The name, finally, came to him. Psychopomp. Yes, that is the creature’s name. Not Death, although it certainly looked like the character Death in countless movies. It was wearing a long black robe and there’s nothing beneath the tunic except skull and bones, which were partially cloaked by shadows. The thought unnerved him and that is why he kept looking away. Instead of a scythe, the psychopomp was holding an oar.
Julian wondered whether the psychopomp had a name and whether it had a life back on earth. He wondered whether there were other psychopomps in the netherworld or if there’s only one. The latter, though, seemed implausible for the psychopomp moved exceedingly slow, and the river, if it was a river that they were trying to cross, seemed endlessly vast. How many people die every second of every day? He had no clue, but the numbers must be staggering, and a lone psychopomp cannot possibly handle the sheer volume of souls that must be taken to wherever it is that they should be taken.
“Argyros,” a voice hissed behind Julian. He jumped up from his seat and stared (he couldn’t help it) at the psychopomp. The hiss echoed all around them. It was as if they were sailing inside a giant cave.
“That is my name,” the psychopomp continued. “Forgive me if I startled you, Mr Baguio, but you asked, so I answered.”
“You can talk!” Julian exclaimed.
“Of course, I can. And I can hear your thoughts,” the psychopomp hissed.
Julian cringed at the psychopomp’s words.
“Please excuse the hissing. I cannot help it. We psychopomps, or psychos as we are generally known here, always speak this way,” he said.
“So there are many of you psychos?” Julian asked.
“Yes,” he replied. “There’s a psycho assigned for every soul on earth. Won’t you take your seat, Mr Baguio?”
Julian sat down. He was still shuddering. He hugged his knees and kept his teeth from chattering.
“To answer your other question,” the psycho went on, “yes, I had a life back on earth. I was a politician a long, long, long time ago.”
“A politician!” Julian repeated. Somehow this revelation comforted him. It lessened the creature’s otherworldly aura.
“Yes, in ancient Greece. You don’t have to open your mouth, you know. As I’ve said, I can hear your thoughts clearly.” The psycho pushed the oar deep into the dark water and pulled it up again. The boat moved slowly onward.
“Two people die every second,” the psycho hissed.
“Worldwide?” Julian asked.
“Yes, all over the world. Ninety one thousand six hundred and fifty three, no, fifty four, new souls arrived since we left the port. They all have psychos waiting for them at the dock, each with a boat.”
Gosh, that’s amazing, Julian thought.
Who was your psycho when you died? Julian wondered.
“No one. In those days, the souls simply swam. An angel greeted them at the port and instructed them to swim across the water. But it took such a long time for the souls to get to the other side, especially if the soul cannot swim, so beginning in the 6th century Earth Time, our Maker decided to assign psychos for each newly-deceased soul so that they may get to their destination a little bit faster.”
Where am I going? Julian asked himself, forgetting that no thought was hidden from the psycho.
“It’s not for me to say,” the psycho answered. “Have you been a good man, Mr Baguio?”
Certain scenes in his life flashed before his mind, and he was so ashamed of himself. Surely, the psycho saw them, too.
“I’m sorry, that was a rhetorical question. At this point it is best not to speak.”
But Julian couldn’t stop himself from thinking. He thought about the public office he held and his businesses on the side. He thought about the many people he has swindled and tricked. He thought about his mansions and cars and mistresses. He thought about his immense political power, influence, and connections. He thought about the countless tasks, projects, and responsibilities he left behind. He thought about the promises he did not keep.
Finally, he thought about his wife, Melissa, and their children, Marta and Jeremy. How long has it been since he spoke to any of them? Weeks? Months? Have they found his body by now? Are they grieving for him? Can they make it without him? Will any of them miss him? He closed his eyes and he could see each of their faces clearly. Suddenly, he was filled with profound sorrow and longing. He wanted to touch their faces. He wanted to cup their cheeks in his hands. He wanted to touch their hair and hold them by their shoulders. He wanted to feel their skin and hear their voices. He wanted to hug them and talk to them.
“It won’t be long now,” the psycho said.
He wiped the sweat off his brow. The air seemed heavier and more humid now. He loosened his collar and looked up ahead, but there was nothing to see except a formless mass of shadows in the horizon.
“Sir,” Julian said. “Can we maybe turn back?”
“You see, there’s something I must tell my wife and children.”
The psycho shook his head slowly. “Never again.”
Julian stood up. His knees were weak and wobbly. He leaned on one edge of the boat. “But it’s terribly important, sir,” he persisted. “It’s a matter of extreme urgency and importance. Do you understand me, sir? I must speak to them. Can’t you see their faces in my head? I beg you, sir.”
“Relax, Mr Baguio. We’re almost there. Stop fussing. There. Do you see that? Over there. I can see the dock from here.”
Julian turned around and looked out again but he still couldn’t see anything.
“Cup your hand to your ear like this and listen. At least listen. You will surely hear it.”
He cupped his hands to his ears and listened. He listened closely. But there was nothing. The psychopomp stopped his rowing. He listened again. There, finally, he heard something.
“Do you hear it now?” the psychopomp asked.
He listened even more closely and the sounds, which initially were very indistinct, were now more distinguishable. They were human sounds. Voices. Hundreds, thousands, maybe millions, all speaking at the same time. It was very disconcerting for he couldn’t say whether they were laughing or weeping.