I still remember the scent. It was a sharp tangy smell that came not from the air, but was full in my nose none the less. I only smelled it in the times I sensed serious danger, like that December day at the creek, just before my tenth birthday.
My family lived in the truly idyllic town of Greenhills Ohio, just above Cincinnati. The suburban paradise was surrounded by a ring of woods. There was plenty of wilderness to explore and adventures for a bold lad. I knew the forest like any seasoned explorer. I, David, was the Daniel Boone or Davy Crockett of those sylvan lands. I was on a Saturday expedition, on my own, down a frozen stream bed that chilly afternoon when it happened.
In the summer before, I had 'river-walked' the shallow waters of this brook. Now, I was hiking the ice along the same passage. The banks rose above my head only a couple feet, making them about seven deep. Rocks and lumpy, clumpy dirt and tree roots lined the incline. The miniature valley went on some ways ahead of me and I had gone quite a bit along this steep stretch.
At one point I decided to climb the right bank, and then I would cross a field to get to the house of my best friend, Jimmy Boyles. I had hoped to get Jimmy to come out and build a fort. I had spotted a place where some fallen logs had look promising. He and I were always doing things like that; we were buddies ever since we had met. On Halloween that year we had covered the town like pirates sacking a city. The candy had lasted all the way to Christmas.
I began my ascent, a simple scramble up the rough slope. It was easy, and I'd done it a dozen times. This time it was no different, until a clump of solid earth gave way beneath my left foot. I reached for a nearby thick root sticking out conveniently close to my right hand. When it unexpectantly broke off and I began to topple backwards, that distinctive scent filled my nose. I had noted it before in circumstances of distress and trouble. I knew the feeling of danger and fear each of those times.
The tree tops overhead fanned in a slow motion arc, in clear detail as they swung into my line of sight. They were dark against the bright blue of the sky. My vision narrowed and got sharp. My eyes tilted with the rest of my body as I slanted away from the slope back toward the frozen creek. My head was like a movie camera that panned upwards. I knew this wasn't good, we all learn early, almost instinctually, that gravity pulled down – hard.
It's funny how the mind works. How so many thoughts can crowd into your brain, faster than a speeding train goes by a crossing while you wait in the car for it to pass. Memories of some of the other times when that particular sharp scent had accompanied my sense of danger flashed in my consciousness. Mental slides of those moments flickered in my mind's eye. There was the time I had dodged a car, not looking before crossing the street. The screech of the tires sounded in my ears again. The unique stink of my mortal fear was pungent in my nostrils then too.