Heaven’s Just a Sin Away: The Devilscent Project, Chapter One
Heaven's just a sin away oh oh, just a sin away
I can't wait another day I think I'm giving in,
How I long to hold you tight oh oh, be with you tonight
That still won't make it right cause I belong to him…
Oh way down deep inside I know that it's all wrong
Your eyes keep tempting me and I never was that strong…
Devil's got me now oh oh, gone and got me now,
I can't fight him anyhow I'm think he's gonna win,
Heaven's just a sin away oh oh, just a sin away
Heaven help me when I say I think I'm giving in…
- From The Kendalls’ song “Heaven’s Just a Sin Away,” lyrics by Jerry Gillespie
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 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. This is the first chapter of my exploration of these potent perfumes, so let us enter a shadow world...
On a dark night, in a teeming city stained with clouds and smoke, the lone figure of a woman approaches an all-night diner. The fog is so thick that the streetlights are just smears of pale and sickly yellow-green and the neon sign in the window blinks feebly on and off; some of its letters are missing. The woman slips into the shadow of a nearby doorway. She is wearing a short trench coat, heels and the dark glasses of a film star, although it is very late. Something has drawn her to this place but she is not sure what it is. A nagging feeling of being followed has dogged her steps on this night and she just wants to find a safe haven for a little while. No one is visible nearby, so she follows the light and hurries into the restaurant. A bell jingles as the door swings shut, and one or two patrons turn to look at her, then turn back to nursing their thick white mugs of coffee. The steamy trail of the brew rises to meet her nose and the dense atmosphere inside the low-ceilinged place gives off a welcome warmth. She realizes that she is very hungry and the coffee’s aroma makes her mouth water, but there are no seats at the Formica-covered counter. Glancing around, she notices that the diner is decorated in a nostalgic retro style, with faded photos of movie stars on the walls and a wrap-around marquee above the counter meant to look like the lights of Broadway. The waitress taking orders is a platinum blonde with blood-red lipstick and chunky shoes with Cuban heels. The woman muses for a moment that this is a strange part of town for such a tourist trap spot to succeed, but gives it no more thought right then, since a booth has just opened up in the darkest corner of the room, and she sinks gratefully into its vinyl embrace.
When the waitress comes over, the woman notices that she is not as young as she first appeared; her makeup is caked and heavily applied, and she looks drawn and tired. The woman feels a tug of sympathy before reciting her order of coffee, ham steak, hash browns and cinnamon toast. Even the menu is retro, and she can’t believe how low the prices are. She would have paid three times as much downtown for half the food. This makes her wonder once again how a place like this can possibly make it in the year 2012. Still, it’s nearly full even at this hour – how late was it, anyway? She looks at her digital watch but it has stopped working. Looking around, she spies a clock near the kitchen door; it’s almost midnight. She adds sugar and cream to the inky, bitter coffee in front of her and its sweet aroma is pleasing as its rising steam mingles with the smell of her damp raincoat, floor wax and the diner patrons’ body odor and cigarettes. (Perfume: Midnight at the Crossroads Café by Neil Morris.) The food arrives, and she begins to relax as she digs in. She is just finishing her cinnamon toast when the door opens again, the clock on the wall chimes twelve midnight, and then everything changes.
He comes though the door like a cat sneaking in after a hunting expedition. His hair is slicked back and looks freshly razor-cut, and his shoulders are broad, his body powerful. His gaze rakes the room and he sees that the only empty seat is the one in her booth. His stride is purposeful as he crosses the short distance to where the woman sits, staring at him as though she has never seen a man before in her life. He takes the seat across from her and gestures to the waitress without taking his eyes off her. His appearance is best described as what is commonly called Black Irish – that fatally attractive combination of jet-black hair and bright blue eyes, in combination with strong, lightly tanned facial planes and just enough grey at the temples. It is the face of a man who knows exactly what effect he has on other people and takes it as his due, the kind of man for whom conquest is as easy as breathing, but he doesn’t want easy; he wants a challenge.
The contrast between him and the woman is striking. She has deep auburn hair that tumbles around her shoulders, jade green eyes and a ripe, curvaceous figure. She is small-framed but her legs are long and shapely beneath the tweed pencil skirt she wears. A blouse of peach-colored silk drapes gracefully over her body. He catches the drift of her perfume and it throws him off guard a little – not what he expected to smell on a woman like her, not at all. Instead of smelling like some cheap drugstore cologne, she is emanating a delicious scent like ripe apples and pomegranates, mingled with roses and a whole field of wildflowers. Instead of a clichéd potion calculated to seduce, she is giving off the most seductive aroma of all – youth, innocence, purity, and freshness, yet mixed with a strange coldness, and something he cannot quite pinpoint - and he is mesmerized (Perfume: Lilith by Neil Morris). Yes, he was right - she is exactly what he is looking for, and more.
For her part, she still can’t stop looking at him. He was the last thing she could have possibly expected to see in a place like this. It helps not at all that he is wearing an expensive black leather coat and a crimson scarf of what is obviously the finest cashmere, carelessly thrown around his neck as if he were unaware of its visual impact. On the surface, he seems to be a man of sophistication, perhaps even great wealth, so self-assured is he, but in his eyes of brilliant blue there is restlessness, like something caged and pacing. She had heard the term “alpha male” used many times but she knows that she is now face to face with the real thing; he gives off raw sexual magnetism like smoke and she imagines that she actually sees wisps of it like a dark halo around his head. It must be the dim light and the cigarette haze, she thinks, as the waitress sidles up to the stranger, order pad in hand. He turns his gaze to the blonde and says: “Coffee, black” then pauses just for a beat and adds “Please.” Then he smiles. The waitress, whose name badge says her name is Violet, nods wordlessly, her lips parted, and looks as though her legs are about to give out; the seated woman knows just how she feels and is grateful that at least she is not on her feet, because that smile of his just melted all the glaciers on the Matterhorn.
He turns back and speaks directly to her for the first time. She is not exactly sure what he is saying; she feels light-headed and confused, and she is perspiring in the closeness of the room. His voice is a perfect match for the smile, an irresistible force with a smooth, dark timbre that resonates within her like the rumbling of a freight train. She takes a deep breath and tries to focus. It’s so overwhelming, the scent of him in this place, the sudden lurching of her heart, the feeling that something extraordinary is happening that she is powerless to control. He does not look like a criminal but there is nothing safe about him. She can smell the leather of his coat and the muskiness emanating from his skin; she knows it must be some really pricey cologne, but it’s like nothing she has ever seen in the department stores she frequents. It smells like a very expensive private club, but not the kind that will accept just anyone as a member. (Perfume: Devilscent No. 1 by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy.)
Ha asks her if she would like to leave with him. She has no idea what she is doing but she says yes because there is nothing else to say. He has not really given her a choice. She picks up her coat and slides out of the booth. She pauses and looks at her watch again but it’s still stopped. She realizes that it’s unusually quiet as they step outside into the fog. Even at this hour, the traffic should be somewhat steady over on the Avenue, but only a few cars can be heard, if not seen. She looks around and sees that a lone cab is parked at the corner. It’s one of those touristy ones, an old Checker taxi, boxy and broad. She has not seen one of these relics for a long time. The man takes her elbow and propels her gently but firmly toward the car; it must have been waiting for him, she realizes, as the driver steps out and tips his hat to her companion. He is wearing a shiny uniform and a visor cap with gold braiding. The cabbie opens the passenger door and she gets in, feeling dwarfed by the cavernous interior. The tall man sits beside her and immediately puts his arm around her shoulders, drawing her close. She can smell the leather, and the man, and in this enclosed space, it starts to feel different, as though she is falling down a well and slipping into the abyss; his dizzying presence now has an undercurrent of danger that is deeper than anything she has ever known. (Perfume: Devilscent No. 3 by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy.)
Suddenly feeling very afraid, she tells him that she should really go home, it’s so late and she is tired, and she has to go to her job in the morning. He laughs at this and tells her there is nothing to worry about. He gives a command to the driver in a language she doesn’t understand, rough and guttural - German, perhaps? As they turn onto the Avenue, something is very wrong. Where are the First Bank tower and the big video billboard? Where are all the cars? All she can see are a few antique vehicles parked on the street and what looks like a delivery truck in front of a brownstone. A man in white coveralls lifts a metal crate filled with glass milk bottles out of the truck’s back end and sets it down on the curb. Bewildered, she looks at the dark-haired man beside her and finally finds her voice. “What’s happening?” She whips her head around as a brightly lit and rapidly spinning barber pole catches her eye. “What is this place?”
“It’s not where we are, it’s when,” he says. “This is your city, but not your time. When you came into that café you entered my world, and I am going to show you things you have never seen before.” A quick word to the driver and the taxi pulls over next to an all-night newsstand. The cabbie flicks a nickel at the owner and picks up a newspaper. He hands it through the window to the woman, and she scans it frantically under the greasy glow of a streetlamp. The headline makes no sense but the photo looks familiar; can that possibly be Harry Truman? She squints and looks more closely and then she sees it, the date under the bold lettering of the paper’s name, in small letters: March 25, 1946. 1946?
Far behind them now, the sign in the diner’s window finally flickers to life and glows a dull red. The words spelled out in angry neon are in no tongue known to humankind.
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.