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.
The melodious voice of Jane, King Henry VIII’s former wife, carried through the depths of the underworld. It lifted not only the spirits of the destitute and damned Henry, but it also lifted the blackness before his eyes. He turned to face this glorious angel, and standing on the bank, where Dante stood those eons ago, was a portrait in white and gossamer lace.
It was as though she never left his side. Her face was that of a doll and her smile beckoned him toward her. He waded his body in the surrounding muck and managed to take hold of the end of the bank where she stood, towering over his bulbous frame.
“Jane, my love. Why are you down here in this pit of despair? You do not deserve to trouble yourself with such torment of us sinners.”
“Henry, my king, I am down here to tell you of Paradise. You must come and join me with the Lord and God, our Savior. There is no answer outside His realm.”
Henry looked away. He did not want his wife to see the tears pricking his eyes. “Why do you torture me so? Am I not suffering enough? I have repented to your Lord and he has forsaken me.”
Jane kneeled down. The bottom of her dress was now soiled, and he could see her toes sinking slowly into the stinking mud. He reached out to touch them, but her hand reached out first and tilted his chin upward. “Henry, my king and my love, I am not here to torture you nor to make you suffer. I am here to tell you there is another world. A world you should see. Only you can let the sins of your past go, and then the Lord will bring you into Paradise. You must repent and believe.”
Henry reached his hand up to touch her face, but his arm would not give him the freedom to do so. “For these centuries, my dear Jane, I have done nothing but repent. I cannot do any more or less than what I have done. What more does the Lord want with me? How much longer must I suffer at His hand?”
Jane abruptly stood up and took a step back. “How dare you say I am wrong. What I tell you is the truth!”
Her head tilted down in such a jagged and jarring movement, Henry thrust back in fear. What he saw before him was unfamiliar and terrifying. What was this creature?
“No. If you want Paradise, you must earn it.” Like a flash of light, her face changed and softened like a mother looking at her newborn. “My Henry, come to the bank and hoist yourself up. Once you are out of the muck and slime, I will show you the path.”
Henry furrowed his brow. Is this the same path Lisa had mentioned before she left me alone? Maybe Jane is showing me what Lisa had intended? He moved toward the bank slowly and with purpose. With each inch forward, his breathing became more and more labored. Despite Jane looking angelic and soft, standing still and silent, he could have sworn he could hear her voice saying, “Yes, yes, yes,” in a slithery tone.
It took an eternity for Henry to finally reach the bank where his beloved stood, but she had not moved a muscle the entire time. Her perfect pink toes were now islands in the brown lake she stood. “Come, my love.” He heaved his left arm on the ledge and pushed with his wrist against the stone. His hand sunk a bit, but the ground underneath was sturdy. Slowly, he managed to thrust his elbow in the air for leverage, and using what little strength that was in his shoulders, he heaved his massive body up.
His first attempt only got his chest out of the slime before he crashed back down, splashing the thick water across his face, but the second attempt managed to get his stomach on the river bank and onto the hard stone. He flopped over like a fish out of water, and he felt like he could finally breathe again. The revolting excrement he was forced to wade in took a toll on his body. As he looked down at his legs, he could see a series of open wounds, including the one he got above ground from jousting, pulsating and oozing out a stream of pus.
“Stand, my darling.” Henry looked up at Jane, whose expression had changed from a helpful and beloved wife, to a fixture. Her eyes opened wide, displaying a black center, and her teeth had grown sharp and jagged. She extended her hand to help Henry up, but her fingers were bone and her nails were sharper than an eagle’s talon.
“What? Who are you? Impostor!” Henry’s voice rang in the depths of the underworld caves. “Where is my Jane? What have you done with her you, you–” He was at a loss for words. What was this being that stood before him so defiantly and arrogantly?
Jane’s smile disappeared. “You prick.” Jane’s voice had turned from a soft melodious siren song to the sound of a howling cat. She raised her hands to her face and bore her nails deep into the flesh of her cheeks much to Henry’s horror. Blood poured from the holes in her skin, and then her knuckles tensed and bent grotesquely. She let out an unholy scream as her fingers tore at her face and ripped her flesh away from a dark, scaly underskin.
As the flakes of human flesh fell away, Henry staggered backward into the safety of his black pond and continued to watch in disgusted fascination at what creature unfolded before him. It was no man nor woman. The taloned fingers were black and bony, but they led to equally skeletal limbs and a protruding stomach. Its torso was no bigger than Henry’s fist, but from the back, a long tail grew and flopped on the ground with a small splash. The black eyes Henry saw in Jane’s face moments ago were now twice as large and surrounded by red and scarred skin.
“What are you, demon?”
“You were supposed to follow me.”
Henry was terrified. “Follow you where?”
“Creature, what are you doing here? You know you are in the wrong place.” Dante’s voice was loud and booming. Echoes bounced off the rock walls and fire sparked from underground pits.
Henry was relieved to see the familiar face despite his deep and harboring pain toward the Italian poet.
The demon named Scarmiglione hissed as it turned to face Dante. It extended its long finger in Henry’s direction. “He is in the wrong place.”
“You say that about most souls who descent here.”
“And most of the time, I am right.”
“Not this time. Now be gone and leave this wretched man alone.”
Scarmiglione looked over its shoulder into Henry’s terrified eyes. “This is not over, ja?” Henry gasped. The voice was that of Lisa, the skeletal woman he had blindly trusted before. Had he been seduced for so long? If he had followed, what would have been in store for him?
In a burst of red and noxious light and cloud, the demon creature disappeared. Henry waded back further into the muck too terrified to face Dante.
“You have no hope here, King Henry. Can you not see that? Are you that blind to your situation that you think you have a chance in Paradise?”
“I did not until that woman…”
“It was no woman, King Henry. Once again, your eye saw what it wanted to. But those are not the sins you are paying for now. Do not make your hell worse than it is. Accept your fate.”
With that Dante turned and walked away leaving Henry exactly where he began those centuries ago. Slowly, his vision blurred causing tears to form and fall down his plump cheeks. Then, much to his demise, Henry’s stomach rumbled. He was hungry. “No,” he whispered.
Full darkness took over his sight as he reached a fist out into the pond. The smell alone made him want to retch as he brought it to his mouth. Just as he opened his mouth, he heard, “My love, my king…ja?”
Tears filled Henry’s eyes as he swallowed.
To be continued…
King Henry VIII’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 Mata Hari, an infamous seductress who seduced men of power. She was executed for being a traitor during the First World War, but the question remains if her fate matched her actions.
To read more of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.