Hello all, as I mentioned in the last few posts I have been doing a writing "shoot-out" where we have a week to write a short story and then a week to score everyone else's story. I wrote this one for the last prompt which was courage. I really didn't have an idea, the prompt also said that we needed to write a meaningful story.
Any of you who have read my writing know that I don't write with a moral, or a meaning in mind. I write entertaining stories and if more can be read into then that is great.
Anyway, I don't really think this one is ever going to get published anywhere, it is missing a huge part of any story--conflict. There is practically no conflict, and what little there is, is barely dealt with but I did my best to mask that with a little humor. Anyway, that being said I actually got some pretty good feedback, so I'll let you decide if it is good or not. For your reading pleasure:
Across the River Styx
by Alva J Roberts
Charron sighed and scratched his dirty unkempt, beard. A family of fleas swarmed away from the invading digits, narrowly avoiding certain doom as their home of many years was destroyed. The father flea screamed curses and made a few obscene gestures at the demigod, but Charron barely noticed.
His thoughts were on other things, most notably his complete and total hatred of his job.
Though seldom seen at job fairs, escorting the souls of the recently departed across the River Styx into the afterlife was not a hard occupation, and it did have its plus side. The river was dead in every sense of the word. The oatmeal like texture of the water made it a breeze to oar across it. And he was outdoors, kind of, which was nice. And he met a LOT of interesting people, which would have been a plus had he been a people person.
But sadly, he was not a people person. In fact, he hated everything about people from the way they walked and smelled to the stupid way they talked.
“Oh, I am so scared. Where am I?” Charron mimicked out loud in a high pitch squeal. As he poled his boat back across the river.
“In terra conclusit os futuo tuum,” Charron said to the empty boat. It was his new favorite phrase, but it was still dangerous to utter to actual people. With the fall of the Roman Empire a few hundred years ago, it was a little safer to say, but telling someone that they were “In the land of shut your fucking mouth” could get him fired, no matter how elegant and sophisticated it sounded in Latin. And he didn’t want to lose his job; with the Celestial recession and all, it was a real rough time.
Three quarters of Olympus was out of work. People just weren’t worshiping locally anymore. Then you had your big super center divinities that would come into an area and put all the other divinities out of business and then jack up the piety. It made finding and keeping a job tough. For all its faults he had steady…well actually, very steady work. And that was something. But he dreamed of more.
Half way across the river he stopped and pulled out some leaves and slowly rolled them into a cylinder, which he placed into his mouth. A small flame appeared in his hand, his divine powers creating the flame from nothing. He raised the fire to the cylinder and he drew a deep lung full of smoke.
The nice Mayan fellow in feathers who showed him the trick of the tobac-co had told him it was only for ceremonial purposes, but he snuck off fairly frequently to the middle of the river, to have a smoke. He worked hard, and he was due a little break every now and again.
Besides, his shift was suppose to be over nearly a hundred years ago but there had been a mix up that fouled everything up. Apparently the guys over at Asgard Inc. had tried to start the Ragnarok the same day the Apocalypse was scheduled to begin. And to make a long story short, their little argument over who got to go first ended up turning into a full scale fist fight.
The whole thing ended with a lot of hurt feelings and Ares running away crying with a broken nose. So the matter was now tied up in litigation that was becoming even more complicated by all the layoffs. The trial was scheduled to end in 2012, but that was over a thousand years away.
Besides that, it was July, and he was sure that anyone who had ever come within a hundred miles of the River of the Dead in the middle of a heat wave would certainly understand his desire to destroy his olfactory nerves.
By the time his break was over and he made it to the shore, there was a huge crowd waiting. Apparently death waited for no man…or demi-god. His ferry slid into muck along the shore with a loud squelching noise. Before he said a word, the people started to swarm onto his ferry.
“Slow down. There is plenty of room for everyone. No, ma’am, I don’t know where your purse is. Trust me, you won’t be needing it,” Charron said. “You there, in the back, the one with all the chainmail, no pushing. This is not Valhalla; if you were trying to go to Valhalla you took a wrong turn at the last crossroads. The Valkyrie should have led you down the right path. You need to turn around and go back a few miles and take the left hand turn. Oh, yes, I will most certainly be giving the folks at Asgard Inc. a piece of my mind the next time I see them…”and so it went on, until everyone was seated in a more or less orderly fashion.
Charron took his own seat at the back of the ferry, careful to avoid eye contact with his passengers. The briefest glance and there was no doubt he would be subjected to twenty minutes of hearing about Aunt Marge’s surgery, or how the cousin in Carthage was doing, and small talk was the last thing he wanted.
But as he, rowed there was a slight shifting of passengers; suddenly, one of them was sitting fairly close. The man was covered in wounds: small wounds, large wounds, dozens of them all over. Blood covered his entire body. Only a few scraps of cloth hung on his ruined frame. One of his hands was completely gone.
He was sitting close enough that Charron began to feel uncomfortable about the silence, but he was so busy trying not to stare that it was hard to think of anything to say. He couldn’t deny his curiosity. After a little while longer, he decided to find out how the man got his wounds. But he had to be sly about asking; you couldn’t just come straight out and ask someone about something so personal.
“So...ah…how about them Vikings?”
“Yes, they were quite mistaken in thinking this boat would take them to Valhalla.”
“Yeah… so…um…how’d ya get all futuoier up? I have seen a lot of futuoier up people -- once I saw man that got attacked by a saber tooth tiger and ran away only to get trampled by a mammoth. He was pretty futuoier up, but mauris, you are really futuoier up,” Charron said.
“I am a hero. We were outnumbered and low on supplies. Rather than surrender, we charged bravely into the fray to fight our enemies,” the man replied, pride coloring his words.
“Really, and how’d that work out?” Charron asked. He had heard this story a time or two before.
“I died, but the bards shall sing of my bravery for all time.”
“Oh. Not to be a downer but um…did any of you survive?”
“Did the other side have a lot of respect for you? Very honorable, and all that?”
“The last thing I remember was someone pissing on my face,” the hero replied, his voice suddenly thoughtful.
“Oh. Well, I hope you don’t take this the wrong way, but I don’t think anyone is going to be writing any songs about you. I know it isn’t much help, but you probably should have just surrendered, then paid someone to write songs about your bravery. That’s how all the real heroes do it.”
“What do you know of heroes?” The wounded man turned away from Charron to stare at the chunky surface of the river.
“Actually, sooner or later I meet them all. Most sooner. Heroing is a very high risk occupation. And heck, some of them don’t even wait until they’re dead. I can’t tell you all the paperwork I had to fill out when Hercules came down here…”
“What is paper-wark?” the man asked as he turned back to Charron. He looked like he couldn’t decided if he was going to be sick or start crying.
“It’s well…very civilized…I am sure it’ll catch on upstairs real soon. It’s--“
“It doesn’t matter,” the man interrupted. “You may or may not be right about heroes, but we did win a great victory. The Rock Eye Clan will hold the mountains for all time,” the man said. The sick feeling disappeared from his face. He looked tranquil.
“Rock Eye Clan? You fighting the Snake Clan again?” Charron hated to ruin the man’s tranquility, but he did have a right to know everything.
“Yes.” The man’s brow furrowed.
“Hate to tell you, but you guys been fighting over that mountain for a very long time. I try not to talk to the passengers too much, but it seems like every generation or two I get someone from one of your tribes telling me they will hold the mountains for all time. I hate to break it to you, but the Snake Clan will probably be fighting your grandchildren for the land.”
“I am only twenty years old. I have spent my whole life training for war. I have no heirs.” The man really did look like he was going to cry now.
Charron swallowed a lump in his own throat. He really needed to remember not to talk to his passengers. He hated people.
“Sorry to hear that. So…um…them Vikings sure are something, huh?” Charron asked. His job really didn’t seem so bad, it could be worse. At least what he did mattered in the big scheme of things.