Charon was withered, wan, and skeletal, although eternally grateful for his immortal life and steady job of ferrying the dead across the river Styx, in their transition from life to death to forgetfulness. As Earth was the only planet he’d come across with such promising higher life forms, Charon had become rather fond of its inhabitants, even though he only saw but the worst of them, but even from this he could extrapolate to the qualities of the best.
Charon did his job well, professionally, although it was ever so dreary with the endless darkness of wasted lives, and the grim and gloomy skies all around, for his surroundings always had that same gray and leaden look and feel. He ferried and carried on, though, for his own life was precious to him.
The soon-to-be really really dead never said much at all, for what was there to tell after a empty life that had often turned to deep regret; so, Charon did not prompt them for information, for this was not the thing to do at the time of their passing, so he was always most courteous and kind to them all, even to the most evil of the darkest, doing his job as best he could. It was not that Charon was afraid that his undersized master of the underworld, Pluto, might be watching, but that he had the extreme clarity to serve the task at hand, a testament to his character.
Charon had been much alarmed lately, what with the increased numbers of hellish-souls-to-be climbing into the millions in such a short time, but he had been through this kind of rush before, with the doomed and damned of many other planets that had been consumed by their suns or had undergone other catastrophes. He just used larger boats, and patiently took his time, for he had all of Eternity. Of course, Charon could and did feel deep sadness, but he didn’t show it outwardly, even when the numbers from Earth increased a thousand-fold again. A few of the now billions of depressed Earthling souls had enough energy left to mumble a few words to Charon and so he was able to glean from them the latest happenings on Earth.
In 2012, the predicted exponential surge of melting ice from global warming quickly inundated all of the coastal cities, many of them large centers of population and commerce. Everyone who could possibly make it had to retreat inland, creating the largest mass exodus in history.
As the heat rose to unbearable levels over the year, many began living in their basements, as the Earth’s infrastructure began its eventual collapse. Millions eventually headed north, towards Canada and Siberia, but had to retreat when the ice caps totally melted and formed the great Ocean of the North. Many did not make it. No one but the ignored physicist mathematicians had predicted that the end could come into sight so quickly. Then came the dreaded polar shift that made global warming seem like a small note compared to this new and darker symphony.
The Earth was thrashed with storms the likes of which it had never seen. Electricity was completely gone all over the world except for a few nuclear powered areas that didn’t last much longer. No one could drive very far, even on their last tanks of gas, for the roads had melted, along with the tires of the vehicles trying to travel them, and if the vehicles stopped, they’d find themselves mired in the meltdown of the asphalt.
Food would no longer grow well, even in once lush gardens, in the amounts that were needed, and as the heat rose further, into the 150s, plant growth ceased altogether, although a new but rare and expensive form of food pill extended lives for some of the rich for a while.
Charon, had, of course, seen much of this kind of thing before, from the many other solar systems and galaxies on which life had formed, but Earthlings seemed to have a special charm and hope above and beyond the other alien races. So he rowed and ferried and deposited them on the far shore, his job and life forever continuing in a place with no color, no joy, no future, on the shore of the land on the edge of oblivion. Charon had depths of compassion, but many of his passengers might have thought him stoic, although they were mostly beyond the capability of that and anything else. A sign on the opposite shore said:
Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here
Billions more arrived in the gray land all too soon, and Charon learned that either madness or desperation on Earth had caused a nuclear winter on the planet, bringing on a deep freeze that few could escape. Perhaps they were trying to combat the ultimate heat, which would have been but a cool breeze in Hell. Then the polar shift greatly added to the deep freeze. A few of Charon’s still speaking but chilled customers even expressed their longing for the legendary warmth of Hades. Charon, stalwart and reliable, rowed on steadily, ever steeling himself to the misery.
Finally the masses slowed and dwindled to a few dribs and drabs over a few years, and then there was no one for several years. A lone man then appeared on the shore, near the ferry dock, and Charon readily approached the man, something he had never done. They had a long and hearty talk, for the man was animated and not at all like any of the other wretched souls.
“How is it,” inquired Charon, “that you are full of life and seem to be a good man but have been sent here?”
“I am not a bad person in any way,” the man replied. Actually, I just spent some time in Heaven. I found out that my sweetheart was sent here to you, for she was a suicide and thus destined here; however, I had promised to be with her forever, so I chose this place over Heaven, out of my love for her in the assurance that I gave.”
“Extraordinary,” exclaimed Charon. “I knew the Earth had a few good men and women; I’ve not seen very many clues of that elsewhere in the universe. Did you colonize space? Will your species continue and flourish after your Earth bids farewell?”
“I’m afraid not,” replied the man, for too many needless wars intervened, and that greatly delayed our space program.”
“A shame,” said Charon, but is there any hope left on Earth, I mean, are there any others still about?”
“I am the last,” the man answered slowly.
The first tear of Charon’s long life rolled down his cheek. Nothing had ever made him cry before: nothing had ever made him weep.