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Drunk Scentless

Joel C. Scoberg lives with his family in Swansea, Wales. This is his first published story.

David sailed through the doorway propelled by a bartender's boot and landed in the gutter. Out of habit, he sniffed, long and hard, taking in the scent of Saturday night revelry. The odors assaulted his nose and brought tears to his eyes. If he could still smell, it meant he had not drunk enough.
"Booze, vomit, and kebab meat," he mumbled, pushing himself up onto his hands and knees. His profound sense of smell was a gift he wished he could return. "And," he sniffed again, picking out Swansea's unique smellmark. "Wet, salty feathers." He smiled, despite the circumstances. It was an ugly, lovely scent, and one of his creations.
David clambered to his feet and leaned on what he thought was a bench, but was in fact a woman eating a kebab in the gutter.
"Oi!" She pushed him away and added something most un-ladylike.
"Is this how you treat the Ambassador to the Pobl Trwyn?" he said, as indignantly as his inebriated state allowed.
"Former Ambassador," said the bartender, then slammed the door.
"Suit--" he hiccoughed "--yourself." David held up his nose and found one of the aroma trails that crisscrossed the city. "Beer, rose water, and velvet cushions," he said, stumbling away. "The Rose and Crown will appreciate a patron of my prestige."
David possessed the finest nose on the planet and following the aroma trail was as easy as reading a road sign. It was why the Pobl Trwyn had appointed him - a human - to lead their British aroma translation team. Under his guiding nostrils, dull place names became vibrant smellmarks and aroma trails. The alien tourists loved his creations and he won award after award.
His success brought fame and fortune and a ticket into the world of high-class scents. But he was not blessed with self-control. And years of gratuitous excess led to addiction and disgrace. Now, he was a booze-soaked has-been. Haunted by regret and overwhelming odors only obscene drunkenness could stifle.
A couple crossed his path and, like a lush to a tavern, he stepped closer and sniffed the woman's hair. "Honeysuckle and lavender, how lovely," he said.
"Beat it, pervert." The woman pushed David and he fell over a low fence into rubbish-strewn bushes. He tried to get up but slipped and face-planted a discarded pair of knickers. A group of men wearing too much aftershave stopped and laughed as he finally struggled to his feet.
"How dare they laugh at me," he said, and grabbed the emergency hip-flask from his pocket. David took a swig and winced. The drink was Iechyd Da, a potent liqueur designed for the aliens' robust physiology. It enhanced his sense of smell but got him so legless that his human brain could not process the scents.
"Do you even know who I am?" he shouted at the group.
"An old dogger!" came the reply.
David squinted. He tried to focus but their faces and scents merged into a fake-tanned, amorphous blob. The alcohol was working.
"I created the Stinktrekker's Guide to Britain," he said, swaying in the bushes. "I've been to the Pobl Trwyn home world. I've won awards."
"Pisshead of the Year?" suggested the blob.
"No." David puffed out his chest. "The Nasal Prize, actually, and a 'Great Smells of Earth' too, for--"
"Worst fart?" The blob laughed and threw a tray of takeaway at him.
"...the Newcastle-upon-Tyne smellmark," he said, ignoring the taunts and flying sauces. "Whiff Weekly described it as a delicious blend of new car, cut stone, and coal. I am a legend in the field of olfactory linguistics." David burped and swallowed a rising flood of beer with a grimace. "Well, I was..."
David's aroma addiction had consumed him and ended his career. The finesse within his fragrances vanished, replaced by lazy literal-translations. He became a liability, an embarrassment. And it would be a cold day on Venus before he was welcome in the town of Cockermouth. Or Cumbria at all, for that matter.
"There's a sculpture of me in this city," he said, but the blob had moved on. David stepped over the fence and sniffed the air until he found what he was after. A breeze pockmarked with salt, sand, and chips soaked in vinegar. He raised his nose and staggered along the aroma trail like a drunk bloodhound.
His bust was outside the odortorium on the seafront. Where the city hosted alien games and cultural events its human population did not understand, but participated in enthusiastically nonetheless.
David ran toward it, filled with pride and shame. The memory of his final, humiliating day as Ambassador flashed into his mind. Discovered in a store cupboard with his nose buried in a jar of wholegrain mustard.
"If I can sort myself out, then--"
He tripped on a loose paving slab and stumbled with a terrible inevitability into his bust. His soft, fleshy nose collided with its bronze doppelganger, his head moved one way and his nose the other. There was a loud crunch and then he was flat on his face. He sat up and snorted blood from his mangled nose. He sniffed, long and hard, his nose wheezing like a punctured bagpipe.
"I smell nothing," he said, smiling despite the eye-watering pain. David poured the contents of his hip-flask on the ground and laughed. "Nothing at all."
The End
This story was first published on Tuesday, June 22nd, 2021


Author Comments

My wife has a brilliant sense of smell. Mine is terrible. Often on walks she will comment about a lovely smell in the air, which I am usually oblivious to (honeysuckle is a favorite). It is a gift that appears, to someone without it, to be a kind of superpower, an almost alien concept. This trail of thought got me thinking about how I navigate my world, how reliant I am on my own sight for getting around, and how other people navigate and experience their world. This sparked an idea for a story, and after adding aliens, booze, and puns into the mix, "Drunk Scentless" was born.

- Joel C. Scoberg
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