Dante's Inferno in a (New and Improved But Still Very) Cracked Nutshell

[Battle of the Fandoms: Classics] A mostly accurate, much more entertaining, slightly modernized version of Dante's Inferno for those readers who are interested in the story, but don't fancy reading it in 14th century terza rima.

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3. Dante talks to a sad bush.

    “Woah, woah, woah! Don’t eat me! We’re on a mission from God.”

    The angel looked unimpressed. “Neat. Neat rhymes with eat. I eat you now.”

    “Wait! It’s God’s will that we get in the city.” 

    “You can come. He can’t. He eat. We eat him.”

    “Um, Virgil?” Dante asked nervously. He didn’t really fancy heading back himself.

    Virgil waved him off. “I got this, Dante.” He turned back to the angel. “No, listen, we’re on a mission from God. From God,” he said slowly. “No eating. Let us through.” He gave a thumbs up.

    The angel looked annoyed. “You annoying. I let Medusa eat. You probably tough.”

    The angel flew away. Virgil came back over, rubbing his neck. “Wow, they’ve tightened security since the last time I visited.”

    “You’ve been here before?!”

    “Yeah, this smoking hot witch named Erichto sent me to summon some dude from Judas’s circle. What, you thought it was my first time?”

    “Uh, YEAH. I thought that when you were sent to a certain level, you kinda stayed put.”

    Virgil shrugged. “What can I say, the ladies love me.”

    Dante nodded slowly, glancing at the sky. “Yeah, how about you deal with THOSE ladies then?”

    “Aw, crap,” he said. “Those are the furies. Tisiphone, Magaera and Alecto-”

    “Mrs. Dodds?” Dante asked in surprise.

    “You know her?”

    “Er...no.”

    “Ugh, ughhh, UGH. Aw, no. This is bad. This is baaadddd. Here comes Medusa,” Virgil said.

    “Where?” Dante said, looking around. 

    Virgil tackled him, clamping a hand over his eyes. “Close your eyes, you idiot! She’ll turn you to stone!”

    Then, suddenly, there was a flash of bright light.

    “What was that?” Dante whispered.

    “Shut up,” Virgil said.

    A majestic voice boomed, “HELLO, CITIZENS OF HELL. It is I, your friendly heavenly messenger! But really, I hate hell, it smells and everyone is so whiny. So I’m just going to get this over with so I can go back to the big important jobs that I have to do, you know? I’ve just dropped by to tell you to open the gates for my boys Dante and Virgil here, and for God’s sake, stop preventing God’s will. You know he has a temper. You remember that flood? Yeah, that was God on a good day. The bubonic plague was when the Stop, Shop, and Repent store ran out of his favorite breakfast cereal. So yeah, just let these guys pass and I’ll be going. You all have a blessed day. Oh, and had anyone seen someone by the name of, uh,” the angel paused, as if squinting at something, “Dead Winchester? No? Alright. Have a good day, then.”

    Virgil took his hand off Dante’s eyes, but the messenger had gone. “Um....” Dante muttered, for Virgil was still on top of him, looming just inches above his face. Blushing slightly, Virgil let him up.

    “Come on,” Virgil said, pulling Dante but the hand through the gate, which was flanked by fuming demons. “They don’t look too happy with us.”

    “I guess they’re not having a blessed day, then.”

    And so they arrived in the sixth circle of Hell, which consisted of a whole bunch of uneven tombs surrounded by fire, so that the people were being cooked inside like a barbecue. The smell was incredible. In a bad way. Yes, definitely a bad way. Dante wasn’t hungry or cannibalistic or anything. Promise.

    “Who are these people?” Dante asked. 

    “The heretics and epicureans. Heretics didn’t think the soul was immortal, but you know, this sure showed them. All their souls are being roasted. And the Epicureans thought they knew better than the church, so they made up their own beliefs. They thought they’d get all the pleasure they could out of life, because there wasn’t anything after. They were wrong, so now they roast,” Virgil said in a monotone.

    “Cheery, as always.”

    “Hey! Hey, Dante!” someone called. Dante looked down into one of the tombs. “Hey, man. You remember me?”

    Dante rolled his eyes. “How could I forget you, Farinata? You were the leader of the Ghibellines whom I totally hate.”

    “Right, right. I hate you too, if that makes you feel any better.”

    “It doesn’t.”

    “But you know what? I’m cool with that. You know why?”

    Dante sighed. “Why?” 

    “Because I’m a heretic and that somehow means I can see the future. And I see you being exiled.” Farinata smiled, looking extremely pleased with himself. “Yep, Dante the great. Exiled. Ha!”

    Dante gave him a flat look. “Yeah, well, what else is new? It’s all old news, bro. I’ll be going now.”

    “Waaaaiiit,” another voice called. “Did someone say Dante?”

    “Calvacante de’ Calvacanti!” Dante replied, moving over to the adjacent tomb.

    Virgil frowned. “Is that really his name?”

    “Unfortunately. Childhood was a tough time for him.

    Calvacanti grinned. “Dante, old friend, old buddy, old pal! How’s it going? Hey, you have any news on my son?”

    Dante hesitated, trying to remember who the heck Calvacanti’s son was. He knew he’d been introduced at some point... To cover his lapse, Dante gave a superficial smile.

    Calvacanti’s face fell. “Oh God. You’re hesitating. He’s dead, isn’t he? MY GUIDO IS DEAD!!” he cried, then fainted.

    “Oops,” Dante said. He glanced at Virgil. “He’s not actually dead, I just forgot who his son was...”

    “Smooth,” Virgil said, eyes crinkling.

    “Yeah, nice one,” Farinata added. 

    “Oh, can it, Farinata.” 

    Dante looked at his unconscious friend. “So...I guess we should wait for him to wake up, huh?”

    “Yeah,” Virgil replied. 

    “I wonder how long that’ll take.”

    “You could always go try to make civil conversation with your friend over there,” Virgil said, pointing at Farinata and laughing.

    Dante looked disgusted. “Aw, can’t you wake Calvacanti up? Don’t you have like ghostly smelling salts or something?”

    “No.”

    “No ghostly bucket of water?”

    “I’m a shade, not a ghost.”

    “No shadely bucket of water?”

    “No.”

    “But don’t you-”

    “No.”

    “I didn’t even-”

    “But he is waking up.”

    “Oh,” Dante said. “Hey, Calvacanti, your son’s not really dead. Sorry about the confusion. Guido’s a cool poet dude like me. Having a good time up on earth.”

    “Oh, thank the sweet baby you-know-who,” Calvacanti said, so relieved that he fainted again.

    “Well, we better be going now. Enjoy your sauna, Calvacanti. Burn in hell, Farinata,” Dante said.

    They continued on until the burning bodies smelled so bad that Virgil couldn’t take it. “I can’t go any further. It smells worse than all those Roman people who bathed like once a year. Let’s give our senses a chance to adjust.”

    “Ok, whatever.”

    “Oh, this is a good time for a lecture,” Virgil said happily. “We’re going into the seventh circle which has three parts, violence against neighbor, self, and God, all in three different rings. Then, we get to the really bad stuff like fraud in circle eight. Then, we get to the REALLY bad stuff like fraud and treachery of the worst kind. That’s in circle nine. So you’ve got that to look forward to.”

    “Great. Wait, so if we’re just getting to the ‘bad’ stuff now, what has all this been up until now?”

    “Incontinence. It’s relatively not that bad. You saw the leopard. Was it that scary?”

    “Guess not.”

    “Yeah, well here comes the lion and wolf, brotha.”

    “Yay,” Dante said unenthusiastically.

    “Ready for circle seven?” Virgil asked.

    “Am I ever,” Dante replied with false sincerity. And in they went.

    In the seventh circle, the violent against neighbor folks came first. Before that, however, they ran into a gigantic half-bull, half-man minotaur. He was big and scary and Dante didn’t have his ballpoint pen with him. He looked at Virgil.

    “Run?” Dante asked.

    “Run,” Virgil agreed.

    They ran. For a long time, they kept going until the minotaur had faded into the distance. Stumbling over their own feet, they skidded to a stop in the relatively safe area of the bank of the Phlegethon, the river of fire. It was steaming and boiling red, as one might expect a river of fire to be. Then, a horde of centaurs thundered over, Chiron in the lead.

    “Hey! Chiron!” Dante called. “How ya doing?”

    Chiron looked at him. “Why are you people here? You’re alive.”

    “You bet I am,” Dante said proudly.

    “Hey, guys,” Virgil interrupted. “We’re on a mission from God. Can one of you guide us across the river?”

    They all looked at the poets with disgust. No one offered. One of them said, “Make Nessus do it.”

    Nessus sighed. “Fine. I’m always doing your dirty work.”

    “Heh, ‘dirty’ seems accurate,” one of the other centaurs muttered. Nessus glared.

    “Oooh, can I ride on your back?” Dante asked. Nessus sighed, but let him climb on. 

    “Hope you’re happy,” Nessus said, giving the other centaur another glare.

    “I liked Hercules,” the other one complained. “And you raped his wife and caused his death. Now, go take care of these humans.”

    “Fine.”

    They set off and Dante leaned down to Virgil. “So, you mean I’m riding on the back of a half equine rapist and murderer?” he asked.

    “Yep.”

    Dante’s stomach turned. “I’m not sure I want to ride anymore.”

    “Tough.”

    From his perch on Nessus’s back, he looked out over the Phlegethon where people were bobbing in the boiling red blood-like water, screaming and moaning. He assumed they were the violent against neighbor. The centaurs were using them as target practice.

    “They shoot them when they try to come too high for the degree of their crime,” Virgil explained.

    “Fair enough.”

    “There was an earthquake down here the last time You-Know-Who visited,” Virgil threw out there, entirely randomly.

    “Cool,” Dante replied absently, too busy trying to work out just how a horse would go about raping a woman to really listen to Virgil.

    “Get off me,” Nessus said. “We’re here.”

    “Thanks for the ride, pony-man,” Dante said.

    Nessus glared again and trotted off. Dante looked around and found himself in the Wood of Suicides where, uh, the suicidal were. And the ones who destroyed property and thus ruined their lives. They were called prolifigates.

    There was no path through the forest, and all of the foliage was black. The bushes held thorns instead of fruit. All things considered, it was a generally depressing scene. Dante heard some wails of agony, but he couldn’t tell where they were coming from.
    “Break off a branch,” Virgil advised.

    “Huh?” Dante asked.

    Virgil nodded to the nearest tree. “See for yourself.”

    Dante broke off a branch and the tree screamed.

    “OW, DUDE, NOT COOL. That hurrrrt,” he whined. 

    “Um....” Dante replied.

    “It’s bad enough that the harpies fly around and break off our branches, but you too? I thought better of you, man,” the tree said. “I thought that when Minos planted us here, the separation of our souls from our bodies forever was the worst thing that was going to happen, but he didn’t tell us that we couldn’t talk unless we hurt ourselves.”

    “Isn’t that what you did in real life?”

    “Well, yeah, but...” He suddenly fell silent. Dante broke off another branch. “OW. Thanks, man.”

    “Sure.”

    “The name’s Pier della Vigna, by the way. There’s some irony about the fact that my name means ‘vineyard’ but I can’t grow fruit. Hey, you’re a poet, right?” the tree prattled on. “Me too. I wrote sonnets. But then I opposed the emperor and things went bad, and I killed myself.”

    “Hey, me too!” Dante said. “Well, not the killing myself part, but the whole opposition of the dude in power.”

    “Treason for you too, huh?” 

    “Yeah, I was exiled.”

    “I killed myself first.”

    “Nice.”

    “Don’t do that.”

    “I won’t,” Dante promised. 

    “Yeah, because after judgement day, our bodies are going to be hung over our trees, and that’s just weird.”

    “Yeah, it is. Well, nice chat. See you!” Dante said, moving on through the forest. He passed some dogs chasing a group of Prolifigates and breaking off branches of trees. That didn’t look fun for anyone involved.

    So then Dante and Virgil came to the edge of the forest where there was a sad little bush. He was sad for many reasons, the first of which was the fact that he was a bush. Who wouldn’t be sad if they were a bush? Especially when all of his little suicide buddies were trees and he was just a sad, lonely bush.

    It was sad. 

    The second reason that this bush was sad was because someone had come along and broken every one of his branches off. Now the bush didn’t think that was very nice to begin with, but then that nasty person had scattered his broken branches all over the place. 

    That was enough to make any bush sad, and rightfully so.

    “Hey, dude, wassup,” Dante said as he walked by.

    “I’M SO SAD,” the bush wailed. “I’m also a Florentine. Just throwing that out there. Other than that, I’m unnamed and not even supposed to be talking to you right now, but whatever, if I break the rules, what are they gonna do? Send me to hell? Break all my branches off?” he laughed bitterly.

    “Yep, you’re already here,” Dante agreed. “Hey, I’ll help out a fellow Florentine buddy. Want me to gather your sticks?”

    “Would you?” the bush asked incredulously. “You’re the best, dude!!!”

    “No problem.”

    Dante looked past the edge of the forest. “Woah! Is that a plain of burning fire?”

    “Well it’s not made of burning fire, but burning fire is raining on it and coming up from the sand like a grill,” Virgil clarified. “Besides, isn’t ‘burning fire’ kinda redundant?”
    “Fight me.”

    Virgil gave him a look, then continued, “You wanna go out on it?”

    Dante shrugged. “I’ll pass for now, thanks.”

    “Okay, let’s stick to the edge of the forest, then, ‘kay?” Virgil said.

    Dante nodded and they set off. He saw that some of the sinners were running around in circles, flailing their arms like chickens on fire, some were sitting on the sand with money pouches around their necks and some were laying on the sand. They had it the worst, with the fire from above and below.

    “The ones running around are the sodomites, or homosexuals,” Virgil said. “Don’t even get me started on that. It’s a brain connection or lack thereof that causes homosexuality, it’s so not their fault; it wasn’t their choice. But that’s beside the point. The ones squatting are the usurers. Apparently they ‘grew money’ which is weird and unnatural. Like, I don’t even know how that happens. Then, the ones laying down are the blasphemers.”

    “So we’re in the round of the violent against God, then?” Dante asked.

    “You really are slow on these things, aren’t you?” Virgil asked dully. “Yes. Seeing as we just passed the first two rounds I told you we were going to pass - violent against neighbor and against self, since you probably forgot already - then yes, this is the third and last of circle seven.”

    “Oh, cool. Is that what circle we’re in?” he replied absentmindedly.

    Virgil pinched the bridge of his nose. “The eighth circle is really going to do you in.”

    “Why?”

    “Never mind. Look! There’s a sinner. His name’s Capaneus.” Virgil pointed to a big dude laying on the sand. He shook his fist towards heaven.

    “I HATE YOU, GOD! YOU DON’T REALLY EXIST, YOU’RE A SILLY FIGMENT OF THE IMAGINATION!” he screamed. 

    Virgil gritted his teeth.  “Man, that guy and his blaspheming really gets my goat.”

    “Erm...okay,” Dante said. “How about we just move on, then?”

    “Good idea.”

    They moved on until they came to another branch of the boiling Phlegethon river. There was a ridge of stone around it where the boiling river somehow made the sand harden and not burn anymore, and the raining fire was quenched by the steam.

    “We’ve got to walk along this thing,” Virgil said.

    “But I don’t wanna,” Dante complained.

    “But we have to. How else are we going to cross the burning plain? You want to walk through the flames? Be my guest.” Dante didn’t want to walk through the flames. He followed Virgil, properly chastised. Still, he couldn’t help but complain. It was just in his blood.

    “But I’m tired. And you haven’t given me food in like three days or something.”

    “Suck it up. Let’s go,” Virgil said.

    “But- Oh, hey, is that Ser Brunetto Latini?????!?!?!?!?” Dante asked excitedly. “OMG. I’m, like, his biggest fan!!!!”

    Dante took off on the rock ledge to try to catch up to his running idol. Virgil followed behind grumpily, muttering, “I thought you were my biggest fan.”

    Dante was too far ahead to hear. He flagged down Brunetto. “Hey! Brunetto! I’m like in love with your work. Your Treasure book?” Dante clasped a hand to his chest dramatically. “I’ll admit it. I fangirled.”

    Brunetto seemed extremely happy to hear this. “Oh, how nice! Come, walk with me. If I stop, I have to lay on the sand for, like, a hundred years. Literally.”

    “Sure!” Dante said. “Anything for you, Brunetto! Gosh, I’m surprised to find you here.”

    “Yeah, well, punished for my brain connections,” Brunetto said, rolling his eyes. He added sarcastically, “Because I definitely chose to be homosexual.”

    Dante shook his head sadly.

    “Hey, you know that there’s a prophecy that you’re going to be exiled?” Brunetto asked Dante.

    “Yeah, I’ve heard about that,” Dante replied. “I’m not concerned. If they exile me, so be it. I’ll keep Pope-bashing ‘til I’m dead.”

    “That’s my boy,” Brunetto said with a grin. Virgil scowled and dug his toe in the dirt.

    “Well, I best be going and you’re running out of rock,” Brunetto said. “When you get back to the upper world, remember me and my books, won’t you?”

    “Of course, bro!” Dante said. “See ya!”

    When Brunetto had run off, Virgil folded his arms and scowled.

    “What’s got your toga in a twist?” Dante asked with a snicker.

    Virgil frowned. “Nothing,” he said sulkily. “Have a nice chat with your friend?” 

    Dante missed the jealousy. “Yes, thanks.”

    “Great, because now we’re going to circle eight which you’re just going to love.” Virgil seemed to take a strange delight in this.

    “Can’t we talk to those politicians first, so that I can talk to them about our shared political views?” Dante asked hopefully.

    Virgil sighed. “If you must.”

    “Great, be back in a sec.”

    Virgil didn’t feel like tagging along for another Florence-fest, so he waited. Kidding, he might have gone. He probably went, just to witness yet another  conversation in which Dante fills these random sympathetic politicians in on what’s been happening in Florence. 

    On the way back, Dante ran into the Monsters of Fraud which were described only as terrifying. 

    Dante was duly terrified.

    “Okay, are we ready to go yet?!” Virgil asked, back on the rock.

    Dante sat down, crosslegged and grinned. “Tell me a story first, pleaaaassseeeeeeeee!”

    “No,” Virgil said. “We’re in the middle of Hell. This is not prime storytelling atmosphere.”

    “PWEAAASSEEEE!”

    Virgil sighed. “Fine.  But it’s gonna be about Hell.”

    “Tell me about the rivers.”

    “Okay. So when the titan dude who was king of the titans - Saturn - had some kids with this chick named Rhea, it was prophesied that one of his kids would usurp him. So, in vain, he tried to circumvent the prophecy by eating his kids.”

    “Gross,” Dante commented.

    “Totally. Anyway, Rhea decided to trick her husband and whisked her little baby Zeus to the island of Crete. That’s where that part of the story stops, so I really don’t know why I bothered telling it when I really could’ve just started with, ‘So on this island in Crete...’, but whatever,” Virgil said. “Anyway, on this island in Crete, there’s a statue of an old man with a head of gold for the Golden Age of Ignorance, a chest of silver and arms of bronze to symbolize the deterioration of humanity. It’s got a terra cotta leg for the Roman Catholic church and its fragility and an iron leg for the Holy Roman Empire. It’s facing the east, the future of the church, and has its back to the west, the past and the origins of the church. 

    “It’s cracked everywhere except the head, because humans were okay in the beginning, and from this crack, tears flow. Though why they’re tears, I have no idea. Since they’re not coming from the tear ducts, I’d assume that it was just water flowing, but hey, I didn’t write the story. These tears somehow make their way to the underworld where they form the Styx, Acheron, Phlegethon and they all go together to form the Cocytus. Got all that? Great, let’s go. On to circle eight!” Virgil said. 

    “Erm, I’m kinda lost, but whatever."

    To get to circle eight, Virgil insisted that they ride on the back of Geryon. Geryon was this huge half reptile, half unnamed beast with a scorpion tail and a man’s face. He was pretty threatening. How did Dante feel about riding on his back? Hella scared, surprisingly enough. He was pretty relieved when they were dropped off on the next circle, but then remembered he was in Hell and he shouldn’t really be relieved to be going deeper. During the ride on Geryon, Dante was a little melodramatic and compared himself to Icarus. If there was a soundtrack to Hell, it would currently be simultaneously playing, “Icarus (Bourne on Wings of Steel)” by Kansas and “I’m Scared” by Brian May. But that’s not the point. Not really.

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