Acheron

by Pierce Nahigyan

Tuesdays Morris would make the long hike up from the Field of Wailing to the bank of the Acheron. If the dead were light that day, Charon would park his boat and talk with Morris awhile. Most of his fares were weepers, and those too proud to weep generally sat silent or muttering in the bow. They were not much for conversation. The worst would try to attack Charon or overturn the boat. Those Charon quieted with a solid thump on the head, and having Morris at the bank to hand them off to made the work easier. As soon as they touched the bank they became like so much boiled water. And Morris wafted their vapors down towards the damp cavern of the Underworld.

Their dialogue always began light and friendly. Morris would offer Charon some grapes plucked from above Tantalus’s ever shivering brow, fill him in on the latest gossip concerning the Queen. Charon would nod and nod (this was his accustomed form of banter). When the hour lengthened Morris would turn the conversation to the river itself. How choppy was it today? Was it colder in the mornings? And then Morris would try to cajole Charon to ferry him to the mortal world.

“The mortal world is for mortals, Morris. If you returned you would be decidedly immortal. It would put you in dangerous company.”

Morris would not be swayed. “I shall bring you back whatever you like. Whatever you desire,” he promised. “Riches, a woman, two women, freedom even. Do you not wish for a single day without labor?”

Charon would push his oar into Morris’s pale hand. No matter how many times it slipped through like a broom through a cobweb, he reached for it still. “And will you relieve me today, Morris?” Charon asked. “Will you take this burden, in good faith? For one single day of respite could I trust you to row dutifully, morning to night and again, hearing the weeping and the bickering and facing the enmity of men, and ignore the promises of the beautiful and the oaths of heroes slain before their imagined glories? Could you bear it for a single hour? Would one day’s wages buy you an eternity in the sunlit lands when an eternity in Hades has not bestowed one day upon me?”

And Morris said no, very quietly. Then he’d say, “I’ll see you next Tuesday.”

And he would. In a week’s time, they spoke again, of the same doldrums, to unload the same wraiths, and to bicker and to depart. Even in Hell, that is what friends are for.

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