The teenage boy by the door smells like reheated pizza and three-day-old body odour. The red-haired girl on the mobile phone smells of acetone, Garnier shampoo, and red roses, probably given to her by her boyfriend. The tradie slouched in the corner smells of beer, cigarettes, and sweat. He hasn’t showered in days. I can smell the dirt beneath his nails.

The odours of these three people alone are intense enough to make my eyes water. I try to focus on the roses. Their sweet scent dances around in my airways, blocking, for the time being, a plethora of heinous smells. But they creep back in, they always do. I take out a can of deodorant from my bag and spray it in the air in front of me.

Bliss. Strong and artificial, but bliss nonetheless.

A while later, when the deodorant wears off, I catch a whiff of something magnificent; a collection of faint smells, each more wonderful than the last. An exotic soap, honeycomb perhaps? An expensive perfume, something by Chanel? Flowers…tulips, white roses. My lip quivers and my heart skips a beat. I think I’m in love.

And then it’s gone.

Just like that.

I look around, searching for the source of the smells. Nothing. My heart sinks. I feel like I’ve experienced a great loss. A loss that my stomach cares very little about. The heavenly scents are replaced by the smell of roast beef, steamed vegetables, and black coffee. My stomach churns in anticipation. The elderly woman beside me is knitting a scarf. I can smell the Colgate on her breath. It reminds me that I forgot to brush my teeth this morning. One day I’ll start listening to my dentist.

The train bangs and creaks as it turns a corner. A faint ping comes over the PA and then I hear the prattle of something making its way down the carriage – a food cart. I smile ever so slightly. The hostess is wearing Fantasy by Britney Spears. She asks me what I would like for lunch. I tell her roast beef, steamed vegetables, and black coffee. She laughs and says that she hasn’t given me the options yet. I smile as she places my meal on the table. It is delectable; my stomach thanks me with a soft grumble.

The fat guy at the end of the carriage orders the same as me, but three of them. All the power to him I say. I finish my meal and close my eyes. It’s a long trip and I haven’t slept in what feels like days.

Sometime later, the train stops to change drivers and let new passengers on. I get off to go to the toilet, but decide against it when I catch a whiff of the soon-to-be-occupied stalls. As I walk back towards the train, a brisk southerly wafts by. I smell flowers again, but this time the scent is much stronger. The soap, the perfume, the flowers; what a beautiful harmony of smells! If Mozart’s Requiem is considered a masterpiece of music and sound, then this is its equal in smell. But where is it coming from? I look around with purpose, but see nothing of consequence. Reluctantly, I get back on the train. As I am taking my seat I see the fat guy from the end of the train rushing towards the toilets.

Three stops after the train departs, a handful of new passengers get on, including an excessively cute blonde girl. She is wearing vibrant, mismatched stockings and a red and white polka-dot dress; slung over her left arm is a cane basket full of tulips and white roses.

It hits me.

She is the one.

She sits down three seats in front of me. Her scent is overpowering. My heartbeat picks up again. I look out the window. What do I do? Think man, think! I smell her scent growing stronger still – as if she were standing right beside me. I look quickly to my side, but she is still sitting three seats in front. My heart sinks a little. I wish I had the courage to get up and talk to her. But that’s not me.

But I can’t just let her go. Not this girl. Something tells me she is special. Maybe I’ll just casually walk by and check the timetable on the far wall, get the lay of the land and that. As I stand up, I am struck by a tremendous odour of smoke, hot metal, and burnt rubber. My vision blurs and I pass out onto the floor.

When I come to, I hear people murmuring and see them looking down at me. They are all still sitting in their seats; they couldn’t care less about me. Except for her. She is crouched over me. Her hair brushes against my cheek. I can smell her perfume. It is Chanel like I thought, No 5.

‘Are you okay?’ She asks. Her voice is like silk.

I nod and can’t help but smile. She smiles back and brushes a lock of hair out of her face. Her eyes are dazzling; a shade of green I never knew existed. I see her lips moving, but her words are muffled. She signals drinking from a glass with her hand. I shake my head slowly.

Suddenly I remember why I passed out. I snap out of my trance and hop to my feet as quickly as possible. The blood rushes to my head and my vision gets darker by the second. I look around for the emergency button. It’s big and red, where the hell is it? The train jerks to one side and then the other. I find the button and push it.

‘Stop the train!’ I yell.

I hope she doesn’t think I’m crazy.

Ben Carey is 24 years old and lives in Brisbane, Australia. He studies Creative Writing at Queensland University of Technology. He likes reading and writing science fiction, but he also has a soft spot for romance. His favourite book is Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, followed closely by Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick. Ben is currently working on a novella and the beginnings of a crime novel.

Don’t forget to read today’s chapter of Lifting Up Veronica by K.C. Ball — if you missed the first chapter yesterday, you can still read it now and catch up.

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Every Day Fiction

  • Rob

    Wonderfully written, but it seemed to build up to a crisis and then not go anywhere. An interesting choice of perspective. I look forward to reading more from this author.

  • ajcap

    Loved it. Showed glimpses and then let my imagination do the rest. She won’t think he’s crazy; the clues are in her attire. Good combination of mystery, suspense and romance.

    Good writing, I would also like to read more of Mr. Carey.

  • Great concept, and I like the focus on a sense that often gets overlooked (or should that be ‘undersmelled’?). My only (minor) gripe with it is that it would have been good to find out they were on a train much earlier.

    I can’t imagine anybody will take him seriously. And I wonder whether pressing the emergency button might actually turn out to be the thing that triggers the accident/fire/etc.

    Good stuff!

  • And so the MC pushes the emergency button and the train comes to a halt. The other passengers are annoyed and even angry, but Chanel girl is only bewildered. It comes out that the MC’s olfactory acuity has saved them all from a terrible wreck. “You saved lives today, son,” says the conductor. The passengers applaud as our hero shyly gets out onto the platform to wait for another train, Chanel girl and her basket of flowers beside him.

    That’s how it ends in my mind.

    I love that the author allows us to write our own ending! 🙂 An utterly charming story.

  • I think this is an excellent flash.

  • David

    Very interesting, Ben, that his sniffer is so keen that it transcends time itself. Now can his pushbutton action result in a change to the future. Good story.

  • Rimshot

    Nicely done, but it would have helped to have known they were on a train earlier in the story. I had to reset my visuals when I hit the sentence “The train bangs and creaks as it turns a corner.”

  • joannab.

    very nice. four stars. the ending did not disappoint. and the story makes an acute sense of smell very real in a likeable hero.

  • kathy k

    I loved this and I too would like to have known it was happening on a train sooner. I look forward to reading more by this author.

  • vondrakker

    Story had no apeal for me.
    3 stars

  • i can see it’s good prose, but I was floundering with it, wondering where it was going.sorry I didn’t get it.

  • As Dan said, great use of a usually under-represented sense — especially as a psychic one!

    Also have to give kudos on your reading taste, Ben: that’s my favourite book, too.

  • JoeBender

    Great read Ben, keep up the good work!

  • Pingback: Interview with EDF’s Top Author for January: Ben Carey « Flash Fiction Chronicles()

  • lucinda kempe

    Loved the voice and the quirky digressions that lead to love. Bravo, BEn. Excellent interview as well. Love that you address writer denial!

  • natalia

    AMAZING!!! love the cliff-hanger!!(: such an amazing short story!