. But not so low that it deserted the sky, no, there was still light enough to watch her savagery.

    Josiah arrived just as she began to tear apart the wall. He looked at Lucifer, his face reflecting the alarm shooting through him as he watched Lilith, and made a move toward her.

    Lucifer waved him off, shaking his head slightly.

    “Josiah,” He said, speaking more jovially than he felt, certainly. “Lilith smells something in the walls again.”

    “Does she now?” The other looked levelly at their sister, then away. He peered out the window, saw the moon was on the rise.

    “It’s almost time to fly,” he remarked, then to Lilith. “Lilith – the dark has descended lovely – you will want to fly with us, yes? And hunt? You will certainly want to hunt?”

    The woman paused in her toiling, looked coyly over her shoulder, through her lashes at her brother, flirtatious almost.

    “Josiah – ”Her voice was breathy, not at all the way she had sounded earlier when complaining about the smell in the walls. “I didn’t hear you come in –”

    “No – I thought not,” Her dark-haired brother is smiling enigmatically. “You seemed…busy. Did you hear me? The moon is rising! We are almost ready to fly – you’re coming with us, yes?”

    Lilith pulled away from the wall entirely, dusted the wallboard off her hands and dress, smiled widely at her brothers. They both noted with satisfaction, her incisors were lengthening sharply against the blood-red of her lips.

    “Of course, silly –” She blew a kiss at her older brother, smiled sweetly at the younger. “Have I ever not gone hunting? Ever?”

    They just looked at her, then each other.

    Was it possible she didn’t remember the time she didn’t hunt? The time she had been the smell in the walls? Would it always be like this? Her being tortured by the smell of her own fear from that time? Then the need to tear at the place she’d been imprisoned until her blood ran…

    Just thinking about it made them twitchy – they weren’t supposed to think about her lusciousness in this fashion but still, when her blood was up, she was the same as any other animal – they were dumb-founded,uncomfortable,ah, but there was no denying, it was so

  9. Diamond

    Click-clack, click-clack, click-clack the heels of her boots slapped tiredly up the cement sidewalk. She paused and heaved her heavy book bag farther over her shoulder, careful not to crush the eggs that were wedged carefully into one of the plastic grocery bags dangling off her arms. Click-clack, click-clack; she paused to pick her way up the metal grate stairs.

    Balancing carefully on one foot, she reached out with the other and gave the large pointed rock a precise scoot, wedging the screen door behind it. She could hear Ron panting behind her, trying to catch his breath that froze before it had a chance to reach his lungs.

    Warmth burst out of the little apartment like a welcoming embrace as she turned the key in the lock and shoved the sticky door open. She grimaced and made a face as she stepped in, dropping the bags (except the one with the eggs, of course) onto the floor.

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.

    “Well, do something about it,” he responded frigidly.

    “I always do” she retorted back.

    The tension in the formerly welcoming house grew like bacteria. She took a can of beans out of one of the bags and slammed them onto the counter. She crumpled the plastic bag noisily and shoved it under the sink. She glared at him through lowered eyelids as he walked out of the bedroom with his slippers on and turned on the TV.

    “Uhh…” she started, “I thought you were planning on cooking tonight.” He didn’t take the barb well.

    “I can check the score and still cook,” he shot back at her.

    Hot, angry tears filled her eyes. Women’s rights hadn’t done anything more than make women work harder, she thought, emptying another bag and stacking the pancake mix and rice on the pantry shelf.

    After a few more minutes of pained silence (except from the pointedly loud unpacking of groceries), she began to angrily pick through some chicken she had laid out on the cutting board.

    He smirked from his throne on the hand-me-down plaid couch, dying to ask for a beer, but preferring to make her wonder when he was going to ask for one.

    “Blasted neighbors!” she spat. She washed her hands in the kitchen sink and stormed to the bathroom to return with a can of air freshener. She pressed the top and held it, marching through the house in protest of the smells of old fish and curry that wafted through the wafer-thin walls. She took extra care to linger in the living room, spraying more than necessary.

    Her husband covered his mouth and nose with his sleeve and glared at her. “You don’t have to use the whole can,” were the muffled words that came out.

    “If I didn’t always have to deal with everything…” same argument, different night. He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.

  10. Loveskidlit

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.
    “Well, do something about it.”
    “I always do.”
    He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.

    She turned her back to him and bent under the kitchen sink. He realized he saw a lot of her back, these days. He regretted having snapped at her. He was beginning to regret moving back to this house at all.

    At first she seemed to like the idea. The house stood on picturesque farm land, and Henry would do all the farming. They didn’t even have to commute. She got a job teaching at the small country school a mile away, and he could work from home. Their children, when they had them, would grow up as he had, running barefoot on the lawn, swinging from the giant elm, and spitting watermelon seeds into the creek out back. Wasn’t that how it had been?

    He didn’t remember the creaks and rumblings of the old house. The screen door squeaks and slaps, she complained. The squeak he could fix. The windows leak hot, dusty air into the house, she said. He caulked around them. What she didn’t say was what they both had begun to notice. Decades of sour silence sifted around them, moted with the liverspotted sun.

    The house, this mawkish spinster, was driving them inexorably apart. And if he thought harder about his charmed childhood, how many conversations did he remember his parents having? It struck him clearly now, that the bitter bend of his wife’s back was familiar as the loose board on the third step of the porch. His mother, turned away at the sink for year after year, hating this house one faulty piece at a time.

  11. TJ Tisdale

    “Bang!” “Clunk! Clunk! Clunk!” The heavy thud of stomping feet came across the wooden porch. The afternoon breeze resounded the plodding footsteps into the meadow.

    Here she comes again, Tad thought —the dreaded Mary Laina. How he loathed the very essence of her. Her presence made the hair stand up on the back of his neck. His heart froze in his chest as he thought about her jagged smile and the scar that ran down her once-lovely face. He shuddered as he thought of the accident that marred her inside and out. Somehow she had survived, but something just wasn’t right. Death walked as her constant companion. He trembled as he thought about her coming his way.

    He forced his mind back to the task at hand: Tad was trying to fix the broken handle of an old cistern far back in the meadow, just beyond immediate view of the house. He fixated back on his labor: if he could just get this bolt to… “Oh My God,” he whispered, sensing her closeness. His heartbeat raced. His stomach bile percolated as he stood to face her. Tad believed if she ever walked up on him unaware, fear would overtake him, paralyze him, allowing her deathly specter to steal his soul away.

    He jumped up facing his “frightener” before her gasping voice could speak… “Mary Laina?” he spat.

    “It smells like something has died in the walls,” she said.
    “Well, do something about it.”
    “I always do.”
    He remembered what happened last time, and the sun sagged low.

    As quickly as she came, she eerily returned to the house. He threw his tool down on the ground and stalked toward the house. He had accepted his fate; he hated that he so feared her. He hated that he secretly despised her; after all, he should love her. Mary Laina. Till death do us part. He mused how he was “ever” going to make it until death.

    He quickly crossed the porch, reached for the screen door flinging it wide behind him. He steeled his courage, knowing that “she” waited for him to “do something about it.”
    He opened the door and there it was… stinky, disgusting, unbearable. He held his breath, his upper lip snarling as he faced this task. She always made him do. She was right about one thing: the noxious reek had permeated the entire house.

    “Swooshhhhhhhhhhh!” In the swirling of the water, the horrendous stench subsided. Quickly he turned, stepped from the bathroom, pulling the door behind him.

    Suddenly, he stood face to face with his nemesis… who was not the specter of death but simply a stench-drenched wench, tired of his lackadaisical bathroom habits. Why did she put up with his imagination and constipation?

    “Sorry, dear,” he said as he walked slowly back toward the cistern awaiting him in the last light of a weary day. He paused on the porch though— to breathe in some fresh air.