I crossed back over yesterday. The ferry captain wasn’t in the bargaining mood. Fine, I didn’t need my soul anyway. And, yes, it’s just like they say in the postcards. There’s a sultry river, a three-headed dog, the whole shebang.
The weather wasn’t too bad, light fire in the morning, then some blazes in the afternoon. They say the first fire of the season is the most beautiful, and when spring comes, the ground has been preserved for the next harvest. They say no one needs to work in the fields, that the skeletons just step out and terrorize the locals. Genius.
Look, I don’t care what they call me: rogue correspondent, disgruntled worker, or feasible savant. For hours I recited my phantom reports in front of literal hellions, then tip-toed around the families of demons dipping their toes into the rare cold springs and, you know, just getting away from it all. Although there were definitely some infinite howling sounds of despair, which was kind of annoying.
Sometimes the villagers came out of their flaming pits, snapped my picture, and when we’d find a spot in the least scorching of places, they’d turn over my palm, trace my lifeline, look into my eyes as I asked them about an uprising, they'd always shake their heads and smile. There is no rebellion here, young man. We love it here.
* * *
Until a week in a young boy with blazing saucer-like eyes blocked my path on a local hiking trail down a nearby mountain. Got a great view of the nearby lake of fire up there. A young girl stepped out behind me. Look, I said, holding up my badge, I’m press.
The boy put a finger to his lips. The girl nudged me forward with the toe of her buckled shoe, her touch electric. The boy nodded to a side path, one that I hadn’t noticed before, and we entered a cave among caves. The air grew cooler, not so fiery. They led me to the stump of some charred tree on top of which sat a small wooden box.
It’s time, the girl said, for you to go home.
But I haven’t finished my story. I tapped the press badge, both trying to and not trying to look at the box at the same time. Not trying to tell them that I had no story at this point.
I know, the boy said, that you want to open that box.
I threw up my hands. Not necessary. Very few good things happen when boxes are opened.
The girl smiled, tapped the box, But this is the story. In here.
The boy nodded. We kept it for you.
Fine. Sure. Okay, I sighed. I trudged over, flipped open the lid, thinking, kept what, exactly?
Then a blinding flash, and it was as if spring, summer, autumn, winter, and maybe another summer, entered my body.
When I opened my eyes, I was back on the boat, already somewhat seasick. The ferryman turned and nodded, giving me the “hang loose” sign.
When we reached the dock on the other side, a fisherman looked up from his station on the dock, sent me a beaming smile. A sparrow flitted low, chirped merrily. A merry sun gleamed down from a cloudless sky.
The ferryman tossed his rope, tied up, and I stepped onto the dock. I paused, turned around, said, Sir?
Bruce. Call me Bruce.
Okay... Bruce. I'd like to go back, if possible.
Bruce laughed, unloosened the rope. He was such a Bruce. Sorry, no can do, Erik.
Derik. It’s Derik. I sighed, patted my chest. Well, at least I got my soul back.
Bruce eased the ferryboat out onto the water, shook his head, laughed even louder. Guy enjoyed his job way too much. No, he said, you got something better.
* * *
Later that night, back in my apartment, I opened my laptop, began to write my report. More of a traveler's diary. Probably be packaged with the weekend edition on the forgotten page seven.
But with the first keystroke, I felt something ripple through my body, like an aftershock from my encounter with the box.
The sweat trickled down my temples, and as if leaking from a pair of invisible horns lodged in my skull. I continued tapping. Outside, a car alarm went off, a dog barked, a woman fought with her boyfriend, but I continued tapping. I could see the red glows of my eyes in the screen of my laptop.
After a while, I blacked out.
I awoke to a feathery, hot breath against my ear. I opened my laptop, scanned what I’d done. Not only had I finished my assignment, but I’d also finished many others. And they were already published. All. Over. The. Place.
This is what I found: the first article started...
We STILL need the long-form birth certificate for Obama. Honolulu Advertiser was hacked. That’s why they claim to have his birth announcement in there from 1961...
I put a hand to my mouth, kept reading...
Windmill cancer, while not always given the attention and credence it deserves, does exist. In fact...
We all know Antifa was behind the attacks at the capitol. They’ve been known to masquerade as MAGA now and then...
Despite the fifty-plus dismissed court cases and no evidence to back up this claim, we all know the election was stolen.
I leaned back in my chair, smiled. I was everywhere now. And I was being retweeted, reposted, retweeted, and blocked and reported.
Along with chirping morning birds, I thought I heard the ferryman laugh.
Born in Alaska and raised in Downeast Maine, Eachan Holloway has published poetry in Prairie Schooner, Swink, Quarterly West, Carolina Review, Beacon Street Review, The Massachusetts Review, Agni, The Denver Quarterly, The Indiana Review, and The Pinch Review, among others. He now lives, teaches, writes, and breathes just outside of Los Angeles.