Continue reading Dreadful Dantes with this week’s new installment following
Henry VIII in the third ring of Dante’s Hell.
To read earlier installments of the story, click here.
Henry was trapped in a pool of muck, slime, and indulgence. Eons had passed in a matter of hours, but with each new swallow, Henry’s stomach roiled and retched. It never changed for the better or worse. This was it–pure hell. A constant repetition of unearthly and horrible tasks.
With each handful swallowed, Henry’s waistline continued to grow. How long has it been now? Hours? Months? He had no concept of time. And no matter how much Henry thought about what he was eating, he could not stop. Handful after handful filled his mouth and slithered down his stomach in an insatiable hunger at the mercy of the underworld.
Being half-submerged, he could not feel how large his body had grown, but every now and then–was it centuries?–he could feel his body lowering ever so slowly into the muck. A millimeter of uncovered skin would disappear under the surface making Henry panic just a bit each time. He wadded his legs in an effort to rise again, but his efforts were useless.
What would happen when his whole body became submerged?
Tears rolled from his sightless eyes and fell down his cheeks. The salty remnants mixed with dribbles from his chin, but he could not help himself.
Then, out of the depths, he felt something. It felt like a hard brush on his leg, and he froze every muscle. “What is that?!” he shouted into the abyss, but not even he could hear his voice. “Who is there to torment me?” Henry flailed his legs around to try and touch the elusive object again, but to no avail. But what he knew was he was not alone.
He sharpened his ears and tried desperately to focus his black eyes. His breathing had quickened, but after several minutes, the pain in his stomach took over his senses, and he could no longer ignore the constant hunger that brewed in his belly. He brought a fistful of filth to his mouth, and with his first bite, all memory of the accidental touch left his mind.
But it was only a few seconds before he felt the familiar touch of a human leg on his own. He snapped out of his trance and shouted again, “Who is there!? I demand you come forth!”
“Vad? Hallå? Vem är det?”
Henry could not recognize the words, but he could hear them faintly. “Speak louder. I cannot hear what you say.”
“Du kan höra mig?”
“English, damn you!”
“What? English? You can hear me?”
“I cannot see you. Who are you? Where are you?”
“I am sorry, sir, I do not know how to say. Goodbye.”
Henry felt the distinct movement of a body just in front of him. It was swimming. How could anything move in this muck let alone move with ease? Furious at being ignored, he reached our with his arm as far as his girth would allow. He could just barely feel threads of hair swim through his fingertips. A woman.
He tightened his fist and yanked hard. The woman shrieked and collapsed back toward Henry’s chest. “Let me go! You filthy–”
“Who are you? I demand you talk to me.”
“Lisa! Now let me go!”
Henry’s anger softened, and he let the woman’s hair go. “My apologies, madam.”
“My English is not so good. What is name?”
“Henry. I am King Henry VIII of England.” He was met with silence. “Lisa? Are you still there?”
“You are Henry the Eighth?” She pronounced her ‘th’ with a ‘z’ making Henry think she could be German. “Is this joke?”
“No. Why? Who are you?”
“I am nobody, but Henry ze Eighth died many hundred years ago.”
Henry blinked his black eyes and tried to understand this woman’s words. “Many hundred?”
He sighed. “Lisa, how long is an eternity?”
“I have heard it could be only a few seconds.”
The familiar urge to eat had filled Henry’s senses. The rumbling in his stomach drowned out his thoughts, but he tried so desperately to hang on to this conversation. Human contact is what he craved; not this slop he now knew as food. “What year is it now?”
“There is no way to know. I have been down here for long time. But I died in the year 1940. I was visiting London, but I do not know what happened. Suddenly, I hear sirens, then–nothing.”
The sound of retching reached Henry’s ears. “Are you all right?” He could barely squeak out the words between his own gagging.
“Yes, fine. I have gotten quite used to this now.”
“How can you? It is impossible.”
Lisa stopped moving in front of Henry. He felt her grab his hand and she put it gently on her waist. What he expected was to feel a handful of girth and fat like he had all on his body. But instead, all he felt was a stretched piece of skin covering pointed bones. He whipped his hand away like he had been burned. “What are you, beast?”
“I am no beast. In life, I took great pride in appearance. I had photo taken by famous men. Women looked at me, too. But, to stay beautiful, I refused to eat. And when I was forced, I threw up.”
While Henry could not comprehend all what she detailed, he understood why she was placed in this pit of vomit and pain. “You refused what I indulged in. But you indulged in other gluttonous acts.” Henry now understood what his placement meant. He did deserve the punishment he was dealt.
“Ja. And what funny now is I am so hungry. I would eat all of this if I could, but I cannot. When I swallow, I gag.”
Henry knew exactly what she meant, but as the familiar pains in his stomach grew again, he knew he would have to eat. He grabbed a fist-full and slowly brought it to his mouth. The smell made him both retch and salivate. He opened his mouth when Lisa interrupted him. “King Henry, do you know how to get out of here? Dante tell me there is a way.”
Henry stopped mid-bite. The sludge tasted vile on his tongue, but what she said stunned him. “A way out?”
“Ja. I am to find it.”
He swallowed. Through gritted teeth he said, “He told me no such thing.”
“Follow me, King Henry. We find it together.”
The motion of the muck told him she was swimming. Her skeletal body must move with ease through this pond, but to Henry, the task seemed impossible. He lifted his arm, and it crashed back to the surface, splattering his face. He wiped it away from his nose, eyes, and forehead, and tried again to move his body. He moved in slow motion, but he managed to lift one arm and then the other to wade through and forward.
“Come on, King Henry.” Her voice grew fainter in the abyss. His eyes were still black, so he could not even see which direction she went in.
“Lisa! Do not leave me.” His voice boomed in the underworld, but what he heard was a mere whimper. “Jane. Please do not leave me.” Henry’s motions slowed as he lowered his head and wept. “My Jane. My darling Jane.”
“Yes, my love. I am here.”
Henry’s head shot up at the sound of his beloved’s voice. His breathing quickened at the thought, but could he have imagined it?
“You must listen to me, and I can get you out of here.”
He rotated his massive body to face the voice of his angel, and just as he turned, the blackness clouding his eyes began to lift. “Jane?”
To be continued…
To read more of Dreadful Dantes including about Marie Antoinette and Greg Abbott, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.