I’ve often thought that one of the things missing from our experience of movies and other visual media is the immersive sense of a place that comes from actually being in an environment. That’s a hard thing to convey. An author might describe it to us by alluding to something or describing it. Really talented authors might even have incredible ways of putting language together that surprise or baffle the readers.
Raymond Chandler was great at this with lines like:
“To say goodbye is to die a little.”
“Dead men are heavier than broken hearts.”
“She gave me a smile I could feel in my hip pocket.”
But what do the dead really smell like?
I’m really tempted in writing this to go and look it up and will when I’m done but let’s keep this simple and focussed on the idea at hand. Describing an environment is a hard thing to do and one thing that gets described or shown to us very little is the smell. The heavy stink of death should be rampant in the worlds of the living dead but we hardly ever think of it.
There are some stories that say the dead don’t really rot beyond a point or that they are simply dead but strangely don’t stink much. The Walking Dead made it a point to say the living stink pretty bad but very differently from the dead. Though that fact seems to get overlooked rather frequently as the story telling asks for it.
Have you smelled the dead? Really gotten a heavy whiff? I have, just once. It was a rotted, tiny thing in a yard. It was high summer and it had died and rotted quickly. The smell was at once repugnant in a way that reached all the way into the back of my throat. And at the same time it was sweet. Like a great wealth of honey somehow turned sour and hostile. It was like a vapor and like a syrup. It was heavy and at the same time seemed to burn like menthol. Though at the time I had never smelled menthol so I could only describe it like vapo rub. It was all these things and more at once.