An Otherworldly Shortcut

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-  a fragrant Halloween tale inspired by the Clarimonde and Devilscent Projects

If not for the extra bottle of wine he drank at his mother’s birthday party, he would have done the sensible thing like a sensible man and called for a cab to take him home that night.

Yet somewhere between the family reunion with his nieces and nephews to fuss over, the bottles of Barolo throughout dinner, his brothers to argue with over the port with dessert, and his mother’s beaming, happy face across the length of the dining table, it seemed like a good idea.

A simple stroll along a familiar path through the beech woods, a shortcut to his downtown apartment that would get him home in an hour, and a chance to clear the wine and the evening from his head, his mind and the sense that he was the black sheep of the family, somehow he was the one who had failed the clan by not conforming to the prescribed script of adulthood with his esoteric tastes and alternate lifestyle, a lifestyle his more conformist brothers would never understand.

It would be so easy; he had walked it a million times in a million different moods and at all hours of the day and night since childhood. He knew every twist and turn and tree through these woods, knew where it dipped down to the stream and rose again with the steep hills toward downtown. His feet knew to watch where the voles dug their holes and burrows in the path by the shading of the leaves, knew where to turn left towards the dell to avoid the long, steep climb to the outskirts of town.

How hard could it be? An hour’s exercise. A clear head at the end of it and the knowledge that his familial duties were over for another year until the next time, the next birthday, and the next soul-crushing sense of filial failure.

So he laughed and waved away the offers for a drive home that night, and set out along the bridle path behind his childhood home with its ancient half-timbered walls and the welcoming glow of its lighted windows towards the towering beeches that guarded the entrance to the woods.

The air was a little colder than usual this late October night. No moon broke through the clouds this close to a New Moon. The only sounds he heard were his own muffled footsteps on the carpet of beech leaves beneath him and a lone owl hooting on the distance on an errand of its own. He breathed in the earthy mushroom scent of damp, molding leaves and tasted the steely, mineral taste of impending winter behind it, sensed a hint of the fallen apples in his mother’s orchard behind him with their sweet, vinegar tang of decay.

As his eyes grew more used to the dark, he saw too, how a rising silver ribbon of mist swirled and eddied and wove itself around the tree trunks, as if winding an Ariadne thread of its own for him to follow through the woods, so he would not be lost…

The very idea! He had walked in these woods since the age of three. That would be impossible when he knew nearly every tree and log by heart, knew that so long as he stayed on the path, his feet would find their own way home from sheer force of habit.

The damp made him pull up the collar of his jacket and burrow his hands a little deeper in his pockets, although he knew he would soon be warm enough so long as he kept his steady pace.

The beech woods were an eerie place at night. Now the street lights were behind him and he had only his night vision to rely upon, it seemed rustles in the leaves and whispers just behind him hovered just beyond his ability to hear, and surely, his eyes played tricks on his mind in the dark? A fleeting glimpse of a woman materialized out of nowhere, glowing with a light of her own in the shadows, but when he turned to look, no such entity stood by that beech, it was all… a superstitious trick of his mind.

Well, it was Halloween, after all.

This beech wood was his own, he had claimed it since childhood, there was nothing to fear here, no wolves in hiding among beneath the boughs, no wild things to make his blood tremble in his veins.

Just his mind playing tricks.

Further along the path, another spectral, human figure, a figure glowing with that same eerie, translucent light, pointing down the path to where…

Nothing more ominous loomed than yet another beech, wrapped up snug in the thickening mist that emanated from everywhere and nowhere.

Fog. It was fog. A cloud came down to kiss the ground, he recited from an old childhood poem, and kept his steady pace.

The night hush of the forest deepened. He heard himself breathe as he walked, a little heavier now, but the rustles and near inaudible whispers faded to silence, and all was quiet except for his footfalls treading softly upon the damp leaves.

All was quiet, almost too quiet for a forest at night. Until an owl right above his head hooted loudly once, twice, three times, and startled him so badly, he nearly ran off the path.

He shook his head, as if to clear away that unnerving feeling in his bones and the wine from his blood. Nothing caught his attention on this misty path, no ghosts hid to scare him behind the tree trunks.

It was all his own twisted imagination, or else that Barolo, or was it that chocolate-y, supernatural port with his dessert? He walked a little faster.

Another owl just ahead hooted once, twice, three times. And straight ahead on the path in front of him, an elaborate Venetian carnival mask on the ground by a tree winked at him with fiery violet eyes, and a perfume, so out of place in the woods and yet so very wild and untamed, so very much richer and denser than any wet leaves and wintry tang wove its way around the boughs along the path and sent his senses reeling.

Where was he? This was nowhere he knew on this old, familiar path, this was not the way home!

In a clearing in the forest, a bonfire burned brightly through the dark October night, burned the mist to memory on the clearing’s edge, and strangely dressed figures turned away from the flames to study him as he stood stupefied by the sight.

Just beyond the bonfire at the base of an ancient oak sat a figure he thought he knew from somewhere, a man not tall and not young, in clothes so strangely dark only his face and hands showed in the firelight.

“Come closer, young man. I’ve been calling you. It takes a while for you to hear, doesn’t it?”

The small group clustered around him as he stood on the path, as if to push him closer to the man in black. He had no choice but to skirt the roaring bonfire and approach him.

“Who are you?” he finally summoned up the courage to ask.

Above his head, an owl echoed his words, once, twice three times. “Who? Who? Who?”

“Ah.” The man laughed, an easy, relaxed laugh that told of long history and longer secrets. “I have so many names. You may call me Dev. Many people do these days. Many more will know me soon enough.”

“Dev? And what are you doing here?”

“You mean you don’t know?” The man motioned to the group that surrounded them. They began to murmur among themselves, some sibilant whisper he could almost but not quite comprehend. “Very well. I’m what you may call… a muse. Among other things. But tonight is my night off, so to say. This night, the veil wears thin between your world and mine, and you were the one to walk through and into it. This night, I call forth those who were to dance a measure with those who are, so they will not be forgotten, and you will not forget.”

What was it that defined this strange man in black to his mind? Was it that disturbing scent that wove itself around him like a cloak of deeper blackness?

Was it the group that stood with them in the forest clearing? They were dressed as if for a costume ball in eighteenth-century clothes, here a prelate in his long black cassock and his gleaming white collar and his sacred air of sanctity and smoke, there an elegant dandy fiddling with his extravagant Valenciennes lace cuffs and a dreamy, faraway expression in his eyes, a woman who sparkled like rubies and pearls in the firelight in her finery, and half-hidden at the back of the crowd, another woman, tall, luminous and blonde, a woman such as he never even knew existed except in his most secret, fevered dreams…

The man in black clapped his hands and more strangely dressed figures appeared in the clearing, some with the starched collars of the seventeenth century, and others with the crinolines, tournures, topcoats and stovepipe hats of the nineteenth.

A plaintive violin rang out in the night, a tune to break the heart beneath the boughs, when it was joined by another tune, a happier, faster melody that quickened his blood and made him want to move. An unseen hand in the dark passed him a glass filled with what appeared to be ruby port. He drank down its rich, decadent depths without a thought, without a care, and before he was even aware of it, joined in the whirl of the dancers around the fire because he could not resist if he tried.

He wanted to laugh, he wanted to sing, and above all, he wanted to forget any other moment or any other place existed as he danced around the bonfire.

He breathed in, and breathed out, a delirious, dizzy laugh, and next thing he knew, the tall, blonde woman he saw at the edge of the crowd stood beside him, as lustrous and as luminous as the fire itself.

“Dev-“ she turned toward the man in black on his oak trunk throne, “you chose him well. He is as like to my Romuald as one drop of water to another!”

The man in black bowed in acknowledgment, and winked at her.

She laughed, a happy, sensuous laugh, and as he stood beside her and breathed in her dark, delirious, deliciously heady scent, the scent that told his blood of all her many secrets, his heart seemed to fly right out of his chest with joy. He pulled her closer, and as she shifted and sighed and snuggled into his arms, he never noticed the silvery gleam in her eyes, never noticed how she snuggled so close to him, was much too preoccupied to notice a tiny pinprick on his neck. All he knew was the woman in his arms, the firelight and laughter in her eyes and the bonfire in his blood. So he whirled around the fire, so he laughed and drank down that delicious wine, so he pulled this woman who called herself Clarimonde aside and knew of all that made her so, knew indeed nothing at all else but how to drown in the silvery, otherworldly gleam in her eyes…

When he woke, he was leaned up against a tree trunk and it was early morning, the first light of day bouncing off the water of the fiord and glimpsed through the trees. As he stood and shook himself all over to clear the cobwebs, loosen up his stiff, cold muscles and what surely must have been some strange and eerie dream, he never noticed the tiny pinprick as he pulled his scarf higher on his neck and walked along the path towards home.

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For Lucy.

Please also see Indieperfumes Clarimonde memorial post here. With thanks to the perfumers and fellow writers of the Clarimonde Project.

Symphonies For A Devil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XV

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 – In which a muse has the last (many) words

It is a newborn August morning some time before sunrise in an old part of Europe, a morning where a thick, low blanket of mist shrouds the late summer landscape and the beech forests with its veil of Otherworld, when all the city is hushed and quiet, when drops of dew condense on the raspberries blushing on bushes and every scent is amplified, exuding late summer promises of harvest and sunshine.

You call her the Genie, I call her something else, but the Genie sleeps this instant with Hairy Krishna snuggled close by her side, sleeps away that morning mist as she dreams of all those shiny balls she has to juggle these days, balls marked Possibilities and Probabilities once labeled nothing more than lower-case italic ‘hopes’,  ‘far-fetched fantasy’ and ‘you wish, sucker’.

So I slipped in through the cracks in the windows as I sometimes do, pulled the duvet a little higher over her in the cool air and brushed her hair away from her face to keep her sleeping, shushed a drowsy cat back to slumber with a sigh and a show of orange belly fur, opened up Cassius Dio and Word, and began to type this post.

It seems such a long, long time ago this project came into being almost as an afterthought, seems in hindsight destiny had a plan when she reviewed the complex yet atavistic, numinous airs of Andy Tauer’s Incense Extrème. Which caused Ellen – the Genie’s friend and first indie perfumer who is more important than she knows – to see the hook, take the bait and throw down the gauntlet:

To create the Devil’s scent.

As time flew by and the project grew, other collaborators in diabolical mayhem joined the fray, collaborators far more noted than the Genie, all of them united in this arcane, audacious project; to conjure my quintessence, to tell my story and all the tale of Lilith, too, and to tell the world of an unknown writer who so dearly wanted to set it alight with her words:

I have this story…

Of an unknown writer with a dream to sell the Devil in absolute and essence and accord and the Devil’s sales pitch too, to do what none had dared before for all of their outrageous, copy-written claims to notoriety.

I sometimes wondered. Would they succeed? Could all my temptations and my perils be contained in a perfume, would new ground be broken in defining Evil Incarnate in ephemeral, fleeting ways? All this time later, would the Devil’s scents be both definition and declaration of nefarious intent?

In that limitless, occult space between the keyboard and my fingers, I find the answer.

Yes.

And would those fellow writers conjure new tales or new interpretations of an old, timeless story of desire, declaration and definition, of dreams both old and new?

Once again, I hesitate not at all as I type.

Yes.

Because as it happens with all artists everywhere through time, it happened with this one, this writer so adept – as all writers are wont to do – at tying herself and her prose into knots. That woman asleep with her cat is no longer the wannabe who sat down one Friday night out of boredom to write what she thought would be a Faustian pastiche with a twist. As she continued the story and dredged up old and carefully concealed secrets of her own, as she aired out the skeletons and the demons buried in that limbic bonfire that fuels all creativity, she couldn’t know what Muses know, and this Devil, too. Her story would never simply be a story, worthless throwaway prose tossed into the stormy void of cyberspace, but another kind of story with a wider appeal she never could have guessed, and would have consequences she never could have imagined.

Yet the perfumers of the Devilscent Project knew it and the writers, too. Knew this would be a different kind of project with a different hue and pitch and challenge, knew as I have always known and never doubted:

This Could Be Really Big.

So the Genie made a beautiful brief and sent it out with a prayer and hopes for an epiphany or two, and somewhere in her bone marrow, in the starry void above her, in that aether where all probabilities are born, destiny whispered sotto voce:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it.

I’m the Devil. I should know the truth of that one.

As a unifying theme, she chose one of the oldest, most numinous of perfumery materials, that black, sticky, richly redolent resin we know as labdanum. Labdanum has ominously animal shades and facets which rarely sparkle on their own as transcendent as they did here, and that, too, set this project apart. She chose another primeval, ancient material to use as well – frankincense with all its celestial air. Heaven and Earth combined could, I whispered in her ear, be devilishly delicious together, a perfect olfactory metaphor for a dream, a dare, an infernal and eternal love story with a twist…

We dreamed so many dreams as we waited and we wished in those long nights as all muses and their chosen artists do, lost in a reverie we made of these imaginary fragrant symphonies for a Devil and this Devil’s nemesis, Lilith, Queen of the Succubi.

For much as I love to steal the show and chew the scenery, it wasn’t  – and isn’t! – all about me. Lilith – part female warrior, part comedy and tragedy both, all of evil and all her own – made such an impression and such a connection with her readers it should have come as no surprise at all she also inspired my perfumers.

As serendipity would have it, one of them also happened to be a singer and composer who felt compelled to create music for her. Which only proves that old adage:

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it. 

The wheel of artistic inspiration goes around and around, ever perpetuating, ever inspiring, ever returning, ever … eternal.

So eight perfumers read the brief (and later the book) and set to work, all with the same brief and the same inspiration, but the perfumes they made were so very, very different and yet… the name was the same.

Call me Dev

The sassy protagonist of Quantum Demonology dubbed me Dev, well after I had insinuated my very best and most charming self into her soul (and other harrowing locations) in several devious ways, so it made perfect sense that all my perfumers chose to do the same. But then, something most passing strange happened, yet another sign of synchronicity, of all the participants of the Devilscent Project being on the precise same page and with many of the same preoccupations.

Whether I liked it or not, whether it was the Genie’s intention or not, all my perfumers took one entity – me – and refracted and illuminated it through their different prisms. Each of these perfumes explicated and enlarged me in ways I could not have known, each of them in their own way is another facet of her Devil, not evil so much as its embodiment and scapegoat, not malevolent so much as morally ambivalent, not antithesis so much as complement.

My mouthpiece took her own inspirations from Marlowe, Milton and Goethe, but Milton resonated truest and deepest.

Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy caught something of my tragedy (and shades of John Milton’s Lucifer) in her work, caught that thread of vulnerability and coaxed it out of fir and resin, and ended by spinning in the Nornes’ shining silver yarn, as if to say not even Evil Incarnate would be above – or below – redemption.

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of House of Cherry Bomb caught another carefully concealed theme to the tale and brought it out in essence and absolute. That L’Homme Fatal so adored by the Gothic mind was invoked with the decadent sins of chocolate, fig, oud and resins, as sweetly seductive as willful perdition, as perilous and as damning for both acolytes and dreamers.

Ellen Covey captured another thread in the warp and weft, captured it, ran it through a Marshall amp, a bank of distortion pedals and a whole lot of reverb before she cranked everything up to eleven, but no rock star ever got this lucky, not even on tour. For Ellen’s Devs were rock’n’roll personified, every heady fantasy anyone has ever projected on any guy with a microphone or a guitar, every transgression and rebellion you ever dreamed of instigating, every taboo you wanted to break and every emotion you wanted to feel. But just as Amanda Feeley and later Neil Morris, Ellen – who developed her contributions as she read the book – also somehow managed to wrap all my many shades and hues into her creations as the story unfolded…from the bad-boy erotic promises of the beginning through the torrid affair, the heartbreak and the soul-stopping labdanum surrender to the inevitable end. None of them bore any resemblance to her previous work, and I suspect all four showed a side to Ellen’s olfactory vernacular not even she could have guessed. The Genie has often used Ellen’s Dev #4 to center and comfort herself after a bad day, and it never fails to do the trick.

Monica Miller, bless her heart of dark, went off on an entirely different tangent, and delivered her Green Man massage bar, a decadent (and delightfully twisted) viridian treat in sackcloth and stinging nettles. This Green Man was a fierce, pungent, emerald green kick to the senses in several devious ways. So much so, that when a little liquid decant arrived some time later, it was immediately stolen right from under the Genie’s nose by Super Mario Sr’s Gemini sleight of hand! She never saw it again, but smelled it often. I should call it…The Wild One. It’s ‘gonna keep on swinging, baby, it’s a real wild child…’

More mischief was afoot when Katlyn Breene of Mermade Magickal Arts (creatrix/purveyor of some of the finest, purest incense filthy lucre can buy) was persuaded to join the devilry and jumped in with glee, aided by some very goatish labdanum resin. Should you ever wish to discover how a plush, decadent den of sacred iniquity smells, Katlyn’s Mephisto incense was an easy way to find out – or to simply create that dizzying, delirious ambience. I just need the Genie to remember to order more charcoal tablets. She doesn’t get to be dizzy or delirious nearly enough these days. Something must be done about that. She’s so sweet when she’s delirious.

There we would have remained, and that was plenty spectacular enough, but then, a rock star of the indie perfume world was persuaded to join. Fragrant mayhem ensued when Neil Morris of his eponymous brand decided to climb aboard the crazy train of the Devilscent Project.

I had never heard of his work, but the Genie certainly had, and indeed by sheer serendipity encountered Rumi from his Vault collection, which shot in an instant to that elevated stratosphere of forever beloved perfumes, very fitting for a tribute to one of her favorite poets.

As with all my perfumers, as with this entire project even, Neil experienced an instant connection with the concept and an instant inspiration, too as he delved in deep (also with an inordinate amount of diabolical glee) to uncover my secrets and paint them in new and unnerving olfactory hues. In that way all synchronicity unfolds, he, too, devised an evolution in his contributions, a sultry, erotic passion play in three acts that contained the slow, deep burn of the beginning, the bonfires of the middle, and the unholy conflagration of that inevitable end. Just as Amanda’s and Ellen’s contributions, these three Devs are definition and declaration, storyline, subtext and meta-message writ bold and large in essence, absolute and accord. That would have been enough to surpass the Genie’s own wildest dreams and far more than enough to encourage all my own, but then, Neil chose to really pull the rug out from under both our feet.

For Neil also chose to bottle up the beginning, to capture it in liquid gold filigree and create a perfume such as none ever quite were caught before. He took the entire first chapter – the ambience, the setting, the blues, the candlelight, the November night, the mulled wine, the mood, the chemistry and that underlying pulse of dark, danger and desire and called it ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

I remember the night she finally summoned the nerve to unwrap the envelope that arrived that afternoon, remember how she waited until Super Mario Jr. was asleep and the house was quiet, the cats settled, the day finally put to rest. I remember her happy, delicious laugh as she read Neil’s card, remember her as she sprayed her wrist and the air about her, and then I remember how she cried.

Great Implications

What are the odds of this happening, if you think about it? An unknown writer wannabe writes one story. It grows, as stories do, into a book. The writing expands to perfume, the perfume writer is born, a project conceived, and some long time later, a celebrated perfumer is inspired to create that story of one moment in time when all possibilities were open, where anything could happen, where everything, everything changes and destiny starts its inexorable turn. That ‘Midnight’ is also one hellishly stunning perfume – like all the Devilscents are – is just more fuel for her fire, and more tears for her Kleenex.

Let me assure you though, those tears were happy ones. Sometimes, it does happen that dreams come true.

You who breathe and live for fragrant epiphanies, you who read – and write! about perfume, you who have certain expectations of what perfume is, how it’s defined, what it can do to you, your mood, your own definitions and desires – you can’t begin to imagine just how different, how unusual all of these perfumes are. There are no simple categories of ‘Oriental’, ‘Chypre’, ‘Floral’ at play here, no handy ways to contain them, no familiar frames of reference they refer to. Just as my own self, just as the protagonist at one point in the story tells it, they are. I am.

I’m the Devil. Surely, you expected no less?

Many have in many ways sought to capture me, capture something of that Miltonian tragedy and epic. The world has no lack of perfumes that say ‘devilish’, ‘desire’, ‘danger’ in their copy or their name.

Each and every one of this Devil’s, this project’s scents will change how such dangers – and desires – are perceived. A classic rock song once demanded sympathy for the Devil.

That Guy wasn’t trying hard enough.

For everything I am, for everything I’ve been, done, dreamed and desired has been wrapped up here in these…

Symphonies for a Devil.

I’ll have to go soon. Krishna is awake and wondering about his breakfast, one eye open as he creeps up higher on the sleeping form in the bed. In a moment, he’ll begin to purr and lick her face, and she’ll wake up. I want to surprise her. But I’ll be back to tell the tales of Lilith, and all the awesome words this project has inspired.

A very special thank you to Lucy of Indieperfumes, whose friendship, encouragement and faith in this project has meant everything to the Genie, and to Chayaruchama, who has encouraged, befriended and believed no less.

With my immortal gratitude to Ellen Covey, Amanda Feeley, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl, Neil Morris of Neil Morris Fragrances, Monica Miller, Katlyn Breene and Kedra Hart. I chose you well!

Amanda Feeley’s contributions are available from Esscentual Alchemy, Ellen Covey’s at Olympic Orchids, Monica Miller’s ‘Green Man’ EdP from her Etsy site. Neil Morris’ through his Vault Collection. House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Dev’ and ‘Lilith’ available by special request.

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Save the Genie and keep her writing! Find out more here.

Coda For A Muse

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XIV

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 – a review of Esscentual Alchemy’s ‘Coda’ for the Devilscent Project

For months, I prevaricated and procrastinated over this one, knowing it would be The Last Review, The End, the closure I wasn’t entirely sure I wanted, because then what would happen? What would I find on the other side of that event horizon, would I even be the same woman who began it all out of boredom on a rainy, windy night in a faraway November?

Even Dev, I suspect, felt the same, since my original sample vanished and was not to be found anywhere I looked. I had to request another one. When it arrived, I stored it away with greater care. Ever since, no matter what I reviewed, it tugged away at the packed guilt trip suitcase in my mind.

I had to sniff it, write it, add a verbal flourish at the end of an undertaking that has changed me, my olfactory perspectives and even my life… forever.

So I did what I often do to kick my own procrastination to the curb. I proclaimed to Amanda Feeley of Esscentual Alchemy that by golly, I. Would. Review. It.

If it were the last thing I did.

Only to spend my Saturday night eating Bing cherries while watching history documentaries. In other words… procrastinating.

An inkling of what awaited lurked in my dreams this warm, sweaty Saturday night. That spectral black-clad figure that often stalks the edges of my dreams and has ever since that faraway November, wandered in and out of phantasmagorical storylines. In a sudden glimpse, I’d see him clearly, shaking his head with a laugh before he turned away and vanished, only to return in an unrelenting dream so powerful I woke up with a start far later than I expected.

“I was wondering when you’d ever wake up.” A familiar voice I knew, a form I felt burning down my back in the morning light of a blue sky day.

Hairy Krishna, usually plastered against me, took that as his cue breakfast would be served in a few, jumped out of bed and loudly proclaimed his immediate state of starvation, belied by the generous size of his backside. I chose to ignore it.

I blinked. “You!” The real world crashed into my consciousness. My iPhone by the bed, the postcards from friends on the opposite wall, that haunting dream that refused to fade away. “I’m not nearly dressed enough for this.” I tried to sit up, but Dev pulled me back down.

“I’ll be the judge of that. But what I’d really like to know,” he purred his baritone in my ear, “is why you think this is the end, just because it’s your last Devilscent review? I told you, baby…I’m not going anywhere. We. Have. Things. To. Do. You know.”

“I know. It’s just… a bit like that maxim I kept quoting in the story. Now that everything is about to happen, it feels so finite.”

Be careful what you wish for. You will get it.

What I didn’t say and didn’t have to: a lot could be said waking up in the morning with your muse wrapped around you. At my age, I’m so grateful, it’s bathetic.

“Here’s a secret, baby. It will never end. Your story poises on the brink of so many probabilities instead of possibilities, and so many people you never even knew when you wrote it now believe in it and more to the point, they believe in you. I think you’re terrified, is what I think.”

“If anyone else but me woke up with the stand-in for Evil Incarnate nearly naked and wrapped around their backs, they’d be rather terrified themselves.”

His voice dropped down to a very low D.

“I meant to say, before I was so rudely interrupted, that you’re terrified not of falling splat on your face and failing, but of succeeding beyond anything you ever dared to dream.”

“You’re right. I am.” All too true. Be careful what you wish for.

“OK.” He shifted a little away. “Breathe in. What story will this Coda tell of our little pas de deux, what secret did Amanda Feeley ferret out of your story?”

“She found the secret of how the story both ends and begins again.”

“Good girl. This isn’t an ending and you know it, and it never was. It’s just that terror that holds you back.” His lips were right by my ear, and I felt his hot breath as he growled:

 “I told you to believe.”

“Oh, I believe…how can I not, when the ending, the crossroads, that fulcrum of all time and destiny begins so…” I had to search for the right word. “Happy? Yes! That’s it! It’s zesty and lemony, it’s spicy and sparkling and is that a rose I sense in there somewhere? This is very romantic. Something like a big, blowsy, exuberant tea rose. I get it! This is you, standing at my door in nothing but a huge, yellow rose in your teeth you stole off a graveyard rosebush. You take it out just long enough to say: ‘Miss me?’.”

We both laughed in that Sunday morning sunshine. Hairy Krishna stalked off with an indignant twitch of his tail.

“You forgot the aviator shades.”

We laughed harder.

“So I did. My bad. That rose… is underpinned by that same dark and ominous thread she wove into the other three perfumes. I’m flying by the seat of my pants here, I don’t have any notes.”

“Too hot for those.” He moved closer and held on tighter. “Keep going.”

“Do you know, it’s surprising. Coda is very floral, spicy, even sweet. Not precisely something I’d say about you.”

“Only when I want to be.” Another growl. He held tighter. It was definitely getting hotter.

“You can prove it later.” I tried to edge away toward a cooler spot. “We have a review to write. That rose gets spicier, greener and mossier. There’s got to be oakmoss in there somewhere. Cinnamon, vanilla… Benzoin? Tolu balsam? Fir. Fir is in it, too. I swear it is.”

“It’s a tribute to my manly, furry chest.”

“A woman could wear this in a heartbeat, you know,” I felt compelled to add.

He never missed a beat. “Hopefully with a few more flowers and a lot less fur. On a nicely sized rack, that goes without saying.”

“Later, baby.” I had to bite the pillow so I wouldn’t laugh. As it was, I could scarcely believe I was having so much fun without even my first cup of coffee.

In the other room, Hairy Krishna and Janice were having their first marital spat of the day. They’d eat each other if I didn’t feed them soon.

“But…” I went on. “But it’s so not what I expected! I mean…who are you? You’re high drama and histrionics, Sturm und Drang and Beethoven’s Fifth, and this is just, well… the word joyous comes to mind.”

Dev sat up and looked me straight in the eye. It was his infamous ‘stop-being-stupid’ look.

“I usually leave the histrionics to you. You write about them so well. Listen up. You say you pay attention…” he left that statement to hang, and them went on. “But you’re forgetting something. Not all endings are unhappy, and not all beginnings are fraught with fear.” He leaned down over me, his face scant inches above my own. “When you’re very, very lucky and very, very good, the ending of one great thing is simply the glorious beginning of something better. Amanda got that right. This stuff should walk off the shelves. It’s far too good not to. As for you…”

I didn’t dare move, caught in the subtle gleam of two very brown eyes.

“I told you to believe. Your possibilities became probabilities, even maybe, a kind of certainty. You should have trusted your muse. Especially when he tells you, as I’m about to, to…believe. Now…you need to write it all down.”

Before I had a chance to blink, he was gone, and only a happy end or a glorious beginning to remind me what I woke up to on the fringes of yet another haunted dream.

But as I walked out to feed the feline George and Martha and make my coffee, I heard a laugh and a dangerous baritone sing:

‘Could I be less undone? Could I fall deeper down?” 

Wearing this Coda, I certainly could.

Coda is an all-natural perfume available from the Esscentual Alchemy website. With a thank you from the bottom of my pitch-black heart to Amanda Feeley.

A Necessary Evil

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XIII

lamortparfumee2

- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Lilith’ for the Devilscent Project

Do you know that feeling when the fine hairs on the back of your neck rise up in some numinous awareness you can neither articulate nor define, you just have the sensation that something – or someone is… there?

You see a glimpse out of the corner of your eye, hear steps on the stairs, scan the room as you enter, look down the street and yet, nothing and no one is there. Your imagination plays its tricks on you again, that occupational hazard all writers have that will manifest those shadows and echoes of their mind into being and another kind of reality.

I’ve felt that way for weeks, felt as if someone hovered just out of sight, just around the corner, just down the street from where I stood. Someone leaving a lingering trace behind, a fleeting memory, a touch of another human awareness, a nearly undetectable ribbon of interwoven light and dark, a few scant molecules hovering on like motes of dust sparking possibilities forth from the sun streaming through an open window.

It was like that. I was being stalked in some indescribable way, but what it was I didn’t know and couldn’t guess until today, when finally, the return of the sun and intimations of heat became too much for even this sun-starved, workaholic writer, and I could bear it not one minute longer. I put on my boots, my Poiret-inspired fur-lined winter coat and my teal scarf, and walked to the beech woods that hug the hills and line the fiord of this town I live and write in, searching for this slippery spring I couldn’t find, trying to forget that ephemeral presence of something …or someone who wanted to elude me.

I walked out along the path that led through the woods along the fiord, seeing the patches of melting snow that clung against a few north-facing beeches, saw the green beginnings of wood violets peep through last year’s weather-blasted leaves, saw celadon shoots that would soon become star-dotted carpets of aconites on the forest floor, and the wild garlic’s emerald tide that sang its own lusty, aromatic aria with the wood doves billowing in the trees above.

They all told me the same tale, all sang the same melody despite the chilly, easterly wind:

It’s spring, it’s spring, it’s spring!

I walked through the woods until I came to a favorite bench by a bridge across a stream, out of the wind but well in the sun, until I sat down for a while to breathe in April, and suddenly, without warning, the fine hairs on the nape of my neck rose up underneath my collar, and there it was again, that interwoven dark and bright, a revealing trail…of perfume.

It was sweet as the wood doves, heady as the promise of heat that lurked underneath the leaves, lusciously dancing somewhere between rays of champagne bubble aldehyde and lemon, bergamot and a deeper, candied apricot the color of September, the faraway taste of an unimaginable, future October.

Which was when I saw a fleeting shadow underneath a beech across the bridge, and as I inhaled that perfumed ribbon in the air and the ambient perfume of burgeoning spring, that shadow froze, grew deeper, darker, ever more substantial and less spectral, until finally, it materialized, as real and as solid as the soaring gray columns of the beeches around me. A woman, impeccably clothed in a black wool suit and coat, flawlessly coiffed, impossibly, inhumanly perfect, with the April light caught in the ambery glints of her hair.

It was Lilith, Queen of the Succubi. Long dead yet never, never forgotten, she haunted me still with her presence, her story, her tragedy and her beauty, too. She walked across the bridge, her boots tapping out a steady 4/4 on the mossy, slippery boards and sat down next to me on the bench.

For a moment, we sat in silence, listening to the birdsong and the wind in the trees above, watching the squirrels chase each other on the boughs over the stream.

“Did you know,” she said after a while, “I was born only a few miles away from here, some very long time ago.”

“I did know. I promised myself, if I ever write the prequel, I would write your story, of how you came to be what you are.”

“What I was, you mean. Ah, the promises of writers, as substantial and as solid as anything I could scribble on the water in that stream.” She nodded toward the gurgling water down below us, chattering to the birds above as it rushed downhill to join the water in the fiord. “You’ll have other ideas. And an agent who tells you which ones to sell and ways to sell them, and which ones to drop.” She picked up a pebble on the ground and threw it into the stream. “You’ll move on to another life far away and other stories and other demons you’ll conjure on virtual paper to haunt your readers, whereas I…” her voice trailed off. “I’ll live between the pages of a book you wrote a long time ago and a story you told the world.” She kept her eyes on the beeches across the bridge.

“So long as one person remembers you, you are immortal,” I quoted. “You’re forgetting something. You’ll live on in four perfumes that illuminated you in four different ways.”

She stretched out her legs. “How fitting, it was four perfumes. The first, Ellen’s, that of power, initiative, will and domination, one perfectly poised and perfectly poisoned fragrant attack, Maria and Alexis’, such a velvety balance of contradiction and opposites when I see what the protagonist will do, Kedra’s majestic Babylon Noir, culmination and advantage. Fully appropriate for the Queen of the Succubi. And now…this one. Fitting, it should be the fourth, and the last of my perfumes. The number of persistence and endurance and evolution.”

As she said it, she looked up into the crowns of the trees far, far above us, where the buds on the branches echoed the intricate lace of her suit against the sky, the nearly abstracted complications of an opulent rose and decadent narcissus thrumming her floral secrets out on an April wind. Rich, beautifully evolving, endlessly compelling, as mysterious as midnight and as dark as her heart.

Down below, the stream carried our words out to the fiord and into the Baltic, out to the world and its endless, roiling oceans.

“A bit ironic, how imagination works in such nefarious, diabolical ways.” This time, she turned to look straight at me. I was struck yet again how much my creation resembled me, and then again, not at all. “I mean, ironic, is it not, that it took a woman to understand the Devil – at least as you did – and it took a man to understand my motives and reasons, and then captured them in a perfume?”

“Well, I’m not surprised. Neil is exceptional at that. It’s what he does so beautifully, and so successfully. Perfumes are hardest of all to articulate, unless you know how.” I shifted on the wooden bench, and now, I supposed we looked nothing more nor less than two friends chatting on a bench in the sun on a spring afternoon.

“You do that well. This…” she breathed it in deep, “is a Lilith to remember. That narcissus! Is it narcissus? The illusion of vanity, or just its reflection writing on water, on hopes and dreams that are just as substantial. The rose to tell another tale, that once upon a far-off time I did love and I did care, and I was not so evil nor so unforgiving.”

“I think it’s funny that we always need to explain evil,” I said. “We have to understand it, understand its motivations, and the evil we can never comprehend is the evil that has no reasons, no rhyme, no…rationale except its own existence.”

“You’re right, of course.” She breathed in again, and in the air, the rose faded to a memory as the narcissus drew up smoke and mirrors, more illusions and mysteries, was it tobacco, subversively, seamlessly folded into Lilith’s depths, a touch of arcane labdanum, the unifying theme of all the Devilscents, and coumarin – all grassy, new-mown hay, lighting its own bonfires beneath narcissus, the fires it took a woman like Lilith to inspire.

“Except sometimes” she pushed her hair back over her shoulder, “evil is a necessary counterpoint to good, like dark to light, to make us appreciate what we would otherwise take for granted.”

If evil were the sum and total of this lascivious, decadent drydown, it would be hard to imagine it as anything bad.

“Like antagonists in suspect first novels,” I said. “They have to be bad to make the hero look good.”

“No,” she stated, with a flat finality, with shades of her former resolute self and to my complete surprise. “They have to be bad to get the hero to move, to get the story to evolve, or otherwise, what story is it? Who would read it? Human lives and real life stories are plenty banal enough. Readers want to live vicariously, want to feel that thrill of suspense and the awe of the unknown, because so much of it has been eradicated from your lives.”

“You’re right.” I was not so arrogant, I couldn’t concede that much. It was impossible to be arrogant on such an April afternoon.

She stood up. “Of course, darling! I always am. So what was I, caught in the liquid filigree of this perfume of Neil’s? Was I that paradox of femininity, the sweet and the light, or the deeper, darker floral heart? Was I all illusion, as all characters in novels must be, yet an illusion you somehow made real? Or did Neil do that, explicating all that Lilith of the Succubi must be, should be – less a villainess for the ages and more…a tragedy of beauty? I’ll tell you. But first, you must make me a promise.”

“A promise? To the Queen of the Succubi? That sounds like a dangerous prospect!” I laughed, laughed since I knew where this was headed, I knew Lilith that well.

“Yes!” Her face was so earnest, her voice so adamant, I felt it as much as I breathed it in that perfume of promise and deliverance, of enigma and explanation. I rose to my feet, and instantly, she grabbed me by my collar. “Promise me…to take it out into the world, promise you won’t let this hope die, promise me I’ll live on forever after today.” She looked me right in the eye as she said it, not as the Lilith I had known and feared for so long, but as the woman she must have been one very long time ago, not so far away.

“Promise!”

There was nothing else I could say. I thought – in that heartbeat from one moment to the next where all possibilities lie, where stories are written, where everything, everything changes – of all my fears of failure, and all my black and far bleaker terror of success, and then, I knew it. I could feel it in my bones and in the wind, feel it in this liquid filigree of a perfume and its potential.

“I promise.”

She walked toward the bridge and began to cross it, and as she did, as the wind carried her perfume with her, wrapped her warm in her secrets and her story, she grew more and more transparent, more and more ephemeral, like the breath of a narcissus in April. I saw her go, felt that perfume fade with a pang in my heart, for I knew I would never see her again except where I saw her first – in that dark place in my mind I never knew I had until she told me through my words.

“So what was it?” I shouted into the wind. “What were you?” My voice sounded haunted, misplaced in this spring wood of beeches and flowery covenant.

I heard a laugh as a puff of wind blew her away into the air, blew her perfume into a limitless blue sky.

“You didn’t know?” she called out, from beyond the bridge now, gone with her evanescent perfume, her own promises and portent. “Tell Neil – he got it right! That I’m all of this and one thing more, one thing you should have known.”

As if the trees wanted the answer too, the wind quieted down, the birds in the trees stopped singing for an instant, even the burbling stream ceased its song and Lilith’s voice was all I heard.

“A necessary evil!”

She laughed again, laughed with all her smoky promises, laughed like that narcissus must have at the wonder of the spring, and was gone.

The stream carried out her words and her perfume into the fiord, into the Baltic, and into the ocean of the world.

————————————————

Neil Morris‘Lilith’, created for the Devilscent Project, is available through his Vault collection of perfumes.

Illustration: Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh, ‘La Mort Parfumée’ (1921), pencil, watercolor, gouache and gold paint on paper, The Hunterian Gallery, Glasgow,  Color edit by me.

With profound gratitude to Neil Morris, and to Lucy, who inspired this review in a recent Skype conversation.

Babalon Rising

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XII

Black_WidowbyDeanBradshaw

- 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.

“Bullshit.”

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.

babylonnoir

Opus Oils’ ‘Babylon Noirwill 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.

The Occult Topography of Desire

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT XI

NeilDev3&Katarina

- a review of Neil Morris’ ‘Dev #3’ for the Devilscent Project

The biggest drawback – or delight, take your pick – of writing fiction is when those figments of your imagination called characters take on a life of their own, as surely they will. Sometimes, they come to you fully fledged and rounded out, personalities intact, and sometimes, they seem to elude you, mocking you and hovering on that brink of existence just beyond your reach. Some characters gatecrash your story without an invitation and no bouncer no matter how big or burly can throw them out again, not even you.

There’s another kind of character. One who haunts your dreams and stalks your waking hours, one who somehow slides serpentine and silent in between the words whether you want it or not, the one who comes to stay, casting long, ominous shadows over all you create in that haunted house of mirrors you call your imagination, the one who must be or should be as real as anyone you know.

I call him Dev. Dev came to me on a wind-blown November night of rain and portent the night I began what would later become ‘Quantum Demonology’, yet somehow, through all I put him through and all I wrote, something about him remained just outside my grasp. He was too nice in the first draft, so he complained. (I rewrote accordingly.) He took me black and bleak places I never knew I had, made me realize and write what I never dared before, often breathed softly down my neck as I wrote and one 3 AM spooked me senseless when I looked up from the laptop for an instant to see him standing by the window watching me wrestle the words. (True story, I swear. I blame the music playing at the time.)

Yet not until the perfumers of the Devilscent conjured – or decoded? – all his multiple selves did he crack through that third wall and become entirely and completely real, as real as this room, or the people walking through the rain down on the street below as I type. All of them different, all of them true, all revealing insights into that complex entity he is, as well as who he chose to be at certain points in my story.

Here on my desk is another Dev, a Dev of super sexy Sturm und Drang, and supreme, suave elegance, a Dev you could never, ever forget and would never, ever want to. An homme fatal, if ever there were.

“OK, that’s enough of the purple prose, baby. At the rate you’re going, you won’t be able to publish this on TAG, but I’m sure a few erotica publishers might be interested.”

I jumped four feet and banged my head on my sloping dormer ceiling.

Dev sat in the windowsill right beside my desk, looking for all the world as if he had been there all along, keeping a jaded, knowing eye on me and my (horrid) procrastination habits. Same beat-up leather jacket, same wellworn jeans, same incendiary grin that could persuade me to do anything, write anything, go…anywhere. Only this time – it’s February, after all – he wore a midnight-black cashmere scarf draped casually around his neck that matched his turtleneck sweater, also black.

“I thought…” it took me a while to find my voice again, “I thought I’d never see you again. I mean…I moved, and…” I stammered.

“And you’ve been through the wringer meanwhile, poor baby. I know. I know everything. I’m sorry I had…things to do. But I’m back. And I’m not leaving any time soon, if that makes you feel any better.”

“I’m not sure. That could get complicated.” I thought of my former roommate on the ground floor, who liked to pop up to say hello every so often in the hopes I’d cook dinner for her again. She’d live on just-add-water anything otherwise.

“Hush. Let me deal with complications. They’re my specialty. So…Neil is at it again. A very prosaic #3 on the bottle. You know, I always thought it was the greatest thing that Neil Morris decided to join. I mean, estrogen interprets your prose in a certain way – that’s perfectly all right, and tells me you could have a monster hit on your hands – but Neil is a guy. He notices other things, keys off other words and other aspects. We had the overture with Midnight. And we had the first movement I could call Great Expectations with his Dev no. 1.” He turned the bottle over in his hands, pushed up a sleeve and sprayed his wrist. The elegant nostrils of a long, straight Italian nose twitched with pleasure. “Dev no. 2 was a spicy, fiery, allegro con brio Eat me’ creature.” He laughed. “So you did. Well, this is…something else, something just as intricate, but it goes another way.”

“Tell me about it.” I was writing my fifth pathetic attempt to review it when Dev popped up, praying that maybe this time, I’d manage to nail my impressions with the beautiful prose the perfume assuredly deserved.

“Sure.” He shrugged. A definite Noo Joisey shrug. “This…is the andante con fuoco, the point of no return, the inevitable. This one is the secret Dev you tucked away in your words, the one it took Neil to find.” He leaned closer to where I sat before my laptop, spellbound by his words.

It had been so long, so long. I thought my muse had left me forever. I breathed in those smoky, thunderous, floral overtones, the labdanum flowing its heated lava heartbeat current underneath. This stuff was so sensuous, it would surely be banned for Lent. If not bought up lock, stock and barrel by a certain global organization in Rome and stashed away in a secret vault as being too incendiary for the faithful.’

“It balances on a very fine point – floral, sweet, heady. Supremely elegant, but this isn’t elegant like any clichéed tropes of perfumery – this is…a dangerous elegant, an occult elegance, one you might need a certain level of sophistication to truly appreciate. This one, baby…” he growled it sotto voce in my ear, and it took all I had to take dictation – “maps the topography of desire. All of it, and all you wrote into your story. Why do we want the ones we want, what is it we see reflected back to our secret, subterranean selves? We see what we could be and what we could invoke. We see what we could be, what we could feel if there were no limits, no inhibitions, if nothing else mattered at all.”

Before I let review be review and to Hades and Tartarus with it all, he moved away, back to the windowsill. I could breathe again.

“Why me?” He shrugged. “Because I took you to bedrock, baby, took you where you had never been before and didn’t know you needed to be and now…you can’t go back ever again to what you once were. Muses are dangerous. Trust me. I know.”

Now, I breathed in something else besides that molten lava labdanum, the seductive floral promises he might or might not keep, of narcissus? Jasmine? A whisper of rose? An animal stirred in that fragrant deep, an animal of an unmistakable kind…If this perfume really were that ‘topography of desire’ – which described it exceedingly well – then here was the mountain range of ‘want’ we try to climb, beating our heartbeat paths to the forest of ‘need’ that lies along the way.

Dev sniffed again. “Oh, yes. Here it is, that river of Lethe, not the one whose waters make you forget your earthly life, but the one that plants you in this instant, this moment with this person, this living reflection of your primeval self…animal, bitter, white-hot, musky, leathery. This is way out rock’n’roll rapaciousness, baby. What did you call it?” He peered over my shoulder as I typed, and again, it was all I could do to keep my fingers on the keyboard when they had other, more nefarious plans. If I ever had any inhibitions, any doubts, any secret places I feared to tread, they were long gone so long as I could breathe this.

“Ah! Yeah, that’s it precisely, ‘the forest of need…’ Here’s where you throw away the roadmap. There’s no road. No map. No mountains, no inhibitions and no forest, only two people and one heartbeat, one question and one answer. Nothing matters except where you are and who you’re with and it’s exactly where you want to be and what you want to do. Right where everything can be lost, and everything can be won.” He looked out of the window for a moment at the people passing by. “And then…” he said to his ghostly reflection in the window, “that final kiss of floral after the tempest has passed on elsewhere, that last caress of labdanum as a reminder of what was, and where you were. Entirely present in a perfect, supercharged, white-hot moment and there was nothing at all else.”

I was speechless. “Damn. Maybe you should write all my reviews.”

He laughed, the kind of laugh I hadn’t heard for such a long, long time. “Nah. Don’t sell yourself short. This perfume is sheer genius. A perfumer at the very pinnacle of his art and big kudos to you for inspiring it. And that’s another reason I had to come back. You forgot to believe, baby. I’m not blaming you. I’m just here to remind you…Believe. We made a deal, you and I. I won’t let you forget it.”

Faster than I could blink, he moved in a blur of black and stood behind me, breathing those perfumed, occult secrets down my neck, breathing me alive again.

I hardly dared to move. Such a perfume, such a journey, such a rush to see my daimon once again…

“Believe, baby. Believe…in yourself, believe that you can manifest anything, do anything, go where you’re wanted, be what you need to be. And another thing…”

His breath was hot down my neck, the silky-soft fringe of his cashmere scarf a caress on my cheek.

“Never forget…about that occult topography of desire.” I thought I felt a kiss at the base of my neck, as soft as cashmere fringe, and he was gone.

Only the sultry, silken growl of that audacious no. 3 in the room to remind me…

Believe.

NeilsDev3

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Note: Neil has told me that his five breathtaking perfumes for the Devilscent Project will soon be made available to the public. Believe it!

Photo: ©Katarina Silva 2012. All rights reserved. Used by very grateful permission. Bottom photo of Neil Morris’ Dev no. 3 – my iPhone.

The Best of 2012 – Worn & Adored!

sophiemagdalenecrown

 – Being the true confessions of a hapless perfume writer…

Ah, the perils of a perfume writer’s existence. So many perfumes – according to Basenotes, 1366 new fragrances were launched in 2012 –so very little time! Without being able to sometimes club flotsam and jetsam reviews together – meaning I review more than one at a time – I’d be toast.

As it is, my ghost will probably be typing away in the afterlife long after my hopefully timely demise just to catch up on the backlog, wondering if Stygian WiFi is reliable…;-)

I also try to have a perfume free day every week to recalibrate my nose, which makes it easier to delve into the ones I do review.

Some of the perfumes I wore most in 2012 are repeats from my other two lists, for no other cause than I couldn’t live without them, others I have yet to review but I wore them anyway. Yet for all those new and/or newly discovered perfumes, sometimes, all this girl wants to do is wear a familiar favorite, and I’ve certainly done that, too.

These are the ones I have wafted and adored beyond all reason. For as surely as my readers know, reason had nothing to do with it!

Aftelier

Few things are more fun than scenting some of your favorite characters in books. It doesn’t get any cooler than to perfume the characters of your making, as my own project proved. Yet I suspect that Sophia – one important character who appears in my book Quantum Demonology – would wear Aftelier’s Fig, and whenever I’ve needed to borrow some of her own earthy grounding, Fig was a perfect fit. I loved it in an instant when I found it, and I love it dearly still. I hear Sophia’s Flatbush twang whenever I put it on. “C’mon, hon,” she seems to say, “just cut the bs already, whydoncha?” I do try.

Amouage

Some days, nothing but an Amouage will do. I’ve had a few of those this past year, especially with Memoir Woman, Beloved, and certainly Opus VI. I also came to discover that bone dry, bitter cold – as we had in late January last year – turns my Cloak of Invincibility, Epic Woman, into a very moody, oud-y creature. I suspect that’s why my sister hates it. Considering some of the stink bombs she’s hit me with over the years, it’s only fair.

Aroma M

It’s said that the scent of Artemisia – which we sometimes know as wormwood and also as absinthe – furthers creativity. Who am I to argue with the Fée Verte glories of the Belle Époque? Aroma M’s Geisha Green is one of the most beautifully rendered absinthe perfumes I know, and whatever it takes ‘to further creativity’, I’ll do. That I received it as a present from a very dear friend makes it even more special.

Dawn Spencer Hurwitz

Ah, the lovely Dawn, she breaks my heart. For creating such stellar works of beauty as indeed she always, always does, and for making me cry, as I did when she so sweetly sent me her YSL Retrospective Collection made in collaboration with the Denver Art Museum’s Yves Saint Laurent exhibition. Those lucky enough to see it were treated not only to some of the most seminal – and spectacular – creations of my all-time favorite designer, they were also tempted with Dawn’s olfactory reinterpretations of some of his designs – and perfumes. La Vie En Rose – her tribute to one of my own Great Immortals, vintage YSL Paris, was so flawless, it made me cry. To be hit over the head by a massively packed suitcase of Guilt Trip for not reviewing that collection yet. The best defense in the face of Major Procrastination is an attack. Dawn, darling, yours will be my first review of 2013. As for the rest of you – read all about it!

Editions Frédéric Malle

Last year was my year of The Tuberose. It was a note I approached with some trepidation – one does not mess with this floral diva – only to find just how much I adored it, especially when it’s as stunning as the justly celebrated Carnal Flower by Dominique Ropion. I suspect that the equally lovely Lys Méditerranée won’t be too far behind its sister in the Flawless Floral department. I am so doomed.

The Ex (Dev) Factor

I’m single now, so alas I don’t know a lot of (willing) masculine lab rats for when I needed to skin-test assorted testaments to Thermonuclear Testosterone Bombshells – also known as the Devilscents. For this reason and several others, mainly his resigned-to-the-inevitable sense of humor, I recruited Super Mario Sr. He then proceeded to ruin the female wait staff one night at a local Italian trattoria by deviously dabbing their boyfriend chefs in the kitchen with House of Cherry Bomb’s Dev. Those ladies  – usually quite clearheaded and competent in a busy, popular restaurant – were useless that night. Resistance was futile. The next day, so he told me, everyone showed up with Epic Night To Remember grins on their faces. The guys all demanded to know, as only red-blooded Italian males can – “WHERE can we buy that stuff prontissimo???” He never told them. Some things – and some secrets, apparently – are just…too good to share! Some time later, Monica Miller of Perfume Pharmer was sweet enough to send me a liquid decant of the scent of her own Dev massage lotion bar. I had just enough time to sniff it, before he declared this was his new liquid definition of awesome, and stole it with that elegant sleight-of-hand Geminis so excel at. I never saw it again.

Exotic Island Aromas

Here comes Guilt Trip suitcase no. 2. Monica also flattered me this past year by requesting my dubious services for her Primordial Scents Project. As part of it, I received Juan Perez’ – the creator of Exotic Island Aromas – two contributions, and never in my life was a sample vial drained faster than his utterly unearthly Flor Azteca. You can therefore imagine how happy I was to win a roll-on of this wonder in a draw. Full review forthcoming or I am so dead, but this feral phantasm of a tuberose is to breathe – and die! – for.

House of Cherry Bomb

As if the devastation wrought by their Dev weren’t enough, the Awesome Twosome of the House of Cherry Bomb also made Lilith, and as opportunity would have it, on one of two dates I had last year, I wore it to see a former boyfriend I hadn’t seen in eighteen years. I really don’t know what came over me. Or him. Let’s just say the reunion was a happy one. I blame the perfume. It couldn’t possibly have been me.

Neela Vermeire Creations

When your preconceptions are blown to smithereens, when you’re blown to dandelion fluff on a high summer wind by beauty, if you’re anything like me, you’ll want to wear it again as often as you can. In the case of the truly spectacular Trayee and Mohur, this could never happen often enough, and I’ve worn both of them frequently in 2012 with no end in sight. On those dire, far-too-early mornings when I told my reflection despairingly that Attitude Is Everything, I’ve worn Bombay Bling. I dare anyone to wear it without a smile on their faces! All three NVC creations have been plastered all over almost everyone’s Best of 2012 lists, and I’m not about to argue with splendor.

Neil Morris Fragrances

Among perfumistas, the astonishing Neil Morris is one of those great cult figures of American perfumery, far too cool to be a household name, much, much too talented not to be. No one was more flabbergasted than I when he chose to participate in the Devilscent Project – with alacrity and an infernal amount of glee, I might add. It pains me more than I can say to know that I only have two more Neil Morrises to review for the DSP, but on the other hand, it thrills me beyond compare to know that Neil,my darling, I’m not letting you get away! Rumi, made for his Vault Collection has become a signature I never want to be without, but I could certainly say the same for all five of his creations for the project. The good news for the rest of Planet Perfume is I understand they’ll soon be made available to the general public. Be afraid – in all the most perilous, perfumed ways…

Niki de Saint Phalle

In the Bad Old Days of the Eighties, when I wasn’t wearing my usual sock-it-to-‘em wonders, I was a definite green chypre kind of chica. No one was more thrilled than I when the opportunity to acquire this oft-overlooked gem came along. Niki de Saint Phalle is a softer, mossier and more approachable sibling of my beloved Bandit, and today, it is so unusual among the usual fruitchoulis in my vicinity, it always gets me noticed.

Olympic Orchids

One of my favorite things about inspiration is I never know in advance where it will take me. I suspect my partner-in-crime Ellen Covey would agree. So far as I’ve been able to tell, our notorious little project has redefined quite a few of her own sensibilities, and it’s certainly shown a far more dangerous, if not sinister side of her as a perfumer than anyone could have expected, least of all this longtime fan on the other side of the world. Labdanum – one of the oldest, most sacred perfumery materials – was a leitmotif of the DSP, and her opulent, labdanum-rich Dev #4 puts labdanum front and center in a whole new, peerless – and heartbreaking – light. (Ellen, I’m saving those other Devs for the (unlikely?) event I find a testosterone bomb to put them on… ;-) ) Her Lil unnerved my colleagues many times this past year, before I swiped them off the floor in a photorealistic rosy swoon with her glorious Ballets Rouges.

Opus Oils

When I get rich, I want of everything Isis by Opus Oils. Because blue lotus – one of my favorite floral notes – really, truly doesn’t get any better than this. And when I want to bring out my inner hell-raising bad-gal, Opus Oils and Michelle Kredd Kydd’s M’Eau Jo no. 3 is the best intoxication to be found this side of a bottle of Jack D’s. In no time at all, I’m backstage again on a sofa in a green room with a libertine, cleavage-loving guitarist, sharing the filthiest jokes we know…

Ormonde Jayne

When a line has more hits than misses with me, I know I’m in trouble. Or I am trouble. Which is precisely what I am whenever I’ve worn Orris Noir, and that happens often with this luminous, rich and decadent iris. This past summer and early fall – or just whenever I’m in the mood for bluer skies and warmer climes – I’ve added Frangipani to my Ormonde Jaynes, simply for being the embodiment of everything tropical and happy and positively perfect, which is how it makes me feel, although I really should know better. Do I care? Not in the slightest.

Puredistance

If there is a celestial location where the epitome of spring is kept on tap, where Green reigns serene as well as supreme, then surely, it smells like Annie Bezantian’s masterpiece for Puredistance,Antonia? If there isn’t, there certainly should be.

Parfums Serge Lutens

2012 was the year I delved quite a bit deeper into the nefarious doings of Mssrs. Lutens and Sheldrake thanks to the interventions of a few perfume fairies. I’m not sure whether to thank them or curse them for that…but I’ve worn a lot of Lutens this past year, among them Rousse – I come from a long, long line of redheads, or at least that’s my excuse, De Profundis, which was everything in a chilly green kiss I could possibly have hoped for, and the breathtaking Sarrasins, which shot to the top of my jasmine exosphere in a flash and sank me to the floor in a heartbeat, overcome by this outrage of night-blooming jasmine so stunning, my world twirled, tilted and has never been quite the same since.

The Japanese Zen masters have yet another word for that instant when suddenly, all those random little factoids and odds and ends of things you know – or thought you did – fall into place as if by magic, and everything becomes as obvious as breathing, as clear and as sparkling as Baccarat crystal. That heartbeat when suddenly you get it, you get it all – the beauty, the peril, the earth, the sky, the air…the art? Zen wrapped all of it into one word and called it…satori.

Aren’t those the very moments we live and breathe for?

With thanks to all the perfume fairies!