“What the hell’s this?” James’ eyes narrowed as he wiped the rust from his fingertips on his stark white lab coat.
The old hag smiled, revealing dark swollen sockets where teeth should’ve been. “That key,” She cackled, “is the beginning of your adventure.”
James scrutinized the old hag. She leaned against what was left of a broom. It was by no means a modern broom, but a bundle of grain stalks bound with woven cloth. The ends of the stalks were burnt as if the broom had been used as a torch. The handle was a dead branch a crook indicating it had been broken off a much larger branch rather than cut with a tool.
The old hag withdrew her hand from her pocket and with embellishment normally reserved for stage magicians, revealed a gold coin. “This coin,” She brought her hand within inches of his nose. “This coin is your ticket home.”
James furrowed his eyebrows and held his breath, avoiding smelling the dirty hand. He reached for the coin, but the old hag clenched her fist.
“Pay the ferryman this coin to go home.” She flicked the coin towards James who caught it in the air. One side had a profile of a face. James flipped the coin over in his hand. The other side contained simply the letter ‘V.’
“Are you ready?” wheezed the old hag.
James shrugged, but before he could vocalize his answer, the old hag produced the thigh bone of a large animal, brushed the broken end on her broom, and stabbed James in the shoulder.
“What the f…” He shouted as he slumped to the floor.
His vision faded. He was aware of the old hag kneeling over his prostrate body. With his last fragment of consciousness, he felt her roll his body over and place items in each of his hands. Before darkness consumed him, he felt the old hag kiss him tenderly on the forehead.
* * *
My head hurts.
James brought his fists to his eyes to shield them from the brilliant sun light.
How much did I drink last night?
He rubbed his eyes and sat up. He unclenched his fists to reveal a gold coin in one and a rusty key in the other. Looking around, his eyes took in the lush green expanse before him. He breathed in the cool, fresh air. Both these were in stark contrast to the city he had lived in for his entire adult life.
“Oi!! What’er you doin there?”