I read only a couple of words here and there. I wasn’t about to start a full novel right in the middle of things. I’m not one to skip ahead, unlike my best college writing professor who instinctively would always turn to the final page of any written work to grasp the ending before she even read the title. I never understood this. She must get some sort of rush out of it. She can have it her way. Fiction works differently for everyone.
I was beginning to turn the page when I caught the smell of something strange. It didn’t come from anywhere in the house. No one was in the kitchen, and I knew for certain that I had taken a very thorough shower earlier. No, this smell came from the book on my lap. But it was not an old, musty book kind of smell. And why would one expect that? This book claimed to be unpublished. An old smell on a not-even-new book. Sure, that makes sense. This was a different smell. One I’m not too used to smelling, but I vaguely recognized it, but had no idea why. A possible odor of paint thinner or maybe faint gasoline crossed my thoughts. I tried to think of why I thought I knew it when my mind raced back to the title. The Boy in the Suitcase. I slammed the book shut and shoved it from my lap. That’s what it smelled like! Like an old suitcase that had been sitting in a garage for years.
The smell stayed in my nose and made my eyes begin to water. I felt a slight tickle in my throat and let out several loud coughs. I felt as though I had been locked in a suitcase myself for hours with little oxygen. Or at least long enough to produce a smell to be that of dust, old clothes, human breath and some weird sort of paint thinner combining enough to become a dry sort of borderline putrid. I cleared my throat and waited until the smell was gone from my nose. I thought long and hard about the elements of the smell. It certainly was strong! I still felt a little soreness in my throat because of it. I again thought of the title and began wondering what kind of a twisted book this was. Was it designed by some master author to physically bring you into the thick of the story? I’ve read amazing stories where the author can grasp complete control of your mind with their intense plots. It’s why people leave their lights on at night after finishing books like that. Something grabs their thoughts and doesn’t leave. But what if this author had managed to combine that power to harness the mental and physical all at once? I imagined an assembly line in the back of a publishing company warehouse where masked employees sprayed some sort of strong-smelling liquid over a thousand unpublished books to allow this odor to penetrate the pages before shipping. A light shiver ran down my back. I’m starting to dislike fiction more and more as the night goes on.
I get up the nerve to pick up the book again. I read the back cover slowly. I found that this book did not originate in the USA. It had been translated from the Danish language. Great. A Danish thriller that could eat you alive by barely touching it. I didn’t dare read it. But there was something about that smell. The longer it lingered, the more I seemed to think that I really did recognize it. Or something like a fresh, more potent version of it. It was one of those strange smells that you almost wanted to smell again, even if it’s not good for you. Like cigarette smoke or gasoline. I gather my courage and open the book again, trying to avoid the very center this time. I stick my nose into the crease of page eighty and sniff twice. I’m hit with a stronger version of the last smell and instantly I know why I recognized it. I blinked back a tear while belting out a string of coughs. My eyelids grew heavy and I fought the sensation of sleep. The word came stuttering out of my mouth.
And the world suddenly went black.