A Harrowing Beauty

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  VIII

–  a review of House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Lilith’ 

What makes villains so fascinating? Is it that they’re more often than not expressing something, doing or instigating something we ourselves would never dare? Don’t we all have that secret part of us that wants to be thoroughly, utterly b-a-d, just once, just to say we did?

I wonder what I might have been trying to say when Lilith appeared out of nowhere and made her presence known in no uncertain terms.

I wasn’t looking for her. I rather suspect she might have been looking for me…

Once we got to know each other, I felt a bit bad that maybe I hadn’t treated her entirely fairly. Maybe, as I told a friend recently, she was the quintessence of every she-dog I’d ever encountered – and I’ve known a few.

Maybe…she had it coming.

The principle. Darling.

And yet…even villains need a little compassion, a few lighter shades of gray in the mix, lest they become too predictable, too inhuman for a reader to relate to. The tragedy of Lilith in Quantum Demonology is the tragedy of so many women…the tragedy of making the wrong choice, of choosing the wrong guy, and then coming to terms with your own bitter disappointment – in yourself, which is always hardest to swallow.

So Lilith made a few bad choices, choices with consequences she could never have imagined, and I like to think that’s what makes her relatable even as the antagonist – throughout her long, long history with Dev, she paid a very high price for never daring to face that disappointment.

Instead, she chose to let the rest of the world pay for what she couldn’t face, and became Lilith, Queen of the Succubi, the ultimate female nightmare…and what would such a fabled, alluring creature be in a perfume? How would her character and her glamour be expressed and explored?

Where Ellen Covey painted her portrait in poison Da-Glo green, Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of the House of Cherry Bomb chose to tell a very different story, one that glows equally vibrant but in an alternate key.

Make no mistake – this is lethal stuff. Maria and Alexis know far too much about blending the essential oil of danger with fever concrete and lust absolute, and this Lilith is no exception.

The Queen of the Succubi rules this perfume, that’s obvious from its shocking, unnerving beginnings all the way to…but I’m getting ahead of myself, and this will not do.

Floral and heady, leathery and earthy, with musky undertones and something else, something that smelled – poisonous, even tainted. It was very erotic and so domineering it cracked an olfactory whip at my nose.

 – From Quantum Demonology, ‘Latte with Lilith’

I will begin, as all stories should and perfume reviews, too.

With …the beginning.

Here she comes, black as night and blinding bright, making her presence felt with what I can only describe as a floral bouquet of carnivorous, rapacious blooms.

Beware the Polianthes.

She is out to devour you, get you as only she can when she gangs up with her equally heady, indolic ladies-in-waiting who lurk just behind her, wearing their sweetest smiles and their satin skins…the orange blossom breathing beautiful, the jasmine sighing a singular delicious promise she will never, ever keep.

Does this sound familiar, sound like something you might have breathed or loved before? Does it read as the well-beloved contents of a bottle you might even own?

I, who have survived this mortal peril in a perfume will tell you this for your own good:

You haven’t.

For no familiarity has ever graced these blooms that grew, were fed and were watered by the river Lethe, exuding their fatal majesty beneath a starless sky in Hell.  Breathe this perfume all the way in, and you will forget yourself as you breathe, forget you have ever known any other kind of splendor, forget all you ever were and everything you are. Forget the velvet-soft caress of those glowing moonlit petals, even as they slide across your skin and your soul and entwine themselves around you, you are far too transported to notice, even as they tighten, even as this sweet, honeyed breath threatens to stifle your own.

You will be lost, you will be doomed, and you won’t, you don’t, you are incapable of even thinking about the peril of your fate.

But there is more to Lilith than this, and as she tells this story you have never breathed before, she shifts in a stealthy, eerie segue to something equally sweet and even green, with heavy and heady intimations of musk that deepen and darken as she evolves, tinted ever blacker but never less than heavenly – or infernal, depending on your point of view. She growls her last on your skin hours and hours later with a bitter drydown that brands itself into your awareness and haunts those fevered dreams you can never admit in daylight to anyone at all.

I can guess what you’re thinking. Hyperbole, an overactive imagination, perhaps a glass of wine too many?

No. I am as sober as the empty page. It’s just …this perfume, you see, that takes away all common sense and all inhibition and haunts everyone it devours in its path.

I even like to believe that the silk scarf I forgot on my one date of the year, a scarf as saturated with Lilith as the rest of me that night to remember, will haunt the dreams of the one who kept it… forever.

You don’t mess with the Queen of the Succubi.

The House of Cherry Bomb’s ‘Lilith’ came with a sealed-wax admonition on scorched parchment paper:

“The secrets of the Succubi are bound in blood. The contents of this vial shall not be known to mankind. As sealed by Lilith.”

I’ve warned you. Will you listen? Or will you, too fall prey to the harrowing beauty – of Lilith?

With my deepest thanks and immortal gratitude to Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl.

Alexis has also been inspired by my Lilith to write this haunting song:

“Lilith – Live” (YouTube)

Image: Nadja Auermann photographed by Richard Avedon, 1995

Unholy Smoke (& a giveaway!)

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VII

– a review of Mermade Magickal Arts‘ ‘Mephisto’.

How far we perfumaniacs have come from that mystical, mythical matter we love so much. We dream in it, we bathe in it, we enrich ourselves, our chosen perfumers and our surroundings with it, we save for it, splurge for it, lust for it. Those magical elixirs and ethereal blends of heaven and earth, of balsam and resin, flower and herb satisfy our souls as few things else, and yet – in this lightning-tempo age and this instant gratification time, we forget what it once was, have somehow lost what it once did, have blithely obliterated all notions of its very form and function – to reconnect us, to realign us, to summon and to appease.

Perfume. The very name means “through smoke”, essences and absolutes distilled over fire in an alembic (which also gives its name to this blog), or, as perfume indeed was used once, as lumps of costly incense, burned in an offering to appease and to invoke the gods, and in so doing, to evoke – as well as please – our highest, finest, most divine selves.

Or.

To invoke an altogether different sort of beast.

I’m no stranger to alternate forms of perfume. I’ve burned Armenian papers and joss sticks, I’ve had potpourri in jam jars all over my homes at different times, pressed roses in old books, made my own lavender water. I’ve indulged my senses in a wantonly extravagant scented candle that’s still scenting my bedroom nearly a year later. And with the exception of potpourri, all of these demand fire to release their potent odors, that primeval element that is both beginning and end, metaphor and transformation. Just as fire begins with a spark, so does life itself, or another kind of life, when you glance across a glass of mulled wine in a dark midnight café at a stranger who sits so close beside you…

Here we have another kind of perfume, a very primeval kind – because here is a Devil’s scent as an incense, and it is by far the most extraordinary kind of incense I’ve ever had the pleasure to be inspired by.

It began at the behest of Monica Skye Miller, the Perfume Pharmer, when she suggested that Katlyn join our devilish endeavor, and I could only agree. I had of course heard of Katlyn’s alchymistical blends, had perused her website, and dreamed, that some day – or some night, I, too, might have a chance to breathe in their wonders. A few emails, some days and the Devilscent Project perfume brief later, I was completely unprepared by what came back in the mail.

What would I be as a human animal? I’m the Devil, so they’ve said. Neither animal nor human, but a combination of both, just enough of each to be dangerous, and that’s the whole idea. Danger. I want her to be able to know exactly who I am by her sense of smell alone. So. The perfume. Labdanum is a note she loves, labdanum is animal and sexy and slightly goatish.” – From the Devil’s Brief, the Devilscent Project

To which the saucy Katlyn retorted in her accompanying letter:

Did I just read ‘Goatish Labdanum’, something dark, sexy and extremely untamed? Ah, yes, I have just the thing…Within my cabinettes of curiosity there just happens to be something just waiting for this project. Labdanum from Crete complete with a few goat hairs. I knew there must be a place for this strange fragrant black stuff…The Devilscent Project. The most wonderful black frankincense from Oman. And then dark patchouli, tears of myrrh, contraband aloeswood…Incense is always needed to conjure up a spirit. And this has the scent of the crossroads at midnight and a little hair of the goat. Best burned on an electrical burner. Or a bit of brimstone if you have some handy. Use sparingly. May cause unnatural urges. Save this one for a dark night when you need a bit of company.

As I finished the quote above, I had reached 666 words. For a moment, that gave me pause for thought. You’d pause too, for this puts ‘incendiary’ into ‘incense’. I’m typing out these words as it burns in its dish above sea salt and charcoal, not in the dead, dark hours of night, but in the long twilight of midsummer when it never does get dark, yet I tell you…it may as well be that rainy, windblown Friday night in early November when I had my first harebrained idea that led all the way to…this.

That goatish labdanum (and yes, it does contain a little hair of the goat!) with its sweet, heady, animal air is all the more potent for the luscious patchouli and that touch of aloeswood that we know as the note du jour called oud. This is a living, breathing Dark Art. That chilly, dangerous alliance of myrrh and frankincense is never far behind it, exhaling its own numinous breath of otherworldly beneath that heated, heavy heartbeat. It doesn’t smell like goat, but it certainly smells sacred, sacred in a way most of us have forgotten. It smells like sin, if I believed in such a thing. Not so much as an act of moral transgression, but as the kind of act you would never tell in polite company, the kind of sin that must be kept secret, or else lose its delicious, subversive edge. The kind of sin that makes you glow in the dark. And the morning after, too.

If you think you know what incense is and what it does to your mood, if you’ve never thought about the tricks ambient scent can play on your suggestible mind – or even if you have – you’re in for a surprise. Just as the hapless protagonist of Quantum Demonology was whenever she caught a whiff of the Devil from afar, that otherworldly, bitter, dark that made her blood run cold in her veins and her heart beat faster.

Mephisto made my heart beat faster and ignited my imagination as all the Devilscents have, ignited it as few perfumes ever have before. In this dark, Monday night hour, I see it smoldering, and in those formless wisps of smoke, I can squint my eyes and almost see him hovering above.

“No need for that,” say a voice I know too well. “I’m right here. Did you know that in the ancient world, it was said the gods were helpless to resist the lure of burning incense? When it’s as good, as rich, as decadent and dangerous as this, I might as well give up the ghost completely. I can’t resist.” He leaned closer and whispered in my ear. “Just like you, baby.” He gave me that grin. “Just like you.”

“So what do you think?” I asked.

He picked up the letter from Katlyn, printed on parchment-like paper with cursive writing, and read the words with an even bigger grin. “I think…” he said after a while, “that Katlyn nailed it. Trust me, if the batcave has a scent, it would be this one. This is a lot of what I am. He shook his head and laughed. “Cretan goat hairs included! And I do believe it’s time I came back.”

“Where have you been?” I wouldn’t let him know he’d been missed. Hell wasn’t that cold yet.

Another long, fraught pause. Another long, level, red-brown stare. “Removing obstacles. Rearranging events, putting other things in motion, doing…what I have to do.” Dev tipped his head back and took a long, deep breath. The incense was so potent, it scented the entire apartment.

“And what would that be?” I sat back on my chair, looked him right in the eye.

“Telling you…that we made a deal, you and I. I take care of my own, I always will. And while I’ve been gone, you’ve somehow lost track of what you need to do. You need to believe. You need to have faith. I can make it happen for you. In fact, it already is happening. Since you forgot, and the incense reminded me, I’m here to tell you again.”

“Dev…I hate to say this, but you’re a fictional construct. I cooked you up, remember?”

“No, you didn’t. You conjured me out from the shadows. So I came back to remind you of what you forgot.” He leaned closer, much closer. I could feel his hot breath on my neck, feel him blowing in my ear.

“Forgot what?” I was confused. Or else it was that hot air and those lips by my ear, that subtle shiver down my spine, that dangerous, sexy, evocative scent that filled the room.

“Be careful what you wish for, baby. You will get it!” Light as a feather, his lips brushed my ear and he breathed down my neck.

When I turned my head to look, he was gone, and only the unholy, dangerous smoke of Katlyn’s incense remained.

Find ‘Mephisto’ at Mermade Magickal Arts here.

Disclosure: Samples were provided by Mermade Magickal Arts. For which I thank Katlyn Breene and Monica Miller most profoundly and sincerely.

I have a giveaway! Two lucky readers will receive a sample set of ‘Mephisto’. Leave a comment by June 30th at midnight CET to be eligible! Open to readers worldwide. The winners will be determined by random.org on July 1st.

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Midnight Places

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT VI

–       a review of Neil Morris‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’.

One of the great thrills – and perils – of being an artist is that self-perpetuating cycle of inspiration. An artist is struck by an idea, a concept, something that drives him or her to create…which in turn is discovered/interpreted by another artist and something else is created that yet another artist finds and…so it goes, around and around, constantly evolving, constantly renewing, constantly making new stories timeless and timeless stories new.

When I walked into a record store on a hot summer day three years ago, I had no idea what inspiration I would find there, or even any notion I was looking for it, but Fate had other plans and whispered a name into my ear…Two hours, much money, five CDs, a special edition box set and a great conversation later, my life would change more than I knew.

A few months later on a deathly boring Friday night, I was restless, unsettled, unable to sit down or relax, which usually means the Muse is about to pay a call.

I spent about ten minutes staring at a photo that night, fingers drumming my desk, wondering… “What if?”

“What if” is how all stories begin, when the conjuror pulls down his tail coat and reaches for his top hat and his wand, hoping rabbits are inside, waiting in the wings…to begin.

Two hours later, I had a short story that literally wrote itself. There was no overall plan of conception, no plan A or B, just one harebrained idea I ran with and a mood I wanted to express. My muse now had a definite face and form. I did know – even that Friday night – I had…something.

Something that could be important, something that held water, something that could evolve. As it did from that fated short story into a full-blown novel into the Devilscent Project, feeding right back into that bottomless pool of inspiration.

The story led to a novel, led to a perfume blog and the birth of a perfume blogger, led to the Devilscent Project and on to some of the most exceptional fragrances I’ve ever had the privilege to sniff.

Let me take you there, to a rainy night that begins…

It was a film noir, bluesy midnight in November. As wet with possibilities as the rain-slick streets, traces of perfumes lingering, taxis heading to the hotspots that would combat the chill of solitude and looming winter, ghosts of the storied past lurking beneath the copper spires of that haunted hunting ground of mine, the fast, feminine 4/4 click-clack tattoo of my high-heeled boots on the pavement.

– From Quantum Demonology, Midnight at the Crossroads Café.

Now imagine a café, a café that serves cappucchinos and conversation by day, and at night, the accoutrements of other, more intimate conversations in its dim corners. See its black-painted walls and its black and white poster prints of blues legends on the walls. All the greats are there – Bessie Smith and Billie Holiday, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, Chuck Berry, B.B. King and John Lee Hooker, and that grand-daddy of them all, the incomparable Robert Johnson. Only blues is played here, conjuring its own ghosts and stories. The furniture is bought at flea markets for cheap and doesn’t match, the white candles burn in red glass, red like the mulled wine Scandinavians call glögg that wafts from the bar this nippy night, redolent with cloves and cinnamon, raisins and almonds, packing another kind of punch against the chill of solitude and looming winter. But there’s something in the air this Friday night when the TGIF celebrations have moved elsewhere, for the place is nearly empty at this hour, the bartender is engrossed in a study textbook, and from the speakers, the long-ago haunted voice of Bobby Johnson sings:

“Everybody says she got a mojo, cuz’ she been usin’ that stuff…”

In the far back corner sits a woman alone with her glass of wine, a woman neither young nor old, not on the make nor even lonely, least at all aware that in a few short moments, her life will be changed – forever.

Now…imagine all of that atmosphere, the November rain, looming winter, the Friday, the wafts of cinnamon and Calvados, clove and red wine, the scent of coffee and imminent possibilities, instant attraction, imminent danger…packed into a perfume bottle.

Precisely what Neil Morris did.

Neil Morris has without a doubt been the biggest surprise in a project that has brought me nothing BUT surprises since it began. His was the artistic vernacular I was least familiar with – having only tried two of his creations, Aegean and Rumi – but everyone said it – he would be a perfect fit for a project like this.

Five creations later, I can only agree. In these perfumes, I noticed a common thread, that perfumer’s artistic DNA that ran through them all like a silver pulse, dark and danger, intoxication and restraint, love and its hazardous cousin Id that we might know as lust.

I wasn’t expecting yet another surprise the day ‘Midnight at the Crossroads Café’ arrived, had no idea it was coming even. Can you imagine what such a wonder would do to your (already swollen) head? Bespoke perfumes for the Devil and Lilith are quite awesome enough, but to take the story that began it and spin a perfume around it simply blew me away to dandelion fluff.

Be careful what you wish for, You will get it!

This story in this bottle swirls and spins out all the elements – time and place, scent and space…it’s all there in a perfume so beautifully rendered, it’s hard to believe it’s a story and not a bottled Baudelaire poem.

That first, chill blast…the autumn cold that follows our heroine through her late-night trek across town, out of one man’s bed and on the streets in search of nothing more than a glass of mulled wine before her own solitary bed and her return to her own humbling life, a life that holds one last, fated hope she has kept her deepest darkest secret and her most fervent, burning wish.

Through the door, and the midnight hour isn’t far away, but it is warm and welcoming here. Coffee weaves its seductive traces like an invisible ribbon of sultry energy, but coffee is only the beginning and this is no edible dessert but a conjuring potion. Did I detect hints of the wine and the brandy just behind it, before that sweet and heady rush of spice? Rich and decadent, cinnamon and clove have their stories to tell, and if I close my eyes, I can surely smell the marzipan sweetness of almonds and yet…this is no gourmand. Something floral – her perfume? – but tempered by the spice, all of it balanced on that hair-thin razor’s edge between haunting and heady. There are intimations of desires in the mix – that couple in the corner talking in hushed and earnest voices? – and laughter (that floral note) in the other, a trio of tipsy girlfriends rehashing the week gone by. The midnight hour draws closer, the perfume grows darker and deeper, almost lusher if that’s possible. A sexy beast lays in waiting, a sexy furry beast of a chypre with mossy, darkly suspect intentions, for now, our heroine in her corner is no longer alone with her solitary hopes and dreams, now a man sits in the chair on her left where no one sat a moment before.

“You have potential,” that beast seems to say. “What if you could be somebody?”

What if that profondo base of what has to be labdanum and oakmoss (or else I should have my perfumista license revoked pronto!), a touch of..benzoin? vanilla? could make all those possibilities happen, make all her dreams come true? What if…all of this, and all of this perfume is only the beginning – of a story not quite like any you’re read before, of a dream that comes true, of everything you want, just within your grasp? It only takes a little faith, a little hope…

 ‘Midnight’ is all of these and so much more – one astonishing, unforgettable, unbelievable perfume not quite like any other. The crafty Neil left me no descriptions or list of notes, but I did  find a card – written in Danish, no less! – that reads:

Who were you talking to at the café last night? You smell like him…

Beware those delicious wonders that lurk for the unsuspecting, in those dangerous midnight places…

The storied marvels of Neil Morris’ fragrances can be discovered for your delectation here. 

Find out more about Quantum Demonology and The Devilscent Project on Facebook, on Perfume Pharmer’s overview page, or follow the hashtag #devilscent on Twitter.

Stay tuned for more devilry ahead!

Disclosure: A sample was sent by Neil Morris for review.

The First Fatal Femme

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT V

–       a review of Olympic Orchids ‘Lilith’ for the Devilscent Project

Every story needs a villain, a catalyst for the changes that set the story rolling towards the point of no return. At the time I wrote ‘Quantum Demonology’, my villain – with a long and storied reputation for embodying evil – arrived unbidden and unlooked for, and once she did, she had no intention of leaving and all plans to purloin every scene in the book she was in, whether I let her or not.

May I introduce you to Lilith, Queen of the Succubi and the Devil’s wife, but my version was not exactly the classical definition of demonic femininity that haunts so many stories and mythologies. My Lilith was out to destroy humanity in a most elegant fashion, all in a misguided attempt to get her own back after being married to Mr. Frigidaire – that Guardian of nightmares and negatives known to the protagonist in QD as Dev – for four thousand thoroughly miserable years.

At least, that’s what the author wanted the reader to believe, but as in all good stories and with all characters, it’s a bit more complicated than that.

Many, many legends wrap around her, some dating back to Sumerian times, stories that tell of her being created simultaneously with Adam – unlike Eve, who was made from his rib – and of how she refused to submit to him sexually. So she left him and was seduced by the Devil, and havoc ensued, as it usually does. My favorite story about Lilith comes from a dark and obscure corner of Kabbalistic literature, and tells of how Lilith, who had fled to the desert, was approached by an angel and given a choice to enter Heaven instead. After having knowledge of the Devil, so that story goes, she refused point-blank, saying she could never go to Heaven – she knew too much for that!

Since writing her in as the Ultimate Villainess, I’ve come to feel I haven’t been entirely fair to her. Which is why I have a synopsis and battle plan of a prequel to QD that tells her story, which is alluded to in several places. On the other hand, she was most emphatically thoroughly bad, as all the best villains are (and hopefully not too one- or two-dimensional), and what better inspiration for a perfume than the other side of bad – the female side?

Just my rotten, crummy, lousy luck. On a day I felt great for a change, like I looked a few thousand bucks with the haircut to prove it, I would have to face off the most dangerous woman in orthodox theology.

Like her husband, she emanated a scent, and like her husband’s, it was as unusual as it was distinctive. Floral and green, heady, leathery and earthy, with musky undertones and something else, something that smelled – poisonous, even tainted. It was very erotic and so domineering, it cracked an olfactory whip at my nose.-       From Quantum Demonology – ‘Latte with Lilith’

My first olfactory whip – bottled Lilith! –  comes from my fellow conspirator and instigator Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, and I tell you…if you know anything at all about Ellen’s beautiful perfumes, you can promptly forget everything you know. For this Lilith is indeed a perfume, and indeed beautiful, and just like Lilith, Queen of the Succubi in Quantum Demonology, this is deathly intimidating and frankly more than a little terrifying. And also, just as she is in the story, so perfectly beautiful, it makes me ache even as it scares me.

I really thought, given that I wrote the inspiration for it, I would be above being intimidated by a perfume. Famous last words.

Close your eyes and let me conjure it for you. It is not so much cold as chilling, with a hyper-feminine fruity-floral accord that wafts something tainted, something shape-shifting and morphing at your nose, something unlike anything you’ve ever smelled before. It has a Da-Glo citrus green and earthy bite, and woven all through it, that tangy bio-hazardous accord…passionfruit, I think, which manages to be both floral and fruity and otherworldly all at once, as surely this perfume is.

The bright green fangs of the opening never quite fade away as it evolves, instead they grow longer and thicker and ever more poisonous, distancing its wearer many miles away from the likes of pathetic, mortal you. Here, many perilous, fatal flowers bloom, flowers not meant for you to know, for one sniff of the secrets they conceal within those ivory petals will likely be the last you sense, and your mortal remains will be swept up and taken away by the Succubi for their diabolical entertainment.

Lilith, on the other hand, keeps herself at one airy remove, watching the light that is your life fade away as slowly and as softly as the memory of that perfume you could never, ever forget if you lived a thousand years, emanating her own brand of darkness as a hint of patchouli and musk, wood and sin wrap itself tighter around her like a cloak, underlining all that she is and all that you breathe.

Trust me – it really is…that bad! Which is simply another way of saying…it’s that brilliant – as sharp and as hard and as glittering as an emerald that glows with a sentient life of its own.

Would I wear it? Actually, I have on a few occasions, just for kicks, just for fun, just to see what would happen.

What happened: I received strange, unnerved looks throughout the day. I spoke very little. And almost everyone who addressed me did so in exquisitely polite language, as if they were afraid I’d rip them apart if they didn’t!

It’s that kind of perfume.

Since the Devilscent Project kicked off in earnest, it’s been an endlessly fascinating process to see it evolve, to learn through my nose how the participating perfumers have chosen to interpret the brief in essence, absolute and compound, how they’ve picked different aspects of the Devil’s described personality to highlight and reflect, and how they’ve each reacted to the entity that is Lilith herself – part femme fatale, part estranged, vitriolic spouse, part ultimate feminine demonic nightmare made flesh, all a cautionary, tragic tale.

I think I can say that none of them have ever created perfumes such as these, and certainly not the epically talented Ellen, whose definition of femininity leans toward the exquisitely refined and elegant, if not precisely intimidating.

Elegant and refined, this certainly is. And frighteningly perfect. Just like Lilith herself.

Notes: Top: Davana, kewda, kaffir lime Heart: Paradisamide, angel’s trumpet, lily of the valley, geranium, cyclamen, rose Base: Synthetic woody notes, cashmeran, musk, patchouli.

Discover the marvels of Olympic Orchids – so very much more than orchids! – here!

Stay tuned for more of Lilith – and a few more Devils! – as interpreted by Neil Morris and Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes.

With thanks to that Great Inspiration and Instigator…my co-conspirator, Ellen Covey.

Sweet Damnation

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT IV

–  A review of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes’ submission ‘Dev’ for the Devilscent Project

We humans like to believe that we have codified, catalogued and categorized everything. Everything we think and feel and believe can be boiled down to the chemical soup of hormones, every original thought somehow classified by identifying which areas in our brains fire up in a particular sequence, and some day, even our most primal, quintessential selves will probably be defined by some biochemical equation that all adds up to – human.

Unless you happen to be an incurable romantic like me. I take my own perverse delight in knowing that not all that equates me can be so neatly defined, in proving I still have mysteries to decode.

Including the enigma of precisely what it is that sparks that phenomenon called ‘lust’. Lust as I define it isn’t passion (that comes later if you’re lucky), certainly not love (that comes later if you’re very, very lucky), and not quite the more polite term ‘desire’ either. What provides that spark-out-of-the-blue that makes you look again, that sets your imagination free, that catches on those half-overgrown train tracks of your thoughts and makes you wonder…what would it feel like, what would it be like, would he, should you…

You get the idea. My own idea about that particular ignition point would be this:

It may start with the eyes, but the nose…knows.

I suspect that idea played at the back of my mind that fated Friday night I plugged myself into my iPod and wrote the first chapter of what would become “Quantum Demonology”, and wove into my storyline an idea about a perfume so dangerous, so delectable, so sinfully sexy and seductive, only the Devil could ever wear it.

Since the Devilscent Project began, these nine perfume renditions of Devilscent have all shown me different aspects and interpretations of Dev in his many guises and moods, some haunting and haunted, some as bittersweet as all the best and most fatal love affairs, some fevered and erotic, all of them heartbreaking. Even the one on my skin as I type these words, but this Dev really does put the ‘dev’ in devious and defines that singular, insidious creature that lurks within us all and goes by a four-letter word…lust.

Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes are no strangers to perfumed perdition, as they proved beyond all doubt when they participated in the Clarimonde Project last year with their ‘Immortal Mine’. I was convinced I would very likely never sniff anything quite so dangerous again.

Wrong.

I love it when that happens!

If Immortal Mine were the phantom of perfumed perdition, then this Dev is so downright incendiary, I’m surprised the contents of my little skull bottle don’t just burst into flames. Wearing it, I almost wish I would.

This is not anyone’s usual idea of that pop-culture creature of temptation. This Dev is damnation-in-a-bottle, lasciviously liquid like all the very best of love potions, as illicit and as delicious as sin, but you are helpless to resist it and wouldn’t want to even try. You know he’s a rotter. Your heart will be broken. There will be tears.

You don’t care. It will be worth it, if only in hindsight, if only to know that one instant, you knew precisely what it means to… burn.

Like all fatal fallen angels, he begins with sweet. I don’t have a list of notes – Dev came with a sealed-wax stamp and the words:

By Satanic decree. The essences of this elixir are not to be divulged to mortals. As sealed by Dev.

So I’ll wager the soul Saint Augustine claimed I don’t have and say…cocoa, a dark, decadent chocolate teardrop that sears away any leftover inhibitions and second thoughts and better judgments. What woman in her right mind could possibly resist chocolate? But chocolate is only the first of many veils and the first of many of Dev’s most dangerous disguises. Before long, an opulent, seamless floral note insinuates itself, orange blossom, rose, a heady jasmine, a touch of tuberose?

You were helpless to resist the chocolate, and the next thing you know, you are an equally hapless victim of all these flattering, flowery words. Breathe it all in and believe it, believe it will be beautiful, believe it will be worth it, believe that you’re worthy…

Believe.

Because as you do, you’re reeling on your feet, you’re so dizzy, so delirious with all these potent promises and perfumed wonders, you could almost fail to notice after a long, long while what other secrets this Dev contains, multitudes of layers unfolding like the pages of an arcane book, blooming in slow-motion like the very human and infinitely complex character he also is.

Vade Intro Satanas – let him all the way in now, now you’ve been lured to your fate by the temptation of chocolate, next you’re swooning in that heady, floral embrace with all its heavenly intimations and promises, and here comes that night-black, animal doom…labdanum and myrrh, frankincense and oud, dragon’s blood with their blast of heat and hellfire, and yet somehow above and behind it all, that sweet promise of chocolate that never quite fades away.

I could say it of this perfume, too – it lasts, it lingers, it seems to go on forever and even when it’s gone, even after days, in some midnight moment it will steal into your consciousness to haunt you, and you can breathe it in all over again and discover facets you might have overlooked before, be surprised as you rarely are, and you will never, ever forget it.

This Dev is a creature of magic both occult and very, very dark. Not black, not any preconceived caricature of ‘evil’, but something – or Someone – so much more than the sum of parts, something whole and entire, masculine and virile that constantly defies any definition of ‘black’ or ‘white’. Sinful and taboo, deliriously and deliciously verboten, he glows in those subterranean spaces where all desire is born and all lust begins and all inhibitions are silenced. The only way to know is to go, the only way to see is to dare, and he throws down the gauntlet in a challenge you want to resist so badly, but you can’t and you don’t and you won’t.

I had an idea in my mind when I first conjured up the Devil’s scent, an idea that has been manifested through the funhouse mirror of my brief and my story, and above all by the many and varied inspirations the perfumers have chosen to follow. Each of these Devils are very different, each have their own stories to tell and their own brand of perdition to exude, and above all else, each and every one of them so much more than I could have imagined, and so much more than I think I did imagine. Sniffing Maria and Alexis’ ‘Dev’, I am blown away (again!) by their interpretation, and so incredibly privileged they chose to share it with me.

Like the Dev in my story, this perfume is thoroughly damned. Like my protagonist, I sold my own soul for the one dream I have left. But this dream is no fiction, and this perfume is no dream, but a fervent wish I sent out into the Universe that was returned a thousand-fold. It is nothing I have any kind of reference for, nothing like anything else I’ve ever encountered, but then again…the best kind of perdition never is, is it?

See much more on the Devilscent Project and Quantum Demonology on our Facebook Page. or on the Perfume Pharmer’s overview page.

Find the astounding creations of Maria McElroy and Alexis Karl at House of Cherry Bomb. Maria is also the mastermind behind the beauties of Aroma M Geisha Perfumes.

Final words: Alexis Karl has informed me that they have future plans to launch ‘Dev’ as a masculine companion to Immortal Mine. Stay tuned for details!

Images: ‘Lust’, by Kaaaay at Deviant Art. Photo of Maria and Alexis’ ‘Dev’, my iPhone.

The Four Devils of my Undoing

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT  III

– a review (of a kind) of Ellen Covey/Olympic Orchids‘ four submissions for the Devilscent Project

Understand, these things don’t happen to me. I live such a drab, ordinary, invisible life…going to work, dropping off Super Mario at school and picking him up, existing only for those late night places in my imagination where shadows reign in the corners, when the boy and the cats are asleep, when all is quiet and only the click-clack of a keyboard taps its erratic rhythm in my room as I evoke the ghosts I find in sample vials and bottles and write down the stories they tell. Sometimes, it’s bliss and sometimes it’s a rarified form of torture when the words play hide-and-seek beyond my sixteen hour old days, or when those liquid chimaeras spark amber glints of defiance, choose to hide behind the Fail Demon’s back and won’t come out to play.

I nearly thought that happened again when Ellen Covey’s four Devs arrived in their tissue-wrapped box, thought that after all this time and anticipation, my vocabulary would surely fail me, fail to convey the flood of emotions I felt when I sniffed at their contents. This was so important, loomed so large in my imagination for such a long time as I wondered and I wandered down the primrose path of perfumed perdition that nothing I could possibly say would ever do them justice. They were all four like nothing Ellen had ever made, like nothing I had ever encountered before, each of the four a unique facet, a gossamer thread, a highlight, an ancient tale of long ago and a futurity for that storied creature I had conjured one night out of boredom and music and an old and archetypal story.

There I sat and I pondered and I fretted as I twirled my hair and drank my tea and felt a faraway ghostly presence breathe down my neck. That was me as I waved my blotters of Fabriano paper in the air and paced the floor, as I perused my thesaurus and bit my nails and sprayed my skin, that was the despairing writer who finally gave it up and went to bed with only Hairy Krishna’s ginger purr to console me, a faint trail of perfume hidden in his fur.

No one has ever had much faith in you, have they? I do.

At some unknown dead hour of night, I woke with a start. Was it a dream? I didn’t know, I knew only that Krishna had finally moved away from the small of my back and I could roll over, and as I adjusted the pillow and grabbed my duvet a little tighter, I heard a voice behind me in the dark, felt a human heat burn down my back in my single bed, an arm around me.

“Shhh. Don’t move.” Dev’s voice right by my ear. “If you do, you’ll ruin the spell. Lie still. Tell me what you feel, tell me what you smell.”

“Something both very light and very dark and very complex, so much going on in this bottle, something that tells me…to be careful, something woody and plush but very bright, bright like spice and evergreen together. There has to be oud in it, too, that same raspy edge, yet it’s sweet, too…sweet like..vanilla or maybe tolu, yes, I think that’s it and…” I shifted in the darkness. He was right behind me, this wasn’t a dream, this was real, and if this was real, this was very, very dangerous. As it got warmer under that duvet, his scent grew even headier, smokier and animalic without ever losing that bright, woody, oud-y, spicy bite. This one had teeth, but they were hidden behind an alluring veil of something very much alive and aware, was it frankincense I could sense in the distance, so many ancient secrets, something that read my stories and read between the words too, read the secrets and the truths I concealed behind them.

“This is you…” I whispered to the dark, “this is you in the beginning, before she knows what she’s getting herself into, when you read her mind and you know what she wants. You know but you’ll never tell her, you’ll let her believe that you can make it happen, that her wishes will come true…but there’s a danger here she won’t know until it’s far too late…

That animal heat burning down my back, that human animal pulsing in the dark in my room, breathing that perilous dream alive. I had no sooner thought those words when my eyes shot open, and Krishna’s amber eyes glowed feline for an instant above my leg. I was alone. But was it a dream?

My continents shifted, my ice caps melted, my magnetic poles were realigned.

I was lost…lost in some kaleidoscopic whirling Technicolor reverie of running breathless down a street, someone hot in pursuit behind me, then, there was no street, only the hard surface of a locked door, and next, nothing but this dense, demanding fiery dream, this multitude of sensations and scent, this another, fevered heat. This was a complex, fragrant fever that took and demanded, that overrode all my hesitations, that never asked and never told, this…blend of layers upon layers of meaning unfolding as I dreamt.

That blistering shock to my senses, far richer, denser and thicker than before, and all I could do was to take it without question, the animal feel and exultation of this arm around me, this skin, this impenetrable, all-pervasive need. I had no secrets I could hide, no doubts I could slip in between the spice and the leather, nowhere to run before this inhuman, intangible creature of sacred smoke and beastly appetites, couldn’t possibly refuse to follow where it led me, where it took me further into that dark I never knew before. All I knew was this lava in my blood and this tempest in my mind and all I would ever want ever again was this many-layered landscape of wanted and needed, even if it hurt, even if I cried, even if I never would know daylight again, I didn’t care, I didn’t care…

I bolted upright in an instant. A dream. It was a dream. Only a dream, witnessed by the dark outside my window and my frantic heartbeat singing in my ears and a cat that dug its claws in my arm so softly as it stretched, sighed and jumped off the bed in search of a snack.

It was only a dream.

There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.

“There’s an old saying about love affairs. You can always remember the first time, but you can never remember the last.”

Two dreams in this strange and almost endless night, dreams provoked by these haunting, haunted perfumes, dreams that brought me back to my story in ways I could never have imagined, dreams unfolding as that story of Dev and that desperate woman he ensnared who had so little left to lose except the one dream she had left, and this sleepless night, with this bittersweet perfume, it all comes back…with this exceptional and unique heartbreak-in-a-bottle. I looked out of the window into a moonless black night, and intimations of the animal from the dream before purr their low mumble in the background, but this is a moody, melancholy, tetchy Dev, because he knows the price he’ll pay, the price he’s always paid for being the Guardian of nightmares and negatives, it’s soaked into this spiky, raspy, redolent wood like her tears, seeped into the fabric of good and evil and even Earth itself with that underlying heartbeat of furry beast and sacred being, of despised monster and eternal scapegoat, of otherwordly and all too human. Frankincense – it must be – wafting its ancient, arcane secrets with its siblings myrrh and labdanum, and it won’t matter and won’t change what will and has to happen. The play must go on, the charade must continue to its inevitable end, and endings are the price we all pay for any dream come true.

I lay back down and pulled up the duvet, and as it rustled, Krishna ran into the room and jumped up, as if to say… “Get over it. You’re still dreaming.” He prodded a leg into a more comfortable position and curled up behind my knees.

Maybe Krishna was right. Or Buddha, and I was still lost of this world of mana and illusion, an illusion I created, and Ellen brought back to life?

I remembered everything. And everything hurt to remember.

“Don’t move.” Again, that familiar voice in the dark, that familiar weight of an arm over my waist, and a different, haunting heat burning down my back. SO solid, so warm, so fragrant, it had to be real.

“Am I still dreaming?”

“Maybe you are, and maybe you aren’t. Maybe this project in the intangible – your words and these perfumes – is an exercise in materializing your dream, have you thought of that?”

“Just like my story…and my harebrained idea…about you, about frankincense and labdanum and peril and passion, but this is…” I breathed it deeper. That cool and pine-like breath,  something evergreen, frankincense, that plush and furry labdanum, it must have been, there was a drop – just one – of something sweet. Not benzoin, not vanilla, maybe Peru or tolu balsam, but still just a tiny drop.

“This is me, and this is you, not your protagonist.” I felt his breath on my neck, felt his hand brush my hair away as he nestled closer and whispered in my ear. “The time for fiction and disguises is over, baby. Those were just the tools you needed to set things in motion to make them real.”

“But you’re not real. You’re just a figment of my imagination.”

“How can you be so sure? Once upon a time a very long time ago, a girl of fifteen heard the Devil in her head saying… ‘You, girl, should write. That’s what you were meant to do, that was your purpose.’ Somewhere down the line, you forgot that dream and that conversation. I’m reminding you now. All those years and all that life between became fuel for that fire that made you write this story and these words.” He laughed softly in the dark, so softly, not even Krishna on my other side stirred.

“Now, I’m becoming more real, now that ghost you conjured has materialized in another kind of alchemy, and now, maybe other fictions can become fact, too.”

“C’mon. It’s just a story, yet another clichéd Faustian first novel, a metaphor for my own silly dreams.”

“Didn’t you know? That’s how all reality begins. With a dream.”

Before I could protest, a harp chord began to play in the dark, and I woke up for the last time this night and turned off my alarm. As Krishna stretched and began his own early morning song, as I staggered out to the kitchen and switched on the kettle for my coffee, that phrase reverberated in my head and stayed for the rest of that day.

“All reality begins…with a dream.”

That haunting scent of labdanum and frankincense and otherworldly, bitter, dark…

And sometimes it happens…that even dreams come true.

As the perfumer who made me a perfume writer just proved…

_______________________________________________

Notes: (taken from the enclosed envelope Ellen added with stern instructions not to open it until after my review!)

Dev no. 1: Three kinds of synthetic oud, woody base notes, black vanilla, clear labdanum absolute, synthetic musk deer accord, Africa stone tincture, ambergris tincture, synthetic civet, tolu balsam, beeswax absolute, frankincense, African bluegrass, giant arborvitae and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 2: Clear, dark and green labdanum, tolu balsam, black agar, woody base notes, musks including ambrette and the deer musk accord, castoreum, a different version of civet, cistus, incense accord, immortelle absolute, cade, davana, leather, rose, clove CO2 extract, cardamom, cinnamon and cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 3: New Caledonian sandalwood absolute, dark labdanum, clear labdanum, red spikenard, fossilized amber, ambergris tincture, black truffle tincture, cistus, cassie absolute, frankincense, davana, African bluegrass, myrrh tincture, motia attar & cinnamon leaf.

Dev no. 4: Clear labdanum absolute, tolu balsam, dark labdanum, woody base notes, frankincense, arborvitae. 

Ellen Covey’s stunning perfumes are available at Olympic Orchids.

Bitter the Devils

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT II

–       a review of Esscentual Alchemy’s three submissions for the Devilscent Project

It is an amazing thing to modify a novel as a perfume brief for submission to a group of very diverse perfumers, and then breathe in the results. How will your words be interpreted, what aspects of the story will surface, what genies were found and placed in those vials, what stories do they tell? Will it make any difference that the perfumer knows the whole story before she starts?

Amanda Feeley, the perfumer behind Esscentual Alchemy, is a musical, multi-talented, multitasking marvel who first came to my attention last summer, and since has become a staunch storm-in-a-port friend, the kind of friend you can email embarrassing questions when hit by an attack of existential angst at 4 AM. I’m thrilled and beyond flattered that when I contacted her to ask if she would like to participate in the Devilscent Project, she replied in less than five minutes…(capitals intentional)

“ARE YOU KIDDING????”

Amanda started with an advantage the other perfumers didn’t have – she knows Quantum Demonology from start to finish, (and inhaled the story in a retina-scorching three days, back when it was only a serial blog), knows my Devil well, knows something of the emotional landscapes the protagonist traverses in her diabolical heroine’s quest.

Neil Morris chose his darkly erotic facets, the ones the protagonist knows will be fatal and fatally irresistible, captured a great deal of that pulse bomb of testosterone and rock’n’roll, but Amanda’s three Devils are other creatures equally dangerous and equally fatal, and this unholy trinity has another agenda.

“That’s right,” said a voice I knew too well, “she understood the subtext of that deal your protagonist made with me – that she wasn’t the only one with nothing left to lose.”

Dev planted himself on the corner of my desk and dug into a beautifully green velvet bag for Amanda’s samples.

“Are you going to barge your way into every single review I write?” I was exasperated. “I hate to state the obvious, but I’m all out of chocolate.”

“Of course I am. It’s all about me anyway.” He squared his shoulders and sprayed one wrist with no. 1, dabbed an elbow with number 2, and sprayed the other wrist with number 3. “I know you’re out of chocolate. You even ate your secret gift stash.” He gave me a filthy look. “Never mind. We have a review to write.”

“We? That implies, so far as I know, more than one person squeezing out the words.” I sat back and crossed my arms over my chest.

“You make it sound as if writing is like wrestling a mangled tube of inspirational toothpaste,” said Dev and sniffed. “Every artist needs a muse.” He sniffed again, longer. The nostrils of a long Italian nose flared ever so slightly.

“Writing is like wrestling a mangled tube of inspirational toothpaste. Take it from me. And I picked you of all people as a muse because…why, precisely?” He and I had known each other for over two years by now, and I still couldn’t answer that question without sliding into suspect places no perfume blog should ever be read.

“You went looking for trouble, baby. I was the maximum amount of trouble you could find.” He lifted an eyebrow. “This…” he shook out one arm, “is yet another kind of trouble. And another side of me you took great pains to bury in the subtext of your story, submerged between the lines in the hopes that no one would find it, but Amanda did.” His grin slid in slow-motion from one end of his face to the other.

“Don’t tell me. You brought a shovel.” I snatched Devilscent vial no. 1 and sprayed a little on my arm, too.

“I don’t need one,” he growled. “I’m the Devil. I know everything about you.” He gave me another filthy look. “Listen. The protagonist gets all the attention, and the empathy, too. What about me? What’s to tell about the Devil, after all? He’s evil. The Guardian of negatives and nightmares, as simple as that. Except that nothing is ever that simple or that black and white. John Milton knew better. I certainly do. So did Amanda. Hush. I’m writing this review.”

This was news to me. “You are?” That surprised me. Usually, he popped up out of nowhere and inspired me, if it could be called that.

“Yes. That’s the price you pay for eating all the chocolate. Your job is to take dictation.”

I knew better than to argue. We had too many other things to argue about. “Yes, Master.”

“Back to our three Devils. They have a lot in common, in their base in particular, which is to say, they show three different facets to the story. These three…all have a very bitter, almost aggressive green thread. This is a green that bites you.” He sniffed Devilscent no. 1. “This is the Devil who can’t afford illusions any longer, least of all about himself – or humanity, come to that. The Devil who wants to use…like he always has when it suited his purpose.”

“Except…” I breathed.

“You’re getting ahead of yourself. As I said, this one is a bitter, green Devil. I don’t have a list of notes, so I can’t take it apart and let my nose go searching, but there’s a lot of labdanum here, except there’s nothing to soften it, this is an edgy, sharp labdanum, sharp with that green…what is it, do you think? Something almost mint-like? Maybe. Pine or spruce, no, cedar in there, too, I think. There’s frankincense, certainly…the cold boswellia serrata, and maybe that’s what gives it that ominous pulse, that supernatural tinge of…something tainted, something terrible, that…” Dev frowned for a moment and stared out into space, shifted on his perch on the edge of my desk. “ ‘That far-off hint of horror…’ ” He pulled a face. “Is it erotic? Yes, but not at all like Neil’s. This one isn’t so leathery, it doesn’t have that same hanky-spanky, D&S vibe. I can’t get over that green…it’s like nothing I’ve ever encountered before, an evil, complex, multi-layered green, a dangerous green, a green that breathes perdition…and is that a touch of myrrh? Something to sand down the edges, something that just…intimates at the other side of the story, the one I shouldn’t say too much about, or I’ll have one hell of a public relations nightmare on my hands.”

“You already do”, I muttered as I tapped on my keyboard. “Or you will, so I hope.”

“That’s the deal we made, remember?” He grinned again. “You’ll get there. Version number one will help not a little, too. If Amanda would market this as a masculine, she’d slay her customers. The contrast between that baritone top and that basso profondo base is amazing. There’s a lot of Sturm und Drang from the top notes to the base, a whole olfactory Beethoven symphony, and that’s a compliment.”

I knew I should have bought chocolate, if only to continue conversations such as this one, I thought with a pang. I needed a life. Or a lover. Not in that order.

“Devilscent number two…” drawled Dev undeterred, “is a different kind of entity. This guy is not so green and not so bitter, but even more dangerous. This is the Devil the protagonist grabs by his collar in the Crossroads Café before she can stop herself, this is closer to Neil’s rock’n’roll Devil, the one she breathes in even though she knows better, she’s been around the bend a few times but the woman can’t help it. It’s disturbing in a very strange way I can’t quite determine. There’s something almost floral in the mix somewhere, something to throw everything just slightly off-center and off balance, because it may start out sweetly enough, but this Devil has fangs underneath. It gets darker and much more bitter as it evolves. This is more….preternatural in its effect. It’s a lot harder to take apart than version one. Maybe not so much labdanum, but cistus, I think, and likely a touch of ambrette, too. Make that more than a touch. It’s distracting, it’s devious, a complete shapeshifter, it’s driving me crazy that I can’t quite pinpoint it.” He turned around and reached for my Devilscent materials kit on the bookcase, the two black boxes of essences and absolutes Ellen Covey had sent me, and dug around among the vials. “A smidge of tolu? Nah, not so sweet, patchouli…just a little, ambrette, yeah, hm…cinnamon leaf! That could be it, the drop that shifts it all and does strange and wondrous things. It’s familiar but it’s not. I know I’ve smelled it before. But never quite like this. I like those fangs, but I don’t think everyone will.”

He leaned back against my desk with a sigh. “Maybe you should write these reviews. I’m a guy. Supposedly, we have the olfactory abilities of wooly mammoths with head colds.”

“You’re doing a great job,” I said as I scrolled through the pages correcting my punctuation.

“Really?” That gave me the five-year-old grin I knew too well. “Keep talking, baby, and I might even forgive you for being out of chocolate.” He leaned forward and blew softly in my ear. “Maybe. If you’re very, very lucky.” His voice dropped down to a low, baritone growl.

Be still, my beating heart, be still.

In an instant the grin disappeared and he was all business.

“Devilscent number three…This one is the greenest of them all, a Big Bad Wolf of a green with very big teeth, but not like version one. This one is not quite as bitter to start but it still bites hard, no doubt about it. I suspect this is where Amanda really let rip and let her imagination fly. It strikes me as more complete, more rounded than versions one and two, not that they’re at all bad, but this…is something else. Version one got softer with the incense as it moved forward, but this one is a beast. And it stays a beast. This is one deadly earnest Devil in a so-bad-it’s-good way, a damn the consequences way. What am I smelling? That cedar/spruce/pine blast again, except now, the amp is cranked up to eleven. Frankincense, lots of frankincense, and I think more than one kind, and hello, labdanum! Hell, yeah! I’d buy this at the chink of a belt buckle. This will be instantly banned in all those Bible-belt states that forgot to ban Neil’s version, and all seven days of the week, too.”

He sniffed again. “Perdition. Temptation. A hint of something …bad, that taint of terror, but the protagonist won’t care, she can’t when she’s confronted with this, she’s rendered as helpless as a deer in the headlights, this has a do-me-meter that’s completely off the charts. The frankincense gets more prominent as it dries down, not that I mind. This…” Dev stated with finality and lifted up the little vial, “is my favorite. I’d wear it, just to…” another dangerous grin, “you know…mess with your head.”

“I bet that wouldn’t be all you did.” I knew where this was going.

“It’s all I can do, for now anyway.” He peeled himself off my desk and moved slightly away, eyeing me as I banged on my laptop. He pulled his shades out of his pocket, shrugged on his jacket. “Say thank you for me. Tell Amanda Feeley…she nailed it with number three. Tell her…” he thought for a moment, “that I’m glad she caught those facets in the story. I’m glad she chose to be a part of the Devilscent Project. Oh. One more thing.” On came the shades, along with the lupine grin. “I haven’t been to the Midwest in ages. Maybe I should…” He laughed and turned toward me, leaned forward and blew in my ear again.

“A word of advice, baby. Watch out for the sugarplums, dancing in air…”

And he disappeared, leaving only that bitter-green scent of perdition behind him.

Be still, my beating heart, be still.

__________________________________________________

Esscentual Alchemy’s perfumes are available from her website.

Original image: ‘The Emperor’ Tarot card from Zazzle.

With thanks to Amanda Feeley, and the ghost of Howlin’ Wolf, who supplied the soundtrack.