Brian slid off the Moa’s back, giving it a farewell pat as it trotted off. He thought of how ridiculous he must have looked, suffering a moment of self-consciousness. The faces looking back at him were not laughing, though. The crowd, stretching back beyond the limits of his sight, did not seem to find him humorous in the least. Brian looked over the multitude, his embarrassment gone. A lump formed in his throat as he felt the power of their cumulative gaze. He raised his hand in salute.
He turned around to face the waters as he heard a splashing sound. A tall form, features hidden in the folds of a black, hooded robe, stood atop a rectangular floating object which he guided towards shore with a gnarled pole.
“A ship, my ass!” Brian said. “I am not riding on that thing.”
The hooded man held out a hand.
“What?” Brian said. “Oh, I get it. You want money, right? Coins for the ferryman? Well, you can forget it!”
“I offer my hand but in greeting,” the ferryman said. He pulled back his hood to reveal a smiling face.
“Bata!” Brian exclaimed.
“You have done well, Brian Alderman,” Bata said. “Your ancestors are pleased.”
“I’m glad,” Brian said. “But I’m still not riding on that thing. I never learned how to surf.”
“It will prove sufficient for your needs,” Bata said. He stepped off, splashing in the water. Reaching over, he lifted the lid of what Brian now recognized as some sort of sarcophagus, decorated with strange glyphs and carved of some unrecognizable dark wood.
“I know you’re not suggesting I get in it,” Brian said.
“Do you balk now?” Bata said. “You, who wrestle with monsters and practice rhetoric with the Great Lie? You, who stroll through Tartarus and slay the Nosferatu?”
“Cut the bullshit,” Brian said. “I am not getting in a coffin.”
“It is but a vessel,” Bata said, “to transport you back to the physical world.”
“Go get me a jet ski or something.”
Bata shook his head. “Must I plead, Brian Alderman? Do you not yet trust me? This stage of the journey is the simplest, and the safest. After all you have come through thus far, this is nothing.”
“Fine!” Brian sighed. He glanced back at all the faces—millions of them, perhaps, or more—watching him with expectation. “Fine. But I’m not closing the lid.” He waded out up to his waist, as the water lapped at Bata’s thighs. He climbed inside the sarcophagus, almost tipping it over. Bata held it steady as Brian sat down.
“Now what?” Brian asked.
“Hold tight to your courage,” Bata said. He gave the sarcophagus a push and it floated away from the shore.
“Hey!” Brian said, looking back. “How do I steer this thing? And where am I supposed to be going, anyway?” “Where you are most needed,” Bata said. “Rest, and let the sea carry you there.”