“You’re a bit on the fleshy side,” the ferryman looked the youngster up and down.
“Personal!” said the girl. “It’s puppy fat, that’s all.”
“Then stop eating puppies!” The ferryman showed her his teeth in a broad grin, gleaming white in the shadow of his cowl. She laughed despite herself. “Look, I’m not having a go. You’re young – that won’t last. I remember being young. Just about.”
“And then the Earth cooled…” added the girl.
“Touché! You’ll need a sense of humour in this line of work, my girl. It can be a bit grim down here at times.”
The girl looked at the roof of the cavern, with its sharp shadows looming overhead. Stalactites or stalagmites? Wait, she knew a whatsit – a mnemonic – for it: tights come down. That was it.
“You getting on or what?” The ferryman was standing at the centre of the skiff. Gingerly, the girl stepped on board and wobbled in place. “I was like that once,” he said patiently. “You’ll get your sea legs. Oh, and we’ll have to sort you out a uniform and all.”
She looked at what he was wearing and her nose wrinkled in distaste. “Can’t I just wear a tabard or something? Something hi-viz?”
“You’ll wear one of these and like it,” said the ferryman.
“But you look like the ghost of a mad monk!”
“What? This is a classic, this. Never goes out of style. And I thought you youngsters were into hoodies.”
“Doesn’t mean we want to go around like Friar Bloody Tuck.”
“Language! You’ll have to curb that down here, my girl. You have to adopt a certain reserve down here. Our clients can be a bit –”
“Confused. They don’t know what they’re doing here.”
“I know the feeling.”
“Do you want this job or not?”
“Hah! Job! It’s a rip-off. Apprenticeship, my arse. If I’m to do a day’s work I want a day’s pay. It’s only fair.”
“But you’re receiving training opportunities.”
“Whoopee. I’ve paddled boats before.”
“Where? This isn’t an amusement park, you know. This is serious business.”
“Listen, there’s perks. They’ll give you coins, you see. Cash in hand. That’s yours to keep, that is. What management don’t know won’t hurt you.”
“Right, come on then, I’ll show you how to steer this thing. Oh, I don’t know your name. What’s your name, love?”
“Sharon,” said the girl.
“That’s funny,” said the ferryman. “So’s mine.”