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The Scents Of Danger
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The Scents Of Danger
When terrified as a kid, I could sense a certain something in my nose.
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|AUTHOR'S OTHER TITLES (3)
Looking Over The Berlin Wall: (Non-Fiction) Personal Memories of a Divided Berlin [993 words] [History]
The Turtle Returns (Children) I once had a box turtle, who kept escaping, and returning! [864 words] [Animal]
What The Chipmunk Taught (Children) Native American grandfather and grandson each teach the other interesting lessons. [747 words]
The Scents Of Danger
I still remember the scent. It was a sharp tangy smell that came not from the air, but was full in my nose none the less. I only smelled it in the times I sensed serious danger, like that December day at the creek, just before my tenth birthday.
My family lived in the truly idyllic town of Greenhills Ohio, just above Cincinnati. The suburban paradise was surrounded by a ring of woods. There was plenty of wilderness to explore and adventures for a bold lad. I knew the forest like any seasoned explorer. I, David, was the Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett of those sylvan lands. I was on a Saturday expedition, on my own, down a frozen stream bed that chilly afternoon when it happened.
In the summer before, I had ‘river-walked’ the shallow waters of this brook. Now, I was hiking the ice along the same passage. The banks rose above my head only a couple feet, making them about seven deep. Rocks and lumpy, clumpy dirt and tree roots lined the incline. The miniature valley went on some ways ahead of me and I had gone quite a bit along this steep stretch.
At one point I decided to climb the right bank, and then I would cross a field to get to the house of my best friend, Jimmy Boyles. I had hoped to get Jimmy to come out and build a fort. I had spotted a place where some fallen logs had look promising. He and I were always doing things like that; we were buddies ever since we had met. On Halloween that year we had covered the town like pirates sacking a city. The candy had lasted all the way to Christmas.
I began my ascent, a simple scramble up the rough slope. It was easy, and I’d done it a dozen times. This time it was no different, until a clump of solid earth gave way beneath my left foot. I reached for a nearby thick root sticking out conveniently close to my right hand. When it unexpectedly broke off and I began to topple backwards, that distinctive scent filled my nose. I had noted it before in circumstances of distress and trouble. I knew the feeling of danger and fear each of those times.
The tree tops overhead fanned in a slow motion arc, in clear detail as they swung into my line of sight. They were dark against the bright blue of the sky. My vision narrowed and got sharp. My eyes tilted with the rest of my body as I slanted away from the slope back toward the frozen creek. My head was like a movie camera that panned upwards. I knew this wasn’t good, we all learn early, almost instinctively, that gravity pulled down – hard.
It’s funny how the mind works. How so many thoughts can crowd into your brain, faster than a speeding train goes by a crossing while you wait in the car for it to pass. Memories of some of the other times when that particular sharp scent had accompanied my sense of danger flashed in my consciousness. Mental slides of those moments flickered in my mind’s eye. There was the time I had dodged a car, not looking before crossing the street. The screech of the tires sounded in my ears again. The unique stink of my mortal fear was pungent in my nostrils then too.
There was the time I bailed out of the swing, way too high. I was lucky to escape that folly with only scrapes and bruises. When Jimmy had done that stunt after me, he had broken his collar bone. But back then we had been doing a dumb dare, taking chances we knew better not to. My best buddy paid with pain and an awkward cast on his arm. As I flew in the air off the seat and had no wings, that special aroma of things gone wrong was with me. Too bad I didn’t stop Jimmy. I felt sorry for him, but was glad I had been lucky.
I slammed to the earth now, the solid stream bed not any softer than the blacktop of a playground. My skull was protected by no more that the single wool layer of my knit cap. But the fake fur of my jacket’s collar and the coat’s heavily insulation covering my back must have cushioned the blow. I felt the wind go out of me as I connected with a flat area of ice that I landed on. My right elbow hurt a little, but that was all. Then my left eye noticed the looming lump of gray next to my head.
When I was much younger, my father had installed a swing in the basement, for amusement on rainy days. One wet and weary, dreary day I was sitting on the same and did a silly thing. I put my hands down by the red board that my bottom rested on. The swing tipped to the rear and the back of my head cracked against the gray cement of the floor. I reached back and felt wetness; my fingers were red when I looked at them.
My mother, a few feet away doing the laundry, responded instantly to my cries. She sat me on the steps, giving me a towel to hold on the flowing wound. “Bloody murder!!!” I screamed over and over in fear and panic as she calmly called a close neighbor friend, Helen Hodges, who had a car. At the doctor’s I got my first stitches ever, three. Yes, I knew how serious it was to dash your brain against an unforgiving, unyielding, hard gray thing. As I almost had, that December day I had smelled danger and only missed by inches knocking myself senseless.
The rock that rose from the ice surely would have conked me a good one, if not bash the back of my noggin with a more grim result than the younger mishap in the basement, without mother or anyone around to help this time. But that was not to be, though the history of hitting my head and gaining stitches and scars continued long into adolescence. Certainly I’ll never forget the scent of danger as long as I live. That day at the creek is as crystalline in my memory as yesterday, even though it was 50 years ago.
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© 2010 Dave Springer
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