On a dark lake, surrounded by mist, is a black rowboat. There is little light from the moon. The action mainly takes place in silhouette with the ferryman and his passenger outlines in the light and the mist.
The sounds of the water and the oars in the water are uncanny in the otherwise quiet.
The Ferryman is standing on the dark shore, next to his tethered boat. He strikes a flint, and a match flares, lighting a “Lucifer”. We catch a momentary glance of his thin face and ragged, salt-stiffened clothes. The match dies, leaving just the glow of his cigarette. He breathes deeply and exhales.
An ancient Woman, gnarled and bent with age, walks slowly across the shore. This simple crossing of the stage should feel like it takes an eternity, and her struggle is clear. She leans on a length of branch and carries a heavy pack.
All the while the Ferryman puffs on his cigarette, blowing blooms of smoke to mingle with the mist.
The woman stops within spitting distance of the Ferryman.
Ferryman: You out on your own, good mother?
Woman: Aye. I have business on yonder shore.
Ferryman: On such a night?
Woman: Even on such as this, when I cannae see the tip of my crooked nose.
Ferryman: And no one to carry for you?
Woman: That neither. Here, help me with this. I must rest a while.
The Woman unloads her pack. The Ferryman drops his cigarette stumps and rushes to help her. The Ferryman takes the Woman’s pack off her. The Woman crouches on the shore.
Ferryman: By god and all his angels, what’s in this pack?
Woman: Bottles of lost souls.
The old woman chuckles.
Woman: It’s the tools of my trader, lad, worry not yourself.
Woman: I do a woman’s business.
Ferryman: You a midwife?
Woman: Of sorts. At least for thems who can’t afford no better.
Ferryman: And you are called tonight?
Woman: Aye. A child dead in the belly of its mother. It must be cut out tonight, and no amount of parson’s praying will see otherwise.
Ferryman: And is there no other who can help?
Woman: Would there were.
The Woman lights a pipe. She draws on the bowl and the tobacco glows.
Woman: And you, Ferryman, would you not to bed at this hour?
Ferryman: I await a “noble” lord who is after courtin some village lass hereabouts. He’s paid handsomely for a night’s work.
Woman: Times are lean.
Ferryman: And mouth’s to feed.
Woman: Too bad I have no purse of gold. Otherwise many lives would be redeemed before the dawn.
Ferryman: This lord is a dog. He’d kill me as soon as he found me for my abandonment. And then no doubt his mistress too for the measure.
Woman: Least it would save her callin on the likes of me.
The Woman heaves herself up to standing.
Woman: Help me back on with this.
Ferryman lifts up the pack and helps her secure it to her back.
Ferryman: I wish that I would be some further use.
Woman: Bless you, boy. Now I must be off.
The Woman begins to walk away from the Ferryman, into the mist. She is slower than before. The Ferryman stands and watched as this think mist begins to swallow her shadow.
Ferryman: Dammit. Wait, good mother!
The Woman stops.
Ferryman: Wait. I will take you across the water.
Woman: But what of your charge?
Ferryman: I’ll take the gamble. It may be I can be back before he lands on the shore again.
Woman: I have nothing for you. Here, see this empty purse.
The Woman pulls out a purse and share it. There is no sound of coins. It hangs limply from her outstretched hand.
Ferryman: No Christian man can standby while a body suffers. I’ll take you cross the lake for charity’s sake.
Woman: Then who am I to argue. I am too poor and too tired to turn away a kindness.
The Woman walks slowly back to the Ferryman. He takes her pack and places it into the rowboat. He then helps her into the rowboat. He pushes the boat into the lake, before jumping in himself.
The boat rolls into depths of the lake, as the Ferryman takes up his oars.
The rhythmic sound of the oars in the water is monstrous in the quiet of the night. The moon shines down on the pair as they sit facing each other in the boat. The Woman pulls out and lights her pipes again. She draws on it rhythmically to get the damp tobacco to burn, glowing embers in the darkness.
The Ferryman has a strong and steady stroke. As he pulls the oar, he makes a small grunt of exertion.
Woman: You’re ailing.
Ferryman: I’ve worked this crossing for many a year. Man and boy.
Woman: You’re dying.
Woman: It’s a hard life.
Ferryman: You usher new souls into the world. I would not swap with you.
Woman: On the good days. Birth and death are weary bed fellows.
Woman: Why a ferry?
Ferryman: Why a midwife?
Woman: I bore 12 children of my own, and lent a hand while many more women did the same. I saw 12 children of my own perish, first by famine, then by war. And I saw many women do the same. I had little choice .
Ferryman: As did I.
Woman: You’re father’s line.
Ferryman: That is correct. And when he passed, I took up the oar.
Woman: With many mouths to feed.
Ferryman: As you say.
Woman: And yet, you would risk a fare and your life for a stranger.
Ferryman: The lake is not wide, but it is long as it is deep. It would take you many hours to get to the yonder shore. For me it is the work of a few moments.
The Woman draws on her pipe.
Ferryman: See, we are already at the half mark.
Woman: At least one life will be saved tonight by your kindness here.
Ferryman: I have seen my brothers and sisters still born in my mother’s arms. Seen babies baptised with tears. I would not wish that for another for the world.
Woman: Is that do.
The Ferryman is breathing harder with every stroke.
Woman: Your heart will burst.
Ferryman: Nay. We’re nearly there.
Ferryman: Hush, let me row.
Woman: I command you stop.
The Woman has stood up. She is no longer hooked and hunched by stands up straight and strong. The Ferryman freezes.
Ferryman: What devil is this?
Woman: No devil. Nor witch neither.
Ferryman: Then what?
Woman: I was your death.
Ferryman: Then I will not fight you. I am weary of this life.
Woman: Then this is our farewell. I will help you to escape the ties that bind you to this existence. But first, hold out your hands.
The Ferryman holds out his hands.
The Woman places her empty coin purse in his outstretched hands.
As she does so, she and her pack vanish from the boat.
The little rowboat rocks, so that the Ferryman has to grab the oars so as to save them from falling into the river. He steadies the boat.
The Ferryman looks around. The cool moonlight is being slowly replaced by the warm pink of the sunrise, making the dense mist glow around his. Carefully he stands, still looking around him.
The Ferryman realises that he is still holding the purse. He shakes it.
The Ferryman opens the purse and gasps.
He tips the purse up above his free hand. The growing light catches the glint of a gold coin as it falls out of the purse into his hands.
Suddenly coins are pouring out of the purse, trickling through his fingers. They hit the bottom of the boat with a thud. As the coins continue to flow, faster and faster. The Ferryman laughs with delight and the light behind him increases. Faster, and faster the coins come as the Ferryman laughs with increasing delight.
[Ed: “I am rustier than an abandoned Thomas the Tank engine in a condemned 1980s municipal karp pond. Oh well.”]