Several weeks ago, I started nursing the possibility that my house could be haunted. It’s an old house, old enough to have cracks in the walls and a general resigned air about it. Our ex-neighbours briefly mentioned, in passing, that the previous tenant wasn’t the most sociable of people and had left the house suddenly. Every night I hear the strangest assortment of creaks and groans. Over the last month or so, I have been able to rationalize away the sounds: ranging from the clicks of the water heater to the muffled groans of the fridge. It doesn’t help that walls are very thin, and it took me a long time to get accustomed to the fact that just because I hear footsteps on the stairs, it doesn’t mean that there’s a person walking about in this house. At night, the sounds are very clear, and I’ve mentally ascribed every night time roof sound to the work of possums. Because the house is just a few meters away from a national park, we are constantly subjected to possum visitations. There’s a young one that drops into the garden every night, chewing on any greenery it can find. What was once a nice creeper draped over the fence is now merely a bunch of chewed sticks thrusting themselves into the air. Anyway, the possums don’t restrict themselves to gardening, they also conduct elaborate surveys and races across the rooftops.
After a couple of months of this, I got used to the sounds of the house and decided that even if the house was haunted it must be a rather benevolent spirit. That is, till the stink started. It began suddenly, bam- one day no stink, the next day a putrefying odour spread through the room. I’m rather good at tracking odours to their source, but this time, it was not so easy. It came from the general closet area of the room and seemed almost restricted to one spot in midair. I sniffed at everything in the closet, from suitcases to shoes to even the wall of the closet. The smell was there, but it never got stronger or weaker. I conducted some removal experiments,- taking the stuff out of the closet one by one to see if the stink changed. No difference. Checked if something had gotten between the holder and the light bulb and thus fried itself to death. Nope. It smelled like a cross between a dead rat and a bucket full of two month old wet clothes, and it was beginning to annoy the hell out of me. I checked if it was somehow coming from outside, brought into the room by a freak wind and the unusual angle of entry meant that it created a highly localized self organizing mini-cyclone of stink. Fat chance. Science had failed me. There was absolutely no logical reason for the stink, and when logic fails, one must always skip to the most complicated extreme explanation, an explanation that is equally hard to prove. The house was playing host to some special stinky entity. There, that was it. Maybe it was time to bring in a spiritual stink remover, or at the very least, call the landlord.
But life goes on, and in an effort to bring some amount of normalcy to our lives, we organized a party. S. was graduating, and it was as good an excuse as any to have a party. Mercifully the stink seemed to know its place and didn’t venture too far beyond the room, so we were spared the onerous task of trying to mask the stink with a complementary odour (I still have olfactory nightmares of trying, once upon a time, to mask a dead rat’s smell with jasmine fragrance. The two just do not go well together, let me assure you). But luckily for us, help was at hand. One of the guests got one whiff of the smell and declared that it must be a rat in the attic. Small problem: we didn’t even have an attic. Or did we? The guest pointed us to a part of the roof, and lo and behold: there was a trapdoor. I’ve been in this house for at-least 6 months, and I’d never even seen the trapdoor, much less suspected its existence.
That night, after all the guests had departed, and after I was sufficiently inebriated to venture into the unknown without much thought of exactly what to expect, I clambered up the hole in the roof. The moment I stuck my head up the trapdoor, I realized that the source of the stink was up there. I had only a small book-light, and even with its feeble light, I could clearly make out the Stink Entity. I fully expected to find a rat or a cat or something, but I was clearly unprepared to discover that the stink was emanating from a HUGE possum. It was MASSIVE, the size of a terrier or a retriever. It lay just approximately over the closet. I shone the light on it, and was most disheartened to see black goo seeping out of it. This was going to be a massive problem. I couldn’t get closer to it, because already the stench was threatening to overpower me, and I didn’t want to add puke to the list of bad smells. Finally inspiration struck. I used a broom handle to maneuver the carcass into a cardboard box. In the process, I happened to notice that while one side of the possum’s face was intact, the other side had sort of disintegrated. It still remains a very vivid image…and quite a bit disconcerting to find that the animal had its face rotted away. I used a scarf as a mask, and several energetic moments later, the possum was in the box. I packed it tight with newspapers and plastic bags, and handed the whole package down the trapdoor for safe disposal.
The irony is: just that morning, I thought that the smell was getting weaker. We were only getting used to it.