On the Banks of the Styx

Waiting for this plane is like sitting on the banks of the Styx. I’ve already left the place I was at, but I’m not quite gone. Here, on the marshy riverside, I mingle with a thousand other departed souls. We are mostly silent, standoffish, clutching our denarii and waiting on the ferryman. He needs two denarii, you know. One he takes when you board his boat, and the other is a token of the journey.

I’ve crossed this river before, but like Orpheus, I keep coming back, trying to bring something with me. But I can’t. That’s the way it works, you know. When you step on that plane, you leave a whole world behind, an entire life with all its places and people. And when you step off on the other side, the universe is utterly transformed. You too are changed, into a figure that the old you knows only as a wraith.

Charon is slow today. I arrived early, and so I will be standing in my queue, letting the other ghosts go before me. I will spend the night here too, and that is risky. If I am not careful, I will wake up late and miss the boat. It is, after all, an early crossing.

I wonder what the other side is like. Dante assures me it is hell, but from those past lives I think I remember the Elysian fields, waving in the wind, like that scene from Gladiator.

Occasionally a loudspeaker comes on, barking like a three-headed dog, telling us who is permitted in the underworld and how they are to act. Because, we are told, this netherworld, this land between the lives, is dangerous. Who knows what might happen if these ghosts were given free rein, unbound by the boatman’s clock or the dogged regulations?

One thing I will say for this twilit land– the music is soothing. A little wearing after a while, but pleasant. So I settle in and chat with the other ghosts. It will be a long night on the banks of the river Styx.


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