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Calling 911 Because of a Smell




If the Lagina brothers would visit me in the dream world, I could show them right where to dig on Oak Island because I’ve discovered that treasure time and again. Gary Drayton is always with me, we are underwater, breathing like fish do, and he always says, “There it is, mate. It’s a bobby dazzler,” his bubbles floating upward toward the surface, but my wife tugged my arm and pulled me to the surface.

“I need you to get up.”

“What time is it?”

“About 10 p.m. You went to bed early. Remember? You said the The Curse of Oak Island was a rerun. There’s a strange smell. Something’s wrong.”

I got up, stumbled into the kitchen, and poured a diet coke. “I smell it. Smells strong like the self-cleaning feature on the oven.”

“You think it’s the unit in the attic?”

“I don’t know.”

Our son interjected, “I saw an electrical fire on a YouTube video. It was bad. We need to get out now.”

“Not yet,” I told him.

“You think it’s a gas leak?” my wife asked.

“I think gas smells like rotten eggs.”

“What about carbon monoxide?”

“No, I don’t think it has a smell. This smell is a metallic one, like a motor or metal burning. Let’s turn off the unit.” The smell began to dissipate, so I assumed it was the unit.

After my son’s Jeep broke down, and we’d been waiting on one part for two months, after my daughter had a wreck the day before that seemed to be to be a few hundred in damage that turned out to be five thousand, and the idea I might need a new unit, my heart raced, and I could feel my heartbeat in my ears.

“Let’s call 9-1-1.”

“And say what? We smell something? I don’t think a group of firemen on a firetruck should come here at 10pm in the freezing cold because we smell something. What if there’s a real fire, they’re needed, and we’ve got them tied up over here sniffing around?”

“Well, at least call and ask.”

The dispatcher was kind and told me it was better to be safe than sorry. Soon enough, they arrived, siren wailing and lights flashing. We hadn’t seen the fire department in the neighborhood since the doctor’s wife shot and killed herself. The doctor moved, and I didn’t think the house would’ve sold if a realtor had been honest with prospective buyers, but someone bought it. We never found out why she killed herself, and when we met the new neighbors, we didn’t tell them. I imagined since blood stains aren’t usually cleaned completely, they might begin to seep into the newly replaced carpet.

When the fire truck parked by the curb, they turned off the lights and siren, but I could see out the front bay window that porch lights flickered on, and nosey neighbors stood in robes on their stoops gawking toward our house. I imagined they assumed one of us had been shot since they didn’t see fire or smell smoke. These neighbors are the same ones scrolling social media and posting notes after learning about the deaths of famous people: “R.I.P. Olivia Newton John" as if they knew her or knew about her long fight with breast cancer; “R.I.P. Lisa Marie Presley” who died suddenly from cardiac arrest at a young age, just like her Daddy Elvis had; or “R.I.P. for Murder She Wrote’s Angela Lansbury.” It struck me as odd they hadn’t posted about the doctor’s wife, people from their churches who had passed away, or even relatives. They used the deaths of famous people to make them feel more important or to be the first to spread news. I had observed three types of commentary on their posts: first, there was the person who responded with, “Oh, I hadn’t heard,” or “R.I.P Angela” (as if she could hear them); second, there was the person who commented, “I read this earlier” (whether the person had or not, he wouldn’t allow them to have the first claim to the knowledge); and finally, the person like me who simply rolled his eyes and scrolled onward.

I opened the garage and met the firemen at the driveway, told them about the smell and how we were worried about an electrical fire or the unit burning in the attic. One went to the attic, one walked toward our bedroom with some sort of hand-held instrument to measure gas or carbon dioxide, and one asked me if we had monitors or fire extinguishers. We didn’t and I had honestly thought of giving my wife these at Christmas instead of the Coach purse, but I didn’t think she would appreciate the gift as much. I didn’t tell the firemen that, of course, but I told them I’d run out tomorrow and get them (and knew I wouldn’t).

One fireman smelled the same thing we did, and one said he couldn’t smell a thing. It didn’t take them long to say there was no fire, no gas leaks, and they suspected a part might be burning in our unit. They advised we should shut the unit off, open cabinets in the kitchen and bathrooms to make sure pipes didn’t freeze, pile on some extra blankets, and call a HVAC repairman in the morning. When I walked with the firemen outside, I noticed the neighbors had lost interest since we were okay and had gone back inside and turned off their porch lights.

We opened the cedar chest. I took the quilts my grandmother and great-grandmother made out and spread them across the bed. It was the first time I’d used them in several years, and I commented to myself, “Now, here are some bobby dazzlers.” I imagined they’d been gone from this world for about thirty and fifty years respectively, but they were very much alive in my memory. I slept better than I had in a while with the weight of the quilts trapping the warmth on me, and the next morning, I called the HVAC repairman.

Our thermostat was normally set on sixty-eight degrees, and the house was still at sixty degrees when I awoke. The temperature inside hadn’t decreased as much as I thought it might, and because it was a Saturday, I learned I would have to pay the emergency rates. There was only a small part that wasn’t working—six hundred dollars' worth of a small part. To me, it was worth it to know we were safe, and I didn’t need to buy a new unit.

Once I wrote the check and the HVAC repairman left, my wife noticed that water had puddled on the kitchen floor in front of the refrigerator. We rolled the refrigerator out, cleaned up the water, cut off the water source, and I shared we may need to wait until payday to get someone out to look at that appliance. At least there wasn’t a smell, and a new episode of The Curse of Oak Island would be on come evening.


Niles Reddick is author of a novel, three collections, and a novella. His work has been featured in over 500 publications including The Saturday Evening Post, PIF, New Reader, Forth, Citron Review, Right Hand Pointing, Nunum, and Vestal Review. He is a three time Pushcart, a two time Best Micro nominee, and a two time Best of the Net nominee. His newest flash collection If Not for You has recently been released by Big Table Publishing.


Photo credit: Krin Van Tatenhove via Midjourney AI

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