An Unread Canto of Dante's Inferno - The Womanizers

April 27, 2011
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“Ticket, please?”

The decrepit man extended his bony arm through the window of the ticket booth, palms up, eyes glowing. With his black bowtie, red visor cap and red eyes to match, he looked very officially employed by the devil himself.

I turned to Virgil, hoping he was prepared with two first class tickets to whatever horror show we were about to see, since I figured the alternative couldn’t be much better, anyways.

Instead, he just approached the eerie ticket taker with a smile, filling the outstretched hand before him with his own. “The name’s Virgil. I’m a regular around here. I’m sure you must’ve seen me at the show once or twice?”
The gray, ticket collector didn’t move a lip, but his small, smoldering eyes were clearly unimpressed.
Virgil continued, cool and unaffected. “I’ve brought this man, Dante, along for a tour. We won’t be staying for the full show. Please allow our -”
“What’s that?” I interrupted, nudging Virgil to the puffs of smoke slowly billowing up from behind the man’s red hat. At first they looked like clouds of steam, as though someone was boiling potatoes in the back of the ticket booth. It didn’t take long, though, before the clouds took shape, each one a letter in a series of twenty to form one unmistakable message: We’ve been expecting you.
Virgil nodded at the strange man, stepped over the red boundary rope as if he owned the place and made his way around the ticket booth to a set of oversized doors where he stopped, turning back to me. “Coming?”
Am I allowed to say, ‘no’?
I was answered by a gust of wind from behind that seemed to steal away the ground from beneath my feet until I found them replanted on the other side of the doors. I barely had time to come to this realization, though, because I was busy being sandwiched between the biceps of a hundred brawny, boisterous men wearing jerseys and waving foam fingers. I stood there for a while, dazed and out-of-place among the muscle and sweat. Seconds before suffocating from an aroma that could only come from the darkest pit of the men’s locker room, I was seized by the arm and hauled until my escort and I reached a pleasantly uninhabited corner.
“Are you alright?” asked Virgil, still gripping my elbow.
“I’m fine.” If you don’t count the vomit I’m struggling to keep down.
He laughed. “If you say so. You know we haven’t even made it inside yet, right?”
“And you know my stomach could probably churn a pound of butter right know, right? It’s the smell. It’s awful. I feel like we’re in the sweat-soaked armpit of a sumo wrestler.”
“We might as well be. You see,” explained Virgil, pointing to the crowd of men at what I now discerned as the concession stand, “all those guys are actually from Heaven. Now, don’t get me wrong, Heaven is the most beautiful, magnificent place in existence, but its many miracles do not include changing souls. For example, if you were an adrenaline junkie in life, Heaven is not going to transform you into a careful homebody. These men, the professional athletes of generations past, need some entertainment now and again, and it’s not as though there are sports arenas up there, or down here, for that matter. So they come here.”
“To Hell?”
He nodded. “It’s not exactly the Super Bowl, but it suffices.”
“Wait, what suffices? What exactly do they come here to watch?”
Virgil turned back to the concession stand, pointing to a hallway barely visible behind the crowd of ex-athletes. Was that Hank Aaron? “See that corridor?”
I nodded.
“It leads to The Games. Each door within the passageway tells a different story, though they’re all the same, really.”
“I’m confused. What are the same? Am I allowed to watch these Games?”
“Of course. The way he sees it, the more spectators, the better.” Spectators? Who’s ‘he’? Before I had a chance to ask any more questions, Virgil had already begun making his way through the crowd, and I had no choice but to follow.
After having followed Virgil past the posse of sportsmen and into one of the corridor’s many entrances, I found myself from what appeared to be a house onto a clean, white porch. Pleasantly and yet oddly enough, my surroundings were anything but hellish. The home was a buttercup yellow two-story with white shutters and petite, pink flowers framing its outer walls. A picture perfect picket fence enclosed the yard and the long, infinite road it belonged to looked freshly paved. The view to my left and right was mostly the same for miles in either direction, with homes nearly identical to the one I seemed to have emerged from, with only minute differences in shape and color. The entire row of homes was so charming, so flawless that I was sure I’d seen it in one of the books my mom had read to me growing up. In fact, save for the way there was only one unending string of homes on my side of the road and bleachers overflowing with rowdy men on the other, I’d almost forgotten where I really was. It took only a few moments, however, before I saw a man who instantly reminded me that this was no Heaven.
He looked as though he’d been running for days straight with deep, violet rings beneath his eyes and a gait slower than most people run. Cavernous, filthy cars plastered almost every inch of his unclothed body, and everywhere else was mostly mauve and gray and shivering as though it wasn’t a perfect eighty degrees. Though he was panting and wheezing, he somehow found the energy to push on, whipping his head from left to right every couple minutes as though at any moment, he might find something astonishing lurking behind a house or hiding in the branches of a tree.
“Eddy…” whispered a woman’s voice, though whisper isn’t quite the right word. It was more of a ghostly sigh, softly spoken and yet so lucid that I was sure the owner of this exquisitely haunting voice was only feet away.
The man’s eyes widened at the sound and even more so than before, he seemed desperate to find something which I was becoming increasingly interested in knowing about. I was also curious as to why there were heaps of giddy goalies and linebackers and pitchers lined up alongside the road as though the Easter Parade was about to begin any moment now.
Virgil pushed me forward as if to say, well why don’t you just ask?
There were a thousand reasons not to, actually, but I just couldn’t bring myself to argue with Virgil. Instead, I decided to copy his cool-and-collected approach, so I took a deep breath, pushed out my chest and started walking as if my knees didn’t feel like rubber.
Up close, if you found a way to look past the blemishes and disfigurement, one could scarcely make out the face of what at one time was likely a strikingly handsome man. I wondered what he thought when he saw me, still full of worldly life, free of scars and free to do as I pleased.
When he did see me, he stopped dead in his tracks, backing away like a scared puppy.
“Who are you?” His voice was breathy and drained.
“Dante. I’m tour-” I was again interrupted by a woman’s voice, just as beautiful and lingering as it had been moments ago.
“Come find me…”
“Do you hear that?!” cried the man.
I paused. “That woman…where is she?”
This question seemed to intrigue the man; he cocked his head and gave what I thought may have been something close to a smirk. “Don’t you know where you are?”
“Well, I’m in Hell,” I said, “I know that much.”
Suddenly, the man’s carriage went from zombie to businessman. “The name’s Eddy,” he said, offering his hand which I shook, reluctantly. “And you, sir, are standing in the middle of a never ending game of hide-and-seek between the richest, most beautiful woman in the universe and me.”
I considered this as I watched the stands on the left side of the road fill with four more men in sports jerseys crossing the street from the yellow house on the right. Each carried a hefty container of popcorn in one hand and a large Coca-Cola in the other.
“Why are all those guys here?” I asked.
Eddy didn’t seem to hear me, distracted by what seemed anyway to be absolutely nothing but one long stretch of asphalt. Turning his attention back to me, he said, “You’re bound to find that out soon enough. What’s important, dear friend, is this.
“There was a time, when I was living, of course, when I was the man. I could get anything I wanted and do just as I pleased. I never worked a day in my life and yet I lived like a king. And the best part of this whole deal was that it was just plain easy. Women loved me, too. I must’ve had at least hundred in my lifetime. And you know, it’s not that I couldn’t have gotten a job, but tell me – would you toil your life away when masses of women are willing to cater to your every need? Of course you wouldn’t. Now, I don’t think this is such a bad way to go about things. In life, I never even thought about it as using. It was just who I was.”
I could sense the growing impatience of the men the bleachers; our conversation was no hockey match. “Okay, but why do you chase this woman? And you mentioned that she’s rich, but what good is her wealth in Hell?”
“That nameless woman, she who has more money than any earthly queen could dream – her figure, her face, her hair…her voice…oh, man. I think I feel for her more than I ever did for any woman on earth.” Suddenly, Eddy was startled, though by what I wasn’t sure. He ran up to one of the houses, searching all around it for what I now realized was the nameless woman before continuing.
“As a matter of fact, her wealth means a great deal in this place. If I could just get to her, I could live in one of these houses,” he motioned towards the rows and rows of gorgeous properties to my right, “and I could buy myself some clothes and make myself less of a disgrace. It would at least make it less humiliating to walk the streets in front of all these MVPs whom I looked up to so in life. If someone walked up to me one day and told me to choose anyone in the world to impress, I would’ve picked these men.” I glanced back at the bleachers on the left where Dale Earnhardt seemed to be in deep conversation with a young, handsome Sparky Anderson.
Before I could ask why these famous, deceased athletes were even here in the first place, three orange, vile creatures with pointy ears and wicked eyes appeared from behind one of the homes on the right. Each flung itself onto Eddy, sinking long teeth and razor-like claws into his purple skin. Eddy let out a hair-raising screech. The men to my left clapped in delight.
Then, one of the creatures used its grisly fangs to separate Eddy’s ribs while another peeled the skin from the poor guy’s face with its thin, sharp tongue. The bleachers were pulsating with satisfaction.
“Pierce the eyeballs!” one of the men exclaimed.
“Crush his lungs!” shouted another.
“Come on, you demons, don’t make it so easy for him!”

While two of the beings were busy destroying his outer façade, the third went in for the kill, removing its victim’s intestines, grinning as he held a hand full of entrails before him for the spectators to observe.

“Now that’s what I like to see!” cried Wilt Chamberlain. Rocky Marciano did a fist pump.
All three of the demons were now concentrated on dissecting Eddy’s torso. One of the demons got hold of what appeared to be some kind of pouch – a stomach, maybe? – which landed like a water balloon near my feet, spraying blood across my lips and nose. I’m not sure if it was the stench (a thousand times worse than that of the crowd of sweaty men) or the fact that I could taste fermenting food on my chin, but it was at that point that my stomach emptied its contents onto the already foul pile of guts before me. After every last bit of skin, kidney, lung and brain had been fully devoured, a crater began to form between the spectators and the road, inside of which protruded a thousand silver icicles. The temperature within was so low that even standing ten feet away from the opening sent quivers up my spine, chattering my teeth and echoing through my every bone.
Like garbage men, the demons flung the leftover skin and bones of their meal into the shivery pit, and without a bow or a “Thanks for coming tonight, folks,” vanished as soon as they had appeared. Once the gap in the earth had closed, the bleachers emptied, but I still felt frozen, inside and out.
“You weren’t kidding about that stomach of yours, were you?” It was Virgil, standing closer than before but being careful to avoid the puddle of vomit at my feet.
I was disgusted not only by the gore of it all, but also by the unfairness of Eddy’s fate. I simply couldn’t understand why a man should deserve such a grim fate for merely being a lady’s man. After all, I’m not exactly Brad Pitt, but it’s not like I wouldn’t be if I could. If I dream of something sinful but can’t have it, shouldn’t that mean that I and all the other men who think this way deserve to be consumed by demons, as well?
Virgil’s eyes were intense on my own, as if he could see the thoughts behind them. “Let me tell you something,” he said.
“When he was alive, Eddy was no angel. He was charming, sure, and he knew how to work social situations like you know how to write cantos.”
Dang, he must’ve been good.
“That, paired with his flawless smile and heavy-lidded, captivating chocolate eyes, Eddy fit the bill of most women’s dream guy. And for those whom he didn’t, he was smart, and he knew how to learn what qualities a specific woman wished for and then alter himself until he did. He had noticed from a very young age that most girls are romantics at heart, and that once they truly fall in love, or at least think they’ve fallen in love, they don’t easily fall out. But the most valuable piece of psychology Eddy had ever gathered was that feelings are really just the result of how someone interprets an action or event; when it comes down to it, everything, and I mean everything, is all in your head.
“For example, say you’re a girl, about seventeen or eighteen, and you feel it’s the right time to find the guy you want to marry. In truth, you’re a little desperate, but you’re still not willing to settle for a guy who doesn’t ‘know how to melt your heart.’ Remember, the way Eddy saw it, it’s all in her head. Now, once he picked up on the desperate, I-need-a-man-so-bad-that-I-probably-won’t-notice-if-he’s-actually-a-total-jerk vibe, he saw the rest as so effortless and predictable, it might as well have been a checkers game with your five your old sister. Step number one: play the emotional card –
“‘My dog died a few weeks ago…’” [Wipe that invisible tear from beneath those gorgeous eyes]
“Step number two: Fake neediness –
“…I’m in desperate need of someone who can relieve me of my deep sorrow…’”
“Step number three: Cater to interests and wishes –
“‘…what? You play soccer? What a coincidence! I only date soccer players…what’s that? You say you’re looking for a sensitive man? Oh, Beautiful, have I told you lately that those heavenly eyes of yours melt my heart like vanilla ice cream on a blazing August afternoon…?’”
“Before continuing, repeat the previous step until it can be confirmed that said girl is wrapped around your finger. Once emotional dependence has been verified, move on to step number four: slowly distance yourself from said girl. This part should be pretty self-explanatory. From there, said girl’s life should be mostly in the palm of your hands. Not literally, of course, but like I said – it’s all in her head.
“These were just the basics, though he liked to make up the rules as he went. He also loved the thrill of the chase, and the way he looked at it, that aspect of his way of life only got better with age; the older the woman, the more money she had, and though it took more work to break through her jaded outer shell acquired after years of enduring men like himself, the reward was always better than the last.”
I now began to understand the core issue with Eddy’s sin. “But if there were so many, how did he handle the ones who were still in love with them? Did he just abandon them?”
“Precisely,” Virgil patted my shoulder; now you’re getting the idea, son. “Forget his charming good looks. Forget his wit and mastery of the art of conning. What really made Eddy able to love-and-leave according to his own needs was the fact that he simply didn’t get attached to anyone. This was thanks to an understanding of the key principle that feelings are really only figments of the mind, semi-physical reactions to one’s perception of the world around him or her. As long as he maintained the ability to remove himself emotionally from all his relationships, he never had to suffer the pain of a breakup, nor the guilt. All he had to do when one girl’s funds ran out or if he started to find her boring was, quite simply, move on to the next one.
“Now, this is all very sinful, but perhaps the worst transgression on Eddy’s rap sheet was his lack of commitment. Though the reasons are unclear to even God himself, Eddy and all the other sinners in this ring of hell never had just one mate, causing the poor souls in love with them weeks without sleep, months without love and lifetimes of heartache.
“It is for these reasons that Eddy has his own doorway in the Corridor of Casanova’s, Cheaters and Chasers. I’m sure that upon entering, you were unable to see how a place with sunny skies and green grass could serve as someone’s hell. However, this is because in these parts, the real hell is within the sinner’s mind, a place you better hope you’re never allowed to visit. The pretty façade is merely for the sake of the audience. Just like he used the minds of the women in love with him to extract from them what he wanted, he is now doomed to an eternity of mind games, forever chasing the richest, most beautiful woman one could imagine as a naked, penniless pity, torn apart before the eyes of the very men he wished to impress. And just when he thinks the demons ruined him for the last time, his wounds heal in a hole of ice, cold as his heart, and the moment he is able to walk again, he is forced to return to his Game. And every time he gets devoured, his skin is just a little more ‘jaded,’ and is that much tougher for the demons to slash through. His search is never really over, because he might think he’s found that woman, but she’s not actually there. She doesn’t even really exist.”
And to think I had vomited out of compassion for this man. If I’m ever lucky enough to watch these Games again, I’m bringing popcorn money.

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