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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Heaven’s Just a Sin Away: The Devilscent Project, Chapter Three

By Donna

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. The second chapter of my exploration of these potent perfumes took us to a very dark place, and when we left the story, all hope seemed lost. Let us go back and see what happened to our heroine and her mysterious companion….
She has been carried to one of the couches and lies there, still as death, one arm trailing to the floor. He sees how pale she has become, like a woman made of marble, and she is just as cold to the touch. Someone brings him a chair and he sits next to her, lifting her limp arm and interlacing his fingers with her icy ones. Not for the first time does he note her unusual beauty; her bright russet hair is almost the same color as her satin gown and her skin is nearly translucent with its natural blush quelled. Faint blue veins make her seem even colder than she is. As he leans in to look at her, he catches her scent; over the fruity tang of her fragrance a chilly, autumnal pallor lingers, as though her very life force is seeping away into the night air. He can even smell damp earth, and an aroma like mushrooms and crumbling forest humus, as if in preparation for the grave that seems determined to claim her. He knows that in order for their plan to reach its final stage, her life must not be jeopardized, at least for a while, and he calls out urgently for a warm blanket and some brandy. (Perfume: Lil 1 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)
She awakens slowly in a darkened room. She cannot remember where she is at first, her head is throbbing so, and nothing is familiar, from the heavy furniture to the smell of wax to the thick blanket that covers her. She thinks for a moment that he is at home in her own bed and has simply had a very bad dream; the kind that lingers on after sleep has ended. She wonders what it was she had to drink that could have given rise to such feverish images, such wild scenarios, such intense emotions. Whatever it was, she thinks ruefully, she will pour it down the drain as soon as she gets out of bed, whenever that might be. She won’t be drinking that again. What was she thinking, to imbibe so carelessly, and it was not even New Year’s Eve! Living alone has its good points, but drinking alone is not a habit she wants to form. Oh, how her head hurts….

Suddenly she hears a sound at the door, and the knob turns slowly. Someone is breaking in! She swings her legs over the side and tries to stand, but she is so dizzy and disoriented, she has to sit down abruptly. Her legs are tangled up in the blankets – no, wait, it’s a long dress, and she is wearing it. How can this be? The door opens, and when she sees who steps into the room, the haze in her mind finally clears and she realizes that alas, this is no dream, she is still inside the great stone house in the forest, and she is a captive at the mercy of the man standing before her.  Using every ounce of her will, she raises her eyes to his.

“How long have I been asleep?” She is afraid of the answer.

He smiles and says, “You call that sleep? It was more like Snow White after she ate the poisoned apple.” He crosses the room and parts the curtains, revealing a grey and misty dawn, then leaves her alone again. The bleak light does not make her feel any better, but at least it is too weak to hurt her eyes. So it is morning now, and that nightmare of an evening is over. Now what will happen next?  A wave of utter hopelessness washes over her; how can she ever get out of this place - and time - and back to her own life? No carnal pleasures on Earth are worth the price of coming face to face with such evil. What were those people doing here, especially that…Nazi?  The word makes her shudder, even though she does not speak it aloud. Why, and how, is Devon mixed up with him and his ilk?  Why is that man not in prison for his crimes?  And who were all those others, dressed in their silks and furs and drinking champagne all night long? Reluctantly trying to recall everything about the night before, she realizes that it had been some kind of celebration, but of what? The house is silent now, so she assumes that the revelry continued well after her ignominious exit, and that everyone else was still sleeping it off. How will she ever face them? She feels so very alone, with the acrid odor of fear lingering on her skin, and the bedding holds the faint smell of stale perfume and chilled sweat, everything blanched and listless on this ominous day. (Perfume: Devilscent No. 2 by Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy.)

She gets up finally, reluctantly, and finds that there is one good thing about being imprisoned in a great house; there is a private bathroom just through a side door. She takes a hasty bath, and then realizes that she has nothing clean to wear. But she has underestimated Devon; draped on a chair in the corner is a change of clothing for her, and she is grateful that at least he chose well, for it includes a warm sweater in loden green, tailored tweed trousers and sturdy shoes. She dresses quickly and pulls her hair back into a practical French twist. Whatever happens next, she must be ready to face it. She takes a deep breath and opens the door into the unknown. Since she has no memory of coming up here, she has no idea how to get out, but she sees a stairway at the end of the long carpeted hallway, and heads for it. As she descends, she smells the aromas of breakfast food and hears the clanging of pans; apparently, whoever inhabits this house has a staff of servants who rise early to please their masters, for no one else seems to be up and about. She reaches the main level and looks out the window into the courtyard, where a few of the long black cars remain. There is no sign of Devon’s mysterious chauffeur, however. Does that mean that he has left her alone here? No sooner has she thought of this alarming possibility than he joins her, having come in quietly as she had her back turned. “Are you feeling well, my dear?” He takes her hand and brings it to his lips, and against her will, she responds. He is so very charming, and she is still in shock from the previous night’s events. He draws her close, and she breathes deeply into his shirt, trying to collect her swirling thoughts.

She finally draws back and dares to ask the question. “What are we doing here, and when are we leaving? I hate this place, and that awful man!” She grimaces at the memory of those cold blue eyes.

“I know you do, but we must remain for a few more hours. Do not worry, you are in no danger here; there is much that you do not understand, but it will soon become clear. Right now, you must be very hungry, since you never had dinner last night. Shall we go in to breakfast?”

Reluctantly, she takes his proffered hand, and she relaxes a little as they enter a large, sunny room where a sumptuous buffet of meats, eggs, pastries, fruits and juices is laid. It does smell wonderful, and she has not eaten anything since yesterday’s lunch. They fill heavy china plates with a delicious assortment of delicacies, and then go to a table near a window overlooking a walled garden. There is not much to see this time of year but wind-tossed black branches and a few birds eating red berries in a tangled hedge, so she looks around the room and notices a man in the corner, seated alone and reading a newspaper. She cannot see his face, but she can tell that he is tall and bulky. An impressive amount of food is already set before him, and just then, a uniformed servant enters carrying a large covered serving dish, which she puts down in front of him after removing an empty plate. Lila is surprised to see an entire roast duck, brown and crisp, in a thick sauce with stewed fruits, not exactly what one would expect for breakfast fare. It smells wonderful, and she wonders why he is getting such special treatment instead of eating from the generous buffet offerings.

Dev follows her gaze; his back is toward the big man, and he turns around. “Oh, Lila, here is our gracious host!” He stands and gives a little bow. “Sir, you do set a good table for your guests, and it is much appreciated.”
The man lowers his newspaper and nods toward Devon. His face is broad and ruddy, and so blunt it looks unfinished and somehow disturbing, like a bad clay molding of a sculpture. Then he looks directly at Lila and again, as she did with the German the night before, she feels the force of unwelcome attention. In his crude face she sees bottomless greed, and not just for food; it is a mindless avarice, unblinking, uncaring, gathering everything it wants before it without restraint, and it seems that what he wants now is her. Then he looks down at his plate and stabs his knife decisively into the duck. The smell of the rich food around her suddenly loses its appeal, and all she can think of is getting away from this assault on her senses. (Perfume:  Dev 3 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)

Now she is even more dismayed at the prospect of spending any more time in this house, but she has no idea what to do about it; she is at Devon’s mercy. She keeps her face expressionless and eats a few bites. If she is going to get through this day, she must have all her strength. She forces a smile for Devon and looks out the window again, finding the chilly vista more pleasing than before. She notices that there is a rustic wooden gate at the back of the garden, and just then, a lone figure crosses the windswept lawn carrying a rake and a large bucket, opens the gate and leaves the garden. She wonders idly what kind of gardening tasks need to be done on a blustery day like this.

Finally, they are done eating and Devon escorts her back to the upstairs bedroom. She is feeling much stronger, but she tells him she needs to lie down again, and although he frowns slightly, he agrees that she still looks tired and tells her he will come back in a couple of hours to check on her. She waits for a while until she cannot hear any activity in the hall outside, then she slips out and hurries across the hallway to a darkened alcove. The coast is clear, so she heads quickly toward what she hopes is a stairway that leads to the kitchen and hence to the garden. However, it is a false start, since the stairs end at a landing that has an iron grillwork gate barring the way. How strange, she thinks; why would a stairwell be closed off in such a way? She retraces her steps and decides to go down a side hallway instead, as there must surely be more stairs in such a large house.  She finds what she is looking for at the end of the tapestry-hung hall. As she looks around her to make sure she has not been seen, her eye catches one of the wall hangings. At first glance, it is beautiful, antique silk with golden tassels and rich colors, but the subject matter is something else again. Fearsome figures, hairy, muscular with horns and tails, and lustfully naked, cavort gleefully among images of men and women bound with ropes and chains, their faces contorted in horror. The intricate border on the tapestry, upon closer examination, is a pattern of crimson and orange flames embellished with curls of black smoke. She shudders and goes down the steps as fast as she can. What kind of people are these? As she reaches the landing, she stops short as she hears a deep voice below. Devon! He must not find her here! She races back up and flings open the first door she sees and shuts it behind her. It appears to be an unused bedroom. She leans her head against the door and wonders when it will be safe to leave. Now she hears footsteps, and more voices. To her dismay, they stop right outside the room where she is hiding, and now she can hear what they are saying.

“That girl will be mine, I tell you. After the ceremony, but before the sacrifice, I will have her. This is my house, and your plan is being financed with my money. You won’t get far without my influence with the Senator, either. Buying him was not cheap! He is a pitiful weakling, but he has powerful friends. Now we only have to wait for the war bill to come up for a vote, and everything will be set in motion, just as you wanted. Then he will be a traitor and he will be trapped by his secret, forever bound to do our bidding.”

“Agreed. Just let me at her before the sacrifice, when you have finished with her. I want to see that fear in her face again. Let her final thoughts be of me, and of what I will do to her. That little bitch, how dare she humiliate me in front of our guests last night! She is nothing, nobody, and I will show her what happens to my enemies!”  The German’s voice oozes menace like poison.

“Calm down, gentlemen, calm down. We only have until this evening, and after sunset I will bring her to the altar room.  She will come willingly, I have seen to that. You have seen that she is perfect for our purpose, and once the sacrifice is done, the future will be changed forever. It took me a long time to find her, the one who can change the course of history, so do not be impatient. All will come to us in good time.”  

The last voice was Devon’s, and suddenly she can’t breathe or think. They moved away from the door, still talking, and headed back to the main hallway. What if he goes to the bedroom and finds her gone? What can she do now? He planned her doom and she fell right into the trap, seduced by his charm and magnetism. She feels utterly alone and betrayed, her own fear strong in her nostrils and a coldness seeping into her very bones.  From across the room, the ashy smell of a dead fireplace makes her feel even more desolate. The events of the past two days flicker in her mind like a bad movie, the images burning into her brain; the meeting in the café, the strange taxi ride, the  decadent night in the hotel, and the shock of meeting an infamous war criminal just a few hours ago. He has deceived her so completely, and she can’t comprehend the enormity of his treachery. (Perfume:  Dev 4 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)

Now she runs for her life, down the stairs and into a small foyer. She heads toward where she thinks the kitchen must be, hoping there is a door that opens into the garden. It’s her only chance, because she will never get past the front door into the main courtyard. She knows it can’t be seen from the bedroom she was in, so she should be safe for a few minutes. There it is, a side door with a row of sturdy pegs next to it that holds boots and heavy winter coats. She grabs a bulky jacket and puts it on, flipping the hood up to hide her flaming hair. Mercifully, the door is not locked and she exits; dropping into a crouch, she moves along the wall where she thinks the window of the breakfast room must be and presses against it as closely as she can. Finally, her legs shaking with cold and effort, she reaches the upper end of the garden wall, and all she has to do is make it as far as the gate and hope that the man she saw this morning did not lock it behind him. She stands up and walks slowly down to the end of the garden. If anyone happens to look out a window, she hopes she will appear to be one of the gardeners. She can barely keep from breaking into a run, but she forces herself to walk normally. She reaches the gate and puts her hand on the latch; it swings open without a sound. Outside the wall is a forest without much cover among the bare birch and maple trees, but there is a small pine thicket a few hundred yards away and she makes for it, walking briskly but not yet daring to run just in case she can be seen from the house. Reaching its shelter, she plunges into the center until the trees surround her and collapses on the cold ground, weeping with relief and terror. She has to find a way out of this, but she is lost and alone and in the grip of something so evil that she can’t understand what is happening to her. After what feels like hours, finally sure that no one has seen her, she struggles to her feet and leaves the stand of pines, heading away from the garden. Now she breaks into a run, heedless of where she is going as long as it takes her far from this dreadful place. She dares to look back just once, and the house seems to be staring at her with hollow, haunted eyes as it recedes into the distance. She turns again and flees, unaware of where she will end up, but knowing that she has no choice but to put it behind her. Into the woods she goes, deeper and deeper, as the afternoon shadows grow longer and the night approaches.

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.



Blogger Lucy Raubertas said...

Love how the details of the story describe the perfumes, and how the rest of it builds tension. The description of the tapestry is my favorite!

6:57 AM EST  
OpenID esscentualalchemy said...


This is such a nail biter! I hope she gets away! I agree with Lucy, I think you've written an amazing story here, and that the perfumes just adorn what is going on :)


9:52 AM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

Thank you Lucy! I flashed back to some William Blake imagery I saw as a very young child for the tapestry part - it scared the heck out of me!

1:36 AM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

Thanks so much Amanda! I am having such fun with this series!

1:38 AM EST  
Blogger Tammy said...

Donna, when can we expect your novel?????

11:45 AM EST  
Blogger Flora said...

Tammy, who knows! This project has given me a lot of new ideas....

10:00 PM EST  

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