“Neither the ferryman [Kharon (Charon)] nor the comrade [the Hydra] of the cruel beast [Kerberos (Cerberus)] bars the way [to the Underworld] to innocent souls.” —Statius, Silvae 2. 1. 228 ff
As usual, the woman went up to the edge of the cliff and looked out into the sea.
“I’ll be back soon,” her husband had promised. “One last trip and we’ll have enough to open that bakery you always dreamt of.” He laid his hand on her belly bump. “This little one won’t have to worry about money like we did.”
She smiled and laid her hand on top of his as they caressed her belly bump together in anticipation of their baby’s arrival.
That was five months ago.
He was supposed to be back after three months. He promised. So for the past two months, she had been climbing up that cliff behind their village and staring into the horizon, awaiting her lover’s return. Even when she grew bigger and her movements became awkward, she persevered.
While she was looking out into the sea for the ship her husband was on, she overlooked her village’s kindness; a message arrived one month after her husband had left - the ship he had boarded sank.
There were no survivors.
The villagers held council - worried that she would not accept such a blow given her condition, they told her that the day she heard the horn of the ship was the day her husband would return. They gave her a ghostly hope and kept the nightmare at bay. They decided to take care of her on her husband’s behalf - the kindness of the close-knit community.
They kept the secret and she kept watch for a ship which would never return.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months, years. The woman carried the baby for as long as it would stay under her heart, then in her arms after she gave birth to a healthy girl.
Both the mother and daughter kept vigil on the cliff. Still, the promised ship did not appear. And this continued until the daughter was nine years of age. One day, they stopped climbing the cliff; instead, the woman went around the village, buying dried goods and provisions.
Everyone in the village was puzzled but no one said a thing. They continued to keep the secret. “Maybe she’s finally moved on,” everyone thought. It took one nosey fishwife to find out the woman’s business.
“She said she saw the ship! And her husband rowed out in a boat to meet her!” the fishwife revealed. “She even said he is bringing her on a voyage tonight!”
The villagers heard a ghostly horn of a ship and rushed to her cottage immediately. But they were too late; she was already gone.
Only her daughter remained.
“Ma went on a trip with Pa,” the daughter explained as if it were the most natural thing in the world. “They said I’m too young to follow them to where they are going. But they will come back for me when I’m old enough!”
Shaken, the villagers bore the daughter away from the cottage. The villagers held council again and decided to tell her that the day she heard the horn of the ship was the day her parents would return. The villagers cared for her just as they cared for her mother - the kindness of the close-knit community.
The ship did not return and they heard no more of the mother.
The daughter grew up to be a beautiful woman, her gracefulness and kindness captivating the young son of the village head. They got married and she eventually had her own daughter as well. She and her husband did not go back to her mother’s cottage; they had a cottage near a river instead.
But old habits die hard.
The daughter would stand by the river, holding her child with a distant look in her eyes as she stared as far down the river as she could see. Her husband said nothing. He had heard the story from his father and thought it was her way of mourning.
He did not know the secret, for it was still well kept among the village elders.
Days turned to weeks, weeks to months and months, years. The daughter grew older as promised while her girl grew up at the river, learning to keep herself entertained by skipping stones as her mother stood on the river bank. Then they would go home and the daughter would prepare a meal for her girl and husband.
This continued every day for as far as the little girl could remember.
Until the day when the daughter’s girl reached nine years of age. The older villagers heard the ghostly horn of the ship. Distant memories stirred in their minds and they panicked. They had a hand in raising the daughter and had grown fond of her. They quickly got hold of the daughter’s husband and rushed to the cottage, much to his confusion.
The younger generation vaguely remembered their elders’ similar hysteria and they followed eagerly this time, finally able to witness the commotion. They were disappointed, for only the little girl was sitting placidly at the table in the cottage, eating her porridge.
The daughter was not around.
The little girl was surprised at the crowd and mildly irritated when her dinner was interrupted. Under her father and the older villagers’ frantic prompting, the little girl revealed what had happened.
Her words chilled everyone.
“Ma went on a trip with Grandma and Grandpa. They said I’m too young to follow them to where they are going. But they will come back for me when I’m old enough!”
They heard no more of the daughter too.
The father was heartbroken at his wife’s disappearance. Despite his insistent pleas to understand what had transpired and their prescient warning, the older generation of villagers refused to reveal their knowledge, still bound by their oath of keeping the secret. And now, horror.
The little girl who was left behind by her mother and grandmother grew up and had her own baby girl too. The long kept secret finally turned into a true secret, as her father and her husband had no idea what would happen. When the baby girl turned nine years of age, the ghostly horn of the ship sounded again.
Memories stirred but everyone was still too late.
The disappearance was inevitable.
The ship would come.
Originally published here. This is a free link to the post on Medium.
I published this story a while back. But apparently, Medium hates this story. There are not many readers and it got buried so I am posting it here.
I personally like this story. Charon is possibly one of the most, if not the most, silenced character in Greek mythology. His job is to ferry souls across River Styx as long as he receives the payment in the form of a gold coin.
When I first read about him, I wonder who he is, what his backstory is and why he wants payment of a gold coin for every soul he ferries.
This is the result of that.
I hope you enjoy reading as much as I enjoy writing it.