The great hall of mourning is but the domain of thick columns of smoke, interlaced with red flickers of light as eternal fires burned beyond. A constant moaning could be heard throughout eternity, for day and night did not apply to the afterlife, as did time. Distance proved to be an illusion, since the hallway seemed to stretch into forever, doubled-up on itself, and ended where all else started.
I’m standing on a small platform in the middle of Acheron, awaiting mine. I don’t have a bag, nor a scrap of clothing on my back. Standing as naked as the day I was born, and died, I listen as a gradual hush descended upon my ears, a silence borne of promise, of happening. Then, a soft rippling sound as bow sliced through murky waters. Groans of non-human origin as wood settled into a slower pace. The occasional thud as his long oar caught firm thresholds. Upon revelation, I did not anticipate the knowledge I have of him to be any different from what I perceived when his form finally coalesced as he emerged from the smoke. Like Hades himself.
His ferry already contained two other souls, bathed in white silk, despite the risk of soot discoloring. They’re sitting with their heads in their hands, rocking their upper bodies back and forth, back and forth. Slowly Charon steered his rotten boat towards the platform on which I waited, as if he had all the time his black heart could ever desire. Of that, we all had plenty. Draped in black silk that flowed about him as if enshrouded with smoke formed by his own inherent furnaces, etched through the fabric, I see a frail, pale-white skeletal body, punctuated by every rise and fall of his shroud. A great black beard ran from the top of his chin and seemed to fill the entire length of the boat, caked to the sides, which formed the seat on which his two passengers sat, swaying. Two black orbs adorned the sockets in which eyes should have been, and it felt like he could see right through me. It felt as if he could know be by just one black glance.
Despite the dry heat, I felt chills running up and down my body.
Extending a thin hand, covered with what looked like barnacles, and tipped with sharp, claw-like nails, he finally came to a halt against the platform. A piece of his boat broke away as that happened, bobbing on the surface, before a translucent hand, tinged with the red from overhead casting, snatched it, and dragged it down. There was a shimmer of a face before everything went dark again.
I looked at his extended hand, and wondered what he wanted. One of his passengers looked up with doubt on her face. She was quite beautiful, with blonde hair, and freckles. She pointed to the back of the boat, where I could see the shimmer of thousands of golden coins, a contradiction to its dull surroundings. I realized what Charon wanted, though I did not have any to give. I shook my head from side to side. Charon’s arm disappeared within his shroud, and he started to bear away from the platform with his oar. Analyzing the situation, I had but one option if I wanted to leave the platform.
I jumped into his boat.
Immediately after, there was a rush of air as Charon suddenly increased his boat’s speed, and I was flung backwards. Falling into his mound of golden coins, holding on for dear life, ironically, his speed only increased as smoke turned into solid buttresses that supported the red tinge above, which made it look solid, and about to fall down. The other two passengers held on, as well, their white silk garments fluttering like wisps. Charon, it seemed, was the only one unaffected by the speed, and stood firm.
Before long, Acheron merged with an even wider river, Styx, and all smoke disappeared. At the end of this new river, shimmering darkness held truth to what lay beyond the end of the murky tunnel. I could not fathom its darkness but to be something of an entity, solid as these new arched brick walls seemed solid, linked by a concrete beam running into it as if by the means of force. The boat’s speed dropped considerably, which would have relieved my erratic heartbeat had I still one to calm. Dull thuds could be heard as the journey became bumpy. I peered over what was left of the gunwale, and saw, to my horror, millions upon millions of bodies romping about, splashing water into the boat as they tried to acquire leverage against drowning, although I seemed to have lost the point. The moaning of their sadness tore through me, through what was left, and I almost followed them into the water. As long as their suffering affected me no more. As long . . .
“You should have brought a coin,” the blonde passengers said, her face sad and forlorn as she watched the other darkness approach. “Perhaps it will be better for you to stay here than go in there.”
I did not quite understand what she meant by that when Charon turned around, trailed by his silky shroud, and extended his barnacled hand. Again, I shook my head, and pleaded with my eyes. I did not want to go into the water. I did not want to join these masses, bemoaning the regret I felt. I did not want to be in there, remembering all that I have done in the forelife. However, before I could object, with a fast flick of his hand, I was in the water. I felt myself sink. I frantically searched for something to keep me above water as something grabbed hold of my feet, trying to drag me down. All there was, was slippery bodies. flailing bodies searching for a delay, struggling to stay above the surface. I watched as Charon gave a wicked smile, his chapped lips scraping against rotten teeth, those twin black orbs now looking down on me.
I smiled too.
- There Chairon stands, who rules the dreary coast –
- A sordid god: down from his hairy chin
- A length of beard descends, uncombed, unclean;
- His eyes, like hollow furnaces on fire;
- A girdle, foul with grease, binds his obscene attire.
- – Aeneid (Virgil)