What if, in the span of a decade or two, Earth changed to become intolerable to humans? Yeah, I know: tired, old, sci-fi trope, right? But I don't mean excessive heat, water, cold, radiation or some kind of zombie apocalypse.
What if Earth just suddenly stank?
I'm talking a whole lot of stink here, the kind that introduces your stomach to your larynx. Repeatedly.
This is the premise of my flash piece, "Scents," which premiers on November 19 at Every Day Fiction. I thought I'd take a moment and reflect on where the germ of the story came from.
I have two words for you: paper mill.
If you ever lived in the vicinity of a paper mill, you'll know what I mean when I say the aroma one of those facilities can put forth is quite breathtaking. And I do mean that in the literal sense.
When I was a little boy, well before we had Facebook and console games, for entertainment we had something called bicycles. At the time I had a close friend and we rode a lot. Our butts were permanently molded into the shape of a bike saddle because of the hours we spent riding. This was in a Midwest town in the US heartland. For mindless trivial fun, bike riding was about as good as it got.
Except when the wind blew from a certain direction.
Why? Because the paper mill was that direction parked on the outskirts of town. On days when the wind blew into town from the paper mill, the smell was so nauseating that skunks actually complained to the mayor.
Fast forward to a recent morning when I was on a power walk not long after sun rise. The air was warm and clear. I had a good pace going. All was well with the world.
And then I entered a stench zone. It was revoltingly bad. Gave me the dry heaves (breakfast hadn't occurred yet, thankfully). I think it persisted for like a hundred yards or so but it felt more like a hundred miles. When I finally emerged and gulped fresh air, the memory came roaring back of those miserable days downwind of the paper mill.
Odors can be one of the most powerful exciters of deep memories. In my case, it worked like a charm. I was a young boy back on a bike again, desperately trying to get home after the wind had shifted on a warm summer day. Then, barely making it alive, I barricaded myself there, trying not to let the foul fumes suffocate me.
That's about the point where my muse said, "Hey, what if the whole world stunk like that? Cool story, eh?"
Half a second later, the muse came up with, "Wow, what if the world stunk and one person didn't have a sense of smell? What would that be like?"
You can read one possibility on Every Day Fiction starting November 19.