Perhaps the boatman lied. Perhaps he really was Charon, and the river was the Styx. If so, it would seem an odd place for me to be. I had never really considered the afterlife much, when I was alive. The preachers that pounded the pulpit on Sundays spoke of heaven and hell. I truth, I cared not for either. Like my mother, I considered church only as a social obligation and the chance to sing some beautiful hymns. We thought nothing more of it once the sermon was done, the cups of tea consumed and the walk home again was over. Certainly I do not recall ever bothering with prayer. I had read too much of mythology and philosophy to put much credence in a few pious mumblings before sleep, much less asking that my soul be taken should I die before I woke. Nevertheless, had I ever considered the afterlife, I would have imagined that it would be one or other of those, that the preachers spoke of, rather than that of the ancient Greeks. No doubt the preachers would have consigned me to hell. If not for my lack of piety, then for the supposedly evil creature I later became, had they known of it.
Thinking of the Greek afterlife made me feel melancholy. If I remember correctly, the first place the souls arrived was the Fields or Meadows of Asphodel, a name shared with one part of the London I had lost. However, that place, I recall, the Greek one, not the one in London, was supposedly full of lost souls and yet, so far, I have seen very few people in this place, whatever it is.
I would appear to be on an island. When I climbed to a high spot, I could see others, but could discern no evidence of habitation. Here, on this one, I can discern every sign of habitation – buildings, pathways, boats, even a stone castle – except that most important sign, living beings.
The boatman had deposited me on a small wooden jetty. It seemed deserted, despite having a small tavern of sorts. A pathway led me to a stone castle, wherein I found shops, cottages and even a small school, but no other signs of people. I began to think that perhaps the preachers had been right, about me going to hell, but also wrong, in that hell was not the torment of fire and brimstone, but the torment of isolation, with all the comforts of the world I had left, save for company. I dismissed this thought before I sank into melancholy again. “Don’t be a bloody fool, Nathaniel,” I told myself, “you have only been here a short while. Remember how long you wandered the streets of London before you met anybody. There must be somebody around.” I shook myself down and continued my exploration.
Presently, I was proved right, of sorts. There was a viewing platform, halfway up the path to the castle, looking out over the harbour. There I met a woman, outlandishly dressed, who asked if I had come for a meeting with Ilandra. When I replied that I did not know of any meeting and had arrived by boat, she seemed bemused that I had met the boatman. However, I could elicit no more response from her and eventually wandered away. Later, I encountered a couple on the steps of the castle, but they were having some sort of argument and I followed my mother’s precept and did not get involved. Curiously, given my earlier thoughts, their argument seemed to have something to do with the underworld.
My explorations wearied me, so I sought rest. Not wishing to impose upon the hospitality of persons unknown, I found myself a comfortable spot in some stables in the castle courtyard. Perhaps, after a rest, I will find some more communicative souls.