Although she'd never been patient, Drusilla waited in the long line. There were mores to be observed and she very much didn't want to be left behind. She'd already paid her two coins. There had been some dispute about that but Drusilla had come prepared, having taken the wallet from her dinner in case it would be needed. She looked very carefully but didn't see him with the rest of the dead.
The ferry was much larger than she'd expected but of course it would have to be given the number of souls that departed each day. A wistful longing made her want to look back, to find someone to wish her bon voyage, but there was nobody who would approve of, much less celebrate, what she was doing. Still, it was only in leaving the dead lands that you couldn't look back. Even while crossing to Hades, you were allowed to review your life so, as the ferry abandoned the shore, she gazed behind at its wake, which was full of dead fish, and the seagulls that swooped down to feed off the chum. "Will you fall as well?" she asked the birds, wondering if following so closely behind death would harm them but they continued diving into the dark river.
Staring at them intently, Drusilla tried to intuit if they really were birds. She certainly hadn't been expecting anything so lively here in the gateway to the underworld. The stars would sometimes sing to her, the wind often whispered in her ear, but those birds stubbornly remained just that, mere birds.
She started railing at the birds, telling them they had to show their true faces, when someone yelled from behind her, shouting that passengers had to remain on the far side of the chain. Was he afraid the birds would swoop down and carry her away as well? Dru looked up, smiling, ready to greet her sister harpies but the sky was clear. Disappointment made her careless and when the man crossed the deck to grab her arm, she flashed into vamp face and growled at him. He screamed and scrambled away, tripping over his feet and falling on his back.
She put her finger to her lips and whispered, "Shhh," but more and more of the dead came out and started screaming as well. "This just won't do," she admonished them. The journey was supposed to be stately and dignified, not full of screams. There was only one thing for it. If they weren't willing to act formally, as required by the occasion, she would have to convince them to be solemn.
It turned out that the dead were as easy to kill as the living.
With no one at the helm to steer, the ferry drifted off course. Drusilla could sense her one chance to save her sisters drifting away with it. As tiny dinghies, full of loud noises and bright lights, pulled up alongside, Drusilla leaped off the deck into the dark water.
It was very quiet at the bottom of the river. Puffs of muddy water tripped up behind her footsteps, darkening her passage so that, if she'd turned back, she wouldn't have been able to see the few darting fish, the weeds that unexpectedly thrived at the bottom of that river, or the plastic and cardboard and Styrofoam detritus drawn there, somehow, from the living lands. The muddy water grew in both size and strength the further she walked until it twirled around her, darkening her way so that even she couldn't tell which way she meant to go. "No, I paid my two coins," she tried to shout but the water carried her words away until she understood that the payment only meant she was allowed to arrive by ferry and that the waters would never let her in without help.
She ripped off the sleeves of her mourning gown, which she had worn specifically to greet her sisters, and allowed her arms to sway in the current, pleading for help in the only way she could. As she spun at the bottom of the river, they writhed like snakes, like sea serpents, like the weeds she couldn't see dancing at her feet. The currents carried the dancing motions outward and away from her, drawing a distant light to her. The reflection of a star, mirrored in the water, she first thought as she set her dancing steps to trail after it but, when she caught up, she saw that it wasn't a star at all but a jellyfish. It drifted in the currents, unable to lead her any further along her path, but she no longer needed its help. Raising her eyes, Drusilla saw an ethereal glow, which could only be her destination.
Seeing how close she was, Drusilla took off her shoes and left them there, below the drifting arms of the jellyfish. One did not go shod in the dead lands. The river became shallower as she approached the shore and her head broke free of the dark water. Up ahead she saw a lighthouse, a beacon welcoming her as she stepped up onto the beach and left crisp footprints behind her in the sand. "You're much shorter then I expected," she said. "Why I could jump up and steal your light with hardly any effort at all but I don't need help to see in the dark," she added before turning her attention to the country before her.
Disbelief washed over her. It wasn't at all what she'd expected. So many buildings. She started to doubt she'd made it at all but no, that couldn't be true. The defenses of the dead lands were deceiving her, trying to convince her to leave before she'd found her sisters, but she was already dead herself and so could stay as long as she needed.
Knowing the dead would try to stop her, she wandered through the shadows of Hades, avoiding the streets, which were lit by artificial lights. She had no idea how to find her sisters. Given eternity it was possible she'd eventually run across them, even if she did remain hidden, but Drusilla began to fear that this was another trick, another way for the dead lands to stop her. She wouldn't be able to find help like she had in the water but then she heard the dragons roaring, oh so far away. Dragons always captured princesses in the fairy tales. Certain they would lead her to her sisters, Drusilla followed the sounds until she found the place where the dragons roared by, shooting out smoke as they made their terrible way, following Jacob's Ladder dark and straight and terrifyingly true against the stark white stones.
Drusilla dropped down at the edge of an invisible wall, curled her knees around each other, and shivered in the dark. She couldn't ride the ladder to Heaven but that was the only way to reach her sisters. She never knew how many eternities she'd spent there, watching the dragons ascending and descending at the gate to Heaven, afraid to reach out and grab the prize, knowing she wasn't pure enough until she remembered a pilgrimage she'd seen as a very young girl.
The three of them, Abby, Emma, and Dru had been sent to Ireland to visit Mummy's cousins. Abby, the eldest at ten, felt the weight of her responsibility and tried to make them behave but Dru and Emma had run off with their cousin Brigit to see the pilgrims climb the holy hill. Standing off to one side of the path, further than they should have run up by themselves but not so far that they'd get into any real trouble, Dru asked why some of the pilgrims were barefoot. When Brigit explained it was an offering to God and that their feet would be cut by sharp stones in the path as the climbed the hill, Emma started crying but Dru made a silent vow that someday she would be holy enough to offer up her suffering to God.
But I never got the chance, she thought, not before Angelus came and killed us all. With another, brighter thought, Drusilla looked up, her eyes alight with hope. I could make a pilgrimage now, one that would save my sisters. Raising herself up, Drusilla walked to the stony path. Avoiding the Jacob's Ladder, knowing its holiness would surely burn her up, she carefully placed her bare feet on the stones, close to the edge of the path, trying to feel penitent so that God would send a dragon to lead her to her sisters.
She walked on the bright, sharp stones between cool cliffs, eternal and silent, that rose to her right and tiny cathedrals, only two to three stories high, that alternated with the wilderness like beads on a string: the holy creation of God followed by a holy creation of man, trying to reach up to God, in endless succession.
The journey seemed endless and her musings on the presence of the cathedrals, which made that place seem more like a suburb of death than Hades, the actual land of the dead, distracted her from her penance. "Of course," she finally decided, "all those people who were buried in churches must live in them down here but my sisters weren't buried inside a church." Drusilla wondered where her sisters might be and how she would ever be able to approach them. Everything here was terribly holy. If she wandered from her path, she was sure to get burned. The path, she thought in horror as she stopped and looked at the bottom of her feet. They weren't hurt at all. How was she supposed to become pure enough to find her sisters if even the stones wouldn't pierce her skin?
Perhaps the Jacob's Ladder wouldn't burn her up completely but would only harm her enough to purify her. She stared at it for a very long time, afraid to touch it but more afraid that she'd never find her family. Finally she reached out, slowly, hoping that, if it was lethal to her, she'd be able to sense that before she touched it. Her hand drew closer and closer and then rested on the cool track.
Nothing. It didn't burn her. Was there no way she could purify herself? A priest had once told her she was a devil's child but no, that had been Angelus playing a game. Still, what if it were true? Someone like herself, driven by a demon, surely didn't deserve God's mercy. Tears welled in her eyes as she realized that holiness would always be out of her reach.
Turning away from the trail she'd been following, Drusilla looked up to see a star, blurred from her tears but twinkling against the dark sky. Her hand drifted up towards it but it was much too far away, so far she couldn't even hear its whisper. Certain that the star wasn't for her, she wiped her eyes and turned her gaze towards the cathedrals that housed the dead. She'd have to search for her sisters there but she didn't see a cathedral or even wilderness before her. There was a cemetery instead.
"Of course," she whispered. "They were buried in a cemetery so that's where they'd be living." She wandered through but saw only one large tree and elderberry bushes among the graves. "Jacob John Vandermeer, 1654," she read off of one of the tombstones. "You've been living here a very long time." She hoped he would come out of his coffin and speak to her, perhaps direct her to her sisters but nothing moved in the still air. Then she heard the music. Somebody was playing a piano, or perhaps a spinet. Following the sound, she saw one of those tiny cathedrals, only three stories tall, with pointed windows framed by scroll work, ornamental gables, but no leering gargoyles. She knew that gargoyles kept demons out of churches and was glad this one had none because she so wanted in, certain she'd find her sisters there.