Warning: This story mentions key figures of Christianity from a very pissed off non-Christian's point of view. Some may find this offensive.

The Ferryman's Tale

The Crucified Son could not destroy us. Neither could his father, nor his imaginary friend. But they made our lives difficult; the gods require nourishment in the form of worship, and without it, they starve. It is worse for them than for mortals: mortals eventually die and escape their misery.

Others, we immortal servants of the gods, had to find new functions. As long as some souls believed, as long as some mortal envisioned his trip to the afterlife as crossing a river, I was employed, myself and my boat and my beloved Acheron.

But eventually even those souls died off, and I was left with a rotting boat and a dying river and a future of eternal boredom. Still, I refused to go begging to Jehovah, the way so many others had. (The number of demigods who offered to impersonate Satan for mere crumbs from Jehovah's table is embarrassing.) Jehovah had his own ferriers of souls, his angels, his reapers. He did not need me, and I could face boredom. All I had ever done was sit in my boat and wait.

I was Charon, ferryman of the underworld. No upstart Judaean war god and his half-mortal spawn was going to change that.

Mortals like to believe that the Crucified Son is meek and mild, but the boy has a temper. And when he decided that he was going to have the Ferryman at all costs, it was I who paid. I refused all his offers, and he cursed me, knowing full well that the Olympians were too weak to protect me. Immortals can only resist gods, not change their actions. We have no powers of our own.

He twisted me into a creature forced to obey his rules. No more the egalitarian nature of Charon, in which everyone was ferried to the afterlife, but only the Crucified Son's anemic idea of "righteousness." I could only capture souls deemed sinful by his rules, and worse, I was made to entrap them, spinning tales of gold and treasure and letting their own avarice damn them. Because I was so attached to my river, he banished me to the sea, to the bitter salt where no mortal lives for long, only allowed to touch land when necessary to acquire new ships, new souls. I was to bring him, and his co-conspirator Satan, souls for the by the shipload for the rest of eternity.

But my gods were not entirely powerless. Aphrodite, born of the sea, still held some power, and would so long as she was invoked by mortals, either by admiration for beauty or in the poetry of love or for luck at dice, and many of the Crucified Son's otherwise devout followers still did. All she could give me was a chance of escape, but that was enough to prevent my becoming as twisted and perverse as the Crucified Son himself. Hope, as even Pandora knew, is that powerful.

Not for eternity must I serve him, but only until a woman, the final survivor of one of my gruesome tasks, chose to come to me willingly, knowing the truth of who and what I am. A slim chance, in those dreary centuries where civilization knew hardly anything but Jehovah, when women seldom came to the sea, but better than no chance at all. And it has fattened these last years, as the world rediscovers all that the Crucified Son's followers tried to destroy, as souls unfulfilled by his black-and-white rules seek old ways and old gods and make them new again. The starvation of the Olympians has faded to famine; Aphrodite's power increases, weakening the Crucified Son's bonds. The sea is no longer the sole provenance of the male, and the women who sail it are no longer incapable of survival on their own.

I chose them at random, as I always do. There is no pattern; if one crew should resist my lure, I simply move on to the next crew, as I threatened to do so that Murphy would agree to let me aboard. I did not even realize there was a woman on Murphy's crew until after I introduced myself. But once I did...

I watched Maureen; I could not stop. She was strong and intelligent and a survivor, and I knew she was the sort of woman Aphrodite had had in mind. I hid the first flickers of hope in awkward flirtation, pretending confusion that any such woman would be on a boat such as the Warrior, as much to make her reveal more of herself as to make the crew dismiss me as a useless dilettante, which is always necessary to the early stages of the ruse. Thwarted hope as much as thwarted planning made me protest Murphy's decision to leave me behind when they first scouted the Graza—and then I saw the hint of softness towards me, as I offered her a jacket and listened to her story of an apparition.

I watched her, gauging her reactions as I killed her friends, as I was compelled to; Santos, Greer, Murphy, Munder, Dodge. I had hoped to explain in my own time, but Katie, the innocent-souled brat, reached her first, tainted her mind with the horror of the Graza's final voyage. Murphy's death crystallized her resolve. My lips told her the lie that my curse forced me to tell, of a life of evil and an eternity of punishment, while my mind prayed to Aphrodite for the first time in two thousand years.

Maureen banished me to the salt. Not only that, but she freed the souls I had worked forty years to snare, and I laughed as I watched them rise.

For days she drifted, drifted in the water, drifted in and out of consciousness, unaware of my lurking presence. I warmed the cold waters that surrounded her so that she would not die of hypothermia, warned away curious predators lest she wind up in a shark's belly, pushed her toward the cruise lanes when she slipped into unconsciousness. When finally a ship approached, it was I who attracted their attention, firing nonexistent flares into the sky.

She was the first hope I had glimpsed in centuries. I was not about to let her slip away.

But the curse called, and once she was safely aboard I had no choice but to obey it. It dragged me through water and air back to Anchorage, where I had no choice but to make friends among the stewards waiting to board their new ship. I lured them with promises of wealth and stolen gold, while whispering into their minds all the ways they could increase their shares, and all the time I felt her presence, edging steadily closer to Anchorage.

I timed our arrival precisely. Paramedics were loading Maureen—my Maureen—into an ambulance as we climbed the gangplank.

See me, I willed her. See me and know what I am.

In the second before the paramedics slammed the door, she did.

She screamed desperately, trying to get someone's attention, but who would have believed her? There have been other survivors, and none has yet been believed.

But the survivors always return to the sea. They always believe they are capable of stopping me. Their obsessions sometimes become so deep that they qualify as sins in the Crucified Son's eyes, and they become eligible for claiming. Many have fallen on the second encounter; none has survived the third.

She will return to the sea, return to me.

Hope strengthens me. The gods grow stronger. There are more survivors, more escapees. The Crucified Son grows angry, but cannot punish me as once he could.

When she returns, she will free me.

the end