By: Alexandra Sullivan
There is a hooded figure than glides across the white dead sea. Her boat floats as soft as the souls that echo round her. Everyone meets her when their time comes. Many fear her; others willingly go, but all will eventually shake her hand.
She is the guide that will take you far beyond this mortal coil.
A stone is all she asks as payment. A nice flat stone to skip across the water’s edge when she is lonely. For she is often the only figure in this desolate stream.
But, sometimes, she remembers. She remembers what fresh skin felt like over her bones instead of this rotting corpse. She remembers seeing through eyes that glinted rather then fogged. She remembers being beautiful rather than decaying.
But these memories come tinged with self-hatred.
For she is the only one to blame for her fate. A sinner that knew no limit to her sins. A hedonist obsessed with the power her first life had kept from her.
She was one of the earliest souls to pass into the next world and she had taken advantage of everything it gave her. In life, she was but a slave to the whims of her masters.
But here. Here. She was free.
Back then, there was no one road to the afterlife. There were no walls between those alive and those passed on. Only distance kept them apart. For the Other World was a land far below any of the living. The afterlife had not yet been carved out and the few that had suffered the new fate of death were wanderers. They had no one but their deity, freshly minted, to point them in the right direction.
But for every freedom, there must be a someone to take it away. Or someone’s mistake.
The cloaked figure had not just been a being of beauty, but one of curiosity. Even as the Goddess of Death directed the figure down the path of the underworld, she snuck down the opposite road.
The first of many mistakes.
However, in her rebellion, she found strength that she had never before possessed. She found a network of tunnels, unguarded and unprotected. However, these were no ordinary tunnels, but a portal to the living world.
Her one thought was that ‘she could use this’.
Just as Icarus ignored the warnings from his father, Daedalus, about flying too close to the sun, she saw none of the warning signs until it was too late.
Nevertheless, she took full advantage of the opportunity. Trips to the Above became common and she loved the freedom it afforded her. It was an experience she had never been given, especially the slavery of her first life. She would gaze across the plains of the Living World and breath in the fresh breeze, so unlike the cold chill of the Afterworld.
Time went on yet still she hungered for more. Like so many others, greed overcame her common sense. She wanted the feeling of life that only a body could give her.
And so she took one.
The first time was an awkward affair. A passed-on spirit did not belong in an alive vessel after all. It was an unnatural occurrence. Still, she would not be kept from her ultimate desire. For what did she care of the wellbeing of a still breathing soul?
She would have her freedom. Whether willingly given or forcibly stolen.
Her first victim was named Ambrosius and she was very spiritually devout. A woman that had dedicated her life to serving the gods, honoring her virginity and living a life devoid of hedonism.
Until one spirit ruined it. In only one night.
All it took was a slip into an unconscious mind and a ravaging across the town’s bars and brothels. Every sinful act available to the vessel was carried out while the original occupant slept. Sex, drinking, gambling, etc. Nothing was left out of the cackling spirit’s spree of debauchery.
After everything was through and the ghost had her fill of the night’s activities she left the body, safely dozing in the Temple, none the wiser as to what had happened.
Until she awoke to an angry crowd of fellow Vestial Virgins, forcing her to flee, stones and cries of “whore” and “sinner” being cried in her wake. The poor girl was assaulted by a man looking to see if the rumors of her debauchery were true.
But the girl kept on despite this tragedy, refusing to prove the gossip mongers true and fueled by the hope of the life in her belly. After a life lived begging and refusing employment from every brothel in the city, she died in childbirth. Her last expression was a grim smile at the baby she held in her arms as she passed on.
But she was only the first of many victims and that baby was only the first of many children.
This was the pattern the spirit would take for every one of her future vessels.
For the women, it was simple for the soul was very familiar with the gender and their ways. But men would spread their seed even further. Countless orphans fatherless and mothers dead in labor.
The spirit felt nothing for any of them. They were mere skins she took while their owners slept, free to do as she pleased and abandoning them to the consequences once she was through.
But this could not go on forever.
For the babies she produced were anything but ordinary. Gifted with the spiritual essence of a passed-on soul, they gained visions of the future. They were those the crowds named oracles, sooth sayers, witches, psychics, and druids. Gifts they received from nights of depravity and seduction. Many become holy figures, worshipped by the masses, but later, like many of the spirit’s victims, they were cast from society, burned at the stake, and much worse.
Again, the spirit cared only for the freedom she had attained. For what responsibility did she hold? They were humans and products of the mortal world. She was a soul that had long fulfilled her life and put the chains of the living realm behind her. They had no hold on her now.
But Death had seen what the spirit had done.
And with every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. This is the rule of the universe.
It was only when the spirit saw the barriers between the worlds risen up that she realized what her actions had wrought. There was no clear portal between the realms, filtering souls and passing judgement upon those that would pass on.
She gazed, confused, at the cold, dark river dividing her from her freedom across. She could feel a frozen chill emanating from its waves and could not see the bottom of its depths. The only transportation across she could see was a rowboat, but it possessed no paddle to move.
‘There will be no free passage to the next realm. Not anymore.’ Death told her, voice booming behind her and sending the deepest of chills down her spine.
‘You have doomed them all to a toll that was never meant to be put in place.’ Death said. ‘And do you know who will collect that payment for all eternity, cursed to never return to paradise?’
The spirit meekly shook her head. However, she knew the answer, deep in her blackened heart.
Death smiled. It was not a kind smile nor a terrible one. It was an expression of pity and deep, deep disappointment. Its eyes glowed mournfully before the abyss.
And the spirit wailed and begged, eyes watering and teeth chattering but Death was a being of Absolute Judgement. The spirit clenched tight the cloak and paddle the hooded figure handed her.
So, little soul, when your mortal life is through and you travel to the world beyond, you will know who the skeleton that ferries each soul to the next realm is. You will know of her sins and the sentence she must suffer for all of time.