My Knoxville writers’ group has been at it again with more flash fiction. This time we used Seventh Sanctum to give us individual prompts. Seventh Sanctum is a website that provides randomly generated ideas that inspire writers. The following is what came out of my random prompt, “A Jew on the River Styx.” Since I’m Jewish, it seemed a random bit of fate!
A Jew on the River Styx
Screw that, Millie thought. In the situation she found herself only damn! worked.
“Damn!” she amended.
Guided by the current, she was on her knees atop a small improvised raft traveling down what she’d come to believe was the River Styx of Greek mythology. Her first clue—being familiar with common Greek myths—was the number of wrathful who appeared to be drowning over and over again off to the side of the main channel. Second, it was stygian dark. The only light in the cavern through which the river ran came from distant red-glowing rock walls and her own pale skin. Lastly, she knew she had just died along with everyone else on board the United flight to Cincinnati since the last thing she remembered was the plane’s harrowing, drop-like-a-stone descent above a quilt of Pennsylvania wheat fields.
Still, this wasn’t supposed to happen, she thought. Granted, if she were to ask any two of her Jewish friends about their views of the afterlife she’d end up with three different opinions, but she was pretty sure Greek hell wouldn’t be one of them.
As to the raft, Millie had waited on a squishy mud bank for Charon, the river’s mythic ferryman, to take her wherever she was supposed to go. However, by the time she smoked the last of her cigarettes which had somehow made the trip with her, she grew tired of waiting. She built the three-by-three raft using bones, driftwood and strips of rags that she’d found discarded on the river bank. Her oar, an ineffectual femur, she had tossed away a while ago when she found the current seemed willing to take her forward just fine.
“Ow!” Something had struck the bottom of the raft, which in turn had caused a knobby bone in the raft’s construction to jab her tuckus.
Millie jerked about, almost swamping the raft. The greeting had come from a dead man who was now floating on his back beside the raft. His even white teeth lit up a relaxed, open smile, and Millie couldn’t help but smile back. For a wet dead man, he wasn’t bad-looking.
“Saw you smoking back there,” he said. “Got another cigarette?”
She shook her head. “Smoked my last one. Sorry,” she added.
“No worries. Thought I’d ask.”
The dead man smiled again, but just as Millie was about to ask him about her predicament, he shoved her small raft up and over causing her to plunge not very gracefully into the river’s black water.
Gurgling her way to the surface, she sputtered, “What’d you do that for?!”
The dead man shrugged. “You looked uncomfortable up there on those bones and rags. It’s much nicer in the water.”
Millie opened her mouth to argue about his definition of “nice” considering the frigidity of underground water, the terror instilled by the Styx, and the decaying bodies all around them. Then her jaws snapped shut as she realized her skin felt as if it was being moisturized with shea butter, and the river water didn’t reek. It wasn’t even cold. In fact, it was a pleasant, heated-pool temperature that actually expelled a hit of lavender into the air close to the surface. Millie also realized that although it was too deep to stand, she didn’t have to dog-paddle to stay afloat. Her body had instinctively adopted the same floating posture as the dead man beside her. When she purposely tried to submerge her legs, they bobbed back to the surface.
“What’s going on?” she asked not caring that her voice came out a squeak. “This is the River Styx, isn’t it? I mean all those souls drowning!”
The dead man swiveled about in alarm. “Who’s drowning?!”
Millie gestured about them with her hand.
After a beat, his expression cleared. “They’re not drowning, bubbala. They’re having a fun time trying to stay underwater. This isn’t the River Styx, although for fun I suppose you could call it the Dead Sea Styx. You can’t sink because there’s something in the water that keeps you buoyant, like the salt concentration in the Dead Sea.” He reached over to give Millie’s hand a squeeze. “I admit the cigarette thing was just an excuse to meet you, but I didn’t know you were a newly deceased. I’ll be a gentleman and escort you to the gates of the afterlife so you can check in.”
“Is it nice?” Millie asked. Half-terrified, half-atingle, she watched the dead man consider her question.
“It can be quite wonderful,” he said finally, “although occasionally one has a bad day. But that’s life, isn’t it.”