This is a continuation of Captain John Smith’s story in Dante’s Hell.
If you are just joining the story, I encourage you to start from the beginning of the installment.
If you’re continuing along, please enjoy Captain Smith’s chance encounter.
Captain Smith looked at the boiling man before him. The bones of his hips poked through his skin as the tissue melted into the simmering blood that held him captive. Suddenly, John’s pain was nothing in comparison to what this Samuel must have felt.
Samuel’s stare bored into John’s face as if he recognized him. His head cocked from side to side in a slow manner, but before John could confront him, Samuel threw his head back and screamed to the heavens. It was a guttural scream that shook John’s core.
Many, many years before, John remembered being held captive by Powahatan and his savage brethren. He watched as they tied his friend to a tree and cut his joints with oyster shells. The screams his friend released rang in his head for years afterwards. In that moment, John knew the true definition of being tortured was hearing another’s pain. Desperate for silence, he covered his ears with his bruised and scarred hands, clenching his whole being as he sat on his tiny patch of beach.
Samuel’s waist faded away into the lake as he resorted to pitiful cries. He had no more energy to scream, and John could see more bones revealed from the intense heat. He looked down at his own feet. The smoldering flesh was all but gone from the tips of his toes to the heels of his feet, but he barely felt it. His mind was filled with Samuel’s screams and cries, and it was driving him mad.
After a moment of pitiful mews, his spine snapped, dropping his torso into the pitch. John couldn’t believe his eyes. He had just seen a man snap in half before him, and now his torso floated next to his still-standing hips. His wrists bobbed nearby but began to float in the opposite direction of his body, but the look on his face was that of relief.
“Samuel? Can you hear me?” John’s voice was frantic. Never had his own anatomy snapped apart, nor had he ever seen such a thing.
“Yes, John. I can hear you.”
Samuel’s body rose up and down with the changing tide. The liquid was going back out into the depths of the underworld to settle in for the night, just to flow back in a few hours.
“Samuel, can you feel anything at all?”
His voice was barely over a whisper, but John could just make it out. “I feel nothing. Leave me be.”
The blood receded from John’s feet leaving the bare bones visible like a macabre reminder of his sins. He never stayed around to bury the bodies he slain, but he had seen his fair share of grim reminders of death. The fertile land of Virginia was no stranger to reclaiming the bodies of the dead.
With the blood now several inches away, John looked for Samuel. He could see no sign of the man called Jack the Ripper, but he did see bones floating and bobbing in the lake’s wake. He will be back by morning, John resigned as he bent his head forward to rest on his knees and shut his eyes. Before he relaxed into sleep, he noticed the eerie silence of a dead underworld.
* * * * *
John woke to another shocking splash of scorching blood on his tender and pink feet, and before he could catch his breath and calm his nerve-endings, the same piercing scream from the day before rocked his ears. Samuel was back in his same spot, wrists unmoved in the lapping lake and the veins in his neck so strained, John feared they would snap.
Already John could see blisters forming on the man’s wrists bubbling and bursting with each gentle ebb of blood. In the next moment, John got his first feeling of intense pain and averted his eyes, hoping, like all those years before when he first arrived, that if looking away would dissipate the pain.
He was wrong.
The man continued to scream.
“Samuel! Listen to me! Your screaming will not ease the pain, but there is a way to deaden the sensation.”
Samuel ignored him.
“Why do they call you Jack the Ripper?” John desperately shouted the question to distract Samuel from his pain. What compelled John to help this man was beyond him, but he knew he would not be able to take the sounds of torture. How can his torment and punishment get worse? It is not as if he has sinned more since his sentencing. What has changed? It must be because of this man. Are they linked somehow? Why now and what has brought the two of them together out of all the damned souls in this hell?
“Man! Hear me!”
Samuel’s wrist bones were now visible; a stark white against the thick red. John’s gaze was so fixed that he barely heard the silence. He looked up into the eyes of the murdering man. His eyes were black and pained, the veins in his neck bulged under the intense strain, and his shoulders shook with a white anger John had personally known. When Samuel opened his mouth, it was through clenched teeth, but it was impossible to not hear his words.
“I was given the name by the London police in a conspiracy to bring me forward and confess. They had no idea who I was and why I murdered underground whores. But they thought they could smoke me out of hiding if they fabricated my confession for the papers.”
John looked on, vaguely aware of the skin melting off the bottoms of his feet. He was now paralyzed in fear.
“I would never have given myself such a silly name. Jack the Ripper, pah.” He sneered and flinched as the small ripples of blood licked his sides. “But then again, it did save me from coming up with something on my own.”
John stared in shock. The men he had murdered were captors, savages, or those who did him harm. He never killed for fun. And now he was face-to-face with a true villain. He dipped his hands in the blood pooled beside him and cupped a small pool of sizzling liquid. In all the years he spent here, he only ever felt the searing pain in his feet. His hands, face, and body were never scorched as a result of the lake. But now, he wanted to see if this Jack the Ripper had the same immunity.
He wound his arm as far as he could behind him and flung the thick, clotted blood. It hit Samuel squarely in the chest. Much to both John and Samuel’s surprise, he did not react.
“So, you only suffer from the waist down.”
“And suffer I do.”
John’s eyes narrowed. “Do not speak to me, murderer of women.”
That moment, Samuel’s spine snapped sending his torso flat into the lake, floating away as his wrists bobbed like white apples in a trough.
* * * * *
For days after John learned of Samuel’s sins, they did not speak, but Samuel did not stop his screaming. John’s hands over his tender ears did nothing to muffle the demonic screams of his new companion. He so wished he could move, even just for a moment. Stand and run from this horrible man, but his body was firmly planted and his feet submerged in this unholy hell.
John had counted 54 days before Samuel finally began the morning not with a scream but a question, and it was a question that would torment John even further.
“John! Can you hear me? John!”
John shot his head up and pounded his fists into the sandy grit. “Of course I can hear you, you filth! What do you want?”
“How long has that rope been behind you?”
John sneered. Rope? “You son of a bitch. How dare you taunt me.”
“It is no taunt, my boy. There is a rope behind you. I wonder if you can’t pull yourself out?” Samuel’s teeth were clenched and his voice hoarse from his constant screaming. “Why would I lie to you? Look for yourself.”
Sensing a trick, John kept one eye on the man as he rotated his body. He could barely move with his rear fused to the ground beneath him, but he could just barely make out the threads of a large rope mere feet behind him. He had never seen it! In all these years, had that rope been behind him all this time?
He turned a bit more but could feel the painful strain of his skin as it threatened to tear from his body, but he could not see where it attached to.
“I do not know. Where does it come from?” John whipped back around to see Jack staring straight up. Smoke rose from his whittling waist, and his gaze was that of wonder rather than pain.
John turned back and followed Samuel’s gaze to a tall, rock wall with a single tree planted on the very edge of the cliff. The tree had the rope wrapped around its base. But instead of looking on at the rope that could pull John out of his boiling pain, he saw the tree quiver. He squinted his eyes to focus harder on the branches of the lifeless willow.
“John? Is the tree…crying?”
John’s eyes opened wide just as he heard the snapping of Samuel’s spine.
To be continued…
Captain Smith and Jack the Ripper’s story continues in the next installment. Stay tuned with what happens to them 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.