Dante’s Inferno

January 2, 2008
By Sarah Munsell, Deep River, CT

It was raining the day that his father scarred him. It was late in the evening, a light drizzle was falling from outside the picture window in the front of their apartment. His father was drinking again, like he did most evenings. The pungent smell of the alcohol throughout the apartment no longer bothered him, it had become a constant, and right now he needed constants more than anything. He tried to keep his mind off his raging father, and he picked up the older man’s green lighter, flicking its small wheel. A loud smashing noise echoed in from the kitchen and he couldn’t help but wince. His drunken father roared; a deep, rumbling sound that always seemed to make his blood run cold, no matter how impassive he tried to look.
“DANTE!” The man howled, thundering towards him. Dante felt himself sink a bit into the chair he was sitting in, but he remained as pokerfaced as he could. If his father was looking for a response from him, he didn’t wait to hear one. Alcohol seemed to radiate off the man in waves and Dante tried desperately to calculate exactly how drunk his father was.
“You’re damn useless, boy! I could tolerate you when your mother was here, but now she’s gone too!” His father growled with a leer on his slack lips, swinging a bottle of whiskey. Dante pushed away the insult, pretending it didn’t hurt.
“She’ll come back.” He responded quietly as he focused on the lighter and the small flame that danced between himself and his intoxicated father.
“What, boy?”
“I said she’ll come back. She’ll come back and rescue me from this place, and from you.” Dante told him. A spark entered his father’s eyes and he glanced down at the lighter in his son’s hands. With surprising reflexes for a drunken man, his father snatched the lighter and with a twist of his fingers, he turned the flame up as high as the lighter would allow. Dante’s eyes watched the flame with morbid fascination.
“Rescue you? Nobody’s going to rescue you, Dante. You’re trapped here. You’ve got no way to escape me. I believe that’s a lesson you’re about to learn.”
His father stepped closer, and all Dante remembered was the slippery sensation of whiskey being poured over his back and a sharp, blazing pain that seemed to spread throughout his entire body, and then the soothing cool of darkness.
He awoke lying on his stomach, a searing pain across his back that made tears prick his eyes. Dante stifled a whimper of pain; after all, 12 year old boys don’t whimper and cry. A soft hand stroked the side of his face and he looked blindly for whoever was touching him. It was a girl, perhaps a year or two younger than him. She looked no different from an ordinary girl, except that her eyes, ‘blue’ he noted, both smiled and pitied at the same. Dante averted his gaze. He did not need anyone’s pity. Sensing his discomfort, the girl pulled her hand away, but still smiled softly.
“My mother and I heard a ruckus going on in your apartment. We live one floor underneath you. We came up to see if anything was wrong and found you on the floor all alone. My mother’s calling an ambulance right now.” The girl told him, determined to look at only his face and not the bloodied mess of his back.
“What’s your name?” Dante asked slowly.
“Moira. What’s yours?”
Any slight movement on his part made the burn sting and ache as if a thousand burning needles were busy embroidering his back, so he remained as still as possible. An older woman walked into the room and spoke in a soothing voice.
“The ambulance should be here soon. Can we call your parents?” The woman asked. Dante tried to swallow the lump that formed in his throat, and this time he did not stifle the small, pitiful moan of a pain.
“M-my Uncle. He lives about 25 minutes outside of the city…”
“The ambulance is going to take you to Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Moira, call his uncle and tell him to meet us at Northwestern, alright? The ambulance is here now, dear. Everything will be alright.” Moira’s mother soothed gently.
Dante told Moira his uncle’s phone number as fast as he could remember, and as she dialed, the paramedics loaded him into the ambulance. Along with the pain in his back, Dante also felt sick to his stomach. His father hated him enough to burn him and his mother couldn’t save him. Not this time.
“Dante! It’s time for you to get up!”
“Dante! I’ve made you some tea!”
“Dante, wake up now or I’ll get the hose!”
“Coming, Uncle.”
Dante rose methodically, dressed, and made his way downstairs into the kitchen. For the past five years he had been living in a Chicago suburb with his Uncle Mark. It was nice, Dante finally had his own bedroom and there was more than one floor of living space. Unlike the apartment he had shared with his father, this house was spacious and clean, not littered with empty bottles of Jack Daniels and half-eaten cartons of Lo Mein. Living with his Uncle Mark was one of the greatest things to even happen to him, and he thanked his lucky stars for it.
Waiting for him downstairs was the mentioned tea and two slices of toast. Dante avoided the bread but picked up the mug and blow softly on the steaming liquid. His dark eyes looked tired and his uncle noticed.
“Is something wrong, Dante? Did you not get enough sleep last night?” His Uncle’s voice was concerned.
“No Uncle, I’m just tired, that’s all. The tea will help. Thanks for making it for me.” He sipped the tea slowly, careful not to burn his tongue. It was good, one spoonful of sugar and no milk, just the way he liked it. Just the way his mother used to drink it.
“Do you have any meetings today?” Dante asked his uncle as he placed the mug on the counter and moved to get his car keys.
“There is one, something about better preservation of Lake Michigan. You know, like most of the ones we get in our department. Which reminds me, I’ll probably be home late tonight, and you may have to fix dinner on your own.” Uncle Mark replied as he pulled on his suit jacket. He adjusted his red tie, grabbed his suitcase and took a final swig of his coffee.
“Have a good day at school, Dante! Play nicely with the other children!” His Uncle as he left to start his car.
Dante chuckled to himself and twirled the car key around his finger. He heard his Uncle drive away and he placed his dishes in the sink before exiting the house to start his own car. The plastic seats of the car were a bit chilly and Dante shivered involuntarily as he started the engine.
He enjoyed the time he spent alone during his drive to school. It was much easier to think and plan without worrying about his uncle. Besides, today was a red letter day; he had found his father. After the ‘accident’, he and his Uncle had gone to court about it, and his Uncle was awarded custody. The court papers that Dante managed to find hidden in his Uncle’s desk showed his father’s most recent address, and that was where Dante was going to make his move.
He was going burn down his father’s house.
It had been years of planning. Studying Arson, Fire, Crime Scene Investigation; Dante knew his plan inside and out. It would be the perfect revenge. His father had made his mother leave and had left him with a terrible burn on his back. The only way his father could understand how he felt was if everything he loved was taken away.
Dante felt his knuckles gripping the wheel tightly and he loosened his hold. He made his face impassive as he pulled into the parking lot closest to the school. The high school was big, public; its grand size kept him hidden from prying eyes and loose lips. No one knew about his scar, or his family, or his plans, and he liked to keep it that way. He entered the building with his backpack slung over one shoulder and readied himself for the day to come.
It was dark out when Dante finally returned to the house. Thankfully his Uncle was still at that meeting and wasn’t home to ask why Dante was so late. He had been driving around for the past few hours, thinking, plotting, and tying the loose ends together. He would burn the house down in three days. Setting his car keys down on the kitchen table, Dante turned quickly to see his Uncle walk in through the door. The older man set down his briefcase with a sigh and sat down onto a kitchen chair. He eyed Dante for a moment.
“Did you just get back?”
“I was at the library studying. I have a test on Friday. Calculus.” Dante lied smoothly. His uncle smiled at him.
“How very studious of you, Dante. If you haven’t eaten I can still make dinner. Are you hungry?”
“No Uncle Mark. I think I’ll just lay down for a bit. Thank you though.”
Dante nodded to his uncle and ascended the staircase to his bedroom and collapsed on his bed. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to push away the feeling of his back burning as he slowly fell asleep.
His palms were itching, sweating, shaking. His irregular heartbeat was making his chest ache and his mouth feel dry. After all these years of subtle planning and careful studying he had felt he was ready. But now, with the two gas cans in the truck of his car and a small green lighter in his hand, he was shaking.
‘What’s wrong? Can’t you do it? Can’t you strike back at the man who has ruined your life?’ His mind screamed at him. Dante’s thumb flickered over the little wheel that controlled the flame. He took a step forward and his heart nearly stopped when he heard a voice.
“Dante? Is that you?”
The voice was feminine but young, and unrecognizable. Part of him wanted to turn and face the newcomer, part of him wanted to press onward with his plans. But he knew, he just knew that if he turned around he’d cave in and speed away in his car, he’d let his father get away with what he had done. Yet he felt his body turn away from the house and towards the voice.
“It is you, isn’t it?” It was dark and he couldn’t exactly see the girl who was speaking to him.
“Who are you? How do you know my name?” He moved closer to the girl and was shocked when he saw oddly familiar blue eyes.
“Moira. My name is Moira, remember? My mother and I found you after…the accident.”
Memories came rushing back to him and the lighter shook in his palm. He steeled his nerves and swallowed the lump in his throat.
“What are you doing here?” He managed to say, though his voice came out as a choked whisper. Moira laughed, something Dante didn’t expect at all.
“What am I doing here? I live here! This is my house!” She smiled at him and Dante felt the stirrings of both disappointment and relief. He did need an explanation, however.
“The court papers though, the papers said that my father lived here. Where is my father?” He asked and he felt his voice become stronger and louder. His shock at this admission would not take away the hate he felt for his father. Moira looked at him in a pitying fashion as she moved closer.
“You didn’t hear about it?”
“About what?”
“Your father, Dante. He died about four months ago. Liver failure. Probably from all of that drinking he does, did.” Moira told him.
Dante felt as if a weight had been lifted from his shoulders and he felt a small smile tug at the corners of his lips. He father was gone, dead. That tormentor was taken care of and he had no need to destroy him himself.
“And you live here, in his old house?” He asked Moira. She nodded, a confused look on her face.
“Yeah, about a month now. It’s my mother’s first real house”
Dante found himself chuckling aloud, to which Moira responded to which a quirk of her brow. Exhaling slowly, he twisted the lighter’s wheel once again. He placed the little green object in Moira’s palm.
“Here, I’m not going to need this anymore.”
Dante walked away from Moira, the lighter, and the old house, got into his car and drove home.
Now his life could begin anew.

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