Friday, February 23, 2018

Part one of a story, as yet untitled

My name is Isabella. I live with my mother in the woods. That’s all I know. I’ve always lived in the woods. My mother said that, when she was a girl, she lived in the city.
A big city named Florence. She began working at the age of eleven for a family named Alighieri. She said that there was a boy named Dante, and she remembered that he was always kind of dreamy eyed and talked about some girl named Beatrice. She doesn’t remember ever seeing Beatrice. Well, when my mother was about my age or maybe a year or two older, a man who fixes the carriages for the Alighieri family became drunk. Drunkenness wasn’t so uncommon, and my mother was used to running from the drunks. But this time, that man grabbed my mother and did unspeakable things to her. She fell pregnant and, when it became obvious, the family let her go.

After I was born, no one would speak to my mother or give her work. She became destitute, and she had to beg for scraps of food. Her appearance had become frightening. Her clothing had deteriorated, becoming grayed rags, and her teeth had turned brown. She was run out of town, clutching me in her arms. The people claimed that she was the spawn of the devil and that she and I were to be killed. She found a home in the woods after a hermit took her in. He taught her everything that she needed to know about how to survive in the forest. And that’s where I spent my childhood. I listened to the birds and to the animals. The hermit, who was a Franciscan brother, told me that I had the heart and the spirit of a Franciscan.

And so, it happened one day that I saw a man walking through the woods. He appeared to be lost. I followed him, intending to help him find his way back. He said that he was lost, that I was lost, and that we were all lost. What did he mean by that?
We came upon a river, one that I had never before seen. The man, who identified himself only as Dante, said that it was the River Styx. A ferryman came. Dante said that the ferryman’s name was Charon. I didn’t know much about this Charon guy. Dante gave Charon some coins, and he took us to the other side. We kept walking. Before long, we were at some sort of gate. I wasn’t sure of what it was because I had never gone to the Other Side. What did he mean by the Other Side? We found a note that had been abandoned by a tall, impenetrable wall. I picked it up but I didn’t know what the symbols meant. I learned the language of the forest and the songs of the birds and the mating calls of the animals but I never learned the humans’ written language. Dante read, “THROUGH me you pass into the city of woe:
Through me you pass into eternal pain:
Through me among the people lost for aye.
Justice the founder of my fabric moved:
To rear me was the task of Power divine,
Supremest Wisdom, and primeval Love.
Before me things create were none, save things
Eternal, and eternal I endure.
All hope abandon, ye who enter here.”

The door suddenly burst open and we saw it. Dead bodies. Humans and angels and demons. We wondered what had happened. Was it the war that my mother warned me about? The war between the angels and the demons? As we walked past the evidence of a great battle and, as I realized that we had entered the dreaded Underworld, I could see horses approach. I felt something cold strike at my heart. The horses came closer and the feeling became stronger. Dante identified the four horses for me as I shivered with the coldness that had gone into my soul. A white horse. The conquerer. A red horse, who would take the peace of the earth away with him and who would cause humans to kill one another. A black horse, who would give the world scarcity. And the most fearsome was the pale horse that brought death. Death by sword, death by hunger, death by pestilence.

I trembled with fear, as I heard trumpets calling. I was in a place that was not peaceful. It was hell. It was where Lucifer had been cast when he was thrown out of Heaven. Lucifer had declared war on heaven. It was to be a fight to the finish.

We walked and walked through this place, that Dante identified as Limbo, where hope could not thrive. I saw the tiny shades of the babies who had died, so innocent, yet still separated from God. I saw the shades of the people who had never known God and could have never known God. They comforted one another but they could not comfort the babies, who cried inconsolably. I reached out for one of the babies but I couldn't pick up the poor child. 

"The baby is not substantial, just a shade," Dante told me. "He died too soon to be comforted by his mother. After death, his soul separated from his body. But you can't touch the soul. The living body can never physically touch another's soul."

 The main torment of the shades seemed to be that they were forever separated from God. It was beyond my understanding. Without warning, Dante shook uncontrollably before falling to the ground, if you could call it ground. There was nothing growing in this place that was separated from hope and from the warmth of the sun and the sustenance of the rain.

We came across a man, who was talking with a few others. They wore long, flowing robes. Dante said that they were poets from ancient times. 

"Could I talk to them?" I asked.

"Yes," Dante said. "You can hear their voices, as if they came from across the ages. You just can't touch them."

"Hello," I said to a shade, who looked as he may have in life, with curly hair and a curly beard, and dressed in a robe. I asked him who he was. He said that he was a poet and that his name was Homer. He told me that he had written books of verse in his lifetime, called "The Iliad" and "The Odyssey." They were about leaving home and traveling far away, without any hope of a return voyage. Dante said that he knew little of this man.

"Why are you here? Why are you separated from God forever? Why is God punishing you?" I looked deep in his eyes but saw nothing, because he was a shade and there was no longer any magic hidden in those eyes. My own eyes, however, felt moist.

"Do you see me?" 

"I have always been blind," Homer said. "But I see you in ways that you do not understand."

“Men are so quick to blame the gods: they say that we devise their misery. But they themselves- in their depravity- design grief greater than the griefs that fate assigns," Homer said. 

Did Homer just say that he was a god? I didn't understand what he was telling me. I looked at him for other words. Something to explain why he was trapped in this place of abandonment, sadness, and apathy.

"Take courage, my heart. You have been through worse than this," Homer told me, as Dante took me by the hand, and we left Limbo and began walking, down stairs and into places that were darker and felt angrier than Limbo.

Dante and I had been walking for a long time. It seemed as if it were almost forever. He barely spoke and, when he did, I didn't understand him. He spoke in verse, which confused me. He was obviously a learned man, who had read many books and who understood the great wisdom of the universe. I am just a girl of the forest, who understands animals and birds. I can recognize all of the medicinal plants and have learned to heal people with herbs and potions. But books are a complete mystery to me.

In the Underworld, there were no medicinal plants. There were no herbs, no potions. The sign on the entryway was right. Abandon all hope, ye who enter by me. I could feel it in the air. It smelled like death and rejected love. I remember that smell from the time of plague, when my mother was called upon to nurse the sufferers. I had to go with her to help. It was then that I learned all of my skills as a healer.

We are now in a place where there is no hope for healing.

All of a sudden, we were pushed by a wind. A relentless wind that nearly caused me to fly away. I felt fear. I rarely feel fear. I survived life alone in the forest when my mother went away to dangerous places to collect herbs. I did fear when my mother and I visited the doomed homes of plague victims. Although we had not been permitted in the city because of my mother's sin, we were the only ones who had the knowledge of the healing plants. 

We were sent for to take care of the plague victims. I turned off all fear of death. I did not catch the plague when I touched the plague victims to put cooling rags on their hot buboes. I did not fear when they died, despite all of the potions, pastes, and herbs used for them. Everyone else ran screaming when we brought the coffins in the wagon to the potter's field. But we did not cry and we did not fear. I ran from wild animals but I did not fear. But this time, in the place where time stopped and where hope was extinct, I felt fear.

I saw the lustful flying on the wind, chasing after something. I'm not sure what they were chasing. They flew by me but they were insubstantial because they were just shades, not people anymore. I wondered if my father was one of them. I had heard that he had died. I am not a perfect girl. I knew that it was because of him that my mother suffered. I wanted him to suffer, as she did. I wanted him to be here, chasing the wind like the other sinners who died with lust in their hearts. Then I saw angels and devils fighting, rolling as they fought a wind. Some of the angels pinned down a demon. A little demon who barely fought at all. I averted my eyes. I couldn't look. Dante pulled me away.

He spoke in plain language. "A child should not view that."

He saw me as an innocent child. I wished that I were that girl that he believed me to be.

I looked back and I saw that the little demon lay motionless on the ground. The wind had stopped. I gasped in horror. Dante pulled even harder and we left the second circle of hell.

NOTE: Check out part two of Isabella's story, which will be posted next Friday. Do you have any suggestions for a title? Please post them in the comments section below!


Jeanine Byers said...

Sheesh! That was disturbing, but so well-written I am hooked and simply must know what happens next!! I feel quite sure you will think of a much better title than this one, but I thought of "The Girl from the Woods."

Leo Majestic said...

Well written and interesting article.

Shirley Corder said...

Not a story I would normally read, but you hooked me and drew me in. Well done! I like the suggested title, The Girl from the Woods.
A tip for climbing Mt Kiliminjaro relates to life.

Alana said...

I don't have a title for you, but I am hooked. I'll be waiting for part 2 eagerly.

Parul said...

That was well written and got me hooked to it. At some point, I wanted to know if this was real cos it felt like one from olden days.