A waking dream that I’ve probably also had while asleep at some point or, if not, that I probably will.
I stand on the banks of the river Styx, which I recognize immediately from the poetry which, for once, proves factually and not just metaphorically accurate. The water of the river is so black that it’s almost not even water at all, but the darkness of space, the void between the stars. There is no motion in that river. It is the end of everything.
I wait for a long time there. That’s fine, its not like I am in a hurry at the moment. It gives me time to think, time I never really gave myself before getting here. On the banks of the river Styx, there are no distractions. All you have is yourself and you know, looking at the infinite blackness of the river, that you might not even have that for very long.
Along comes the boatman, right on cue, looking as grim and gloomy as I expected. He is wearing his long black robe with the quintessential cowl that completely hides his (I imagine) hellish face. I am terrified, exactly as I was told that I would be. It’s rare to meet somebody who entirely lives up to their reputation.
Charon extends his hand with the bored ease of somebody who has done this a billion times.
“Um...” I try to speak, but I’m too afraid.
“Well? You gonna just stand there forever, dude?” He asks, tsking impatiently. “I gotta schedule to keep, ya know. Fuck, bro. It’s my ass handed to me if I’m late, Hades is not a chill dude.”
“Huh?” I ask. A wise and fair question.
“Hades! He’s my boss, and not the good kind. SO micromanaging!” Charon sighs again and pulls back his hood.
Far from the skeletal face I had envisioned, he turns out to be a rather attractive, clean shaven blond with freckles and gelled hair. Around his neck, under the robe, I can now see the popped collar of a polo shirt. Charon, ferryman of the eternal river Styx, is a fratboy.
“Anyway, dude, I’m not waiting forever. Pay up now or you can take the next boat. You won’t like that one.”
“I’m scared,” I admit, “Where will you take me?”
“Well, I’m not supposed to tell. It’s like some kind of metaphor about the mystery of death and all that. But, what the hell? If it gets your butt in gear... So I have you down for delivery to Elysium. Nice, right?”
“Dude, it’s like totally sweet! That’s where I would spend my weekends, if I ever had a weekend, and I never will cuz of the way Hades rides my ass like I’m his little bitch. But there’s like, a bunch of naked dudes writing poetry and wrestling all day and eating pomengrantes and shit and, like I don’t know, rubbing olive oil on each other. I mean, if you aren’t into that I can just leave you here, no problem.”
“No, no, that sounds fine!” I squeak, relieved, “To be honest, I thought death was going to be a lot scarier than that.”
“Well, yeah, most people do. Not like Hades wants everybody in some kind of big rush to get here, ya know? Anyway, just hand over the coins for your fare and we’ll jet.”
“I don’t have the coins,” I say hurriedly, “We don’t bury people with them anymore.”
He eyes me suspiciously. “Do you even speak Latin, bro?”
Ashamed, I shake my head.
I shake my head again.
“Whoa, whoa, whoa. Have you even read The Aeniad?”
“For a class, I did!”
He stares at me.
“Well, most of it,” I admit.
He keeps staring.
“In English...” I mumble, staring at my feet.
He rolls his eyes. “Dude, no offense. There must have been some mistake. I thought you were somebody else. Oh, here comes my guy.”
A gorgeous man walks up to the shore, wearing a nice red cardigan and handsome spectacles. He’s tall and quite muscular and walks with absolute confidence. He grins a devastatingly charismatic grin, pulls two shiny coins from his pocket, and says, “Dulce et decorum est,” in a deep, masculine voice with what is clearly a posh British accent.
“Dude, about time! I almost took this loser instead of you,” says Charon, “Get in, Elysium awaits.”
“Ah, sounds awesome, bro,” says the British guy, as he climbs into the boat, “Will there be olive oil and Latin poetry and lacrosse?”
“You know it, my man!” They do a fist bump and then Charon starts to push the boat away from the shore.
“I’m excited as I was at my first year of Oxford,” says the Brit, already stripping off his clothes in preparation for the fields of bliss, “Thank goodness for Magdalene college. A classical education really is the only one worth having!”
“Wait,” I shout at the retreating boat, “What about me?”
“The next boat is for you, bro!” Charon calls over his shoulder, “You’ll fit right in, don’t worry.”
I sit and wait in the quiet, the fields of Elysium now closed to me forever. And then I see it, the next boat, which has taken the shape of a Carnival cruise liner, and I know the fate that is before me. I am damned to the Purgatory of the Philistines, where I shall spend eternity surrounded by fat Americans sipping from Big Gulps and watching enormous TV screens that play only reality television and Larry the Cable Guy. Reaching in my pocket, I find to my horror that I have been carrying the fare for this journey all along: a Big Mac, dripping with cheese.
The boat moves very slowly, so I have a long time to wait and consider my fate. There’s a waiting room full of people working frantically on their brilliant novels and ground-breaking academic papers and not paying any attention to me. I sit, not wishing to disturb the quiet of the room, but somehow I knock against a lamp anyway, creating a sound wave that sends every disapproving eye in my direction.
And that’s the final straw. I stand back up and give everyone in the room the middle finger. “Suck my dick, assholes!” I shout, weeping. Then I run to the bank of the river and throw myself in just to see what happens. The first thing that happens is I die. I have no idea what happens after that.