Heads or tails. Heads or tails. Heads or tails.
I flipped the coin with my thumb over and over and over again. Catching it, but never looking at the outcome. Too afraid if I’d be relieved or disappointed by fates decision.
Heads or fucking tails.
A sigh escaped me as I repeated the motions. I wanted to stop but the urge to continue was too strong. I most likely looked a sorry sight. Some dumb kid flipping a coin on the river bank, feet stuck in the murkey water. Each time I glanced up at the bridge to my left, at least one person quickly looked away. I almost felt like calling out to them, heads or tails?!, but what would be the point? Most of them seemed like tourists anyway, and I was probably ruining their riverside holiday photos.
The coin gave out a light ring every time I flipped it. The sound was barely there over that of the river. I curled my toes in the cold current. My skin was starting to prune. My feet were numb from being in the water so long, but I didn’t care. I was content for now, in an uncomfortable sort of way.
I flipped the coin again. My feet felt the current change. The sound of the river changed too. I looked up at the bridge, but once again, none of the passersby seemed to notice.
“Chance is a fine game,” a voice floated across the water, “What will it be today, creature?”
The tip of an old wooden ferry bumped lightly against the riverbank to the right of me. The faded whorls of paint that decorated its bow were familiar to me now.
The coin in my hand continued its routine almost of its own accord as I smiled at the ferryman.
They were beautiful, in their own unsettling sort of way. I suppose they had to be, given their trade. There were voids where their eyes should be, deep chasms you were likely to fall into if you looked too close. Their skin was gray and their smile was crooked. Their dark hair was tousled from the river wind, but their black cloak remained perfectly in place. They leaned on the lone oar of the ferry as it stilled, resting their head on their skeletal hands.
I continued to flip the coin.
“What brings you to this side of the river?” I ignored their question as I replied with one of my own.
I often wondered what it looked like to outsiders, our encounters. Just a mad person talking to the water? Or were there other people out there who saw the ferryman as I did?
“It would be a lot easier to ignore you if you stood on the highest rooftop you could find and screamed my name,” They answered, voice raspy as always, “Rather than sticking your dirty human feet in my waters and tossing a coin. It’s practically a summons.”
The coin spun in the air.
“Except I’m not dead, Charon.”
Their smile was all teeth.
“That could change as fast as the flip of a coin.”
Oh I knew that. Every time I blinked, that millisecond of darkness was enough to frame a hundred images that flashed across my vision. The last car in a parking lot. Bullet casings and razor blades. Falling and sinking. Red lights and tyre tracks. Sirens and screaming and the deafening sound of nothing at all.
I’d seen everything.
“ I didn’t come for a lesson on life and death.” I snapped.
“How could you, when you’ve learned them all?” Charon drawled.
I flipped the coin again and again. It flew higher with every violent flick of my thumb. I stared into the emptiness where their eyes should have been. Did they remember what colour their eyes used to be? Would I?
Charon smiled again. They stretched their hand towards me. The ferry groaned at the shift in weight.
Heads or tails.
“Tails.” The nothingness in their eyes somehow managed to look hungry.
The coin arched in the air, spinning and turning over itself, fading from gold to black before being snatched from the river wind by Charon’s boney hand.
“Heads.” They spat into the river, “I hate it when you win.”
I sighed as I stood, fingers twitching at the absence of a coin. I hated to be idle. Charon gripped the oar of the ferry, pushing it away from the riverbank as a cold breeze whipped at our robes. I pulled mine tighter around myself.
“I’m not sure I would call this winning.”