An Odorless Place
The stakes are unusually high at this year's Britain's Got Bakers competition
Camera 1 was hanging with the continuing drama at school administrator Prisha’s station as she frantically measured ingredients for a new batch of dough after burning her entire batch of scones. It would take a miracle for her to complete the challenge now. Nearby, Camera 2 stayed tight on judge Don Broadway’s face, glaring intently at her with his signature piercing blue eyes, waiting for her to look over and lose what remained of her composure. Camera 3 was up front, capturing hosts Joel and Nat’s 4th attempt at the same witty banter.
“The heat is reeeeally on now, as our bakers fight tooth, nail, and spatula to make it into the semi-finals even as temperatures climb to record highs in the tent!” Joel exclaimed, clawing at the camera with a fork and spatula with a little roar.
“The only wonder is that the heat missed chocolate week for a change!” chirped Nat.
“Thank the baking gods for small favors…” Joel agreed, but there was a sudden escalation of background noise and he was looking up in confusion as the last word trailed off.
“Goddamit, Joel!” grumbled the cameraman, just before tumbling abruptly upward in a horrifying grey-green swirl of enormous spiked limbs. He was writhing on top of a massive insect-like creature, his torso pierced by a dense cluster of violently pulsing needles that appeared to form the thing’s head. The tent had erupted into incomprehensible chaos – the clash of tumbling metal on metal, shredding canvas, running and screaming, as multiple creatures tore inside and snatched people up.
Joel ran mindlessly, dodging through a flap in a collapsing wall and sprinting out over grass. More of the creatures – at least a baker’s dozen – were skittering about on their strange long limbs all across the grounds and clustered up around the manor, and people were running in all directions. A cameraman ran alongside him then was abruptly gone. In a flash of inspiration he remembered the medic van kept stationed at the back of the tent and pivoted to make for it. He had made it only a few strides when the van appeared, flinging great clods of turf as it fishtailed on the grass and roared off toward the road. Joel turned again and ran instead for the closest scattered trees.
There were too many of the monstrosities to avoid – he was going to have to run way too close to at least one to make it to the trees. But he had to find cover. He made for two large trees growing tight together, too afraid to even look at the thing as he passed it, aware only of unnatural motion and his own burning lungs. As he cleared the trees he dove blindly over, and collided with someone already crouching there. He landed hard and twisted to find himself looking up into very angry piercing blue eyes over a white goatee.
“Goddamit, Joel!” hissed Don Broadway. “You scared the living piss out of me!”
“Shhhhhhh!” admonished Prisha, standing with her back tight against the trees, incongruously still clinging to a large glass bowl of flour. Joel squeezed in next to her but still felt hideously exposed. Some shrubs would have been helpful. And more subdued clothing; he folded his arms in a feeble effort to cover the bright blocks of color on his Roy Lichtenstein print shirt.
Trent, the surprisingly young actuary from Leeds, came running into view about 30 yards away, dodging behind the next tree to their left and squatting down behind it. Trent squeezed his eyes shut and locked his fingers over his head. They watched in horror as long waving limbs floated into view just past him, followed by the menacingly spiked head over a body like a mantis. Another one appeared beyond it. Don inched carefully backward around Joel and away from the creatures without taking his eyes off of them. The things walked slowly, waving those thin, barbed front limbs before them. Periodically a shudder ran through their needle-like spiked crowns. As the further one drifted by, the one closest to Trent hesitated not 5 yards from him – he was in full view of them both. Then it continued on.
Prisha released a long-held breath. The thing froze. The crown of needles shook. Then in one shockingly fast motion it spun, the crown swooped down, and speared Trent through.
Joel and Prisha screamed.
Joel clamped his hand over Prisha’s mouth, as if he hadn’t screamed as well. As if those screams weren’t already reverberating out there, luring their imminent death.
The creature eating Trent continued, body pulsing sickeningly overhead as it appeared to suck him dry on its pincushion head. The second one had frozen as Trent was snatched up, but now turned and continued on.
“It didn’t hear you!” gasped Don. “I don’t think they can hear! HEY YOU!!”
Joel grabbed Don’s shoulder as Prisha hissed “Jesus Christ, Don!” But indeed, neither creature reacted at all.
“You fecking moron!” said Joel, shoving Don off. “Throw a bloody rock or something, like a sensible person. You don’t just yell!”
“You guys,” said Prisha, “I think they hunt by smell!” She scooped flour out of her bowl and tossed it. “Right, right! Look at which way it’s blowing. They didn’t notice him until they were downwind from where he was hiding.”
“Yes!” said Don. “Think about who they went for in the tent. One went right by Polly and straight for Gary. Gary was the only one making a savory filling – he was cooking garlic ginger pork!”
Prisha grimaced. “Ugh, who wants pork in scones?”
“Oh, I was rather looking forward to those. Gary really is so good with flavors.” Don replied.
“Was,” corrected Joel absentmindedly. “But that one just got Trent, and he just… smelled like Trent.”
They thought for a moment. All three tucked their heads and sniffed themselves.
“Well, I don’t smell like anything,” said Don.
“Are you kidding?? You just don’t smell it anymore – you positively reek of that cologne crap you so liberally douse yourself with!” Joel protested.
“It’s true,” Prisha agreed. “You don’t smell human.”
Don sniffed himself again. “OK, what if my smell is masked? Then you two have just been lucky so far, or what?”
Prisha sniffed at a brown patch on the shoulder of her blouse. “I don’t know. I think my rum glaze got dumped on me in the commotion.”
Joel gave it a sniff. “Ah, that’s what that smell is. Well you smell extra delicious to me, but maybe not to them. I don’t have anything on me, I’m afraid. Although I did just shower on my break….”
“Oh, is your hair still damp? I thought it was just unusually greasy.” Don quipped.
“It could be that you don’t smell like much of anything… yet,” said Prisha. “You are starting to sweat, though, dear.”
Joel wiped his brow. It was true. Such a bloody hot day.
“Our time is running out. We’ve got to make a run for the manor house,” said Don.
“Are you insane?” Joel protested. They all leaned out to survey the scene. A few more creatures wandered the lawns, and on the portion of house visible past the half-collapsed tent they could make out more clustered outside and clambering up the sides. “They’re all over it!”
“Yes, but they don’t seem to be getting in…” Prisha offered.
“OK, but how are we supposed to get there?” asked Joel.
They pondered the question. Don finally said, “Let’s go through the tent – we can grab something to better mask your smell, then go on to the house.”
“OUR smell?” Joel ruffled.
“Frankly I prefer my odds with my Penhaligon’s. Don’t look so daft, it’s my ‘cologne crap’. But through the tent seems best. I’m not sure they can’t see, especially if we’re moving, and that keeps us hidden longest.”
All reluctantly agreed and Don added, “Let me go ahead of you. Less scent if we’re scattered.”
There was a pause, offering opportunity for protest. The opportunity went unutilized. Don cleared his throat and said, “Right, that’s settled. I’m off.”
As he turned, Joel caught his shoulder. “Hey, ah…. Be careful.”
“Yeah, good luck, Joel. Prisha.” Don replied, and crept cautiously out. There were at least three that could easily spot him, if they could see. He started for the tent. Prisha and Joel watched the creatures carefully, and none seemed to notice him.
“I don’t want to go alone,” said Prisha.
So when Don was about half way across, Joel and Prisha began their crossing together. As they stepped out, Prisha gave a little gasp. One of the creatures was emerging beyond the next tree to their left, startlingly close. Joel reached carefully over and grabbed and tossed a handful of flour. The breeze was blowing in their favor, from it towards them. They began walking briskly, eye darting to the creature as it meandered along a generally parallel path to their own. They could hear dry rattling when its crown shuddered.
Prisha tossed flour again. The breeze had shifted to blow directly back along their route. They moved faster, angling wide of the shortest route to the tent to move what Joel visualized as a plume of scent behind them further from the creature. He realized that Don was no longer visible and must have made it inside. Then noted that they could start to see through the large mesh windows into the tent, and that there was considerable motion high in the space.
“There are too many in there!” he hissed.
“Oh no, Don!” said Prisha.
“I know, but we need to focus on us now. We’re going to have to go around.”
They began to half-walk, half-jog, painfully aware of how the exertion must be increasing their scent every moment. And of how many creatures were clustered around the house ahead and moving in the tent. Suddenly, Prisha grabbed Joel’s arm. “Hang on…. That little tree.” She pointed to their right. “The pear tree.”
“I went over there yesterday to collect myself, after Don called my biscuit tower ‘disappointing’… and the pears are really ripe, some are even rotting on the ground. If we rub those on ourselves…”.
They hustled over and indeed found fallen pears, buzzing with flies all around. They pulled the fruit apart and rubbed it on exposed skin and under their clothes, Joel grimacing at the especially nasty feel of sticky pulp mashed into his armpits. Once satisfied they nodded to each other, hair and grim faces encrusted in drying juice and pear gobbets, and set off. They used their flour wind gauge to time their movements now and then, just in case.
They paused at the base of the wide stone stairway, and Prisha discarded the now-empty bowl. At least twenty creatures were on the terrace or climbing up the sides of the house. There was nothing for it now but to hope the pears worked.
They held hands and made a mad run up the stairs, across stone tiles, dodging right then left around the predators. Joel yelled as something snagged his pants as they hit the door. It opened and they tumbled inside, Joel yanking his leg free and kicking the door closed.
There were no creatures in sight. Only Don, beaming at them. “Some more folks are holed up further in. So glad you made it!”
Joel grabbed him in a hug, “How -?”
Stepping back, Don plucked a gob of pear from his shirt, “Ended up escaping out the far side. Not the best plan, but I managed, and made it in time to watch you apply your… fruit body compote.”
Joel laughed, “Prisha’s idea.”
“Ah, really, really well done!” Don said, offering Prisha his hand.
“Oh my, odd recipe to finally score me the coveted Don Broadway hand shake,” said Prisha, taking it, “but I do believe I bloody well earned it!”