This story is by John Pink and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Only a few Greek gods remained after Christianity had made its way through their once great empire. Mount Olympus had been destroyed and had already faded into the clouds. Zeus, the king of the gods, beaten and broken, disappeared and left the rest of the deities to their fates. Most other gods had gone into exile as creatures so as not to interact with men. Some were bolder and kept man’s company to influence in their politics and their wars. The gods would die gradually as mankind slowly lost faith in them. They ended up where all mortals go to die: the underworld. Like clockwork, Hades’ ferryman, Charon, kept docking his boat and boarding gods and mortals alike, so long as they paid their fare. The gods would fall one by one as their religion was replaced, but the ferryman felt no fear, because he knew everything in life passes, but death is eternal.
Pushing his boat to the dock, the ferryman saw a familiar face waiting for him. The fallen god had coins on his eyes. The few greeks still faithful to the Olympian gods must have put them there to ensure his passage to the underworld. The fallen god was Dionysus, the god of the grape harvest.
“If man were not so kind, he would have been cursed to wander the shores of the river Styx for one hundred miserable years”, murmured Charon, the ferryman, upon arriving at the dock.
“Charon. I must admit, I was not looking forward to this reunion”, said Dionysus, the god of wine.
The ferryman remained silent.
“Those damn Christians. They’ve taken over Constantinople! They’ve replaced our temples and have adorned them with crosses and blood! Charon! Speak! What do you think of this fallacy? What do you think of mortals’ belief that only one god rules all? I’d like to see him try!”, Dionysus complained to no reply.
“Do you not fret, beast? What will be your fate the day man believes no longer in death?”, the god of wine demanded.
Charon finally breaks his silence, “as long as there is man, there will be blood. Bloodshed leads to death, and death comes through me. I fear not, faded god, for I sought eternity and found it in endless toil”.
Years passed and the boat kept carrying fallen gods to join mankind in the underworld. A memorable surprise was the sight of the god of war, removing coins from his eyes and anxiously waiting on the dock.
“I’m not supposed to be here, ferryman. What is mankind without its wars?”, said Ares upon boarding Charon’s boat.
“Mankind will never lose their want of war, they will just want it for themselves and not for you”, replied the ferryman.
Along the passage of the crossing between the rivers Styx and Acheron, Ares made note of something odd, glistening in the river. “Well, serves that snake right. I knew she would fade before me”, said Ares with pompous satisfaction.
As they glanced in the distance they saw Hera’s face. Ares laughed uncontrollably at the sight of his mother. “Watching that witch floating in the river gave me all the satisfaction I need. I’m ready for the afterlife, Charon!”
Hera’s face was almost unrecognizable. The river had made her features fade and her countenance grotesque. There was a parade of goddesses who had been close to Hera throughout eternity, laid out in a file of melted and beaten skin. They were called the Horae, Hera’s closest handmaidens, and goddesses of the seasons. They accompanied their queen all the way to the afterlife.
They were the ones who made the air smell of divinity and the ones who made man come down with the plague. The ferry went past the goddess of spring, the happiest of all. The hands that used to hold bouquets of flowers now held emptiness and despair. They went past the goddess of summer, spry and agile. Now her body lies still in gloom. They sailed past the goddess of winter, who used to make the field glisten like a million little suns. Finally, they sailed past Phthinoporon, the goddess of autumn.
The delicate and deceased autumn deity was the only one to have her eyes open. At first her eyes seemed blank and lifeless, but there was a certain glow. Charon beheld the sparkle in her eyes and was unable to look away. He felt something he had not for all eternity take control of his heart. Ares’s heckle began to fade and Charon’s use of his ferry pole decreased its intensity. The ferryman felt his soul being mystically transported to a field full of color and life. Charon opened his eyes and saw that he wasn’t moving across the Styx any longer. What he saw was peaceful light shining upon a grassland, an esoteric aura surrounding the plain. The colors were sweet, crisp and golden. The trees were almost bare, and the air adorned by autumn colors. The ferryman became astounded.
Charon’s mouth began to tremble. An eternity in the underworld had deprived him of witnessing such beauty. The clear skies, the sharp wind and the bright sun all made an impression on his soul. For a brief moment, the ogre almost smiled. He walked around basking in the fresh light and the feel of the grass beneath his feet. He hesitantly took off his hood and that was when he saw her. Standing next to a wood tree, carefully adorned with amber, cinnamon and sugar-colored leaves, stood Phthinoporon, the goddess of all he sees.
Her eyes were a deep brown color, her hair orange and bright. Her dress was made from the colors of their surroundings. She was tall and imposing, but her grin was gentle and sweet. Her hands were delicate and pleasing. Charon glanced aimlessly at her presence, unbeknownst of what there was to say or do. He looked down at his hands, expecting to see the wrinkled and calloused instruments that drive the vehicle of the afterlife, only to see his veins hide beneath meat and bone.
The ferryman darted to a river close behind him to catch his reflection, and what he saw was beauty. He had been grotesque for all eternity; his reflection on the river Styx had proved it so. Even more beautiful than he, was the goddess Phthinoporon, seemingly waiting for him to take her hand.
The ferryman started to climb the hill he ran down from to reach the beautiful autumn goddess, for whom he felt immense love, but his time in paradise had come to an end. Ares’ laughter began to become audible and the sky started to tear apart and turn dark and grey and sad. With a last gasp of desperation, Charon blinked and found himself on his ferry, carrying the obnoxious god of war across the Styx.
After leaving Ares on Hades’ lair, Charon could think of nothing else. The ogre’s curse was having seen beauty for the first time. He arrived to the port to pick up mortals and fallen gods alike. As he sailed for his return, he was anticipating the encounter with Phthinoporon. Every time he neared the crossing between the Styx and Acheron he looked anxiously for the celestial handmaid, to no avail.
On his last trip to the dock, he saw a massive figure, removing coins from his eyes. The man’s hair flowed resplendently. His build was opulent and his countenance commanding. When Charon arrived, he saw that it was Zeus, ready to join his fallen comrades in the underworld. Zeus paid his fee and remained silent throughout the voyage. They were arriving at the crossing where the two rivers meet, and Charon did not bother to look for his beloved. A task he fervently pursued now held no meaning as he saw the last and mightiest of the gods smitten by the preferences of man.
“Ah, my darling Hera. I await my fate only to be with you”, said Zeus in a lovely voice upon arriving at the crossing.
Charon heard Zeus cry for his eternal wife and realized that where Hera was, he could find Phthinoporon. Without hesitation he threw his pole into the rotting river of the dead and sought out his autumn goddess. He caught a glimpse of her open eyes and threw himself in the river without thinking it twice. Zeus, perplexed at the ferryman’s crazed reaction stood dumbfounded, unaware that his fate now consisted of drifting aimlessly about the river Styx for all eternity. As Charon was reaching his beloved, his skin wilted away. He swam as far as he could, but his body could not swim any more. His body turned to dust, only inches away from touching his goddesses’ hands and be forever with her in the land of the fallen leaves.