I had not planned on taking the journey so soon. But there I was, no excuses, too late for apologies and way beyond looking back and wishing I had done things differently. Now I stood on the banks of an unknown river watching a strange old man pole a boat to shore.
The river was neither serene nor formidable. And, the silence was deafening.
The boat came ashore.
“My name is Charon. Do you have the coin?”
I finally realized what the putrid taste in my mouth was; a coin someone had placed under my tongue. I let it drop into my hand and held it out to the old man.
He took the coin and stepped from the boat. “You may now come aboard.” He dropped the coin into a large pocket on his dark, hooded robe. “You may sit or stand, it makes no difference to me.
I climbed onto the boat, moved to the bow and elected to stand with my back to the old man. I felt the boat slide into the water. The old man did not speak another word.
From some where in the darkness a sulfur stench stung my nostrils and made my eyes water. A fog rose from the surface and engulfed me like a warm blanket, but there was no comfort in it. Before me a dull orange glow of dim light shone but did not illuminate anything in between. Behind me a cavernous black void absorbed all glimmer of hope and seemed so dense no light could penetrate it.
Remarkably, my emotions were not rampant. I had none. There was neither hope nor despair, dreams or elusions of anything but this. My soul seemed as void as the darkness behind me and as endless as the view before me.
For a brief moment I thought I saw a man pushing something up a distant hill but I decided it must only be an illusion.
We rounded a bend and I saw an eloquent looking man on the river bank sitting at a stone banquet table. Tall, flickering candles lit the area around him. Even sitting, he seemed tall. If a man can be beautiful, he was. Even in the darkness surrounding him, his eyes glowed. I feared him which was the first emotion I had felt since arriving in this place. Then he smiled an inviting smile at me and motioned for me to come ashore. My heart raced.
And then the old man spoke once more. “They say the river Styx can heal every soul and give you strength you have never known. Achilles can attest to this. It holds neither cod now salmon, only magic. You must go ashore; it is your destiny… but remember, I will be waiting.” The bow struck the shore and I stepped out without question or hesitation.
“Sit.” The man at the table commanded and pointed to another stone seat across from him. My fear subsided and a calm came over me as I sat down.
“The River Styx is a desolate place to journey, is it not?”
I could not speak and I could not fix my eyes upon him so I stared out into the darkness wishing it would absorb me as it did the light.
He did not speak. He waited.
Finally I answered, “It is desolate, yes and it is not a happy place but the journey is a lonely one.”
“Since the dawn of your birth, was not your life the same?” It was a derogatory question, yet, he smiled.
His smile comforted me somehow, but I could not agree with him, “No, my life was filled with joy. There were lonely times, yes, but I was never doomed by loneliness.”
“Ah, what of those times when your loved ones were snatched from you? Were you not lonely and bitter then? Did you not question why and curse the cause that took them?”
Another emotion began to rise up in me, a compassionate anger. “Who was I to ask why? I was but a mortal man, ignorant in the ways of life. I was young and, yes, I was sad but I never doubted or questioned the reason.”
He smiled again but this time I felt no comfort in it. I could see deceit and my compassion waned leaving only anger directed towards him.
“And, what about those dark nights when you sat in a nearly empty room with no one to hold you or love you? Those were lonely time, I am sure.”
“Lonely, yes, but of my own doing. There was no one to blame but myself. Those nights and days were brought on by my own selfish decisions, I blame no one. You want me to believe you know me, but you don’t. You are filled with loneliness and deceit and you try to judge me by your own life.”
He rose from the stone, his beauty gone, his smile distorted and his anger boiling. “It is my place to judge you and my judgment is sound. I know you as I know all the downfalls of mortal man. You are weak and have no will of your own.”
“I am filled with will.” I shouted.
He turned his back on me.
“I am here, yes. Why, I do not know. But, whatever reason it is, I chose it somehow.”
He turned back to me. His eyes were on fire, his body as contorted as his smile and his face a hideous mask of torment. “I brought you here. It is my will to have you. I own you. You are mine.”
I stood up, fearless now and somehow filled with hope. “You may have brought me here and I may have to dwell here for eternity, but you will never own me. For all eternity I will challenge you for I have hope and I can see beyond the darkness. I know there is a better place than this.”
Fire lit the sky and thunder rolled all around me. The ground shook and he lifted his twisted arms above his warped head. Sparks flew from his finger tips and he moaned like a dying dog.
And then he shouted, the sound of which seemed to echo forever… and then it all faded to a mere whisper.
“Get out,” he tried to shout, “get out, you don’t deserve to be here. You will never know the gifts I have for you. Go.” And then he was gone.
I was exhausted. I looked out to the river just in time to see Charon poling his boat around a bend and disappear. All I could do was lay down and sleep.
When I awoke I could hear the song of a whippoorwill and the first thing I saw was a blue cloudless sky.