The Cocytus Terminal
"Jacob, Jacob, Jacob... Ohhhh Jacob." The road hasn't stopped saying his name, belching it out over and over again. The more it echoes and repeats the more real he becomes, here. I had forgotten about that until only recently. When I had to tell you. Without memory it doesn't exist. Memory is the record of existence and the record is flawed. Nothing is perfect. That is what I've been trying to say for so long. Yeah, I'm not perfect but there is so much worse out there.
"Jacob, oooh, ahh. He gave it to you didn't he? Do you know he's rotting somewhere too? A syphilitic? Wanna bet you are too? Maybe this is a delusion of your own rotting brain. This whole trip. You're still on the way to the party but you aren't going to see him. Your going to swap spit with your little syphilitic lover boieeeee." It drags it the last vowel out in mock ecstasy. The continues,
"How did he taste? It did it feel rammed all the way down your throat? How did any of them taste? Sour I bet. Were they rough, pull your hair?
The jade man saw it all. Whatever he didn't know in during his sad, pathetic little life, you can bet it was shown to him here. His heart was weighed and found wanting. Did you know that? Did you know that he's empty? You didn't just cut out his heart, you pulled out his soul with that prick of yours and you pissed and jizzed all over it. Now he whimpers and whines, all, the, god, damned, time. So pathetic."
"Yeah, you said that already..." I tried to yell back, to sound tough but all I could do was collapse into the seat, sinking into myself, head lowered trying desperately to breathe through the heat and smell. Basically turtling. I loathed this bus. Hated myself and more, I hated the jade man for doing this to me. In the stages of grief I was somewhat past denial and on to anger. That anger was turning into reviled hatred for a whole wasted life. How could I have not seen what was going on when it was going on?
I never realized how lonely I was. I isolated myself; my whole life, I guess all I did was push people away. There has to be a way to fix it, something I can do to make it better. I don't know why I'm here, I don't know who brought me here. There has to somewhere else to go. I can't be trapped here forever. I'm not like the jade man. I didn't kill myself. This isn't my hell. I won't accept it.
The stop-bell string runs along the bus above the windows. I reach up and yank on it. A scathing buzzard croak issues from the overhead speakers indicating a request to stop the bus.
"I want to get off. I'll find my own way." I shout to the driver who hasn't let off the gas at all.
"Stop the bus, this is my stop. Right here." I shout again. For a split second I almost think she can't hear me.
"This is not your stop. You cannot get off the bus here."
"Yes I can. Let me off." I turn and ram my shoulder into the back doors. I slam my palms against them, banging hard and rattling them on their hinges. They don't budge. "Come on. You can't do this to me!" I beg. I turn and throw my shoulder into the doors again and fall on my ass when it doesn't do anything but bounce me off.
"Your time is near. The Cocytus Terminal approaches. That is where you will get off. That is where you find the cost of your departure. Upon your arrival."
"That doesn't make any fucking sense. Arrrrhhhhhh! Fuck. Fuck Fuck! With each fuck I hammer the doors. They flex and vibrate and nothing more. Exhausted I sit back down. My palms are flaring a vibrant red and they are so sore. My shoulder aches and I feel so utterly defeated. The blade. Try the blade. Duh. It's been sitting in my waist band the entire time. It worked on the chains and whatever block is behind the driver.
Coyctus roars its ugly insults continuously at me. It never relents. Didn't Charon say that this was the road of wailing and lament? Oh, by the way, I don't know why but thinking of the invisible barrier reminded me of the driver's name. Charon. I've heard it before. In some story or other. Isn't that, usually its, isn't it, oh never mind.
I pull the bone knife out. Rubbing my thumb over the grip, feeling each sigil, each nick, the heart... I hold it up beside my right ear and then thrust it forward into the middle crack between the two folding panels. I push it in further. Great currents of electricity leap from the door into the blade and roll up my arm. It feels like ice cold marble shoved between the layers of my skin are rolling from my fingers up into my shoulder. I try to let go but find that the current has me. My body convulses, I try to twist the blade jam the crack wider and pull the blade out. All I manage to do is release an icy exhale from between the doors that frosts the blade and the hand that holds it, oh hell did it burn. It underneath the white frost the skin of each one of my fingers has turned black.
I feel my feet lift up off the ground, a strange sucking sound drowns out all other sounds and then my whole body is a cannon ball fired from the doors and smashing into the windows on the far side of the bus. My body is a cat's cradle of tangled limbs, hand rails, and seating. I don't know this yet, but the doors rattle a little, make a sputtering coughing and spit the knife out. It flips through the air and lands with its blade digging into the rubber of the floor an inch or so away from my left foot. I don't know why it didn't get sucked out, or the driver never took it while I was in my stupor. Allergic to these types of personal items maybe.
Only Charon knows how long I was out. What is more important is how far we had gone. The bus chugged along. I might have dreamt. If I did I can't remember what about. Only that the river, the road continued to wail, lamenting the jade man's decline. Jacob. And, every single fucking thing I've ever done wrong. So much so, that when I woke and heard it consciously again it all sounded so familiar. It was like deja vu. I hate the feeling. Feeling like you've done something before and not being able to place it sucks. It really means that you are out of place. Something about you in that space is wrong. Time. Time is wrong. You are either before something that has already happened or after and you have no idea.
When I did wake up however, the only thing in my head were the words,
"Now that she's back in the atmosphere With drops of Jupiter in her hair, hey, hey..."
Am I ever going to get rid of this song. What the fuck. Pop songs, man, am I right or what? It's almost like this song was written as the blue print of my destiny and the designer got it all wrong. I'm not back in the atmosphere. I am nowhere near the fucking atmosphere. I pull my right leg down off the back of the chair in front of me and my left arm out from between the top of the chair back and the handhold above. They are stiff with sleep and full of pins and needles.
There haven't been any people outside the bus in what seems like forever. No regular people, none of the obsidian souls, or the crab walkers, or the SWAT SQUADS. Ironically, this makes me very nervous. No news isn't always good news and despite how awful things were it is almost scarier to be alone and to be in a new place, that you don't recognize and see nothing familiar. Even if that familiarity is simply sharing two arms and two legs.
The road is much choppier here, making up for the stillness of the unrelenting voice. It is still out there, I can hear it in the background but it is more of a hum now than the irritating bluster it was before.
A huge wave of asphalt came up and battered the face of the bus. Another one, a little bigger this time crashed head on with us and cracked the windshield. As it subside the glass healed. The crack receding into the glass like liquid into fabric. The bus rocked and heaved with the rough rapids of the road beneath her. A lot squealing in the suspension and creaking as rubber and metal rubbed against one another. We were on a bus and a ship in a tempest tossed lake. Cocytus. The sign above glowed in that exit sign red, Cocytus Terminal. It gave me the willies. Sent shivers down my spine.
Have you ever been in a funeral home late in the evening? One of those old old houses that have been converted. Where you know there has been a lot of deaths over the distance of centuries. Felt the presence of leaving? That special emptiness where a spirit was and then wasn't; and looked up to see the EXIT in that bright red glow? Get the feeling that those signs are not actually for the living? That is what this bus felt like now. It had spanned centuries, probably millennia ferrying people to their destinies as Charon has so eloquently put it. All the death that has lived on this bus and has since left. I'm not big enough to fill that void. It is cold and and I'll be damned if it isn't lonely.
"Ahh. You finally see some truth. You are not big enough to fill any void." She growls.
"Fuck you." I say, pouting.
The light changes outside dimming everything on the bus, white washing everything. It is suddenly bright, not sunlight, just white. Snow white. The speakers crackle with static again and the voice of Charon the ferry woman breaks through. Rough as sandpaper,
"We are now approaching the Cocytus Terminal. This is the final stop. We will be landing on platform V. All passengers must disembark from the bus here, this is not a return route."
"Uh, I'm the only one on the bus..." I say snidely. But seriously, she could have just told me, it wasn't really necessary to do it that way. For some reason it really irks me.
Two mountains loom high in the distance. They are sharply peaked and covered in ice and snow. I can't help but fall silent in awe of their majesty. They completely engulf the entire skyline. My eyes grow bleary trying to follow them as we approach, both from the up and down bouncing of the bus on the rough, choppy road, and from their size and the brilliant white. I take my eyes off them for a moment and see why I haven't seen any of the other obsidian people. They are out there. I see them now. Still. They aren't moving, nothing is. It's like they are frozen. In fact, some of them are covered in layers of white ice, their obsidian skin contrasting from the inside of their icy tombs outward. A blacklight in a white night. They are everywhere some have ice growing up to their knees while others are completely covered up to their eyeballs. Those are scary because they can't turn their heads, only their eyes roll following the bus, almost pleading and wide. It is incredibly disturbing.
The mountains are even larger now. They break through the ceiling of this place leaving cracks in the atmosphere. Strange winged things fly in and out of the cracks shrieking way up there. Lovecraft spoke of these, Night-Gaunts; "black horned, and slender, with membranous wings..." stuff of nightmares.
We are at the base of the mountains only they aren't mountains at all, static punctuates the interior of the bus, kksshh; "we are arriving at the Cocytus Terminal. All passengers should brace themselves as the bus docks," almost instantly after she says that we canter heavily to the right under a small swell in the road. It gets really rough as the bus slows down during the approach. The rear end lifts high and then lowers followed immediately by the front end. The bus seesaws all the way to platform V.
Lining up with the sidewalk the bus pulls in, and the corner of the bumper nudges a frozen person over. I hear a tiny muted squeal cut short as they hit the pavement and break apart into hundreds of little pieces. The bus keeps going until it is rocking perfectly parallel to the platform sidewalk.
The doors hiss open, Charon gets off the bus and beckons me off as she does. I follow and step down onto glare ice covered pavement squares. She gestures towards some sliding doors in the sides of the white mountain terminal. They have black ram's horns on the top corners of them and a slate finish that is inscribed with greek looking letters. I was looking for the sign above that reads something like, Abandon all hope... Charon says, "do not."
"Do not what?" I ask.
"Abandon your hope. That is what we will take from you slowly and when it is all gone, we will give it back and start again." Then she laughs huge chortling snorting laughter.
"Bitch." I say.
The doors wash open in a fluid wave of shimmering substance. It's membranous and I have to sort of push through it to get inside. Once we are through I go snow blind. I've never seen anything so white. Pure white. She guides forward. I can see nothing but white until I am bumping into a table. A really old scarred, burned, beautiful wooden table. It looked as though it belonged to a pharaoh or a king at some point.
"King Solomon's table," She says. What the hell, is she reading my mind?
On the table is an extremely old, and extremely large brass scale with a copper plate hanging on either side. A feather lays beside it. Her hand shoots out with eerie speed and slams into my chest with a splut, something cracks and a sharp pain hits every nerve. I gasp as a piece of bone pierces my lung. She twists her fist, then pumps it up and down painfully until strange squelching pops bubble blood around the wound and she finally pulls her bloody hand out of my chest and with it my heart.