The Aroma of a Ghost

I recently read a post on the ParaYourNormal blog about a ghost hunter. She discussed how her ordinary senses were impaired — some hearing loss and nearsightedness — while her senses picked up both visual and aural information outside the usual range.

This got me thinking about the power of aromas and our sense of smell. In many people it is and under developed sense, but consciously or unconsciously aromas have a daily impact on our lives. Smells give us information. We can choose to ignore the whiskey on the teacher’s breath at ten in the morning. We make note of the sour sweat of a nervous interviewee. And maybe we salivate at just the thought of the aroma of freshly baked bread as the bakery door opens.

Aromas linger. Some aren’t all that welcome — like the fishy smell that sticks around in my windowless kitchen if I don’t cook fish in my covered pan — and others linger, like a pleasant memory of a dream.

I wear perfume. I feel a little naked without it. But I’m sparing with my scent, as I don’t want to be one of those women who waft into a room, leaving waves of aroma in their wake. I’m most happy when a dance partner, in a close Tango embrace, remarks about my wonderful perfume or simply smiles as he leans in and breathes the way Coco Mademoiselle suits my biochemistry.

The sense of smell is famously evocative of emotions and most of us experience serious warm and fuzzy feelings in response to the aromas of specific foods. It might be still warm apple pie, chickens roasting in the oven, pungent ginger tea, simmering tomato sauce or a spicy chili. Whatever the smell, it brings us home and reminds us of grandma or Thanksgiving or summer camp… The scent carries the emotional message and we follow along on the aromatic wave.

The ghost hunter inspired me to ponder the idea of ghostly aromas. Ghostly memories riding that wave of emotion. It’s a natural connection. If a memory of your long dead boss can be awakened by the familiar smell of a cheap cigar, then why not his ghost?

I’m definitely sniffing around for a story here. I’m not sure when, where or how, but it’ll come. What do you think of a wave of Chanel No. 5 that wafts into a ballroom at midnight, like Cinderella fleeing a royal ball? Or a root cellar, that periodically fills with a chokingly sweet smell of apples on their way to cider — when there are NO apples in the cellar, just the echo of a ghostly farmer with a wicked still and a reputation for making great apple brandy?






  1. I can remember a few times in my life when there was a smell that didn’t fit in with the place I was at. Not bad smells either. They were smells you would not have expected. Like your possible sweet apples in the cellar when none are present.

    It is possible that it could be something from the other side making its presence known to those in the living world.

    • Candy

      An aromatic message from beyond is just what I had in mind for a story. It’s a wonderful concept. Grandpa can reach out to you on a waft of unexpected cigar smoke, with a reminder of lessons from your past.

      Out-of-context aromas, like out-of-context sounds, are always great alerts to the brain. They make us sit up and take notice!!!

  2. Your mention of not being able to ignore the smell of whiskey on a teacher’s breath brings to mind Mrs. Cochran. I can still smell the appalling combination of coffee and cigarettes that would stream from her mouth when she would lean in over my desk to explain something. She’s my only teacher-associated smell that comes to mind, but Mrs. Hayes from second grade, she was a yeller…

    • Candy

      I remember a lot of people aromas from childhood. There were old lady babysitters who smelled of cigarettes and onions; kids who smelled like bathroom accidents and the occasional whiff of overwhelming saturation in floral perfumes. It’s interesting because the judgements related to those smelly observations came much later — with age and context. When you are a small child, the aromas stand alone.

      Associating the yeller with her cigarettes and coffee habits could give you information when you were older that might help you navigate the world. And if it didn’t help in the real world, it would be great in fiction. Nothing is ever wasted.

  3. Oh, smell has great power for me. Every so often I’ll catch a whiff of something that takes me back to a time in my childhood when I couldn’t speak. I know I was very young when I first came across this smell, and I have a vague idea it may have happened during a rare family holiday but that is all I know. However when the smell hits it’s as if I’m taken backwards in time for just a moment. It’s eerie.

    I think we writers don’t make enough of the sense of smell!

    • Candy

      I agree. We should explore aromas in our fiction. It adds an entire language of experiences to our characters.

      As for your early, early memories — very exciting. It’s like the start of a dramatic memoir. Love it!