Supernatural Fiction posted August 16, 2022

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The Boatman

by Fleedleflump

What Would You Say If Dead Contest Winner 

“You’re late,” growled the Boatman, his voice like sand between granite slabs. Above him, a purple sky roiled with the anguished thrashings of lost souls, and behind slid the river, a glossy black mirror, its only motion reflected from above.

I looked at him, standing like an action man on a bath toy, his bare barrel chest puffed out above the two-handed axe haft braced horizontally between his fists. He wore the head of a bull but spoke with a human tongue, albeit one that licked dust for breakfast and only ate crackers. His lower half was probably human - I was just glad he wore trousers.

I tried on a charming smile. “How can I be late when I’m dead?”

“Typical writer.” He snorted, causing the ring through his snout to dance. “Always got a comeback. There’s no time here, but you’re not the only one who needs ferrying.”

“You’re kind of filling the boat,” I said, taking in his feet that almost straddled its width. “If I sit in there right now, I’ll be offering you a happy ending. Considering what just happened to me, that’d be like sticking a finger in when the dagger’s already done its work.”

He span the shaft between his grips, making a blur from the butterfly axe head at one end. “Get in, or I get creative.” Despite the implied threat, he did change his stance so I didn’t get crotch-butted.

“Much obliged.” I settled on the bench of the tiny timber craft, and he used the long axe like a gondola pole, sinking the head into the inky blackness to push us along.

“So,” he rumbled, “what got you - depression, Covid, a broken heart?”

“Kind of all three,” I mused. When he didn’t respond, I tutted. “That’s called a leading comment. You’re supposed to ask what happened. You know - like those people who put up Facebook posts that just say ‘Sigh, at the hospital again’ because they want everyone to ask how they got there.”

The water sloshed for a few seconds as he lifted, placed and pushed the axe handle.

Eventually, he looked at me. “Hate people who do that.”

“Fine. So, I got Covid, which laid me up for a while, and I couldn’t write, so I got grumpy. That lead to depression, which usually at least gives me something to write about, but it wasn’t working, so then I thought I needed a new interest, so I joined a book club.”

He let a long sigh bubble out between his lips. “Bloody writers. You joining a book club is like me taking up axe throwing - you just wanted to show off.”

“Hey - I’m already dead. No need to punish me. So anyway, I’m at this book club and I meet the most amazing woman. She actually understands my opinions and we chat for hours - long after the club finishes about poetry and philosophy and all that good stuff. After a couple more club sessions, I’m utterly in love, and suddenly…” I breathe in a huge breath and release it through a smile. “Suddenly, the words come. They spill out of me like doves released from captivity.”

“Like guts from a disembowelled enemy?”

I frown at him. “Sure, like that too. So I’m there, writing poem after poem, extolling the angelic virtues of this goddess, and life is like a big bowl of ambrosia.”

“The food of the gods?”

“No, Ambrosia - the rice pudding brand, I love that stuff! I could live on it. And all is right again.”

He paused as we reached the mid-point of the crossing. “None of that sounds fatal. How extreme was the poetry? Just how much rice pudding did you eat?”

“Well, I did say three things - depression, Covid, and a broken heart.”

His bull head tilted slightly to one side and he looked straight into my eyes for the first time. “Did the book club woman leave you?”

“No, I was asleep one night and my wife stabbed me through the eye with a kitchen knife. Turns out, writer's block isn't a good enough excuse to have a mistress.”

His shoulders slumped and he hefted the axe from the dark waters, disappointment wrought across his face.

“You don’t have the payment, do you?” His fists tightened around the haft. “You’re only supposed to join that queue if you have the silver. If you don’t have the silver,” he glanced up at the turmoil in the sky, “you’re supposed to join the other queue.”

I bit my upper lip as we matched gazes. “Sorry, dude - my bad. I thought I could negotiate. I mean, who’s to say what counts as ‘worthy’ anyway? I figured, I could write you a poem, or regale you with tales of … Ah, shit.”

As the axe blade whistled towards my upturned face, I closed my eyes.

I guess writers never prosper.


Writing Prompt
I wrote this piece and couldn't find a home so; I created my own. Join me.

What Would You Say If Dead
Contest Winner



Many thanks to Tom for the fun prompt.

I hope you enjoyed the read.

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