Breathe through your nose and make sure the scent is inside the shed, not lingering from the critter’s wanderings the night before. Check you didn’t give her passage by leaving the door or window ajar. Find the hole. It might be obvious, a gap between the door and the frame. More likely, it’s hidden under a countertop in the shed’s furthest corner, where peeling paint and the pool of water after a rain attest to a want of repair, back by the window that peeks out at the family cemetery in the woods. Tufts of black and white hair on nails are sure sign. Gather your tools:
– Flat shovel, (drop the dirt out the window)
– Skilsaw, (rough measure for slats is fine)
– Hammer and nails (hope the posts are solid)
When I was a boy, my grandpa took me to the Turpentine Festival after my father died. It was actually called the Catface Festival because the old timers once made turpentine by cutting diagonal slits in pine trees that looked like cats’ whiskers. The trees tried to heal by pumping resin, which the men gathered in pails, boiled ’till it became spirits of turpentine. Grandpa stuck his nose deep into the display barrels, said the smell reminded him of youth. Driving home, he parked near a barn where the Jeffersons kept their still, told me to wait outside. No one uses turpentine anymore; I’m glad for the trees. Chemists make cheaper solvents, but none that carry the smell grandpa would stick his face in a barrel for.
Other critters may try to slip into your potting shed.
Bear: If you suspect bear, rattle the doorknob and pause. Sign includes claw marks that may resemble a catface or an old man’s whiskers. Electrify the fence around the property.
Tiger: Unlikely, but people do keep exotic pets these days. Sign includes orange and black hairballs, and an odor reminiscent of an old timer’s breath after slugging down Everclear. Best call for help.
Old man’s ghost: Been known to turn up in the spring, when the sap runs thick and the streams run cold. Sign includes an uneasy melancholy throughout the shed. Check if it’s grandpa by waving around an open bottle of turpentine back by the window-bench. If it’s him, sit down a spell and enjoy the time.
Tom Walsh writes from wherever he’s at, which currently is Cambridge, MA. His stories can be found in Dead Skunk Mag, Hobart Pulp, HAD, Lost Balloon, JMWW, Janus Literary, and elsewhere. He is an assistant editor at Flash Fiction Online. Say hi @tom1walsh.bsky.social.