The door creaked on its hinges as Joe pushed it open. A cool breeze blew in from the open doorway. Joe took a tentative step forwards but stopped because he could see nothing but black. A vast open expanse of black.
‘Go on then,’ said Mrs Crow.
‘But there’s nothing there,’ said Joe, taking a step backwards.
‘There is,’ said Mrs Crow, and with a sharp jab to his back she added, ‘now stop piddling about here and get on with it.’
Joe staggered through the door and into the black.
‘It’s been nice knowing you,’ said Mrs Crow to his back, ‘you know if the worse happens.’
He turned as the door slammed behind him.
‘Great,’ he said. The word echoed through the darkness. ‘Brilliant. Just brilliant.’
He stood still, not knowing what to do. Did he go back? The prank had surely gone far enough, hadn’t it? He couldn’t play this stupid charade forever, could he? No. Time to go back. Things had gone far enough.
Joe spun on his heels. He’d had enough. He’d go back through the door, have a good laugh with whoever had set this up but now it was time to finish it. Except…
The door had disappeared.
‘Very funny!’ he shouted to no one in particular. ‘You can stop now!’
‘Stop what?’ The voice made him jump. He swung around to see a figure swathed in black, lit by a small lamp held by a skeletal hand.’
‘Fuck! Who are you?’
‘Pleasure to meet you too!’
‘Yeah, erm.. sorry…I…you made me jump.’
‘Well, who else did you expect to be here?’
‘I don’t know,’ said Joe, he flung his arms in the air, nearly losing the book in his hand, ‘I’ve never been here before.’
‘Of course, you haven’t. You only die once.’
‘I’m not dead.’
‘Not dead? Don’t be stupid! Of course -‘
‘I’m not. I’m still alive and kicking and not falling for this shit anymore.’
The figure rushed over to him and grabbed Joe’s wrist. It held it in icy cold hands.
‘Wow!’ the figure exclaimed. ‘You have a pulse! You’re an actual live person. Well, this is very irregular.’ The figure dropped Joe’s hand and held up the lamp to Joe’s face. Its hood dropped from its head, revealing a man’s skeletal face. He had a patch over one eye and long straggly grey hair. Joe thought he could smell ammonia. The man reached up with his free hand and run it across Joe’s face. Joe cringed inside.
‘Oh, I’m sorry. This is too much, isn’t it? It’s just…it’s just I only ever see the dead ones and to find a live one standing right before me, well, it’s nothing short of a miracle.’ The man reached inside his cloak and scratched his armpit. ‘I’m Charon, by the way,’ he said, offering Joe the hand he’d just scratched his armpit with, ‘and I’m your guide across the River Styx.’