It’s the first time I’ve ever visited Oneiric Olfaction, the new store opening onto the market plaza, but I’ve had my eye on it for a while. Even before it opened, something about the minimalistic sign and the navy drapes drew my attention, or perhaps it was the sweet scents wafting from its door every time I pass by to get my groceries. The darkened windows and thick curtains make seeing inside impossible, a strange decision for a public storefront, but that only adds to its enticing mystique. I pause at the door, my hand of the smooth brass knob trembling momentarily in trepidation, before I push inside. As the door swings open, a high clear bell rings out, heralding my entry.
Once the door clicks shut behind me, my eyes have to take a moment to adjust to from the bright daylight outside. There’s still plenty of light to see, most of it tinged a pleasant, calming light blue, but dark shadows frame each of the myriad of crystalline bottles lining the wall shelves and tables inside. Each bottle is emblazoned with a paper label, the ink shining a bright cyan to make them easy to read in the muted light against the smoky glass – glow-in-the-dark perfume labels? This place just keeps on getting weirder, although I appreciate the thought that went into the aesthetic. It’s not clear whether the delicate, elaborate calligraphy on each bottle is hand-made or printed. Tied to the neck of each bottle is a small tab which is soft and slightly spongy to the touch – test pads, I can only assume. Only the central table is free from these little bottles, instead holding only a small, clear bowl filled with coffee beans. In terms of structure, at least, it seems similar to other perfume stores I’ve been in, down to the faint background wafting of various scents blending together; the only truly bizarre thing about it was how dark it was.
“Good afternoon, sir, may I help you?” I whirl around, slightly startled; the attendant who spoke appeared to have materialised behind me, although quickly my rational brain reasserts itself and realises they must simply have been standing in the shadows.
“Yeah, hi there, I’m running low on cologne and thinking I’ll try something new? Not 100% sure what I want yet, so any suggestions would be appreciated.” I reply.
The attendant nods, sweeping long hair away from their eyes with one fluid motion. “Of course, sir, I’d be happy to help. Of course, I have many things here which might interest you, but of course we can hardly spend all day here, enjoyable as that might be. Perhaps we can get started with what sorts of scents you usually enjoy?” Their words come slowly and smoothly, coloured by a small smile playing across their lips. It’s a welcome change from the characteristic retail fake-bubbliness, the stretched grins which I’d come to expect (and disdain) from shop attendants; their smile and interest seems almost – dare I say it – genuine.
As I began to explain what sorts of things that I enjoyed, I found the words coming easily; the attendant had to do little other than offer gentle nods and humming noises of affirmation. Whenever I paused to try to think of a word, or struggled to express a concept, they never tried to leap in and make suggestions, or put words in my mouth; they simply waited patiently and politely until I was finished with my explanation. As I spoke, the sweet, warm, slightly floral note of vanilla emerged from the constantly shifting backdrop of scents. It was a wonderfully familiar smell, bringing to mind thoughts of cosy afternoons of sitting on the couch, sipping a mug of infused tea. After a few seconds, it fell back into obscurity amidst the babbling vapours, but it still was a wonderfully gentle and calming interlude.
Eventually, I finished my explanation, and the attendant remained silent for a few seconds, nodding pensively, even after it was clear I was done speaking. Then that warm, gentle, genuine smile returned to their features as their eyes lit up, clearly excited to begin. “Thank you, sir, you’ve given a wonderfully detailed explanation, that will be very helpful as we try to find something for you to enjoy. There are a great many things I have in store which might interest you. But first,” they interject, picking up the tray of coffee beans, “would you mind taking a deep breath of this? Consider it a nasal palate cleanser, to get rid of any scents that are still lingering in the air and in your nose.”
I take the shallow bowl from them as I breathe out hard, expelling as much air from my lungs as I can until I feel that tell-tale tightness in my chest, then lean forward, my nose almost brushing the brown husks as I inhale again through my nose. The sharp, earthy scent of coffee immediately blots out the chaotic jumble of smells filling my nose, making my eyes water slightly at its strength. It’s only when I blink them that I realise that my eyelids had drooped slightly, the powerful odour pulling them open as a small shiver of energy ran across my shoulders. A voice in the back of my mind commented on how good an espresso these beans would make as I replaced them on the table – only moments ago I had been feeling… perhaps not tired, but nonetheless feeling the effects of a lazy summer afternoon, while now I was feeling more awake than I had all day.
“Potent, isn’t it?” I had momentarily lost sight of the attendant, having closed my eyes to sniff the coffee beans, but they had returned, holding one of the many crystal bottles. “I thought we might start with something… pastoral, something bright, clear and lively. Just spray a little on the tab, and then press it lightly against your nose to get the full effect,” they explained, handing me the bottle.
Eager to get started, I followed their instructions; the nozzle squirted out a concentrated pulse of liquid, which I simply held in my hand for a moment to allow the solvent to dry before bringing it to my nose. I closed my eyes, silently thanking the shop’s owner for soundproofed silence so that I could fully devote my attention to the scent now filling my senses. Ah… pastoral indeed, there was a fresh undertone of freshly cut grass, always a pleasing smell, but it was coloured with various garden herbs. There was the clear crispness of mint, causing my nose to quiver slightly in the faux-cold sensation which mint so often brought. There too was the similarly cool, fresh sage, and the sharp acidity of a hint of bergamot oil there as well. I emit an appreciative hum, half-unconsciously; it’s as if I’m walking through an herb garden, not too sweet, but clean and clear. That feeling of relaxed brightness doesn’t stay in my nose, however; it expands, rolling through my skull, down my neck and shoulders, filling my lungs with that pleasant, slightly tingly coolness. My shoulders relax slightly as I hum unconsciously again, my head tilting slightly to the side as I take another breath in, revelling in the pure scent, uncorrupted by sight or sound. I can feel the corners of my lips curling upwards, a lazy smile creeping across my face as I open my eyes again, seeing the attendant match my smile.
“Smells wonderful, doesn’t it?” The attendant gently takes the crystal phial from my hands, sending more cool tingles across my skin as their finger brushes mine. “I thought you might enjoy that one; it’s particularly easy to sink into, that feeling of freshness… lightness. It just makes you feel so clean, healthy and oh so very relaxed. Am I wrong?”
“N-no…” My voice comes out much breathier and softer than I intended; I blink and clear my throat awkwardly, a heat coming to my cheeks as my mind is still somewhat distracted by the lingering herbal perfume. “No, not at all, it’s very refreshing, excellent choice.” This time, I manage to wrangle enough attention back to speak in full sentences, still somewhat abashed by my awkward initial reply and trying to compensate with a more focused, direct tone.
It’s not easy to see in the comfortable gloom – did it get darker in here? – but I could swear I see the attendant’s warm smile twist into a smirk just before they turn away from me, placing the bottle delicately on the central table. They retrieve the bowl of coffee beans, offering it to me again. “As refreshing as that was, I have a few other things I think you might want to try before making a decision, so it’s time to cleanse your palate again. Like before, breathe all the way out…”
Following their instruction again, I close my eyes and breathed out hard, expelling the lingering traces of the herbal perfume from my lungs, feeling that familiar tightness in my chest again. “..and breathe in again,” I hear the attendant say, and again, I follow their rhythm. That dark, earthy scent forces my eyes to snap wide open, almost making me cough from the sudden influx of sensation wiping away the remaining cool tingles. It’s only when the smell of coffee jerks me back to awareness that I realise how fuzzy my mind and body had just felt, how much my shoulders had slackened, how much I had been swaying from the perfume. It’s only now that I realise that I had never raised my hands to take the coffee bowl; the attendant is patiently holding it up to my nose, that same gentle, somewhat enigmatic smile still playing across their features. If they had noticed how much my body had just slackened, they certainly didn’t show it, so I opt to keep quiet, hoping not to draw attention to my slightly dazed enjoyment.
“There we are, palate cleansed,” they say in a slightly sing-song tone; somehow, they still managed to convey their excitement without ever raising their voice above the smoothness they had when I first entered. Laying the bowl of coffee beans aside again, they reached beside me to pick up another glass vial, again offering it to me. “This one’s a little less herbal and a little more floral; sweet, smooth and warm, but I think it’ll be just as relaxing as the last one.”
As I take it, a perturbed voice pipes up in the back of my head, causing me to frown. “Hang on…” I go silent for a moment, trying to think of a way to word the thought politely. “Sorry, it’s just that… usually, when I go looking for cologne, the attendants usually say a lot more while I’m testing the different choices out. Asking whether I enjoyed it, drawing my attention to the different subtleties, telling me about what’s in it… I don’t mind you being quieter at all, it’s no problem for me, it’s just… a little different to what I’m used to, that’s all. I don’t mind it, though.” As I speak, I notice my words getting faster and more feverish, a pink heat rising to my cheeks again. I’m half-afraid to look at them directly, inwardly praying the they take the comment well.
My worries are assuaged as the attendant chuckles richly, their smile widening into an amused grin. “Oh, I’d never dare interrupt you when you’re so obviously enjoying yourself,” they reply, causing yet more blood to rush to my cheeks. “The important thing about your cologne is what you like about it, not what others think is important, and I’m quite happy to wait for you to figure out what that is for yourself. And besides, it’s one of the pleasures of this job to be able to watch my customers enraptured by my scents.” They end with a coy wink, and I can’t help but look away, rubbing the back of my neck in slight embarrassment. I can’t help a slight smile rising to my lips, though.
Hoping to distract myself from the pink flush in my cheeks, I quickly spray the amber-coloured liquid onto the scent tab, again waiting for a few seconds for the solvent to evaporate before pressing it gently under my nose. Oh… I’ve found where that wonderful vanilla scent came from, that smooth, slightly sweet scent, like the olfactory equivalent of a warm, fuzzy blanket. A tingle of delicious pleasure runs its way down my stomach, warming my lungs before it settles in the pit of my stomach, feeling so light and comfortable. I can feel a tide of saliva building in my mouth, I barely have the focus to close my lips to prevent it from dripping down my chin. The distinctive caramel-like scent of tonka beans is there too, along with some zesty citrus smell… not bergamot, something sweeter… orange, perhaps? After a moment, a note of jasmine, smooth and sensual, comes through, sending another wave of tingles skittering their way across the top of my skin. It’s… it’s sweet, but not too sweet, and warm, comfort distilled, put into a bottle and now, flowing in through my nose. I’m humming again, each of the little noises of appreciation sending another little jolt of soothing pleasure from my lungs, up through my neck and into my head. Ah… it’s blissful. I don’t know when I closed my eyes, but at some point, it registers that both my sight and hearing are gone, gently overpowered by the intoxicating smell filling my nose and lungs.
I feel a hand on my forearm, the warmth of somebody else’s skin sending yet more pleasurable tingles racing up my arm. “Would you like to sit down?” It’s the voice of the attendant, that smooth, gentle, friendly voice, so calming, so light. “I know, this one’s especially relaxing, but that’s okay, I have a chair set up exactly for this, so you can feel free to lose yourself in the smell without having to worry about anything else.”
I nod slowly, half-opening my eyes to see a plush armchair in front of me. Had that always been there and I just hadn’t noticed it? Or had the attendant moved it in without me knowing somehow? As I turn around to sit in it, I constantly feel the attendant’s hand on my arm, holding it gently. I’m not sure if I’m moving of my own accord or if the attendant’s subtly guiding me. I’m not sure if I care either way. The chair is very soft and squishy, feeling very comfortable beneath me as I lay one hand on the armrest, while the other is still holding that glorious scent stick against my nose. I’m not sure how long I’ve been holding it against my face; time seems to be passing very slowly all of a sudden.
Their fingers brush mine again as they – gently, but nonetheless firmly – prise the vanilla perfume from my grip. I feel the instinct to whine at the removal of the source of that brilliant blend of scents, but manage to suppress it; my mind may feel warm and fuzzy, but I’m still not about to start making noises in public. Instead, I content myself with the remaining whispers of jasmine, tonka bean, and orange fluttering about my nose, barely daring to breathe out for fear of losing my grip on them.
I’m only dully aware of the attendant approaching again, holding that glass bowl. “Well, now, I can tell you really enjoyed that one,” I hear them say, their voice as sweet and smooth as the cologne I’m still smelling the whispers of. “The chair was a good idea, wasn’t it? Gives you the support to just sink into the smell. It’s even better when you don’t have to think about how you’re holding yourself, especially when it’s such a wonderfully sweet scent as that one.”
I nod, but I’m only half-listening. I’m mostly unaware of their enigmatic smile widening again, even though they’re standing right in front of me, although it’s audible in their voice when they speak again. “I’m afraid we’re going to have to cleanse your palate again, though, there’s still more things I want you to try. Now, follow along with me. Deep breath out…” Even though it means pressing the last of the scent out of my lungs, I follow the instruction without protest, forcing all the air out. It’s a little easier to fully do sitting down, my abs helping my diaphragm along. “…and breathe in.” As I hear the attendant breathing in, I follow along. Once again, that intense burst of scent wrenches my eyes wide open, wiping away the pleasurable tingles – but this time, a few tremors of pleasure still remained, individual sparks of enjoyment firing at random throughout my upper body. My head cleared, but not completely; the comforting feeling of being wrapped up in a blanket of scent persisted, the memory of the smell remaining. The room seemed even darker now – was the sun setting? Had I been here for that long? I banished the thoughts; the blackout curtains made it impossible to tell what time it was outside, and surely, I had only been here for a couple of minutes. Right? Or was that just because my eyelids were falling again, comfortably half-closed? Wait a minute… how long had they been doing that?
I look up at the attendant – look up? Oh, right, of course, I had sat down, to… to… to enjoy the scent of the colognes more, of course. I’m not complaining, it is a very comfy chair. Very good idea of the shop to have a chair there, for anybody who might want to relax. The attendant offers me another bottle; I take it eagerly. They’ve been right on the money with my preferences thus far, they’re doing an excellent job. The overhead light catches the neatly cut crystal, sending a muted rainbow shimmering across the surface of the phial as they speak. “This one’s a good bit earthier, a little nutty, not too spicy or woody, but still dark and warm. Please, take all the time you need to fully enjoy it, it’s quite a complex scent.”
Once again, I go through what is now becoming a ritual; spray with one quick squeeze, wait a few seconds for the solvent to evaporate, and then press the scent tab against my nnnnuuuugh… the scent, it’s, it’s… the scent of vetiver, it’s heavenly… citrus-y, just a little, but with those undertones like old, smooth leather. My eyelids slam shut again, I no longer have the energy to even try to keep them open as my eyeballs begin to flicker. There’s no… I can’t… if there’s any sound or light in the room, I’m wholly unaware of it, all sensation is overpowered by that incredible blend of smells. There’s the scent of cloves, I’d know that blend of sweet and spicy anywhere, and cinnamon, that warm, enticing woodiness… those tingles, those fiery tingles, racing down my spine, into my legs… if I were still aware of it, I’d be grateful for the chair supporting me, my thighs are trembling with pleasure so much that I don’t think I could stand if I tried. It’s all the effort I can muster not to just let my head roll back against the headrest, letting my mouth hang open in the blissful synthesis of scents, the symphony of sensation. My breath is coming quick and deep now, gorging myself on that leathery, woody blend, feeling those waves of pleasure radiating from my lungs with every inhale, feeling that delicious bolt of ecstasy firing up my spine and into my brain with every exhale. After several seconds – or minutes, or hours, I can no longer tell – I become dimly aware of a warm, smooth pressure on the back of the hand holding the scent tab to my nose. My arm has slackened, no longer having the strength even to hold up the crystal bottle, but something else is supporting me, keeping that glorious scent pressed tightly against me. I hear a voice, there are some words in the background, which my subconscious understands instinctively, but my conscious mind is far away, lost, bathing in the scent. My conscious mind can’t understand what they’re saying. But I don’t mind. As long as there’s more, more, more of this amazing perfume, I would do anything…
I can’t stop myself – I barely even want to stop myself – from whining as I feel the scent tab being pulled away from my face, taking with it the wonderful intensity of sensation. Had I been any more aware, I would have been appalled by the tiny, pathetic whimper, so desperate for more, just… please, give it back, the scent was so good, just a little bit longer, please, please…
Somebody’s finger taps against my lips softly, and I fall silent. “I know, it was so wonderful. Just sink back into the chair for now, you’ll have some more soon. Because that’s what you, want, right? More wonderful scents? You want it so badly, don’t you?”
“Yes…” My own voice, husky and shaking slightly – it feels like it’s somebody else speaking, but I can feel my lips moving. “Just… I want more, please…”
Again, that familiar pressure against my mouth, and I’m compelled to fall silent. I can hear the grin on their voice, that smooth, familiar voice… “Good, good… we’re almost done, there’s just one more fragrance I want you to try out for me, okay? You know what that means, time to cleanse your palate again. Deep breath out…”
I obey instinctively, breathing out completely, following their rhythm. I do my best to squeeze out every last bit of air still in my lungs, before I’m instructed to “breathe in…” and there’s that rush of heady earthiness again, dragging my eyes open to see the smiling face of the attendant above me, their long hair framing their face and blocking my peripheral vision, preventing me from looking anywhere else. I dimly realise that my mouth has fallen open, a trickle of drool pouring down out of the corner of my mouth and dripping off my jaw. Rather sheepishly, I shuffle myself back into the chair, correcting my slouched posture as I wipe away the saliva on my cuff. Even though my eyes have been forced open again, they still feel heavy and dull, the room seeming darker than ever; instead of feeling like I’ve just had a shot of espresso, I now feel the muted, dull tiredness of having stayed up too late at night. My mind is still floaty and fuzzy, enraptured by the tingling afterglow and the memories of the scintillating scents I’d been given – that they had given me.
“Looks like you enjoyed that one a lot as well, eh?” The attendant pulls the bowl of coffee beans away from my nose, replacing it on the table beside the three glass phials I had just smelt. “You know, if you’re going to love all of these so much, it’s going to be difficult to pick which one you want in the end.”
“Or… or I could just take all of them,” I mumble, slightly surprised by how soft and quiet my voice has become. I’m not sure why exactly I dare not raise my tone above a meek murmur, but something about feeling small and quiet in front of the attendant felt… so very satisfying.
My answer provokes another deep, rich chuckle from the attendant as they turn away, scanning the shelves for their final selection, their coup de grâce. “You’re very kind, I appreciate your honesty, but do be kind to your wallet as well,” they reply, pulling a crystal bottle from a cloth bag at the very back of one of the tables. This one looks different from the others, larger, heavier, more ornately carved, and filled with a deep, royal purple liquid, compared to the light green, colourless and amber fluids filling the other three phials. It also notably lacks a scent tab. As the walk back towards me, locking their eyes with mine again, they speak softly, politely. “Now, this one is rather special, it doesn’t work very well on a scent tab, but its true magic is revealed when it’s sprayed on the skin and can mix with the natural scent of the wearer. I’d like to spray a little on my hand and wrist so you can get a true sense of what this last one’s really like, is that okay with you?”
I nod fervently, unquestioningly; the attendant hasn’t led me wrong at all, they seem to know exactly what I’ll enjoy, what’s best for me. They smile graciously, keeping a good distance away as they give their hand one stiff spray. They must be keeping away to keep me from smelling it before they’re ready, and I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for the approaching scent. Part of me wants to leap up and bound over to them, my curiosity blazing, fascinated by this final scent, kept in such an elaborate casing. They’d shown me such wonderful blends of sensation thus far, was it even possible that this last one could top those? I held my breath in anticipation, not wanting to let a whisper of the smell enter my nose without permission. They were walking closer; the scent was so close. It’d be so easy to just inhale now, latch onto whatever whiff I could find, just to reach out and grab their hand, but no, I have to be patient. They’re reaching towards me, towards my face, their hand filling my vision. I keep holding my breath; I have to be patient, I want it to flood me all at once, I need the scent, but I need to obey, I need the scent, I need to obey, I need –
Their fingertip touches the philtrum, the space right between my upper lip and my nose, and I know I have permission. I inhale and…
They’re no longer hums of appreciation, quiet moans are beginning to escape my lips. It’s… it’s overpowering… but it’s so good… my eyes roll back, my head slumps, about to roll slackly on my neck before it’s caught by that hand, the hand coated in that… divine scent… every shuddering inhale sets my body aflame with pleasure, every exhale is a moan of bliss. That exquisite, woody, smoky scent of frankincense, filling me up with every inhale… the rich, musty agarwood, sending electric jolts rocketing down my abdomen and up my thighs… the spicy hit of cardamom, blanking my mind and body… and all of it, every single note in the complex, spicy mixture, brings out their natural musk all the stronger. The sweetness, the sensuality of their skin against my cheek… all I can smell is them, it’s… it’s amazing… I’m drowning in them, I’m drunk on their scent… my head is spinning, the one thing which grounds me is the feeling of their hand against my cheek, their thumb gently tracing my jawline… my body is slack and slumped, I’m only barely aware of them guiding me down, down, down to rest my head in their lap. I can’t… I can’t think, the words aren’t coming… the internal monologue is breaking down, thoughts spitting and misfiring, fading into the glow of the scent, of my desire. I’m bathing in pleasure, I’m bathing in their scent, their musk, mind wiped away… empty… and obedient… they’re speaking, whispering in my ear, my conscious mind is far, far away, I can’t understand them, but my subconscious obeys…
There’s no more thoughts, just the scent…
Only the wonderful scent, their scent, that’s all that matters now…
Please, don’t let this ever end…