To Cross the River Twice

He was a very pale old man. Almost transparent.
     “A very foolish choice, young miss.”
     “I don’t care. Just tell me where he is.” I stepped off the boat, then turned back to him and waited for my answer.
     “Then I would be rewarding your foolishness.” He began to raise the slim oars with arms that were almost as thin.
     “Just tell me where he is, dang it!” My desperation spilled out of my eyes and dripped into the river. “Please. I told my family I’d kill to see him again, but they didn’t know I was actually serious.” I looked away, then looked back and begged him with rising hysteria. “Please! It’s all I want, I’ll give you anything!”
     “Julia?” It was a young man’s voice, behind me. Even before I turned around, I knew my search was over.
     I ran to him, burying my face in his shoulder and staining his shirt with salt tears. “I found you,” I whispered into his ear.
     He pushed me away and I was surprised to see anger sparking in his eyes. The piercing look hit me almost as hard as the slap that followed, and I learned I could still feel pain.
     “Why.” It sounded like a statement. “Why did you come here? Why do you always think everything is your fault?” His voice was rising. “You’re so stupid sometimes, Julia! You could have had this perfect life, and you destroyed it just because—“
     “Because I love you!” I yelled back, cutting him off. I looked down and watched my vision blur.
     He sighed. “Julia.” He embraced me, then put his hands on my shoulders and turned me around to face the old man again.
     The skeletal figure looked up at us with patient eyes, rocking gently in his tiny boat. “Young man?” he asked expectantly.
     “Can you take her back?”
     “I’m staying here!” I hated how much I sounded like an uncooperative child.
     The old man ignored me. “You will have to give me something in exchange.”
     “Yes, of course, anything.” His voice was earnest.
     “No!” Indeed, a very uncooperative child.
     “Tell me what you want.” His grip tightened on my shoulders.
     “You row the boat,” the old man said simply.
     “That doesn’t sound so—”
     “You can’t!” I burst out, twisting my neck to look at the young man I’d given up everything for.
     “I will.”
     And his personal eternity was sealed.
     I opened my mouth to protest, but he held a silencing finger to my lips. “I’ll be fine. You’re going home.” He smiled slightly, and I knew nothing I could ever say could change his mind.
     The old man climbed out of the boat and put his hand on the shoulder of his successor. “A good man, young sir, a very good man.”
     The new ferryman nodded once at the old, then climbed into the boat and extended his hand to me. I took it, sat down, and became the first person to cross the river twice.
     I stepped off the boat onto the dock and gazed across, looking for the old man, but he was gone. He had been replaced; his work was done, and he was left to rest in peace.
     “Julia?” The young man’s eyes glistened as I looked down at him, still in the boat.
     His voice was faint.
     “I love you, too.”
     We both knew, and hoped, that it would be a long time before I'd see him again. I knew the next time I'd see him, he would be just as thin and pale as the old man. And I'd be an old lady, finally returning to cross the River of the Dead in his boat, for good.
     I smiled, and my vision blurred again. I closed my eyes.

Suddenly, there were bright lights that hurt even through my closed eyelids. I gasped for air and choked on the tubes down my throat. Blood was seeping through the bandages on my wrist, and gloved hands were pressing, pressing, pressing on my chest. A long, piercing, sustained tone turned into a steady beep.

This cell takes up space.

Alright, hello everyone! This is my first attempt at flash fiction, but it's maybe kind of too long ot be flash fiction, idk, so it might be considered a short story. I have some author's commentary, but it contains spoilers, so if you've read the story, feel free to highlight the text below.

So, the inspiration for this story came to me when I was thinking about The Amber Spyglass, the final book in Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials Trilogy, sometimes referred to as The Golden Compass Trilogy because "His Dark Materials" is reeeeeaally tiny on the cover of all the books, so sometimes people don't notice it. >.< Anyway, anyone who has read the story will remember the part I'm referring to. I believe it's based on a Greek myth saying something to the effect of when you die, you have to cross the River of the Dead in a tiny boat with an old man who rows people across, one at a time. I wanted to make the story vague enough so that the ending is a surprise, but I might have made it too vague, so I'd appreciate your comments, particularly your constructive criticism.

My idea was that a girl's first love was killed in a tragic accident, so she killed herself to be with him forever. And although she crossed the river, she hadn't fully entered into the Land of the Dead so he was still able to save her (she could still feel pain; she wasn't all the way dead yet). My first idea was to make this almost a fanfic of my own story and name the main character Tallulah (and her boyfriend Ben), but I decided against the idea and named her Julia instead, a reference to Juliet. However, I couldn't think of a good modern version of "Romeo" so I was planning on naming her boyfriend later, but ended up finishing the story without a name for him. Does that make the story confusing? Again, comments plz. :)

Thank you for taking the time to read, and I hope to hear what you thought!

End Author's Commentary

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