This is the first chapter from a series of novels I’m working on concurrently with Blue Moon Blues. If you’ve ever wondered why there has yet to be a writer deranged enough to create a story about an Egyptian necromancer, an Arthurian knight, and a reincarnated Indian goddess on a road trip to find Death, then wonder no more. That time is now.
The highway to Hell wasn’t much of a highway. It was a desolate, one lane road in the perpetual dusk between this life and the next, where vulture-eyed harpies haunted the sky in dark rings over rattling buses carrying the souls of the recently damned. A toll booth and a few miles of asphalt were all that stood between Issa and the entrance to the Greek underworld.
She eased her 1979 nocturne blue Pontiac Firebird Trans Am up to the toll booth, and rolled down the driver’s side window. A hooded figure with a vaguely human shape monitored her approach. There was nothing in the hood except two crackling flames that hovered in the dark void where eyes should be.
“Hey, how ya’ doin’ today—”
Issa squinted at the Hello My Name Is sticker that sat crookedly on the top right corner of the figure’s ominous, black robes.
“—Charon? Workin’ that 9 to the end of eternity shift has got to be tough, eh?”
The Gatekeeper had no face to speak of yet even as just flaming eyes floating in nothingness, his complete and utter lack of amusement was unmistakable.
“So, funny story, Charry,” Issa continued amicably, leaning closer to the toll booth by using the car’s open window as an armrest.
“My associates and I—”
She dipped her head towards the Indian woman in the passenger seat intently focused on cycling through the static on the radio, not bothering to do the same for the man splayed out in the back seat, one arm draped over his eyes and clearly not wearing a seatbelt.
“— kind of missed the bus. That bus schedule is impossible to figure out. Long story short, it’s just us three souls needing to crossover to the other side. What do we owe you?”
From the booth’s window, Charon’s burning gaze flared in what could have been mistaken for an eye roll as it scanned the occupants of the car. Then, in a slow, exaggerated gesture that flawlessly articulated the internalized aggravation of having to literally point out the obvious, the Gatekeeper tapped one of his too-long sleeves on the sign just below his window. The sign read:
1 SILVER OBOL PER SOUL
Sorry, we currently DO NOT accept: Firstborn children, the blood of the innocent, or American Express
Issa tossed her left arm over the back of her seat, hand out and palm up.
“Hey, pass me the coins.”
The man in the back didn’t stir, the nearly imperceptible rise and fall of his chest the only indication that he wasn’t a grungy, sallow-skinned corpse rotting in the backseat. Without missing a beat, Issa hit the horn with her right hand and kept it glued there for several obnoxiously loud seconds.
“Are we dead yet?” Ron slurred in a voice still thick with last night’s whiskey, scrambling upright in his seat and bloodshot eyes ricocheting about the car.
Issa impatiently beckoned with her outstretched hand, ignoring his question.
“The coins, Ron. The coins.”
“Oh yeah, yeah! I got those, hold on.”
He rifled through the front pockets of his jeans before actually finding what he was searching for in one of the back pockets and dropping it in Issa’s waiting palm. Issa retracted her hand, deposited the toll into the coin basket and started drumming her fingers on the wheel, waiting for the barrier arm to lift. But the red and white striped arm blocking her from entering the afterlife didn’t budge. Charon glanced down at the coins, then back up at Issa.
“You handed me a quarter, a Snapple bottle cap, and a metal Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers Pog,” the Gatekeeper, whose voice was undeniably female, said in a low, raspy, I-don’t-get-paid-enough-for-this-bullshit voice. Issa narrowed her eyes at the guilty face trying to avoid her gaze in the rearview mirror.
“Are you capital f-u-c-k-ing kidding me right now? You had one job, Ron!”
“Shh, it’s fine, it’s fine. Trust me.” He shifted in the back seat until he made eye contact with Charon. Running his tongue across his chapped lips and sliding a hand provocatively down the front of his shirt that was at least on its fourth day of being worn and unwashed, he whispered, “Ask her if we can pay some other way.”
Issa whipped around and began spitting napalm-fueled expletives at Ron, who was already tugging off his shirt, just as the woman in the passenger seat miraculously found a song in the hissing radio static. The guitar intro to “Fun, Fun, Fun” by the Beach Boys erupted through the car’s speakers, startling the bickering duo locked in battle for control over the zipper to Ron’s jeans into silence.
Twisting back to face the front again and dropping hard into her seat, Issa firmly gripped the steering wheel, kneading the leather into her pulse. With Hell in her sights and a reckless grin that would have made Danger’s pants suddenly tighten at the crotch, she said, “Fuck it,” and smashed the gas pedal to the floor.