Marie stared in astonishment at the stranger by her side. “How do you know my name?” The boulder came crashing into their fragile bodies just as the words fell out of her mouth. The weight took her by surprise, but she was anxious to hear the man’s reply.
They both pushed the giant rock with all their might with Marie hurrying them along between haggard and labored breaths. She looked over at Dante who seemed not troubled by the fiery stone. Once the rock was thrown over the side of the hill, Marie faced Dante with hands on her hips. “Answer me.”
“I don’t mean to offend you. I know who you are because my guide told me. You are the former Queen of France, Marie Antoinette; killed by her countrymen during the French Revolution.”
“Revo– there was a revolution?”
“You know what’s going on up there? What year is it? Do you know my children?” Marie felt her cheeks getting flush with each question she asked. She didn’t know if she wanted to know the answer or just be told that it wasn’t worth knowing.
Dante extended his hand and Marie grasped it as they walked back down the hill to their stations. Her heart was in her throat. “Unfortunately, madam, I only know little of your children. Your daughter, Marie Therese, was released from prison some time ago, and I hear she married.”
Marie clasped her hands over her mouth and gasped. “Prison?”
“Yes. She was in prison for two years after your death.”
Marie’s legs buckled and she fell, catching herself on her sore wrists. “Two years.” She looked up at Dante who knelt down next to her. “Who did she marry? When?”
“I do not know, madam. Some time ago.”
Marie looked away, blinking tears from her eyes. The familiar rumble of the ground interrupted her thoughts. She looked at the hill and braced for the sight of the boulder. “What of my son?” She knew her son must be suffering as well for being the heir to the French throne.
Dante helped Marie to her feet. She wiped her tears away and stood at her station. Dante braced his body as did she. The stone came hurtling down, and they caught it. Slowly, they took step after step to the top of the hill to drop the rock to the hoarders. For a few seconds at least, it would be their burden. Dante started to walk back down before Marie. She hurried to follow and tugged at his arm. “My son. What of my son? Was he also in prison? Is he being looked after?”
“Madam, your son died several years ago.”
Strangely, Marie felt like she knew her son had died, but hearing it from a perfect stranger made it real. He touched her arm softly, in what she knew was a sympathetic gesture, but she felt nothing but numb. The sound surrounding her suddenly went silent and her body felt empty. My son. My darling son. I have failed as a mother.
Dante grasped her arm and led her away from her station. Her feet touched the ground, but she could not recall making the steps. He knelt her down next to Coronado’s unconscious body. When his hand left her skin, she looked after Dante as he ran back to their station just in time to catch the boulder careening back down. He made it look so easy as he didn’t break his stride or a bead of sweat before hurtling the stone back.
“Marie, are you all right?” Dante’s voice interrupted her silent bubble. Suddenly, the sounds of the underworld came flooding back. The volume of the screams and torment made her want to claw her ears off. The ringing of the voices seemed to seep into every crevice of her brain.
Suddenly, Dante grabbed her wrists hard and shouted in her face, “Marie! Stop this!”
She closed her eyes tight, and when she opened them, she looked at her hands. Dante’s grip was tight, and she couldn’t move. Her fingernails were black and red with dirt and blood. Warm liquid dripped down her face as she realized she had scratched her skin. Dante let her go and she gently touched where she had cut herself. The salt on her hands stung the wound. Dante ripped the edge of his shirt and held it to her face to wipe away the blood.
“There is nothing you can do, Marie.”
She looked at Dante and then around the vast underworld frantically. “He’s not down here, is he? Oh, my boy. I couldn’t stand it if he were down here in this pit of devastation and death.”
“No. He has been sent to Paradise. He is being well looked after.”
Marie found little comfort in this. “How can you know that? How can you know my child is in…what did you call it? Paradise?” Marie stood, now furious at this stranger who brought her such devastating news. How dare he cause her more anguish and pain than she already had.
“I know because I was there.”
“You were there? Where? Paradise? Who are you? Did you kill my son?” Marie took steps toward Dante, balling her fists ready to strike this man.
“No, madam. I am a writer.”
The boulder crested the hill. Marie had forgotten about her duty as she raced back to her station. Dante was quick on her heels, and they managed to catch the stone before going off the cliff. Once it was safely back over the hill, Marie looked back at Dante. “I don’t want to hear anymore.”
Dante nodded. “Is there any comfort I may give you?”
Marie looked out again at the vast underworld. Then she looked at Coronado. He was slowly waking and sitting up. “You have to get me out of here. I must be with my children. I cannot stay here any longer. They need me.”
“I cannot get you out of here. It is impossible to leave this place once you’ve been assigned.”
“That’s not true. He said–” Marie pointed over to Coronado who walked slowly toward them.
“There is no escape, Marie. I tried. There is no point in trying.” Coronado rubbed his head and hands leaving streaks of dirt and blood on his face.
Marie fell to her knees. “Please, you have to let me out of here. My daughter–my darling daughter, and my precious sons…” Her words fell into sobs as she cradled her face in her blistered and burnt hands. “I’ll do anything.”
A booming voice interrupted her sobs. “Marie Antoinette!”
She stopped her sobbing and slowly looked up. Dante and Coronado backed away from her slowly as every soul around her froze in their tracks.
The black robes of the demon stood in front of her. Her gaze followed them all the way to the empty and gruesome face she first saw when she came down into this Hell. “Marie Antoinette. Stand.”
Everyone stared at her. She felt their gazes burning into her already scorched skin. She stood slowly trying not to lose her balance as her head got lighter and lighter. “Oui, monsieur.” She barely heard her own voice, but she could not bring herself to utter another word.
“I’m afraid there has been a mistake.”
Her head shot up. “What do you mean? Am I not supposed to be here?”
“No, madam. You have been misplaced.”
Suddenly, Marie felt like a weight had been lifted. I knew I didn’t belong here. She tried not to smile, but she felt nothing but elated to be rescued from this awful place.
“Follow me, madam. I will take you to where you belong.”
“Oui, monsieur. May I say goodbye to my friends?”
The demon stared at her, silent for several aching seconds. “Non.” The demon turned and started to walk away.
Marie turned to face Coronado, her friend and companion in this ring of devastation. He looked at her and nodded. Dante stood beside him and made the same gesture. Marie let a small smile cross her lips before following the demon. She pranced along in anticipation of getting to Paradise.
“Monsieur, what is your name?”
“Minos, judge of the Underworld.” Stares from souls penetrated her being as they walked along the line of former fellow squanderers, but Marie did not care. Let them look.
“Minos, am I to go to Paradise and be with my children?”
Minos turned abruptly to look deep into Marie’s eyes. The tension sent a shiver down her spine as the deep black holes in his face bored into her. “You think you are destined for Paradise? You are a fool if you think you can see anywhere but this black world for the sins you have committed.”
“But you said I didn’t belong here. There was a mistake.”
“Yes, there was a mistake.” Minos tapped the black ground with his staff. Instantly, they were transported to the other side of the same hill Marie had pushed the fiery boulder for the last decade. She looked around at the blank faces of the hoarders she had grown to hate and deem as unworthy of her effort. “Marie, you chose the wrong side. This is where you belong.”
She turned to protest, but he had already vanished. Tears filled her eyes as she felt the familiar rumble of the boulders under her bare feet.
To be continued…
Marie Antoinette’s story is not finished. Stay tuned with her story in the coming months. The next installment for Dreadful Dantes will follow Greg, a man dying from AIDs in 1985 Manhattan. Catch up in two weeks for his story.
To read the beginnings of Marie’s story, click here.
Copyright (c) Alison C. Wroblewski, 2015. All Rights Reserved.