Brian J. Smith

The November Editor's Pick Writer is Brian J. Smith

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by Brian J. Smith

Rob Cross sat on the overstuffed couch when the smell hit him. He didn’t know what it was, but all he could think of was rotten eggs. The scent wasn’t just a nuisance but a reminder of what he’d neglected to do.

He winced and made a low grumbling sound. A wave of nausea churned inside his stomach and a sharp bitter aftertaste collected in the back of his throat. Maybe Linda had been right. He thought about their earlier conversation.

Linda had been quick to remind him about the smell this morning after breakfast and before their usual round of morning sex. She was standing in front of her bedroom mirror, slipping a tiny blue earring into her left earlobe when she said something that diverted his attention away from a blue jay perched on a tree branch.

“What did you say, Honey?” he asked.

She fastened the top button on her floral-print scrubs and rolled her eyes at him. “I asked you to go upstairs and ask Mr. Flowers about that god-awful smell.”

“Why don’t we just call the landlord?”

“I don’t want to make a scene. If Mr. Flowers says it’s nothing, then we’ll call the landlord.”

“I’ll do it,” he said when he climbed out of bed.

“You said the very same thing last week and we were late for dinner with Tiffany and Mike.”

Her sarcasm stung him deeply; he bit down on his bottom lip to keep from saying something he’d regret later. When Linda Cross said something, he needed to do it.

But so far, he hadn’t.


He didn’t ask to fall from a twenty-foot ladder and bounce his knee off the side of the company truck and be out of work for the past four months. If he had his way about it, he would already be dressed and out the door so he wouldn’t have to hear her complain about the smell again. He despised having gone from “handyman” to “house husband” and attributed her anger to the fact that now she was the primary breadwinner.

He smelled plenty of chemicals in the past but nothing that smelled like this. He would rather stick his head into a fresh bucket of tar than smell this stench again. If he ever smelled like this after a job, he’d burn his clothes before he even stepped through the front door.
The smell coming from the apartment above was that bad.

The microwave dinged, snapping him out of this morning’s incident, but he didn’t feel hungry anymore. He inhaled the aroma of chicken flavored rice, snapped the lid back in place and slid the container back into the fridge. He grabbed two bottles of beer, plugged his cell phone in (fucking thing was never fully charged) and shut the door on his way out of his apartment.

Cliff View Apartments was an open, H-shaped building with screened-in patios and a playground on the far end of the property. Neatly manicured bushes were rooted inside tiny gravel beds below each window. The carports out front were reserved specifically for each tenant according to the number of their apartments.

When he neared the steps, a familiar voice called out, “Hello, Rob.”

He winced at the sound of Carol Ebner’s voice and spun around to her, flashing his best fake smile. His neighbor wore a bright blue jacket over a long dress, ankle-hugging socks and black shoes; the wheels of her walker whined as she skulked toward him.

“Hello, Carol.”

“How are you doing?”

“Fine,” he said. “I was just about to go up and check on Mr Flowers up in thirteen.”

“So you smell it, too,” she said. “I’ve called him a hundred times about that awful smell but he never answers his phone. Think the old dude died?”

Rob paused. “When’s the last time you’ve seen him?” He hoped that she had recently so he could go back inside his own apartment.

“About a week ago. He’d come home from fishing and I was standing out there talking to the mailman and he had something cradled in his arm like a football...but he had a blanket draped over it. I asked him what it was but he brushed me off.”

Her words left deep creases of confusion on Rob’s forehead. Carol could spread gossip like a virus; he and Linda tried to avoid her so they wouldn’t be sucked into her whirlwind of bullshit.

He nodded as she spoke, pretending to believe every word she said. “Was that all he told you?”

She went on, “You’d think someone would’ve called the cops by now but I didn’t want to make a big stink about it. No pun intended.”

“Well, I’d better go see Mr. Flowers. Thought I’d share a beer with him.” He held up the bottles. “Talk to you later.” He waited for her to disappear before heading up stairs.
The closer he got, the more intense the smell grew; maybe the old guy really was dead. A blue jay burst from an overhead gutter and gave a loud squawk. He flinched and grasped the railing in a white-knuckled grip.

His muscles relaxed as his eyes scanned the promenade; the bird’s shadow soared above the sidewalk like a floating crucifix. He shook off the smell riding on the sharp October breeze and walked up to Apartment 13. He pressed the bell and waited for a response before he rang it again.

“Are you okay, Mr. Flowers?” He knocked this time. “It’s Rob from—”

Suddenly the door creaked open on squealing hinges. He peered around the kitchen, stepped inside, and set the beer bottles on the countertop.

As with all the other apartments, the stainless-steel appliances were new and the countertop dropped off onto a small breakfast nook with two chairs. A horde of flies hovered above the nest of dishes cluttered inside the two-sided sink.

He looked into the living room. Tiny shards of broken glass was strewn across the living room floor between the couch and television, winking in the soft sunlight.

The breeze whistled through a fist-sized hole in the glass doors and sent the curtains into a hypnotic dance. His stomach knotted with fear at the possibility that he’d walked into a home invasion that was still in progress. It still didn’t explain the smell.

“Mr. Flowers?”

He cursed under his breath, and cautiously entered the hallway. At the end, thin shafts of mute-gray sunlight poured through the window blinds; dust motes danced in the air as the smell was growing worse but he’d been accustomed to it by now.

“Linda and I wanted—”

Rob’s heart lurched as he stopped in his tracks and slapped the wall with hands like suction cups. Mr. Flowers was lying across his bed in a white shirt and blue striped boxers.

His eyes were closed but his lashes moved as if in a state of REM, his fingers twisting with the rise and fall of his chest. His breath escaped through evenly pursed lips the color of strawberries; in the soft sunlight, his once brown-leathery skin looked like creamy porcelain.

Something moved from under the old man’s shirt, poking through the fabric. When he approached the bed, Rob noticed a large pink tube protruding from the middle of Mr. Flower’s stomach like a trachea; it drooped over the side of the bed and stretched toward the pocket of darkness on the far-left corner of the room.

The tube was connected to a giant vulva-pink egg hanging from a tiny pink thread embedded into the ceiling. It pulsated in rhythm with the tube as if it were lapping at whatever it was taking from him; a trellis of red and blue veins crept up the side of the thing before stopping at the top.

Rob backed away from the bed and, lips quivering with fear, tripped over his right ankle. He gave a childish yelp as he sunk toward the floor and struck the carpet ass-first. The impact jarred his bones and bounced the back of his head off the floor like a basketball. Stars filling his vision, he heard the slow rip of fabric coming from the other side of the room.

He winced at the dull ache growing in the back of his skull when something fastened onto his right foot; the pain sat him up and spread rivers of pressure up and down his leg. A long pink tube began pulling him across the room.

There was no explanation for this; he waited for someone to come barraging out from behind a movie camera and tell him the truth behind all of this but all he could feel was pain and the lingering tightness of his muscles.

And then he remembered something: a news story he had seen on television. There were men in lab coats combing the area looking for this—this thing.

He thought of his neighbour Carol saying that Mr. Flowers had brought something covered by a towel. How could he have brought it here in the first place? Couldn’t he have just left it in the lake with all the other garbage?

He began to scream.

He pulled his foot back, bending his knee and filled his ears with the sound of slow-tearing cartilage. He felt the tube sliding away from his ankle and when it finally gave away, he kicked it across the room. His knee gave tearing sound, and this time he screamed in pain as well as fright.

He spun around on his hands and knees and began crawling toward the living room when something clamped onto his left thigh, holding him in place.

Rob sobbed behind tightly clenched teeth and tried to yank his foot back. The tentacle held on, pulling him back into the bedroom. He tried to place his bad knee onto the floor to kick it away but the first tube snapped itself across the room and slipped under his left pant leg.

This time he tried for the bathroom. If he could just reach the bathroom door, he could use it for leverage and free himself. He pulled his arms out him and slammed his body against the floor; air burst from his lungs as shockwaves of pain jarred his bones.

He made it! He was at the bathroom door. He rolled onto his side and braced at the doorway with both hands. 

His fingers pressing into the wood, his stomach and sphincter clenched as he pulled himself into the bathroom. A strong, musty odor permeated from his clothes and skin; that same, rotten egg smell was on him now.

He felt something burrow into his skin, rooting around like a corded camera during a colonoscopy. His palms grew sweaty as his fingers began to slide off from the doorway one digit at a time.

Something slid up his spinal cord, cracked at the air like a whip and connected with the back of his head. He stretched his right hand toward the doorknob, now glinting in the sunlight pouring through the bathroom window, and gave a strangled cry as the darkness consumed him.


When she got off work at seven o’clock that night, Linda Cross wanted nothing more than to kick off her purple scrubs and relax. The once soft gray sky now had the gas blue glow of dusk with a bright pink horizon; tree shadows bled across the promenade like deformed ink blots.

“He’s so hot,” she whispered into her cell phone as she got out of her car. “He’s a got a job with the state department and everything. He makes more money than the lump of shit I’m with now.”

Her best friend said, “Wasn’t I right about him?”

“He’s that and much more,” she whispered into the phone as her eyes darted around for witnesses. “After lunch, we went to that motel on—”

Linda stopped talking when she approached her apartment and saw the front door open. She hissed into the phone; she slammed her hand against her thigh, jingling the key ring in her fist. “Can you believe this?”

“What did he do now?”

“He left the goddamn door unlocked,” Linda said. “The fucking door’s open. I swear sometimes I think his brain is up inside his ass. I’ll find out what’s going on. Talk to you later.”

She killed the call and entered the apartment. She set her purse on the countertop next to Rob’s iPhone and called his name. When she didn’t get a reply, she figured there was only one place he could be.

So Rob finally did something she told him to do. She slipped her cell phone into her pocket and started up the staircase up to Apartment 13. 

Brian J. Smith has been featured in numerous anthologies, e-zines and magazines in both the mystery and horror genres. His books Dark Avenues, The Tuckers, Uncle Bubby and Three O’Clock are still available on Amazon for Kindle. He lives in southeastern Ohio with his brother and four dogs; he eats spicy foods, has too many books, doesn’t drink enough coffee and cheers on The Ohio State Buckeyes. He can be found on Twitter under @BrianJSmith913 and on Instagram under brian.joseph913.