The smell – what was that god-awful smell?
Jack had never counted his sense of smell as one of the most acute of his five senses. He had excellent eyesight, twenty-twenty vision if he were to believe all that his optometrist told him at his last eye exam, and he could still read the fine print on any illegal download site. He was proud of his sense of taste, his ability to discern the key ingredients in any gourmet dish despite having no clue as to what the chef may have used in his recipe. Jack’s hearing was also sublime, sure to rival that of the keenest-eared retriever. And his sense of touch? Oh, ho, ho, don’t get him started on touch. Just ask any of the women, or men for that matter, that he’d dallied with over the years and they’d be happy to confirm his abundantly finger-some talents. However, he’d never had the sharpest sense of smell. Not that it bothered him too much – in fact, it was often rather handy, especially when making use of the more dubious of public restrooms.
He sniffed again, tasting the damp air with his nostrils. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet, hadn’t pulled himself together enough to start his engine and roll back his eyelids. The smell that had awakened him seemed to have temporarily frozen him, glued him into a half-awake state where nothing else existed save for that odorous stench. He racked his brain, attempting to match the smell with a fragrance he’d come across previously during his life-long wanderings. Something rotten… fish? No, rotten fish always enveloped itself in the throat-gagging stench of ammonia. This was… meatier. Rancid and pungent, almost edible in its foulness. The closest he could find to it in his box of brain files was the horrific stink of the mouse that once crawled inside his computer and fried itself on a host of electronic what-nots. Death by cyber-attack. He’d had to throw the computer out, which had annoyed him no end at the time. He’d lost his folder of special photos along with it as he daren’t ask the man in the IT store to try and recover them. That would never do, just in case the man took it upon his nosey, impertinent self to steal a peek. It was a cruel blow, a low blow, a rodent of a blow, but Jack had managed to rebuild his collection over the years. The dark net had helped, that underworld and secret place where anything a man’s black heart desired was available at a price.
Satisfied that the potent whiff of incinerated mouse was the smell that surrounded him now, he cautiously reached out his hand for his water glass. He hadn’t opened his eyes yet, didn’t yet care too. Aside from the stench, and an odd pinched feeling in his lower back, he was certain that everything would be as it was when he went to sleep. The stark hospital room would look exactly as it had the evening before; the sad, wilting bouquet of service station flowers that Esme had brought him would still be eyeing him accusingly from the bedside cabinet, and the frumpy, broad-bosomed nurse assigned to his case would still be glowering at him from her chair in the corner. He was still miffed about that nurse. Upon hearing of his need for urgent admission, Jack had feasted on the thought of a young, nubile nurse with thrusting, perky breasts who bent sympathetically over him while he lay back against the pillows. He’d conjured up many a pleasant daydream of exactly what he would say when she asked if there was anything she could do for him. Oh, ho, ho, she could do plenty for him.
The water glass wasn’t there. Before his hand had completed the right amount of stretch necessary to reach the bedside cabinet, it came jarringly up against something rigid and unforgiving. A wall of some sort. Thinking that perhaps Nurse Morticia had moved his bed closer to the cabinet while he slept, he tried again. No, still no luck. He experimentally made his hand into a fist and rapped once, twice against the hard wall, listening with detached interest to the curiously wooden echo.
He really should open his eyes but his thoughts of the nubile, perky nurse who’d never eventuated had raised a perky response in himself. He waggled his hand down the familiar pathway of his belly and was surprised to find that there was no thin hospital sheet offering him even a modicum of privacy. His desire wilted immediately. Jack was no showman. He preferred the shadows to the light when indulging in his myriad of fantasies.
He licked his lips, tasting brine and … ugh. Something metallic and nasty. Something that the dentist might give a person after telling them this wouldn’t hurt a bit. He turned his head to the side and spat, hoping to rid his mouth of the yuck. As he did so, he heard a strange rustling noise that seemed to echo back at him, climbing into his ears and reverberating through his head. It wasn’t the sound of hospital issue pillows and in fact, he’d just noticed that his head was lying utterly flat. His soft pillows had gone, only to be replaced by an uncomfortably firm mattress. The silence was also unexpected, although he’d only just noticed that, too. An intense, heavy silence without the constant bleep, blip, and blonk of hospital machines or the carefully measured footsteps of hurrying nurses. The only visible sound was his own laboured, panting breath. On top of that, it was very hot.
Scared now, he blinked his eyes open then blinked them again, perplexed as to why no bright nor even dim light met his eager, searching gaze. Instead, he saw nothing but black. This was a darkness he could almost touch, a thick blanket of black that appeared to cover his head and body in its entirety. He lay very still, listening to that panicked breathing sound, as he scrabbled his fingers once more on the strangeness that surrounded him. He found through his desperate searching that the hard wall was also above him, and to the other side. His panic began to rise, refusing to stop and plateau as it rapidly surged and increased. He couldn’t sit himself up; it was impossible. Where the devil was he? What on earth could have happened to him in the time between eating his hospital dinner and awakening in this smelly, cramped, hot space?
No. The horrendous truth dawned agonizingly slowly as his brain simply refused to process it. No! The shouted word was breathy and heavy with spittle and the low roof above his head forced his refusal back into his face. A thousand undead nightmares rampaged across his consciousness on pointy, vicious hooves. He was trapped inside his own coffin! Some addle-brained wretch had made the ultimate error and Jack was the one now paying the ultimate price. As his bowels involuntarily released, serving only to increase the cloying rotten mouse stench that clung with the rapacity of an unwanted lover to his last resting place, he opened his mouth to scream a wholly unheard scream.
Jack's panicked shriek, a lunatic sound that would never reach any ears but his own, would eventually hoarsen his throat and die to a whimper as the sparse air that remained within his final earthly prison thinned, became scarcer, and finally vanished altogether.
But Jack didn’t know that yet. For as long as Jack screamed, Jack still had hope.