J Bov Explodes Rhetorically

The Boatman

Slowly, oh so slowly, the boat inched across the grey river, propelled with deliberate strokes from its grim captain’s pole.

Matthew peered over the side, staring into the murky waters, he flexed his fingers and was about to reach out when the boatman spoke.

“You can look, but I wouldn’t touch it if I were you.” He said, his deep voice reverberating through the wooden bench Matthew was sat upon.

He withdrew his hand and shoved it and its brother into the pockets of his jacket.

“That’s probably a better idea, yeah.” The boatman noted.

Matthew looked back the way they had come, seeing that the boat left no ripples in the surface of the water, and that the ferryman’s pole didn’t drip when it was lifted. This would have struck his as very odd, but he found himself feeling particularly accepting of most things right now. On the shore behind them he spotted people wandering up and down, some with their head in their hands, some just shuffling forwards while staring at the ground.

“Excuse me, sir.” He said to the captain. “What are those people doing?”

“First off, my names Charon,” The tall figure pronounced his name as ‘care-uhn’, “And those people are the poor buggers that couldn’t afford the boat ride.”

Matthew nodded.

“So they just walk up and down the bank for a hundred years. After that I can take ‘em free of charge.”

“Why a hundred years?” Matthew asked.

“Because ‘rules’ is why. I don’t make ‘em, I just follow ‘em.” Charon intoned.

After a while Matthew began to get curious again.

“So why can’t I touch the river? What river is this, anyway?” He asked.

“Look, I’m not saying you can’t touch it. I’m just saying it may not be the best idea. It’s Acheron, the River of Woe. Touch it if you like, but I’m not helping you if you do.” Charon kept his gaze centred ahead and kept up his slow, rhythmic rowing.

Matthew’s hands withdrew into his pockets yet again, and he shifted himself on the bench to make sure he was as far from the water on all sides as possible.

“Just be glad we’re not on the Pyriphlegethon and keep your hands to yourself. I’m not a bloody babysitter, I just drive the boat.”

For a long while nothing more was said. Matthew observed the landscape around him as Charon propelled them slowly down the river. Occasionally the boatman would point something out, in the manner of a tour-guide.

“”That’s the Cocytus.” He would say, pointing out a stream running alongside the river they were on. “Further down it meets the Acheron here in the Stygian Marsh.”

“Stygian?” Matthew parroted.

“Aye, ‘Of the Styx’. That stream there flows out of it, see, before it drops back into Tartarus, the Pit of Torment. Now there’s a bloke you don’t want to piss off. Nasty piece of work.”

“I thought you said it was a pit?” Matthew was confused.

“Yeah, he’s a pit, too. Lot of folks down here are a bit like that.”

Silence for a while, then;

“And this here’s the Acherusian Lake.” Charon told the air ahead of them.

The boat drifted gently out of the river mouth into a vast, dark lake. The waters were as still as the river had been, but looked much deeper. Charon was still talking.

“This is where most folks spend their time, waiting to be reborn.” He made an expansive gesture with his arm, holding the ferry pole in the crook of the opposite elbow. His hand swept all the way down until it was in front of Matthew’s face, palm up.

“It’s also where I ask for my payment.” He ended with a greedy grin.

Matthew fiddled about in his pockets a bit, jingling change noises filling the air.

“What do I owe you?” He asked.

Charon thought for a little while, staring off into the distance, then he seemed to make a decision.

“I don’t suppose you’ve got an obolus? A danake? No, nobody ever does these days. Where are you from again?”

Matthew indicated that he was from Ipswich with the appropriate apologetic air.

“English, right. So conversion rates and inflation make it… hang on.” He tapped his fingers on his pole as he counted in his head. “Eleven pounds.”

“Eleven pounds!? That’s daylight bloody robbery, that is.” Matthew was aghast.

“Well, you can afford it. It’s not like you’ll need it when you get where you’re going, anyway.”

Matthew rummaged through his pockets, muttering to himself. Eventually he fished the required money from his wallet and the surrounding debris in his pockets. He thrust it toward the boatman with a huff.

“Listen, just let me off on the bank here, I’ll walk the rest of it. Charging a bloody fortune for a boat ride, it’s ridiculous.”

With a shrug Charon gently bumped the boat into the bank and let Matthew alight on the shore. As he pushed back into the mouth of the Acheron he could hear Matthew still grumbling away to himself.

“Bloody rip off for a boat ride. Wasn’t even that interesting. Eleven quid!? I’ll give it to you, but you’ve not earned it. Didn’t even have sandwiches, and god forbid I get a cup of tea, eh?”

Charon shook his head, pocketed the cash somewhere in his ragged clothes and began the long, slow journey back up the river to collect his next fare.