We called it The Smell. A creeping odor, invading corners, pipes, cupboards. Nowhere was safe from it—and where it crept, it stayed. We attempted to banish it, fumigating every hidy-hole we could find. It disappeared long enough for us to let out a sigh of relief—and then returned in force, until finally the odor was almost tangible.
It was all the sourdough’s fault, really. You’ve all heard of Paul Bunyan and his famous sourdough that made the Rocky Mountains. Well, his sourdough had nothin’ on ours—ours was that strong, but with a malignant twist to it. It was bent on taking over the world by every weapon at its disposal. The Smell was just one of them.
Healthy and happy, when my older sister remembered to feed it, the sourdough had been a noble organism. Many were the pancakes, coffee cakes, loaves of bread, and muffins that had been made with its beneficent yeasties and devoured by all of us. Then, it had seemed a helpful creature, willing to please, offering up of itself for the good of mankind.
But the day my 10-year-old brother, Slen, came running in, a shocked look on his face and arms flailing (after we had regretfully lain the sourdough to rest), I began to doubt its kind heart. “Brotherkins,” he said (that was how we always talked to each other), “Brotherkins, there’s a strange smelling mass in the backyard. . .and it’s eating up the flower bed!”
Needless to say, we all went without delay to see—my brothers coming out of the woodwork like names in a Russian novel. There it was, larger than life, causing each flower one by one to sway, creak, and slowly topple into the bubbling mass as its stem was eaten away. It was truly a horrific sight. I figure it must have eaten its way out of the two plastic sacks in which we had encased it and then eaten its way out of the trashcan.
My oldest brother, Theodore, twenty-three, spoke up first. “Friends, nobles, countrymen: lend me your ears!” Theodore is the literary one of the family—he always has his long thin nose in a book.
“Aw, cut out the Shakespeare,” I groaned. “This is a time of crisis here, and we need to act faster than a coon headin’ towards a field of just-ripened sweet corn.”
“Well, I have a plan,” he said. “There’s a can of gas in the shed, and some matches in the house. If we pour the gas over it and then throw a lit match into the mix, there’s no way that sourdough could survive.”
Yeah, I thought, but can WE survive? Theodore has a good head on his shoulders, but sometimes he’s a mite impractical. He needs someone close to him with good ol’ fashioned common sense—like yours truly.
So I gave him my (better) plan. “Instead of burning the house down, why don’t we just spray it with some bleach? That’ll disinfect it, get rid of The Smell, and kill whatever rogue organism is in that stuff.”
Everyone liked my plan better, so away we went—me to get the bleach, Theodore to get a shovel to clean up the remains. When we reconvened, the sourdough had eaten up at least half of the flower bed. It was time to act!
My younger brother Snah made his ponderous way to the laundry room. At fifteen, Snah was built like a prize-fighter and had the attitude of a gentle elephant. Right at the moment, however, I wished he’d hurry up. He was movin’ like a river runnin’ up a slope.
He eventually emerged, bleach in hand, and I got busy dousing the rapacious odoriferous insatiable sourdough. (Sorry ‘bout that there, folks—sometimes I get a mite carried away with my words—where was I?) We only had one bottle of bleach, so I had to use it sparingly on the ever-widening growth that had once been our flower bed, but as I poured, The Smell turned from its hideous shade of deathly brown to a light tan color. We all covered our ears and ran, since that there organism was emitting a deathly shriek—and growing even bigger!
“Well, pickle me tink!” I said.
“Would you like some milk to go with it?” asked my little brother Thor helpfully. Thor was only five, but he was nearly the greatest talker of the bunch.
“This is no time for foolery!” I told him fiercely—“If anyone’s going to be making jokes around here, it will be I—The BOSS!”
And while we sat shootin’ the breeze, The Smell had finished off the flowers and was beginning to eat the lawn.
Enter little brother Nat, thirteen years old and nearly as annoying as his namesake the gnat, careening around the lawn with an armful of something and shouting “Alert, alert—full alert!”
But just at that moment he tripped over a protruding paw of the sourdough—and his bagful of whatever it was spilled all over that creeping corpus. And without a further murmur, squeal, or scream, it gave up the ghost.
“Nat,” I said, “You’ve done it this time. You’ve saved us all from The Smell, and you didn’t even mean to.”
“Aw, shucks,” he said. “It was easy. Just put a little salt on something like that and it quietens right down. Learned it in biology the other day about slugs.”