The Scent of Peaches and Paranoia

Writing Prompt: As you walk through the dimly lit streets after a night out, you hear a rattle and a scream from an alley. At first you think you’re just hearing things. But upon closer inspection you see a slouched figure. When they shift into the light you see a face you had almost forgotten, until now…

Karter loathed the smell of peaches. Whenever he caught even so much as a whiff of that awful fruit he’d turn the other way and make as if to run. Paranoia? Perhaps. But then there was something about that particular smell, something Karter couldn’t quite grasp hold of, a secret sealed away deep down in the vaults of memories lost.

A face? Or a voice? A something so strange that it had locked itself away. Yet now it was striving to be seen.

Peaches.

No matter the where or the when, such a smell would had always spelled trouble.

**

“See you tomorrow.” Karter gave a grunt, throwing up his hood as he left the warmth of a towering office block for the blustering cold of the streets. He was janitor, not an especially glamorous affair, but it paid the bills and work was work, he never took it home, home to Mya.

Night was drawing in, the street lamps casting shadows on the pavement, obscuring what might have been a beautiful and starlit sky. The cobbles were wet underfoot, Karter’s shoes barely serviceable for the beating their soles had taken. Though it paled in comparison to the beating of Karter’s own heart and soul.

Shopfronts rolled on by, the pale glare of neon signs slowly fading into those residential high rise soldiers guarding Karter’s own estate. Concrete loomed fearless through the city, painting a maze of alley ways all overlooked by iron gated balconies. There were figures, stood or sat upon these perches, watching the night pass them by in the gutters down below. And from somewhere far and high the sound of a baby crying echoed out against the silence.

Karter fumbled in his pockets and took out his headphones, bringing with them a box-beaten pack of cigarettes. Only the one nail left. Karter thought with a grimace. He’d given up just seven weeks ago. He carried this lonely reminder not out of spiteful temptation, but to prove the power of his will. He took the cigarette in his hand and passed it nimbly between finger and thumb. Just the one. He placed the delicate treasure beneath his nostrils, dragging in the scent of nicotine coated with death. Just the one…

With a sigh he flicked the cigarette back into the packet, and dropped the packet back into his pocket, plugging in his headphones and drowning out the wailing babe from someplace far away. 

That’s better. He took a deep breath of city air, it carried a smoke of its own intermingled with the damp from the days rain, and today it the damp was lightly coated with the smell of… peaches?

Tossing his head to each side and back over his shoulder Karter realised he’d wandered mindlessly into an alley he barely recognised. There were barbed fences rising up to either side, the eyes of dim lit windows casting their gaze down from above, and from somewhere in front there came and went the flash of headlights. 

Where am I?

Karter ran a hand through his pocket, groping at the cigarette now resting in a coffin of its own. Stop it. He told himself, closing his eyes. There’s nothing over there or here or anywhere. You’re all alone.

As if in answer to that thought there came the howling screech of some foul creature. Human, but distraught. So loud it pierced that thin veil of the music his head phones provided. Not the babe, that wasn’t the babe. It was more likened to the sound of a pig as it squeals before the slaughter, or the sound of a man as his heart is torn from his chest by the bare brute force of a hand alone. And then came that smell, that solemn reminder so strong in his nostrils… peaches.

He’d been idly strolling before, but his feet picked up their pacing, the screaming chasing from behind as one by one the gazing lights above fell dark. Karter dared not look back, he cared not to face the shadows. He didn’t know what was waiting and yet in part he did; a distant memory that felt better at being forgotten.

Turning up the quiet drumming in his headphones Karter tried to silence the screaming, but with each slight rise of music the screaming too did crank up the volume. His heart was skipping in his chest, pounding to a beat that fitfully cried; run away, run away, just as fast as you can.

The distant road. The passing headlights. If he could just reach the end of the alley… a taxi or perhaps a stranger walking home.

The screaming stopped and all the alley descended into dark. A dark so full and thick that not even the subtle outline of the sky could be seen. Karter stopped, suddenly aware of his own breathing. He wasn’t alone in the thrumming of his heart, nor the sweat dripping down the curve of his spine. There was something else here with him. Something huddled in the dark, on the dark. Crouched not beside or behind him, but before him.

The creature huddled in his path sat bathed in a stench so undeniably familiar… peaches. And yet the familiarity didn’t stop there. From beneath its tittering, shivering form the creature raised its heavy head, revealing a contorted, shapeless face with bright blue eyes. They were the blue of the ocean, though an ocean so vast and full of rage it would drown even the strongest of men by sight alone.

“What are you?” Karter managed, his body frozen in its place, his legs refusing to be moved.

The creature grinned a toothless grin, and pointed to its shoulder. There lay a mark, a symbol glowing in its skin, a skin too leathery to have been human. The mark resembled a hand, with a hole in the centre of the palm that appeared to made from lips.

“What… what is that?”

The creature pointed at Karter’s own hand, writhing through his pocket for that lonesome cigarette. Slowly Karter retrieved his hand, and even slower still he turned it over. Sure enough his palm began to fade, skin and muscle peeling to make room for such a hole as depicted by the creature’s mark. As Karter watched in horror, a cry caught suddenly within his throat, the outline of the hole began to thicken. Lips forming round the cavity, and beneath them from within came long and pointed teeth.

Karter felt each tooth ripping into existence, as if a wasp had crawled beneath the skin and forced its deathly tip right through. Each tooth was a thorn, twisted from out the vine work of his veins. Blood dripped casually from his palm down his wrist and then onto the dirt of the ground.

“Do you remember?” the creature hissed, snaking itself around Karter’s leg, bowing down its head to the dirt to take in the scent of Karter’s blood. “Do you remember?” the creature asked again, climbing up the side of Karter’s body, a light and frail thing, so full of bile, skin like scales, fingernails digging into flesh.

Still Karter couldn’t move, his body had left him, his mind a now intelligible prisoner within a fear stricken cell.

The creature took Karter’s hand, and rang a thin black tongue along the edges of the new formed lips, soaking up stray droplets of blood. It looked up at Karter with those endless ocean eyes.

The scent of peaches overwhelmed the mind, reaching in and taking hold, removing what other scenes had remained to fight it off. 

I remember. 

Karter’s memories unfolded in sickening revelation, he smiled down at the morose thing hung to his hip.

The creature smiled back, “Good. Because I remember, too.”

Copyright © K R Perry 2019

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