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Week # 33: Creative Writing Challenge – Smells

September 13, 2021

Write about a character who smells something familiar and is instantly taken back to the first moment they smelled it. *Trigger Warning: blood, abuse, violence

I tried to ignore them all.

I kept my head down and tried to brush off the hateful insults they threw my way in the common areas, and in whispers as guards led them down hallways. I could easily brush off the one or two word bullets they threw my way, but what really got to me was when they started getting more loquacious, started to describe what they thought the room looked like that night. I knew they were trying to break me.

They didn’t realize that there was nothing left to break.

We were all stuck in this life of concrete and iron and I didn’t blame them. What better way to make yourself feel better than to make someone else feel worse? I forgave them. What else could I do? I had no anger left to lash out. I had no hope to keep trying in the courts. I was broken, so it didn’t much matter what they did to me. At least that’s what I thought until the lunchroom incident.

I clanked my way into the lunchroom and then slowly clanked my way through the hot line with my neon plastic tray held out in front of me. I’d almost made it through the line before I noticed the quiet that rippled through the open room, like everyone was holding a collective breath. I looked up to see that my favorite group of tormentors had managed to slide into line in front and behind me. Two more penned me in from the rest of the room. The counter dug into my back as I slowly turned to meet them head on.

This had happened to me more than once. I’d been lost to the emptiness behind my eyes and wasn’t using them to observe, and then I’d realize that I was surrounded. Usually it was words and fists that followed. They’d never used weapons; too hard to get a hold of, but fists were surprisingly effective in sending me to medical.

So here I was again, suddenly surrounded. But this time they weren’t going to yell obscenities in my face and they weren’t going to hit me. They looked calm, their hands occupied holding cups. The collective lunchroom was still holding their breath as the ringleader whispered “Baby killer”, as she leaned close and poured her cup over my head. The other five did the same thing in quick succession.

The liquid slowly slid down my forehead. It was warm, thick and sticky. I brought a hand up to my face to wipe my eyes and they came away a rusty red color.

And that’s when the smell hit me. I froze, immediately transported back to that night in the dark.

I remembered a muffled cry, some thuds, the sound of wet being flicked against a hard surface. Then silence.

I’d kicked my (still technically) husband out of the house in all his drunken glory early in the evening, but not before he’d left me with some new bruises. He wasn’t happy that I’d filed for divorce and had appeared drunk out of his mind to do something about it. He was never blessed with logic when he was drunk, but I’d managed to fight him out of the house and set the alarm. At least if he tried to get in again, the alarm would immediately call the police.

But the alarm hadn’t gone off.

The hallway opposite the open nursery door was splattered with red, but that small fact didn’t register until days later. I just remembered the room. It smelled warm and tangy, full of iron and salt, and it was overpowering because it was everywhere. Rusty red streaks slid down the walls, pooling where the carpet met the baseboards.

The crib was tipped over and several of the posts were broken, leaving jagged edges and splinters pointing toward the ceiling, also covered in thick red.

I collapsed toward the crib and scooped up the ragged body, which was really only a broken and battered and bashed-in version of what my little girl had been. I screamed and raged and cried, and only woke to police in the doorway, gun aimed at my chest. I was covered in congealed and flaking blood. My forearm itched.

My lawyer told me later that there were no footprints or fingerprints, or any other evidence that someone else had been in the house that night. There had been no forced entry. The alarm hadn’t been disabled or turned off until the police came, called by a worried neighbor. There were no explosives or other weapons in the room.

There was no one else to blame and I had no alibi.

I couldn’t get the blood off my skin for weeks while I sat in a holding cell, waiting for them to decide what to do with me. It had congealed under my fingernails and soaked into the lines on my hands. The smell had wedged its way into my nose like water slowly trickling into cracks in a rock. That smell was going to build up and crack me into pieces so small I couldn’t be put back together. I was waiting for it.

That day in the lunchroom was when it happened.

I woke up in medical, a curtain surrounding the bed my wrists and legs were chained to, with gouges and scratches all over my body. I squirmed, rustling the bedsheets.

A disembodied voice came from the other side of the curtain, “That was a pretty shitty thing of them to do.”

“What happened?” All I could remember was the smell.

“Girl, they poured that blood all over you and you just froze. But then you just started flailing and tearing at your clothes and your skin. It was like you’d been covered in acid or somethin’. They had to tase you.” The voice explained.

I was silent.

“Usually people who get locked up for offing their kids ain’t so bothered by blood. You innocent or somethin’?” The voice asked.

I was silent for a moment more before answering softly, “All I can remember is the smell of blood.”

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