Bernie was planning a quiet few drinks with his mates, but instead finds himself in a barrel on the River of Time where he persuades Sharon, the boatman who ferries people to the underworld, to take a holiday. Later he meets Prometheus, as well as the satyr Silenus and the gorgon Medusa, and their collection of stone statues. If only his wife would stop calling him on the mobile phone he can't throw away, and why was Interpol called because he sent home a few Greek coins to help out with the household budget? Other stories involve different takes on the stories of Patrick and the Serpent, the Ugly Duckling and the bible's Noah.
I was caught off guard by members of the Local Chapter of the Killjoy Club they jumped me, forced me into a wooden, barrel, nailed down the top, and threw me, barrel and all, into the River of Time.
Before my barrel bobbed away from the bank someone shouted through the bung hole that the average speed of the current was about five kilometers an hour and that would give me plenty of time to arrange my thoughts before the barrel plunged over the edge into the Devil’s Throat, which, he said, was about five kilometers downstream.
The Devil’s Throat? Surely that was a mistake. The Devil’s Throat was much further away than five kilometers. It was certainly on a river, but not the River of Time. It is a chasm, part of the Iguazu falls of South America. Vast volumes of water do not so much fall as collapse over the edge into The Devil’s Throat with a terrible roaring noise. There are birds down there too, about the size of a magpie-lark. They fly through a mist of spume and spray churned up by the falling column of water.
These birds prey on startled insects whose peaceful passage, floating along the river, had been turned into chaos. Water and spray is the world of these birds and they make nests on sheer rock faces protected by tumbling curtains of water. You can see them flying straight into a waterfall to get to the nest behind. If you don’t believe me go to Buenos Aires and take the tour.
To return to our story.The River of Time could go anywhere. To Iguazu as well as countless other destinations. No one could predict the future and so I set out to an unknown ending in a leaking barrel and only a telephone for company.
I had pleaded with my enemies not to drop the phone into the barrel before they started to nail it shut. Arguing was useless with these bitter people, they just wanted me to suffer.
My wife rang soon after I was pushed away from the bank and was gliding through peaceful waters far from any waterfall. She wanted to know where I was.
I explained that I had been forced into a leaky barrel, thrown into the River of Time and could possibly disappear into the Devil’s Throat in about an hour after the beginning of our conversation. I said 'If that is to be my fate I hope the barrel would not injure any birds on the way down.'
‘You're a liar,’ she screamed. ‘I’ve never heard such a bizarre excuse for not coming home. You’re in a sleazy club somewhere with those low-life, good for nothing, useless mongrels you call friends!’
‘I don’t know where they are,’ I retorted, ‘but I am sitting in a leaky barrel and floating to an unknown destination. Even if I don’t go into the Devil’s Throat I am bound to end up somewhere equally discouraging. Once one is afloat on the River of Time there is no saying where the voyage will end. Every one of us is on a one way trip into the future; apart from that all is uncertain.’
.’Your future is to end up in a shelter for hopeless drunks because I’m not going to hang around waiting for you to come home,
She slammed the phone down before I could say anything further, perhaps we were fated never to meet again. At least that was one comforting thought to cheer me on this dismal voyage.
I was wondering if I could force the telephone through the bung-hole and let the river take care of the problem. It rang once more.
I pressed the button expecting another round of abuse, but it was someone else altogether. A familiar voice cried out ‘Bernie, where are you? We’re all down at the tavern waiting and the boys are getting restless. We can’t start the serious drinking until you get here’, and the quartette can’t get going without its bass man.’
Once again I explained my predicament and the uncertain fate that awaited me.
‘Oh, that’s too bad Bernie’, was the response. ‘Have you rung triple zero yet? They might be able to send someone to look for you.’
I pointed out that the River of Time has neither a beginning nor an end, and if the cops went looking for me in the twenty-first century the barrel may have drifted into the twenty-second, or there may be a loop in time and I was back in the nineteenth or twentieth. If a river has no beginning and no ending then it can’t have a middle either, so the cops would not have the remotest idea where to search for me.
‘Hard luck, Bernie.’ Was the response. ‘We’re gunna miss ya. I’ll tell the boys they’ll have to find another bass man. Have a nice day, now, and don’t you do anything I wouldn’t do.’ He rang off.
Those conversations seemed to have cut me away from the life I knew, which was a relief but I was not free yet because I could not force the telephone through the bung-hole and dreaded another call from my wife.
The barrel was riding low in the water because of the leaks, and cold water was lapping around my behind. Most uncomfortable! I peered through the bung-hole to see where I was.
It was pitch black out there and I thought the river must have gone underground because the rustling, burbling sound of flowing water seemed to re-echo quietly from stony walls. The barrel would sink presently and I wondered how long I would lie in this watery grave before a maintenance crew found me.
My thoughts were interrupted by a heavy banging on the top of the barrel. The impact seemed to start the seams and even more water flowed in.