It is I who carries them. The diseased, the comatose, the broken and the crippled. The murdered, the accidents, the suicides. I carry them all. My task is to bring them to the shores of the Underworld. Some call me the Grim Reaper, some call me the Angel of Death, but my true name is Charon the Ferryman. With my faithful dog Cerberus by my side, I transport passengers across the River Styx to the left bank where my master Hades and his wife Persephone gleefully await their arrival. This is my job and I would have no other.
You have, no doubt, read about Cerberus. The books will claim he has three heads and that he is a vicious howling thing. The books tell a grave lie! Nothing could be further from the truth! Cerberus is a magnificent animal, sensitive and loyal, the best companion any captain could wish for.
As you might imagine, I am overworked and underpaid, receiving a mere danake for each body I transport. It is with much effort I perform my tasks, lifting dead weight, often times nearly sinking my ship. All the while I myself am the sole oarsman, no help from another. I am old but strong. In the sweltering summer heat, in the dead of winter, I move decrepit flesh, withered limbs and wasted organs. All go to the kingdom of Hades. How the Lord and Lady love this, the game of new souls.
On some days Cerberus and I have literally thousands of passengers. In seasons of plague and famine my job is hectic, but the busiest of all is wartime. I am then given an endless shipment of bodies, wounded and maimed, all senseless deaths. Yet Humankind persist in foolishly killing one another, bickering over causes they cannot even define! Wartime is indeed the biggest failure of all humanity.
Now, upon the planet earth, it is ALWAYS wartime.
Often I enter hospital rooms and see to it that patients, once full of life, become no more than a flat-lined blip on a computer screen. I am the stopping of hearts, the stopping of lungs. I am the malfunction of digestive tracts. I am the ethereal glove that takes a soul from a coma.
Yet I do it all in mercy.
I am wise in my choices of whom I will transport. Discreet and selective. Yet I am not perfect. Sometimes I make a mistake, choosing one who is not yet ready for death.
Today there is one such as this. A youth, not more than seven years old. She lies on a hospital bed, the civilian victim of war’s crossfire. I am reluctant to take her. But her body suffers so! The doctors speak of amputation, for little her legs have been so disfigured. Her heart beats weakly. I cannot bear to see the poor thing in this state! And so, in my kindness, I take her.
Now, on my ferry, I can sense that the child longs to go back to the land of the living. She squirms, stirs in her sleep, flutters her eyes open. She cannot speak but I know she sees me. She sees Cerberus and I as we hover above her. Cerberus watches with soulful eyes. He whimpers, pleading to me. “This one cannot be taken. Not yet.”
It is always wise to rely upon the judgment of a dog. In the Underworld of reversed language, dog is actually spelled g-o-d. Cerberus is never wrong. I know instantly I have made a mistake with this young cherub.
Before we have reached the third bend in the river, right before the waterfall, I give the child a vision.
I show her a dark tunnel of which she is flying through, ever so slowly. At the end of the tunnel is a white light. Often times in a case like this, I will provide the deceased with the vision of a deity, one they have been taught to venerate. This may be a Christ or an Allah, a Mother or a Mountain. It makes no difference, for all are the same. But the child I now charm is an innocent. She has been taught nothing of religion, has no preconceived notions. I provide her only the vision of light, blazing in shades of star and ivory, beckoning her with pure love. Beyond this point all choice will be hers.
The child has a family. Parents and siblings that love her dearly. She is the youngest of five children. The family, Cerberus relays to me, would be devastated by her loss. Still the choice must be her own.
We reach the left bank. There Hades and Persephone greet us, beckoning us into their lush gardens where time has stopped.
My Lord and Lady watch closely as Cerberus leans over the child. She is able to pet him, although she still cannot speak. Hades and Persephone already adore the child, would love to have her in their kingdom, where she would never know war again. However, as always they leave the choice to the human. Cerberus then barks. The decision has been made.
* * * *
Upon the operating table of Hilldecker Children’s Memorial Hospital, a little girl flutters her eyes open. She is now conscious after a 24 hour coma. This child is young and strong, sustaining a multitude of injuries, but she will be healthy in time. The doctors determine she will need no amputations.
Once fully conscious, the child will tell a tale; there was a tunnel with a white light at the end. There was a journey , she will say, on a river with an old ferry captain. There was a lovely woman and a handsome man who greeted her on the river’s bank in a garden of colors, the like of which she had never seen before nor will ever see again in the waking world. She will tell the tale of a dog that brought her back to health.
The adults of the community will dismiss her story as a dream. Some experts of paranormal studies will take seriously only the part about the tunnel and the white light. It is easy, you see, for humankind to understand a metaphor. The light at the end of the tunnel. I, Charon the Ferryman, invented that very metaphor!
In time, a journalist will contact this girl and her parents. A book will be written describing the afterlife. It will be titled “The Afterlife: A true near-death experience.” (Or something similar. Dozens of such books have been written.) The book, however, will not be entirely true. It will be contorted and distorted to fit the needs of media moguls and the quasi-spiritual public. The book will become a best seller. A best selling lie.
None of humankind will know the true beauty of Hades kingdom, for this cannot be described in words. That is a memory that will be known only by the girl, myself, and all who enter the Land of the Dead.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Carry