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See now this is what happens when you don’t take care of your employees!

Replacing Charon


Gustavo Bondoni


            It was always ridiculously easy to tell which divisions had good news to share even before the annual board meeting began.  Marketing, for example had obviously had a tremendous year.  Goebbels had chosen a seat right next to the head of the table.  He was sitting straight on the edge of his chair and looked so eager for the meeting to start that is was almost painful, in a pathetic sort of way.  Others, on the other hand, slouched back from the table in the smoky recesses of the boardroom, lighting one cigarette after another.  Engineering, in particular, must have been very nervous after the cave-in, as Leonardo had even shaved his beard before attending.  I could barely see him in off in the shadows.

            And I wasn’t seated particularly close to the Boss anyway.  My superior had chosen a point towards the center of the table, trying to avoid attention one way or another.  He was nobody’s fool, this Smith.  He had come from a large oil company, and had only been here thirty years before managing to claw his way to the top through a combination of ruthless competence and calculated backstabbing.  People had made director faster, but it was unusual.

            When the Boss finally did arrive, he did so in the usual fashion, with a cloud of sulfurous smoke and a loud bang.  Showy, but what was the Company without a bit of pizzazz?  It was only my second year as Smith’s Assistant Director, and had been warned, unnecessary as it was.  Last year’s virgin sacrifice on the table right in front of me had sort of prepared me for just about anything.  Blood all over my best suit.  Well, it was an accepted fact of life that the new guy had to pay his dues, so I hadn’t complained.  Much.  This year, I was an accepted part of the board, and it was likely that the brand-new, wet-behind-the-ears, AD for Environmental Control would bear the brunt of any razzing.

            The only thing that still puzzled me is where in Hell they had found the virgin.  I had been too afraid to ask at the time, and was embarrassed to do so now, lest I be ostracized as an innocent.

            The Boss called the meeting to order in that inimitable rumbling earthquake of a voice we had all grown to hate over the decades.  Being addressed by the Boss was almost never good news, and I felt a Pavlovian reaction coming on, my whole body wanted to dive under the table and be done with it.  Only the fact that past observation had shown this to be a spectacularly painful course of action kept me from doing so.

            He looked us over.  His complexion seemed even deeper red than usual, if that were possible.  He was not in a good mood.  Off in the distance, I saw Leonardo sink even lower into his chair.  From where I was seated I could only see the top of his head.  Those cost overruns must have been even worse than I thought.

            “Would anyone like to begin?” Asked the Boss.  He said it much too softly.  Despite my short experience in board meetings, something was telling me this one was going to be a killer.  The nervous fidgeting from my superior only served to confirm my fears.

            Goebbels, however, seemed not to notice.  It was either that, or he had unbelievable numbers to show.  He jumped right up and said, “Marketing would like to begin, sir.”  The Boss nodded.

            Goebbels picked up a magic marker that had been neatly positioned on the table and walked to a blackboard.  He consulted a sheaf of handwritten notes and began to write as he spoke.

            “As you all know,” he began, “our share has been steadily increasing for the last decade.  We are currently at ninety-five percent and all the tendencies are favorable.  We are increasing penetration across genders, races and religious groups.  We are choking the competition out of existence.  Soon, we will have everyone, and they will just have to make do with the souls they currently have.”

            Ninety-five percent?  No wonder he was just about bursting with the news.  Share hadn’t been that high since the crusades!  But the Boss didn’t look as happy as I would have expected.  He cleared his throat and silence immediately ensued.

            “Joseph, the numbers look good.”  He began softly, but the volume became deafening when he continued.  “But why are you showing me them on a blackboard?  Where is your presentation?  You call this preparation?  Your answer had better be good, because if not, you’ll be shoveling coal for the Eternal Fire Corporation.  Do you have any idea how long it would take you to make director again from there?  The record is three hundred years.  And that was Cleopatra.  She slept her way back up!”  Goebbels looked as if he wanted the floor to swallow him up at that moment.  Then he looked as if he had remembered that being swallowed up by the floor was not only possible, but also somewhat unpleasant.  It had a tendency to chew.

            “All the systems are down, sir.”  He said in a very small voice.

“What?  Again?” This was a bellow of unbridled rage.  I shook my head in admiration.  The Boss was really good at that.  “Systems!”

“Here, sir.”  A bald guy with a ponytail, wearing Bermuda shorts and a flowered shirt spoke up from where he was sitting at the far end of the table.  I vaguely remembered him as the IT Director.  The Boss glared at him.

“Why are my systems down, Socrates?”

“I have no idea, sir.  I don’t understand how any of it works.  Something about a SAP meltdown.  Or was that a missing LAN?  I don’t know.  Something like that.  Anyway, you should do what I do.  Pick up that phone and dial four sevens, and you’ll reach the helpdesk.  I’m not sure how a desk can help, but I find that it does.”

The Boss glared at him, but said nothing.  It was the answer one expected from an IT director, who was normally promoted because everyone else on the staff was actually doing work, and were therefore difficult to replace and hence unpromotable.  He punched the speaker option and we all listened as the phone rang at some help desk somewhere on a floor a long way below us. 





Finally, a recorded dulcet voice answered.

“We’re sorry, the helpdesk is unavailable at this time, due to the fact the systems are down.  Please call again once you have solved this problem.  Have a nice day.”

Socrates disappeared in a flash of smoke.  The Boss now directed his glare at the newly promoted IT Director, who had been an Assistant Director just a moment before.  His horns glinted evilly.

“Who’s in charge?”  He roared.

“Er, you are, sir…” 

The Boss rolled his eyes.  He slammed his head on the table a few times in frustration.  Steam poured out of his ears.  Still, this one was undeniably great Systems material.

“I meant, who’s in charge of keeping the system up?” He said.

“Oh.  Er.  That would be Schliemann, sir.”  The new IT Director said, looking up from his notes.


“Yes, sir.”

“The archaeologist?  The one who’s down here because he was a gun-runner on the side?”

“Actually, it’s the other one, sir.”

“The other one?”

“Yes, sir.  Fred sir. The one who worked for Microsoft before his accident.  According to my personnel files you selected him yourself.”  Said the new IT director.

“Oh, no.  Not that one!”

“I’m afraid so.”

“Damn.  All right, get him on the line.”  The Boss didn’t look at all hopeful that a satisfactory solution could possibly be found.  The phone rang again.  This time, no one answered.

The Boss let out a bellow of absolute rage.  He looked evilly at the IT Director, who cringed behind the table.

The Boss snapped his fingers and an unshaven, stocky guy in his underwear materialized out of thin air, looking very irritated.  This, in itself, was very unusual.  When summoned by the Boss, one usually felt confusion (if it was your first time) or abject terror (always).

“Hello Fred.”  The Boss’ tail moved from side to side.  I don’t know what that meant, but I took it to be a bad sign.  Another bad sign was that Fred hadn’t materialized in just any way.  He was suspended upside-down in the air about a foot above the meeting table.  The Boss punctuated his greeting by dropping the hapless engineer headfirst onto the table before lifting him back into his position.  Fred responded by looking even more irritated.  Evidently, he wasn’t completely devoid of self-preservatory instincts, as he actually kept his mouth shut.

“Fred, I have a problem.”  He began.  Fred said nothing.

“My systems seem to be down.”

“No, the systems work just fine,” said Fred.  The Boss bounced him off the table again.

“As I was saying before being interrupted so rudely, my systems seem to be down.  This makes it impossible for us to conduct the normal procedure for this meeting, as we can’t use the overhead projector.”

“E-mail’s down too.” Interjected Goebbels.

“Oh,” said Fred, evidently understanding what they were talking about. “Those systems!  They’re not actually down.  It’s just that we reallocated the memory we normally use to keep them online to a process with higher priority.  It’s just a temporary measure.”

“Temporary? It’s been down for a week!”  Goebbels seemed to be desperate that someone else take the blame.  Heads nodded around the table.

“That long? Hmmmm.”  Fred looked as if this were news to him.  He also looked as if it would have been news to him had someone been so bold to state that the sun should rise in the morning.  The Boss looked at him in a strange way, and when he spoke, it was in that soft, dangerous voice of his.

“What, if, of course, I may ask, is this high priority process you are running?”  He purred.  He bounced Fred lightly off the top of the table just to make sure he had his full attention.

“Er… We’re conducting a simulation.” Said Fred.

“A simulation?”

“Er…  Yes.  Er.”

The Boss looked at him skeptically and bounced him off the table.  Even from my vantage point a few yards distant, I could tell that the table had been dented in quite a few places by this treatment.

“Ouch!” Exclaimed Fred, rubbing his head.  “What was that for?”

“Just on general principles.  What kind of simulation are you running?”

“We are running a simulation in which selected employees of the company and outside elements resolve difficult computer-generated scenarios through the application of teamwork and advanced tactical thinking under stressful and highly changeable conditions.” Said Fred.  “As you can imagine, this takes up quite a large chunk of memory, as there are currently over ten thousand individuals involved.”

The Boss looked at him.  He was turning purple.  I had never seen him quite this angry before.  The steam coming out of his ears was melting a hole in the asbestos tiling of the roof.  For a moment, he actually looked too angry to speak, but finally got a hold of himself and managed.

“You’re (bounce) playing (bounce) Counter-Strike (bounce) again, (bounce, bounce, bouncety-bounce, bounce) aren’t you (bounce, bounce! BOUNCE! Crunch!)? Answer me!”

Fred said something that was difficult to decipher, mainly due to the fact that his head had finally broken through the wood of the table, and his voice was coming from underneath it.  From my vantage point, it looked as though a particularly ugly five-foot tall fungus had sprouted from the table and grown, for some unfathomable reason, arms and legs.  It also had bad taste in unclean boxer shorts.

Striking a blow for intelligibility, although probably a great blow against the concept of meaningful communication, the Boss pulled Fred back out of the hole.

“What?”  Said the Boss.  Fred looked at him resentfully.

“I said it’s actually a modified version of Counter-Strike which allows more players.”

“And you’ve had several of my employees tied up with this for over a week?”

“A few thousand, yes.”  By this time, Fred had given up trying to bluff his way out of it and had accepted the fact that he’d have to face the issues put in front of him.

“It ends now.”

“Sorry, can’t do that.” 

An impressive sheet of flame engulfed the engineer, who screamed wildly and writhed in pain.  I looked away, not wanting to watch.

When I finally looked back, I immediately regretted it, although not for the reasons one might expect.  It transpired that Fred hadn’t actually been harmed by the flame, except for having had all the hair burned from his body.  Unfortunately, said flame had also burned off the boxer shorts.  While they had been grubby, smelly and had been stamped with what were possibly the ugliest green flamingoes I had ever had the misfortune of being unable to avoid seeing, they were sorely missed.

“How about now?”  Said the Boss.

“I still can’t.  God knows I want to.”  The whole building shook.  “Oops sorry about that, Boss, it just slipped out.  The problem is that we programmed the machine so that if anyone tries to end the program prematurely, the whole thing shuts down and formats all the company’s computers.”

“Why did you do that?”

Fred Shrugged.  “In case management found out and tried to stop us.”

“Oh.”  The boss considered this, and thought it sounded reasonable enough.  “Can’t you unplug it?”

“That doesn’t work.  After the last cost-cutting measures, we were ordered to save electricity.  We asked them how, and they told us to unplug the computers or something.  We’ve been running the computers unplugged for the last four years, and they don’t seem to notice.  Physics is pretty weird around here, in case you haven’t noticed.”  It was hard to argue with this, especially as it was coming from someone suspended upside-down a foot above a table, and who, furthermore, had materialized there mere minutes before.

“Damn!”   Said the Boss.

Fred disappeared, presumably to finish his game of Counter-Strike.  I couldn’t understand it; I had seen the Boss cut people of Fred’s station slowly into small cubes for failing to hit the ground hard enough with their heads when groveling.  Yet this act of gross insubordination had gone unpunished.

“HR!”  The boss bellowed.  Uh, oh, that meant us!  And he was really, really pissed now.

“Here,” said Smith.  He straightened in his chair and was all business now.

“What can I do to him?  Can I grind him into mincemeat and keep him alive so I can burn the little pieces?”

“No sir, he’s on loan from Purgatory Ozone Inc., where he was assigned.  We’re not supposed to damage him in any permanent way.”  Ahhh!  That explains it!

“I can put him back together afterwards!”

“Sorry sir.  The contract is very specific about that.  Anything that would cause permanent harm were he still alive is strictly off limits.”

The Boss looked despondent for a second, but brightened quickly.

“Can I at least turn him into a slug for the duration of his contract?”  He looked at us hopefully.

“I’m not sure…”  Smith began.  The Boss silenced him with a wave and snapped his fingers.

“There.  It’s done.  I don’t care.  It’s Legal’s problem now.”  Off in the distance, Mephistopheles gave him a sour look, but wisely said nothing.

“Now,” continued the boss, “let’s get to the real business.”  Smith relaxed, and Leonardo went even deeper into his chair.  All I could see was the tip of his pointy hat, as the boss consulted his notes.


Oh, no!  This was us.  We straightened and listened intently to what the boss had to say.  It was possible that the rest of our eternal existence would hinge on the events of the next few minutes.

“It has come to my attention that Charon has decided to leave the company.  Can you confirm this?”

“Er, yes,” said Smith, “but I wasn’t going to bring it up.  I don’t think a low level employee like that was important enough for a board meeting.”  Smith sniffed.  “Barely a nuisance, I would say.”  I immediately saw from the Boss’ face that this had not been the best thing to say.

“A nuisance? A nuisance?  He’d been with us for six thousand years!  He was with me when all this –” He gestured around him, making it completely unclear whether he was referring to the boardroom, the building, or Hell itself, “- When all this was just a few guys in a shack trying to get a few souls away from the Almighty.  When, if we had to punish someone, he would have to wait for us to find someone else with some spare time on his hands to build the fire.  But even then, when we were so poor, I could count on Charon guarding the river!  He didn’t even say goodbye.  Could you tell me how you managed to bungle your job so badly that one of my most trusted and loyal employees felt the need to leave?”

“There was a conflict over profit sharing and obnoxious fat women.”


“He insisted that it was his right to keep the coins given him for passage, and also that his habit of pushing paying customers into the River Styx if they irritated him was perfectly acceptable.  He had a special problem with loud fat women.  We determined that both practices were bad for business and ordered him to stop.”  Smith shrugged.  “He quit.  We can replace him easily enough.  It’s not as if the qualifications for the job are particularly stringent; all you really have to do is be able to pole a boat across a river.  And stand around looking enigmatic and menacing. Child’s play.”

The Boss nodded.

“I disagree,” he said.  Smith disappeared.  He turned and looked at me.  I swallowed very hard.

“Your predecessor and former supervisor will spend the next ten centuries roasting slowly over a small fire.  This sort of punishment is unusual in the extreme for board members.  I usually just send you back to the very lowest and dirtiest job available, with thousands of levels of management between you and me.  I enjoy watching the progress as you try to make your way back up.  This time I made an exception.  I tell you this only because I want you to understand how angry I am at your department right now.  Are we clear?”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak.

“Good.   You have a week to bring me a recommendation on who to place in Charon’s position until you get him back.”

“Yes sir.”  I said.

I had no idea how I was going to accomplish either of those tasks, but I was aware that failure was not an option.

Meanwhile, the Boss had, finally, turned his attention to Engineering, in the end deciding to disband the whole department and assign their projects to a newly created joint office for interior decoration and Yoga headed by Attila the Hun.

I barely noticed.  I was thinking about where in the world I would go if I was Charon, essentially tattered black robes wrapped around a frame of sticks with glowing red eyes, to lie low and be hard to find.  This was going to be a tough one.




Charon, in fact, had just ordered his second double Scotch on the rocks in the Pink Butterfly, a gay bar in Fort Lauderdale, chosen mainly on the strength of the fact that Charon knew almost nothing about human customs, straight or otherwise, and also on the fact that he had decided, after a bit of soul-searching that he rather liked butterflies after all.

Although he wasn’t aware of it, his choice was quite fortuitous, seeing as how a gay bar is the sort of place where an entity that doesn’t conform to society’s stuffy structures is least likely to draw comments or even to be looked at askance.  Even if that entity is obviously not human, looks like a stick figure wrapped in tattered black robes and has only one, or rather two, facial features:  glowing red eyes.

He was talking to the barman, who, despite being extremely open minded both on general principles and as a very habitat-specific survival trait, was not enjoying the conversation at all.

“So,” Said the barman, “I don’t think I’ve seen you around before.”

“No,” Replied Charon.  His voice was like the wind over the mountains.  “But I knew your grandmother, Frida.”

“That can’t be.  Frida’s been dead for over fifty years!”

“Yes.  I met her shortly after that.”

There was an uncomfortable silence as man and immortal entity mulled this over in silence.  One lost in reverie, thinking of simpler, better times, the other wondering if it would be all right if he simply spared everyone some time and went mad right away.   The barman was saved from having to answer by Charon’s next comment, which was the one that made it impossible for him to sleep for the next six months.

“Fat and loud.  I took her penny and tossed her into the river.”  Charon fixed the barman with his terrible glowing gaze.  “Is that so bad?  What’s wrong with an entity simply enjoying the pleasure of watching an immortal soul be torn to shreds by the nameless creatures of the River Styx? Can you tell me?”

No answer was forthcoming.

“I need more scotch,” said Charon.  The barman fled.

“Wow,” said a voice from Charon’s right, whose owner was dressed in a dark green suit “I’ve always thought that mysterious supernatural entities were much more worthwhile than other men.  I mean, men are all the same.  Do you know what I mean?”

“I know what you mean.  I also know much more than you can even imagine,” said Charon.


“Life.  Death.  The eternal soul. Everything.”

“Do you know about Macadamia nuts?”


“And the music of Barry White?”

“Unfortunately, yes.”

“Wow, let me buy you a drink.”

And so it was that when that guy finally left, another took his place, followed by a third, and so on until about seven in the morning.  The stack of pieces of paper with phone numbers written on them that Charon carried out of the bar could have done for a who’s who of the most desperate men in the Miami area.  He also hadn’t paid for a single one of the drinks he had had that night, which was a fortunate thing, as most of the coinage he carried was not likely to be accepted or even recognized in a bar on Las Olas Boulevard.  It was also fortunate because he had consumed about two thousand dollars worth of whisky.

Which likely explains the fact that he never even saw the car that knocked him halfway down the block when he tried to cross the street.




The boss popped into my office and dropped something on my desk.  He popped back out.

My heartbeat returned to normal, and, as the sulphurous smoke slowly cleared, I was able to make out a copy of the Miami Herald that hadn’t been there before.  It had a yellow note stuck onto it, which said, “Yours, I think.”

This being The Company, and the boss being the boss, I was sure the note was not referred to good news or a high point in my career.  Anything else, however, I was willing to believe.

And it didn’t take me long to spot the bad news.  This is not due to any overly large capacity for analysis on my part, but was mainly due to the fact that the bad news was printed just below the words “Miami” and “Herald”, and was, moreover, composed of bold lettering two inches high.  The words said:  “Immortal being fails to dodge Dodge”.  And there was a photo of what was, unmistakably, Charon just below this.

He was on a stretcher.

Unsurprisingly, this did nothing improve my mood.  I sighed and turned the TV to CNN, where a man in a white lab coat was holding court, surrounded by microphones wielded by a great number of presumably dangerous individuals.  The audio filled my office.

“Dr. Ross, how would you describe Charon’s condition at this time?”

“Er.  We would describe it as undead and stable.”

“So he’s alive?”

“Er…  No.”

“So he’s dead, then?”

“No.  We can definitely state that he’s not dead.”

“How do you know?  Have you taken his pulse?”

“We tried that, but couldn’t actually find any arteries.  No breath either.”

“So how can you say that he’s not dead?”

“Well, son, in all my years practicing medicine, I have yet to encounter a dead patient with a hangover as bad as the one Charon seems to be describing.”

“Dr. Ross, what…”

I turned the TV off and thought about Miami.  The last time I had been to Miami was with Ponce de Leon.  I needed help.

I thought about it for a while before deciding that I would take the systems guy with me.  I had looked through his file thoroughly after the last board meeting, just in case the boss wanted any additional information.  He had died quite recently, and would probably know about Miami.  Plus, I had decided that this was all his fault, so he should have to atone.  So I walked down to his office. 

I found it easily, as it is not very difficult for anyone in any company to deduce that the door with the sign that says “no entrance - beware of leopard” on it always leads to computer geeks.

Unfortunately, the company was the company, and the geeks had somehow managed to get hold of a leopard, which they had trained, it seemed, to jump on anyone who opened the door and rip out his or her throat, which did nothing for my mood.

Eventually, the leopard was called off from inside the room, allowing me to stand up and heal painfully.  Fortunately, the process was quick.  Hell would be rather pointless if suffering could be ended by something as simple as having your throat torn out by a leopard.  The boss was much more creative than that, having had all of eternity to practice.

I saw Schliemann sitting at a terminal putting together a 3-D animation which seemed to involve robotic animals doing something very graphic to a mermaid, although I was never very good at deciphering modern art.

“Hello, Schliemann,” I said.

He turned to face me.

“You’ve been seconded to human resources for a special project,” I lied.  I explained the situation to him, which seemed to make him unhappy in the extreme.

“You want me to go to Miami?  I hate Miami.  You have to be fit or cool or Cuban to be in Miami.  I mean, they would have discriminated against me when I was alive, I don’t even want to think about how they’ll react to me now.  I can just imagine trying to get into a nightclub…” 

Tuning out Schliemann’s ramble, I pulled out my phone and called the transport department.

“Get me a hotel room in Miami.  And rig the computers so they think I have a reservation.  Send Schliemann in first, dematerialize him slowly, I’ll follow in five.”

Schliemann shut up when he started disintegrating.  He gave me a betrayed look and opened his mouth.

Cutting him off quickly, I told him to get us a room.  Then I sat down to wait my turn, looking at his computer screen and trying to figure out if the mermaid was anatomically correct or the product of a seriously deranged imagination.  I was still undecided when I was whisked to Miami.





Most reporters would have given anything to be the first in history to get an exclusive interview with a supernatural being.  For this reason, Charon should have been surprised at the lack of newshounds outside the hospital, even at four in the morning.  Nevertheless, even reporters have to give priority to important subjects over merely earth-shaking ones, so they were all on stakeout outside Madonna’s island house.  Rumor had it her dog had died in suspicious circumstances.

So the hospital entrance was deserted, allowing Charon to simply walk out of the hospital.  He had eventually stopped complaining about his headache and just laid still, until, not knowing what else to do with a nonbreathing entity with glowing red eyes, the hospital staff had finally decided to stow him away in a large drawer in the morgue.  After a while, Charon had simply pushed open the drawer and walked out.  The choice of four in the morning was a fortuitous one, as the bodies habitually discovered in the early morning in Miami would not begin arriving for another couple of hours.

He walked aimlessly down the deserted streets until, at length, he arrived at the mouth of a dark alley in the downtown area, and suddenly felt extremely homesick.  The dark, pointless emptiness and foul smell reminded him of home.  It suddenly hit him exactly how much he missed the sulfurous fires, the eternal darkness and the screams of tortured souls.  Even the fat women weren’t all that bad when you came right down to it.

Going back was out of the question.  Smith had made it perfectly clear that in today’s modern company there was no room for what Smith called his “barbaric habits and idiosyncrasies”.  That door was closed to him forever.

He knew that there were excellent pits of suffering and despair available on this world, where a soul could exist in the blissful knowledge that other people were suffering considerably more than he was.  But he also knew, instinctively, that no matter how far he wandered in this world, he would never fit in completely.

Had he been human, this would have been the place where he simply broke down and cried.  This was, sadly, impossible for him to do at the moment.  He actually found himself wishing that he could, as he suspected it would make him feel enormously better.  So, being unable to find a better use for his time, he just stood and looked at the wall of the alley.  To his surprise, the wall had been written upon in human script.  Obviously not by a Marketing genius, as a sign here was only visible if one should happen to be standing exactly in Charon’s present position.

He painstakingly deciphered the human script.  The writing said ‘Shark Territory - Keep Out’.  Reading this, Charon looked around nervously.  He knew about sharks.  They were similar to the creatures that lived in the river Styx.  The ones that tore apart the souls he threw into it.

He was quite relieved that no sharks had entered the alleyway while he was distracted, and that he was alone with seven youthful humans in red jackets.

“You’d better leave before the sharks arrive,” Charon said to them, motioning at the writing while he moved towards the mouth of the alley.  “Nasty creatures, sharks.”

“You don’t say,” said one of the humans, moving to block his path.

“Yes, really.  Look.”  It suddenly occurred to Charon that, perhaps, this human was unable to read.  He understood that this happened with alarming frequency among the living.  “The sign on the wall clearly states this.  Be careful.”

The young human looked stunned.  He turned to his companions without getting out of Charon’s way.

“It seems we have a comedian here tonight.”  The group snickered.  “What are you, a cop?”

“No,” replied Charon, “I’m a Ferryman.”

The effect on the group was immediate.  There was no more smiling they all shifted position slightly, and looked somehow more menacing than before.

“I’ve never heard of your gang, although I gotta admit the uniforms are an inspired touch.  Black robes stand out and have a very sinister air, and all.  But I also think you’ve made a very big mistake coming into this alley alone.  You see we’re in a really bad mood right now.  You must understand that Rico got busted again tonight, and we’ve been out looking for the rat.  And I think we just found him.”

“I’m not a rat,” said Charon, who wasn’t.  It was obvious that these people not only couldn’t read, they also seemed to be extremely dense. “I’m a Ferryman.”

“Do you really think we will let you walk in and take over our territory?  Your friends the Ferrymen are going to get a message tonight.  And you’re going to be the message.  Goodbye, rat.”

“I told you, I’m not-” The rest of what Charon had to say was lost under the barrage of chains and baseball bats that suddenly seemed to fly at him from everywhere at once.  The youths beat him until he fell over, and then continued to work him over on the ground.  This went on for about fifteen minutes.

“Is he dead yet?”

Charon moved.  The youths began to hit him again.

“How about now?”

“I don’t know.”  Answered another.

“Well, check, then!”

“No pulse, Mikey.” 

“Let’s run, then.”  Said the leader.  They were almost at the mouth of the alley when the dead man they were leaving on the ground spoke to them.  What he said, while not overly deep, would haunt them forever.

“Ouch,” said Charon, sitting up.  He then realized that sitting up had been a bad idea and lay down again for a bit.





“What do you mean, he’s gone?”  I was furious.  I was bewildered.  I was aghast.  For some reason, I was also extremely unsurprised.  It had just been one of those weeks.

“He left, sir.” The nurse seemed very put upon. She explained to me that the journalists hadn’t believed her either, and they were tired and cranky.  They had also had a bad night.  Finding nobody to give them any explanation about the death of the dog, they had decided to take matters into their own hands and forced the gate.  It was at this time that they discovered that Madonna’s dog was very much alive, and that it was a well trained attack Doberman.  The survivors had returned to the hospital after that, and not only did they not believe her, they thought she was part of the cover-up.

 “And nobody saw him?”

“No, sir.”

“He’s a skeleton wrapped in tattered robes with glowing red eyes and no face, for God’s sake! How could nobody have noticed him?  Are you all blind as well as stupid?”

Judging by the reaction of two large orderlies, this was probably the wrong thing to say. But I still think that they could have at least tried to avoid hitting the tree when they threw me out.  It’s a good thing I was already dead, because the landing would otherwise have taken much longer to heal.

Some minutes later, I was back at the hotel.

“So, how did it go?” asked Schliemann.

“Unless you want to be reassigned to sewage disposal for the rest of eternity, you will shut up until I speak to you again.  Are we clear?”

“That bad, huh?”

I sat down and tried to do the usual mental exercises.  Where would I go if I was Charon?  I just had too much trouble finding any sort of emphatic bond with an entity quite that alien. 

And then it hit me.  I had tools I could use.  Twenty-five years in HR had taught me quite a lot.

“Schliemann,” I said, “I need you to call the Miami Herald.  I need to place an ad in the jobs classifieds.”

“I don’t the boss is going to let you walk out of this one, even if you do get a job here.” He smirked.

“Shut up and listen.  I want the ad to say the following: ‘Wanted: being to ferry tourists to the Keys.  Perks include being allowed to throw obnoxious fat women into shark-infested waters.  Experience with the supernatural a plus.’”  I was happy with it, and it seemed to me that Charon would eventually have to read it, as he would probably be feeling as lost as I was trying to find him.  Eventually, I was sure he would try to get a job, just in order to fit in.  And the text of the ad was ideally suited to our quarry.

We set it up simply.  We would conduct the interview in the hotel room itself. I would stand behind the door and hit Charon over the head with a lead pipe that I had brought along for this purpose.  Then we would skedaddle back to Hell, and install him on his boat with an unbreakable contract and a raise.  I admired my own brilliant plan.

I went to bed feeling smug.  And awoke the next morning feeling smug.  I felt incredibly smug when the doorbell rang early the next morning and unbelievably so as I swung the pipe.

My smugness ended abruptly when I noticed I had brained an ordinary-looking fellow clutching a newspaper.

I asked Fred to hold the fort while I disposed of the body.  In the end, we had over five hundred responses to the ad, none of them from Charon.  Men, women, old, young, fat, thin, and even one guy who claimed to be the Phantom of the Opera.  Fred turned them all away.

It was nearly eight at night when I finally decided to call it quits.  I was absolutely dejected by this turn of events.  The knock at the door surprised me, and I was unprepared when Charon walked in.  It seemed to me that he was limping, but perhaps it was just my imagination.

“I’m here about the job.”  He said.

“Do you have any pertinent experience?”  Fred was quite accomplished at repeating this line by now.

“I was the Ferryman at the river Styx for over six thousand years.”

“Very impressive.  Do you have your resume with you?”

“No.”  Charon seemed to deflate, which was a neat trick coming from a being with almost no mass to begin with.  “I suppose you’ll tell me I can’t work here without one.  He turned to leave.  And ran into me.

“Not necessarily, I said smoothly.  We just need you to sign here and you can start tomorrow.”

Charon signed the proffered contract.  I couldn’t believe how easy this had been.

“Welcome back, Charon.”  I smiled and hit him with the pipe.




All in all, thought Charon, it could have been worse.  At first, he had been furious, but then he realized that nobody had complained when he started throwing fat women into the river again.

Emboldened by this, he decided that anyone wearing hats would also fall in.  And still no complaints.  He eventually expanded this to include people with a British accent.

But the people he most enjoyed “accidentally” throwing overboard were anybody and everybody from Miami, especially all the people he had met.  Miami had not been good to him, so he wasn’t being good to it.  And as for the gang that had beaten him up, he was content to wait.  They weren’t likely to go to heaven, and he had made a special arrangement with the dark denizens of the river for their disposal.

They would be here.  And he would be waiting.

Life was good.