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1. Soul Collector

1. Soul Collector

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Published by Barry E Woodham
Chapter 1 of the Tales of the Ferryman eBook collection by Fantasy and Science Fiction author Barry Woodham.
Chapter 1 of the Tales of the Ferryman eBook collection by Fantasy and Science Fiction author Barry Woodham.

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Published by: Barry E Woodham on Feb 25, 2013
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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02/25/2013

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 The origins of the boats were lost in time and to begin with ithad been totally constructed out of wood. Over the centuriesit had been added to and modified. Now the hull was of adark metal coated in liquid imp. The beast that pulled thehull along the waterways had been replaced by an engine of sorts. Every new skipper added something of themselves tothe vessels. I first shipped with one just such as I, to learnthe craft.I still remember when the first canals were dug in thenetherworld and to get from one to another would entailfollowing the thin threads of the water supply. I would needto navigate along these slipways, collecting as I went. It wasa busy time during the building of the canals. Many of thenavigators met a sudden end and needed my help. Thosethat I missed I would collect on the return journey. Soulswere plentiful then and worked until they were judged. Those that had atoned were taken on board and awaitedshipment.As the canals filled with water and joined up together, mypassage became easier. A network of interconnectedhighways spread out across the country. Where an area wasclosed off, I could follow the water supplies from city to townand back again. I would sometimes meet another boat thatwas in the same trade as myself and we would travel alongtogether for a while.Very often I would pull alongside one of the holiday narrowboats from the first world and let my cargo enjoy thecompany of the living, as we travelled through the locks. Wewould travel mile after mile, until I stopped to fish someunfortunate soul from the water’s grasp. They were neveraware of me, but sometimes the children on board the otherboats would become uneasy. When that happened I wouldpull back and let them advance along the ‘cut’ until theywere away from my influence.I never ventured into the engine compartment. I onlyaccepted that the energies that drove the boat werecontained in this place. The bow was a place that Ifrequented when the journey became over taxing and Ineeded company. I would tread the outside of the cabin andenter from the double doors at front. This part of the boatwas sealed off from the stern and those that I had collectedstayed here amongst their own company. Children were
 
looked after and their fears soothed by those who had beenlost to their own children. They soon began to settle down asthe long narrow boat surged along the waterways.I was the one who had found them and had been the firstfor them to cling onto for security. It would be soon that wewould part our separate ways as I delivered them all to thedesignated place. This end of the boat was full of light andthe essence of care shone into the darkness as we slippeddown yet another tunnel.During the two great wars my kind had been so extremelybusy ferrying our increasing cargoes that we had little timeto grieve. So very many of them filled the forward section,the boat had extended to meet the needs of the cargo. Theenergy that powered the engine increased by thecircumstances that we found ourselves. There was so muchwickedness stalking the land that my kind had no troublewith lack of engine capacity.Now in the present day a different type of soul presenteditself. I saw the rip in the fabric of reality and the lost soulscome tumbling through. The sun had long set and the usualmists crept over the waterways as a fretful dawn began torise.My hand lay lightly on the tiller and when the warning hootsounded, I heaved to in the semi-darkness and lit thebeacons. Frightened faces turned towards the light inconfusion, as they bobbed up and down in the wake of theboat. I dropped the climbing nets at the front and watchedthem climb aboard, helped into the bow by the othertemporary residents.An anguished cry rang out in the gloom from a man whocould not grasp the nets. Each time he got hold of the meshit unravelled and cast him off. I watched him come nearer,as the boat slowly surged forwards. His face was full of bewildered fear, as time and again the boat refused himsanctuary. None of the rescued would help him and he slidalong the hull unable to scramble aboard.I un-shipped the boathook and allowed him to grip onto thewrought iron end. When he had gripped onto the hook withboth hands I swung him aboard and waited for the confusionto turn to the inevitable questions.“This is not paradise! I died a martyred death,heexclaimed, staring up at my huge demonic frame. “Where
 
are the things that I was promised and who are you?”“I am the Ferryman,” I replied. “I deliver my cargo towherever it is that they go to. The boat cares for them, butnot for you. As the people at the front would not help you, Ican only surmise that they were the victims of yourfanaticism!”I could see that the engine hatch was slowly beginning toopen behind him. The darkness was beginning to abate andthe mists curl away showing the shadow-land country thatwas ours to see. Already the lights were dimming at the bowand the sounds of questions and answers floated down theroof of the long narrow-boat. Sometimes the anger would fillthe air as they began to understand where they were andwhere they were going. After a while acceptance would takeits place and the newcomers would settle down and watchthe waters go gliding by. They would be there to assistothers that the boat would collect, before I made the turnand entered the final lock.Now I could see the many terrified eyes shining in the darkof the engine hold as the hatch lifted higher.“Am I dead?” the young man asked. “If I am, why am I notin paradise, with all that I was promised?”“Paradise, as such it may be, is for the innocent, not for theperpetrators of death amongst them. Killers, murderers,rapists and all the spawn of evil become the fuel that drivesthe engine of this boat,” I replied and pointed to the raisedhatch behind him. “Your place is there amongst others of your kind, to endlessly toil and propel this carriage of thedead to the place of judgement until such time that you aredeemed worthy of release!”As the young man turned to view the fully opened hatch hisface filled with horror at the sights that only he could see, asI turned my face away. The deck of the boat rose up behindme so that the young man slid down, down, into the bottomof the engine hold. My ears were deaf to his pleas for mercyas the hatch closed over him.Changing shape to that of white-haired late middle-agedhuman I set the tiller onto automatic and walked along theside to speak to my new cargo. I would set their minds to asmuch rest as I could. At least I could tell them that the youngman who had robbed them of their lives on the world thatthey had freshly departed was suffering the torments of the

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