Friday, March 3, 2017

Old Man Smell - Short Story

Happy Friday! That means it's flash fiction time again. This week's prompt was to choose a photograph from a random photo generator and write a short story about it (1,000 words), and post a link to the photo (it's below).

I decided to use a random number generator to help choose my photo, knowing I'd probably waffle on the selection. It didn't go as smoothly as I thought. The first photo was a duck; not feeling inspired, I tried again. Second photo was blue depression glass. Nothing came to me. Third photo - another duck. Fourth photo - blue mason jar. I stopped. Ok, so somebody out there wants me to write about blue glass ducks... I mulled it over for the better part of the week and couldn't come up with anything very different or original after prompts from previous weeks included the Porcelain Cat. Finally, I returned to the random number generator and found a new photo. I stuck to it this time and the link to the photo is below, along with my story. I hope you like it (I'm a smidgen over the word limit). 


Chuck Wendig's website and blog and source of much inspiration:

“Old Man Smell”
by Michelle Baillargeon

Aggie stifled a yawn as she turned into the empty lot. Rider shifted in the passenger seat and opened his eyes as the car slowed and came to a stop. 

“You OK?” he asked her, recognizing at once that this was not their destination. 

“Yeah, I just needed to stop and stretch. Having a hard time keeping my eyes open.” Aggie unbuckled her seatbelt and got out of the car. Rider followed from his side and they both stretched. Aggie rolled her head until she felt a snap in her neck, “that’s better.”

“How much longer until we get there?” Rider looked around; at the end of the lot were two giant, obviously abandoned, buildings. They seemed to be held up by nothing more than rusted metal and weathered plywood. Towering over the site like ancient twin sentinels were two long-dead silos. 

“We’ve still got a few hours to go,” Aggie replied. “I wonder what this place used to be? See any signs?”

They both looked around searching for a sign that would indicate the name or type of business that used to occupy these buildings. There were none, either on the building or at the road side. The only thing nearby was a rickety billboard that asked you to “Eat at Mama’s - Ten Miles Ahead!” It was in the middle of the field across the street which had a promising crop of weeds.  

Rider shrugged his shoulders and walked towards the nearest building, “It doesn’t look like anyone’s been here in ages.” He approached the window closest to him, which was surprisingly intact, and leaned against it cupping his hands around his eyes so that he could see. “Sawmill is my guess,” he tapped the glass, “there’s some old equipment in there along with a few stray pieces of lumber.”

Aggie followed him to the window peered through the glass, mimicking Rider. “Look at the all light in there,” she dropped one hand from the glass and poked Rider, “think we could get in?” 

She was already imagining the stark black and white photos she’d take: light pouring over the old rusted machinery, the dark shadows lingering at the edges, dust glimmering in the sun rays. 

Aggie backed away from the window to search for a door. She found one at the far right end of the building, padlocked. Undeterred, she decided to circle the building. There had to be another door, or at least a loose board. Encouraged by the thought, she returned to the car and grabbed her camera. 

Aggie looked up to see Rider shaking his head and chuckling, “you’re not serious, are you?” He pointed to the locked door, “they obviously don’t want anyone in there.”

“Oh, come on. It’s not like I want to take anything but pictures. There's no one here and I’ll be quick.” Aggie flashed her best “pretty please” smile at Rider and he knew then that he was going to lose this argument. Better to just humor her and save time. 

Sure enough, there were several missing planks on the back wall of the building and they were able to get in easily. Aggie smiled at their luck while Rider shook his head again and chuckled, “why am I not surprised?” 

“Do you smell that?” Aggie took a deep breath as they worked their way towards the front where they’d seen the equipment. 

“What? Decaying wood, dust, mold?” 

“No. Well, yeah; but not that. Under it,” Aggie responded. 

“Under it? I don’t know what that means,” Rider said, taking a deep breath. “I got nothing.”

“Old man smell,” Aggie said, expecting her friend to understand what she meant. 

“Now you’ve lost me,” Rider stopped and looked at Aggie, waiting for her to explain. 

Aggie removed the lens cap on her camera, and raised it to her eye. She snapped some photos as she spoke. “When I was little, my family would visit relatives on summer vacation and we would always stop at Uncle Charlie’s house.”

She paused to look at her surroundings, she was trying to hurry but she didn’t want to miss anything either. She moved closer to the front where the largest piece of equipment was, Rider followed silently.

“Uncle Charlie was great with us kids, always joking around. He gave the best hugs, too. And he always smelled the same. Always.” She snapped a few more photos and paused. “There it is again; it sure brings me back.”

“So what exactly is Old Man Smell? Bengay?” Rider asked. 

“Well, it wasn’t until I was old enough to go bar hopping that I realized what it was - whiskey. Thinking back, we never saw Uncle Charlie without a highball; I put two and two together.” Aggie handed her camera over to Rider. 

“Now what?” 

“Can you just take a quick one of me standing by this giant saw?” Aggie leaned against the least rusted spot of the machine she could find and smiled at Rider. “Are you sure you can’t smell that?” 

Rider shook his head no, “maybe a wino was here.” He looked around for evidence, raising his eyebrows at Aggie and holding back a laugh, “maybe he’s still here.” 

“Just take it already,” Aggie laughed in spite of herself as Rider took her photo. Just then, a chill swept over her and she absent-mindedly brushed away a fresh batch of goosebumps. 

Aggie and Rider retraced their their steps out of the sawmill and headed back to the car. Aggie took the camera back and paused when they reached the car, she was already previewing the photos on the camera’s playback screen. 

The last photo came up first, she squinted and huffed, “Ride, there’s a glare behind me in this one. Look. I hope they’re not all like that.”

“I’m sure they’re fine.” Rider humored her by looking at the screen. He took the camera from her and enlarged his view, there was no glare. He paused to choose his words. 

“Ag, that’s not glare. That’s…” the right words wouldn’t come. Baby hairs on the back of his neck stood upright. A nervous laugh escaped as he handed the camera back to her and pointed at the screen. “I was right.”

“About what?” She caught the tone of his voice and the look in his eyes; goosebumps reappeared. Aggie looked where he pointed and saw what she’d mistaken for glare: standing beside her, cut in half by the ancient saw blade was a foggy, semi-transparent, disheveled man. He was smiling at the camera with one hand raised in an unmistakable “cheers” gesture. She looked closer, it looked like he was holding a paper bag crumpled around the familiar shape of a bottle. 

No comments:

Post a Comment