Prompts: Oh. My. God. What is that smell?

the word prompts inside bracketsEveryone can get involved with Hippocampus Magazine with {prompts}! About each month, we’ll post a new creative nonfiction prompt, inspired by a real-life event. Fact is stranger than fiction–if we experience something unbelievable, others must have a similar story.

From January 2011

“Oh. My. God. What is that smell?”

Join the fun with our current prompt; select entries will be published next month!

A Threshold for Stench

We both said it, even though the answer was obvious, when I pushed open the front door: “What is that?”

We dropped our camera bags, suitcases (me) and backpack (him), lifted our t-shirts to our faces, pushed past each other to yank up blinds and get windows open.

“Jeezus!” he said.

“Oh my God, I cannot believe this is happening.” I said.

It was such a perfect set-up for a clichéd line; he might as well have been carrying me over the threshold. After two days of hot tubs and massages, breakfasts brought to our door, and–for me — basking in the relief of no more wedding planning, our return to reality was punctuated by finding my little rental house reeking of death.

The source had to be something big. The stench was so thick I could feel it on my tongue, as (breathing through our mouths) we spent the next hour shining a flashlight in corners, under furniture.

“I can’t live like this anymore,” I said, and, suddenly, I didn’t just mean the finding of ground squirrels and mice (usually live) in the house. When he had proposed, we’d agreed to hold off on moving in together, even post-wedding, until I could find a position in his city two hours away.

Just as he was about to argue–probably about how I needed to keep my insurance for as long as possible–he reached into one of the wedding gift boxes, the one our Super Scrabble game had been shipped in from Target, and yelped. “Ugh!”

He held the box out from his body. Curled up in a mound of packing peanuts was a chipmunk, stiff. Its mouth was frozen in a perfectly discernible line, a cartoon version of a sad smile.

Alison McGaughey — Davenport, Iowa


Awfully Organic

What the hell smells like Burger King? A distinctly beefy odor has been tracking me lately. I sniffed over my shoulder, trying to catch the source of the stench in action. Were there any yellow wrappers with orange stickers shouting “extra pickle” creeping around? Had someone in the family been sneaking fast food, even though we have sworn off all processed foods?
It had to be Dave. I figured my husband must have gas. Maybe all the organic, raw foods we were consuming had bloated his stomach into a fog machine. I smelled it again, in the car, but I was alone. He must have left it there, I deduced. His fart was stuck in the seat, microscopic pieces of fecal matter floating through the air into my nasal passages. Maybe Dave’s fecal fetor was caught in the Subaru’s micro-fibers.
The mystery smell continued to follow me. Until one night while putting my eight-year-old to bed I smelled it again.


“Whew! Mom, you stink!” Ellie gasped, waving her hand in front of her nose.


And then, I actually saw it: A sirloin fog emitting from under my arms. I pulled my short sleeves to the side, revealing my pits. Ellie crinkled her nose and breathed through her mouth, saying, “I picture in my mind green squiggly marks coming out from under your arms, like in a cartoon. What’s wrong with you?”
In our family’s conversion to au-natural, I had switched my deodorant to a non-cancer-causing one that promised the inhibition of odor-causing bacteria. The package at the store claimed that the natural fragrances they offered, like apricot and lavender, would mask odors. It said nothing of cow funk. I have returned to using an antiperspirant with aluminum zirconium trichlorohydrex. I am now powder fresh and once again, burger-free.

 Sarah Braud — Franklin, Tenn.

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