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.


A Dance with A Danger

THE DEVILSCENT PROJECT I

–       a review of Neil Morris’ first module for the Devilscent Project

Sometimes, I wish my readers could be present when I sniff a perfume for the first time, just so they could get a sense of what manner of gut reaction I have, what epithets I exclaim, what numinous emotions I’ll then have to translate into words and phrases.

I have never wished it more in my entire lifespan as a perfume writer as I did this past week, when a dream that originated in my own twisted mind for reasons I’ll never know became a concrete reality in the shape of the first edition of the Devil’s scent as it’s described in my novel, Quantum Demonology.

Understand, I hadn’t planned for that telling little detail, a leitmotif that trails through the story as both admonition and metaphor, that last, tiny push the protagonist with her own esoteric tastes in perfume is helpless to resist, the one that burns away her last hesitations and overrules her fears, that haunted and haunting one-way ticket into a world she only thought she knew, but of course, she couldn’t know what manner of perfume and perdition, Heaven and Hell awaited that fated Friday night…

The Devil’s scent stayed through eight revisions of its first appearance and stuck in my mind as an image I could invoke as clearly as I could invoke that Devil I created: heady, dark, otherworldly, emphatically male in a way that sings its devious purposes in a manner the protagonist can’t refuse.

So imagine what it will do to an excitable writer’s mind when that idea is given concrete form and interpretation, when she sees the logo she created for the project emblazoned on the bottle, the effect of what her words have caused and inspired.

It blew my mind. I had to sit down for a moment and center my hara, had to try not to repeat that mantra in my story, another red thread that weaves throughout the words and the world I had created, a metaphysical truth as old as time itself:

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

I did what I often do to gain a first impression – I sprayed a little out into the room to let it disperse.

That first reaction does not translate well. Just imagine something along the lines of …Oh! Wow! Wow!

Not very Baudelaire-ian, I know. This is not what made my suspect reputation in the perfumed blogosphere.

I rushed around getting ready to leave again and came back into the room five minutes later. Only this time, the ambience of my living room had changed. I heard the definite rhythm of cloven feet tap-dancing on my wood floor, echoes of a laugh I knew a little too well for comfort, a chill tickle at the back of my neck before rushing out the door and on through the remains of my day.

The rest of this past week, when not buried in webinars and headaches and marketing hyperbole, I would sniff at the contents of that heavy, glass bottle and wonder if I could ever find the words to do them the justice they deserved. Even now, even after giving up and slinking off to bed, even in the gray, damp twilight of an early morning, I’m not entirely sure I’ve found them.

Then, this happened.

“You’re going about it the wrong way.” said a voice in my otherwise empty room. “You’re fighting the Fail Demon, the one that says you can’t, but you’re wrong.” He pointed to that elegant matt black, embossed box on my desk. “You can.” He gave me a soon-to-be-famous five-year-old grin.

Dev, kicking back in my son’s chair by my desk, and I had not seen him for a very, very long time. He hadn’t changed a bit, but this morning he wasn’t wearing his trademark aviator shades.

“Well, what do you know,” I quipped. “A visitation from Cousin Id.”

“I’m not your cousin, baby. And I still say you’re not doing this right.” He reached out for that matt black box and took out the bottle. “Nice logo. You made that, right?”

“With a little help from Harry Clarke, but yes. I did.”

“So tell me…” he grabbed the card and read the note on the back. “Why are you making it so hard for yourself? Think about it. I may have started as a crazy idea in your head one boring Friday night, but think about how far you’ve come since then. More people have read your book than ever did while you wrote it as a serial. You’ve became a perfume blogger, and I gotta say it…no one else does it quite like you do. You even met the inspiration for me last summer and made a definite impression.” He gave me a grin I hadn’t seen since a Wednesday night on a tour bus and shook his head.

Off came the cap, and he sniffed. His eyebrows shot toward his hairline.  “Now, you’ve got the Devilscent Project with some iconic cult-name perfumers interpreting your words into perfumes, you have a contact with an agent, you have all these bloggers participating – and let me tell you, they’re at least as excited as you are – and here’s a painful truth for you: if you made all that happen from nothing, which you did with a little help from your friends – you can manifest anything you like. You just need to slay that Fail Demon, and you’ll be fine.”

“Easy for you to say. I’m the one who doesn’t want to fall flat on my face.”

“Then I’ll say it another way. I. Dare. You.” He sprayed his wrist. What followed was one four-letter word that begins with F.

“That’s not fair. I can’t resist a dare.”

“Should I go get a brownie from the fridge, just so you can be done over in four irresistible ways?” he laughed. “A testosterone bomb issuing a challenge while holding a chocolate brownie?” He laughed longer.

“No.” I was curious to see his reaction to that other intangible Devil in the room.

“Back to your nose, baby. We have a review to write, and a lot of people are dying to find out what you think. Hmm. Neil Morris. He’s one of those inside, cult secrets far more people need to know about. You certainly need to sniff way more of his stuff if this is any indication. Geez. The guy totally gets it, no contest. The dark, the danger, the erotic edge, the overpowering part, those Gothic undertones, oh, yes…This version will be banned in several red states. Especially on Sundays. And come with a health label.

“Keep away from pets, children and suggestible, celibate women.”

“Don’t remind me,” I groaned. “That’s the rest of my unnatural lifespan.”

He held out his wrist. “Don’t be such an optimist, baby. I rather doubt that. Sniff and tell me what you think.”

I sniffed. Labdanum, glorious, thick, heady and animal, dark as a starless midnight, bitter and leathery and rock’n’roll and pernicious, it was a carnal universe in a single note as deep and as clear as a vibrating bass string. One of my all-time favorite notes, and it was everywhere in the room with us, giving me all sorts of ideas I don’t usually think on a solo Saturday morning.

“It’s…” I had to think for a moment. “Filthy, dirty, skanky, stinky…yet in a very elegant way. I could get a bit more specific, but this is a perfume blog.”

“Keep going. We’re not there yet.” A huge ganache-covered brownie materialized out of nowhere and he bit into it with relish.

“I don’t have a list of notes. I thought it would be better that way.”

“You don’t need to read notes to appreciate music, either.”, he mumbled around a mouthful of brownie. “C’mon.

As he spoke and I wrote, that dark-blue demon perched like a pigeon at the top of my laptop screen grew smaller and more transparent. Its tail twitched, slapping out a muted tattoo in 4/4 time to another sort of Devil singing on my iPig.

As this Devilscent no. 1 evolved, it became sweeter and even more sensuous, if such a thing were possible. Now, it was entirely different, a floral promise of dreams come true and that sensual anticipation you can feel as a tingle on your skin when you just know it will be better than good, it will be epic, it will change your life forever, so long as this otherworldly flower sings its siren song of surrender on your skin.

Meanwhile, several shades of baccanalian intimations were taking place on Dev’s skin. That floral promise of before bloomed and deepened, and now, my nose could detect the bitterness from the beginning come to the fore again, labdanum again, only this time, it seemed combined with frankincense and was that a hint of myrrh in the background, both of them at a whisper below that leathery labdanum pulse and weaving in, out and around in its unique way, that alternate universe floral aria of perdition in its alto key…So beautiful, so fated, it seemed to say, but …

Beware, beware what happens when you dance with your danger…

“I don’t want your soul, baby. According to Saint Augustine, you don’t have one.”

In a small puff of black smoke, the demon flashed and vanished.

Dev licked ganache off his fingers. “See? You slayed the Fail Demon. And you wrote your review.” A few gooey brownie crumbs remained at the corner of his mouth and whether it was the thrill of his presence or that perfume, I couldn’t resist an urge to brush them away with my finger. In a flash, he held my hand by the wrist and gave me a certain look I also knew rather too well for comfort.

“Well…” I shrugged. “I had a little help. The question is, what do you think about it?”

He took the bottle out of the box and stared for a moment at the logo, admiring the dark amber glow of the perfume. He took another sniff at his wrist. “I think Neil Morris is a genius,” he said after a long pause. “But I also think it needs a little more black, a slightly larger ghost…a touch more peril, a smidgen of abyss. More labdanum, definitely. Not that this is bad in the slightest. It’s freaking beautiful. It’s not like anything else I’ve encountered, that’s for sure. But…I…don’t know. I don’t think we’re quite there yet. If this is any indication, though…I think we will be. Just wait and see.”

He turned over my left hand and kissed my palm. Now, he stood up, his lips right by my ear. “Just don’t forget, baby…be careful what you wish for.”

In the blink of an eye, he disappeared. Yet I already knew what to write next.

You will get it.

As Baudelaire wrote…

Rich, complex, triumphant, other [perfumes] roll with the limitless range of all non-finite things…each sings the ecstasy of the senses and the soul.

With my most profound thanks to Chaya Ruchama and Neil Morris, and to Lucy of Indieperfumes, who introduced us.

Chaya Ruchama has written her own inimitable take on Neil Morris’ Devilscent here:

An introduction to the Devilscent Project with links is available at The Perfume Pharmer, who will also participate in the Devilscent Project. As will perfumers Ellen Covey of Olympic Orchids, Kedra Hart of Opus Oils, Alexis Karl and Maria McElroy of Cherry Bomb Killer Perfumes and Aroma M.

Neil Morris Fragrances are priceless olfactory gems that beg discovery. Find them here.

Original Illustration: *Opposites Attract’ by Pelmo at Zazzle.

The Devilscent logo and Quantum Demonology, ©Sheila Eggenberger

Translation of Charles Baudelaire’s poem “Correspondances” from Les Fleurs du Mal, my own.