The air was stale. Minos inhaled deeply from his limp cigarette as he sunk deeper into the palm of his hand. His back was in agony after sitting for hours like an uncertain juror trying to determine the fate of Margaretha. Deciding on where a soul resides in the inferno was paramount, but did he have to do it in this damn suit? He adjusted his tight collar and straightened out his tailored pant legs.
Get this wrong, and there can be a mutiny, but if too much time is spent deliberating, the more the soul can question the decision and demand an appeal.
The ash fell from his teeth to his paper-covered desk. So many lies swirl the life of this questionable woman that it was akin to throwing a dart at which level to choose. His serpent tail twitched in anticipation.
“Asmodeus!” As soon as the name escaped his lips, he regretted it. Without pause, a shadow fell over his desk.
“I may require your opinion. This woman, I cannot decide where she should go.”
“Credentials?” Always a man of few words, Asmodeus smugly sat in the chair opposite Minos and leaned back, propping his shoes on the table. His self-important air made Minos’ sneer, but knowing he already called too much attention to this case, he had to continue.
“A courtesan who had many affairs throughout her marriage and life traveling through France, Germany, Belgium, and the Netherlands. She danced in the nude and took many a lover, sometimes multiple lovers…”
“I’m not finished.”
Asmodeus folded his arms behind his head and nodded for Minos to continue. Silently seething, Minos went back to his file. “Said to have committed treason against her country killing thousands of soldiers as a result. A terrorist of the Great War.” Minos tossed the file toward the demon of lust and dropped his head in his hands. “I cannot go on speculation, but if she was a spy, she must be punished for this egregious crime, don’t you think?”
“True, but if she was not a spy, putting her in that ring with the others would be an even worse crime. Should Lucifer not be consulted on this?”
“I do not want to pull him into this. He has enough on his plate.”
“Yes, but you called me in because you think she is deserving of the second ring. If you think the ninth should be considered as well, he should be in this room.”
Minos stared at Asmodeus and considered the options. If Lucifer were to find out he had consulted Asmodeus and not him, would he commend or crucify him? “I will roll the dice and keep this between us, if it’s all the same to you.”
Asmodeus smiled, baring his sharp teeth, elements of his form shifting between a human-esque appearance and the deformed monster he truly identifies in a simple black mist. “Fine by me, but when he finds out…and he will find out, leave me out of it.”
Minos nodded. “So, I called you in here for an opinion.”
“Based on the file, I’d love to see her fly around my realm. A woman like that deserves to have what she prizes taken away from her. She used her body solely for fun and with little regard to anything else. She even poisoned her children with her misdeeds.”
“Now, don’t go too far. That is simply not true, and you know it. Besides, if that were the case, you’d be shipping her off to Sathanus.”
“True. We cannot have that.” Asmodeus leaned forward in thought. “Now, this may be unorthodox, but why don’t we have, what is her name?”
Minos began to lose patience. “Margaretha.”
“Yes. Why not have her come to us and state her case?”
“I do not have time for a tribunal.”
“Bring her forward, have her state her case, and then you can send her off with a clear conscious. You’re wasting more time discussing this with me than just bringing her in.”
“Fine.” Without another moment’s hesitation, two doors opposite Minos’ desk thrust open forcing a cloud of putrid air and the screams of the damned in. Minos scrunched his nose in disgust, but Asmodeus turned with ease to sit on the edge with his arms crossed. He resembled a wolf on the prowl. “Margaretha, come forward.”
From the smoke, a woman appeared, and the first thing Minos noticed was her intense beauty. Her form was a perfect hourglass, and she moved like she barely touched the ground. Minos could hear Asmodeus’ seductive snarl under his voice as he called to her, “The famous Mata Hari, it is a pleasure to make your acquaintance.”
“I wish I could say the same.” Her voice quivered as her face paled.
“Ms. Zelle, you do not need to be afraid,” Minos began.
Minos snarled at Asmodeus who merely shrugged. Margaretha’s heartbeat could now be heard in the room as it echoed off the walls. “Ms. Zelle…”
“Please call me Mata Hari.”
“I will not be interrupted again!” Minos pounded his hand on his desk. His frustration grew as the situation continued to get out of hand. If he could not judge this simple woman, how can he expect to adequately do his job? He reached for another cigarette. “Do you know why you’re here?”
“I have sinned, and I am here to pay for my transgressions.”
“That is correct. But, we have a situation. Your paperwork does not give a clear indication if you have committed treason against your country. Tell us why.”
“It is because I didn’t. I may have been told to spy, but I never committed espionage successfully, sir.”
“Successfully? But you intended to do so?”
“Yes, but I failed because I was in love.”
Asmodeus chuckled and leaned toward Minos. “She’s mine.”
“Be that as it may, your file says you were recruited to spy and actually accepted payment.”
“That is correct, but only because I needed the money to…”
“I’ve heard enough. Asmodeus, show Mata Hari her hell.”
Margaretha quivered. “Where…where am I to go?”
Asmodeus stood and limped over to her. Saliva dripped from his mouth as his face changed from human to a rooster-like creature. His clawed foot emerged from his pant leg in a black cloud making Margaretha jump back.
Relieved to be done with her, Minos tossed her file to the side and picked up his lighter. He inhaled the necrotic smoke deeply and slowly exhaled. “You are destined for the second ring of hell, Ms. Zelle. You have committed the sin of lust, and while you have committed many other sins and should be punished for them, something tells me you will suffer the most at the hands of Asmodeus. Good day.”
“Come, my dear,” Asmodeus hissed. He reached out a hand and grasped Margaretha by the elbow. Before Minos’ eyes, he could see her legs disappear and the bottom of her skirt flap in an invisible wind. “You’re mine, now.”
With that, Minos shut the doors and was again surrounded by silence. He picked up the next file and stubbed out his cigarette.
* * * * *
Mata looked down at her feet and saw they were gone; merely clouds of dissolving air. Her breathing intensified.
“Relax, Mata. You have nothing to fear now. Things cannot possibly get worse for you.”
She felt the sharp talons of Asmodeus’ clawed hand dig into her flesh as he led her form through what seemed like a long hallway. The darkness enveloped her, and she began to lose her senses. Desperate to feel, she reached out and felt hard stone with her fingertips, but the palm of her hand seemed to be missing. The sharp edges of the wall pricked her finger as the demon pulled her more quickly away, but she pressed harder into the stone as she continued to lose sensation. It was as if her fingers were disappearing one centimeter at a time.
“What is happening? I cannot feel the wall any longer.”
“You are losing your body.”
“That cannot be. I don’t understand. Losing my body?”
“Yes. What you took advantage of, took for granted, is being taken away from you. When we reach the other side of this realm, you will no longer have a physical form. So, touch the walls all you like because this will be the last time you feel anything at all.”
“Oh god, this cannot be real.” Mata dug her fingernails into the stone until she bled, grasping for anything to pull herself away. Tears flowed from her cheeks, but she couldn’t help but chuckle at her own expense. She brought her bloodied fingers to her face and relished the final feeling of a hand on her skin. Blood smeared from her nose to her chin, but the feeling was all too quick as a small light appeared before them. Her breath grew more shallow.
Quickly, she grasped the wall again, her laughter gone, but she could not find the hard stone. Balling her fist, she pounded where the wall should be, but it was useless. Her hand was gone. The light at the end of the tunnel grew brighter, and she could hear Asmodeus’ lustful breathing grow more intense.
The last thing she felt were the remnants of her salty tears on her face as the light blinded her and she was thrust into the air above.
To be continued…
Mata Hari’s story is not nearly begun. Stay tuned with what happens to her next in the coming weeks.
To read more or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.