Charon beckoned for Joe to follow him, the phone clutched tightly in his hand.
‘This way, sir.’
When Joe looked up he was caught off guard by the landscape that had somehow appeared out of the darkness. A lump caught in his throat at the stark beauty of the place. He shook his head. He was becoming pathetic.
Charon’s small wooden boat was tied up at the side of a wide river that swept from left to right as far as the eye could see. Behind that, Joe could see a vast forest with trees reaching up into an eternal twilight, their gnarled branches reaching out like giant claws.
‘What’s that?’ asked Joe, pointing to the forest.
‘That’s the Forest of Suffering.’
‘The Forest of Suffering? And I’ve got to go through there?’
‘Yeah but I wouldn’t worry too much, you’ll never make it that far. Cerberus will tear you up first.’ Charon gave a little chuckle as he climbed into the boat. He placed the lamp on the floor of the small boat and held his hand out for Joe. Joe took it and climbed in.
The boat rocked gently from side to side and he climbed in. Joe noticed that there was no oar or motor. The water of the river was still and full of weeds and…
‘No! Don’t look in the water!’ screamed Charon.
Joe thought he could see faces floating beneath the surface of the water. Pale, skeletal face with huge mouths and…
There was a sharp slap on the side of his face. It broke his concentration. He looked at Charon, holding the side of his face which was stinging.
‘What was that for?’
‘No looking! You’re not going to die on my watch. What happens after, well, that’s not my problem.’ He gave another little chuckle.
Joe felt unsteady on his feet as the boat moved from side to side. He went to sit down.
‘No! No! No sitting on this journey. We’ll be there in a minute.’
Charon turned to face the front of the boat. ‘And off we go,’ he said, holding his left hand in the air, his crooked finger pointing to the other side of the river. In his other hand, he still had the phone. Joe could see it said seventeen percent battery. Joe hoped the crossing wasn’t going to take too long because he didn’t want to think what would happen if the phone ran out.