The Meeting from ‘Charon Unguarded’ by A.H. Johnstone

Charon was once the Ferryman of the Underworld. Now he’s the doorman of a disused office block. If only the old Gods hadn’t lost that drunken bet all those centuries ago, things would be very different. For a start, Ragnarök probably wouldn’t be on its way.

The Meeting.

Charon swore. The monitor he had been battling with for the last hour had flickered off yet again. There was a pop from under the desk followed by the smell of burnt plastic. ‘Typical.’ He groaned as he crawled under the desk and fought with the mass of wire. Eventually, he found the correct lead and followed it to the power socket. The plug had melted. Struggling to his feet he picked up the telephone and hit one of the autodial keys.
‘Yes. It’s the front desk. Again. Put me through to IT please. Quick as you like. It’s not as though any of us have work to do or anything.’
He waited for ten minutes on hold, listening to a very tinny, off-tempo, instrumental version of Rhinestone Cowboy. It played on a loop, accompanied by Charon grinding his teeth. A curse on the demon who came up with this damnable tune… A crackling line broke him off mid-thought. Finally, someone answered. The voice at the other end was muffled.
‘This is IT. I hear you have a problem. Sorry to hear that. Can I ask you the nature of your problem, and I will put you through to the right department?’
‘For the tenth time this week, you mean? You keep a record of calls, don’t you?’
‘Yes, sir, but it might be a different prob—’
‘For the last time, my security monitor has finally burned out. I’ve been chasing you lot for new ones for weeks.’
“I’m sorry to hear that, sir. Would you like to visit our website and complete the customer satisfaction survey?’
‘No, I would not! I work for this company, I am not a customer!’
‘Sorry to hear that but—’
‘I don’t want to hear how sorry you are! I want it fixed or replaced, or whatever in seven Hells you lot bloody do all day! Today!’ he snapped.
“Well I’m sorry but we have to prioritise our attention where it can be most profitably invested’ he whined. It sounded almost like he had a peg on his nose, ‘maintenance of hired equipment is not our problem…’
‘Not your problem, huh?’ he sighed, ‘Exactly what is your problem? I mean we appear to have an IT department who won’t do any IT. At least not beyond telling me to turn it off and back on again. When you can eventually be pressed to send an engineer, there is never one available on the day and when they are they never appear. You do seem to have plenty of your ‘Sorry you were out’ cards which magically appear all by themselves.’ The voice, however indistinct, seemed extremely familiar to him. Charon found himself flexing an otherwise innocent biro to near breaking point. He was about to hurl it across the foyer before he realised he’d only have to go and get it. The voice probably knew him too and was, therefore, doing this on purpose and probably found
it extremely funny. Should he keep it to himself?
‘Oh, bugger this!’ Charon hadn’t meant to say that out loud but centuries of keeping to himself had led him into a habit of thinking aloud or rehashing conversations he had wished had lasted longer, just for the company.
‘Sir! Please moderate your…’
‘Hermes? Is that you?’ He hadn’t seen his friend in nearly a century. Since being dragged from the Underworld to the back of beyond to guard the foyer of one officially disused office block after another, he hadn’t seen much of anyone. It was dull, but he didn’t complain. Who would he complain to?It paid and there was relatively little actual work to do. Weekends off too. There was a clatter at the other end of the line.
‘What?’ his shock was audible, ‘How do you know my name? Who told you?’ Paranoid as ever; some things never change.
‘It’s me, Herm. It’s Charon. How did you end up on an IT helpdesk?’ he laughed.
‘Charon? Well, I’ll be damned!’

Charon Unguarded by A.H. Johnstone is out tomorrow.

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