Charon languidly fingers his unkempt beard as he awaits the arrival of the most recently deceased, who he will ferry dutifully across the River Styx. He has occupied this dreary post long enough to see many black boulders along the shoreline reduced to pebbles by the lazy Styx’s unceasing flow, yet he never tires of admiring its hypnotic deep blue waters. Just as he begins to recall the words of the philosopher Heraclitus, a confused-looking man emerges from the black fog and approaches him.
Algernon: Excuse me... What happened? Where am I?
Charon: You’re dead, buddy. Sorry to break the bad news.
Algernon: Really! I was beginning to think so. I was just crossing the street this morning, when all of a sudden, something strange happened and I was lying on my back, and I couldn’t feel anything. All I could see was this beautiful shade of blue. I guess it was the sky. And then I ended up here.
Charon: Yeah, you’ve been hit by a car. It happens. If you want to go on to the Underworld, you’ll have to cross this river, and I’ll ferry you across if you can pay me.
Algernon: Well, I guess I should have looked both ways. Oh well. Pauses for a moment. Oh, you’re waiting for payment! Do you take credit or debit?
Charon: Debit, please.
He hands Charon a plastic debit card, which suddenly disintegrates into ash.
Algernon: Hey, my card!
Charon: It’s not like you’ll be needing it again anytime soon. Come on, get in the boat and I’ll take you.
Algernon sits in the rear of the boat and pulls out his phone as Charon begins to paddle away from the shore.
Algernon: I don’t suppose you have WiFi down here?
Charon glances at the phone, which disintegrates into ash.
Charon: Sorry, buddy, but you can’t take your phone with you. No worldly possessions allowed.
Algernon’s clothing turns into ash, and he coughs and brushes the powder off of his skin.
Algernon: Shoot! I guess it’s for the best, though. I’ve been meaning to break my phone habit for a while. At least I get to have some “me time” now. Pauses. Say, I’m kinda hungry. What do you guys have to eat down here?
Charon: There’s no eating in the Land of the Dead, I’m afraid.
Algernon suddenly begins to cough violently, expelling a puff of ash from his mouth and nose. When he begins to speak again, red-faced and teary-eyed from coughing, his voice sounds garbled.
Algernon: Dude, my tongue is gone! You really meant business when you said “no worldly possessions,” huh? Laughs. Eh, no big deal. At this point I’m really just curious about what the Underworld looks like.
Charon: Sorry to disappoint, but eyeballs qualify as worldly possessions.
Algernon’s eyeballs disintegrate.
Algernon: Damn! Too bad. That’s okay, it will still be pretty cool to hang out with all of my favorite late authors and thinkers, even if I can’t see them. I wonder what Plato and Aristotle have to say about everything that has happened since they died? Oh, and Menippus the Cynic! I’ve always wanted to talk to him - I’ve read that he’s a hilarious character.
Algernon’s ears disintegrate.
Charon: (Communicating telepathically with Algernon) Come on, how many times do I have to tell you? No worldly possessions!
Algernon: Shrugs. My bad, I should have guessed. Holds up his hands and wriggles his fingers. I guess these have to go too, huh?
Algernon’s body desintegrates, leaving only a slimy brain in a pile of ashes.
Charon: (Telepathically) That’s right.
Algernon: (Telepathically) Man, there must be a lot of extremely bored people in this Underworld of yours. Don’t worry about me, though. I’ve had the privelege of a top-notch education during my lifetime. Math and philosophy will easily give me enough food for thought to last an eternity.
Charon: (Telepathically) Now you’re going on about worldly pleasures again! None of your fancy knowledge about philosophy and mathematics is allowed down here.
A few chunks of Algernon’s brain disintegrate.
Algernon: (Telepathically) Nice try, but even if you erase everything I remember, I can still entertain myself indefinitely. After all, part of the beauty of mathematics is that it can be reconstructed from the ground up using nothing but logic and reason!
Charon: (Telepathically) Logic and reason, you say?
Algernon’s prefrontal cortex, along with a few other sections of his brain, disintegrate.
Algernon: Okay, maybe I shouldn’t have taken logic and reason for granted. But I still get to enjoy the peace of mind that a lifetime of philosophizing has given me. My stay in the Underworld will be nothing but a rather unconventional vacation, a relaxing eternity of perpetual meditation.
The outer layer of Algernon’s brain disintegrates.
Algernon: (Thinking) Huh? What? Where am I? Why is it dark? I’m scared! Hey, who’s there? I’ll kill you! Die! Die! Hey, I’m hungry. Where is food? Shouldn’t I have hands? I’m lonely. Why is everything so dark? Aah! Help me! I hate you! Aargh!
The rest of Algernon’s brain disintegrates. Nothing is left but a pile of ashes.
Algernon: Thinks nothing.
Charon’s boat bumps up against the opposite shore of the Styx, where Algernon joins the uncountable multitudes of the dead: boundless hordes of the disembodied, thoughtless remains of past generations, sharing an eternity of contented nothingness together. Charon scoops the ashes out of the bottom of the boat and tosses them into the Styx. He pauses once more to admire the beautiful deep blue waters before setting off again towards the other shore.back to home page