Unfastening the suitcase in the dark wasn’t easy. Taking light, short breaths so she wouldn’t awaken the grindstone. He sat hunched in the corner of the room. His staff humming a soft green. Eyes shifting under stone. She knew the price she would pay. If he did not strike her down as she reached for the door, the exit was certain. Return was not.
The cobblestones outside broke her flesh. Her toes were already broken, and Havon would not reside no longer in his den. Hoof steps trotted in a shadowy distance. She paused. Friend or fiend? The man with the twisted face and makeshift hat brushed past her. His fingers shoved into ragged pockets. He wanted no part of her. None of them did, and the green eyes of the grindstone shined against black glass. Her exit was final.
Havon pressed on. An old hag with gray knots for hair screamed herself silly by a burning barrel. “Flesh for the child,” she snarled. “Penny for the thoughtless,” she laughed. “Orange hair makes great leaders,” she screamed. “He put me here,” and she ripped off a fingernail, spitting it at Havon’s feet.
“Crazy bizz,” Havon snapped. For a moment, the old hag froze. Her face then shattered like a broken mirror with maniacal screams biting after Havon’s raw heels. The flesh was already stripped away, but she still bit.
Havon trailed the suitcase behind her. Nothing of importance. Just a red cloak that she was saving. She preferred the black, but it had been torn too many times. She would be a fool to put the coins in the suitcase but a bigger fool to put them in the black cloak pockets. She kept the coins where her heart should have been. She lost its pieces long ago, and more shadowy, bent creatures scuttled past her, lost in their own craze. They avoided her touch as if she were pestilence herself, but even disease cared not to leave its mark on her.
“Passage, please.” Havon asked the tortoise with his monocle slipping from his eye. “One for the river of Styx.”
“Passage. Denied.” The tortoise yawned, fixing his monocle. “What a fool ye are to leave your reside. You can’t go back, you know, and you can’t go back.”
“I’m done heer.”
“Never done here,” he corrected her. “Here you remain.”
Havon followed the tortoise’s gaze over to the brick wall. The brick wall leaned forward, clutching its knees, crying a heartbreaking cry. Yellow lanterns burned into black abyss eyes as the brick wall let out a scream to the heavens. “Make it stop,” he said. “Break me apart, and leave me ruble.”
“Nope. Not going to be me,” Havon declared.
“The world knows you no longer.” The tortoise wheeled past her.
“And where do you think you’re going?”
“To boil a hare.” The tortoise disappeared from sight.
“I’ve been here too long,” Havon whispered out loud.
“Too long, you’ve been here,” the whisper whispered back.
“Shut it,” and Havon looked for the wooden, arrowhead signs that would lead her to the river of Styx.
She was all about to give up hope when its ghost slipped out from beneath her cloak. “Oh, you’re no help either,” Havon snapped, but she was about to break, allow bone to shatter cobblestone when she finally saw the sign.
The Ferryman leaned against his boat, waiting for passage. No souls here wanted passage. They don’t remember the world. They’ve become nightmares, scary demented creatures that would shock a child still. She was no monster, but she avoided her reflection in the gray waters.
“Two coins,” the Ferryman sang, extending his skeletal grip.
Havon reached into the slit in her chest. Just then, a ball of fire with a child’s laughter snatched her suitcase. He buzzfired around the corner, leaving only the handle in Havon’s grip.
“Hope you like red,” Havon screamed after him and gave the Ferryman her coins. “Return me back to where I belong,” she said.
The Ferryman took her coins but then grabbed her by the wrist. “Look into the river of Styx, and tell me you want to go back.” His hood fell back, revealing a moon-shaped head. “See what you will not see.”
“I do not need to see.” Havon tried to pull her hand back, but the grip tightened enough to snap her wrist.
“See what you do not want to see.” His skull face pressed against hers. “Or you take your coins and your chances at sea.” He let go of her wrist.
“Crazy old bones.” Havon rubbed her wrist, and the ferryman pointed an ugly, white stick at the waters below. “I’m looking.” Havon glanced at the waters and then away. “See what you do not want to see.”
“See,” the ferryman screamed.
Havon knelt down. She looked into the gray waters. At first, nothing but shadow. Shadow was good, but then it became light. A young girl came into view, playing with her dolls. She laughed and looked up at her parents. She waited for their smile back and looked down at her reflection in the tea cup. She screamed, seeing the monster that was looking back.
Havon pulled away. She touched her face. Every night, that young girl cursed herself for being different. She dreamt of ripping herself away, tearing off her face. Why did everyone hate her? Why did they see her as such a beast when she did nothing to anyone? Why should she care, and she ripped out her heart, leaving it to beat in darkness. And in darkness, it would beat.
Havon moved away from the river. She kept her back to the ferryman. Her black cloak slid from her pale shoulders to fall back and hug the heart that she could not hold. That’s all she really wanted. Instead, her back cut and sliced with cruel laughter and mean jokes. They all hated her there, and she coiled into a white snake that slithered away across the cobblestones.