A/N A quick note on the text – the funky spelling/grammar IS intentional. If you're not familiar with Southern American speech, it helps to read the parts when the Ferryman (aka Mississippi River) speaks out loud with a Southern twang. Think Mark Twain and Huckleberry Finn.
The gentle sound of water lapping the shore woke him. Bright blue sky replaced the sleep-laden black as he opened one eye, then the other. Tall grass tickled his arms and neck as he turned his head, taking in his surroundings. Hazy shapes – trees, rocks, hills – began to re-form. He was beside a river.
America propped himself up with both elbows. He could see the river's wide expanse as it stretched away to touch the opposite shore. The air had a fresh, clean smell to it, like after a morning rain. America breathed it in, pushing himself up into a seated position. When was the last time he'd done this? Just sat by a river and let everything pass by? He couldn't remember. It was so quiet. Not even the birds sang. Only the breeze made the slightest of whispers through the leaves. America shut his eyes, listening. He thought he heard people talking, not close but maybe a few miles downstream, but then again that could have just been the soft whoosh of water flowing over river stones.
He opened his eyes again and was surprised to see a figure on a raft coming towards him.
The raft crunched against the sand as its captain guided it to shore. He pulled it onto the bank before ambling up the gentle incline towards America.
The seated nation could see the man wore a wide-brimmed hat and loose fitting shirt under a pair of faded blue overalls and was barefoot.
"Mornin'," the man waved. "Glad t' see yer up."
He plopped down beside America, took off his hat and fanned himself with it. "Shoo', it's gonna be a hot one today."
America nodded. The man squinted back towards the river. Lines crossed his weathered face, crinkling up with his eyes and around his mouth, but it did not make him look old. If America had to pick one word to describe this man's appearance, he would say he looked wise. And he couldn't shake the feeling that he knew this man.
"Where am I?"
"Oh, I 'spect somewhere 'tween Arkansas and Tennessee," the man shrugged. "Don't really care too much for the east and west of it. Only the north and south's what concerns me."
The man stopped fanning himself, giving America a sideways look. "Shoo' boy, don't you recognize me?"
America stared back, blank-faced.
"Aw hell, I 'spect not seein' as how you ain't visited me since yer trek westward. I'm the Mighty Mississippi! Don't tell me you don' recognize Ole Blue!"
America's face broke into a wide grin. "Dude! Oh my God! Like, I haven't seen you in years! So how've ya been?"
"Oh, fine I guess. These old bones're still running so I can't complain."
"Whatcha been up to?"
"Same ol' same ol'. Takin' folks where they need to go and what not."
Blue squinted back across his river. America followed his gaze and in the distance he can see some figures gathering around the edge of the banks.
"Looks like you got some visitors."
Blue dropped his gaze, donning his hat. He hugged his knees to his chest, resting his chin on them.
"Don't care too much for the east and west…" he mumbled.
"Look, son, we ain't got much time 'fore I gotta pick them folks up. You remember at all how you got here?"
America furrowed his brows. Flashes of red and sky-blue pop in his mind.
"My plane," he whispered.
"That's right. Anything else?"
"…I was doing a trial run. England and Canada were there and – where you there too? Did you my sweet barrel roll?"
Blue shook his head. "'Fraid not, son. You remember anything else?"
You're just a screw up.
They all hate you.
Blue nodded. "You know why?"
"I was listening to it again. That voice. And I thought it may be right this time." America buried his face in his hands. "God I suck! Why do they hate me?"
"They don't hate you, son. They jus' don't understand you. You were born from fightin', so that's all you know. But you can't approach everything all guns ablazin'. You may be strong, but yer still young, yet. Them others been around centuries longer'n you, so they almost forgot what it's like. They had their days of empire buildin' only to get chased back to their own lands again. But you, you never had that. Hell, you were born a colony! And then you got this crazy notion in yer head 'bout expansion. And it may have worked back then. But now's a whole new ball game. Folks don't appreciate you comin' in like you own the place. I'm gonna tell ya something: You can't police the world forever. It wears on you. That's why you been havin' them spells with that voice o' yours. They can take care o' theirs jus' like you need to take care o' yours. Yer at a crossroads now, son. You can go back and try t' fix it or you can be the same ol' America."
America was twisting blades of grass in his fingers. "…You're right, Blue. I need to fix this."
Blue smiled, clapping a hand on America's shoulder. "That's what I thought, kid. C'mon, I'll take you back across."
They went down to the raft, America helping Blue push it back into the water.
He sat on the edge, feet dangling in the cool waters while Blue guided it across with the raft pole.
The afternoon heat covered the once blue sky with a milky haze. America loved summer days like this in the South – the ones where you had to take it slow, not move too fast or you'd be dripping in sweat. On days like this, it was best to just curl up under a shady tree with a glass of icy sweet tea and listen to the hum of cicadas. It had been years since he'd done just that and he decided it was high time he started again.
America pulled his feet out of the water and swung around to face the nearing shore. The dust hung high in the air, almost meeting the pale sky. He could barely make out the shapes of the others waiting to cross.
"Heat sure is intense today, huh?"
"Yep. But I s'pose it don't really bother me."
"…Yeah. Is it just me or is the shore getting harder to see?"
"Nah. Just the haze. We'll be there soon," Blue said as he sank the pole beneath the river's glassy surface. "Son, I want you to promise me something."
"When yer feelin' better, I want you to visit me again an' I'll take you up an' down this river. We'll start up north at the head waters and work our way south. How's that sound?"
"Well, sure! But what do you mean when I feel better?"
"Jus' close yer eyes, son. We'll be there soon," Blue smiled.
And he did.
When America opened his eyes again, he was in a blinding white room. An itchy gauze bandage was wrapped around his head and one leg was held up in a sling, his toes poking out of the white cast.
"He's awake," a soft voice said.
America shifted his eyes to see who had spoken. They felt dull and heavy.
Two blurry shapes sat beside his bed – one leaning forward, head cradled in hands, and the other clutching a stuffed polar bear.
"Hey…guys," America breathed.
England's head jerked up. His eyes were rimmed with red. He hastily wiped them with his shirtsleeve.
"How're you feeling?" Canada asked.
"…You bastard," England whispered. "You scared the hell out of us!"
America grinned, wanting to make some joke about how the countries couldn't get on without him but thought better of it.
"What he means is we're just glad to see you're OK," Canada said.
"I know. That's just…his way."
England let out a little laugh. America smiled back.
"Just promise us, no more stunts," England said.
"Don't worry…about…me. I know…what I did…wrong. And I know…how to fix it. I'm fine, guys. Really…I'm fine."
England and Canada looked at each other for a moment.
"Okay, but we're visiting you tomorrow and the next day and the next until you're better again," England said.
"Yeah, and even then, we'll still visit you."
America smiled, nodding.
England took his hand, giving it the slightest squeeze, before exiting the room with Canada.
America watched them go, smiling to himself. I'm fine. He reached over for the remote and turned on the television. I really am fine. It was just after one o'clock. Maybe if he was lucky, he could still catch a baseball game.
A/N (2) Wow, so I know I started this waaayy back in the fall, and really I should have had this part posted a while ago, but distractions (you know how they can be). Anyway, on to the meat
Mythology – Essentially America dies in this chapter – the scene with him talking to the Mississippi River was meant to kinda parallel with the River Styx and Charon in Greek mythology. When America wakes up, he is on the opposite bank, about to enter the world of the dead, but the Mississippi decides to give him a second chance and ferries him back across to rejoin the world of the living.
Mississippi River – the largest river system in America, beginning in Minnesota and flowing southward to empty out at the Gulf of Mexico. It has been memorialized in literature and song and has many nicknames, most notably: Ol' Man River, The Big Muddy, Old Blue, The Gathering of Waters, and so on.
And as far as America being OK, he really is in this story….but I've got a feeling this year's election might just rip us apart again (thatcouldjustbemethough) At any rate, it is bound to be interesting.
Thank you guys so much for being patient with me while I finished this. Hope you enjoy. Reviews are always welcome.