My Fears Take Flight in “He Smelled Like Smoke”

Ink Stains cover

Whenever I’m asked why I write horror stories, my answer is simple: it’s therapy. Cathartic, terrifying, fiscally free therapy.

Though many are quick to say that putting something in writing gives it power, I feel the opposite in respect to horror. When I write a story chock full of the things I fear, I feel a little better afterward. I sleep deep. The gnawing in my chest lessens. There’s something about writing about monsters that releases them from the fine cracks in your brain and heart.

Writing “He Smelled Like Smoke,” published today in Ink Stains, Volume 5, from Dark Alley Press, was a triple-bonus therapy prize. This particular story contains not one, not two, but three of my greatest fears, which play out in taut, gruesome detail in less than 4,500 words.

One of those fears is flying on airplanes. I’ll admit, it’s a completely irrational fear and one that didn’t manifest until adulthood. It had nothing to do with 9/11. It has everything to do with being confined with strangers in a big, metal tube that’s hurtling through the air at ungodly heights at ungodly speeds, and sure, I know where the exits are should something go wrong, but…

Don’t even get me started with turbulence or in-flight storms.

“He Smelled Like Smoke” takes place at 35,000 feet. Naturally.

And wouldn’t you know it, I got on an airplane about a month after I’d typed the final sentence of the story and…I was calm and cool and didn’t have a single episode of vice-gripping a stranger’s arm during the flight.

Perhaps my calm was due to the fact that I knew, come what may, my fate would pale in comparison to that of Alexa, my protagonist in “He Smelled Like Smoke.” Because her fate? Worse than all the turbulence in the world.

I’ll give you a little taste here, but you’ll have get a copy of Ink Stains to find out what happens to Alexa – and to try to figure out those other pesky fears that no longer keep me up at night since I’ve exorcised them in print.

Sit back, relax, and enjoy your fright…I mean, flight…

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He Smelled Like Smoke (Excerpt)

By Tiffany Michelle Brown

Keeping his eyes on mine, Jared reached up and hit the flight attendant call button. When his gaze became overbearing, I stared down at my black skirt and wished I’d shaved my legs that morning.

A tired-looking woman in uniform with a chignon barely holding to the back of her head came over. She put one hand on the headrest in front of Jared and the other on her hip. “Can I help you, sir?”

“I was hoping to get a pre-flight shot for my friend, Alexa, here,” Jared said. “Flying doesn’t agree with her.”

“It’s against federal regulation to serve beverages before takeoff, sir,” the flight attendant recited. “We’ll come through the cabin to take orders later.”

She took a step away, but Jared caught her hand in his. The flight attendance did a quick about face, a frown creasing her tan skin. “Sir…” she began, but she didn’t finish her sentence. The crinkle between her brows melted. She breathed in deeply through her nose as if she were standing in the cold, crisp air of a forest instead of a cramped cabin that smelled like sweaty, disgruntled, tired people. Her eyes bored into Jared’s and she started to look…aroused?

“Whiskey, neat,” Jared said.

“Of course.” The flight attendant’s voice held the quality of warm maple syrup. She turned and strode off in her orthopedic shoes, apparently to get us some liquor.

Jared settled back into his seat, coolly and slowly, smiling.

“Thank you?”

“Why the question mark?”

“I’m not sure what just happened,” I said.

“I asked for something. And I got it.”

I didn’t know what to say to that. I took an in-flight magazine out of the seat back pocket in front of me and flipped aimlessly through the pages.

The flight attendant returned a moment later with plastic cups, each filled with a thimbleful of whiskey. Jared’s long fingers wrapped around the plastic. “Thank you…Debbie,” he said, glancing at her name tag. Debbie walked off without a word.

Jared held out one of the cups to me. I could smell the smokiness of the whiskey. I imagined oak barrels and the forest and a hand up my skirt. I mentally swat myself in the face. Stop thinking about sex.

Jared and I tipped back our glasses and the first sip burned my throat and then coiled in my stomach. It expanded, coated my insides, and I felt my shoulders relax.

“Much better,” Jared remarked.

“Yes,” I said. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome.”

Jared took a pack of matches out of the breast pocket of his suit and let the pack flip and amble over his knuckles until our pilot announced it was time for takeoff. For some reason, I felt safe.

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To find out what happens after takeoff – and to read my favorite closing line I’ve ever written – pick up your copy of Ink Stains HERE.

 

 

 

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