“The Smell of Victory” by Sandra M. Odell
The invasion began with a bright light in the Oregon sky Tuesday night, not that anyone figured it out until Thursday afternoon.
Mr. Chaimes perched on the corner of the desk at the front of the class. “Mister Rollins is running a bit late after a meeting, so no test today.”
The class cheered. Fannie sighed, and continued to draw hearts on her social studies book cover. She’d waved and smiled at Mister Rollins earlier, but he’d been too busy talking about cookies with Coach Palmer to notice her.
Mister Chaimes raised a hand for quiet. “Settle down. Review the questions at the back of Chapter Six. Mister Rollins will be in shortly.”
The class groaned, all but Fannie, who’d finished the questions last night. She snuck out her library book. She thought she heard Mister Chaimes say something like “What’s that smell?”, and her heart dropped to her feet at the thought that he meant her. Then another adult said “… cookies? Where?” before the door closed.
It took a chapter and a half before the whispers started. Fannie ignored it until Potter Weaver poked her in the back. She looked over her shoulder. “What?”
Potter Dubey pointed towards the front of the class. “Tracie drew another picture.”
Fannie turned around in time to see Tracie Welkins hold up a drawing of a garbage can filled with rotting fish and food, pointing from it to Fannie. The kids around Tracie laughed. With her hand behind her book so no one could see, Fannie gave Tracie a one-finger salute. “Whatever.”
Potter was just being Potter, something about Aspie or ESP, he’d told her all about it when he was selected to be her tablemate in math. He was an okay friend most days, just not today.
“I don’t care.” Fannie squeezed her legs together, the deodorant sanitary pad bunching in her underwear. Thanks to trimethylaminuria, she usually smelled like a dead fish. During her period she smelled like a whole school of dead fish. Mrs. Yoland, her school counselor, said she should focus on the things she liked about herself – her hair or how many laps she could swim – but Mrs. Yoland didn’t smell like Uncle Ross’s bait buckets.
Fannie returned to her book, doing her best to ignore the picture being passed around the room. She’d almost succeeded when she felt something small, round, and mushy hit the back of her head. Great. She picked the spitball out of her hair, dropped it on the floor, and grabbed her bag.
A cruel singsong followed her: “Stink-zilla. Stink-zilla. Stink-zilla.” And the counterpoint from the kids who didn’t think she was so bad, Potter’s voice loudest of all: “Knock it off already.”; “You guys are so retarded.”; “Leave her alone.”
Fannie walked out of the room, chin up, eyes forward.
The girls’ bathroom at the end of A-wing was empty. Bits of green wax that smelled like rotten eggs and chocolate chip cookies clung to the stall locks and the turn wheel for the paper towel dispenser. Maybe someone had way too much fun making a weird mess, or Mr. Tremell was trying out a new bathroom deodorizer. No wonder everyone talked about cookies today. Either way: “Gross.”
Fannie used a pencil to slide the bolt shut then unwrapped a sanitary napkin. Dad thought periods were no big deal. “Don’t let go of your pride and they can’t take it, Fancy Fannie,” he’d said, like he knew anything about being a teenage girl.
Fannie had to be careful what she ate. She took activated charcoal and antibiotics to control her gut bacteria, but she still couldn’t have devilled eggs or Mom’s smoked trout sandwiches without fumigating the house fifteen minutes later. On her period, she couldn’t even think about certain foods without stinking up a room. Periods stunk. Trimethylaminuria stunk.
She’d just flushed when the bathroom door opened and she heard footsteps, voices. Fannie froze, pencil on the door bolt.
“–crazy, doesn’t it?” a girl said.
“Tell me about it,” said another, and they both laughed.
Great. Tracie Welkins. Fannie didn’t know the first voice, but the second was Tracie’s and she’d get all sorts of crap if she went out there now. How long could she stay in the stall before they figured out she was in the bathroom?
“Gawd, Smellzilla been in here or something?” said the unknown girl.
“Smells like her whole family’s been here,” Tracie said.
Fannie clenched her teeth around what she wanted to say.
“What’s this?” the unknown girl said.
“Eww. It smells like, wow, cookies.”
“Cookies? Yeah. I wonder where…?”
They turned off the water and left without another word.
Fannie waited for the bathroom door to close before stepping out of the stall. They were gone, leaving behind a pink clutch purse. “Cookies?”
A quick peek in the purse revealed a comb, a change purse, Tracie Welkins’ student ID, a crumpled pack of cigarettes, and a Bic lighter. Busted! Fannie put the purse in her bag. She’d turn it in to the office, maybe with a nasty anonymous note.
Fannie eased open the door, looked right then left. The right was clear, but to the left she saw Tracie walking with a black girl with beaded braids. Before either girl could turn towards the hub, Mr. Rollins and Mr. Chaimes stepped around the corner. They stopped before the girls, expressionless, unmoving, thick green Jewish weird, identical beanie hats on their heads.
Fannie thought she heard the black girl say something about smells and cookies.
“Come with us,” Mr. Rollins said in a flat tone. It carried the way an out of tune clarinet did at a recital. His face barely moved; he didn’t blink. He looked wrong, all wrong. Beside him, Mr. Chaimes stood still as a statue in a rumpled blue suit.
The girls hesitated, exchanged looks, and then each man took one by the upper arm and led them away. The girls didn’t resist.
Fannie’s heart sank to her stomach and then her feet. She eased the bathroom door shut and pressed her back to it. Tracie didn’t like Mr. Rollins, and she’d never seen Mr. Chaimes grab a kid like that, not even Todd Engwood when he’d brought a pellet gun to school. What was going on?
Fannie eased out of the bathroom to a too empty hall: no kids; no janitor; no anybody. She checked a near-by wall clock. Okay, there were still 20 minutes until sixth period, but she would have expected to see someone in the hall.
Scattered voices came from the classrooms. She peeked through the windows. Were there fewer kids? Why weren’t there teachers in any of the rooms? This just wasn’t right. Biting her bottom lip, she headed towards the office to turn in Tracie’s purse and talk to Mrs. Yoland.
At the intersection, she peered around the corner. All clear save for a smear of green slime on the side of the last locker. What was up with that stuff? It creeped her out. With a piece of notebook paper and a barrette, she got a scraping. Real police procedural stuff. The slime smelled like cookies baked in a dirty Laundromat. Fannie wrinkled her nose in distaste.
Fannie paused outside the front office and looked through the window. Empty, no one there at all. Nothing but abandoned chairs and twirling screensavers. A mug and a plate with a bagel sandwich sat at the edge of the front desk. A smear of green on the outside door handle.
A faint, rhythmic buzzing mirrored the flashing red lights of the phones. Where was everyone? Right after lunch, Ms. Weng and the office staff should have been busy with office stuff. This was bad. She should go back to class and wait for the bell, go to sixth period like nothing happened. Mom would let her stay home for a day or two. Probably. Maybe.
“You can do this, Fancy Fannie,” she heard Dad say.
Taking hold of the door handle farthest from the green smear, she eased the door open. One of the red lights on the phones stopped flashing. She heard a faint voice from the back offices: “Vernonia Middle School, this is Dora. How can I help you?”
Fannie followed the voice past the break room to Mrs. Yoland’s office. “–here right now,” the counselor said, phone in one hand, pen in the other. At Fannie’s faint knock, she looked up and motioned Fannie into the office. “Can I take a message?”
Fannie sat on the edge of a chair across from Mrs. Yoland, fiddling with the paper and barrette.
“Mmmhmmm, right.” Mrs. Yoland made a quick note. “She’s out at the moment, but I’ll put this on her desk and she’ll get back to you as soon as she can. Okay. Sure. Thanks for calling.” She hung up, and turned to Fannie with a smile. “Hi there.”
“Hi.” Fannie tried and failed to smile in return. “Mrs. Yoland, I, um, there’s something–”
Another red light flashed, the line buzzed. The counselor frowned and sighed. “I don’t know what’s going on, but they can leave a message.”
Fannie held out the folded paper. “I think maybe this is what’s wrong.”
The counselor hesitated. “Okay.”
Fannie adjusted her grip so she held the paper by the edge closest to her.
Mrs. Yoland flashed her an embarrassed smile. She took the paper. “I’m sorry, Fannie, that was rude of me.”
“It’s okay.” Then everything tumbled out of Fannie at once: the goo; the girls; Mr. Rollins and Principal Chaimes; cookies; her concerns.
Mrs. Yoland listened, frowning, nodding now and again. “Missus Kellior was making pineapple upside down cake for lunch today, so no cookies there.” She picked up the barrette and sniffed at the goo. “This does smell like cookies, though.” She sniffed it a second time, her eyes losing focus. “Cookies.” The counselor rolled away from her desk. “I wonder where…”
Fannie’s heart scrambled up her throat in a panic. “Missus Yoland?”
Not knowing what else to do, Fannie jumped out of the chair and hugged the counselor around the waist. “Please don’t go.” Mrs. Yoland tried to push her away, and Fannie squeezed harder.
A coughing, gagging breath later, the counselor set the barrette on the desk. “Honey, please–”
“No, I’m scared and I don’t want to be left alone.”
“The smell. I think I’m going to be sick.”
Fannie took a step back, fingers tight around the woman’s thin leather belt. “Do you need a garbage can?”
“No, no, I don’t think so.”
Fannie helped the counselor back to her chair, setting the waste paper basket on the desk to be safe.
Mrs. Yoland rubbed her eyes. “Whew, well, that was something.”
“Are you going to be okay?”
Mrs. Yoland nodded. She took her purse out of the bottom drawer of her desk. “I think so, yeah.” She took out her cell phone.
“What are you going to do?”
The counselor gave her The Look, the one she used when she wanted to ask Fannie A Question. “Which way did you see Mister Rollins and Mister Chaimes take Tracie and the other girl?”
“I don’t know. I thought they were coming here. Outside, maybe? The gym? The cafeteria, but that’s the other way.”
Mrs. Yoland powered on her phone. “All right. I’m going to find them. I need you to stay here until I get back.”
“I’ll be fine, Fannie, I just need to see what’s going on, so stay here until I get back, okay? Man the phones in case there’s trouble.”
“But–” Fannie hated it when adults treated her like she was five years old. “Yeah. Okay.”
“Thanks.” With that, Mrs. Yoland hurried out of the office, closing the door behind her.
Fannie grabbed a tissue and wiped her eyes. Stupid cookies.
Fifteen minutes, three tissues, and two failed calls to the police later – why couldn’t she call out but calls could come in? – Fannie crouched behind the counter and watched Mr. Rollins lead Potter towards the gym. She imagined Potter’s chatter: “I like cookies. What kind are they? And why is that stuff green? Do you want to see my pictures of Ang?”
She shifted. Mr. Rollin stopped outside the window to look inside. Green goo oozed from the pulsing mushroom hat, down his perfect nose. What was that hat doing to him? If the hat melted, would Mr. Rollins melt, too? No way was she going to let that happen! Fannie scrambled through the first door she could, into the break room.
“Are there cookies in here, Mister Rollins?” she heard Potter say as the office door opened. “Where are the cookies?”
“In the gym,” the teacher said in the same out of tune voice she’d heard earlier. “Go to the gym.”
Fannie closed the break room door then looked around for a place to hide. Behind the cubbies, her stomach said. Inside the cubbies, screamed her heart. Under the sink, her brain suggested. Good idea. Fannie crawled under the sink, pushing paper towels and empty baskets to make room. The tight space smelled like moldy paper. Maybe the paper smells would cover her own stink. Just as she pulled the cabinet door closed with her fingernails, the break room door opened. “Hello?” Mr. Rollins said.
Fannie held her breath. Please don’t look in here. Please, please, please don’t look in here.
Slow footsteps came around the table, neared the sink. A shadow blotted out the thin sliver of light. “Hello?”
Fannie pinched her nose shut and breathed through her mouth.
“Fannie?” Mr. Rollins voice cracked; for a moment, he sounded almost normal.
Fannie pulled her hand back before she could push the door open. She watched horror movies. It could be a trap.
The shadow moved away, and a few seconds later the break room door closed once more. Fannie counted backwards from ten before peeking out. She eyed a green smear on the floor, proof that she needed to get her head on straight.
Fannie eased out from under the sink. She went across the room and put her ear to the door. She opened it the barest sliver. The hall was empty. She tried the phone on the end table; no dial tone, just like before.
She pressed her forehead to the cool wood door. This morning Fannie had had to worry about smelling like dead fish; now she had to worry about cookies. Think. Think. What to do next? Search for a cell phone to call for help? That would take too long. Run to the nearest house? What if they were involved in all this? The fire alarm sat less than a foot from the door, but the noise might invite more trouble.
An idea began to percolate, but she had to find everyone first.
Doing so proved even easier done than said, easy enough that Fannie almost resented going through the motions.
Expecting something, anything, she’d crawled on her stomach like they did on TV down C-wing and paused by the open gym doors. Inside, people milled about, the entire school maybe, teachers, janitors, lunch ladies, kids. They didn’t say a word, an eerie silence of shuffling cloth and squeaking shoes. They wandered in an aimless shuffle until green tentacles like lime Jello slithered up their bodies. Then a small yellow disk at the end of each tentacle extruded a green mushroom hat that began to dissolve into green goo.
Fannie had not expected tentacles. She hadn’t known what to expect, but certainly not tentacles. A green mass the size of her couch quivered in the center of the gym, a dozen or more twenty-foot long tentacles, tiny yellow eyes all over its body. What was that thing? An alien?
Mr. Rollins, Mr. Chaimes, and a few others stood blank-eyed and helpless, trapped in gooey shells like people meat in an intergalactic grocery store. How could they breathe? Were they even alive anymore?
As Fannie watched, a tentacle slid over to Potter, and extruded a mushroom cap on the top of his head. The cap dissolved and began to run down her friend’s face.
“You can do this, Fancy Fannie.”
Fanny crawled back to the office then to the cafeteria. She hurried into the kitchen and tore through the freezers until she found the fish fillets. She dumped a full bag onto a large cookie sheet and put it into the oven, hoping she’d set the temperature right. Then she found the egg salad, the raw broccoli for the salad bar, and the crunchy soybean baked potato topping. All things she shouldn’t eat. Too bad they didn’t have any liver. Not really. She hated liver.
Fannie poured herself a huge pitcher of water, and began to gorge. In between spoonfuls, and fistfuls, and cupfuls, she ran laps around the kitchen, and stood next to the hot ovens. She pulled off her sanitary napkin, wrapping it in a handful of paper towels before burying it in the garbage. Blood oozed onto her panties, gross and sticky but she didn’t care. Not just Potter and Mr. Rollins, but the entire school depended on her, and she needed to work up a good stink.
Fannie stepped into the gym. “Hey!”
All eyes turned to Fannie, even the yellow marble ones. A tentacle reached for her, then curled away at the last moment.
Fannie took two more steps forward. “I don’t like this, and I’m here to stop you!”
She’d hoped for something classic, but she had a stomachache and needed to pee, so that would have to do.
Fannie rushed towards the crowd, knocking people over. “Mister Rollins!” She grabbed the social studies teacher and rubbed her sweaty body all over him. The green goo popped and hissed, pieces curling away like burnt paper wherever she touched. It worked! Fannie let out of whoop of fish breath, and dashed to the next person.
The sofa blob quivered and a sound like a hard rain on Lake Sanders filled the air. Tentacles snapped around her, but none came near. The sound grew louder.
Fannie spit in her hands and rubbed them over Potter’s mushroom hat. She hawked loogies and farted. She belched in Tracie Welkin’s face. Not as much fun as she’d hoped but kind of a relief after the egg salad. Those free to move began to twitch, cough, make faces as if they’d stepped in something that smelled bad.
“Someone call the cops!” Fannie screamed. “Call 9-1-1!”
The thing surged back, dragging itself away from Fannie’s approach. Fannie grabbed a tentacle as it whipped by. A shrill whistle like a kettle boiling over rattled the windows. The smoking tentacle jerked out of Fannie’s grip.
She dropped her shoulder and charged into the thing. It felt like tough Jello or moist rubber and smelled like rotten chocolate chip cookies. If she could just get rid of it for good, Fannie swore she would never eat another cookie for as long as she lived.
The thing heaved and Fannie flew off. She landed on her back, knocking the bad breath out of her. Tentative hands reached down to help her up, then pulled away when the people inhaled.
Coach Palmer blinked down at her. “Fannie?” she said in a sandpaper voice. “What’s going on?”
Fannie made it to her feet. Someone called her name, and another person. And a third. “9-1-1,” she gasped, and staggered towards the Jello monster.
The thing churned and pushed away from her, knocking over people meat on its way to the double doors. Fannie jumped over the people, and threw herself at the mass. She squeezed her eyes shut and thought about waterfalls, rain, hot tea, fear. A warm release spread through her panties sans pad and down her legs.
The alien burst like a pimple and sucked its tentacles into its smoking jelly body. It warbled and shrieked, flopping around the waxed wood floor like a seal trying to escape Fannie’s fish. Fannie tumbled through the air and landed on a pile of people meat.
Two things happened. Someone pulled the fire alarm, and Fannie blacked out.
Only to wake to a fine spray of water in the face. “Give her room!” Potter jerked on her right arm. “Give her room!”
“Easy, Potter.” Another voice, less off key this time. Mr. Rollins relieved Potter and helped Fannie to her feet. He smelled like sweat, aftershave, and cookies. Bits of green flaked off his clothes. “Come on, let’s get you out of here.”
She leaned on him a little too much on their way out of the cafeteria. “What about the…?” Fannie jerked her head over her shoulder.
“We’ve got it surrounded, and authorities are on their way,” Mr. Rollins said.
“Wait.” Fannie stripped off her shirt and handed it to him. “Use this just in case.”
“On it!” Potter grabbed the shirt from the teacher and ran back into the cafeteria.
Fannie nodded. Good old Potter; he was a good friend. She began to shake, suddenly too hot and too cold. She leaned on her favorite teacher for real this time. Her sinuses throbbed, her nose began to run.
Mr. Rollins took her to the office where they gave her clean clothes, a fresh sanitary napkin, and a cup of hot tea. Ms. Weng set the office staff to arranging for early buses and pick-ups. Mrs. Yoland let Fannie use her phone to call her mom who did a lousy job of not panicking. “My God, you could have been killed. What did you–? Why did–?”
“I’ll be okay, Mom. See you when you get here,” Fannie said. “I love you.”
“I don’t know how you did it, or even what you did,” Mr. Chaimes told Fannie as she sipped her tea, “but I have to say you’re a brave young lady.”
“Very brave,” Mr. Rollins agreed. “You may have saved all of our lives.”
Fannie shrugged, too tired and sore for anything else. “Thanks.”
The world moved very slowly. Her hands shook; she crushed her Styrofoam cup trying to keep them still. Mr. Rollins cleaned up the mess, made her another cup of tea in a ceramic mug–”Here.”–and put it on the table beside her.
Fannie couldn’t look at him. “Thanks. I’m sorry about, the…you know.”
He frowned. “The what?”
“Um, throwing myself on you like that. The smell and all.” She wanted to hide under the sink again.
Mr. Rollins smiled at her. “Who cares? Fannie, you saved my life.”
“Oh. Yeah.” This time it wasn’t as hard to smile.
The police took her soiled clothes and used them to help herd the alien, monster, whatever, into a 55-gallon garbage can. The paramedics checked Fannie’s vital signs and agreed that she could be released to her parents once the police cleared her. Mr. Rollins wanted her to go to the nurse’s office to lie down. Fannie had other ideas.
“My sack,” she said.
Mr. Rollins frowned. “What about it?”
“Where is it? I have to get something. And where’s Tracie?”
An aid retrieved it from the counselor’s office, then Fannie and Mr. Rollins went to look for Tracie Welkins.
They found her outside with her friends, clustered around Fannie’s reading tree. Not giving a whit for the others, Fannie walked right up to her popular classmate and held out the pink clutch. “You left this in the bathroom.”
The other kids shifted from foot to foot, looking from Tracie, to Fannie, to Mr. Rollins.
Tracie caught her bottom lip between her teeth. “Thanks.”
Blushing, she accepted the purse.
Fannie nodded. She turned to walk away, stopped, turned back. “You know, you’re a really good artist. Maybe you could show me your notebook sometime.”
The others around them murmured; one or two nodded in agreement. Mr. Rollins coughed into his fist.
Tracie flushed an even brighter pink. “Sure,” she said. “I’d like that. And, um, thanks again for the, you know, the purse and everything.”
“Glad I could help.” Fannie smiled and walked away, feeling pretty good about herself.
About the Author
Sandra M. Odell is a happily married mother of two teenage boys, an avid reader, compulsive writer, and rabid writer, and compulsive chocoholic. Her work has appeared in such venues as Jim Baen’s UNIVERSE, Ideomancer, Crossed Genres, Fear of the Dark, and Deep Cuts. Her collection of speculative fiction Christmas short stories, THE TWELVE WAYS OF CHRISTMAS, was released by Hydra House Books in November, 2012. She is a Clarion West 2010 graduate, and is currently hard at work on her first novel.
You can learn more about her works at http://sandramodell.com.