The Writers Voice
The World's Favourite Literary Website

Starting Over


Harry Buschman

He was a very old man, so old you could see through him. His hair, once gray, was now without any color at all and it hung limp and lifeless exposing his almost white scalp. His eyes were a watery blue -- they stared with exhaustion from under bushy white brows.

And yet ... there was a rage that seemed to boil inside him, he stood by the conference table trembling with barely controlled anger. He leaned his scythe in the corner of the room, walked to the tall French windows and looked out at the freshly mowed lawn. Four people were playing croquet.

He knew they would be there. They played croquet on their freshly mowed lawn every afternoon at this hour. They had never seen their lawn less than freshly mowed. Everything was perfect up here. Their food was perfectly cooked and served in silence with quiet grace to the accompaniment of vintage wine and heavenly music.

“Yes!” the old man said to himself. “There’s no place like Olympus.”

He walked slowly to the conference table and looked for his name tag... it was at the foot as usual. “Protocol,” he reminded himself. “I am the God of earth -- an outsider. I hardly ever get up here and I’m not one of them. I should consider it a privilege to have a seat at this table in the first place.”

So he sat. He turned his hourglass over and watched the sand run through. His name was Charon, and he had a close relationship with the mortal people of earth -- both the living and the dead. He was with them from the first day of their creation -- before they knew they were human. The close relationship corrupted him in the eyes of the Gods of Olympus. They considered him to be
somewhat human himself and therefore not deserving of a seat near the head of the conference table. The meeting would begin soon, and yes, he would be sitting
there in spite of them. Now that it had started, they couldn’t have their meeting
without Charon.

Suddenly there was light laughter in the hall outside. Charon, brooding alone at the table, had almost fallen asleep. He noticed the sand in the hour glass had run out. Promptness was not one of their virtues -- “If they have any at all,” he grumbled.

The door opened and Zeus walked in. He saw Charon sitting alone and his embarrassed laugh flickered out like a penny candle and he made his way quickly to the head of the table. Hera, Queen of Heaven, followed close behind him and sat at his right hand. Then came brawny Theseus with his bronze club and Persephone, Goddess of the Underworld. To show off his rebellious nature, Charon did not stand for them as Zeus stood waiting at the head of the table. “Why should
I In my world below I am the equal of any of them -- in my world I am indispensable! Why should I stand?”

Zeus waited for the others to sit, then held up his right hand and said, “This meeting is now in session.” He sat and placed both elbows on the highly polished table and rested his head in his hands. “Good to see you, Charon. It’s been a long time -- you should make it a point to get up here more often.”

“I have no time for visiting. I am needed down there,” Charon said bluntly. “I left nearly four billion people down there! Do any of you know what it’s like to minister to four billion people?”

“We’re very lucky to have a good man down there,” Persephone remarked sweetly.

Theseus drummed his club softly on the table. “We do all we can to keep the
numbers down, Charon.”

“You’re doing a bad job of it, all of you.” He lifted his hourglass from the table and shook it at them. “This is the problem. Time! None of you have any sense of time! You started off with two people, the sample was too small. Your projections were off. It was your idea, Zeus -- you fucked it up?”

“I beg your pardon!”

“You heard me, you stuffed shirt! I said you fucked it up!”

Zeus heard enough. He never liked Charon from the start. Little pip-squeak! Working down there on his precious ball of dirt too long. “You’ve got your priorities all wrong, Charon. Listen to yourself! Anybody would think you’re running the only game in town -- there’s a universe out there you know.”

“I know that, but this one was supposed to be special, remember? You promised it would be special. You said you would take special care.”

Hera hardly ever spoke, but when she did, those around her usually stopped to listen. “Special, yes Charon, we made them in our image and we promised we’d take special care of them -- and then we didn’t. We should have.” She turned to Zeus, “Is it too late to start over?”

“Once done, never undone, my dear. The thread cannot be broken. However it’s a mistake we will not make again.” He turned to Charon, “If you can’t handle it, old man, we’ll see if we can get some one who can -- perhaps someone younger.”

“Don’t be hasty, Zeus,” Hera continued. “Charon has been at this business longer than any of us. I can see his point -- the experiment may have gotten out of hand.”

The seed of the problem was something none of them predicted. Even though the Gods had supreme power, their hindsight was sharper than their foresight. Imagine! Men in God’s image! Even dull-witted Theseus realized it was a bad idea. They were men -- period; little better than animals. Charon gathered his feet under him, gripped the edge of the conference table and stood up.

“You’ve tried everything, haven’t you Theseus? Flood. Earthquake. Plague. War... still their numbers grow. There is hardly room to stand.” He turned the hourglass over again. “They must expand, they’ve outgrown the world you gave them.” There was a collective intake of breath and it was obvious to Charon this solution was unacceptable. “I have to be getting back. I’m sorry to have interrupted your game of croquet, but there is only one answer you know.” He looked at each of them in turn. They would not meet his penetrating stare -- even Hera, the more understanding of the four, avoided his glance and looked out
the tall French windows. The croquet balls still lay on the lawn in precisely the same position they were when Charon called the meeting. “Why couldn’t things be perfect all the time,” she thought? “Why do the mistakes we make in the past come back to spoil things in the present?”

She began to speak in a voice so low the others had to lean forward to hear. “It was a natural mistake, Charon. Yes, even Gods make them. I remember there were only two of them -- a man and a woman. Pretty things, weren’t they? To assure their survival we had to make sex an overwhelming experience, one that would override all other human emotions.” She turned to Zeus... “Like it has never been on Olympus, Zeus.” She faced the others again. “We must change that. We must make it painful, something to be regretted.”

“You can’t do that,” Charon said. “They barely get along now -- without something to keep them together they would fight all the time. No! There has to be a better way.”

Zeus did not agree. “Be quiet Charon. It’s an excellent suggestion, Hera. Take all the joy out of it! Brilliant, look how it’s worked up here. They’ll be manageable within a generation. Furthermore,” he turned to Persephone and Theseus, “war, pestilence, plague -- we will have no need of them. What would we do without you, Hera?”

Charon buried his head in his hands. He could do nothing, it was four to one. He dreaded the effect this decision would have on the people he loved so much. What did these Olympians know about them? They lived without the very thing that made humans unique above all creatures great and small. Never, never once had he seen a loving touch or a look of affection pass between Zeus and Hera.

His beloved humans would grow fewer and fewer, and in a generation or two they would be gone, and there would be no one to mourn them. Charon had taken great pride in the way they faced death -- their courage in the face of impossible odds -- their bravery in the face of natural disaster, their charity for people in need. Only yesterday he walked through their midst at night unobserved, listening to their dreams, their manias, their missions, hearing his name on their lips in times of trouble. He could not suffer to see these people wither and leave no trace behind! He could not let this happen.

Charon rose from the table and made an almost imperceptible bow, “I’m sorry to have interrupted your game of croquet.” He picked up the hourglass and looked at it thoughtfully, perhaps it wasn’t too late. He could warn them -- if they knew what was coming they might figure a way. He picked up his scythe in the corner and walked to the door.

Zeus watched him thoughtfully -- “Should we need you, can we reach you at your usual address, Charon?”

“Yes, I will be there with them. The same address -- east of Eden.”

©Harry Buschman 2003

Critique this work

Click on the book to leave a comment about this work

All Authors (hi-speed)    All Authors (dialup)    Children    Columnists    Contact    Drama    Fiction    Grammar    Guest Book    Home    Humour    Links    Narratives    Novels    Poems    Published Authors    Reviews    September 11    Short Stories    Teen Writings    Submission Guidelines

Be sure to have a look at our Discussion Forum today to see what's
happening on The World's Favourite Literary Website.