“When earthly time ceases there will be nothing to know, nothing but the sin of the past.”
Greg let these words sink in. “So, not only am I destined to burn in this grave, but I’m to be tortured by my memories?”
“That is your cross to bear.” Virgil had no humor in his voice as he stood over Greg’s head casting a menacing shadow of darkness.
“This is a terrible hell.”
Virgil kneeled next to Greg’s grave. He rolled his eyes as far as he could to meet his gaze. “I’ll ask you again, are you ready to begin?”
Greg took a deep breath. The smell of rotting flesh and burning hair entered his nostrils. “Yes.” Virgil held out his hand. Greg reached for it, not without pain, but it was nothing like what he had experienced when he as alone. His skin stretched and tore away from the burning box he lay in, but Virgil continued to guide him to a standing position. Once his feet touched the scorched metal, Greg could finally fully see outside his box to the world that surrounded him more clearly.
When he first peeked at his surroundings, he had no idea the full scope of the underworld. Now, as he looked over the flat and desolate terrain, he started to feel lucky for only having a burning box.
Out in the distance, the posts he saw from when he could only peer over the edge of his grave, were in fact crosses. They made a macabre skyline against a red and black-cloud sky. The loudest screams seemed to come from there. Greg then saw men and women mounted upside down with their legs spread and their arms held together. Ravens circled them overhead, but he couldn’t make out what they were doing.
“Before we begin with the stories of the Lord and the light he can bring to sinners, I must tell you about the souls down here.”
Greg felt as though he were in a trance. His feet and palms burned as he hoisted himself out of his grave and finally stood tall. It was the first time he stood on his own in months, not counting the eternity he has already spent in Hell. He flexed his toes and looked down at his red and blistering feet. He felt nothing but relief.
“There are different levels of heresy. There are those who only hurt themselves by turning away from God and his teachings. They reside in the burning tombs as you do. Then there are those who preached their ways to others; turning a population against Christ. They are mounted to the same crucifix Jesus sacrificed Himself on, but are inverted for their inverted thinking.” Virgil pointed to the poor souls in the distance. Greg stared and managed to catch the eye of a young man. His mouth was contorted to a permanent scream. Despite the distance between then, Greg felt the man’s pain into his bones.
Greg tore his gaze away and looked at the ground breathing heavily.
Virgil walked ahead. “While you’re with me, you will feel no pain. I am your guide as I teach you how to find Paradise.” Greg looked up when Virgil abruptly turned around. “If I feel you are lying or betraying my trust, I will cease to care for you and throw you back in your box to burn. I have no sympathy for you nor do I care if you rot away. I only want to help because you have a false understanding of why you’re here, and that cannot be. Do you understand?”
Greg nodded. The sheer relief of calm in his body was enough to believe in the power of Christ.
“All right. Then we begin.”
* * * * *
Chalk was the first smell Greg could identify. Then, it was juice. His memory flashed so quickly to his childhood Sunday school class, he barely could make sense of his surroundings. He stood in the back of the classroom as a six year old with the mind of a grown man. Panicked, he looked around and saw Virgil in the corner. Greg walked toward him, but his little legs made him stumble and fall flat on his face. When he looked up, Virgil put his hand up to stop him. He then looked toward the Sunday school teacher and motioned for him to pay attention.
“Come on, Greg. Come and join us for story time.” The teacher waved to Greg to come over and sit next to her. Greg slowly got up and made his way to the circle. He looked up at her and listened carefully. “This is a story of Jesus and how he proved he had risen from the dead to Apostle Thomas.”
The classroom full of little faces stared in amazement.
“When Jesus met with his apostles, Thomas came forward telling him he didn’t believe that Jesus had actually died. ‘Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe.’ So, Jesus came to see Thomas and held out His hand. Thomas felt the holes that held Him to the cross, and then Thomas believed.”
“But how can that be, Miss? Wouldn’t your hand start to heal after a couple days? The hole would be a scar maybe, but a through-and-through hole? Sounds made up.” Greg couldn’t help his question from falling out of his mouth.
“That’s the point, Greg. Jesus is trying to teach you that you should believe in Him whether you can see and feel Him or not.”
Greg sat for a moment and looked at his teacher with his young eyes but his older mind. He turned to look at Virgil who nodded and instantly, they both were transported back to the depths of the underworld; not one step away from where they were before.
“You doubt the word of God, Greg, much like Thomas. But Thomas was shown that he was wrong. Jesus was here, and He did die for our sins.”
“Can you show me Christ? Can I, like Thomas, see His hands and touch the wounds?”
“No. You are again, missing the point. The idea of Christ is not to believe a human being has risen from the dead. You are to believe His word and His message. Because you do not believe in the human being, you don’t believe in His teachings. But that is not what He would have wanted. Believe in His morals, not just in His person.”
Greg looked out again to the vast terrain. If Jesus and God do not exist, how can all of this exist? There has to be a Heaven if there is Hell, right?
“You’re starting to get it.”
They continued along the path to where Greg had seen the ground preserved. But before they got to the protected land, they passed by Marie Laveau’s hole. Greg looked down at her rotting and burning body. “Dat man is a lie.” The hatred in her voice ran up Greg’s spine. Her eyes were fused shut and her hair was matted with embers sparking across her face. Her hands were charred and reaching out, but her forearms were glued to the bottom of the box. She resembled a shock-therapy patient, strapped to a hospital bed unable to break free; only to shake furiously.
“Do not listen to her. I have tried to teach her, but she does not learn.”
Marie spat. The saliva only sizzled on the ground before them. Greg looked at her with profound sympathy. He knew nothing of this woman, but no one deserved such torment.
“If God exists, and if His son really died for our sins to teach us messages of loving thy neighbor, how can He be so callous to the souls down here? He has just thrown us into these iron boxes for us to rot away with no sense of relief.” Greg quickly turned around. “And what about all the other souls down here suffering from the same or worse fates?”
Without waiting for an answer, Greg broke out into a sprint through the massive labyrinth of graves and jagged rocks. He tripped but regained his stride multiple times as the wasteland continued to stretch before him. He wanted to reach the crosses that dotted the skyline. He wanted to see what was happening to these screaming individuals.
The harder he ran, the farther the crosses became. His feet began to blister and sizzle again with each impact to the hard ground. The pain increased and took over his concentration. But he tried desperately to focus on the people hanging upside down on these wooden planks. After running what felt like miles, he could finally make out their faces. The ravens that circled them pecked at their flesh and eyes. Some flew, some ate, but they all tortured. One raven with blood dripping from his mouth looked directly at Greg. It squawked and took flight toward Greg.
Terrified and breathless, Greg tripped over his own feet, and he fell face-first into another tomb. His cheek fused instantly to the hard iron bottom. His scream scared him, but the shock of the burn surprised him. Quickly, his whole body became unmovable. The flesh of his arms, chest, and legs sizzled and melted into the ground. He screamed again. He was less free than he was before.
“You have betrayed my trust.” Virgil’s voice boomed in the underworld but seemed to be amplified in his tomb. Greg’s ears rang. “You cannot learn. This is where I leave you.”
“Virgil, no, wait! Please.”
“I warned you.”
Greg wept as the air became thick and surrounded him again. The heat was that much more unbearable on his face. The palms of his hands could take no pressure to even push himself up.
“I tol’ you. Dat man is a lie.” Marie’s whisper echoed in Greg’s ears.
To be continued…
Greg Abbott’s story is not finished. Stay tuned with what happens to him next in the coming months.
The next chapter for Dreadful Dantes will follow Henry VIII, the famous monarch who created waves in the church and believed in the power of Christ, but never repented for a very obvious and selfish sin.
To read more of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2015, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.
Resource: Williams, Charles. The Figure of Beatrice. pg 127. Copyright (c) 1943.