THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XII
- a review of Opus Oils’ Babylon Noir for the Devilscent Project
It doesn’t happen every night that I’m awakened by a ghost. Yet this night, in that dread, dark hour when humanity exists at its lowest ebb and in dreams, a very particular ghost came to call.
What woke me was not her presence, but her perfume. Wandering in that twilit space of fragile memory and lacy emotion on the bridge between surreal and real, suddenly, a waft of strange, poisoned fruit reached out towards me like a vine, and as happens in dreams, the vine itself grew into a monstrous, sentient thing, unfurling its thorny grasp as it moved toward my neck, twining its way in a satin black ribbon up my leg, and surely it would wind around my neck if I didn’t…
“Been having any good nightmares lately, darling?”
It was a voice I knew well, an alto, sultry voice much like my own, but with a clipped, razor-precise and deathly intimidating British accent, and in an instant, the sticky cobweb remnants of nightmare fled screaming to the shadows.
I opened my eyes.
Perched on the pale pink cushion of my black IKEA desk chair sat Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, a vision in a black Valenciennes lace suit with leather accents cut with a precision only found in couture, her habitual patent leather six-inch stilettos on her elegant feet, gold-blonde hair gleaming in the light of a passing car on the street below. Flawlessly exquisite in that 21st-century porn-star way that left no room for either imperfections or doubts. And here was I, resident slob, resplendently barefaced in anti-aging night cream, leopard print pjs and spectacular bed hair.
Why, oh, why do these things always happen to me?
The next moment, my feline teddy bear Hairy Krishna hissed, spat and fled the room. That, too, was unusual.
“You!” I finally managed to say. “I could have sworn I killed you off in show-stopping style in Chapter 51.”
“Yes, well, be that as it may, I was given…dispensation, you could say. If I let that horrible man thing have the last word, my reputation would never recover. This will never do. And besides, darling…” Lilith leaned closer , and I was caught like a deer in the headlights of that deathly seductive scent, “as surely you know by now, villains have a way of returning when you least expect them, isn’t that so?”
This perfume was so thick with fruit, you could almost feel the juices running down your chin. It must have been peach, a peach on that heady verge of overripe, and another, even more fragrant fruit, what was it? This, I thought to myself in my panicked state, was how sin not only smelled, but tasted. Not just your everyday, quotidian, all-too-human sin. This was epic sin. The kind of sin lesser transgressions aspired to when they grew debauched enough.
“True. You had one final ace up your sleeve, as I recall. I’m writing that into the sequel. I also seem to recall I never invited you into my story.” I rubbed cobwebs from my eyes. Hairy Krishna sat at the door eyeing Lilith with a dispassionate eye, still as a statue, orange tail curled tightly around him, the tip twitching softly on the floor.
“Well, think about it. All good parties –all good stories, even – need a gatecrasher. It makes things ever so much more… interesting. Think about it. Without me, you’d be churning out Harlequin romances.” She said it with such a subtle sneer of derision, I felt chill pearls of condescension forming in my ears.
This was emphatically not the kind of conversation I was used to at 4 AM. This was not the perfume I was used to sniffing at 4 AM, either. That luscious, lethally poisonous peach cocktail was slowly but surely morphing into something still more fatale.
Tuberose. It had to be. A tuberose run through a polarized filter of inky midnight madness. So black, it made a laughing stock of anything called ‘noir’. This tuberose – this perfume even – was not called ‘noir’. It was ‘NOIR’. The quintessence of ‘NOIR’. The kind of ‘Noir’ other perfumes wanted to be if only they owned the right sort of gonads in an appropriate size and with the exact right kind of fragrant flogger. With intricately knotted falls, to be used when wet, with aplomb and just the right twist of wrist and shoulder…
This perfume made my own beloved vintage ‘Narcisse Noir’ seem like a wan, ingénue, milquetoast debutante who grew up in a convent.
“Lilith, why are you here? You’re dead. There is no way in Hell or anywhere else you can possibly come back. I made sure of it. This world is already evil enough without you. Besides, I’m quite intimidated enough.”
I was, too. I felt like the dumpy, naïve secretary in a Forties noir movie who loses out to the fatal charms of Barbara Stanwyck, and who could compete with that?
Ah yes. I could breathe it in now, that flagrant, fragrant flogger made from the hide of a mythical panther, the very last of its kind, exuding all its midnight black, exquisitely tanned, feral pains – and pleasures.
“I told you. I simply couldn’t allow it. Killing me off in such a tawdry, Hollywood fashion. So tacky, darling. I thought you had better taste. Then again, you did take my husband. Why is completely beyond me. He’s a moody egomaniac recluse with a very short fuse. Trust me. After four thousand years, I know these things. Perhaps your taste isn’t nearly so good as you like to think?”
The more things change, I thought. “I did no such thing. I just wrote it. Why, I can’t tell you. I knew I shouldn’t have bought all those CDs. Or looked at their covers.”
“Ah, but you did! How can you write it, if you never experienced it? Besides,” she sniffed and glanced down at the ten gleaming talons on her hands, secure in her own peerlessly wanton perfection, “nothing has ever come of it, actually. I mean, you’re not precisely tearing up the bestseller lists yet, are you? Face it, darling, you’re just going to fade away into obscurity, back into that nameless gutter where you belong with your so-called ‘writing.’ It will never happen. No one wants to know about any of your stories. No one wants to read them. No one cares. They never will.”
She sat back in triumph, crossed one long, elegant leg over the other, and smiled sweetly. Her eyes glittered in the glow from the streetlight, not with tears but with malice.
Four AM, and there I was…gutted in leopard print pyjamas. Barefaced. With bed hair. Breathing in all the dangers of a most perilous perfume, with its tainted fruity possibilities and its opulent, Da-Go tuberose, all its heady, animal, feline leathery growls and seductive, pernicious civet moan, all of it borne in the one dream I had left to manifest with a little mischievous help. I was so upset, I jumped out of bed. But the minute I drew breath to protest, to say something, anything, to howl my denial at the black of the moon, another voice I knew too well made itself heard.
Dev came through the door to the other room, and Hairy Krishna suddenly came to life, mewled a sleepy mewl and wound himself around his feet with a loud purr. He knelt down and said hello, before he leaned against the doorjamb, arms crossed over his chest.
“Lilith, face it. You’re dead. For a very good reason. You may have been given compensation for today – I’ll have a few words with God about that one, can’t let that happen again – but it’s time for you to go.”
“You!” Even in the low light, I could almost feel the heat that suddenly radiated off her in her rage, heat that made her perfume seem to fill the room, the apartment, the entire world…all that strange and tainted fruit, all the tuberose, every aspect of some pantherine beast of half-remembered legend…She stood a little unsteady on her six-inch spikes, and glared her non-beloved ex in the face.
“And what makes you think you can get rid of me so easily? Or try to erase the truth? That your tawdry, tacky, nothing little writer will never be anything more than a pint-sized literary failure! I’m just saying what everyone knows…”
“No.” Dev walked over and opened the door. “You’re saying what you want to believe. That’s a very different thing. Get out.”
Lilith tossed her gleaming hair out of her eyes and turned at the door of my apartment. “So long as you don’t think…” she pointed at me, “That I’m anywhere near finished with you!”
The door slammed behind her with a bang they saw on a seismograph in San Diego.
He locked and bolted the door.“I should have seen that coming. I’m sorry.”
“Done is done.” I shrugged. Who cared? She was gone. Thank all the gods who ever lived.
“So what do we do now?” I felt him burning against me, shoulder to shoulder. There was a fiery gleam in his eyes and a grin on his face, a gleam I had seen not a few times before.
He took a deep, deep breath. Lilith’s perfume filled the room, but now, there was a sweeter, softer edge it somehow never showed on her skin.
“I’ve got a great idea, baby. Let’s misbehave!”
And in a scarlet cabinet glowed Lilith in a lace-wrapped bottle, biding her time…until the next time.
Opus Oils’ ‘Babylon Noir’ will be launched at The Three Muses Salon in Hollywood tomorrow; February 14th. With my abject, undying gratitude to Kedra Hart.
Image: © Dean Bradshaw, ‘Black Widow’ (2012). All rights reserved. Used by permission. Photo of ‘Babylon Noir’ bottle, my iPhone.