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I Smell A Mystery
About the Author: Adrienne Stevenson's stories have won or placed in short story contests of Capital Crime Writers and the Canadian Authors Association-National Capital Region, with two published in Byline. Her poetry has appeared in over forty print and online journals and anthologies in Canada, USA, UK, and Australia.

Me and Terry—my twin sister—were cleaning out Aunt Martha's place last week. The old girl up and died just after she moved into one of them retirement apartments across town. After the funeral, her lawyer called and asked if Ma could go through her things, since the Will said she could take whatever she wanted from the house. Auntie's lawyer wanted it cleared this week, so the agent could list it. Something about getting the will probated.

As far as Ma's concerned, we could shovel everything into a dumpster.

Terry said we should go and see what we might find. See, Aunt Martha—she was Ma's aunt, really—was a hoarder her whole life. You know how it is with hoarders—most of it's junk, but now and then there’s a treasure or two. So we rode our bikes over to Auntie's house.

We scouted around the bungalow. Stuff crammed everywhere. Mountains of magazines and papers, shelves of knick-knacks and books, and dishes and cans hiding the kitchen counters. Nothing compared to the basement though. Boxes of jars, shelves of pickles dating back ten years, stacks of scrap lumber, a work bench piled with unfinished bird-houses and feeders; tubs of birdseed, piles of old towels, curtains, more dusty magazines. Sure didn't look like much of a prospect for treasure.

Terry said I should do the basement and she'd take the upstairs. I was happy to skip the smells of old slippers and sour milk. Not that I had a choice after Terry decided. Sometimes she's so bossy. She's only fifteen minutes older than me. After fourteen years, what are a few minutes?

At least the basement was cool. But it smelled funny, too, like damp cement and open sump-pumps. I noticed a cubby-hole filled with old sheets, near the furnace. The smell over there knocked me back. Kind of sweet and sour, like a forgotten piece of meat on the counter.

I pulled on an edge of blanket and a cold yellowish hand flopped out. I'm no sissy, but I screamed.

Next thing I know there's Terry, clomping downstairs and yelling "What's wrong? Are you hurt?" The hand stopped her in her tracks.

"C'mon, Arlie, leave it alone. We've got to call Ma, or 911, or something." She took my hand and dragged me up the stairs.

Terry decided she'd better call Ma first, since the hand, and whatever it was attached to, was obviously dead. Ma hollered a bit—Terry held the phone away from her head—but eventually calmed down and said to call emergency services and she'd try to get off early.

Terry made the call and we both put our ears to the phone. The man who answered at 911 sounded skeptical, but after some muttering he said he would send over a patrol car, and we'd better not be fooling around because the officers would take it unkindly if we were.

"Let's wait outside," I said.

Before long, a cop cruiser pulled up by the house. Two uniformed officers got out and came up the front walk. A man, the usual Hulk type, and a woman, even taller than he was, with more stripes on her uniform.

"Are you the girls who called about a body?" asked the man. We said we were.

The woman pitched in. Her voice sounded like she'd been gargling with rocks. "Can you show us?"

We led the way to the basement. When we got to the bottom of the stairs, Terry hung back a bit so I had to show them the place behind the furnace. "I found it, ma'am," I said.

"And your name is?"

"Arlette Peters, ma'am. Mostly go by Arlie."

"Is this exactly as you found it, Arlie?"

"Yes'm," I said. "We know about not disturbing bodies, from the crime scene shows on TV."

"You did the right thing. Now," she looked me up and down, “you leave the rest to us. We’ll be in touch with your mother."

We rode home slowly, not talking much. It was a relief to get where the only smell came from pot roast in the slow cooker. Even our normal clutter looked pretty bare after Auntie's place.

This story appears in our APR 2023 Issue
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