Joe reached out to shake Charon’s hand.
‘Obol,’ said Charon, jerking his hand away, leaving Joe’s hanging awkwardly in the air.
‘An obol. I need an obol.’
‘I’m sorry,’ said Joe, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘An obol. I need payment. Charon looked at the confused look on Joe’s face and added, ‘Money. To transport you across. Every dead person needs to pay for passage.’
‘But, I’m not dead. Can’t I just…’
‘No. No exceptions. I need to eat you know.’
‘Oh, okay.’ Joe shoved his hand in his jean pocket and fetched out a two pence piece and a chocolate bar wrapper. ‘That’s all I have, sorry,’ said Joe with a shrug. He offered the money to Charon.
Charon screwed up his face. ‘No. That’s not going to be enough.’
‘Is there another way across?’
‘Maybe,’ said Charon, ‘but I don’t know of any.’
‘Can I row myself across?’
‘What? You think you can just come in and take my job? Do you know how long I’ve been working here young man? You young people, think you can just come in and take over.’
‘Okayyyy.’ Joe looked at the book in his hand, The Book of the Dead. He opened it, hoping that there would be some way of getting around this problem.
On the first page, the words, “The Book of the Dead, The Ultimate Guide to the Afterlife” was written in black script. He turned it over, looked at the contents page and flicked the page he needed. It read:
“Pay Charon the Obol given to you by Death. This is very important. If you do not, you will remain stranded on the banks of the River Styx for eternity. This is not a good idea as the Styx often floods resulting in the bank you are standing on being totally covered in smelly, swampy water that will give you trench foot. Trench foot is an incurable condition in the underworld. You don’t want that.”
Joe snapped the book shut.
‘Well?’ asked Charon.
‘Come on, I haven’t got all day.’
‘Will you take something else?’
Joe could see he had piqued Charon’s interest.
‘How about this?’ said Joe whipping out his mobile phone.
‘What is that devilment?’ asked Charon, jumping back.
‘It’s a phone, look,’ said Joe, flicking on the screen.
‘Really?’ asked Charon, placing his free hand on his hip. ‘What do I need a phone for? Who am I going to call?’
‘So you know what a phone is?’
‘Well, yes. I just haven’t seen them so small.’
‘Ah, okay,’ said Joe, ‘this isn’t just a phone. Watch.’ He clicked on the camera icon and took a picture of Charon.
‘What was that? Are you trying to cast some sort of spell over me? It won’t work you know!’
‘No, I’ve taken your picture.’ He showed Charon.
‘Oooh,’ he said, ‘my beard needs cutting doesn’t it. And how do you do that? Show me how to take, what is it called?’
‘Yes, how do you take a photo?’
Joe showed him quickly, conscious of the fact that his phone had only nineteen percent battery.
‘And you’ll give this, to me, for passage?’
They shook hands. Joe released Charon’s hand and wiped the sweat and dirt onto his trousers.