Rite of Passage
I stood on shore and watched the ferry approach. It was little more than a piece of driftwood and the Ferryman was just as weathered. People that had passed this way, had told tales of his wisdom, though at first glance, he seemed unimpressive.
He stood hunched over, so I could not see his face, but his hair was scraggly, long and gray. His cloak was threadbare. It wasn't until the craft had drifted to the pier that he raised his head and I saw his eyes. They didn't belong in that withered face. They were blue, green and gold, vibrant and intelligent.
I stepped aboard, careful not to fall into the murky waters. The touch of those mystical waters would be certain death, but I wasn't worried. My time to die had not yet arrived. The seer who had placed me on this path, had been most specific. Fate had its finger on me.
The Ferryman barely glanced in my direction. Only a moment after I was seated on the rotting wood, he shoved off with his pole, back into the current. I didn't say anything at first, but as the minutes passed, curiousity made me brazen. I turned to him, but his gaze was fastened to the opposite shore.
"You've been at this a long time."
"I don't recall."
"I see. They say the land on the other side is remarkable. That the beauty can not be told in a thousand lifetimes. It is truly a paradise."
"So they say."
"I have never seen it."
"But you're the Ferryman. You've touched that exalted shore countless times."
"That is true, but there is always someone waiting, so I return."
"Are you like Moses then? Unable to enter the promised land?"
"Moses was a leader. I am but a servant."
"Moses was also a servant. He served God."
"Unwillingly at first, but I suppose you are right."
"Who do you serve then, if not God?"
"We all serve the will of the Master, no matter who we claim to serve. Is that not so?"
"It is. But I wish to know who you claim to serve. That will tell me something about you."
He smiled, fleetingly, the first show of emotion I'd seen from him. "I serve myself."
"Yourself! How so? You never leave the raft."
"To serve a purpose is as noble a cause as one can hope for. As long as there are still people left behind, my job is not done."
"Someone will replace you. You're not responsible for the world's peril."
His laughter was tinged with bitterness. "Who? You? Will you forgo the promised land to serve the need of the people?"
"You're a prisoner, aren't you?"
"I'm here of my own free will."
"But your honor and goodness will not let you turn aside from your task. You are prisoner to your sense of duty."
"In that way, we are all prisoners. Do you think you are here of your own free will? What has happened in your life to propel you to such a drastic departure? Once you learned the true nature of the River, could you have then turned your back on crossing it?"
"Of course not."
"Then, like me, you are a prisoner. You have no choice. When this craft makes landfall, you will depart just like the others."
"Will you come with me?"
"But can't you see what you're missing? How can you pass that up?"
"I have taken on a responsibility."
"I grieve for you."
This time his smile was genuine. "And I for you."
"For me?" It was my turn to laugh. "In a matter of hours, I will be free. You'll be stuck on this raft for the rest of Eternity."
"You were never free. You are not free now. I am free, BECAUSE I stay."
"I don't understand."
"I know, my son. I know."
We didn't talk for a long time, but I found myself thinking about his words. Somehow, they burned in my heart...pulled at my soul. Here was a man willing to sacrifice paradise to help others attain it. In his place, I would have had to see what I was missing before resigning myself to the ultimate sacrifice. I noticed he was watching me.
I cleared my throat. "Can I ask you a question?"
"If I said no, would it stop you?"
I shook my head. "How can you be content, when you know what you're missing?"
"I would only know that, if I had stepped ashore. I have never done so."
"Then do it now. Just once, place yourself before others. Surely that is no sin."
He shook his head, but said nothing else. Nor did I. Not until the fog parted and the other side faded into view. A more barren and desolate place, I couldn't imagine.
"I don't understand."
His smile, this time, held a hint of sadness. "That is the paradise you so long for."
I looked again at the ghostly reflection of the world I loved and shuddered. Then I understood. "Your name is Death, isn't it?"
As I watched, he slowly vanished as if he had never existed. The pole, which had been in his hands, clattered to the faded wood. I picked it up and pushed off shore. The current took me into its arms. In my mind, I could see that there was a passenger waiting for me across the River.
Steve Lazarowitz is a writer with a singular goal. He tries to make people think. His short fiction has been compared to The Twilight Zone, which very much appeals to him. "We live in a world of wonders, some of which are shrouded in shadow. My job is to remind people of that."
His award winning short stories and innovative articles and essays have appeared in Jackhammer, Exodus, Planet Relish, The Wandering Troll, The Hood, Conflicting Spectrums, Dream Forge, Aphelion, Titan, Twilight Times and many other ezines.
Published by permission of the author.