Heaven’s Just a Sin Away: The Devilscent Project, Chapter Four
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 all hope seemed lost. In the third chapter, our heroine made a terrifying discovery about what had happened to her and managed to make a harrowing escape…but did she really get away, or just jump from the frying pan into the fire? Let’s find out in the finale to the tale….
She runs and runs until she thinks her lungs will burst. She has to slow down as the darkness creeps into the woods and she is afraid of falling on the uneven ground. The house must be at least a mile behind her now but she can’t really tell how far she has come; there is no path and no sign of a road, for which she is grateful now, since it will be harder for anyone to follow her. Soon it will be too dark to find her way and she knows she must find shelter, so she heads down a slope hoping there will be a stream below. She is burning with thirst, and even though there is no food, she won’t get much further without drinking, and she wishes she had thought of putting something to eat in her pockets when she slipped out of the house. Too late now, and there are no berries or green shoots to eat at this time of year. Down the hill she goes, slipping on loose drifts of damp debris and pine needles. Suddenly her foot becomes entangled in a hidden root and she loses her balance, tumbling down and landing at the bottom with her face in a pile of cold, wet leaves. Stunned, she tries to take a breath and get her bearings. Except for a sore elbow, she is not badly hurt, but she is so exhausted that she just lies there waiting for the strength to get up again. It is so cold now and the light is almost gone. At least I am still alive and not in that awful place, she thinks, but what do I do now? The raw, primal smell of the forest floor fills her nostrils, and then she smells something else; smoke, acrid and strong, and tarry in a way that a fire out in the middle of nowhere should not be – this smoke smells like a burning house, or maybe rubber tires. What on earth can it be? She forces herself to turn over and gingerly sits up. Through the dense trees, she sees a dull glow, then a flicker, and then a shadow moves in front of it, barely visible in the dusk. Someone else is here! (Perfume: Devilscent # 2 by Neil Morris)
She freezes in terror and holds her breath, sinking slowly back down to the ground. Whoever it is must have heard her tumble down the hill, so she can only hope it’s a hunter or camper and not someone from the house. When she looks toward the fire again, a figure emerges from the trees holding a lantern. It is a man wearing a long coat, and when he lowers the lantern to see who she is, she sees the awful emblem on his arm: a swastika. Oh no, he’s one of them! She rolls quickly away and scrambles to her feet, backing away quickly – maybe if she runs fast enough she can escape. However, she has paid a price for her fall, and she feels a sharp pain in her left ankle as she pivots away. Running is out of the question, and all she can do is wait for the inevitable. So she is astonished and transfixed when the man takes a hesitant step toward her, stops, and then just says one word, softly. “Lila?”
“How do you know my name? What are you doing here? Where are the others?”
“Please don’t be afraid of me.” His voice seems almost sad as he pleads, holding his hands out to placate her. “There is no one here but me. They will miss me soon but I slipped out this morning unseen and they have no idea where I am. I was going to go back, but now that I see you have escaped, I don’t have to do it.” He speaks in clear yet halting English, with a heavy accent. “I am so happy to see you, let me explain everything. Come back to the fire and get warm. I have just made soup.”
What choice does she have? She can’t run and she can’t walk fast enough to get away, and she is so tired and thirsty. Her shoulders sag in defeat. “All right. I – please, I need water. I have been running for a long time and I am ready to collapse.”
“Of course, you must drink. Come, sit down.” He gestures toward a rough blanket folded on the ground. “Sorry it’s not more comfortable here, but I have not had time to make a better camp.” He hands her a canteen once she is seated and she drinks greedily and long. She thinks she must be even thirstier than she realized, because the water is the sweetest, most quenching elixir that she has ever tasted. Then he brings her a bowl of hot soup and some dark bread. She smiles gratefully, suddenly too exhausted to do anything but eat. Finally, she starts to feel a little stronger. Now the fire throws flickering light on the dark wood, as it is completely dark.
Her companion finishes his meal and stands up. She looks apprehensively at him, and he draws his coat tightly around himself. He paces nervously in front of the campfire, then turns to face her.
“I must tell you why I am here. I know you have no reason to trust me, but you need to hear me out.” He looks anguished, and she looks him full in the face and sees his distress. She also sees by the light of the fire that he is fairly young, with brown eyes and a chiseled face. His dark hair is cropped short in the military manner, and although he is not as good-looking as Devon, there is a kindness in his eyes that puts her at ease.
“My name is Franz. I come from a good family, and I became a commissioned officer in the Army to advance my standing. I wanted to be a diplomat. I never dreamed that I would be handpicked to join the elite corps surrounding our...leader. I cannot even speak his name.” He grimaces in disgust. “I hoped to have an uneventful career before that man came to power, but it all changed. I was trapped, and for the safety of my family, I knew I had to perform any duties asked of me. Mercifully my connections meant that I never saw combat during the war, and I was never sent to serve at any of the detention camps, but I knew what was happening, and I was forced to witness arrests and interrogations. My place was to be a glorified bodyguard for one of the Gestapo’s high ranking officers, and then when he was called to Poland, I remained behind and ended up in the retinue of Adolf Eichmann.” He laughs bitterly. “I thought my first position was bad, but this was so much worse. He is a monster with ice water in his veins, a cruel man with a terrible temper. When the war ended, I thought I would be free of him forever, but he escaped punishment and went into hiding, and took a few of his most trusted officers with him. I had no choice but to go; the power of the Nazis was broken, but he knew where my family lived, and I knew what he would do to them if I refused. So, with the help of a secret network, we have been living on the run ever since. No one knows that we are here now. I have not worn my uniform since Germany surrendered, but they made me wear it here. I have just been burning everything but this coat in the campfire. It makes them feel powerful to put on all their medals and gloat about what they did. I despise myself for enduring it until now, but I did not know what else I could do. But now they have gone too far, and I can no longer pretend to serve such a master.”
“I overheard them plotting one night; they did not know I was in the next room reading a book when I could not sleep. I could not believe what I heard, and I still cannot make complete sense of it, but Eichmann has aligned himself with an evil so terrible that the fate of civilization could be at stake if they win. Your friend Devon is at the center of it, with help from many others. Tonight was the night they were to carry out the plan, but since you are here, it is obvious that you must have suspected something. What happened?”
She tells him of the sinister tapestry, the voices in the hallway, and her desperate run into the woods. “What does it mean? What are they going to do to me? I thought Devon was my friend. Although I don’t think friend is the right word. He is fascinating, but intimidating too. It all feels so unreal, and I don’t belong here anyway. I just want to go home. Can you help me get home?”
“No, I cannot, but I hope I can save your life. I came out here to think, to plan, and to figure out how to keep them from harming you. Midnight was the hour, and I was just preparing to go back to the house when you arrived so dramatically.” He allowed himself a slight smile. “Remember the man you were going to meet that night, in your own time? If you had done so, you would have ended up marrying him and having a child, or so Devon told them. The only way to stop it was to keep you apart, and so he had to intercept one of you. Of course he chose you; he is a ladies man if nothing else. It was the child who was important – it would have grown up to become someone who would unlock buried secrets about the war they don’t want uncovered. Now he is done with you, and he would have handed you over to those other men. Believe me when I say there are worse things than dying, for I have seen them. What was planned for you tonight, I would not wish on my worst enemy. Now we must find a way to get you to a safe place, if such a thing exists. I deeply regret my weakness and inaction of the past, but if I can help you, I will be able to hold my head up again.”
She sits very still for few moments, trying to take in everything he has said. She must trust her instincts when all else has failed, and something tells her he is speaking the truth. She raises her eyes and says, “I will go with you. I have no one, and nothing, I have to trust you.” She struggles to her feet, and then remembers her sore ankle. She cries out and nearly falls, and as he reaches out to steady her she collapses into his arms. She smells the wool of his coat mingling with the smoke of the fire, but mostly she smells him, a musky masculinity that is so human, so warm and reassuring that she almost weeps with relief. Could it be that she has found someone she can rely on in this terrible predicament? (Perfume: Devilscent # 1 by Neil Morris.)
He releases her gently and takes her by the hand. “We must conceal ourselves and keep going. It is too dark now to travel, too dangerous in the woods at night. You must get some rest. I will douse the fire and you can sleep in the tent. I will stand guard just to make sure no one followed you.” She is more than willing to follow his instructions, and when she goes into the tent and finds the blankets already laid out, she is asleep in moments.
She awakens in the dark, not remembering for a moment where she is, and then it slowly comes back to her. Something is wrong; Franz had put out the fire, but a flickering glow plays across the tent, casting shadows in the small space. She crawls to the opening and pulls back the flap. Devon is standing there with his back to her, and Franz is facing him from across the remains of the campfire. When she gasps, Devon turns to see her there, and he is no longer the man she knows. His face, though still beautiful, glows like a burning ember, and his black clothing gives off an eerie light in the darkness. His signature red scarf is like a living flame, flashing and coiling around him like lightning. Her mind goes blank with fear.
“My dear Lila, surely you did not think you could hide from me forever?” His voice is as seductive as ever, and he meets her eyes like a cobra hypnotizing its prey. “You were greatly missed at dinner tonight. I told them you still had a headache, but when I went to your room to see if you had decided to come back, I was…disappointed. I am not accustomed to disobedience. Come back with me now and all is forgiven. I will not let any harm come to you, I promise.” He takes her by the shoulders and brings her to her feet. As ever, his magnetism is so compelling that she can barely breathe. He is giving off a powerfully sweet yet disturbing aroma, a smokescreen of sensuality that is drawing her helplessly into his words and she feels the force pulling at her. His body exudes light, but it is somehow the darkest thing that she has ever seen, darker than the night itself, enfolding her in its depth like the vortex of a maelstrom. Behind her eyes starbursts of blood red pulse and she falls toward him, unable to help herself. (Perfume: Dev 1 by Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids.)
“No!” It is Franz’s voice, hoarse and desperate, breaking the spell. “You will not take her back to that house. You will have to fight me first, you demon!” Devon releases her abruptly and she stumbles backward. He turns toward the German with a smirk on his face. “Do you really think you can win, you pathetic little man? Do you have any idea what you are dealing with? Who do you think you are? Do you know who I am?”
Franz stands his ground. “Yes, I do. I overheard your little plot, the bargain you struck with Eichmann and the rest of his unholy alliance. I cannot allow you to do this. I suspected something was not right with you the first time I saw you, and now I know what it is. You are the face of all evil, even though you are very good at hiding it. Go find someone else to torment; Lila has done nothing to deserve this. Not that you have a conscience, but she can’t really harm your plans. You have the power to keep her here or let her go home, and that means you can also keep her from meeting the man with whom you are so concerned. I know you are just toying with everyone involved, including your so-called friends. What would it take to betray them as well? An insult to your vanity? A broken promise if you don’t deliver her to them? I find it hard to believe that there is any honor in your agreement with those vermin. I can’t stop you from hurting someone else, but I will do my best to keep you away from her. Know this: I gave Lila a drink when she came to my camp. What she did not know was that I was saving that very special water for your midnight ceremony. She has been drinking the water from a true sacred spring, and if you touch her skin you will not like the result. Your kind has an aversion to holy things, am I correct?” He is defiant, his chin thrust forward and his fists clenched.
Devon’s eyes glitter and become narrow and even more brilliantly blue; then in a flash, they become pinpoints of red light and his face fills with rage. “I don’t believe you! How could you possible acquire such a thing? You are bluffing!” He grabs Lila and looks into her face, then slowly raises a hand and touches her cheek. A streak of brilliant blue arcs from her skin and travels up his arm and he springs back as if shocked by electricity. The sleeve of his coat turns blue and gives off an icy blast of cold, and his hand turns a ghostly shade of white. “What have you done? You fool, you have ruined everything!” He whirls to face Franz, who is waiting for him; with one swift movement, he throws the water from his canteen right into Devon’s face and he shrieks, clawing at his eyes as the blue fire flows over him and spreads into his hair. As Lila watches in horror, the handsome Devon disappears, replaced by a hideous figure that looks like one of the characters in that awful tapestry, and even as he morphs into a hairy, slouching beast he turns to ice before their eyes, a twisted creature frozen in time. In a matter of moments he is immobilized, his demonic face contorted in a permanent snarl.
Lila stares in disbelief, and Franz grabs her hand. “We must leave now - he won’t stay that way forever. We have just enough time to get away if we move quickly.” He picks up his duffel bag and then swings her up into his arms. “I will carry you down to the nearest road; it’s on the other side of this hollow. Someone will help us.” She leans into him as he climbs the opposite slope, and soon the shock of all that has happened overwhelms her. She feels herself spiraling into unconsciousness and lets it take her into oblivion.
She opens her eyes, and it is a grey morning – or is it getting dark again? She wonders where Franz is and looks around. She is lying in a single bed in a very plain room with white curtains. He must have found a motel nearby – but where are they, exactly? Are they far enough away from the house, and Devon? She thinks ruefully that she needs to stop calling him that, since he is obviously not a man. She wonders if the image of him turning into a monstrous pillar of ice-blue flame will ever leave her mind.
A soft knock on the door and a woman enters the room; she is middle aged and plump, with a sweet face and an apron over her flowered house dress. “Oh good, you are awake. I was just checking to see if you need anything. I am Elsie and this is my house. My husband has gone into town to buy some coffee for breakfast. We were not expecting company.” She smiles and the room lights up. Lila smiles wanly in return, grateful for the woman’s reassuring presence. “Your friend is out chopping wood for the stove. What a nice young man, offering to help with the chores. He said you had been hurt and had a terrible fright. None of my business of course, but you could use a few days of bed rest from the look of you, poor thing. When he showed up at our door last night, Owen and I knew you were in some kind of trouble.” A car door slams shut and Elsie glances out the window. “There he is now – guess I better finish up the cooking. If you feel up to it, please join us in the kitchen, or can I bring you a tray?”
“I would like to come out – I don’t want to be alone right now. Thank you so very much for taking us in.” The woman shuts the door behind her and Lila sits up, testing her ankle. It’s much better today, and she walks down the hall and finds the bathroom. A few splashes of cold water work wonders, and she is glad to find a hairbrush to tame her wild locks. Thank goodness she still has her warm clothes. She will need a bath soon, but that can wait until she has eaten. The kitchen of the farmhouse is bright and sunny, and great platters of food await them; eggs, biscuits and gravy, bacon, ham and apple pie. A big pot of coffee is a most welcome sight. As she sits down, Elsie’s husband Owen greets her with a cheerful wink, and then Franz comes in, his face flushed with exertion. Their eyes meet, and she hopes he can tell how grateful she is for his help. He smiles and nods. She knows they need to talk, but first they need their strength, and they both devote serious attention to the meal. After they are finished, Franz gets her coat and they go out into the spring morning. How wonderful everything smells! The fragrance of daffodils under a window, the fresh air, the sweetness of wood smoke and apples, and the sensuous aroma of Franz’s aftershave and manly musk all conspire to lift her mood. She feels better at this moment than she has since this all began. (Perfume: Devilscent #3 by Neil Morris)
“What will we do now? What will you do? You can’t go back either.” He gazes into the distance, then back at her. “No, I cannot. There is no place for me in this world now. I have no Army career, no job waiting at home, and I cannot surface for fear of reprisal against my family. They don’t know if I am dead or alive anyway; they probably think I died in the war since they have not heard from me in so long. My poor parents, perhaps it is better this way. They will never have to know what I had to do for the Nazis. Eichmann and his cronies will find a way to escape again – they always do. I wish I could take you back to where you belong, but I don’t know how. I guess we are stuck with each other for now. I have money – it’s in a numbered Swiss bank account for safekeeping at my father’s insistence, and we can live on it for a long time if we are careful. I will get a job doing something anonymous. No one will know where to look for me – for us.”
She takes his hand and presses it between both of hers. “I can think of worse things than being “stuck” with you, Franz. You saved my life, and you could easily have lost your own. Those men would have killed you on the spot had they known you were not on their side. You are the bravest person I have ever known and I am proud to call you my friend. If I may say this, and please forgive me if I am speaking out of turn, I feel as though we are already more than friends. When I met you last night – was it only a few hours ago? – I knew somehow that you would become very important to me. I had to trust you, and you did not fail me, even for a moment.” He bows his head and after a moment he speaks softly. “I feel the same way, Lila. I first saw you that night in the ballroom – you would not have noticed me with Devon – excuse me, the Devil - in the room, but I was struck by your beauty and sensitivity. When I found out that you were the intended victim of their horrible plot, I simply could not bear the thought of it. I know it would be nearly impossible to get you to safety, although I was determined to try, and I am so happy that you were strong enough to escape from the house by yourself. You are quite a woman.”
Hand in hand, they wander around the farm and tell each other about their lives. When the sun is high they walk slowly back to the house. Elsie and Owen offer to let them stay as long as they wish, but they need to move on, and after Lila bathes, Elsie packs a hearty lunch for them and hands Lila a small suitcase. “Our daughter is away at college – she won’t mind if I give you a few of her old clothes. She got herself a fancy new wardrobe anyway, and she won’t miss these.” Lila hugs them both and they set off toward the road again. Franz flags down a bus and they soon find themselves back in the city, but they avoid the area near the hotel where Lila stayed with Devon. They find a tiny but clean hotel away from the city center and take two rooms. She is relieved that in this simpler time, no one asks for a credit card or photo I.D., and they give the clerk false names. A little Italian restaurant down the block beckons them for a late dinner, and after a glass or two of Chianti, they can finally relax a little bit. Lila wears a simple flowered dress that belonged to the farmer’s daughter; Franz cannot take his eyes off her. Reluctantly they leave and walk arm in arm back to their lodging; it’s getting late, but she feels as though she has gotten a second chance at life, and she does not want to miss a minute of it. They cross the street to a drugstore and buy some toiletries, and on impulse Lila adds a tiny bottle of perfume at the last minute. She has seen it in stores before, but in this era the bottle is prettier and it only costs her a few coins. She just wants to feel normal again.
Back at the hotel, she takes the longest bath she dares without using up all the hot water, and dabs on her new scent. It is so wonderful that tears come to her eyes; what would have happened to her in that terrible place? Everything seems so much sweeter now, so full of poignancy. She puts on a light cotton nightgown and brushes her long hair until it gleams. It feels so good to be clean, warm and safe, but sleep is the last thing on her mind right now. She knows Franz is nearby, and that there is no one else on their floor. She takes her key and steps into the hallway, crossing quickly to Franz’s door. She knocks once, and waits. He opens the door wearing a robe. He has also just bathed, and he smells so good it makes her dizzy. He looks at her intently with a question in his eyes.
“I don’t want to be alone. Who knows what will happen tomorrow? They could find us again, or something else might separate us. All we have is now. Please, let me come in. I want to be with you tonight.” Wordlessly he opens his arms wide and she runs into them. He closes the door behind them and lifts her off her feet, holding her against him fiercely. Her heart is pounding and she can feel his doing the same. When he puts her down, she reaches up and pulls his head toward her. Their kiss is long and almost unbearably delicious. They can’t get enough of each other, touching, kissing, and finally falling on the bed, both of them nearly in tears with their need to be closer. Lila pulls at the belt of his robe, and he answers by undoing the buttons at the neck of her nightgown. Soon they are naked and he rolls onto his back and holds her at arm’s length above him, just looking at her in the lamplight for a long moment. He strokes her hair and then traces her breasts with his long fingers. She leans into his touch, shaking with desire. She feels his hardness beneath her and it takes her breath away. Then he shocks her even more by moving his hand down her belly and touching her between her thighs, probing her gently. She can wait no more and she shifts her body to take him slowly into her, crying out with pleasure. He rocks her back and forth; she leans forward even more and he kisses her breasts, moaning softly. Their movement becomes ever more urgent and finally they both explode in ecstatic relief and are left trembling in each other’s arms.
Lila cannot help but think, even while lying with Franz in the aftermath of their joy, that this is so much better than being with Devon. This is real, a man and a woman being together without trickery or deceit, just two human beings experiencing the best part of being alive. The smell of her perfume mixed with their aroused bodies, the feel of the clean sheets, and the knowledge that she is with the man she really wants creates a heady mix of emotions and sensations that’s almost too much, and she lets out a little laugh of sheer delight. After a time, they turn to each other again, moving together more slowly this time, exploring each other with tenderness and wonder, and coming to even greater heights of pleasure. They talk in whispers for hours, their bodies entwined. Somewhere in the long night, two lonely and hurting hearts begin to heal, and love blooms like a flower in the desert. (Perfume: Babylon Noir by Kedra Hart of Opus Oils.)
When morning comes, something is different. The light is not as bright, and the room feels more enclosed somehow. Lila gets out of bed and goes to the window. Instead of a little drugstore across the street, the morning sun is blocked by a high-rise office building. It’s noisy too – the street is filled with cars, beeping and revving their motors. She looks down and sees a late model SUV pulling away from the curb. They are no longer in 1946 – she is back home! She whirls around, afraid that Franz will be gone, but he is still in the bed, sleeping peacefully. She can’t believe it! Here is a second chance for both of them, and now they will never be separated. She runs back to the bed and shakes him excitedly. “Darling! Wake up! You won’t believe what happened!”
Image credit: Special effects flower photo by Donna
Disclaimer: All the Devilscent perfumes were sent to me for testing by the participating perfumers.