On the Way to the Underworld

 

Pyrros walked alone slowly. He looked extremely frail and helpless. His legs were terribly feeble. The legs which used to have strength to kick a huge, severe flint of Helicon and stand gallantly upon the land of Thespiae. He embraced his entire arms, the arms which used to be the force to swing hoes and swords. The air was so supremely cold, it could stab anyone’s whole body. His face was still the same, delicate but emphatic. But it was all dreary now. The smile he always drew on his face was not there. The smile which reflected either sincerity or artificiality. No one would assuredly know.

Pyross raised both of his hands and stared at them. They were nothing but shadows. He whispered to himself cryptically being reminded again of what he was now. His voice, he almost couldn’t hear it himself. As the cold, ghastly wind wiped his face, he murmured, “I am a newly deceased. A sordid soul.”

Pyrros was one personable boy who then grew up as a dashing young man. His parents previously expected another child whom an oracle had predicted that the exclamation of the great surprise would be a baby girl. She had already been named Zosimos, but she died only a month before the birth. Then, Pyrros was given to replace the unborn daughter. But it was such an unlucky fate to his father for never seeing any of his children. He died in a battlefield when Pyrros was only a fetus. As a clean little son of a poor yet unpretentious single parent, Pyrros could spend his time working in the field, while other children would have a good time all day. His mother raised him really well with her composure that people of Thespiae devoutly respected her. Pyrros and his mother were such helpers to people. They worked in the field, herded sheep to the hill, and went to the temple along with the congregation. Pyrros and his mother often slept in the temple after having long liturgy and helping pilgrims in the evening, because their house was too far from the centre of the town. People often sent Pyrros and his mother food and drink, not to mention a few of clothes and beddings. They lived side by side and completed one another as a true family. People loved Pyrros and his mother, and the two loved them back. His mother felt very much grateful for everything that happened in her life, despite the fact that she had no one but a precious son alone. But deep in his heart, Pyrros wanted to have more.

The field where Pyross and his mother worked belonged to Archelaos, a hefty man with fine, white beard. Everyone in Thespiae knew him as a generous gentleman for having some fields opened for anyone who needed a job. He managed the fields and the workers very well. Archelaos treated Pyrros as if he was his own son. Either it was because he only had three daughters or Pyrros was just one worth-loving boy. Archelaos taught Pyrros to hold swords. It was common in Thespiae for kids in Pyrros’ age to be prepared to be a warrior because any war could happen offhand at anytime. Archelaos himself was once a fighter in battlefields just like Pyrros’ father. And his intention to train the kid was meant to be.

Darkness shrouded everything around him. He looked up, that was not sky he was seeing. Something misty, dim, and gloomy that depictured pain. A real pain. Pyrros frowned his black eyebrows, which almost as dark as the shade above him. He looked around being fully aware that he was not literally alone.

Sinners. Those were sinners. Some trembled to face their destiny, some surrendered to get where they belonged. They hung fire mourning and weeping. They cried out for Zeus looking for his mercy and absolution. Their voices could deafen ears and slash every heart of mortals. Every human being would feel compassionate to hear such wail, so would Zeus himself. But in the place where every heartless creature was meant to reach the Underworld, the wail was meaningless. Who would care?

The others walked toward the River Styx without a doubt holding their own obolos. They held responsible for every vile sin that they ever streaked. Their faces looked assured as if what across the Styx was just a plain land overgrown by grass. Land of grass. Pyrros drooped to recall a wide, green field. Fresh air. Blazing sun. Fleshy sheep. Hoes and sickles. A warm, calming smile. His mother.

Pyrros fell on his knees and withered to the ground full of smeary ashes. The face of his mother filled his head in. The smile that never faded. The touch of hands that could melt a rough stone. The woman who taught him sincerity and honesty. The woman who always took care of him tenderly when he felt ill. The only woman who would give him her whole life.

“Mother…” there the tears flowed down his left cheek. They led to more and now Pyrros was truly in brittleness. “Mother, forgive me…” he started to mourn when a deep, hideous voice flinched him in the heart.

“Seeking the absolution from Zeus, huh?” he started to giggle. Pyrros stared at him. The man stood in a wooden boat holding up his oar. He dressed in a foul robe. His cheeks were haggard and jaded. The long veil covered his eyes up and made his face look bleak. His posture was tall and crooked. He looked like a skeleton. “Alas, my friends! Zeus will never hear you. He doesn’t belong here after all. Unless it is Hades, then he will give you his mercy if he wishes. Mostly he won’t, though,” he kept snickering in a horrific sound.

Some wretched men whom Pyrros was seeing ran toward the Styx to attain the boat.

“Just deliver me to hell already, I heard it is fun to be there!”

“Get me in the boat, beast!”

“This is why I wasn’t a good guy when I lived! I’ve been waiting for you, Charon!”

But the mysterious man immediately swang the oar. “Hold on, you lowly sinners! Hold on. I won’t carry your souls, not for now. Neither I enjoy hearing some mourning nor I’m getting tired to work… Hades has allowed me to talk to this sinner,” he pointed at Pyrros. “Now, scatter!”

The huddle started to disappear. Pyrros still stood with uncertainty. He now realised that this terrifying man was Charon, the ferryman of Hades whom he always used to hear when he was a kid. His mother always told him that this man would bring the souls of sinners to the inferno. He was real and his mother didn’t just spin a yarn.

“You’re the only dead man that attracted my attention today. I’m interested, really. You are… Ah, don’t speak! I knew you,” he slammed down the oar. “Pyrros, the knight of Nikhea Kingdom. The devotion of King Nikanor. The finest gentleman in Thespiae, which you no longer were. Both because Thespiae was just an obsolete story now and you were just a decayed traitor. Hahaha!” he shouted as if he was hailing Pyrros, but at the same time he laughed awfully.

Pyrros felt the air around him got colder and colder. There was a great lacing in his chest. It was more painful than getting hit with a sledge hammer. It was too sore, it kept slapping him repeatedly.

“Why, Pyrros? You want to cry? Cry, my friend. Cry all you want to. Recount the days where you hacked the land, planted corn and potatoes, fed the sheep, and laid on the grass to enjoy the blessing from Zeus through the glow of the warm sun. Recall every moment of being together with your mother, when she held your hands on the way to the temple, cooked you pleasant food, and stayed up all night to watch you sleep when you were only a pure little thing. Remember about the sincerity of being a human she always talked about? That you lived for the bliss of being a genuine mortal. That you didn’t need anything but the grace of Zeus. Do you remember, Pyrros? Then mourn again when you recall the most meritorious man in your life, Archelaos. What did he say? The dignity of being a man. A true fighter. The honour of protecting your people from the unfair authority. He trained you how to beat your enemies and get them away off the land of Thespiae. Oh, this one… It must be clear in your mind the day when Nikanor declared the war against the people of Thespiae. And then everyone put their trust in you to defend the land and overthrow him and his tyranny. Archelaos, just like he knew that this day would come, he appointed you to be the leading warrior. Your mother, she told you that it was truly your obligation to protect Thespiae, where your father had to take his life away a long time ago to entirely liberate the land. But what was your reprisal to all their reliance?”

Pyrros closed his swollen eyes. Now that he was just a spirit, his earthly mind could still recollect a memory where he was secretly invited to the Nikhea Palace, two nights before the war ruptured. Never in his estimate would Pyrros assume that King Nikanor would hand him such an offer. To be a leading knight of the magnificent kingdom along with all the overflowing amenities provided, Pyrros would thoroughly sacrifice his motherland and all of the people he loved.

“Now, Pyrros… I’m sure you had considered all the risk. You were a religious boy back then and you were really familiar with the tale about heaven and hell. And I would love to carry your soul alone in my glorious boat. To vanish such a peaceful land in Greece where freedom became the pillar yet norms still safeguarded all of the things, you were just wicked. And I love that! You deserve the inferno and I can smell the fire on you already. Come, get your coin. Pay me first,” Charon seized his oar.

Pyrros looked at the obolos in his right hand. The gaze of his eyes was so vacant. To think that he would end up in the Underworld forever being burned endlessly was very much frightening. While he left all of the people that he betrayed with no apology. Pyrros felt like he was the most accursed person, or more appropriate, the most accursed dead that ever walked on Earth.

“But… there must be another way,” his voice trembled.

“What do you mean, fool?” Charon tilted his head.

“Can I go back to Earth and see my mother? Just need to kneel on my knees, spill over my guilt, and tell her that I never meant to break my father’s consecration. Then I’ll come to Archelaos and all of my beloved people. Just let me do it for once! I need to apologize! Then I’ll enter the hell where I belong! I need to apologize to them. I just didn’t get to do it for the last time…” Pyrros shed his tears and collapsed to the ground. “Please help me, Charon…”

“Are you insane? I won’t do that for you, lil’ boy. Nobody. I’m a despicable creature indeed but I implement my obligation here. Go cry to Hades if you can. If you don’t like hell, then do tell. There’s another way. Cerberus would like to eat your soul, so you don’t need to feel the tremendous agony forever,” Charon smiled craftily. His jaw opened and it cracked as he drew both of the corners of his lips.

Pyrros swallowed his spittle with horror. “Cerberus, the three-headed dog?”

“Yeah, did you ever hear that he was a donkey?”

Pyrros was about to speak until a voice sounded all of sudden.

“Excuse me.”

Although Charon’s eyebrows were unseen, it could be guessed that he frowned them in astound. Pyrros turned his head and looked back. The voice came from a little girl standing behind him. A very charming little girl whose face was as fresh as the air in a foot of a mountain. Her wavy brown hair was all loose. Her white dress looked luminous in the dark as if she was the only one who didn’t belong in this foul place.

“O, faultless little girl, who are you? I’ve been seeing you a lot lately. You’ve been sitting in the corner of the bank all alone. I’ve never wanted to bother you because I know you are not one of my passengers. Not at all. But now you came here to interrupt our deep conversation, so just speak and reveal who you are.”

The little girl looked all calm with no fear to face such a beast. “I’m sorry if my presence here is interfering. I just have to ask, is this young man Pyrros?” the little girl stared at Pyrros deeply. Her hazel eyeballs were bright and clear. They reflected hope and Pyrros could feel it somehow. The feeling he didn’t even know where it came.

Pyrros stammered, “Y- yes. My name is Pyrros.”

She immediately smiled, “Well. Look, Charon. This body you’re looking at is not literally me. I’m just a spirit, just like him. This entity is just a tiny depiction of me. I’m not even this big,” she chuckled.

Pyrros was all confused to hear what the little girl just said. The body was not her and she was a spirit just like him? But Pyrros himself had the shape of his earthly entity, even though it actually had no bones and flesh because it was just an apparent shadow.

“And you don’t need to berate me, I came here with a permission. Hermes has told your master about my intention and then he brought me here. It was fun to see the wings of his flying shoes flapping. I really enjoyed my trip.”

Charon nodded. He tapped his thin index finger to his chin. “Typical. Whatever your intention is, Hades has given you the authority to cut a thing off, hasn’t he?”

The little girl smiled again. “You’ll see.”

Pyrros had no clue about what was going on. However, he was still in his own indecision. Charon was right to say that Pyrros wouldn’t want to burn in hell as much as he himself felt that he deserved it. But to be a forage of Cerberus, the dog of hell? That wouldn’t sound very bad! Moreover, he was just a spirit. It would do no harm to get himself torn apart. What would a thing with no flesh feel after all? After being eaten, there would be the nothingness. Pyrros never thought that the deal would be this easy. But that would still violate the rule. He deserved the hell no matter what happened.

“Flip your obolos in the air if you can’t decide. Fate still obtains here. Make it quick, you’re not the only passenger of mine after all.”

That would do me any good, Pyrros said to himself. He stared at the silver coin. Archelaos, I never meant to retaliate your goodness with this. You were a great master and I was an ignoble vassal. I could never thank you enough until the end. People of Thespiae, I always loved you. Until I got blinded by the fleeting enchantment, I never forgot what you all had done to me. Mother, I want you to know that I love you. So much. Your great kindness was the strength of my life. Father, forgive me for destroying all of your memories. I never saw you but I knew you very well. You lived in my heart but I neglected that. I was never meant to be your son. I should have never been born at all. They said ‘everything happens for a reason’. But I never knew that the reason would be this miserable. Deep in my heart I still wish that I could go back to mend it all. Let me bear it all upon my shoulders.

Pyrros was ready to flip the obolos. He raised the silver coin to the air. “Medusa for going to hell,” then he reversed it. “Anchor and crustacean for being the forage of Cerberus.”

The obolos tinkled as Pyrros threw it upward. It span down repeatedly. Pyrros closed his eyes. He didn’t want to know how the obolos would decide his destiny.

CLINK!

A tiny hand suddenly caught it.

There was silence for a moment. Pyrros slowly opened his eyes and blinked to see what was on the ground. Ashes. Then through the corner of his right eye, he saw the coin being swiftly thrown into the Styx.

PLOOK!

The little girl then smiled at him gently.

“What are you doing?!” Pyrros harshly shouted. He couldn’t believe what he just saw. He was in true shock.

“It’s alright, Pyrros. It’s alright. I’ve made it for you. I’m the one who’s going to cross this river. Now go find Hermes. I guarantee he’s waiting for you right now. Go back to Earth and apologize to your mother, Archelaos, and all of the people you hurt.”

“But it’s seriously unfair to you! I don’t even know you and you saw me just now! This is crazy!”

The little girl shook her head slowly while she closed her beautiful eyes. “This is the fate. You have to take it. When you get back and you find all of the people you love, you will question nothing. Please reward this frivolous immolation of mine. Find them. Say you love them and mend all of the broken things. Promise me, Pyrros,” she held Pyrros’ hands. Her tiny hands were so soft. Pyrros couldn’t say a word. Unnoticed, he dropped a tear out of his right eye.

“Find your mother immediately. She needs you. She really needs you. She needs her little son to get back to her side…” the little girl started to cry as well. But her smile was still there.

“Everything happens for a reason, Pyrros. And so does my existence. Please do me a favour. This is my first and last demand. Obey her. Don’t hurt her ever again. Never hurt people that you love. Remember, worldly pleasures will get you nowhere but here.”

“Come on, little girl. It’s time,” said Charon. This time his voice sounded very weak.

She smiled at Charon and nodded. She released the grasp and got in the boat.

“Thank you. This is more than just an immolation. I will do the favour with all of my heart. Thank you so much.”

“Be a good little soul, Pyrros.”

“Before I go, can I at least know who you are?”

The little girl once again smiled. Very gently.

“Zosimos.”[*]

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