Caleb Galiger stood on the banks of the Styx with his mentor, Thomas Christie. They were waiting for the ferryman, Charon, to arrive on their side of the river. It was a momentous occasion. It was the day Caleb finished his apprenticeship and began collecting souls. Caleb shifted his weight nervously. All of his earlier confidence was ebbing away. He’d not been particularly certain he was the one for the job in the beginning but he’d been proud to discover that he actually had a talent for this role. Now he was starting to wonder if it hadn’t just been Thomas helping him because he wanted to retire. Since the job, the role, was that of Death, Caleb couldn’t afford to make a mistake. “So…Thanatos…” said the figure of a woman who sat on a large rock by the riverside, her feet dangling in the water. She might have been a beautiful woman once, but she’d been soaking in the fetid water of the Styx for too long. She was, in fact, Styx herself. She only occasionally left her river to spew venom on passersby. “I thought you were in Elysium, retired and whatnot. Don’t you trust the boy?” “Styx,” Thomas answered with a tired sigh, “you know that I have to remain here for another decade to supervise before I can enter Elysium. You also should know that he is Thanatos now, not I. I am just a humble spirit who aids Lord Death.” Caleb shivered at the title almost as much as he did at the cackle which Styx let out. “In other words, you don’t trust the boy,” she said. Caleb knew that her words were aimed at tearing down his confidence and he wanted to tell her that she was too late; he was already lacking as much confidence as he possibly could. He didn’t dare speak to the river spirit, though. He was afraid of her. Part of him reminded the rest of him that he’d regain most of his confidence once he left the poisonous atmosphere that was always present near the Styx. He was thankful that this was the last time he would have to use Charon’s ferry as a means of exiting the Underworld. Death had his own ways of leaving and entering the Underworld and after today, Caleb would be able to use them. As Caleb digested that knowledge, Charon’s ferry arrived. Charon wasn’t a very pleasant person. It was demonstrated in the fact that he was the only person who really got along with Styx. He had, however, taken a shine to Caleb shortly after he’d died and so he smiled uncharacteristically, waving when he saw the new Thanatos standing on the shore. “Just a moment, Thanatos,” he called, remembering Caleb’s new title immediately. “Let me get these cretins ashore and then you can come aboard.” He then proceeded to violently goad the new arrivals to the Underworld off his ferry. The newly deceased were already shocked by their deaths and the rough treatment caused a number of them to begin weeping at their situation. Those who tried to avoid Charon by jumping into the water screamed in agony as they touched the acidic water, upsetting the others even more. Once the ferry was clear, Charon held out a hand to help Death aboard. “It’s official, then?” he asked, noting that Thomas did not follow Caleb onto the ferry. “Ah, yeah,” Caleb answered. Charon clapped him on his shoulder with a bony hand. “You’ll do fine, lad.” Once they reached the other side, Caleb slipped off to the Underworld’s entrance, choosing not to watch as Charon herded the next batch of the dead onto his ferry. Caleb stepped out of the Underworld and into a hospital. An advantage to being Death was that he always was where he needed to be when he left the Underworld. There was no fuss or wasted time over trying to find where he was supposed to be. He recognized the hospital as the one where he’d died and his stomach did a little flip. He’d not been back to the hospital since his death and he wasn’t sure he was comfortable being there now. He caught his reflection in a window and wished he looked more impressive. He was average height and slim, but in an almost scrawny way. His thinness was somewhat hidden by the long, black coat he wore but that didn’t help his face. He had a long, thin face that he felt only lacked the word “nerd” tattooed on his forehead. His eyes were a rather striking dark green, admittedly, which could be intimidating if he looked with just the right expression. His hair was also black, which seemed suitable for Death. He only wished he were taller and stronger, but he’d wished that even in life. He turned and walked down a hall on instinct. Instinct was the best way, he’d discovered, to find the dying. It had taken a lot of practice to forget his usual urge to ignore his instinct but he was getting much better at it. He turned into a room on instinct and there was an old woman, surrounded by her family and monitored by many machines. She looked at him, the only one in the room who could see him, and he smiled gently. “I’m sorry if I am late,” he said, approaching her and gently touching her hand. Suddenly, she was standing next to him and the machine monitoring her heart beeped an alert that it had stopped beating. “You’re Death?” she asked uncertainly. “Yes.” A peaceful smile crossed her lips. “And I am dead?” “Yes.” “Thank you.” The woman took his arm and they walked to the door. A nurse rushed through them to attend to the woman’s body but neither of the spirits felt it. As they stood in the hallway, they were passed by someone who caught Caleb’s attention, someone who would die soon. He wanted to follow the figure with his gaze but he had to attend to the woman before him first. “Do you see the light?” he asked the woman. “That is the entrance to the afterlife.” “I see the light,” she breathed. “Take this coin,” Caleb told her, pressing a silver coin into her hand, “and you will be treated well. I cannot go with you any further. Give the coin to the boatman when you reach the river.” The woman nodded at his instructions and slowly walked through the gates of Hades and into the Underworld. Free of his charge, Caleb turned to look at the person who had passed him a moment before. He was shocked to see that it was someone he knew.