This is the final installment of Mata Hari’s chapter, but she is not finished.
Her journey will continue in the coming weeks.
If you’re just joining her tale, consider starting from the beginning here.
If you’re following along, enjoy and feel free to leave a comment below!
Mata did not know the name Tarrare. In her mind, he was lost to history. Why would she care about this man half submerged in unimaginable filth and giggling at her? “Consumed his comrades? That cannot be.”
Virgil looked on with Mata at the disgraced man shoveling handful after handful of rotten filth into his abnormally large mouth. “Tarrare was a French soldier during the War of the First Coalition. Unsatisfied with the daily rations, he resorted to eating anything he could get his hands on from stray cats to bodies in the morgue. He is a man out of his mind with hunger and could not stop himself even if he tried.”
Mata looked at Virgil incredulous to what he said. “If he could not help his hunger, why is that his sin? It is out of his control.” Virgil cocked his head and looked at the man laughing uncontrollably and noticeably content with his plight. “Look at him. He does not suffer.”
Virgil’s face grew serious. “Do not test me, Mata. Every soul down here is decided upon by Minos, and he does not make mistakes.”
“But hell is a place of suffering and despair, not glee and jubilation.”
A harsh and brittle voice broke their conversation. “Woman! Shut your mouth. Do not meddle in my affairs. You think I do not suffer? You do not know me but my name.”
“You laugh. How can you suffer if you find the will to laugh and play games?” Mata didn’t know if she was angry or relieved that someone else could be in the wrong realm.
Virgil’s voice was barely over a whisper. “You judge, but where would you put him?”
“If the sin is not his fault, why must he be destined to hell at all?”
Tarrare stopped moving and stared straight at her. “You think I am destined for somewhere other than hell? You think, what? I deserve Paradise?”
Mata looked right at him. “Well, why not? What other sin have you committed to keep you down here?”
“That is none of your concern.” He picked up another handful of filth and swallowed it in one gulp. The sound of him swallowing made Mata scrunch her face in disgust. “Do not meddle in my affairs. Be gone with you. Continue your path for I am here, where I belong.” His voice had a twinge of regret and sadness, so Mata did not press further. After a moment, the man known as Tarrare submerged himself under the surface of the fetid lake and disappeared.
“Just because you think you do not belong in your hell, does not mean others think the same. This man accepted his fate a century ago, and you are only giving him hope that he can help himself. But he cannot. Do not make him suffer any further. It is cruel.”
The familiar feeling of utter helplessness enveloped Mata again. If she could feel her heart, it would be heavy. Tarrare never resurfaced, but she could swear she heard weeping from underneath their bridge. Was it he or was it some other soul, damned for eternity in this realm? She did not care to find out.
“Virgil, can we please continue? This is certainly not my hell.”
Virgil turned toward the path in silence. He never looked to either side, and Mata did her best to do the same.
* * * * *
Days turned into weeks as Mata and Virgil continued their devastating descent into the depths of inner hell. She had seen atrocities she never knew existed between rotting flesh, wooden bodies, and corpses crucified upside down. It was all she could do to follow the path knowing what she left behind, what she took for granted, was in fact her hell.
“Virgil, how much further to go? I don’t know how much more I can take. This is much more than I bargained for, and I am truly sorry.”
“Sorry for what, Mata? For thinking you are better than anyone else down here? For thinking you don’t deserve hell but rather Paradise? Don’t be so arrogant. You asked for this.” There was anger in his voice that shook Mata to her core. But after a moment, he softened. “We don’t have much longer if we do not see Geryon. Just pray that he is occupied.”
“Who is Geryon?” Mata’s voice shook with fear. She did not want any more beasts, demons, or devils. Suddenly, she was grateful for Asmodeus and his disgusting wolfish ways.
“Until you meet him, you do not need to know.”
They both approached the massive door to the eighth ring with the fraudulent, and Virgil wasted no time in opening it creating a suction of air pulling Mata into the next realm with such force, it propelled her forward into the unknown. But she was not far enough away to not hear the deep and guttural that could only be what Virgil feared. She turned just in time to see Virgil pull the massive stone door shut and a massive demon’s wing float by the entrance.
A long, taloned fingernail, the size of a horse, gnarled and rotten, stopped the door from shutting completely. Mata saw how frightened Virgil was as he struggled to close the door, but she was helpless. Without a body, she could only watch as Virgil fought with the single nail and the rumbling growl of a beast so large that the ground shook. Small pebbles bounced off the path into the large ditches off to the side, but Mata was still too scared to look beyond the doorway, hoping beyond hope Virgil would close the door.
“Please, please, please, no more,” she whispered.
Finally Virgil yelled out as he pulled one more time, snapping the brittle nail in half having it collapse at his feet and the door shut with a slam that echoed in the realm. A yelp was heard from the other side and then the pounding of what Mata imagined to be Geryon’s fist. Virgil fell to the ground, heaving and trying to catch his breath.
“Virgil, are you all right?”
Virgil looked at her with relief in his eyes. “You do not have to meet the beast today. You are lucky.”
“Thank you,” was all she could muster.
Slowly, Virgil stood and gathered himself. “You are now in the eighth ring of hell. These are the souls who have committed fraud, but you will see many, many punishments bestowed on these people. Look to either side of our path.”
Mata did. Beside her were two large pits, no different than the pits of filth she had seen along the way, but below her now there were two long lines of people, stripped of all clothing, being whipped and scratched by, what looked like hooded men. Each figure with a cloak and hood carried a cat-o-nine tails and fervently slashed those next to him. There must have been dozens of copies of this armed ghoul whipping and cracking these wretched people.
“Now look before you. What do you see?”
Mata tore her eyes away from the scene below her to see every uniform holes in a trench-like pattern.
“Each of these pits represents another punishment. No two frauds are the same, which is why there is so much choice.”
It took several moments for Mata to process this. “And what, may I ask, is below us? What case of fraud deserves whipping and scratching?”
Mata felt faint. It was as if a light had turned on, and something shifted.
“You were right in questioning your placement. Minos did not determine your fate; Asmodeus did, and that is the error. You belong here among these fraudulent souls.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this earlier? Why not leave me in the second ring? Why let me escape an easier fate for this…this…monstrous one?”
“It is not my place to judge or deter you.”
Anxious, Mata turned to negotiation, desperate to leave. “All right, well, I’ve seen the hell I deserve. May we go back to the second ring now? As I recall, you made a deal with Asmodeus to return me to his side.” Mata stood indignant and tried to command as much presence as she could to exert what little authority she had.
“I do not answer to Asmodeus.”
“What do you mean? Who do you answer to?” The urgency of the situation became clear.
The sound of the cracking whip made Mata uneasy, but the sound persisted like a typewriter. It was constant, piercing, and determined. After a moment, she felt the hair on the back of her neck stand upright, and then a hot exhale burned her skin. She turned to face the man she spoke to upon her arrival: Minos.
“Mata, there has been a mistake.”
She grasped her hands together and wrung them tightly. “A mistake?” The quiver in her voice nearly made her choke.
“Yes. Asmodeus got the better of me, and I let it happen in haste. You do not belong at his side or in the second ring. You belong here with your fellow seducers and panderers.”
Sweat dripped from Mata’s nose as she gasped. She brought her hand to her mouth to stifle her cry. “No, please. Do not put me here. I will not complain. I deserve the second ring, and I will never question it. I cannot stay here.”
“It is too late. You feel the heat on your skin and the flesh of your hand on your face.”
Mata’s face fell. She hadn’t felt such a sensation in such a long time, but her terror kept her from relishing the moment of touch. Instead, she looked down at the souls being whipped and watching their flesh be torn from their backs. “Yes, I do.”
“You have your body back. That is what you wanted. And you also wanted to know you were in the right realm. Now you are.” Minos stood with his arms behind his back with a smug smile on his lips. “Apologies for the inconvenience.” With that, he turned and disappeared into a cloud of black mist.
Quickly, Mata turned to face Virgil who wore no expression on his face. She was sure he could pass through her body and neither of them would feel a thing. She approached him slowly and reached out a hand to touch his face. Before she could touch him, he took a step back and a gust of air swept Mata off her feet and into the pit below.
To be continued…
This concludes Mata’s first chapter in the depths of hell. In this classic case of “be careful what you wish for,” she got more than she bargained for in a journey through hell. In the coming weeks, I will revisit Mata’s story and see how she fairs in the the eighth ring of Dante’s Hell.
The next chapter focuses on a man who is only known for his amazing achievements in founding America, but little is known about his Eastern European past. Stay tuned next week as we dive into Dante’s seventh ring of hell: Violence.
To read more or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2016, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.