was an early November evening last year when I made the drive down to The Briar
and Stogie Outpost for my monthly pipe club meeting. The weather was cold, wet,
and miserable, as you would expect for November; but around the Great Lakes
region, we can get some real nasty fall squalls. Gordon Lightfoot wasn’t joking
when he talked about the Witch of November on the lakes, as this was real
shipwreck weather. I was delayed a half-hour on the highway as emergency crews
took care of one poor driver that underestimated the fury of that evening’s
the drive was worth it, if only for the good company that awaited me inside the
tobacco shop. As soon as I stepped in the shop, I was greeted with the welcome
aroma of pipe tobacco and the murmuring of friendly conversations well
proud to say our pipe club has a diverse group of gentlemen that calls
themselves members. We have everyone from young and eager new pipers, to the
old guard representing decades of pipe knowledge. Most of the chairs around the
tables already had occupants, so I found an open spot next to some of the older
gentlemen as the club president gathered his notes to start the meeting. I sat
my iced coffee on the table and spread out some of the tobacco I brought as the
club president got down to business.
the next half hour, our club president talked about the latest goings on with
the club, from upcoming events during the next year, to recent news in the pipe
world. I quietly lit my pipe and listened along, making notes of an upcoming
pipe swap on the calendar of my phone.
long, the formal portion of the meeting was over, and the attendees were free
to enjoy some catered food along with more smoking. All along the table, the
members had tins open and available for others to sample and share with
friends. As a pipe smoker, you couldn’t ask for better company and surroundings
to enjoy tobacco.
an hour later, I was chatting with another younger member about estate pipes we
had recently purchased online. My friend showed off a nice looking Chacom
Billiard he snagged at a steal on eBay and passed it to me to take a look at. I
likewise produced the Savinelli Apple that I won after a vicious bidding war
during the last few minutes of an online auction.
the two of us shared our auction war stories, I heard a chuckle coming from the
gentleman next to me. We paused our conversation and glanced over at my
neighbor in confusion at his laughter. The man seemed embarrassed that we had
heard his chuckling and replied, “Oh, don’t mind me. I’ve long given up
searching for old estate pipes. It’s new pipes for me, and new only.”
man was an older gentleman, in his early 60’s from my estimates. His moustache
and side parted hair had long turned grey, and a large pair of glasses sat down
near the tip of his nose. He wore a comfortable looking sweater, as well as a
well-worn pair of blue jeans. His attitude wasn’t combative at all, merely
interested in joining the discussion, as the others around him were busy
discussing the upcoming football game.
my friend asked in bewilderment. “You can find some incredible deals for used
pipes online. It’s a great way to build up a collection.”
don’t doubt it,” replied the older gentleman as he filled an old Parker Bulldog
from his tin of Crown Achievement. “But at least with a new pipe you know
you’re the only owner. Can’t say the same with an estate. You’re never quite
sure who had the pipe before you, at least if you’re lucky.”
suppose so,” I said, not sure what the man was hinting at. “Some pipe smokers
don’t take care of their pipes like they should.”
some cases,” agreed the man as he struck a match and lit his pipe. “Other
times, the estate leaves a part of the previous smoker behind with it.” The
gentleman passed his tin over to us to share as he extinguished his match,
take it you’ve had a bad experience with an estate you’ve bought?” asked my
friend as he eagerly opened the tin to fill his Chacom.
a bit of an understatement,” answered the man as he tamped the newly lit
tobacco down in his pipe. “But it’s a long story, and I’m sure you wouldn’t be
go on,” I assured the man. “I love hearing pipe stories.”
that we were willing to hear his tale, the man relaxed and decided to indulge
us. The man introduced himself as Benjamin ‘Benji’ Hodge, and explained he had
been a member of our pipe club since the early 80’s. I had seen Benji around
since joining the club the year before, but given the size of our group, I
hadn’t had much of a chance to chat with him. So once the three of us had our
pipes lit and going, Benji leaned back in his chair and recounted his tale.
Though it’s been almost a year since I heard Benji’s story, I’ll do my best to
retell what he told us that blustery night.
was a warm Saturday afternoon in September 1982 when Benji stepped off the
train at Union Station in downtown Chicago. He had travelled from Berwyn to
Chicago to visit his sister at her house on the North side. His sister and her
husband had recently had their second daughter, and he was meeting with the
rest of his family at their place for a family barbeque to celebrate the happy
occasion. Having arrived a few hours early, Benji decided he would stop at a
local tobacconist he frequented whenever he was in the area. So after a quick
trip on the L line, Benji made his way over to the little shop, simply called The
Smoking Room and stopped inside to pass the time.
The Smoking Room was a favorite spot for the
local smokers in the neighborhood to visit with friends while enjoying a pipe
or cigar. Established in 1919 by Karl Plunkett, the tobacco shop had been
around for decades by this point, taken over by Karl’s son Oscar in 1954 when
the founder retired. Slow to change with the times, many of the original
finishings and décor remained the same from when it first opened, giving the
customers the feeling of stepping back in time as soon as they walked in the
shop. The rectangular shop stretched all the way back through the building,
with boxes of cigars, jars of pipe tobacco, and pipes of varying grades lining
the walls. Benji felt at home in the shop, even if he was the youngest person
there whenever he paid a visit.
was active at The Smoking Room, as one would expect on a lazy Saturday
afternoon. A crowd of about nine gentlemen sat in the back around the radio,
listening intently to the White Sox game as they puffed on their cigars and
pipes. Oscar Plunkett stood behind the counter, showing a middle-aged man a box
of fine cigars as he chomped on one of his own. Oscar was a large man with a
crown of grey hair surrounding a shiny bald spot, wearing a white dress shirt
with bowtie and sagging suspenders. The tobacconist was quite the character,
outspoken and loud, yet gregarious and friendly to his customers. Oscar nodded
a greeting to Benji as the young man paced around the room, glancing around at
the pipe tobacco on the wall. Not wanting to feel out of place, Benji pulled
out his straight billiard pipe and filled it with his pouch before adding his
own smoke to the stuffy tobacco shop.
planned on buying some tobacco while visiting The Smoking Room, but with time
on his hands, the young man decided he would take a look at the estate pipe
case and see if any of the used pipes caught his eye. Benji had taken up pipe
smoking as a freshman in college, with the help and guidance of his roommate,
Ralph Willkie. However, due to being a poor college student, Benji only had
about handful of pipes in his collection. Now that he had a full time job,
Benji had a bit more spending money for filling out his pipe racks with nicer
pipes than the knock around ones that got him through school.
estate pipe case held a treasure trove of old pipes looking for new homes, ranging
from all types of styles and countries of origin. The top shelf held the higher
priced pipes, from great gourd calabashes, to exotic hand carved meerschaums.
The next shelf held plenty of classic Dunhill’s to lavish freehands carved by
the Danish masters. Sasieni, Comoy, Peterson, Savinelli, Stanwell, and others
were all represented in the shelves below, each crying out to Benji like
puppies and kittens in a pet store looking for a home. The young man eyed them
all as he searched from row to row for a pipe that might fit his budget.
had his eye on a Blue Ribbon Comoy Rhodesian when Oscar strolled over to the
estate pipe counter, having completed the transaction at the counter with his
customer. The tobacconist leaned on the counter and glanced down at the pipe
Benji was debating over and chimed in, “Afternoon, Mr. Hodge. Care to take a
closer look at that Rhodesian?”
Benji scratched his chin as he puffed
thoughtfully on his pipe. “I really shouldn’t, but sure, why don’t ya pull it
out for me?”
was more than happy to oblige, and pulled the Rhodesian out of the case before
handing it over to Benji. The young man took a look over the Rhodesian,
checking the briar for any fills or defects that might turn him away from
buying the pipe. As far as he could tell, the pipe had no obvious flaws in it,
and was only lightly smoked. Benji considered buying the pipe for a moment,
until he took a look at the price tag dangling on the string connected to the
gawked at the price, though he hid his reaction from the tobacconist. $35 was a
bit out of his budget for Benji to spend on a whim. The young man passed the
pipe back to Oscar and remarked, “I’ll have to think about that one.”
the salesman, Oscar glanced at the price tag and said, “I could knock the price
down a few bucks for ya. How does $32 sound?”
bit helps, but if I walked out of here with it I’d be eating cans of tuna for a
week,” admitted Benji with a laugh. “I’ll keep it in mind after I save up a
my good man,” replied Oscar as he placed the Comoy back in its original spot.
“Of course, I can’t promise it’ll be here when ya come back.”
a risk I’ll have to take, unfortunately,” said Benji as he knelt down to look
at other pipes in the case.
stood back and puffed his stubby cigar as Benji continued his search, careful
to give the young man space to pick a pipe on his own. Though Oscar was eager
to make a sale, he had long learned not to get too pushy when selling his
wares, lest he scare off a potential sale. As he watched Benji, he remembered
something he had in the back, and snapped his fingers.
ya what,” said Oscar as Benji glanced up from his kneeling position. “I’ve got
a box of estates in the back that haven’t been cleaned yet. I’ll grab it and
you can sift through ‘em, in case ya find something that catches yer fancy.
I’ll even throw in a discount, since they need a bit of elbow grease.”
ears perked up the moment he heard the word ‘discount’, and replied, “Sure, I’ll
take a look at ‘em.” Benji didn’t mind buying an estate to restore. He had
previously purchased a few estates during his college years that needed
cleaning and was well acquainted with the sanitizing process. Plus, the more
pipes Benji could pick from, the better.
excused himself to the back, and a minute later came back holding a dusty
cardboard box, which he placed on the counter. Benji pushed the flaps out of
the way and peered inside the musty smelling box. Inside were roughly twenty or
so different briar pipes, each in varying states of disrepair.
been sitting in the back for about a month,” admitted Oscar as he stubbed out
the last of his cigar in a nearby ashtray. The tobacconist pulled out a
billiard pipe of his own and was soon filling it with his tobacco pouch. “My
pipe restorer has been out sick, and my employees don’t exactly care for doin’
the work themselves. Can’t blame ‘em, it’s not a job I enjoy doin’, either.”
think can understand why,” said Benji as he held up a heavily caked Custombilt
pipe that was in desperate need for a reaming.
what Benji could tell, most of the estates in the box were of the budget lines
of pipe brands and dominated by billiards, ranging from Longchamps to Yellow
Boles. Still, there were some pipes that caught Benji’s interest. There was a
large bent Wellington system pipe that had a charm to it despite its rough
condition, as well as a BBB Apple that didn’t need too much cleaning.
Benji pushed aside a filthy looking Kristin that wasn’t worth cleaning, he
spotted a pipe that seemed out of place with the others. Resting on its side in
the back of the box was a black pipe with a telltale white spot on its stem.
While Benji wasn’t exactly an expert at identifying pipes from a simple glance,
the young pipe smoker knew a Dunhill when he saw one.
a second thought, Benji snatched the Dunhill out of the box and took a closer
look at the pipe. The Dunhill was a bent billiard, stained with a glossy black
coat and a shell finish. Compared to the other pipes in the box, this one
seemed to be in better condition than all the others, with no cake built up in
the bowl. The pipe needed a good polishing and sanitizing, and the stale scent
from the bowl made his nose turn, but other than that, the bent billiard
appeared to be as fine condition as the other Dunhills in the case.
Benji turned the pipe in his hands, he spotted the only flaw he could find on
the entirety of the billiard. On the bottom of the bowl, the letters “SB” had
been scratched into the wood. Benji frowned and moved his thumb over the
grooved letters. The scratches weren’t too deep, and Benji surmised he could
find an easy remedy from one of his fellow pipe-smoking friends. As
disappointing as the discovery was, it wasn’t enough to deter Benji from the
opportunity to buy a discounted Dunhill.
much for this one?” asked Benji as he extended the pipe over to Oscar.
tobacconist finished tamping his newly lit pipe and took a look at the
billiard. Oscar made a disgusted face upon recognizing the Dunhill and handed
the pipe back to Benji as though it pained him to touch it.
that one,” grumbled Oscar as he crossed his arms. “You’d be doing me a favor
buying it, but I’m not sure you’d want it.”
made a confused face and removed his pipe from his mouth. “Are you kidding? Why
wouldn’t I want a Dunhill?”
snorted as he tamped the ash down in his pipe. “That pipe’s been in and out of
my shop since I first acquired it years ago. Every time someone buys it, they come
back a few weeks later lookin’ to trade it for something else. Every last one
of ‘em complains that ya can’t get a good smoke out of it. Somethin’ about it
sours whatever tobacco ya smoke in it.”
Have they tried cleaning it?” asked Benji.
of ‘em have,” replied Oscar. “I’ve even had my restorer take a crack at it at
least twice. For some reason, no matter what people do to it, it always comes
back like a bad habit. Truth be told, I’m ready to toss the blasted thing in
the trash an’ take the loss.”
puffed his pipe for a moment while listening to Oscar as the cogs in his mind
turned, formulating a plan as a wry smile formed on his face. “If you were
going to throw the pipe away, then you probably wouldn’t mind letting me take
the pipe off your hands for free? After all, it seems like I’d be doing you a
tobacconist coughed and gagged after accidentally breathing in the smoke from
his pipe, sending lit pipe ash everywhere. Oscar removed the pipe from his
mouth and caught his breath before replying, “Now hold your horses, I see what
yer doin’ there. I can’t just give away a pipe fer nothin’ because it’s a
nuisance. Every last pipe smoker an’ their mother in the city would head
straight here and try to haggle a free pipe outta me.”
chuckled and shrugged his shoulders, “Can’t blame a man for tryin’?”
smirked as he tamped the loose ash in his pipe. “You’re a clever one, I’ll give
ya that. How ‘bout this, I’ll sell ya the Dunhill for $25. You won’t find
another deal on a Dunhill like that anywhere, you can be sure of that.”
man eyed the Dunhill and thought about it, but hoping for a better price, Benji
countered, “How about $15? If it is a problem pipe, then that should cover the
work that I’ll put into it.”
tobacconist frowned and leaned on the counter with both of his hands as he
studied Benji. Oscar wasn’t used to customers haggling over the price of his
estates, yet he didn’t want to risk being stuck with a pipe he couldn’t sell.
“$25 is a darn good price, son. If I went any lower, I’d be givin’ it away.”
that he could get Oscar to go lower, Benji shook his head and placed the
Dunhill back in the box. “You know what, I don’t think I need a new pipe right
now. I’ll wait and see if I find something better. If not, I know it’s waiting
here for me.”
and started to walk away towards the pipe tobacco section, hoping that his
bluff would get the old tobacconist to change his tune. Sure enough, as he was
halfway across the shop, he heard Oscar call out to him, “I’ll go down to $20,
an’ not a penny more.”
smiled to himself for a moment before casually turning around and walking back
towards Oscar and the box. Oscar crossed his arms and gave Benji a begrudging
nod, both out of frustration and respect at Benji’s ploy.
grabbed the Dunhill out of the box, Oscar added one more caveat to the sale.
“You drive a hard bargain, kid, I’ll give ya that. But don’t even think about
bringin’ that pipe back if yer not happy with it. Deal?”
agreed Benji as he held his prized pipe. “I wouldn’t worry about this pipe
coming back to your shop. That is, unless I’m smoking it. You’d have to be
crazy to give up on a pipe like this.”
eagerly paid for the pipe at the counter, throwing in some pipe cleaners and a
pouch of Balkan Sobranie for the road. After paying Oscar, Benji sat in the
lounge smoking his pipe while admiring his newest acquisition, listening to the
cheers of the gentlemen in the shop as the Sox scored another run. The young
man joined in their cheers, though it was more for his own score rather than
the baseball game.
time on Benji’s watch said it was 11:34 PM when he finally reached the gates to
the courtyard of his apartment complex. The young man had a relaxing evening
celebrating with his family, drinking beer and eating a grilled Italian sausage
and potato salad. Now it was late, and all Benji could think about was slipping
into his bed and getting a full night’s sleep.
was an eerie quiet that had settled on the apartment complex as Benji stepped
into his building. The young man climbed the stairs to his second floor
apartment, careful not to make any noise to bother his elderly neighbor on the
first floor as she slept for the night.
opening the door to his apartment, Benji turned on his hallway light and was
greeted by his black and white tabby cat Whiskers. The feline trotted up to
Benji and rubbed his back against the young man’s legs. Benji said hello to
Whiskers and gave him a pat on his fuzzy head before walking into the kitchen
and grabbed a can of cat food. After giving the bowl of wet cat food to the
appreciative feline, Benji left Whiskers to his evening feast and stepped into
the living room.
apartment was relatively clean for a bachelor living on his own, with only a
few piles of papers that needed grading from his work as a high school English
teacher. Over by the television set, Benji had a row of shelves where he kept
his pipes and tobacco, along with an assortment of novels and books. Benji
placed his pipe and tobacco pouch on the shelf before pulling out his new
Dunhill from his shirt pocket. The young pipe smoker admired his new pipe for a
moment before placing it on his pipe rack. If Benji wasn’t as tired as he was,
he would’ve started the cleaning process right then and there, but he decided
to wait until the morning to start sanitizing his new pipe.
won’t believe me when I tell him how much I paid for you,” said Benji with a
smirk before letting out a yawn. “He’s gonna be so jealous.”
next morning after Sunday Mass, Benji arrived home and immediately went to work
in cleaning up the bent billiard. The briar and stem were in decent condition,
so Benji gave both a good polish until the black, rusticated finish had a nice
shine on it. The inside of the shank and stem was a different matter, as the
first pipe cleaner Benji passed through was blackened in gunk. The young man
spent a good portion of his afternoon running alcohol soaked pipe cleaners
through the draft hole until they finally came out clean.
The bowl of
the pipe had already been professionally reamed when Benji purchased it, but he
could still smell a strange odor that he couldn’t quite place. This wasn’t a
new problem for the pipe smoker, as he had experience in removing the remnants
of goopy aromatics from some of his other estate pipes. After sticking a pipe
cleaner in the shank, Benji poured the bowl full of iodized salt, and used an
eyedropper to saturate the salt with alcohol. With the cleaning process
complete for now, Benji placed the pipe up on his shelf and let the salt do its
day, Benji came home from teaching around 6:30, and after greeting Whiskers he
checked on how the Dunhill was taking the salt treatment. To Benji’s surprise,
the salt had turned to a grimy black color, much like the pipe cleaners had
been the previous day. Now, Benji had used the salt treatment before, and none
of the pipes in previous treatments had turned as dark of a color as the
Dunhill. The young man took the pipe over to his garbage can, and he scraped
the bowl clean, until every grain of salt had been removed.
felt satisfied that the Dunhill met his standards for cleanliness, he decided
the time was right to fire up the pipe and see how it smoked. After opening his
pouch of Balkan Sobranie, Benji scooped the bowl inside, packing the pipe with
the Balkan blend. The young man grabbed his matches, his pipe tool, and a copy
of The Two Towers and stepped onto
his back porch, sitting in his usual outdoor smoking spot.
the first match and hovered it over the bowl for the charring light. Yet as
Benji drew in through the stem, the flame refused to catch on the tobacco, and
Benji had to extinguish the match before it burnt his fingers. Perplexed that
his pipe didn’t light, Benji extended his hand and felt for any wind that
might’ve interfered with lighting his pipe, yet the air was still where he was
the first match, Benji lit a second match, and then a third, yet none could
light his pipe. The young man light a fourth match, determined that if this
didn’t work, then he’d switch to a lighter. The flame burned down on the match
as Benji puffed and puffed, yet still the tobacco remained unburned. With
Benji’s focus completely focused on puffing, he didn’t notice the flame inch
down to his fingers, until he felt the fire singe his skin.
cried Benji as he dropped the match in the ashtray, sucking on the scorched
portion of his thumb and finger. As Benji nursed his wound, he noticed a thin
stream of smoke finally rising from bits of tobacco. Immediately, Benji struck
another match and cautiously held the flame over the tobacco. Finally, the
flame of the match sucked downward into the bowl, charring the top layer of the
tobacco. After tamping down the burnt tobacco, Benji lit another match and drew
in deeper, properly lighting the pipe.
tossing the match in the ashtray, Benji leaned back into his chair and puffed
away, relieved to finally have his new pipe lit. As Benji smoked his pipe, he
tasted to see if there was a change in the taste of his favorite blend, but all
guess they didn’t clean this thing as well as they thought,” muttered Benji to
his paperback copy of The Two Towers
to his bookmarked page and resumed reading his favorite series. He was on the
chapter where Frodo, Sam, and Gollum were passing through The Dead Marshes
while on their journey to destroy the One Ring. For some reason, Tolkien’s descriptions
of the dead warriors resting underneath the water seemed to creep him out more
than usual, and Benji felt the hairs on the back of his neck stand up.
he read, his mind wandered elsewhere, more specifically, back to his pipe.
Though the pipe had started out fine, now that he was halfway through the bowl,
he could taste an off-putting flavor that he couldn’t place. Benji unclenched
his pipe and placed the bowl under his nose and gave a quick sniff. Instantly,
Benji recoiled at the aroma, as it reminded him of sulfur and rotten eggs.
As much as Benji tried to put the smell out
of his mind, the more he puffed, the queasier he became. Eventually, the young
man admitted defeat and dumped the remaining tobacco out of his pipe and into
the ashtray. Nothing annoyed Benji more than wasting good tobacco, but the he
couldn’t stand another puff from the sour pipe.
grabbed his book and pipe and went grumbling back into his kitchen table, producing
his pipe cleaning supplies once more. For the next hour, he gave the pipe a
second deep cleaning, and did another salt treatment for good measure. As
disgusted as he was with the first smoke from this pipe, he wasn’t about to
give up on his new Dunhill.
following days, Benji tried again and again to smoke his new Dunhill in peace.
He would go out on his porch after work with the newly cleaned Dunhill and
smoked, before giving up around the halfway point. He would then give another
deep clean to his pipe, even using switching the kinds of alcohol he used as a
cleaning solution to see if that made a difference. Yet no matter how hard he
cleaned, that same sulfuric smell would inevitably creep up and ruin his bowl
Benji was at his wits end, regaling his pipe woes at the local bar with his
friend, Ralph Willkie. Benji had been friends with Ralph since their college
days, and made it a ritual to meet up at the bar to drink, smoke their pipes,
and chat about life. Ralph was a few years Benji’s senior, but as roommates
they had bonded over their mutual love of fantasy and sci-fi literature. Ralph
had also been Benji’s pipe mentor, having shown him how to smoke a pipe within
the first month of their friendship.
drank their pints, Benji pulled out the wretched Dunhill and slid it over to
Ralph once he finished telling his story. Ralph puffed on his bent Peterson and
took a good look over the pipe as Benji took a long drink of his lager.
for this?” asked Ralph as he turned the Dunhill over in his hands. “You’re lucky
I wasn’t with you when you found it. Even with the markings, I woulda paid the
$25 and stole it right from underya.”
snorted as he filled one of his old Kaywoodies. “I’d sell it to you if you want
it that bad. But if you ask me, that’s no Dunhill. Dunghill is more like it.”
sniffed the pipe and turned away in disgust. “Did the previous owner only smoke
Royal Yacht in this thing?”
replied Benji as he lit his pipe. “Whatever it was, it’s ruined a good portion
of my pouch of Sobranie.”
scratched his scraggly beard as he thought of a possibly solution for his
beleaguered friend. “Well, I would buy it offa ya, but I’d hate to take a
Dunhill like that from a buddy of mine. Though, I think I might have a solution
out a sigh as he leaned against the table, “At this point, I’m willing to try
you try one of the blends I have back at my apartment,” offered Ralph. “I’ve
had a few stubborn pipes before in my time, and this blend has always done the
trick. Smoke a few pipefuls of it, and I promise it’ll eradicate whatever ghost
is ruining your pipe.”
and gave his friend a skeptical look. “Has it been blessed by a priest? Because
I don’t think anything less’ll rid me of that horrible stench.”
his chest out with a confident look on his face. “Have I ever steered ya wrong
before? I’m tellin’ you, Merlyn himself couldn’t blend a better tobacco to
break a spell over a pipe.”
the Dunhill back to Benji, and the young man glared at the pipe, hitting the
bottom of the bowl against the palm of his hand as he mulled over Ralph’s idea.
Finally, Benji sighed and mustered an answer.
don’t have much of a choice, do I?” asked Benji as he slipped the pipe back in
his shirt pocket. “I’m not letting $20 go to waste.”
spirit,” replied Ralph as he lifted his pint of beer. “Here’s to smoking that
to that,” replied Benji as he raised his glass, before downing the last of his
Later that night,
Benji returned back to his apartment, with a new tobacco pouch in hand. He had
stayed at Ralph’s place longer than he would’ve liked, but ended up in a debate
over whether Darth Vader was telling the truth about if he was really Luke’s
father or not. Whiskers hounded after Benji in the apartment, meowing for his
dinner until the he finally opened a can for the cat.
sleep, Benji considered heading to bed for the night, but as he took the
Dunhill out of his coat pocket, he decided now was as good of a time as ever to
try his pipe once more. Benji wasn’t sure that Ralph’s suggestion would work,
but his friend often had good ideas for his pipe problems.
Due to the
lateness of the hour, Benji thought against going back out to the porch to
smoke his pipe. The mosquitoes were out in full force before autumn, and being
out alone on the porch at night gave Benji the creeps.
So with pipe
and pouch in hand, Benji headed to his spare bedroom, which he used as his
study. The young man turned the light on and shut the door, before falling back
into his desk chair and placed pipe and pouch on his desk. Upon opening the
tobacco pouch, Benji was met with the nutty aroma of pure burley. Benji wasn’t
fond of burley blends, preferring more English and Balkan blends, but beggars
can’t be choosers when a sour pipe is involved. The young man scooped the
ribbon cut burley tobacco into the Dunhill until he had it snugly packed.
opened his matchbox, he took a long look at the Dunhill and stuck a finger at
it, scolding it as if it were a naughty child. “I’m givin’ you one more chance.
If you fail me this time, I’m shipping you to Timbuktu without a return
With a flick
of his wrist, Benji struck a match and placed it over the bowl, drawing hard as
the flame drew into the bowl. The burley took to the fire easily, and soon
Benji was puffing at a steady pace. The tobacco cooperated so well, that Benji
found he didn’t need a second light and slid the matchbox away. Benji sat
hunched over at his desk like a grump with the Dunhill clenched in his jaw,
refusing to look at any of his books or distract himself with any other
mindless task. The young man was on a mission, and he would not let this
stubborn pipe get the better of him.
away on his pipe like a madman, paying close attention to the flavor of the
tobacco for any sudden changes to the putrid territory. As far as he could
taste, the burley blend was an obedient and rugged tobacco, overwhelming
whatever remnants of tobacco lurked within the briar. The smoke from his pipe
soon enveloped the small study, clouding the room with a cloud of burley
tobacco smoke. Without a window or door open to air the room, the smoke built
up in a way Benji had never seen before. While Benji had been in plenty of hazy
tobacco shops before, nothing compared to the amount of smoke Benji was
producing with his Dunhill. Yet Benji remained undeterred, he would make sure
he had slain the awful stench, and no amount of tobacco smoke would allow him
to open a window.
As the smoke
thickened, Benji felt as though he were in some sort of a trance, unwilling and
unable to get up from his chair, or do anything other than smoke his pipe. Though
Benji normally didn’t care for straight burley blends, he found the smoke
agreeable to his palate, and didn’t feel queasy as he normally did with
stronger blends. For the first time since owning the Dunhill, he actually felt
properly relaxed, as one should when smoking a pipe.
was another matter, as it wandered while the tobacco smoldered in his pipe. The
normally upbeat and happy young man found his thoughts hazy for a moment,
before drifting off to darker, and more sinister places. In his imagination, he
saw himself smoking his pipe while wandering ancient and long forgotten graveyards
at the dead of night, with broken and slumped tombstones overgrown with moss. A
heavy mist surrounded the old cemetery, and the stars and moon hid behind dark,
foreboding clouds. Part of Benji wanted to turn back and leave through the old,
rusted iron gates, yet the pipe jutting in his jaw led him on down the soggy
dirt path to an unknown destination.
reached the top of a hill, he saw the path wind down to a mausoleum, which he
continued on towards without turning. As he came closer and closer to the
building, he could make out more features of the decrepit tomb. The once white
marble had taken to a sickly shade of yellow underneath the caked dirt, with a
name Benji did not recognize chiseled over the open door. For a split second,
he thought it said ‘Benjamin’, but upon closer inspection, it seemed more like
a last name. Standing guard next to the mausoleum’s doors stood two statues
that at once filled Benji’s heart with dread.
The statue on the left appeared to be a robed angel of some sort, covering its face as it wept with black ooze dripping from between its closed fingers. The second, taller figure on the right stood at attention, its face hidden under a hood as it beckoned with an open hand. As Benji stopped in front of the left statue and studied it, his heart filled with an unspeakable dread from the presence lurking underneath the stone. The figure’s hand had long, dirty, and sharp nails protruding out towards Benji, nails that the young man felt sure could cut flesh if they were real. Benji could feel his knees buckle and quiver as he stepped closer to touch the statue’s extended and welcoming hand with his own.
snapped out of the daydream that enraptured his tired mind as the Dunhill pipe
fell from his jaw and onto the deck with a clatter. Tobacco ash spilled out
onto the desktop, and Benji swore while rubbing his bleary eyes. Benji swept
the dottle into his ashtray while admonishing himself for being so clumsy.
Despite his annoyance, he was thankful that Whiskers wanted into the study,
snapping him out of that dreaded nightmare. Benji picked up the Dunhill and
upon looking in the bowl, he realized he had finally smoked his pipe to the
bottom without the stench ruining his smoke.
I guess Ralph was right, said Benji
with a smirk as he turned in his desk chair. All I needed was the right tobacco.
stood up from his chair, he sat for a moment in bewilderment at the thick cloud
of smoke that had built up from puffing his pipe. Despite the stillness of the
air, the smoke swirled and moved around as though it had a life of its own. The
young man was glued to his seat, transfixed on the ever-shifting smoke,
observing as it changed shapes in the air, like seeing object in the clouds in
the smoke moved in a circular pattern, before it began to coalesce into one
central spot. From a circle, the smoke stretched and swirled into a pillar,
like the cloud Moses and the Israelites followed in the desert in Exodus. Benji rubbed his eyes once more,
wondering if Ralph’s tobacco had been something else entirely. Though Benji had
never taken drugs, he thought the experience felt like something similar.
pillar, Benji observed with growing uneasiness as the smoke seemed to solidify,
no longer being translucent, but becoming an object or thing before his eyes.
Two gangly, boney legs with knobby knees and twisted feet split from the bottom
of the pillar, going up to the midsection of the smoky form. At the top of the
pillar, the smoke stretched out into a hideous face from the pit of Benji’s
The face of
the being wasn’t human, Benji was certain of that. Instead, the head resembled
more like that of a hairless opossum, with three sets of murky, clouded eyes on
either side, and a nose that peeled back part way on its snout. Two sets of
sharp, saw-like teeth protruded from its thin, pale lips, as a tongue that
resembled a snake licked the air in Benji’s direction, tasting his scent no
Benji was so
horrified by the abominable head that he almost didn’t notice the two arms
protruding out of the newly formed body. The arms stretched and elongated
towards the ground, to the length that the creature could easily drag them on
the ground while walking. The hands appeared like that of a human, but with the
long, sharpened nails Benji had seen in his imagination. The smoke seeped from
the creature’s skin, appearing more like stringy and dirty hair than smoke. By
now, the noxious sulfuric odor reached its suffocating peak, causing Benji to
choke as he tried to breathe.
on his chair, Benji rammed into the desk behind him with a thud as the creature
turned its attention to him. The young man slowly rose from his seat with a
protective hand in front of him, his mouth agape as he tried to speak, and yet
his words failed him.
took one shaky foot forward, as though it wasn’t used to walking in this plane
of existence. As Benji backed into the corner of his study, the creature took
another step forward, lifting one of its impossibly long arms in his direction,
dragging its nails against the floorboards.
Scratch. Scratch. Scraaaaaaaaatch.
creature’s jaw open wide, inhaling a ragged, labored breath as it emitted a
scratchy, inhuman snarl. The creature lumbered forward towards Benji with a
quickness that instantly filled Benji with panic. The young man screamed at the
top of his lungs as he darted forward, hoping to somehow make it past the
abomination towards the study door. As Benji made his escape, the creature
slashed at Benji’s midsection, and had the young man not placed a protective
arm over his body, it would’ve gashed his stomach straight into organs. The
sharp nails cut deep into Benji’s lower arm as the creature’s other arm reached
to embrace the terrified man in a deathly hug. Benji cried out in pain as he
pushed himself out of the grasp of the creature’s bony arms and stumbled
towards the door.
practically knocked the study door off its hinges as he tackled his way out of
the room, shrieking as he made a mad dash through the apartment front door. The
young man flew down the stairs faster than he thought possible, vaulting the
steps three at a time as he made for the apartment door and freedom.
The door to
Benji’s apartment building flung open as he fell onto the cement ground, barely
making it back on his feet as he backed away from the entrance, expecting at
any moment for the creature to come barreling after him. Benji trembled as he
waited, hands grasped on his knees as he sucked in the fresh cool air, yet he heard
no commotion from the stairwell. As the seconds passed into minutes, Benji’s
adrenaline dropped, and feeling a queasy churning in his stomach, the young man
threw up on the ground, both from his strenuous escape, as well as from the
stinking aroma that still hung in his nostrils.
The light to
the bottom apartment turned on, and Benji’s elderly neighbor Miss Jaworski
opened her bedroom window. Miss Jaworski was dressed in her floral nightgown,
having awoken from Benji’s escape in the hallway, and she stuck her head out
the window with an exasperated look on her face.
heavens Benjamin, why on earth are you making that kind of racket at this
hour?” she demanded. Benji wasn’t quite sure how to answer her, and stammered
as he waved his arms.
t-t-this thing, I-I don’t know what, but—.”
Jaworski let out a gasp and placed a hand over her mouth. “Ben, your arm, it’s
bleeding all over!”
and glanced at the deep gashes on his right arm as blood streamed down onto the
ground with a steady flow. The young man hadn’t noticed the severity of his
injury until that moment, and now that he had the chance to look at it, the
pain finally set in. Benji swooned and dropped to his knees, holding his right
arm as he felt his body going into shock.
there, I’ll call an ambulance,” said Miss Jaworski, as she quickly left the
window to find her telephone.
man knew he had to stop the bleeding somehow, so Benji yanked his shirt off and
used it as a temporary bandage. As Benji waited in the courtyard for the
ambulance to arrive, his eyes moved back up towards the windows of his
apartment where he knew his study was located. To his horror, Benji could see
the creature staring down at him, with both claws resting on the windowpane.
The monster seemed translucent now, fading back into the ether from whence it
came. Yet as it dissipated, the horrid abomination made slow, deliberate
scratches on the window as it licked its lips, before disappearing from view.
to stay conscious, Benji curled into a ball on the cold pavement, his body
shivering from the lack of warmth and blood loss. Helpless to do anything else,
Benji muttered incoherently to himself as he held his injured arm, praying that
this terrible night would finally come to an end.
ambulance arrived some time later, as Benji couldn’t quite recall how long it
took for them to reach him due to his state. As the paramedics loaded him into
the ambulance, Benji begged someone to check his apartment for Whiskers, and
that if they found him, they should bring the cat to Miss Jaworski for safe
keeping. The cat was found safe sleeping in the living room, unaware that any
excitement had gone on in the apartment. Once Benji was told his cat was safe,
the young man reclined in the stretcher and allowed the paramedics to drive him
to the local hospital.
evening, Benji was discharged from the hospital, having received multiple
stitches for his injured arm, and pumped full of fluids. Benji didn’t speak of
what he saw to anyone, and told the doctors an improvised story where he cut
his arm on a jagged portion of the railing on his porch.
by to pick Benji up, and allowed the shaken young man to stay the night at his
place as he recovered from his ordeal. The two stopped at Benji’s apartment so
he could pick up some clothes, as well as the Dunhill pipe from the study.
Benji made Ralph stick by him at every moment, not wanting to spend a second
alone in his apartment. Benji peered around every corner for any sign of that
inhuman creature, but the apartment was completely empty, save for Benji and
Ralph. While Benji kept his nerves for the most part, as he picked up his
Dunhill pipe, he noticed out of the corner of his eye multiple long scratch
marks on the study window. The color drained from Benji’s face as Ralph spotted
the grooves in the window and took a closer look.
these come from?” asked Ralph as he turned to his friend, but Benji was already
at the threshold of the door.
let’s get outta here,” muttered Benji as he slipped the Dunhill in his pocket.
drove the two back to his apartment, he demanded to know exactly what caused
Benji’s injury. Benji gave the same excuse he said to the doctors, but Ralph,
having known Benji for years, could tell he was lying. It took two shots of
whiskey back in Ralph’s apartment to coax the story out of Benji, and for the
next hour the young man recounted everything he could remember from the
previous night. Ralph listened quietly, making no judgment as he puffed on his
pipe while his friend rambled on about some strange smoke demon that tried to
finished his tale, he looked at Ralph and waited for his response, expecting
his friend to laugh him out of the room. Ralph pondered for a moment, tamping
the ash in his pipe in silence before saying, “Well, I’m sure glad you didn’t
sell me that Dunhill.”
first time in over a day, Benji managed a laugh, and slunk in his chair with a
hand over his face. “Are you sure? I can give ya a great deal on it.”
friends laughed, lifting Benji’s spirits as he rubbed his injured arm. Ralph
leaned on the arm of his chair as he puffed his pipe, adding, “So, what are you
gonna do now? Think you’ll move to a different apartment?”
know, I honestly think it’s gone now,” said Benji as he sat up in his chair.
“But first thing tomorrow, I’m headed back to that tobacco shop for some
answers. I don’t know if I’ll get any, but there has to be more to it than this.”
“I’ll go with
you,” assured Ralph. “With everything that’s happened, I’ve gotta see how this
day, Benji and Ralph arrived at The Smoking Room around 11 a.m., having taken
the train into the city. The two strolled into the shop, and Benji headed
straight towards Oscar. The tobacconist was sitting behind the counter drinking
a cup of coffee while reading the Sunday Times, as a group of about five
regulars sat around smoking in the lounge. Oscar poked his head up from behind the
paper and greeted the two as the stood at the counter.
morning Mr. Hodge, can I help ya with anything?” asked Oscar. Benji pulled the
Dunhill from his pocket, and immediately the tobacconist’s face fell upon
recognizing the pipe. “Oh no, you’re not sellin’ that pipe back to me. We made
a deal, remember?”
looking to sell it back,” explained Benji as he slid the Dunhill over to Oscar.
“I wanna know where you got the Dunhill in the first place.” Benji turned the
pipe over and pointed at the initials on the bowl of the Dunhill. “Tell me, do
you know who this ‘SB’ person is?”
tobacconist held the bent billiard in his hands, tapping the bowl of the pipe
against his palm while in deep thought. Oscar’s eyes shifted back up at Benji,
debating whether to divulge the information to the young man.
on the counter with both of his hands and remained firm in his resolve.
“Please, I’ve got to know. You would too if you had seen what I’ve seen.”
hesitated, glancing down at the shop floor as memories resurfaced into his
mind. Benji could tell Oscar didn’t want to share the information, but seeing
the determination on the young man’s face, the tobacconist relented with a long
sigh. “Yeah, I remember where I got that pipe. It was back in ’71. I got a
phone call that one of our old customers had passed away in some freak
accident. Everyone was talkin’ about it at the time, due to how weird the whole
customer was a young guy, probably around your age when he died. Simon
Bronowski was his name, tall, lanky fella with long hair. He looked like a
hippie, but he wasn’t one of those love an’ peace kinda guys. He had been
comin’ to my shop for a couple of years for his pipe tobacco. Always gave
everyone the creeps when he’d come in, ramblin’ about some sorta religion he
was studyin’. Mind you, this wasn’t some Christian religion, but I couldn’t
tell ya what mumbo jumbo he would jabber on about. Never paid any attention to
it, as it gave me the willies.”
“All I can
tell ya is that after he he died, I stopped by his place, as his family was
sellin’ his stuff to empty out his house. I bought his pipes an’ his remainin’
tobacco, but ended up throwin’ everything but the Dunhill away. I remember he
told me he would blend his own tobacco, usin’ this an’ that from blends we were
sellin’, as well as other stuff I couldn’t identify. The stuff stank to high
heaven, an’ there was no way I’d ever put it in one of my own pipes.”
his head and shrugged his shoulders. “An’ that’s ‘bout all I know to be honest.
As I said, he was a weird guy, so I didn’t take the time to get to know him.”
his chin as he thought over Oscar’s story. The young man was disappointed he
didn’t get to know more about Simon, but at least he had a name, as well as the
explanation for why the pipe stank. Still, there had to be more to the story,
and Benji was going to find out all he could.
“How did he
die?” asked Benji, before adding, “that is, if you don’t mind me asking?”
“I heard he
died in a fire,” replied Oscar. “I didn’t pry for more information at the time,
as I didn’t want to bother the family. Tell ya what, I think there’s a guy here
that knew him more than I did.” The tobacconist paused as he glanced over at
the regulars sitting in the lounge, and called over to a man sitting in a
leather chair smoking a Hardcastle Lovat. “Hey Ed, come over here. We’ve got
some questions for ya.”
Ed, or Eddie
Walczak as Benji would learn later, stood up from his chair and joined the
three at the counter. Eddie was in his late 30’s, short but thin, and wore a
black polo shirt and White Sox cap. The man greeted Benji and Ralph as Oscar
explained the situation to him.
wantin’ to know about Simon Bronowski,” said Oscar as he showed Ed Simon’s old
Dunhill. “You knew him, right?”
practically grew up with the guy,” replied Ed with a scoff. From his reply,
Benji could tell Ed hadn’t been the biggest fan of Simon. “Lived on the same
block as me, an’ went to the same school, though he was a grade ahead of me. Yeah,
I knew Simon, as much as ya could know a guy like that.”
for him then, I take it?” asked Ralph with a chuckle.
did,” answered Ed. “How could you? He was always getting in trouble with the
nuns and priests at our high school, pushin’ their buttons any chance he got.
We hung out a bit, as he didn’t really have anyone else to talk to, but I only
spent time with him out of pity. Eventually, I avoided him any time I saw him
on the block, but he would still come up to me and talk my ear off when I got
“He was odd
in Grade School, but High School was where he really went off the deep end. He
started getting into some weird books from the local library, readin’ books by
people like Alistair Crowley an’ ilk like that. One day in our senior year, he
told me he was gonna make his own religion, and that people were going to read
his books like he did with Crowley.”
School, I went off to college, so I didn’t hear from him much. When I came home
for school breaks, I’d see him roamin’ the neighborhood, but I kept my
distance. He stopped me one day around Christmas and told me he had found some
others in Chicago that thought like he did, and that they went out to Bachelor’s
Grove at night to perform some kinda magic for fun. Said he saw some strange
stuff out there, but I chalked it up to Simon bein’ Simon.”
graduated College I joined the Navy, and one day I was here on leave when out
of nowhere Simon came in the shop. I wasn’t exactly thrilled to see him, but he
sat with me and we talked over our pipes. He said he was on the cusp of a
breakthrough that was gonna make him famous. He had built some sorta shack in
his backyard where he said he communicated with ‘the other side.’ He’d light
his pipe in there until it was filled with smoke and stare into it for visions
or what have you. He said he found somethin’ in there that would talk to him
and show him things. I don’t know, it was all nonsense to me, but Simon was
obsessed with it.”
month later, I got a message from my mom that Simon had been found dead in his
shack. Apparently, it caught fire late one night, and Simon must’ve passed out
from the smoke before it consumed him. Strange thing is, I heard there was
somethin’ off about how they found him.”
feel a lump in his throat growing as he listened to Ed’s tale. Feeling a
weakness in his knees, Benji leaned against the counter to steady himself from
they find his body?” asked Ralph, eager to hear the end of Ed’s tale.
think the paramedics would find an intact burnt body,” explained Ed as he
struck a match to relight his pipe. The man puffed slowly, as smoke rose from
the bowl of his briar. “But my mom heard the emergency crew found pieces of his
body scattered everywhere in the charred remains of the shack. From what I
understand, the police looked into a possible homicide, but couldn’t find any
evidence that someone cut him up and burned the scene of the crime. If you ask
me, I think one of Simon’s new psycho friends killed him and cut his body up in
some sorta ritual, but there’s nothing to prove my theory.”
Oscar both made a disgusted face, and the tobacconist shook his head as he
added, “I coulda done without knowin’ that.”
shame,” added Ed as he tamped his pipe with his pipe tool. “As much as I didn’t
like the guy, Simon didn’t deserve that. No one does.”
replied Benji as he held his head. “That’s awful.”
his head sideways as he glanced at Benji struggling to keep his balance. “You
okay man? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
like that,” replied Benji as he pulled himself straight. “I think I need to sit
down for a bit.”
man excused himself and sat down in the nearest seat as he clutched his arm.
Ed’s story about Simon and his grisly fate only aggravated the pain in Benji’s
arm, like pouring lemon juice on an open wound. A shutter ran up Benji’s spine
as he wondered what his fate could’ve been had he not turned around in time to
see that thing materialize. He wouldn’t be here at the tobacco shop, Benji felt
quite certain about that.
“It took me a
few days before I could smoke a pipe again,” admitted Benji as he tapped his
pipe out in the ashtray at our table. “But it takes more than that to keep a
pipe man from his favorite pastime.”
By now, my
pipe had gone cold, as I was too engrossed with Benji’s story to keep it going.
My companion, too, had long forgotten about his briar, and we both took the
moment to relight our bowls.
nuts,” said my friend after extinguishing his match. “I’ve heard of tobacco
ghosting a pipe, but nothing on that level.”
ever became of that Dunhill?” I asked. “I’m guessing you never smoked it
laughed as he stuffed his pipe back into his leather pipe roll. “You can be
sure of that. As far as I was concerned, that pipe was tainted, and no amount
of cleaning would ever get me to try it again.”
shame,” I replied as I tamped my pipe. “I would’ve sold it to the Warrens or
some other paranormal investigator.”
said my companion with an eager look in his eye. “I think I would’ve kept at
it. I mean it was a Dunhill after all.”
Benji Hodge sat back in his chair and looked off nowhere in particular, shaking
his head slowly. “What profit is there for a pipe smoker to gain a cheap
Dunhill, but to lose his soul? No, I’ll tell you what I did with it. Ralph and
I went to my sister’s, and I threw the damn pipe in a fire in her backyard.
Watched it burn to ash and spread it back into the Earth where it belonged.”