Heaven’s Just a Sin Away: The Devilscent Project, Chapter Two
The Devilscent Project is the brainchild of blogger (The Alembicated Genie), author and all-around provocateur Sheila Eggenberger whose novel, Quantum Demonology, poses a most intriguing question: What happens when you try to seduce the Devil? What trickery and charms must you use to ensnare the One whose home address is 666 Hades Circle? A select group of artisan perfumers has tried to answer this question with their mysteriously scented concoctions, all with this one thing in mind. Each was tasked with creating fragrances for the Devil himself and for Lilith, his eternal (and infernal) wife. A corresponding group of perfume writers was recruited to record our impressions of these potions. It works best if you read at least part of the book first to get the gist of the idea. (Warning: the book pulls no punches and is not for the faint of heart. Sheila takes us down to the very depths of depravity, and we beg for more.) Find their Devilscent Project writing on this page of Sheila’s blog and this page of Monica Miller’s Perfume Pharmer blog as they are published.
I was inspired not only by the book but by the perfumes themselves, all so different from mainstream offerings that some of them don’t even have a point of reference in conventional perfumery. I took artistic license and created my own story, with some parallels to Quantum Demonology but from another time and place. In the first installment, the scene was set. This is the second chapter of my exploration of these potent perfumes, so let us enter a shadow world, where we last left our characters in the darkness of the past...
The next few minutes are a blur to her, as the taxi wends its way through the foggy silence of the midnight streets. She has no idea where they are or where they are going, and the only thing she is aware of is him, his body pressed to her side and his arm holding her possessively; he need not fear her flight, she thinks, for where would she go? She is more than sixty years from home and her world is spinning out of control.
The taxi finally pulls over in front of a hotel with an intricate façade of stone, gilt and glass, an Art Deco masterpiece shining in the faint light. With a shock, she realizes that it’s already known to her, but not like this. The modern incarnation is a faded relic, forlornly accepting guests who are down on their luck, in a neighborhood ravaged by time and economic hopelessness. This is the same place in all its former glory, and when she steps out of the cab clinging to the arm of the stranger, she hears the sound of a piano coming from the lobby and sees the glitter of crystal chandeliers.
As they enter through the heavy front door held by a man in formal livery, she catches a glimpse of the hotel bar, where men in dinner jackets and women in evening gowns smile, laugh and clink their champagne flutes. A dapper black man plays a familiar tune on the grand piano; she thinks it’s something by the Gershwins but in her current state of mind, she can’t remember the name of the song. The air is faintly blue with smoke from unfiltered cigarettes and cigars; this is most certainly not 2012 anymore!
They enter a wood-paneled elevator, which is operated by another uniformed attendant, this one a smiling woman wearing white gloves. It rises slowly to the penthouse floor and they step out, still connected to each other. As the elevator closes ponderously behind them, the doors to the hotel suite swing open as if by magic on silent hinges, and they step inside. More chandeliers, but smaller, of baroque design and holding real candles illuminate the foyer and emanating a sweet and smoky beeswax scent, while a fireplace gives an orange glow to one corner of the huge room. A table for two is laid with formal place settings, but the linen cloth is an unexpected shade of blackish garnet; only the starched napkins are snowy white. All around the room, on small tables, on shelves and in wall sconces, are massive bouquets of deep red roses that match the table setting perfectly. The dining chairs, like all the furniture in the room, are upholstered in crushed red velvet, and velvet throws decorate the long sofa near the fire. Something smells heady and sweet; it’s the roses, as redolent as warm raspberry jam, and their scent mingles with the aroma of an extravagant chocolate confection topped with glistening cherries on a silver platter, its glistening ruby filling oozing from between its rich dark layers. An ice bucket beside it holds a magnum of Dom Pérignon champagne, something that she has never actually seen before, let alone tasted. It is simply overwhelming, especially since the stranger is still holding her and she can smell the leather of his coat as his body heat rises from it. (Perfume: Dev by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume.)
“Sit down” he commands, and she perches on the edge of one of the chairs at the table. He takes a single candle in a heavy silver base and touches it to the chandelier, then puts it on the table. A manservant with pale skin and slicked-back white hair steps from the shadows behind the entry door and pours two glasses of champagne, which he places before them. Then he cuts into the rich dessert and serves them each a large portion. Having done this, he backs away, bowing slightly, and leaves the room by a side door. She hears a key turn in the lock and turns to her mysterious companion. “Who are you? What do you want with me?”
He smiles that smile again and says, “You may call me Devon, and I think you know why I have brought you here. You…fascinate me. I want to know much more about you.”
She ponders that for a moment. “Somehow I have a feeling I won’t find out very much about you.”
“Ah, but that is where you are wrong, my dear Lila.” She is startled for a moment – how did he know her name? But of course he does, he seems to know everything so far. He goes on, “Before the evening is over, you will know things very few mortals have been allowed to discover, and far more than some have done. Consider yourself privileged to be here with me. Now, please have some refreshment and relax.”
She grasps the stem of the champagne flute with a trembling hand, as much for courage as anything, and takes a long drink. She has never tasted a wine so wonderful, and it sends a burst of effervescence right to her core. She had not thought she could eat any more after her hearty diner meal, but when she takes a bite of the chocolate dessert, it is as though she was starving, and she can’t get enough of it. So sweet and rich, yet with a bitter edge; the innocent looking cherries are imbued with a hypnotically strong liqueur, and the chocolate is as dense as night. She eats eagerly, and then catches herself and looks up at him cautiously. “How do I know you have not put something in this? Have you drugged me?” She begins to panic and glances around wildly.
“My dear, I want you fully awake, so do not fear; this is just a pleasant interlude before the evening truly begins.” She sees that he has drunk all his champagne but he has barely touched the chocolate. “Come now; let us sit by the fire.”
Something fierce and uncontrollable is sluicing through her body; is it the stranger’s presence, or was there really something in the food? She is past caring by now and allows him to lead her to a broad sofa. They have barely sat down on the soft velvet when he takes her in his arms, slowly lowers his head and kisses her lips. He tastes of champagne and musk and danger and she cannot help responding. Drugs or no, her veins are running with intoxication and there is no turning back. How can he be so warm and alive yet so aloof at the same time? Everything that has happened tonight has destroyed her equilibrium and this is breaking down her last barrier. She wraps her arms around him and feels his barely controlled strength as her hands explore his back. He presses her against the cushions and starts to unzip her skirt; she shifts her weight to make it easier for him and starts unbuttoning his shirt. He is silent now but his breath catches as her body is revealed in the firelight, and somehow his eyes are no longer blue, but dark and urgent. For her part, she has never seen a man so perfect, like a Greek statue come to life as his clothing is cast aside. When he finally draws her to him and their bodies are flesh to flesh, all thinking stops and there is nothing but sensation, more intense than anything she has ever known. She has no idea how long it lasts, everything else is obliterated, and all she can hear over the blood pounding in her veins is his voice murmuring to her in a strange language, and when they are sated and she thinks she can take no more, he picks her up and carries her into the bedroom. They fall into a huge bed that is surrounded by even more bouquets of blood-red roses, and it begins all over again as her hunger for him blazes anew for what seems like hours; how can it never be enough?
As dawn tints the sky outside, sleep finally comes, but not for long as they reach for each other yet again; she is trembling with exhaustion but her craving for him is still strong. Finally, he pulls away and looks at her lying there, as rumpled as the bed but flushed with desire, and the ripe scent of her body tells him that she is satisfied as never before. She looks at him and smiles slowly; she has never felt more female or more powerful, for after this night she knows that he has fallen under her spell as surely has she is under his. (Perfume: Lil by Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfume.)
She is famished now, and as if reading her mind, he gets up and slips on a black silk robe, then holds a robe of red satin out for her. He pulls a braided cord near the bed and the strangely silent white-haired man from the night before enters by yet another door, pushing a linen-covered trolley. He clears away the wine glasses from the night before and quickly lays out a hearty breakfast before retreating. They devour it like winter-starved wolves, laughing and relaxing; all the tension of the night seems to vanish with the sun. The world seems to contain only the two of them and the city outside is but a bauble at their feet, existing only for their amusement. She has a moment of practical clarity, and wonders aloud what she is going to wear; he leads her back into the bedroom and opens the door to a walk-in closet, which is lined with exquisite dresses, coats, hats and shoes, all in her size. She thinks to herself that it’s a perfectly preserved vintage collection, and then she remembers: in 1946, these are all brand new. She turns to him and asks, “What should I wear? Are we going out now?”
He smiles and takes her hand, then turns her around to look at herself in a floor-length mirror. “Where would you like to go, my dear?”
“I don’t know – I was going to say home, but I can’t do that, can I? Where can we go?”
“Anywhere you would like. The day is ours until evening, when I have planned something special, and we have a rendezvous with some friends we will be meeting for dinner. But first things first – we can’t go anywhere looking like this.” His smile turns wicked and she ruefully agrees.
He touches a wall sconce next to the mirror, which swivels on silent hinges to reveal a sumptuous bathroom of sea-green marble and tile, with racks of fluffy towels and a dressing table covered with bottles and jars of fine soaps, oils, and bath crystals. A bathtub with gold fixtures and filled with steaming water looks big enough to swim in, and scented candles line the shelves. Their robes fall to the floor and he helps her into the bath, which is scented heavily with the essence of roses. They soak in a haze of pleasure until it finally begins to cool, and they reluctantly step out onto a soft rug. Then he turns to select something from a nearby shelf. It looks oddly like a stone, but as he begins to caress her with it, she realized that it is it is some kind of cream, but not at all what she would have expected; instead of smelling like flowers, it is musky and earthy, sensual with herbs, resins and a hint of dark chocolate, and it seems to impart the fleshy aroma of his own warm body to her skin. It is soft and melting, and she sighs with delight as his gentle ministrations turn her skin to silk. Then she takes it from him and returns the favor, the warmth of his skin making it smell even more intensely sensual. (Perfume: Dev solid Massage Lotion Bar by Monica Miller of Skye Botanicals/Perfume Pharmer.)
Finally they go back through the mirror door and select clothes from the wardrobe. He is dashing in a dark charcoal suit and instead of the black leather coat from the night before, he sports a dove grey cashmere coat, but the bright scarlet scarf remains. She lingers over the beautiful dresses and finally chooses a tailored suit of soft brown tweed and low-heeled shoes of garnet leather. A veiled hat and a soft camel wrap coat complete her preparation, and they go out to the elevator. The same smiling woman greets them, but the lobby below is quiet in contrast to the night before. Out on the street outside it’s cold and blustery but he whisks her quickly into a waiting car; of course it’s the taxi from last night, but the driver is now dressed in crisp navy blue and white. A short drive later, they are in front of the city’s biggest department store, looking far more impressive than she remembers, until she remembers….
He tells the driver to wait for them and they walk arm in arm into the store, stopping now and again to touch the sleeve of a mannequin’s coat, smell a bottle of perfume or hold a crystal glass up to the light. She tries not to exclaim over the prices on the labels, but it’s hard for her to believe that a crystal bottle of the finest French perfume could ever have cost only fifteen dollars! And the beautiful clothes – when and why did people stop dressing like this? She smiles at the thought of the severely dressed sales clerks in their black dresses and pearls waiting on customers wearing baggy shorts, fanny packs and T-shirts with rude slogans on them. They leave the store and walk down the street looking into the windows of jewelry stores and millineries, occasionally going in to browse. After what seems like hours, they have lunch at a dimly lit restaurant after which he pays with cash. This reminds her that there are no such things as credit cards in this time and looks once again at her watch, but her trusty digital is gone, replaced by a delicate timepiece trimmed in gold with an alligator band.
She meets his eyes. “When did this happen? I don’t remember putting this on!”
“Of course you don’t – I put a spell on you first.” She is not sure if he is joking or not.
“Am I losing my mind now? What is this, some kind of crazy dream? Who are you, anyway? I only know your name, but that means nothing.”
“You will find out soon, my dear. All will be revealed tonight. I told you, we are meeting some good friends of mine.”
Back at the hotel, she finds that her ensemble for the evening has already been laid out for her. It is a beautifully draped sleeveless gown of bias cut heavy satin the color of hammered copper and matching opera gloves. Black velvet slippers with topaz trim and tiny heels beckon her feet. A mirrored vanity table holds a silver tray of hairbrushes, hair ornaments, cosmetics, powder puffs and perfumes. As she gets ready, she thinks of how easy it would be to get used to this. She twists her hair into a chignon, remembering a similar style on a chic woman in the restaurant where they had lunch and hopes it will help her blend in. She usually wears it loose, but she decides that would look odd for a formal occasion.
He emerges from the hallway, resplendent in formal black with a crisp white shirt and red tie. Is it her imagination or does he look different, sharper, perhaps a little angry or impatient? Before she can become concerned he smiles again and she finds it impossible to think, or even breathe. He kisses her bare shoulders, his hot breath lingering as he traces her skin with his lips. “Later…” is all he says. Then they go out into the night and the ever-present cab whisks them away from the city, past parks and over bridges until they are on a winding road lined with stately trees and impressive mansions, their windows glowing with light. The car turns into a broad driveway and climbs a steep hill before stopping in front of a brick gatehouse. A guard peers at them, then nods and presses a button, and a wrought iron gate opens silently before them. Around a curve they go and then a great house materializes before them in the dark, imposing and Gothic, with a somber stone façade and arched windows of leaded glass. It is mostly dark but there is a lantern over the front doorway to show the way. A row of long, shiny black cars lines the cobblestone courtyard and she is struck by how similar they look, almost military in their precision. She shivers, and not just from the chill of the evening. Devon helps her from the car and she holds his arm tightly as they approach the door, which swings open to reveal an ornate hallway. A silent man in black takes their coats, and then leads the way to a large reception room where formally dressed men and a few women mingle, smoke and drink. They all turn toward the entryway as one when they see who has arrived.
She notices that many of the men are in uniform but she cannot identify exactly what they are; they do look oddly familiar. One of the men puts down his champagne and strides over to greet them. He is balding and undistinguished except for his unusually pale blue eyes. He speaks in the same guttural language she heard Devon use the night before – now she can catch a few words and inflections and realizes that it’s German. He gives her a long look up and down but she can’t tell if he approves of her or not. He steps closer to Devon to whisper in his ear and she can smell his sweat and the rough wool of his uniform and something else, an overwhelming aura that creates a sense of unease in her. Devon smiles slightly and tilts his head toward her; it is obvious that they are talking about her now. The uniformed man looks into her eyes and she suddenly understands what her instincts are telling her. Cruelty emanates from those glacial eyes, implacable and calculating. It is not the sense of a sudden violent impulse, but rather of planning and deliberation, the gaze of a man who truly enjoys pinning a butterfly to a board while it is still alive and helpless. His malevolence is a living thing like acrid smoke in her nostrils, threatening to suffocate her. (Perfume: Dev 2 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)
Her companion turns to her and bows slightly. He speaks in English now. “Lila, may I introduce an old… friend of mine, Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann.” She stares blindly at the stranger, unable to think clearly as the infamous name registers in her mind and strikes her like a blow across the face. Then she sees it – on his uniform, along with the gold braid and the brass and the medals, one emblem stands out. A swastika has pride of place on his chest, a mesmerizing bull’s-eye of evil that makes everything else fade into the background. She feels herself falling as if through space and the room swirls around her. The last thing she sees before the black haze takes her is Devon, haloed in red, and smiling…
To be continued...
Image credit: Special effects flower photo by Donna
Disclaimer: All the Devilscent perfumes were sent to me for testing by the participating perfumers.