The Ferryman

Braydon M. Motley
Prodigy Leadership Academy
Grade 9

I was walking along the long, arching bridge that overlooked Farewell, a small and relatively poor town. I stopped at the middle of the bridge and thought to myself. 

In this life, one small, indifferent one of many. I hadn’t done anything good or meaningful. I had yet to marry, to get a job — of course, that was something I didn’t necessarily need, considering the wealth I had obtained and kept in my last life. 

I must sound odd, the way I speak of myself. 

I suppose it wouldn’t much matter, though, because I sit and write this in the mass of chaotic, cosmic muck. Water freezes into dirt here. That dirt melts into molten lava, where it sprouts a human head and proceeds to grow until it is a great city with towers and stone columns. The mass of obliterated DNA and genes that made up our universe now sit in aloof memory. Creating, destroying, recreating. 

However, if that mysterious Creator that lives in between the in-between decides to organize the chaos into another world or universe or place. And this cosmic journal finds its way into intelligent hands. Then, I write about my life.

I never truly was born and never have died. I have always just been. Existed indifferently in the great scheme of things. 

My life on Earth has had no meaning, not that I could see, and now lay in a pile of muck with the rest of the universe. But with all of my time to think, I have come to understand. 

When I was living a very simple life, near the end of the 1800s in a place called Farwell, Missouri, (to continue where I had begun,) Farwell was mostly a town then, but grew as time went on. There, I came to understand the single thing that gave my existence meaning, and there is the place where all of this understanding begins. 

I stood thinking on that white bridge that stood over a clear, bubbling river. I always thought this a queer river, because Missouri was always muddy, but this one had all rocks at its bed. You could see the small bass swimming indifferently in the water, catching small bass to eat in their meaningless, ill-moral life. There I was, thinking about my own existence. My own ultimate meaning and purpose for this world. 

I brought people, whenever they left their bodies to decay underneath the cold soil, to a place where the road to the End was. I brought people from the Bay of Life, down a river in between, to a dock, that led to death. Or the ultimate End.

My name was Charon. It still is, I presume; not that it really matters. 

But then, it was Charlie Aarons. Among the thousand names I had, this one meant the most to me, because this name was the person I was when this understanding struck. 

Anyhow, I was thinking, when suddenly there was a shriek in the house to the right end of the bridge. I turned my head, a fair bit annoyed at the disturbance, and saw smoke billowing from the open window at the side of the house, facing me. 

I wondered about a fire, and so I jogged down to the house, concerned.

There was no fire, only a girl, cooking, who was 22 at that time, only a year younger than myself. That is, if you're counting my age for that particular life. In my ultimate existence, I was a century away from 6,000 years old, but in 1891, I was only 23. 

“Excuse me, Miss. Are you alright? Is there a fire?” I called in from the open window, avoiding the dissipating smoke. 

“No.” She replied simply. “I only burnt dinner. Oh, Lord,” she said with a sigh. 

“Perhaps you would allow me to cook for you,” I half-joked. Still, the smoke was reviling in the house, doing its best to stay where it could be together. However, after only a moment, it dissipated fully, and for the first time, I saw the girl's face. How beautiful she was. 

The girl’s face was not too much angular to put you off, but not round enough to presume baby fat. She had green eyes and brown hair that was so stubbornly wavy the only way to wear it was to wear it down. 

She looked at me with inquisitive eyes and a kind of grin that enchanted me. The most beautiful woman I had ever seen. 

“You wish to cook for me?” 

“Well, yes, considering you cannot cook for yourself,” I said humorously, so she knew I was merely joking. 

She laughed and said, “Well, you will have to make four servings; my father is quite fat. And a fair bit gluttonous to cakes.” She said it with a smile, but keeping those inquisitive eyes that made me fall in love with her in that instant. 

“Yes,” I said, considering whether or not I should make this joke a reality, and then, my decision made, I said, “Very well … four servings … I will be back by six.” I began to turn, when she stopped me. 

“Well, I must get your name first. Otherwise, you’d be a dangerous stranger, and my father would not allow you within 10 feet of this house.”

She giggled to herself, and I responded, first with a humorous sigh, “My name is Charlie Aarons; I live atop the hill just Northwest of here. I live alone, no servants or even a dog. I must say, I am quite lonely sometimes.” 

I believe that was a desperate introduction, and by the way the girl looked at me, I believe she saw it, too.

“Well then, Mr. Charlie Aarons. You must eat with us; you are making us food so graciously, and you are lonely, so you will eat with us at six.” 

I wanted only to accept. So, with a slight bow, I hesitated, opened my mouth only slightly so as to appear to firstly object. Then, I said, “Very well, I will see you at six, with a roasted chicken and a sorting of vegetables.” There, I left, to make a meal for the mysterious girl and her family. 

I had always found it pleasurable to be polite and to do random, kind deeds for people such as this. This was merely one kind deed in a million. However, this was the deed that set the mystery girl in a state of love for me. However, merely for a time.

That night, I was invited graciously inside the Whites’ house and introduced to Mrs. Mary Whites and Mr. Charles Whites. Indeed, a coincidence I thought was humorous: Mr. Whites and I shared the same name.

Anyhow, the mysterious girl I cooked for was named Ms. Emma Whites. A truly beautiful name for a truly beautiful girl. 

We grew to be friends after that dinner, and we spent a significant amount of time together, painting and picnicking. We had a fascinating two years of friendship, and I believe, in those two years, we knew we loved one another. It was only a time in which we searched for a sign. A sign from who, I do not know, and for what, I’m not quite sure, either.  

Three weeks into October marking the end of that two years of friendship. We sat on the hill outside of my house, a blanket strewn out with ellipse-shaped rocks holding it down. I looked at her with wanting eyes. She knew, of course. Just as she knew I wasn’t some ordinary man or a man longing simply for the pleasures of life. It was that unexplainable life thing I was wanting, that for two decades too long I had gone without. That mysterious thing that gave me a mysterious meaning.

“Charlie …” she said finally, with a sympathetic stare, different from the one that captured my heart. “... Charlie, I’m not ready. I want to live a little, without being held in the confines of marriage.” 

She was speaking as though my look had said it all. Of which it did, I admit. Emma was nearly more intelligible than myself. And I admit, oftentimes, I wondered (and still do) if she was a person that was never really born. If she was built in the great cosmic muck that I was built in, built by that mysterious person I have yet to understand. 

“I understand,” I said, at a loss for words. 

“I hope I am not making a fool of myself,” she responded presently, looking down at the checkered picnic blanket. “I love you, Charlie, but something feels so terribly menacing about marriage; I admit, I cannot explain it. I presume I am not fit.” 

She said it simply. I looked down at the blanket, too. Feeling a sudden wave of dejection and sickness, I realized then how terribly alone I was. How empty that space where my heart should be was. It seemed then, and for a long time after, that I would be stuck feeling that feeling of hopelessness that was no more grand than a graveyard. 

“I understand, Emma; you need not worry about making a fool of yourself. I simply hoped my love for you was not vain, as it has been with others.” 

“No. Don’t you say that. Foolish love is vain love. You are not foolish.” 

“Perhaps I am.” 

“I know you, Charlie, more than I believe anyone has … A fool you are not.” 

It was that statement that made me question again if she was some goddess with omniscient powers far beyond that of my own. That made me question all of the moments she spent looking at me with that inquisitive stare. That stare brought me down a rabbit hole that begged a question of how much she could see in me. Perhaps I was an open diary she read any time she pleased; she seemed often enough to see that darkness in me that I befriended in this eternal job I was appointed. I walked with an air of death around me, and I believe she saw it and understood it. Something no one else had done before. 

It made me want her all the more. But that, I could not have. 

“I understand, Emma. Do not defend your arguments. I will be but a friend, and no more. If that is what you truly want.” 

She looked at me, nodded, and placed a beautifully soft, angelic hand over my own that had seen so much. There was a pain then, a nagging that told me to lean forward and kiss my dear friend. It was an ungentlemanly thing to think of, so I dismissed it, and sat there with her. 

In the daytime in which we sat, I suddenly got an overwhelming smell of death. I wondered about Emma; still, she sat, however, and looked at me. It was not a stench that came from her, though it held scents of relation to Emma. I dismissed that, too, and stared into the capturing gaze of my dear friend. 

That same night Emma had foretold my love for her, she discovered her father had fallen gravely ill with scarlet fever, so she told me. And I understood what that overwhelming stench of death was. That smell I had dismissed to be in the presence of Mr. Whites’ daughter. 

Three days later, I took my painting things to the Whites’ home and sat in the bedroom with Emma’s father and painted the very scene I saw outside his bedroom window. All the while, we conversed and discussed life and politics and books. 

“Perhaps you could put Mrs. Whites just on the road there,” Mr. Whites said, pointing to the sliver of road that was seen just outside the frame of the window sill I had painted.

“I believe that would look exceptionally well, Sir,” I responded, and grabbed a blob of white-gray paint, so as to paint her dress. 

“Do you perhaps know of any admirers of Emma? She is growing older and will need a husband before long,” Mr. Whites said, to my painful dismay. 

“I believe, Sir, I am her admirer,” I said rather frankly, in a way that passed on a sense of rejection. 

“Have you asked her to marry?” he asked, as though interested in gossip. 

“I was going to, and your intelligent daughter read me as if I was a book. She knew what I wanted and said no. She told me she does not wish to be under the confines of marriage.” 

“Ahh … I sensed that she had a dislike for marriage.” He looked at my painting then, and seemed to get lost in that scene. I brought him out quickly, however, saying, “I will stay her friend, however, and perhaps one day convince her marriage is not such a terrible thing. Maybe she will find a suitor.” 

“You do not believe it will be you?” Mr. Whites said, almost angrily. 

“No, I am afraid not; I am not a man who can fit her needs.”

“Oh, nonsense!” He coughed then, and a wave of fatigue swept over him, bringing him from a reasonably well day, assuming recovery, down to a painful whisper. 

“Listen, Son. She will see in time; do not give up that love for her. I do not want her to be with any man other than you. Do you understand?” I nodded, and continued to finish the last strokes of my painting. 

I understood then Mr. Whites trusted me with his one and only daughter. And then I would understand I would from there on be their caretaker, as the stench of death rose in the air. That stench that is otherworldly, outside of what normal humans can perceive. 

“Charlie, boy … Heed my rambling once more,” Mr. Whites said, and I listened. “When I go … pass away, die, however you’d like to call it …” 

“Don’t say that, Mr. Whites.” 

“Please, boy!” he rasped painfully. “I want you to take care of my wife and my daughter, as a friend. Emma will marry, and my wife will be a grandmother, as she is a mother. As a friend and a man, I want you to care for them, yes?” 

I didn’t want to exercise this man’s delusions, this man’s own drama in which he placed me caretaker of his family. However, he and I both knew he would die and move on into that other place. So, I conformed and said, “OK, but you mustn’t believe you will die; have hope, my friend.” 

“And the very same for you. You mustn’t think that because my daughter is painfully stubborn on such a silly, serious thing, there is no hope.” 

“But I am not —” 

“Not what!” He rasped with such violence I assumed his heart would stop. A sudden, reeking sweet stench of ozone and sulfur wafted to my nose and dissipated whence he calmed. “I do not take you as a fool. So do not play one and argue. Do as I say.” 

“Very well,” I said, defeated. 

I admit, I was angry with him. For what reason, I still do not know. Perhaps for not exercising my own delusions.

“And please, Charlie. Call me Charles. Mr. Whites is far too formal for how we know one another.” 

“Yes, Sir.” 

I left him to rest and be with his family then. I took my painting things and walked in the dark up to my own home. I bathed in a tub by a fire, dressed into my nightclothes and meditated. I do not sleep, nor eat for the need. I do not need most things others do. Food is merely a pleasure, sleep is something I cannot do. 

So, I meditate. I sit on the floor, place my hands on my crossed legs and go to that place in between. That place where life and death meet. 

There in the darkness of the great cosmic muck that resembled trees and a path that glistened silver and white, I stood. Waiting for the people to arrive at the dock. Waiting, I looked up above me. Above, there was pure and utter chaos. Glowing things turned to opaque and dark things. Grass melted into lava, which cooled into a hard sediment. Life and death battled there, causing a great booming sound over and over that was the collision of polar opposites. I waited there, and there turned up no one. No one paid the fee for passage that night. No two pence ever entered my money sack, tied around my waist. I stood there for a long time, before surrendering to the nothingness that was the ground, and I watched the chaos ensue above me. 

I rose from my meditated state and made coffee for myself, enjoying that next morning as much as I could. 

I admit, I was more than dejected at the rejection of Ms. Emma. I loved her dearly and wanted nothing more than her. Yet, here I was, waiting for the moment that was never assured to me, the moment Emma would realize her love for me and marry me. I was being told I would marry her one day, all I needed was patience. I couldn’t have it, could not accept that. I do not know why, and I will never know why I felt such a way.     

Days went by, and I spent all the more time with Charles and Emma, talking and painting and eating. They were a kind of family for me, and I relished that, never taking them for granted. As the time passed, Charles became more sick, the fever never ceasing its wrath. 

Three weeks passed on slowly, as if Time reveled in Charles’ pain. In Emma’s and her mother’s grief, in my hopelessness. It was a pitiful day, cold and rainy, thunder looming overhead. 

The clouds were so very thick that day, the street lamps were lit and candles lit inside our houses. It was the type of weather I loved. I believed it was nature revealing a dark side of itself, hiding the sun, perhaps the greatest miracle of all. And letting the conscious beings know, ogres and all, that darkness, and everything that followed, existed. Even beings like me. Not a good person, yet not evil. It reminds me, and perhaps everyone, the world has no good people.  

A pessimistic thought, but one I have come to understand of the millennia and millennia I have existed. 

I apologize for the rabbit trail, yet who am I kidding? I write to no one. 

I walked to the Whites’ house under the cover of my umbrella, and as I neared, that great, cosmic smell of ozone and sulfur pressed my nose. Stronger than before, in those days I spent with Charles. Emma was outside, tears streaming endlessly down her smooth cheeks. She held a handkerchief in her hands and wailed. 

“He is gone,” I said, sitting beside her on the rocking chairs that sat on the porch. She nodded and let out another wail. 

Late that day, after a considerable amount of mourning, I walked into the room where he lay, sleeping eternally. Two pence in hand, I placed them over his closed eyes. Standing there for a moment, I saw how pale his cheeks looked, that once, not too long ago, were bright red with fever. His thick, graying beard and balding head seemed so stale. 

I was there in another moment. The great dark, cosmic place. 

Charles, Mr. Whites, stood there in front of me, at the base of the dock staring up at the great chaos above him. 

“It’s beautiful, isn’t it?” I asked, announcing my presence. 

“I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, looking down and staring at me. “Hello, Charlie.” 

I cannot say I expected that to come out of his mouth. It was another of those mysteries still unanswered. It is not so important, however. 

“Come along, I’ll ride you downriver,” I said, stepping into the nothingness in particular that was some form of boat to the deceased spirit. 

“You drive a tugboat?” he asked, stepping off deck and into the tugboat, which was what he saw. 

“So that’s what this is to you?” I asked myself, whispering quietly. 

I do not remember what we talked about during that ride; however, he was in tears whenever he got off onto the deck, the deck that led to the ultimate end. His appearance was faded, like a transparent image, or a ghost, as looked all spirits who rode with me. However, his tears were clear, real as if conjured from the material world. 

I remember saying my farewells, and in a moment, being back. Back in my body, gone for merely minutes. 

“How are you, Mrs. Whites?” I asked, bringing coffee for her and Emma. We all sat in the drawing room. Mrs. Whites sat in Charles’ chair, and I sat with Emma on one of two sofas, her hands in mine as she silently cried. 

“Oh, I’m alright, just a little down.” She sniffled through a stuffy nose, both their eyes quite red from crying. There was nothing much said after that. We stayed there nearly all night in one another's presence and cried together. I admit, that day was truly depressing. Though I believe I had a fair amount of depression in that time of waiting. 

I found I did not enjoy painting and did not taste the food I seldom ate. Coffee was only bitter and otherwise tasteless, and I found myself frequently exhausted. 

It was sometime, days after, that we had Mr. Whites’ funeral, and we experienced another day of extreme dejection and mourning. 

I had come to some sort of contentment later on; perhaps a month later, which I accepted graciously. I was then able to think properly and paint and have those beautiful picnics with Emma. I had not cried ever, after I found that kind of contentment I believe I always cherished. Nearly four months later, Emma and I were walking about the town together and chatting. 

“My dearest friend Lidia has married, did you know?” she asked me as we walked past the town’s general store. 

“No, I do not believe I did.” 

“Well, she did.” Emma let out a kind of elated giggle I had never heard before. “And I am all but sad for her. I believe I am quite jealous.” 

“Jealous? Says the girl who despises marriage, for she believes it is a purgatorious lifestyle only foolish little girls dream of,” I said, making up the word “purgatorious” on the spot, laughing a little myself. “How do you now become jealous?” I asked. 

“I do not know; perhaps I see now that marriage can be something for love. Maybe I was naive in thinking otherwise.” She spoke a little bit more seriously now, and I could sense she was feeling less elated now. 

“Are you in love, perhaps?” I blurted, not knowing exactly why I asked that question. 

“I do not know. I met someone who I am quite fond of; he lives not too far from the Farmingtons … But there is someone else who I believe I have always loved, but in some way — ” 

“Emma, please do not be vague — ” 

“I love you, Charlie,” she said, rather harshly. “But I am fond of someone else, and … well, I think I have always loved you, however, not in a romantic sense. I … oh, I do not know what I am saying.” She stopped walking and placed a hand over her eyes. 

“I believe I understand,” I said, keeping perfectly calm. My emotions were for later; I had then only need to keep my composure and not sound desperate. 

“I do not know what to do, Charlie. I know you have always loved me. And you have been such a good friend, being so patient.” She started to cry then, and we continued to walk until we were somewhere more private, for we began to get queer looks from those around us. 

“Emma,” I said slowly, “By the way it sounds, you do not wish to marry me. And that I can do no other than accept and be OK with. This man you just now speak of, if it is your wish for him to court you, then so be it. I cannot object.” 

“It is not fair to you. You deserve my taking your hand in marriage.” 

“I deserve no such thing,” I exploded, speaking firmly, and rather irritated. Not at her rejection, but at her thought I deserved anything so great as her hand in marriage. 

“Yes, you deserve that and much, much more. Your love and kindness and friendship to me and my family, your patience. I cannot do something so cruel as to reject you something you have well earned.” Emma spoke in a hopeless tone, defeated and simply ready to accept the easiest path that was my taking her hand in marriage. 

However, I could not allow it. She would not be happy; I knew it and accepted that. I accepted I would love her as a friend and watch her from a distance as she lived her life as a wife to another man, as a mother to his children.

“But you will. I only desire we stay as we are, friends. I will tell this man to court you and bug you until you accept his courtship, if need be. You won’t sacrifice your happiness as a gift for my pitiful patience. Do you understand?” 

She merely nodded. Angry, perhaps, I was not conforming to her wishes. The wishes that were the easiest to accept at that moment.  

“How come I have never heard of this man before?” I asked, needing to know, for I truly had never heard of him. 

“I met him two months ago, and we have been having tea together for some time, seldom going on walks. I was afraid you would become jealous,” she choked out finally. 

Moving back to the previous conversation, I asked, “So then, you accept what I am telling you?” She nodded in acquiesce. “Very well.” 

Something seemed to change in Emma that day. For weeks afterwards, after meeting this man and having an open courtship, she seemed only to become elated, joyful. (The man’s name was Austen Gravesman, and he worked as a tailor.) 

As weeks passed, she began to speak to me less and less. Falling in love with this man and forgetting me. I loved her still, for years to come. And I would always love her. However, I could not make her happy, not as this man could. As she came to accept what I had given her, she grew to forget me, and a year later, she married. 

I was not invited, and I was only to be content with that. I had lived long enough waiting, with that mysterious thing called love in my heart. I spent those days pondering what love meant and what it was in the grand scheme of things. All I can say is, it is unexplainable. Magical. Mysterious. I had fallen in love with so many women, loved and married them, raised children and grown old with them. However, the one woman I loved most was kept away from me. I have been left, at the end of the world and universe, in this great chaos, to ponder why I was not able to be with my one true love. I believe perhaps I loved Emma so dearly that in my own acquiesce and dejection, I spared her a life of unhappiness and meaningless love. I believe I loved her so dearly I saw even though my love for her was great, I could not make her happy. I had told her that and did not mean it at first, nor did I understand it. However, it came to be true, and I do not regret sparing her that life. Truly, now. It has made me happy and given me peace in this chaos I spend eternity in. I was able to let her go, so she could have joy and true love.