Bill, Jeannine and Mischa waited patiently at the edge of the ghostly river with John’s body. A dense fog hovered over the water, and they could see nothing more than a foot in front of them. Jeannine checked her watch. The ferry was late.
“You’d think the Underworld would have punctual transportation,” she complained. “This is just as bad as the bus service!”
“Oh, I wouldn’t go quite that far, milady,” said a creepy, skeletal voice from somewhere on the river. “I’m runnin’ a little late today, oh yes, but I’m normally very reliable. Don’t go makin’ assumptions now.”
They could now make out the distinct sound of water being paddled, and shortly afterward an old looking boat came into sight. A grinning skeleton was steering it: it was Charon, ferryman of the River Styx, though of course none of them knew that. Bill gave a yelp of fright. Mischa gave a shriek of fright. Jeannine reached into her purse and pulled out some money.
“We’d like to cross the river,” she said. “How much would that cost us?”
“This is the Underworld. I don’t take American money, milady,” said Charon. “We switched to the Euro a few years ago; it’s just easier. You’ll have to pay some other way.”
“Perhaps one of us could sacrifice himself,” suggested Jeannine. “Like Mischa! Oh, don’t look so offended; you know you deserve it. It’s the least you can do after defeating John like that. Who do you think you are anyway?”
“But Comrade, I cannot be offered as a sacrifice!” protested Mischa. “I am allergic!”
“Quiet down, the lot of ya. I don’t take sacrifices neither,” interrupted Charon. “But I have an idea, that I do. One of you can work off the debt. I need a vacation.”
“That’s fine. Mischa, you’ll take Charon’s place until we return from our meeting with Hades,” said Jeannine. “Don’t drink that water, Bill. It can’t be good for you.”
“But I do not like manual labor, Comrade!” protested Mischa again. “It offends me.”
“Whoa, you folks are goin’ to Hades? Why’d you wanna do a stupid thing like that?” asked Charon. “He’s in a bad mood today, you know.”
“We’ve heard,” said Jeannine flatly. “Anyway, now will you let us cross? We’re in a hurry.”
“Sure thing, sure thing, settle down,” said Charon, beckoning for them to board the boat. “Keep your arms, legs and tails inside the vehicle at all times; no eating, drinking, smoking or fire-breathing is permitted onboard - and I bloody well mean that. All ready? Off we go!”
The boat zoomed away from the stygian shore, accelerating at an alarming pace – it was much faster than they were expecting, given Charon’s comically slow paddling speed.
“So why are you folks off to see the boss?” he asked again. “You never answered my question. That’s pretty rude, that is. Maximilian would have a fit. Have you met him? Polite chap, that one.”
“Yes, we know. And we’re going to ask Hades to resurrect my lo – our friend, John,” said Jeannine. “He fell off a horse and died.”
“That’s tragic, that is. Tragic,” said Charon, nodding. “But Hades doesn’t grant requests like that often, you know, even when he’s in a good mood. You’ll have quite a challenge convincin’ him, that’s for sure.”
“Do you have any suggestions?” asked Jeannine.
“Take advantage of the situation. That’s all I’ll say,” answered Charon. “You’ll know what to do when the time comes.”
“That’s pretty vague,” began Jeannine. “Do you –”
“Here we are: the other side of the River Styx! Right, now you,” he said, pointing at Mischa, “you’re staying here. Just paddle it back and forth, and make sure you don’t let anyone on who doesn’t pay. I’m off to my friend’s ghoul party! See, it sounds kind of like pool, get it? Oh, you Americans never get anything. I’ll be back in an hour.”
Charon stepped off the boat and started heading right, muttering bitterly all the while. Jeannine and Bill followed suit, going left. Mischa shot Jeannine a desperate look as she exited the boat, but she pretended not to notice.
“All right Bill, we need to take this path for approximately three miles. Then we should reach that three-headed dog Maximilian told us about. Hmm, I wonder how we’ll get past him,” said Jeannine. “If John were alive, he’d suggest feeding you to the dog, but…”
“Don’t worry Jeannine. I have a plan!” said Bill confidently.
“Really?” asked Jeannine, surprised.
“No. But I wish I did!”