Tonight I wrote this short scene based on a moment in the Inferno's Canto 12, when Virgil and Dante have passed the Minotaur, are descending a landslide of rocks and gravel, and then . . . well, read it! The professor of the Dante class I am taking welcomes creative works as well as straight papers, as long as they convey an understanding of the material.
I stepped with a mixture of ginger and rapidity, breathing short, in my excitement to flee that creature raging behind us and to achieve the next new horror, of which I knew naught save that it would exceed all previous. I heard his bellow and looked back. He had regained himself and regarded us with bootless roars, eager to rend my flesh. The pebbles clattered beneath my feet; the soles of my leather shoes scuffing against the rock. I balanced carefully, as I had done as a boy, on logs over creeks. We trod downward through pale, grey gloom.
This seemed to go on a long time, during which I had another occasion to doubt my sanity. Could this be a dream, caused by that fever gripped me in the wood? Was I still there? And yet this rock felt cool and hard to the touch of my warm, soft foot; this air felt close and thick, as if choked by fire; this heart within my breast pounded, as if very much awake to its purpose, and to its danger.
My master discoursed on the earthquake and landslide; he could not know of He who caused the walls of Dis to shake.
I was listening, but not with both my ears, still reeling with amazement at all I had seen, all I had apprehended in so short a time. I longed for home, and happier times, and one who no more lived there. What kept me on was the promise of her fair visage envisaged once more.
But was I really here? It could not be true, and yet here I was. There the Minotaur was, braying his anger before returning to his silent road. There before me, the back and robes of my master, my protector, without whom I would be lost, or turned back to face again the forest of isolation.
The horizon glowed reddish, as we approached the leveling plain. Thoughts of that One seemed stifled, distant. Could my Lord see me? Did he try? My doubts, in the face of all I saw, filled me with burning shame. I would trust in my guide and my god. And here I saw the widest of rivers, as if a lake without end, flaming, red, filled with arms, screams, and bodies writhing in tormented agony.
The sights, the sounds, the feel of heat against our blackening faces! The stench! The bubbles of boiling blood! This sharpened my wit, and banished all doubt. I was in Hell. My body trembled, matching the sudden sound of rumbling hoofs by the thousand.
Between the shore and us were centaurs. Their presence comforted me; I know not why. They had always seemed noble beasts to me, in my reading of yore, though these launched arrows at the unfortunate souls fortunate enough to essay to escape, reminding, perhaps augmenting, their misfortune.
They stopped upon sight of us, and approached, arrows drawn and notched.
I steeled myself. My master moved to parley.
The first centaur challenged: “To what punishment do you come, you who are climbing down the bank? Speak from there; otherwise I draw my bow.”
My master indicated as he spoke: “The reply will we make to Chiron, close over there; to your harm has your will always been so hasty.”
My master nudged me, saying who they were. I trembled at the thought of Nessus.
Chiron noted my weight; my master confirmed me in it and explained our duty. They, these marvelous creatures in a unique place, marveled at my presence, but not at me.
In another moment I sat astride the one who challenged us; his back and body more powerful than any horse above. I embraced him so as not to lose my place as I rode.
Thoughts of uncertainty soon left me as we went along the shore, the cries only louder as closer. The despair and anguish rendered the faces frightening, and a part of me feared these apparitions might emerge from the fiery blood to accost me, out of jealousy or blind pain. But the larger part knew I was safe, despite my doubts, despite my sight, despite my knowledge of all about me.
My guide; my master and author; and the One on high would protect me.