This is a continuation of Captain John Smith and Samuel’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.
Samuel’s hoarse cry was struck John as different, but instead of looking up to see what was wrong, he could only concentrate on his throbbing hand. Overnight, the black widow bite had spread from the initial fang marks to an open sore on his thumb and palm. Pus filled the hole and oozed slowly down his skin to the blood-soaked ground.
The cuts on his sides had clotted, but the sand was still stained red, and his sides ached. But in place of the open gashes were light pink scars, tender to the touch and raw against the hot air of the underworld. No matter how he struggled the night before to be free from his frozen state, he was mounted back in his same spot, like he had merely dreamed it. If it wasn’t for the all-consuming bite morphing his hand into a monster, he would have pushed it from his mind.
The tide lapped at John’s feet, but the searing pain of the boiling blood was nothing in comparison to his own hand being eaten from an invisible poison.
“John! You son of a–“
Samuel’s cries were more urgent, but John still had no desire to look at the man.
“John! Please, there is something in the…oh god. John!”
John sneered but decided to look up. His eyes felt hot as he saw was tormented Samuel. Out of the corner of his eye, John spotted something bobbing around Samuel’s waist. It was matted and clumped in a ball. From a few meters away, John thought it was a rat, but after a moment, the bundle rotated in the gentle tide revealing a scrap of skin still attached. It was a scalp.
John’s sneer slacked, and his eyes glazed. The pain from his feet and hand were gone as his memories shot back to a fierce battle in the new world. Fighting against the Native Americans was nothing compared to the organized fighting of the Turks. When John saw his first scalping those centuries ago, he remembered the screams and the blood pouring like tears down dying faces. He remembered the way the earth smelled like damp grass and rot as he led his group of men into the village of the enemy, but he had no idea what kinds of wrath they would bring.
The mussel shells scraping the skin of his captured men and clumps of hair dangling on hand-made racks only made his anger rise. With an almost glee, Captain Smith raided these villages and sent countryman after countryman to exact revenge in a most brutal fashion. The native war cries and the women’s screams flooded his ears.
John closed his eyes tightly to wish the memory away, but it was no use. Samuel broke his concentration, and John stared at the shredding body of the murderer before him. Something in his mind snapped, and he opened his mouth to scream.
* * * * *
The tingling feeling of thin strands of hair on Samuel’s thighs reminded him of the women in the dark alleys of London with locks that flowed down their backs. How he hated these women for their wanton ways but also craved to feel their touch and affection. Why did they have to be so difficult?
The pain in Samuel’s waist grew. His spine only had a few moments before snapping under the heated pressure of the boiling lake. But before he went, he needed to know what John learned about the rope. The rope that could save them from this retched place.
“John, please. You must stop screaming. For just a moment!”
With that, John’s screams changed from fear to anger. Samuel could see the rage in John’s face as he tightly gripped his wrist. From the looks of it, his hand was melting away into a nothing but sinew and pus.
“What is wrong with your hand?”
John finally stopped screaming, and fell into a fit of coughs. Samuel felt his own body react to John’s suffocating and began to panic. Finally, through clenched teeth, John said, “A spider. On the rope.”
Samuel instinctively looked up at the rope still convulsing gently. “You mean, you reached it?”
“Yes, and for what? My hand is melting away from a poison I cannot heal because you taunted me with reprieve.”
“I did no such thing. I merely told you about the rope. What you did with the knowledge was out of my hands.”
“Why else tell me about it but to have me rescue you? You didn’t think to ask if I would toss you the rope?”
Samuel felt the first snap of his pelvic bone but ignored it. He would not have to take this hateful taunting for much longer. “The thought had crossed my mind. But it also did yours.”
John moved to lunge at him, but his skin was still fused to the sand. Samuel let a slight smile cross his lips.
“You taunt me.” John’s voice now was barely over a whisper.
“I do no such thing. I merely want to get out of here, and yes, I believed you could reach the rope and pull us out.” With that, the last bone in Samuel’s hip snapped, sending his torso flat on the surface of the lake. A large blister of a bubble burst near his face, and it splashed on his cheek. He felt nothing as his legs continued to sizzle away in their same spot.
Looking up at the dark and stormy sky overhead, Samuel sighed. The sky reminded him of the stormy night he killed his Mary in her pitiful apartment. For weeks, she would see him walking the alleys of Whitechapel and give him side glances beckoning him for love, but leaving him feeling sick and filthy. Sometimes he wished he had never laid eyes on her since she was the reason for his crimes. Once she breathed her last, he finally felt the release he had waited for. He did feel sorry for the other women, but it was not his fault they all looked like Mary. It was just many simple mistakes.
But God got his justice just weeks later when that horse drawn carriage ran Samuel over without a second thought. In what cruel world would he have found himself dead after he finally felt free from his inner demons?
Samuel closed his eyes and thought back to Mary and her rattling screams. He was lucky no one heard her pain that night, or all would have been lost. But did he feel remorse for her death and the many others knowing this was his eternal punishment? A burning and sizzling relentless punishment?
He closed his eyes tight against his enveloping dark surroundings. He did not know. Was the release of earthly torment better than the eternal lashing he is receiving? Before he could answer himself, his body hurtled through the dark canal of the morning and plunged into its same spot n the boiling lake making him throw his head back and scream.
* * * * *
John didn’t sleep that night. His hand collapsed in front of his own eyes. First, it was his thumb, where the widow made her mark, and then the poison made its way to his wrist where the bone peeked through the rotting muscle and tissue. It was impossible to stop the flow of the toxin in his skin, but John also knew he may not have another chance to reach the rope and climb.
Angry and tortured, John clenched his teeth and made his body as rigid as he could. He felt like a stone, and without thinking of the next step, he inched his torso forward just enough to use all the power and momentum he could muster to throw his back to the ground, once again splitting his skin up and down his waist. The pink scars opened like zippers once again saturating the sand.
Not stopping to think, John twisted his body more to grab the rope with his right hand. He surprised himself with his strength as he pulled the rope taut. Thankfully, it didn’t move or come crashing down beside him. The tree was sturdy.
But his rear was still fused to the coarse sand. His body wouldn’t budge.
Refusing to let the rope go, he pulled with all his might as his skin finally gave way letting muscle, tissue, and bone become exposed. Screaming at the top of his lungs, John persisted on as he twisted his body back and forth, slowly but surely, coming lose from his own body. With each turn, he became more violent, and the first crack of bone startled him to a stop.
But much like his boiling feet, he couldn’t stop long before the pain of his own mangled body took over his senses. He looked at his legs, now flat on the sand, and his hip bones now dislocated in a grotesque fashion. Tears streamed down his face as he gripped the rope tighter and pulled.
He reached up with his toxic hand to pull again, but his palm came off completely and fell to the sand. His body continued to fall apart before his eyes, but there was no turning back now. Instead of gripping with his hand, John wrapped his left elbow around the fibrous rope and pulled it tightly against his chest. Holding steady, he reached with his right hand and pulled.
His skin and bone dangled above the ground dripping droplets of blood onto his severed legs. He now hovered over his own flesh. Without thinking, he reached up with his left elbow again and hoisted his smaller body up. The tree was getting closer even though it felt miles away. He could finally just make out a face on the rough willow bark.
His grip loosened just enough to have him slide an inch down the rope, burning his soft underarm. He turned back to the tree and reached again and pulled with every muscle he still had, but it was as far as he could go. His poisoned hand had weakened considerably as the flesh started to tear away and drop like melted cream onto his naked and now rotting legs below.
The legs he left behind had an accelerated decay, and it made his stomach turn to see the sickening green and black spread through his thighs and feet.
He looked back up and saw the tree looking directly at him. It was the face of a beautiful girl with tears pooling in her eyes. “Why do you climb me, sir? Do you know the pain I am in?”
Her voice, while strained, sounded like a melody. “I do know the pain, madam, but I just want to get out. Can you help me? Please?”
“If I help you, sir, who will help me? I am just as damned as you, and this is certainly not the way out.”
“What, may I ask, is the reason for your being here?”
“I committed a sin against the god and king.”
John’s grip loosened just enough to drop him a few inches. He cried out as he gripped the rope tight enough to stop. But the tree did, too.
“Am I causing you pain, miss?”
“Of course! I am the tree and my limbs hold you up. But I am not a strong tree, and I must let you go.”
“You say there is no way out your way?”
“None. And why should I help you when you associate with the demon in your lake?”
“Demon? You mean Samuel?”
“No. There is a monster submerged who murdered my entire village, and sadly, I am here to see him every day. This is a hell I cannot bear.”
John looked down to the lake. Off in the distance, he saw Samuel’s torso floating out into a never-ending sea of red. But he could not see anything else submerged in the muck. “My dear lady, I do not see anything in the lake. Are you sure you are not mistaken?”
“Captain Smith, take another look, and you will see that you are not as righteous as you think you are.”
With that, her tree limb snapped, sending John down the side of the cliff, hitting rock along the way down until he landed right next to his own rotting flesh. The smell roiled his stomach and he retched, holding himself up with the only part of his left arm that remained: his elbow. Everything else had melted away from the spider’s toxin.
His breathing became labored in fear as he realized his position. Quickly, he looked up at the quivering tree. Blood poured from the open wound in her side, and the dripping blood pooled right next to the coiled and detached rope, placed neatly at his side.
To be continued…
What will happen to Captain Smith next? Stay tuned next week for the final installment of John’s first chapter in Dante’s Hell.
To read more or start from the beginning of Dreadful Dantes, click here.
(c) Copyright 2017, Alison C. Wroblewski. All rights reserved.