Pay the Ferryman
Time is short. I don’t know what prompted this thought while I was bent over the vicar’s pocket watch. He had been losing time for a week and I had offered to fix it.
It was as I removed the solid silver case from his hunter that the thought popped unbidden into my head; the surprise took my eyes to the window and it was then I saw the figure of Ebenezer Smith shambling in the moonlight.
Ebenezer was a friend of mine, pals since we both kicked our legs in the same bassinet; we chalked together at the village school, until his Mum could no longer pay the penny a week and he was set to work.
He was a shoemaker and could take the measure of a man with just a glance at his foot; a true craftsman when it came to plates of meat.
The appearance of Ebenezer should have been more shocking than it was and it had occurred that the problem of the errant timepiece coincided with Ebenezer’s last appointment with the vicar.
Ebenezer was a slender reed of a man who could bend to any wind, his singular obsession being time's movement. His hammer tapped out time as he nailed on soles and his customers measured it as they walked in his creations, one step at a time. Time is short was a phrase he frequently uttered.
I moved closer to the window so I could monitor his progress. Unsurprisingly he was dressed in his Sunday-best and was coming from the direction of the churchyard.
His co-ordination had become unpredictable, though his destination was fixed. His determination thrust him forward. Like a clockwork toy in need of oil, he jerked along. He was heading home to Mary Finch.
I could remember the day I’d stood in church when he took Mary Finch to wife. She was always Finch to me; Smith was an appellation of which I never considered her worthy.
She was more carrion crow than dainty songbird; her widow’s weeds a reminder that Ebenezer wasn’t the first to ruffle her feathers. Her beady eye followed him everywhere; she was his tormentor.
Something lurked in Mary Finch. The village couldn’t believe her luck when Ebenezer got down on one knee; the well-informed said she’d cast a spell or some tomfoolery.
She would turn her hand to any task and when the vicar’s cat was in the family way she had turned up with a sack of rocks right at the opportune moment.
Ebenezer had been dead a week, but I had often thought his life ended the day he married Mary Finch. I’d badgered him to sell her on; a fellow in the next county had got three shillings and a gallon of ale for his domestic curse. He’d swatted me like a blowfly; he’d said he’d made his deal.
Like he always said he would dodge the grim reaper; that when death came knocking at his door he would conveniently be out. I never believed him and when I’d stood at his graveside a week ago I’d smiled as I remembered. Time is short.
On the high street he was progressing well and I thrust aside my reluctance to pursue him. He appeared more substantial than I expected. His black frock coat held a liberal dusting of fresh-raked soil and the cold air had discouraged any smell of corruption. I shuddered as I imagined Ebenezer clawing his way up.
His mutton-chop whiskers had continued to grow; that remnant of his youthful colouring stood out stark against his waxy pallor. He was silent as I walked beside him. His eyes were glazed; no recognition there.
I reached for his arm; his lurching ceased and as I faced him his jaw turned slack and over his bloodless lip spilled sandy soil and a few small stones.
For a moment I too failed to breathe; where a coin should have been placed, his mouth had been filled with sand and soil instead. The welfare of my good friend’s soul had mattered not to Mary Finch.
‘Time is short, my friend,’ I whispered as I released him.
Perhaps I imagined his acknowledgement as his shuffling continued. My conscience shrugged off Mary Finch’s peace of mind. Ebenezer had joined the shades awaiting their salvation; destined to forever haunt those who hadn’t loved him enough to pay the ferryman.
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