It makes no wake, no waves lap the shore ahead of its arrival –
For so swift is its advance, and so massive its bulk appears,
That were it to set a wave in motion, they would all be washed away.
It looms before them, still some distance off, but to McAdoo
It seems he might be flying into obsidian cliffs.
Consider a great thunderhead, first seen low upon the horizon
While you are picking strawberries.
And you think, no, it’s fine, I have plenty of time
Before the storm’s arrival… Time to search and pluck,
To fill my basket to overflowing
So you resume your task, admiring each luscious berry,
And then you look again, and the cloud is nigh upon you,
And the wind stirs, and the birds fall silent,
And you run to seek shelter – so was the ferry’s
Swift and silent advance towards the river’s shore.
The great ship stops its forward progress. Looking up,
They can barely see the prow, so high and far away it is.
Then with a great creaking the bow opens,
Fanning out into a thousand gangplanks reaching towards the shore.
It opens like a peacock’s tail, spreads out like a black cloak across the water.
“One coin is for when you embark, another for when you leave,”
Said the Guide. “Hold the biscuits – you’ll need them on the other side.”
“And the third coin?” asked Smith (A.) – the Guide in answer cleared his throat.
“Ah,” said McAdoo, reaching into his pocket. “Thank you for your help.”
He handed the Guide a coin, which he accepted with a bow.
“It has been my pleasure,” said the Guide. “Now – Watch your step.”
McAdoo turned, and walked toward the nearest gangplank.
Several shades moved in front of him, several fell in behind.
He turned, concerned for his companions, but the Guide waved him on
He saw them all behind him, lining up amongst the spirits.
Slowly the queue moved forward. Ahead of him he saw a brief flurry
Of motion, and it seemed that something fell from the gangplank
Into the dark but shallow waters below. A shade emerged,
Walked back to the shore, and resumed its place among the crowd,
There to wait, thought McAdoo, for another millennium or so.
Then he was at the gangplank’s end, before an inscrutable face.
“Welcome, mortal,” said a voice. “Your presence has been anticipated.
Payment, please.” He handed the wraith his second coin, and stepped aboard –
And found himself astride a small rowboat. He stumbled, pitching forward,
As the tiny craft yawed dangerously under his weight.
“Sit down,” said the old man at the bow. “You’re rocking the boat.”
McAdoo sat, bewildered, struggling to comprehend. “The ferry -”
“Come now, McAdoo,” the old man chided. “Do you not know
That though all must take this journey, and many at the selfsame time,
Nonetheless each and every one must go through it on their own?”
“Charon,” breathed McAdoo. The old man bowed. “The same,” he said.
“There are none who cross but it is I who take them there.”
McAdoo looked about him, but only water, endless, returned his gaze.
“But this – this is your trip. Sit back, relax, let your mind be calm.
I cannot answer all your questions, but I can answer some.”
But even McAdoo, whose mind leapt like a leopard towards gazelles,
Could find no words to speak, or sort through the many thoughts
That clamored for attention in his mind. For there beyond the rugged bow
A shoreline’s shape he saw emerging, and knew it to be his goal,
And that he soon would step upon the well-worn shore of Hell.