Tales of the Ferryman - 2.Soul cargo
Tales of the ferryman - 3.Soul Engine.
Tales of the Ferryman - 4.Soul Harvest.
This time of year my kind were kept busier than any other time. The combination of winter, Christmas and drink was a lethal recipe. Once the roads were coated in ice the results were inevitable. We Ferrymen were the harvesters of lost souls and from time to time the collectors of those responsible for their demise. For us this was a sad time of needless deaths brought on by others’ stupidity.
The waterways of the underworld reached out to the Shadow-lands and a canal system paralleled the lanes of the living. We cruised along these unseen, connecting threads at a steady pace always seeming to be at the right place at the necessary time. I spent the majority of my time at the helm of the boat with a light touch upon the tiller. The scramble-nets were at the bow and were rolled up onto the roof until needed. That end of the narrow boat was full of light to show up on the darkest night. Those that had fallen from the world of the living into the waters of life could easily climb aboard the cast down nets. The damned however, would find it impossible to scale the sides of the boat at the bow and find themselves at the stern with me. The boat judged who were damned and who would be saved. My task was to be ferryman to these lost souls, nothing more. It was left to me to navigate the waterways to reach the last lock and deliver my cargo.
This late December night was a bad one. Something of the awful cold seeped across the partitions of the world of the living into mine. I drew my cloak around me and settled the wide-brimmed hat firmly behind the horns of my head. The wet sleet beat heavily onto the road where it hovered between freezing and slush. Driven at a sensible speed most cars would keep their grip on this bend. Alcohol made that certain difference between staying on the road and losing that needed judgement.
There were families on the motorway this night travelling to see relatives, some from duty, some from love. Amongst this throng were some making their way back from the office party. Always there would be a few who had helped themselves to the free drinks just too much. Some would make it home and some would not.
I dropped the speed of the boat to a standstill and idled in the water waiting for the moment that had summoned me. A large powerful car began to swerve as it hit the small patch of ice and began to slide across the lanes. Inside, the drowsy occupant began to try to compensate, seconds too late, his vision glazed and judgment screwed by one drink too many. He hit the brakes too hard and slid across the line into the tail of the car by his nearside. Both cars spun into the path of the other line of homeward bound vehicles. Braking and twisting in the heavy sleet one old car turned over and buried its boot under an articulated lorry that promptly jack-knifed. A fireball rose into the murky skies as the snow thickened.
The nets rolled down into the waters and I put the nose of the boat equally into the struggling throng. My heart sank as I saw the children floundering in the depths and mothers holding babies above the waves. The other souls already aboard were helping the new occupants over the side and into the warmth of the inside. An all too familiar sense of bewilderment and fear washed over me. I was helpless to comfort these new arrivals until the boat had picked up all of the lost. There would still be one to take on board at my end and I would make sure that I did not miss him.
Out at the edge of the groups of the newly dead was one fear stricken face that was familiar to my eyes. I had seen this type all too often at this time of the year. He was responsible the loss of life this terrible night and he would pay the price. Also in a small group around him were others who if not for that extra drink would have made a difference in the carnage on that night. It would be interesting to see whom the boat accepted and whom it denied. I watched as some of them made it to the nets and could not get aboard, frantically scratching at the sides as they made their way to me.
The back of the boat is low to the water and there is a rail to grasp besides my boathook assisting those who could not scramble aboard. Soon I had a small group of wide-eyed bewildered people shivering on the wet top of the hold. They were staring at me. I took my hat off so that they could more clearly see my horns and the eyes got wider. When I smiled some of them slid to the floor and began to shake with fear.
I pointed a bony finger, pricked the one responsible with a pointed claw and said, “You were responsible for these poor souls losing their place among the living. You others who could not resist that extra drink and added to the carnage that still lights the skies of the living world in flames. I must stay here a while longer to assist in picking up the late arrivals. You on the other hand will assist me in labouring in the hold, driving this boat until we reach the last lock and judgement.”
The top of the hold began to become transparent, giving them a glimpse of the conditions within. It then jellified around them and allowed the group to sink into the labour of Hell, screaming as they sank. Soon it became quiet and I searched the waters for more latecomers. It would be a busy night I feared.
Barry E Woodham.
Tales of the ferryman. - 5.Soul dreamer.
Last night I dreamt about the Ferryman.
This was the third time that I had seen him and his narrow boat that collects lost souls from the world of the living. I knew that he had come for me.
It had been a cold winter’s night and I had crossed an almost deserted road, when from out of the night a car had hit me flying. I was carrying heroin and smack to a nightclub where my trade would be appreciated. The living was a good one and paid well, but the competition was fierce. Those who had been keen to take my trade had marked me down. As I lay semi-conscious, the lights of the car came back and I heard a door open. Footsteps came towards me and fingers went through my pockets, relieving me of the packets I had brought to trade. I felt the boot, as it hit my side and the noise of the car as it disappeared into the night, before I dropped into uneasy sleep.
I found myself falling. It seemed forever until I hit water. I may have been falling upwards or down. I couldn’t tell. All that I knew was I was in a dark wet place held fast by stringy weeds. I was alone, terrified and lost when I heard the chug, chug of an engine. The sound was as if many people were turning a shaft with great effort at the limits of their strength. It was almost the sound of a great millwheel being turned by many hands.
A light began to show as a long narrow boat began to hove into sight. There were nets hanging from the roof down the sides and into the water. There were many people at the bow, bathed in light from the inside, all wanting to help me. The skipper put the boat into reverse to slow its motion almost to a stop and I reached for the nets to climb aboard. To my mounting horror my rescue did not seem to be so easy. As I reached for the nets, the strands undid and I could not grasp the ropes. The boat began to drift on by, as I struggled to get out of the dark water. Soon there were no nets to grasp and I found myself at the back end of the boat.
At the back, wrapped in a black cloak with a broad-brimmed hat pulled over a misshapen head was a huge manlike shape. His orange eyes were like a cat’s, with wide slits to see in the gloomy darkness. The hands were strong and bony, ending in talons that could tear a bear apart. He unshipped a cruel looking boathook and swung it across the canal towards me and motioned me to hold onto it. As he did so, his hat fell to the side showing two sharp stubby horns projecting from his forehead. His teeth were sharp, pointed and showed when he smiled.
Before the hook touched me I felt myself falling again and I heard him call, “I will come again!”
There were bright lights and pain. I could here voices taut with concern calling instructions.
“We got him. Insert drips.”
“Close him up.”
“Take him to recovery after the plaster sets.”
I dropped back into sleep and found myself stood at the back of the narrow boat with the Ferryman.
“Look into the hold,” he said and pointed to the open hatch.
He held me helpless as a small child not yet out of nappies. I could not move and could not shut my eyes. Down in the hold was the engine. My ears had told me right as although a city boy, I had never seen or heard a millwheel. That is what I saw being pushed round and round to turn a propeller shaft and chained to it were the souls of the damned. They were naked, thirsty and hungry, covered in their own mess and stood in a pool of stinking urine. Down there with them were black scuttling things that fed upon them as they toiled. I watched as the bite-marks faded away only to be replaced by sharp little teeth chewing, chewing at their unprotected flesh. At the edges of the hold were other things holding whips.
“This is what awaits you. The boat will judge the next time we meet and if the nets refuse to let you come aboard the bow; then here is where you will come. Always there is a need to turn the wheel to drive the boat. I sail the waterways of mankind’s folly, eternally seeking lost souls to take them to the last lock and judgement. Remember this when you return to the world of the living. Wherever you go, I shall find you. Think carefully about your life and what you do with what is left of it!”
Again; bright lights and pain.
“We’ve got him. Nurse, stay with him and hook him up to life support.”
Again I fell into deep slumber.
Morning came and I opened my eyes to find that I was safely in a hospital bed. The pain was constant, but I could cope with it. I couldn’t cope with the visions. Over and over again I looked into the engine hold of that long, dark narrow boat. That hold was a picture of the hell I put my clients in, with the things that I sold them. They could not get away, but I could. I promised myself that my own addiction would be mastered and I would do some good in this world.
The years passed and I found contentment by joining agencies that worked in the poverty-stricken areas of this troubled world. I dug wells and ditches, taught my language in backwoods schools. I even fell in love and reared my own children to be my helpers in my new career. Now I grow old and wait for the soul collector’s final visit. I can only hope that when the boat judges me it accepts that I have done my best to make amends.
I close my eyes and at the edge of my sleep I am aware that he is coming.