By John Thomas Tuft

The small shack sits back off the road a bit, on the near bank of the River Fine’ Dierum. Folks cannot remember when it was not there. It is always open, and travelers come at all hours looking for the ferryman. Folks know that one never goes down to the river alone, you must always be accompanied by the ferryman for he is the guide across the dark waters. No one has ever seen the far bank, though many have traveled with the ferryman on the river. The river is wide, cold and unforgiving, and the ferry goes beyond sight. No one who books passage with the ferryman ever returns to the small shack though people in the town have many stories about what lies on the far bank.

 There was a woman named Agnes who came to the shack one stormy night, hoping to find what she wanted above all else. Agnes had been married to Donald, a good man who loved her dearly for over twenty-five years. They had three children who did what children do– grow up, grow out, and move on into lives of their own. Agnes and Donald made great plans for those years then, reaching for delayed dreams and planning for how to enjoy the fruits of their labors. The couple were in love such that they could finish each other’s sentences, know where the other hurt and when the hurt threatened to overwhelm defenses. One day while he was getting ready for work, Donald suddenly clutched at his chest and fell to the floor.

Distraught, Agnes called for help and knelt beside her stricken love. When his eyes fluttered open, they had a distant look. “He’s coming,” he gasped. “The ferryman’s on the water.” Then he smiled and whispered with his last breath, “I paid, I paid, oh, my joy, fine’ dierum.” Agnes was inconsolable in her grief from that day forward. Friends at work tried to help, but her world was shattered. How could this happen? What about their plans? How could she manage to go on without him? It was not fair, she did not want to be alone, and nothing else could ever fill the void. So, she decided to go find the ferryman at the River Fine’ Dierum and demand to be taken to her Donald.

That stormy night she arrived at the shack, burst in without knocking, and called out for the ferryman. The door to the dock opened and a bent figure shuffled through, rain from the storm dripping from a beard that looked like it was trimmed with pinking shears. His voice had the rasp of countless griefs, but his eyes shone bright in the light of a single candle. “Do you have the fare?” he asked. “Whatever it takes,” insisted Agnes as she marched through and climbed onto the ferry. “The only thing that truly lives on is grief, my child,” he chided. “The Beyond has no need of your beliefs.” She stomped her foot, impatient. “Take me to my love.”

The ferryman cast off and steered out into the river. “How do you know the way?” Agnes asked as the storm raged. The ferryman smiled, “The laws of planting a seed are no different than the laws that guide the stars. And knowing either does not make it ours to possess.”  Agnes stared into the blackness and asked, “Is it far till I reach him?” The ferryman shrugged. “It is not for me to know. You are the one who carries the story of him. How far is it?” Agnes brushed aside these words, pressing him. “How much is the fare? I’ll pay whatever it takes.” The ferryman walked to the rear of the ferry and set the anchor. “We are here.” Agnes looked around, indignant. “What do you mean we’re here? We’re surrounded by water. We’re in the middle of the river.”

“There’s no need to yell,” said the ferryman in a soft voice. “I will have my fare now.” Agnes grew furious. “Absolutely not. I’m not paying you to bring me to the middle of the river. I believe my Donald is on the other side. Take me there at once.” The ferryman sighed. “I told you, the Beyond has no need of your beliefs.” He shook the rain from his beard. “My fare is all of your joy.” Agnes refused. “No. I’m not paying. My joy? We are not across. We’re in the middle.” The ferryman grew thoughtful and climbed over the railing on the side of the ferry. “I only bring travelers to the middle of the River Fine’ Dierum. And I must be paid.” Agnes slumped to the deck in despair. “I have no joy.”

“Life is always headed here,” said the ferryman as the ferry rocked and pitched. “If one can live it with humility and gratitude, the joy will come. And entering this river will be debt free.” He held out his hand to her. “Come, I will go with you. Your fare is paid.”

Words are magic and writers are wizards.