Giving the Devil His Due: The Devilscent Project
I looked again. His eyes were a unique shade of red-brown that could turn either hot or cold in an instant, eyes that missed nothing, saw everything, eyes that hid an entire well-traveled Roman empire behind them. They were the eyes of a man who knew too much, watchful, guarded eyes that waited for you to trip up. I saw a flirt in those eyes. “Let me rip off your clothes,” they said. “With my teeth.”
I had no explanation for what I felt that moment. It was nothing I could put my finger on, nothing rational, nothing except a pair of warm brown eyes that never looked away from my face and that scent of peril, perdition and passion. It was erotic, it was dangerous, and it frightened me half to death.
How did I know? Was it that indefinable creature lurking in the back of his eyes, a gleam that told me this could be more than I thought, he was more than I thought, and what did I even think? I wanted to kiss him, and I wanted to scream and run away.
I took a deep, surreptitious breath, exhaled, and blinked. The realization came all in a rush, just who he was, who he resembled. I still didn’t know what he was doing in a Copenhagen café near midnight with nonentity me.
Leaning on his arm, looking me right in the eyes with a teasing grin on his face was the Devil, perfectly disguised as one very particular rock legend in the nosebleed stratosphere of badass. The voice, the intonation, the eyebrows.
I sat back in my chair. Fuck me! Breathe, woman. Breathe. Why that one? I was face to face with my favorite, secret sexual fantasy. Whatever else I did, I should play this cool.
“Well…” I laughed, “that’s unexpected. The Devil impersonating a rock star.”
He lifted an eyebrow. “Just returning the favor. He’s done it to me enough times.”†
Ahh, yes. The Crossroads Café. How could I forget? It’s where I got hooked on my scent-twin’s writing—and there’s nothing like returning to the scene of the crime.
See it as I did, the place nearly empty a half hour before midnight, filled with flea market finds and blues legends on the walls. A couple talked in earnest, hushed voices in one corner beneath Howlin’ Wolf, and in another corner, a trio of tipsy girlfriends rehashed the week’s horrors beneath Bessie Smith’s motherly gaze. Robert Johnson sang ‘Little Queen of Spades’ on low.
See me in my dim, far corner at the back, curled up with my wine, happily alone, until suddenly, I wasn’t.
A man sat in the chair on my left, close enough to touch. I was so surprised, I forgot my manners.
“What happened?” I said for hello. “Nineteen empty armchairs and you had to sit next to me?”
He glanced down at the floor and smiled before he looked up. “Actually,” he said in American English and leaned closer on his right arm, “I came to talk to you.”
For a moment, I felt dizzy. I knew that voice, I had heard it before, but where?
The candles on the table flared and burned brighter. He looked to be around my age or a little older, someone who lived carefully but well. He wasn’t tall and that was a definite new thrill, since I looked him right in the eyes, but he was very broad in the shoulders, in top-to-toe black from his beat-up leather jacket to the lived-in jeans and biker boots. He was pale and clean-shaven, with a high, broad forehead beneath very black, shoulder-length hair swept back from his face, a long, straight nose above a mouth that seemed both cruel and soft. It was a face that challenged me to a second look.
“Why me? I’m just another face in the Friday night crowd.”
He smiled wider, leaned closer. “But you have potential,” he said. “What if you could be somebody?”
This was not my usual brand of stranger-in-the-night small talk. “Really? Who are you to say?”
“Ah.” He sat back in his chair for a moment, looked away, then leaned even closer. I inhaled the smell of his leather jacket and something else, some disturbing scent that made me dizzier still, dark, leathery, and very heady. Labdanum, yes, that’s what it was, and something spicy, and…I was so dizzy.
“I have many names. You know who I am. Look closer.”†
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Taking a closer look is exactly what I’ve been doing. The above excerpts are from Sheila Eggenberger’s as-yet-unpublished novel Quantum Demonology. As many reading here already know, Sheila is a perfume blogger from Denmark (her blog is called The Alembicated Genie) and a modern day Scheherazade, whose perfume reviews often take the form of stories so sensual, they are often best read at bedtime (well after the kids have been tucked in). Sheila has gained quite a following in the perfume community, not only among her fellow bloggers but also among a number of perfumers, and now members of both groups are getting together for a project called Devilscent, in which they will be exploring her novel through words and perfumes expressly created for the novel’s protagonists—or antagonists, depending on how you look at them.
Though not part of the project, I wanted to put in a plug, as I’m both a friend and admirer of Sheila’s. We determined some time ago that we have a number of things in common—size-six shoes and a love of take-no-prisoners perfumes being only a couple of them. When it comes to our reading and musical tastes, though, we’re quite different (or so I’ve surmised; we haven’t actually compared notes), and when she invited me to read her novel, I have to admit that its title initially worried me. I thought it would run too far afield from the kinds of thing I normally enjoy, but you know what? Quantum Demonology is proving to be (I’ve not finished it yet) a modern, fun and savvy reinterpretation of Faust—one in which Faust takes the guise of a woman who is as streetwise as she is sexy, and every bit as intelligent as a character ought to be who’s up against the….
The first thirteen chapters of Quantum Demonology are online. [Note: I removed the link as the novel is no longer there; in the years since this post was first written, Quantum Demonology was published by an indie publisher.] To follow the Devilscent project, keep your eyes peeled on the perfume blogosphere in the months ahead, but for a wonderful introduction and overview of the project (including a listing of the perfumers involved), click on this link to Indieperfumes, and then hop over to read Devil Scents Round One at perfumer Ellen Covey’s blog.
Photo is of rock musician Chris Cornell and can be found at a number of sites on the Internet. It should be noted that I have no idea which rock star Sheila Eggenberger's devil is modeled on. I just liked this pic.
†Quantum Demonology, copyright © 2011 by Sheila Eggenberger. All rights reserved.
It was a film noir, bluesy midnight in November when it all began. 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, in the town where I was born. Copenhagen.
I prowled for my favorite prey that night, someone young and tasty, someone I had wanted a while, an Irish bad boy who liked it spiced with a riding crop, imagination and the fur-lined handcuffs I carried in my handbag. I left him asleep with a souvenir and a smile on his face, and stomped out the leftover thrills with my boots across a Friday night town in search of mulled wine to simmer down. When they stopped, I stood in front of the Crossroads Café.†
February 24, 2012:
Suzanne's Perfume Journal