***Not exactly a trigger warning but there’s some talk of religion if you don’t like that.***
“Stars will blossom in the darkness, violets bloom beneath the snow.”
It was dark and lonely behind the gates of hell. A youngish man with a maniacal grin stood behind an old wooden table stretched along a dreary path, smoke coming to and fro from behind the table until it floated back into the air, more gaseous soot returning from below.
This man was Charon, the ferryman of the underworld. The closest thing the Greeks had to a grim reaper, though they were still very different. Charon was no figure of darkness and gloom, just another gate to pass before one’s imminent death. Few noticed he was standing in a small puddle of murky water, something that only grew deeper and deeper as they walked ahead without their golden coins, a sort of ticket to move on to the next stage of their not-quite-life.
Charon grinned, welcoming the next group of voyagers. More and more people were coming in groups this year, from those who died in natural disasters to refugees to even murder-suicides, though those were especially rare. This next group was a family who had died in a car crash together. They might not have seemed it from their shaking expressions and worried eyes, but they were lucky. Not many people get to be with their families right before they die. These might even be able to stick together in the underworld, depending on where they ended up going.
“Welcome to the underworld,” Charon said, tired. It had been a long day. His previous client was especially difficult. Those murder-suicides would be the death of him. “You are here because you have no particular religion keeping you in your own designated underworld.” Most were like this. No one had been a true believer in the ancient Greek ways in a solid millenia, except for a few professors. “Tickets are required to cross over. No ticket, no entry to the underworld.”
Not everyone had tickets. It was a real problem, but Hades wasn’t about to do anything to help the living. In this family’s case, they did, fortunately for them.
The youngest child held out his golden coin before putting it in his mouth. Charon sighed. Poor family, without their kid. He was just a baby, too. Too young to die. “No ticket, no entry,” he repeated, looking down at the child.
“Oh, come on!” the mother shouted. “You have the power to let him across - I know you do!”
Charon sighed again. “Ma’am, I don’t. I follow orders from Hades. I wish I could let him cross, but it’s against my direct order.”
The woman laughed. “Like I believe that.” She turned to her son and grabbed his stomach, squeezing it until he eventually coughed out the coin. “Thank goodness,” she said, handing the slimy coin to Charon. “Come on. Let’s make this ferry ride quick.”
Charon nodded as he collected each ticket, wiping the spit off. He opened the gate, letting the family go onto the ferry. Sometimes he would ride with the spirits, depending on how interesting they seemed, but this woman and her children seemed to have no interest in sharing the ride with him. “The ferry will drive itself. Enjoy the scenery. Get off on the right, you’ll meet Hades there.”
The woman nodded, grabbing her children’s hands in her fists as she muttered something under her breath about how impolite everyone in the underworld was.
Ha. At least she was partially right.
Charon sighed, exasperated. It really had been a long day, and he was about ready to close up. Checking his paperwork which had previously been blank, another name showed up right under the family’s.
Violet Adina. Age 10. Cause of death: Unknown.
Well, that was strange, Charon thought. The lists usually ended at sundown in the mortal world, giving him a break for the night while the mortals slept. Anyone who died at night would be brought there in the morning, waiting at the end of the long line of lost souls. But this girl, she must have died right at midnight, just between dusk and dawn.
“Excuse me, sir,” a quiet voice said softly, like the pitter patter of children stomping in the snow.
Charon looked up. The girl was right there in front of him, her thin brown hair cascading down her shoulders. She had a few freckles dotted across her nose, and almond brown eyes. She was short, but for her age a few inches taller than Charon would have expected her to be. Few children came to the underworld who weren’t either babies that died in childbirth or suicidal teenagers. She was right in between, what some people would call a pre-teen. Calmly, she twiddled with her long hair, wrapping it around her fingers.
Charon felt for her. There was no way a girl like this could have a ticket. She was just a child, and not one who had died with their family like the boy from earlier. Still, he had a job to do, and a count of lost souls to keep track of.
“Ticket?” he grumbled out, keeping the gate closed. The girl shrugged. “All I have is this,” she said, pulling out a fading gold chain from around her neck. Attached to the center was a little flower with cleanly shaven wire and five amethyst leaves. In the middle of the flower was a single opal stone, reflecting Charon’s own fiery eyes as he stared into it. A violet, he realized. A gemstone violet, just like her name.
“May I see?” Charon said, pitying the girl. This was no ticket, but it was pretty, and it reminded him of an old friend. Violet shrugged again, handing over the stone. Charon frowned, glancing at it in her hand. “Aren’t violets supposed to be blue?” he asked, remembering an old saying from a card someone had died holding. Roses are red, violets are blue.
Violet laughed. “Nah, they’re purple. That’s just a stupid poem.”
“Oh. Huh.” Charon felt the coldness of the flower in his hand, the wire rusting as he touched it. Slowly, he flipped it over, noticing a little door with two triangles crossing to form a star on the back. He carefully opened the tiny handle, revealing a small compartment behind the gemstone flower. Shocked, Charon gasped, as he pulled a small golden coin out of the compartment, dropping the flower back into the girl’s hand. “Where did you get this?” he asked, feeling the ticket in his palm.
Violet folded her shoulders upwards once again, taking the now much lighter flower and putting it back around her neck. “I was given it when I was a baby,” she said, her already serene voice growing softer and choppier. “It was from my mom.”
“Yeah.” Violet paused. “She’s dead now. I guess just like me.”
Charon nodded. Everything made sense now - the girl’s calm demeanor, her peaceful gaze. All she wanted was to see her mother again. She didn’t care that she was dead, it was just another way for her to reunite with her.
“Violet,” Charon started, wondering how he was going to express this. “You’re not in the same afterlife as your mother.”
She stared up at him, more tears developing in her eyes. “What do you mean?” she asked, her old tranquil expression morphing into one much more soft and sad.
Charon sighed, pocketing the token from the flower and opening the gates. He gestured for her to continue onto the ferry, but she shook her head. “Explain first.”
Charon nodded. “You see, Violet. People go to the afterlife that best suits their own religious beliefs. If they don’t have a solid belief formed, they don’t go to an afterlife. That’s you - children usually don’t have a strong belief in any particular religion yet, so they come here.” He paused here, reaching forward for the necklace again. “But your necklace has a star of david on the back. Your mother was probably Jewish, right?”
Violet nodded, closing her eyes slowly. Charon continued. “Jews are unique. They don’t go to any afterlife, because they don’t believe in one. It’s the same with atheists and agnostics, if they have a strong enough belief in their own philosophies. Your mother isn’t in any afterlife, because she didn’t believe in them, but still had a strong enough belief in her religion to not end up here.”
Violet nodded again. “Why do people like me end up here, then?” she asked, looking down at her feet. Charon sighed. How was he supposed to explain this all to such a delicate young girl?
“You’re here because you don’t believe in anything yet. Either that, or you have a strong devotion to Greek culture, but at your age, I doubt it. Most kids end up here, but most kids don’t die as young and mysteriously as you, either.” Her paused here, wondering how much he gave away.
Violet’s eyes grew wide. “What do you mean, I died mysteriously?” she asked, looking back up from her toes and straight into Charon’s eyes.
“I mean, well,” Charon quickly stopped himself from what he was thinking. You died directly at midnight with a ticket which you received when you were born, not when you died. You seem happy about dying, but you don’t appear to be a suicide victim, and even they aren’t happy when they die. Hades doesn’t know how you died. You’re just...a normal kid who was put through a strange scenario.
Violet sighed again. “Yeah, I know,” she said. “You don’t know how I died, do you?”
Charon nodded, feeling a little embarrassed that a ten year old girl could figure out exactly what he was thinking. Again, he began to pity Violet. This girl would probably end up in the asphodel meadows or the mourning fields, depending on what her relationship with her mother was like. Neither were great options.
“Well, I don’t either. I just woke up dead. I was thinking, maybe I can be with my mom again, and then when I woke up, I was here.” She stopped here, staring into Charon’s eyes again. “Are you sure she isn’t here?”
Charon nodded. “She definitely isn’t.”
“Then-” Violet cut herself off, her eyes growing wider and wider. “Then-then I don’t wanna die!” Tears started streaming down her cheeks, down to touch her little flower pendant.
Charon stared back into her almond eyes. He never tried to comfort people - there was no hope. They went into this world knowing they would die, and they’d come out of it the same way. But Violet was different. She came into this world especially knowing she would die, as she was given the amethyst flower right when she was born.
“Why,” Violet started, as she looked into Charon’s eyes again. “W-Why do you have fire in your eyes?”
Charon laughed. “Long ago, a poet wrote me with them, so I decided I liked them.”
A faint smile came across Violet’s face. Charon smiled along with her. “Come on, Violet,” he said, holding out his hand. “Let’s see what awaits us in the underworld, okay?”
Violet nodded, tentatively taking his hands after she wiped away a final tear.
As they walked onto the ferry together, Charon wondered about what Violet had said before.
Violets aren’t blue.
Violets aren’t blue. They’re purple, just like Amethyst’s purple tears, just like the waves of purple you see when you look at the fire in someone’s eyes. Just like a little purple pendant, holding a ticket that will save you from years of wandering as a lost soul.
Violet didn’t come here blue, either. She came here content. Happy. Ready to die. But she was too young for that.
Unfortunately, there was nothing to be done. But still, Charon could let Violet enter the underworld purple, not blue.