This is a continuation of Mata Hari’s story.
To begin her chapter from the beginning, click here. If you’re following along, enjoy!
There was no way for Mata to cover her nose or mouth. Her fingers were wisps in the wind and her nose was nothing but mist to cover. The fetid stench of the underworld enveloped her senses. She turned back to see the closing door just as it smashed closed. Immediately, she regretted her decision. Gladly, she would take a formless body and an eternity without touch if she could just escape this smell.
“You do not get to turn back now, Mata. You asked for this, remember?” Virgil’s harsh tone rang through the air. They were completely surrounded by a black void making his voice all the more commanding and terrifying.
“You were warned. You just didn’t want to believe there were others suffering more than you.”
Mata took a moment to let Virgil’s words sink in. “Yes, perhaps I was hasty. Perhaps we can turn around. Yes, we aren’t too far. The door is just there.” She turned around to look at the door. The absence of a handle made her gasp. Slowly, she turned back to face her guide.
The look in his eyes was sad yet fierce. This was not the same man she flirted with before. He was hardened like he had seen too much death. “There is only one way, and it is forward. You have forfeited yourself to the depths of the hell, and you will experience them. You will meet the other souls down here, and you will go back to your realm educated. Accept your hell, Mata. It is only temporary.” He turned away from her and continued forward down a narrow path.
Before them, after a few steps, the walls of a stone tunnel converged closer to make for a claustrophobic trail. While she could not feel the jagged stone and hard earth, her form continuously bumped into the walls pushing her with more momentum into the other side. After a few moments, she fluttered her eyes to clear away the dizziness. They were encapsulated, and the walkway was getting narrower and narrower.
“Virgil,” Mata’s breath was increasing in panic, “how much longer of this? Are we not to see the other side soon?”
Crouched down almost a crawl, Virgil continued to get smaller and smaller. Mata thought he resembled the fabled Alice in her rabbit hole. Moments of silence continued until he finally said, “The size of this path is significant for what you will see on the other side. It is a punishment to try and escape from any realm.”
“But I am not escaping.” Her voice was barely over a whisper as she felt light-headed. The walls were closing in on her more and more putting her in something like a coffin. She wondered for the briefest of moments if her earthly body was put in a pine box or if she was put in a mass grave. In war time, a private place in the ground would have been a luxury.
They continued for several more moments until finally, Mata saw a pinprick of light ahead.
“We are almost there, you see? We are upon the third ring of hell.”
“Thank the heavens.”
“Don’t be thanking anything yet.”
The crawlspace didn’t get any bigger for Virgil to squeeze through, but somehow, he made it through. Mata dutifully followed. Virgil stood straight and turned to face her. Mata quickly glanced at the path forward but was instantly distracted by the massive pits full of mud to her left and right. They stood on what looked like a rickety, suspended bridge over a ravine. She focused her gaze to the other end which was barely visible over the humid fog that hung over the foul lake.
“Mata, this is the realm of the gluttonous. The souls who reside here indulged too much in drink and meat. Many did not share their provisions to the detriment of those who surrounded them, and others suffered greatly with illness. All of them died from their sin. Look around and dare you think their fate is better than yours.”
She looked over the edge at the short drop of maybe fifty feet to see large, bulbous bodies floating in watery sludge full of lumps and bubbles. With each pop from a swampy blister came a cloud of retched stink. She heard Virgil retch into the pit but dared not look out of fear of fainting.
“Virgil, can we move forward please? I do not wish to remain here.”
Virgil caught his breath and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “No. Talk to them. I will meet you at the end, but you will not succeed in your travels without speaking to the damned.” With that, Virgil turned and carefully walked down the narrow bridge of a pathway.
Mata sighed and resigned herself. She looked over to her right and saw figures bobbing up and down. When she focused on their faces, she saw their eyes glazed over and dribble pouring out of their mouths. Each form seemed to mindlessly bring a handful of slop to their mouth to swallow it.
Purely disgusted, she turned to the left, but it was no different. She spotted a man not far from her who she could yell to. “Sir? Can you hear me, sir? I wish to…speak with you.” She choked on her own words much like the people around her.
The man below her stayed silent in his mechanical state of eating.
“Please, sir? I only wish to hear your story.” Mata stared at him and watched his massive arm sink below the surface of the muck and then surface again with a handful. Barely above a whisper, she begged again, “Please…”
“Who are you? And why do you interrupt my torment? Damn you.” The man’s voice boomed with authority and self-righteousness. It startled Mata to nearly blow her figure-less form off the path into the pit behind her.
“Excuse me, sir. I do not wish to disturb you; only to talk with you.”
“What is it that you want?”
“Merely to hear your story. Why are you here? What brought you to this realm? Do you find it fair?”
“Incessant questions. Leave me be, woman. Do not say another word.”
“If you do not answer me, I will stay and continue to pester you. I cannot move forward without your words, so, please, answer me.”
“You are brave to command me so. Do you know who you speak to?”
Mata stared at the man. His face bulged against his skin making for cartoon-like features. His arms floated out far from his body either from the sludge he was encapsulated in or his body keeping his arms from folding. There was nothing distinguishing him from any other soul surrounding him except that now his eyes were not glazed but rather black and furious. “You have my sincerest apologies, but I do not.”
“Answer me this, what year is it?”
Mata chuckled a bit to herself. “I have no idea. But the year I came down to this hell was 1917. It could be much later by now.” The man stared at Mata in shock. If she was not mistaken, she could just make out tears in his eyes. “May I ask why?”
“I died over three-hundred and seventy years ago.” He sounded resigned rather in shock, much to Mata’s surprise. “Madam, I am King Henry VIII, and I am down here because I let my desire for food and drink consume me from inside and out. I was a poor excuse of a human being toward the end of my life, and I have been sent here to continuously consume all that I did above.” He paused and looked profoundly distraught. But Mata was shocked to see such a man, more famous than she, in this realm. Surely he did much more important things to absolve him of this sin.
“King Henry, it is an honor to meet you even under these circumstances.”
“Thank you, my lady. Pray, why are you here? You do not belong in this ring, but I do not know why. Where have you come from?”
Mata looked off toward where Virgil stood. He seemed miles away, and while she ached to get out of this stinking pit, she felt a connection with this fellow sufferer. “You are right. I do not belong here. I belong in the second ring, and I am terribly sorry to have disturbed you.” She made a move to leave giving King Henry as much of a bow as her cloud-like state would allow.
“Your name? Please just give me your name so I may think of you.”
Mata turned around to look at the pitiful king once more in his hole of excrement and decay. She felt ashamed to have thought she did not deserve her hell. While she knew this was merely the beginning of the suffering she would see, she did not want to think of his misfortune. “Good day, King Henry.” Her body felt heavy as she turned and floated toward Virgil who waited patiently just before her.
Screams and sounds of retching surrounded her as she carefully continued on the narrow path. She heaved a cry and tried to release the shame she felt, but to no avail. With Virgil in grasp, she took a deep breath and grew a little harder in her resolve. She opened her mouth to give him a piece of her mind when suddenly, a ball of slop flew through her body right before her eyes. She halted with a start and with eyes fixed like daggers, she turned to see who dared throw something at her.
A short distance away was a wiry man almost completely submerged in the pit of filth. His arm was still raised above the surface as bubbles formed under his nose. He was laughing at her. Who was this ingrate?
Virgil saw her staring and walked toward her. “Do not engage further with this soul, Mata. You do not wish to hear his tale.”
“Oh but I do, for I want to hear the tale of someone who actually deserves this fate. Who is this retched beast?”
“His name is Tarrare, known for being a ravenous glutton, but also a spy for the French.”
Mata stared in disbelief. “A spy? But why is he here and not in treason, where you believe me to belong?”
“He also failed in his missions, but not before consuming his fellow comrades in battle.”
The wiry man with his mouth submerged in unimaginable filth, cackled.
To be continued…
Who is Tarrare? Stay tuned next week for the end of Mata’s first chapter as she descends into the depths of hell. If you’d like to keep reading other stories or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.