Eddie’s lousy Saturday
It wasn’t particularly lousy until the old woman showed up; until then it was just another cloudy late fall Saturday afternoon, when Eddie should’ve been studying for his exams coming up in a few weeks, instead of playing WoW for hours. He took a handful of dry Honey Loops. Without the milk it looked a bit like dog food, but Eddie didn’t care. It was not the looks he went for.
He ignored the knocking on the door. His flatmates would not be back for hours, so it must be some sort of insurance salesman, or home workout equipment salesman, or worse, a Jesus salesman, hell bent on saving his soul. Now, if he could get Aleratha to the time portal, past the lyches…
The knock came again. Eddie sighed and swore under his breath, as he collected some of the coffee mugs and dirty plates and deposited them in, or rather on top of all the other junk in the kitchen sink, before heading to the door. He reached for the knob, then stopped, not sure why. He eyed the door, as if he had never seen it before, as if it was a sinister, alien thing.
Chuckling at his own silliness, he grabbed the knob and opened the door first to a sliver, then wide open. His frown disappeared, and his lips curved to an involuntary smile, when he saw who was standing in the door.
It was a tiny old lady, not taller than five feet, bent with age, with a mischievous spark in her clear blue eyes, with the kind of expression on her face that Eddie last saw when he was a kid, his granny taking the fresh batch of cherry pastries out of the oven, a smile promising that life is much simpler and the world a much more benevolent place than it first seemed.
“Oh, I’m sorry to disturb you, Mr…” she stole a glance at the nameplates, “…Allen, but, see I’m new around here and I’m not sure where to find the nearest pharmacy…”
“There is one just beyond the river, that’s where I usually go. I can show you,” the words were on his lips before he could command them back.
She beamed at him. “Oh, would you be so dear, Mr. Allen?”
He let her link one birdlike hand into his elbow. She looked so fragile as if the first wind could sweep her away.
They walked (slowly slowly) across the street – good thing it was so empty – and were strolling down the wide avenue leading to the river.
“So, have you been living here long, Eddie?”
He was glad she broke the silence. “Nah, just moved here for the University. This is my second year…” he stopped himself midsentence. “How do you know my name?”
She giggled. “Oh, you know how it is. I have a grandson, Eddie, he looks quite like you. I was just shooting in the dark, if you know what I mean.”
Eddie shrugged. “Sure.” He knew he should feel eased, but somehow he didn’t. The touch of her skin was like dry parchment in the fold of his elbow. He hoped he could deposit her at the pharmacy as soon as possible, and get back home. He really had some studying to do; at least so much so that he didn’t have to lie to his mother. So much.
“So, um,” he attempted at a normal conversation, “when did you move here?”
“Just recently, I’m only staying until my business is done here, Eddie. Which should be today. It’s going pretty swell so far.”
He didn’t like the way she said his name. Did her hand always look like claws, grabbing his arm?
He swallowed. He was almost afraid to ask; “and what is your business?”
When she smiled, there wasn’t a trace of sunshine in her smile. It froze like the arctic wind. “It is you, Eddie. You’re my business.”
He stared at her. “Excuse me?”
She didn’t stop. “Just keep walking, Eddie, we’re almost there.”
He dug his heels in, trying to pry off her fingers. “Look, I think you can find your way from here. Just go along this street. I have other…”
Her hand dug into his flesh painfully and Eddie found to his horror, that he was utterly powerless against her strength. It was like trying to break away from a concrete slab. She dragged him on mercilessly, as if he was a toddler. “You have no say in this matter, Eddie.”
He kept trying to tear his arm out. “Who are you?” To his dismay, he sounded panicky, squeamish.
“Do you waste your life away to spite your parents, Eddie? Is that your comeback for having to fulfill their dreams, and failing? Is this part of your ‘self-realization’?”
Her conversational tone sent shivers down his back. “What do you want from me?” he nearly screamed. Where the hell was everybody? The city seemed completely empty, as if they were the last people on Earth.
When she looked back at him, he uttered a small squeak. The warmly glittering blue eyes were gone. Her eyes were a pair of black holes, fathomless, swallowing every light. “Fear not, Eddie. Once we are past the river, all this will be but a bad dream.”
“No, I don’t want to go there,” Eddie whimpered, “please… what do you want from me?”
She sighed in exasperation. “It’s not me making the decisions here, Eddie. My task is only to deliver you, when it’s your turn.”
“Deliver me where? My turn of what? Of what? Talk to me, do you want money? I… I can get you money, just let me go… how much do you want? I can get it by… by…”
Her laughter was winter wind rustling among dead branches. She shook her head, as if she had to deal with a difficult child. “Ah, here it is,” she muttered.
Ahead of them was the river, jet black, flowing silently in its bed.
Eddie’s mouth opened in a desperate O. “No! No, no, no, please! I don’t want to go there. I’m still young, please!
“Oh, so you’re beginning to understand, at last.” She didn’t slow. “All will be well once we are past the Styx.”
“What? The river is not…” amidst all his panic something dawned on him from his readings. “Wait, are you claiming to be Charon, ferryman of the Underworld?” His laughter was a hysterical cackle. “Lady, you are delusional. Charon is a guy. Sorry to break it down to you…”
“I’m not claiming anything, Eddie,” she murmured.
Eddie looked at the other side of the river, but could see nothing from the swirling, dense fog. He yanked on his arm, but he just hurt himself. “Please, I’ll make good use of my life. I’ll study and finish the University, I swear. I’ll dedicate my life to humanitarian causes, or… or… give away all my money, or whatever you want…”
Her face was as if it was carved from stone, when she looked back at him. “You think those are the things you can buy yourself time with? Understand this, Eddie, I’d have to take you, even if you’ve led a saintly life. When it’s your hour, then it’s your hour. I’m just doing my job here, son.”
They went on, the fragile little old lady with a serene smile on her face, dragging Eddie on, the empty, silent streets echoing with his screams.
This short story was first published in the Aphelion Webzine in December 2016.
We hope you enjoyed the series of Susan Anwin’s short stories. You don’t have to wait too long to read even more of her works on Arthereartnow!