Name: Joe Bonadonna
*Who are/were you? Tell us about your life before you came here, and after.
My name, it is Quasimodo. In life, I was once crowned Pope of Fools, for I was and still I am the most ugly and misshapen cathedral bell ringer of them all. The Hunchback of Notre Dame . . . that is who I was and what I am now and forever more. The story, as I was later to learn, is that I was born to a Gypsy tribe, deformed at birth as if possessed by the Devil. My parents switched me with a normal baby girl . . . the one and only Esmeralda, of whom you will know from that most famous novel written about me. Her own bereaved parents had me exorcised, and later they abandoned me, placing me on the Foundling’s Bed of the cathedral. There was I discovered by the Archdeacon himself, Claude Frollo, who raised me, gave me what little education I have and then, when I was old enough, appointed me to be the bell ringer of Notre Dame. I was his foundling, his slave, his whipping post, and his accomplice in many acts of a nefarious nature.
My life, such as it was on earth, was one of misery and hard labour, empty of joy and love and hope. And the pain I suffered, much physical pain, in spite of my great strength. But the bells which I loved so much . . . ah, the bells of my cherished Notre Dame . . . their voices made me deaf, which did much to further my alienation from the society. You see, I was shunned as a monster, a flesh and blood gargoyle, which is what I still am. In Hell it is, perhaps, a little better, for the sights one sees here and the things that exist in the nether regions make me look lovely by comparison.
There is a sculpture of me at the cathedral, on the exterior of the north transept along the Rue du Cloitre-Notre-Dame. I was found on and named after Quasimodo Sunday, the first Sunday after Easter. In Latin, my name means “almost the standard measure.” In other words, “almost human.” Most apropos, don’t you think?
* Why do YOU think you’re in Hell?
I do not think: I know exactly why I am here, in Hell. For my master Claude Frollo, Archdeacon of Notre Dame, I committed many sins and many crimes. But none were so bad as when I threw him to his death from the high places of my beloved cathedral.
Who are your friends/allies here?
Life is strange, the perfect example being that of how Esmeralda, with whom I was switched at birth, (almost a sister, you might say) . . . how she came back into my life so many, many years later. And that story, I am most certain, you know. But here, in Hell, the afterlife is, by far, more strange. Here I have many friends, namely Doctor Victor Frankenstein, the master I gladly and willingly serve. The fine creature he made of his own two hands and brought to life, Adam Frankenstein, is also my friend. And so are Galatea, his beloved; Mary Shelley, the author; the Hellywood actors Jean Harlow and Errol Flynn; Argus the shipbuilder, and so many, many more. I have searched and searched for my beloved Esmeralda but have never found her. It is my hope, it is my prayer that she is not in Hell, for she was no witch in life and was unjustly hanged.
Do you have any enemies here?
One does not exist in Hell without making at least one enemy. In my case, the enemies of Doctor Frankenstein are also my enemies, and for him I would risk even the mortuary of the Undertaker and all his tortures and torments. I love the mad doctor, you see — love him as a son loves his father, for he gave me a home at Goblin Manor, gave me work, and gave me his trust. His enemies, my enemies . . . he and I, or I alone, have dealt with them in one manner or another.
Pirates – is that a word you resent?
And why should I resent such a word I consider to be one of praise? Pirates often ruled their vessels in a most democratic fashion. They are neither prejudiced nor judgmental, and never have I known a bigot among them. But we, Doctor Frankenstein and I, along with our crew, did not sail from New Hell in order to commit the acts of piracy, per se. No, we sailed under the pretence of filming a movie about pirates. But in truth, we sailed in search of the Isle of the Damned and the secret passage out of Hell. We fought many a pirate on the way — airship buccaneers and submarine corsairs, not to mention monsters of land and sea few of us ever knew existed in Hell. Plus, we battled or tried to battle the unknown monster that haunted the Snark, our very fine ship, and preyed upon our crew. No, to me, being a pirate is a noble calling, and I, for one, would gladly sign on and go to sea again, with Doctor Frankenstein as my captain.
*Name and bio.
My name is Joe Bonadonna, formerly a musician and labourer, now retired and writing as much as I can. To date, I have published three novels: the heroic fantasy Mad Shadows: The Weird Tales of Dorgo the Dowser, published by iUniverse; the space opera Three Against the Stars, published by Airship 27 Productions; and the sword and sorcery pirate novel, Waters of Darkness, (in collaboration with David C. Smith), published by Damnation Books. For Perseid Press I have stories appearing in Heroika: Dragon Eaters; Poets in Hell, Doctors in Hell, and now Pirates in Hell. I have also written short stories for Griots: Sisters of the Spear (MVmedia); Sinbad: The New Voyages — Vol. 4 (Airship 27 Productions); and Azieran Presents: Artifacts and Relics — Extreme Sword and Sorcery, (Heathen Oracle).) At this time I am waiting to hear back from a publisher regarding my fourth novel, a sword and planet sequel to my Three Against the Stars; I have also submitted a short, space opera story to a new shared-world anthology. In addition, I do some editing on the side, and help out with the Blue Ribbon Arts Initiative, which provides art supplies, toys, games, and other things to children on the autism spectrum; this organization was founded by my friend, author Rebecca Miller and her brilliant, autistic son Max, also an author.
* Tell us about your story for this edition.
In the original Baen Books editions of the Heroes in Hell series, screenwriter/author Bill Kerby (The Rose, starring Bette Midler) created and wrote about the film industry in Hell. I’m a movie junky, especially the old Golden Age Hollywood movies, have some knowledge of the industry and have written 5 unsold screenplays. So Janet Morris, author, editor and series creator, suggested I resurrect the Hellywood film industry, even if it’s just for one story.
My story is called The Pirates of Penance. At heart it’s an old school, pulp-fiction adventure, but with all the tropes, pitfalls, horrors and irony that are unique to Hell. In this story I resurrect the film industry in Hell — or try to, at any rate. Basically, under the guise of filming a pirate movie in Hell, Doctor Frankenstein and Quasimodo, along with silver screen legends Errol Flynn, Jean Harlow, Douglas Fairbanks Senior and Douglas Fairbanks Junior, and a number of others, sail in search of the Isle of the Damned. This all occurs during a time of massive floods plaguing all the nether regions, and the island must be reached before the oceans swallow it up again. From the Isle of the Dead there is purported to be a cave that leads to Hades and up to an exit on Cape Matapan, an island off the coast of Greece. While Flynn is actually shooting a film he hopes to show to the world once they escape, the others are more concerned with escaping Hell. Of course, Hell being Hell, there are dangers and set-backs galore before they eventually reach the island, where things are not what they hoped they’d be, and the futility of their mission hits them with despairing realization.
What inspired you to use the character(s) you’ve chosen?
Well, when the project was first announced, I had just re-watched The Sea Hawk and Captain Blood, both starring Errol Flynn. The idea to use old, long dead film actors known for playing pirates in the movies — like Flynn, the two Fairbankses, Wallace Beery — and combine them with other historical figures, just seemed like a natural for me, especially because it allowed me to write another pirate adventure. The irony of Hell, the failure of one’s ambitions and projects in life as well as in the afterlife, plus the futility of lost souls, long dead and trying to escape infernity, as we call it, were all right there for the using. The tropes of Hell are amazing, the rules of the shared-universe liberating, rather than constricting. I was able to use those as to further the character studies amidst all the action, create new creatures, ideas, punishments and torments, and to play the ultimate joke on my cast and crew. I was also able to tie this into earlier stories of mine, adding to the overall arc to my characters, as well connect it to events that took place in Hell long before I came on board. It was a long and hard story to write, but also much fun and very rewarding for me, personally.
How did you become involved with this project?
About 4 years ago Janet Morris became aware of me through some articles I wrote for Black Gate online magazine and a review I wrote of Rogues in Hell. She sampled some of my own stories, and I guess she liked my style and, more importantly, my sensibilities, because she asked me to write for Hell. Having the right attitude, sensibility and feeling for Hell is very important, because Heroes in Hell, like Hell itself, is a very special, very extraordinary and unique series. The Pirates of Penance now marks my third appearance in the series. I also have one story in another Perseid Press publication, the heroic fantasy collection Heroika: Dragon Eaters.
What are you currently working on?
Mad Shadows II: The Return of Dorgo the Dowser; another story for Heroes in Hell; some editing for other authors, and hopefully, I’ll be involved in the publication of my fourth novel.
In these days of movies and video games are books really influential?
Not really, these days. I don’t read much because my time is spent writing and editing. I read in other genres from those in which I write, and I occasionally re-read classics of fantasy and science fiction . . . the books that originally inspired me. Very few post-modern films influence me. My best cinematic influences come from silent films and the Golden Age of Hollywood, between 1930 and 1950; it’s amazing what one can learn from the films made back then. I am not a gamer, so video games, computer games and such hold no interest for me. I played a lot of pinball and backgammon in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s, so many I can find some inspiration in those.
EXCERPT from your story.
Fading in through a muck-stained window, crimson light illuminates the laboratory of Goblin Manor. Doctor Victor Frankenstein stands there, gazing into the distance as the rising waters of the Lake of Tears threaten to flood New Hell. Dressed in red-flannel shirt, blue pea coat, canvas trousers and heavy black boots, he feels safe and secure high above it all in the Golem Heights — as safe and secure as anyone can ever feel in hell. With the seas and oceans of hell merging, with the Flux causing the always unstable geography of hell to become even more unstable, he wonders if all infernity will soon be flooded.
Turning from the window, Victor makes his way through a maze of tables sagging under a sorcerer’s sanctum sanctorum of crucibles and alembics, and a variety of scientific implements and instruments. Walls of blood-red stone bristle with electrical panels, toggles and switches. A few sputtering torches, set in iron brackets, illuminate the laboratory but cannot chase away the shadows hanging near the vaulted ceiling. Victor’s collection of gizmos and gadgets are as silent as the grave in which his mortal remains lie buried.
Frankenstein reaches his desk, sits in his chair and skims through a pile of reports from Hades, Gehenna and all over infernity. Rivers such as the Styx and the Lethe have either overflowed their banks or gone bone dry. Shorelines in one circle of hell or another have fallen into the sea, while in other areas landmasses have risen where before had only been open water. Even the great Sea of Purgatory has receded to such an extent that islands now poke their crowns above the surface. After the torrents of plagues cast down upon the damned by Erra and his Seven, Sibitti sons-of-bitches, Victor suspects the self-righteous bastard and his brood are responsible for the oceans threatening to swallow everything and everyone whole.
But Victor isn’t worried. Victor doesn’t care.
Victor has a plan.
He dons a stocking cap to conceal his brain, visible through the wire mesh that replaces the top portion of his skull, which had been removed by the Undertaker. It is Victor’s very own brilliant but tortured brain inside the head and body once belonging to Adam, the creature he assembled from parts of dead bodies and to which he had given life. Their brains had been switched by Merlin the magician, as part of a prior business agreement.
Still floundering in a private sea of guilt and sorrow over the part his vaccine had played in obliterating thousands of damned souls, Victor wishes he could remember the formula for his serum. But all his notes were destroyed when his Crapple Slablet crashed and burned; Satan himself then stole the vaccine and made sure Victor could never tell another lost soul about it. Soon afterwards, scores of black-market versions of the vaccine were being sold all over hell under various generic names to damned fools seeking protection against the ravages of the plagues sweeping the underworld. If he had even one drop of his vaccine, Victor would administer it to himself and go gently into sweet obliteration, all sins expunged in past, present or future.
A ship’s bell rings three times, echoing loudly throughout his quiet laboratory. He turns in his chair as a trap door in the stone floor pops open. A thick length of rope shoots into the air like a stage magician’s prop, standing stiff and straight without attaching itself to anything. The whistling of a sea chantey announces the arrival of Quasimodo, who emerges from the opening in the floor, climbing the rope as nimbly as he once scaled the walls of Notre Dame.
“Ahoy, le Capitaine Docteur!” the hunchback said in his quaint French accent. He gave Victor a sharp salute. “I ask the autorisation to come aboard.”
“Who taught you the rope trick?” asked Victor, rising from his chair.
Victor eyed his lab assistant with amusement. The hunchback sported white knickers, a flowery shirt open at the front, black shoes and a black Monmouth hat. He resembled Pip, from Moby Dick, although with his humped back he looked more a spawn of the infamous whale than the frail cabin boy. Victor noticed that Quasimodo’s clothes were dirty, torn and stained.
“It’s getting bad out there?” he asked.
Quasimodo gave a lopsided shrug. “No worse than it was when the plagues were raging, Docteur. Hell will forever be hellish, no?”