Slumped on the hard stone ground, Marie Antoinette looked at her bloody palms. Heat radiated from her scorched skin and she could see the muscle throb. Tears flowed freely landing on her tattered dress. Her bare feet peeked out from under the lace. Marie lifted the end of the material and gently rubbed it between her fingertips leaving blood stains. A wince escaped her lips as she used the filth to wipe away her tears.
“You about done weeping over there?”
Marie looked up at the man. He stood before her with his hands on his hips. “Monsieur, you don’t understand. I have never felt this kind of pain.”
The man dropped his arms and sauntered over to her. His voice was soft; something Marie was not expecting. “No one down here or up there has felt the pain we’re feeling. But if we don’t continue to push that boulder to the other side of that hill, it will roll down into the next circle. That’s where they house the angry.” He held out his own bloodied palm. “Come on, now. The boulder is coming back.”
Marie grasped his hand firmly. She winced.
“After a while, you won’t even feel it anymore.” He hoisted her up. Under her feet, she felt the low rumble of the boulder coming back. The voices chanted, “Why do you horde?” “Why do you squander?”
Marie saw the indention in the hard stone where the man’s feet have been stuck for centuries. He stood dutifully in his station and braced his body for the impact. Marie did the same as the boulder came rolling back. Marie gritted her teeth as she out reached her arms.
As soon as the rock touched her skin, she shrieked but tried desperately to silence her pain. She could barely hear the man next to her mutter, “Why do you hoard?”
She pushed with all her might against the heavy stone. After a few excruciating seconds, the pressure lessened, and the rock made its way over the top of the hill back to the hoarders.
“Monsieur, what is your name? I am Marie.”
The man struggled to catch his breath. “It’s been so long since anyone has asked me my name, I don’t remember it all. But I know I was called Coronado.”
“It’s a pleasure.”
* * * * *
Marie stared at the boulder as it crested the hill. It was like watching the sunrise, but instead of a gentle warmth from rays, she felt on fire.
This cannot be.
She looked toward the man who called himself Coronado. His head hung low against his chest as he took deep, resigning breaths.
No, this cannot be. I am not here. This is not hell. I must be dreaming.
Marie took a step back. The boulder was slowly becoming the full face of the sun just over the hillside. It would be a matter of seconds before it came back. She took another step back. Her feet found every sharp rock on the black ground, but the pain was nothing to what she held in her hands.
I am not an evil person. I don’t deserve to be here.
“Marie. Come on, get back to your spot.” Coronado turned and looked at Marie, but she did not register his words. She took another step back and turned around. She faced the great vastness of the underworld. It was her first time seeing the landscape in all of its horror. The land was black with tall volcanoes of spewing fire all around. Smog and dirt filled the air, and there seemed to be a layer of green fog hanging over deep valleys in the distance. If she closed her eyes, she could hear screams of pain and torment from every direction.
This is a dream. Non, un cauchemar.
“Marie! Get back here!” The words washed over her. She looked down at her toes. They gripped the edge of a black cliff. Straight down before her all she could see was a marshy abyss. As she stared deeply into the water, she could have sworn she saw people swimming in the muck.
Wouldn’t it be so simple to jump off? Would it wake me? End this torture I have made up in my mind?
Suddenly, a rough palm grasped her arm. “What do you think you’re doing?” Marie snapped out of her daze as Coronado stared deep into her eyes. “The boulder is coming back. Do your job.”
Marie nodded shyly and walked back to her post.
“Coronado, this isn’t a dream, is it?”
The boulder smashed into their bodies, but they held their ground. This time, the rock seemed heavier, like the others were continuing to push the heavy burden instead of having gravity do its job. But once again, they both managed to hurl the rock over the small hill.
“What makes you think this is a dream? Do you think your mind could have made up such a hell? Does the rock not feel real to you? What about the pain on your feet? The smell in the air? How can you think this is not your reality?”
“But it cannot be. I don’t deserve to be here.”
“Did you squander your life, Marie?”
“Non, I lived my life!” She stood defiantly with her arms on her hips. The royal air of her speech was not lost.
“Then you must have squandered something else. They don’t place you down here by mistake.”
“Well, then, what did you squander? Why are you down here?”
The other side of the hill shouted, “Why do you squander?” Coronado looked at the hilltop. Marie knew the rock was coming back, but she desperately hoped she would wake soon. She didn’t think she could take the burning pain much longer.
“I was selfish. I looked only for gold and riches. During my travels, many men died, but I gave it no mind. I was focused on finding my due. But when I wound up penniless, I squandered the things I did discover. I threw away other riches. All for what?”
The boulder reached the peak, and again, it came rolling toward them. Marie saw the hurt in Coronado’s eyes and understood his words. Coronado reached his arms out, and Marie followed suit deep in her own thoughts of how she squandered her gifts and riches. She turned her face away, bracing for the searing pain. When it hit her flesh, she shrieked. This pain would never dull.
They both pushed and struggled until they managed to get the rock over again. They watched the rock fall over the other side to a huddled group of men and women in the same state. They braced their bodies and waited for the impact.
“Why do you squander?” echoed behind them as Marie and Coronado walked back to their spot.
“Do you still think you’re dreaming?”
To be continued…
To read earlier installments of Marie, click here.
Copyright (c) Alison C. Wroblewski, 2015. All rights reserved.