Friday, 24 February 2012

Paying the Price


“Passage is not free. Payment is required.”

“B-But... we were t-t-told to bring only what m-matters to us.”

“And I would accept nothing less.”

The boatman, a shade of a thousand tattered grey rags, his hood full of a hundred changing faces, holds out his hand. I wonder if he is Charon, though I see more moorings, more boats, more boatmen. Maybe Charon is a breed of thing.

The stuttering, complaining man ahead of me thrusts his hands into his suit pockets. It might be an expensive suit, but what do I know? Maybe it was the suit he was buried in, or the one he lived in, or both.

“Well... W-what if I refuse? Isn’t it your j-job? Don’t you... have to t-take us across?”

The boatman looks back over his shoulder at the churning waters. They are roaring rapids, or would be, if all sound here wasn’t built of muted echo.

“It is my job, yes, just as it is my job to take payment. You are entitled to refuse. They did.”

He gestures with one fluttering, gusting arm. Further from the river, behind us, we see a ramshackle shantytown. We must have passed it but I don’t recall seeing it, memory and time are broken things here. I have been waiting behind the haggling, awkward spirit forever, perhaps, or it might be that I just arrived.

In the shantytown I see people, listless and flighty. Every so often they glance towards us, towards the river and the boatmen. Here there is nothing but eternity, across the other side is the unknown, the boatman will not say. Is it worth giving up something precious for? Is it any different to this side?

The man in front of me relents. He takes a raggedy doll from his pocket, one of the eyes is missing and steamy puffs of stuffing escape from loose stitching.

The boatman takes it in one gnarled hand; he regards it for a moment then tucks it into the multiverse of his changing robes. He nods gravely and lets the man pass. This is the first lesson in death: the time for accumulating memories, experiences, relationships, is over; in the afterlife those things are all that have value. Money is meaningless.

He holds out his hand to me.

“Passage is not free. Payment is required.”

I think about what I have in my own pockets. A photo booth image of my school friends, five of us crammed in. Both wedding rings. The creased birth certificate of my daughter. A ring of keys, one from each job, each home I ever had. I cannot bear to part with any of them.

I give him the memories of all my kisses, from first to last.

24 comments:

  1. I'd have offered that fine suit jacket. Charon (or the Charon?) would have looked a lot nicer in it. ;-)

    Me, I'd have given him the keys. Not like I'd ever live in any of those houses.

    Nice depiction of one's personal end of everything.

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    1. Heh, thanks Larry. I'm not sure if the payment has to go somewhere though, if the Charon have a boss...

      I was thinking the keys were as much mnemonic objects as just keys, it's the sentiment more than the object. =)

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  2. A breed of Charon... Ooh, that's an exciting thought.

    The memories of all his kisses? No, I couldn't. Just... couldn't. I guess that's the point.

    Fine, intriguing tale with loads of melancholy atmosphere. *love*

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    1. Thanks, Becky. ^_^

      I know, I don't think it's something I could give up either, but I think different people have different 'sentiment hierarchies'.

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  3. Ooh, that's a hard bargain. Give up the stuff!

    Great atmosphere.

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  4. It's terribly sad but I love the idea of memories becoming currency in the afterlife. Great story!

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    1. Thanks, Sonya. I think a few of my upcoming flashes have a little melancholy about them...

      I'm happy really! =)

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  5. Really love this story! Read it three times and I still can't imagine what will I do if asked to pay.

    It kind of reminded me of one scene from The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, but then it is so different, rich and indeed melancholic. Beautiful in a sad and a little scary way and gripping.

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    1. Oh wow, thanks, Cindy! ^_^

      Really need to go watch Doctor Parnassus again, actually, it's been a little while. =)

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  6. I love the premise of memories being all we have as currency in death and using bits of them. This will be quite a hell as it gets harder and harder to part with a specific memory.

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    1. Thanks, Aidan. =)

      I was thinking more of the Greek notion of a singular afterlife rather than hell, per se. But yeah, it would get harder and harder, I imagine 'memory brokers' in a kind of afterlife economy...

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  7. There was a real sense of sadness in this piece. How do you give up something that you hold dear? Yet there is a lesson also that is one must make a choice, and in doing so you have to relinquish one thing in order to gain another - there is always a price to pay the boatman know ;)

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    1. You don't get anything for nothing, even in the afterlife...

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  8. “B-But... we were t-t-told to bring only what m-matters to us.”

    “And I would accept nothing less.”

    Just those two lines alone are enough to give food for thought, it made me consider what I have that mattered to me, what REALLY mattered to me, that I could give.

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    1. Thanks, Steve.

      Writing it made me wonder about my own 'treasured' experiences and memories.

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  9. Wow, that is wicked John. That could have implications both literal and figurative, to give up what matters to you in order to enter an afterlife. Is it bad what most intrigues me is why Charon wants these things, and what it does with them?

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    1. Ha ha! Thank you, John. =)

      Since posting I have thought about showing more of the boatman's interest in the doll, maybe holding it to his faces, sniffing it... ;)

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  10. Nice. I like stories that make us think.

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  11. Like the dark ideas at play here. Is this the start of a series? (The correct answer is yes! :P )

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    1. Ha ha! Thanks, Pete. ^_^

      It wasn't intended to be... I have some ideas on how to expand it, but so much else on my plate right now.

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  12. I adore this. Fan-fucking-tastic.

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