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A Man of Yet a Few More Words - by Swan Morrison


The Great God Zeus glanced through the boardroom window at the clear blue sky above Pantheon Headquarters, and then at the puffy, white clouds carpeting Mount Olympus, below. A cough from elsewhere in the room re-focused his attention on the meeting that was about to begin.

Around the boardroom table sat the eleven other Olympians: Hera, Poseidon, Demeter, Athena, Hestia, Apollo, Artemis, Ares, Aphrodite, Hephaestus, and Hermes. Before them on the table, Dionysus had provided glasses of wine and bunches of grapes as was the tradition for any Olympian occasion.

A thirteenth had today joined their number for this special meeting: Charon, the ferryman of Hades. Charon had briefly taken time-out from ferrying the souls of the dead across the rivers Styx and Acheron. He had come straight from work, had had no opportunity to wash, and remained dressed in his reddish-brown ferryman’s uniform, giving the appearance of a rough, unkempt Athenian seaman. His ferryman’s pole was propped against a wall of the boardroom, kept constantly in his sight lest it be stolen yet again by another one of “those damned damned”.

‘I would like to call to order this meeting of the Greek pantheon,’ announced Zeus. ‘We are here today to discuss plans for a new Styx crossing,’ he continued, ‘and I would like to thank Charon for taking time out of his busy schedule to join us.’ Zeus looked at the ferryman. ‘Perhaps we can begin by asking Charon to outline the current problem.’

Charon glanced at the assembled gods and goddesses without any trace of awe. His world was so far removed from that of these “upper class toffs” that he could only relate to them as he would any river passenger – with politeness but with no particular deference. ‘The situation’s gettin’ bloody impossible,’ he began. ‘The population of the Earth is gettin’ so big that the number o' deceased souls wantin’ to cross from the Earth to the Underworld is more than I can manage. There’s a massive waitin’ list for ferry tickets, an’ it’s gettin’ longer every day.’

‘What’s happening to everyone who’s waiting for the ferry,’ asked Poseidon, who took a particular interest in nautical matters.

‘They’re all in makeshift camps, according to their nationalities. I’ve bin tryin’ to sort-out the British this mornin’. It’s more difficult for the Brits to cross the Styx from the Earth to the Underworld than it is for illegal immigrants to cross the English Channel from Calais to Dover.’

‘How are you managing the problem?’ asked Athena, recognising the injustice the situation was creating.

‘I’m ‘avin’ to send a load of the dammed back to Earth,’ Charon replied, ‘to resume their evil deeds as bankers, politicians, Catholic priests, multi-national CEOs, newspaper proprietors an' so on.’

‘This clearly cannot go on,’ Zeus intervened. ‘I believe that Hephaestus has investigated some engineering solutions that might help alleviate the problem.’ Zeus looked towards his son.

‘Indeed,’ Hephaestus agreed. ‘I’ve done feasibility studies on the construction of a bridge-crossing and also on the excavation of a tunnel.’

‘I’ve always thought a bridge over the Styx would look rather splendid,’ said Apollo. ‘It would also symbolically mark the point where souls left the splendour of the Living World to enter the land of eternal gloom and despondency – rather like crossing the Severn Bridge into Wales.’

‘Building it isn’t difficult,’ Hephaestus explained, 'but we wouldn’t get the plans past the environmental lobby. They’d argue that a bridge would destroy the historic natural beauty of the landscape and that the banks of the Styx are sites of special scientific interest.’

‘It’s a damp, misty fuckin’ swamp!’ Charon interjected, with disbelief.

‘Environmentalists are particularly sensitive about damp, misty swamps,’ Hephaestus replied with a sigh. ‘It appears that many rare and endangered species live there, including the Lernaean Hydra.’

‘Frankly, the Underworld would be a better place wivout them bastards,’ said Charon. 'Many a time I’ve ‘ad to give one a thump wiv me pole.’

‘What about a tunnel?’ Zeus interrupted, anxious to keep the meeting on track, but also recalling that it was he who had created that creature - one that had not turned out to be quite as good natured as he had planned.

‘A tunnel could be possible, in theory,’ responded Hephaestus, ‘but we couldn’t get the labour to dig.’

‘Surely the abode of Hades has got millions of tortured souls who we could draft-in,’ said Hermes.

‘Not any more,’ confirmed Demeter. ‘As you know, my daughter, Persephone, is queen of the Underworld’ - a faintly audible collective sigh could be heard from the others as Demeter found yet another way to drop her daughter’s achievements into a conversation - ‘and she tells me that you can’t ask the damned to do anything these days without falling foul of some daft, politically correct, employment rule. For example, Hades can only torture any member of the damned for twenty minutes each day, and, even then, they have to have a planned rest break in the middle. Sisyphus complained of a bad back,’ Demeter continued in her habitual, unstoppable manner, ‘and so the Underworld had to pay for an electric hoist to help him get that immense boulder up the hill before letting it run down again. All he has to do now is press the button on the hoist for all eternity – or at least from nine to five for five days a week with an hour for lunch and six weeks annual holiday.’

The room fell silent.

‘It looks like we’re stuck,’ Zeus concluded.

‘You’ve forgotten one option,’ said Charon.

‘What’s that?’ Zeus asked.

‘A ferry crossin' is fine. It doesn’t 'ave any o' the drawbacks of engineering works. The problem is that we’ve only got one leaky, wooden boat and just me to punt it.’

‘Go on,’ said Zeus, encouragingly.

‘What we need is a fleet o' modern sea-goin' catamarans,’ Charon continued, ‘like they 'ave crossin’ the English Channel. I could train-up some souls to captain 'em and then, wiv all me experience, I could manage the service. I’ve already thought of a name for the company,’ he added.

‘What would you call it?’ asked Zeus.

‘I thought we could call the Earth to Underworld ferry service, StyxLink. We could use Prometheus 'aving 'is liver eaten by an eagle as a logo.’ Charon looked thoughtful. ‘Fares would ‘ave to go up, o’ course, it’s bin one obel now for the best part o' four thousand years. It’d still be cheap though, as they’d only be travellin’ one-way.’

‘You could have films showing on board explaining to new souls about the Underworld,’ added Zeus. ‘The crossings could be an introduction to Hades – rather like cross-channel ferries are now.’

Murmurs of approval rippled around the table.

‘I’ll see about getting state-of-the-art catamarans built, straight away,’ said Hephaestus.

‘Excellent,’ concluded Zeus, raising his wine glass. ‘Here’s to StyxLink, and Charon, its new CEO.’