The scent always
led from one building to another, and in between would be a
corpse. Sometimes there’d be several, all stinking of death
and fennel. They never could find his trail, and so they ascribed
super-powers to him. He materialized and vanished. He flew.
They called him the Fennel Ninja, but Resham himself knew he
possessed only the most crucial superpower: he could shift
Inside the now-deserted store,
the fragrances were sandalwood, aniseed, fennel and blood.
Strong enough to mask Resham’s odor while he changed, strong
enough to confuse hunters on his trail. He sniffed the air
outside. Under the scent of day-warmed stone, pine, grass,
a mix of wildflowers. He could match that easily.
A few seconds later, he was ready.
He slipped past the corpse lying still on the floor. It smelled
of stale blood, feces and urine from the dying victim, and
Resham’s old scent, the masking scent of fennel.
From the waning daywarmth outside,
he knew the day was half over; in a few hours, the nightcool
would return. He crossed the smooth stone flags of the square
to the chime-beacons marking the plaza wall, and climbed over.
They’d never find him now. By tomorrow’s warming, he’d have
moved on to another town, another job.
In the distance, he heard footsteps.
Surprisingly, the wind carried the scent of a woman, hunting.
Who did she pursue? Not him, anyway. His changed smell made
him impossible to track. He hurried on. The stone paving changed
to the more forgiving surface of the earthen path. With caution
born of professionalism, he doubled back to see if she followed.
She didn’t. Instead, she cut
straight across his hairpin track, might have caught him except
that he sprinted ahead onto another path. Who was she chasing?
The field-fragrance grew stronger: wildflowers, grass, pine,
matching his new scent. Resham could smell her still, and headed
downwind for open meadow.
“It’s no good, Assassin,” she
called. “Surrender now. Save your breath. You’re dead.”
Resham ran, choosing the scent
of a little-used path that dipped into an overgrown hollow.
Birds whistled from the reeds near the stream, where an ordinary
fugitive might wash away his smell. But confident of his perfect
scent-camouflage, Resham continued on the lonely path that
was weedy and tangled beneath his feet.
Yet each time he slowed, thinking
he had escaped, he could smell his pursuer on the breeze, hear
the rustle of her passing. The unhesitating footsteps still
followed, as though the woman knew—as she could not—that he
He was winded, gasping. Something
was wrong, something had failed in his scent-transition from
fennel to pine meadow. Despairing, he flung himself deep among
the tall reeds and awaited capture. The rushes poked his skin,
the footsteps came closer, the hunter-smell grew stronger…
And then, as by magic, passed
him by. “Damn! I can’t see him anywhere! Where the hell did
the bastard go?” She swore again, loudly, and ran on.
A cold chill ran through him.
See. There were rumors of this woman, this avenger of the dead,
this ninja-bane. The One with No Nose. She was scent-blind,
but they said she had super-powers. They said the warmth of
the day revealed things to her, distant things with no smell
or sound. Philosophers spoke of electromagnetic rays. The superstitious
called it “seeing.”
Resham waited for the One’s scent
and sounds to fade into the distance, then emerged. She’d return
to where she lost the trail, and he needed to be gone. He prepared
to double back to higher ground and the confounding sea-wind.
Wait. If she could detect at
a distance with electromagnetic rays, that might be exactly
the wrong thing to do. Though the hours were passing, the day-warmth
still fell on his skin. How far could she gauge objects? He
needed to hide from the day.
There was a place: Underground,
a hole in a hillside, the roost of a million bats whose high
squeaks filled the air at night-fall as they flew out of it.
Resham ran through tall brush, where scent-hunters might easily
have trailed a normal man whose scent would cling to the bushes
as he passed. Resham’s scent clung, too, but it was only pine,
grass, wildflowers in bloom.
Again she was behind him. How
far did her magical powers extend? Or was she relying on the
rustle of disturbed grasses? She shouted in triumph.
“I see you, Hitman. You’re dead,
See. That word again, that superstitious
word. She was claiming her power, taunting him. He avoided
the temptation to zig-zag, to make her lose the trail. She
would “see” right across it. Instead, he took the shortest
The cave’s distinctive smell
wafted toward him, droppings and urine of a hundred years of
bats. Not far now. His scent was slightly off for this place;
he stopped, caught his breath, adjusted it. The trail underfoot
was uneven with roots. Careful, now. In the distance, the sound
of her pursuit. Nearly there. The scent of urushiol from the
poison plants guarding its entrance, with the promise of a
hot painful rash on his skin. He would have to endure that.
But she was headed for him and
closing, the rustle of grass, the snapping of twigs, loud as
she ran. She wasn’t even on the path. She was bounding straight
across the meadow.
And then he heard the wondrous
squeaks and wings of a thousand bats, erupting from the cave.
The day was done, its warmth no longer supplying her magic.
He ducked into bushes off the trail, and froze, no rustle betraying
his place. He could hear her stumbling around, lost in the
rapidly cooling night, cursing. “No, no, no! I can’t lose him,
not now, at nightfall. Damn!”
He crawled silently
through the small nettle-guarded entrance she couldn’t smell,
into the cold and stench of the cave, thinking, In a different
circumstance, she would have made an excellent assassin.
# # #
Scent and Sound: The Assassin by Keyan Bowes
published July 12, 2009