This is a continuation of Mata Hari’s tale through Dante’s Hell.
If you’d like to begin from the start of her chapter, click here.
October 15, 1917, Vincennes Forest, France
“Madame, if I may cover your eyes with this blindfold.” A young soldier with a harsh voice held out a black blindfold and let it dangle in the cool breeze.
“Absolutely not. If you are to kill me like some common criminal, I wish to see it coming.” Mata Hari stood tall and proud like the trees that surrounded her.
“As you wish.” The soldier pulled back his hand as if she had slapped him. He stuffed the blindfold in his pocket leaving the tail peeking out. Perhaps he will keep it as a memento from the day Mata Hari died. He reached his comrades, a firing squad of shaking soldiers, and turned around with a sheet of paper. The words he read were just a mumbling of words in her ear. All she could concentrate on were the eyes of each soldier standing before her.
They all stood so straight. If in any other circumstance, she was sure she could seduce a number of them. They looked so young.
Then her gaze landed on a young man in the back row holding on to his weapon for dear life. In that instance, she knew he was the man who had the bullet. The rest of these rookies standing relaxed and guilt-free carried blanks.
She locked eyes with the nervous young man and his expression went dark, as if he knew her thoughts. She felt her heartbeat in her throat as she choked back tears. She would not dare let these men see her fear. Suddenly, all was silent. The words had stopped. Mata looked around and saw the man in charge. She opened her mouth to speak, but he cut her off by yelling, “Fire.”
Quickly, she looked back at her shaking soldier and blew him a kiss before a piercing pain entered her chest; her heart. How apt. She fell to her knees in a heavy heap. Her breath slowed, but she never took her gaze from the young soldier who had tears in his eyes now. She wanted to smile at him and tell him it was all right, but her body gave out and slumped to the soft ground. Her nostrils filled with the scent of the earth.
She heard footsteps crushing the soft earth beneath her. Then, she heard the unmistakable cocking of a pistol before her world turned black.
In an instant, she was back on her feet in a black room. Mata heard faint screams in the distance, and she knew exactly where she was. Grief struck her as the tears she held back for so long finally erupted. Curling her body in a ball with her fists balled toward her chin, she let out her sobs.
Hours later, spent and numb, Mata stared into the darkness waiting. Was this it? Is this her punishment? A black room, completely and utterly alone? She inhaled and smelled the earth of the forest on her skin. Maybe she was still alive in France and her eyes were merely closed. “Open your eyes, Mata. Look around you.”
It was no use. She could neither open nor close her eyes to escape. Tears built up once more, but this time, she did not have time to let them fall. Before her, two massive doors opened and cigarette smoke poured into her space. She heard inhuman screams and felt unimaginable heat blister her skin.
“Margaretha, come forward.” The voice was almost a whisper, but it was impossible to mistake it.
Mata stood and smoothed her dress. She felt a hole fraying at the edges on her bodice. What a shame. This dress was brand new.
* * * * *
Mata floated high above the ground in her hell. Asmodeus had managed to blow her out of his reach, and she would take as much time as she could to revel in her freedom. But what freedom is this? Still so far from the tops of the hellish walls that surrounded her, Mata yearned to know if what she suffered was worse or better than the other damned. That man, Virgil, had said there were many other levels of hell.
Would another ring not be a better fit for her? Treason, he called it. Did she not commit treason? Surely that punishment cannot be nearly as bad as this. What good is an eternity if you could not feel anything but be surrounded by others who do not love you?
In the distance, Mata saw another form coming toward her. She sighed. Could she stop this form long enough to talk with them, or are they just as immaterial as she? “Hello? Who’s there?”
“Oh, hello! Please help me stop. I yearn to talk.”
“I cannot help you stop anymore than I can help myself go.”
The female form collided with Mata so that both clouds merged together with nothing more than a small poof. “Oh thank the heavens. Please talk before we are separated again and we continue on as nothing. My name is Irina.”
There was a long pause. At first Mata thought Irina had vaporized into the air. “The Mata Hari?”
“Yes. Well, I was, anyway.”
“You are the reason I am down here.”
Mata squinted to focus on Irina’s face, but she could only see vague and transparent features. “Pardon me? I know you?”
“No, but I am an admirer. In fact, I said I was you on many occasion in Paris.”
“But you look nothing like me!” Mata, now indignant, tried to separate herself from this impostor.
“I don’t now, but I did. I studied your dances and performed them in the back streets pretending to be you for a cheaper price. Men lined up down the block for an hour with Mata Hari.”
“A whore? How could you steal my identity and make a profit from it?”
“Profit? Hardly. You know where they found me? On the side of a road surrounded by a dozen felled soldiers. I was kidnapped and thrown into a truck for soldier amusement near the front lines. Then I was killed by a stray bullet before being tossed out like trash. Trash! Your image and what you did made women like me easy targets for deprived and lower class men.”
Irina’s words stung Mata. She had heard of women copying her for a lower price, but she never imagined this. “Obviously you had enjoyed it for a time if you are here.”
“For a time, but I, for one, am grateful to be in this ring and not further in the depths of this hell.”
“I do not belong here.”
Irina’s indignation seeped through her words. “Spare me.”
“I truly believe I am misplaced. This is much too harsh a punishment, to not feel or be touched is a hell I cannot bear.”
“If you make your case to Minos and your master, I am sure they will grant you passage to another realm. Then you will see that you would rather be here than anywhere else. You, Mata, are arrogant.”
“Cannot you see over this wall and see if what I think is true?” The women looked up and saw the wall go miles and miles further up. There was no way the putrid breath of Asmodeus would reach them here let alone further up to peer over the edge of this realm. Irina’s silence was palpable. “Fine. I will appeal.”
Not a second went by when a gust of air harsher than that of a hurricane whisked Irina and Mata down in a fury of heat and stench. “You think I cannot control where you reside, Mata? How dare you question me.” The unmistakable voice of Asmodeus flooded her ears. “Irina, you have done enough. Be gone.” He exhaled a rotting breath that sent her backward in a slow and spiraling manner.
“You’re no better than me, Mata. How dare you think you deserve any different than the hell you deserve.”
Irina’s words hit Mata hard, but she defiantly looked at Asmodeus. “I want to see the other realms. I want to know that I truly belong here.”
“Oh, there is no mistake, and I have no intention of letting you out of my sight.”
“But what if I am misplaced? I would like to appeal to Minos.”
Asmodeus sneered at the name and stared deep into Mata until she grew incredibly uncomfortable. “I will have someone escort you, but mark my words, you will be back when you see what is beyond these walls. You may think you do not deserve to have your body ripped away, but when you see the vile, fetid waters beneath you, you will come crawling back. And when you do, you will be at my side for eternity. No exceptions.”
Mata was now determined to find any realm to reside in. “Deal.”
Asmodeus snapped his fingers, and the man in the black cloak appeared before them out of a black mist. “Virgil will escort you through the depths of hell. I will see you when you return.” Asmodeus turned to Virgil. “You will bring her back to me.”
Virgil nodded solemnly. “Of course.”
Then, Asmodeus was gone. Mata looked down hoping her body would be intact for the journey. How was she to explore without legs to carry her?
“You are not granted such a luxury, madame. You travel as you are.”
“Fine.” Mata’s irritation roiled beneath her emotions. If she had tears, they would pool behind her eyes.
“Come with me, Mata. You will see that this hell is exactly what you deserve.”
Before them, a small doorway opened to a blinding white light. “But I cannot see, how am I to follow you?”
“Follow your nose. We enter the third ring of hell, gluttony.”
To be continued…
Stay tuned with what happens to Mata Hari 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.