this is the unedited story - it may undergo a few edits before it is done. It will be part of the House of Sunlight anthology, c. Marie Lamb.
Final Dispatch, Two Bits
I’ve been turning it over in my hands for nearly an hour now. It is priceless. And it is worthless to me, compared to love. How could something this small cause such a conundrum? I rub my fingers over the surface, no sharp edges, no nicks, no cuts. The face that was once engraved there is evenly worn down, tired. It’s like that look on her face at the end, a two-headed coin, mysterious and inexplicable. It is an opportunity that I could never catch in midair. But, I won’t let it get away, not entirely… now that I have seen the solution.
No, this is more than a coin. It is a talisman. Bad luck follows it like smoke through an open window. I can feel the tendrils of evil already seeping out into the air around me. And on its other side, there is the fragile breath of life, wound inside it like a whisper. I would like to drop it into the earth right here and walk away. It will be there, one day, when I need it. I don’t have to hang on to it. Unless, I use it in trade. And I will - because I can’t leave her there. She needs me. I’m the only one who can bear the cost of the toll that must be paid.
I saw it in her eyes the night I took her on my boat. They were blue. I’ve seen a lot of blue eyes. But these reached down into the place where my soul once was and threatened to make it grow back again. I’ve been asleep, complacent, for so long hiding in plain sight, doing my street job and staggering through the years. It comes with the job, taxicab driver, ferry operator, elevator man, cruise ship director, kayak rental salesman. They all want to go somewhere. Sometimes, they talk and you can’t help but listen. Sometimes, you feel almost human listening. The feeling rarely sticks around. This time I couldn’t shake it.
Afterwards, with the lights and sirens and the ambulance workers taking us away on covered stretchers, someone laid the coin down in my hand. This coin. The one that looks forwards and backwards. I’d like to go back and look them in the eye, ask them why they did it. But I know. The switch had been thrown, and the dominoes in my heart were falling into place.
Petriolcher. That is what they call the smell of the earth when it rains. When the water is seeping down into the cracks and crevices of the soil. It is caused by millions of small bacteria and fungi reacting to hydration.
Sitting up in the morgue, staring at that coin. I could still smell the earth and the blood and the water weeds we were pulled from. She was gone. I was gone. But it is my Nature to be here, there and Everywhere. I would sink down through it myself and pull her back to the surface, if only I knew where to dig. The coin is supposed to lead me there. Or actually, the acceptor of the coin, who will meet me here at midnight.
I can only hope that the Boss will arrive at fifteen after. I left him a note - ‘I am tendering my resignation. I am digging her up tonight.’ I think he will understand. We were always fairly alike, which is why he chose me in the first place for Field Work. He hates his desk job, longs for the days he was out tapping on shoulders and tripping up horses. I think I can depend on him to be on time. Punctuality is a requirement of the job. And although he hates having to replace drivers he says it is as inevitable as taxes. It is truly frightening to hear him laugh.
It is almost time. I push the little light on my watch - the one I didn’t even know was there until I fumbled with it this morning. Odd, how you can own something for millennia, see it go through all the latest fads, sand, leather, Rolex, Swatch. You could even try what you believe is every possible combination, and then, when you have ceased to look for anything new, a random brush of a finger at just the right time will light your way.
The switch was a little metal nub, smaller than the end of a pencil tip, sticking out just below the numbers. I guess I believed it to be the head of a tiny screw. I’m not really the mechanical type. You wouldn’t believe how long it took me to get an outboard motor on the dinghy. And even afterwards, it didn’t seem to garner the same sort of respect as the long oar, even with a nice throaty rumble. I keep the oar around next to the can of gas now, For emergencies. Like idiots that just can’t get the Goth expectations out of their head.
But I digress. Everything in its own time. Like the watch, that is how the light came on, in it’s own time. The light in her eyes, shining into me as she told me about her family, her dog, and everything waiting for her at the end of the road that night. I actually love dogs - it’s cats you have to watch out for, nine lives and all of that. For the first time in a very long time I felt the little golden spark inside me that wanted these things for her, too. I’ve saved that thought for later - the light in the dark. We all need the light in the darkness that we walk through, if only to know when the midnight hour finally approaches.
I barely see it at first. The shadows in between the stones stretched and stretched until they simply became pools of black. And now, the black rises. There is no other living soul to see the request. The black inky hand that stretches out over mine, dark in spite of the light of the moon. There is no other soul to see the coin, dull and worn silver, disappear before the light can touch it again. But there is a living soul that is exchanged with it, and with mine. I can see her rise through the earth and peer with frightened eyes out into the Night.
Her eyes are blue. They shine in the moonlight. Her lips are red, and no longer pale. Her best dress has somewhere to go now, besides the grave. She makes that sound in her throat, just like the one she made before the car swerved and left the road. She makes that cry not now for herself but for me. She realizes this is the end. Not for her, not anymore. I cannot brush away her tears or calm her fears. I never could. But she made me want to.
There will be a lot of explaining to do, when the sun rises over the river Styx today. I will not be here to answer for it. My term is done, and my post relinquished for forbidden love that can never be. My coin is spent.
I will never set foot in the boat again. An eternity of waiting by the river is a small price to pay. At least I’ll see her again, someday, hopefully a long long time from now. And her eyes will still be blue. I’ll be waiting to see the light in them.