Road like a River
Genre Urban Fantasy
Tags Fantasy, Urban Fantasy, Humor, Humour, Greek Mythology, Greek Myth, Greek, Kharon, Charon, truck, trucker
Release January 2013
Cover Designer Charlotte Volnek
"Hey, Charlie. You like the truck better? Than the boat, I mean?"
That’s what she said as she walked away from the last ride she should ever have taken. And this one was smart. Kharon, even if he went by the name of Charlie these days, knew she’d be okay.
But this one wasn’t just smart. She was different. Because this one came back.
Charlie's a trucker, an Independent. Meaner 'n snakes, he’s been there, done that and kicked its butt—twice. What Charlie picks up, he delivers. Now Charlie’s biggest customers want him to take on an extra little job—an investigation into missing deliveries. Charlie turns them down flat. Because when god an’ the devil (not God and the Devil—it’s a union thing) are both sounding scared, a smart trucker drives away.
Then Rosie comes back, scarred from a whipping she swears Charlie gave her. It’s not like she’s the first to try to kill him. But she damn near succeeds, and not even the idiot in the lion skin did that. And it’s soon clear that whoever’s stealing souls wants Charlie in the frame—so they can take what’s in his truck.
Now Rosie's pissed. And Charlie’s pissed-er. And someone’s going to pay. Pay a lot more than Charlie's penny. Because nobody— not god, not demon, not poly-dimensional trans-optical hyper-sentient autonomous non-organic entity—nobody touches his truck.
“How did I die, Charlie?”
Charlie smiled to himself. It wasn’t something he did often, and it felt strange. Rosie had been awake for a while, but she hadn’t moved. If he was a bettin’ man, or a bettin’ not-really-a-man, he’d have bet half the coins in the truck that would be the first question. He frowned. No. Not those coins. Never those. He didn’t need to think. He knew every one of them. Every coin, including hers. He could still hear Blair’s voice as it faded into the crackles.
“But...but I landed! At Midland! I remember!”
“Yup. You landed. Smack.”
“See, people…people don’t like dyin’. So they tries not to. Most, they make somethin’ up. Like landin’ at Midland.”
“Some remember. Some know. Those memories…they hold ‘em down. Y’all heard ghost stories, right? Haunted places?”
“But there’s no such things as ghosts, Char…” Rosie stopped.
“Right.” Charlie grinned in the dark. It felt a little less strange, as though he was getting used to it. He wondered if that was a good idea.
“But…I landed! There was…well, that guy, Charlie. He…” Rosie flushed. “Was that you, you bastard?”
“Sub-contractors?” Rosie probably thought Charlie couldn’t see the expression on her face saying he might as well have been talking Greek. Which he could, provided it weren’t the modern rubbish. Charlie shrugged. “See, in the old days, they was brung. Now…well, the damn fool got into technology. Bloody Al Gore. He didn’t invent nuthin’. Hermes should sue ‘im. Still, he don’t got no time for bringin’ souls no more. So I got to get ‘em myself. And the truck…well, a truck’s place is on the Road. So I sub-contracts. To get ‘em to the Road. To bring ‘em. Same as you was brung.”
“The Road?” Rosie had clearly heard the capital. Charlie wondered if he was slipping, or if he’d meant her to. He said nothing.
Rosie waited for an answer. It was clear one wasn’t coming. “So what now, Charlie? I still have my lily. It must be round here somewhere. I guess you take me back to the Gates? But…but I don’t have a penny.”
“You don’t?” Charlie’s voice was calm.
“No! See?” Rosie turned her pockets inside out, then reached into her back pockets. Charlie could see her face turn puzzled when her hand came out. In it was her penny.
“I have a penny, Charlie. How do I have a penny?” Charlie said nothing. “So. It’s the Gates.” For some reason, Rosie had a sad smile. She looked at the penny, then shook her head. “Hey, mister. I need a ride. Will this do?” Rosie held out the penny.
So, Charlie thought. There it was. “Ah. ‘Bout that. We need to talk.”
“Talk, Charlie? I don’t like the sound of that. Never got nothin’ good from those four words.”
“Guess them cuts an’ stuff mus’ hurt like hell, missie—um, Rosie?”
“Damn right, you son of a…” The anger was back in Rosie’s voice. She surged to her feet to hit him again. Or she would have if Cerberus hadn’t given three soft growls, and braced three heads in her lap so she couldn’t move. Charlie waited.
“Charlie?” Charlie said nothing. “Charlie? There’s…there’s no cuts, Charlie. And…and it doesn’t hurt. Even where you hit me, it doesn’t hurt.” Charlie said nothing. “Did I imagine it, Charlie? Like landing?”
“You don’t say much do you, Charlie? And even when you say somethin’, you still don’t say much, right?”
“Nope. Or yup. Take your pick, lady.”
“It’s Rosie, Charlie. Rosie. Why don’t it hurt, Charlie?”
“You know what they say, la… Rosie. An apple a day?”
“Know why they say it, Rosie?”
“Charlie. Talk sense. Or at least try. Why don’t it hurt?”
“I cain’t take you to the Gates, Rosie. See, you don’t qualify.”
“Charlie. I got my damn penny! And my lily—it’s here somewhere, Charlie. I know it is!”
“’Tain’t that, lady.” Charlie stared into the dark. “See, you cain’t die.”
“I know, Charlie. I’m dead already. Even though I… I killed…” Rosie’s voice choked, then she caught herself. “You told me. I landed. Smack. I get it. And it’s Rosie.”
“Right. But it don’t count. Not anymore.”
“Charlie. Please. Just for me. Just once. Make some sense?”
Sense. Right. Well, it had made sense to Charlie at the time. Now? Now there weren’t no easy way round it. “You’re immortal.”
"5 out of 5 stars. From the first page to the last, this one will grab you and make you wonder what's coming next. You think you have a grasp on it and the rug gets pulled out on you- but in an oh so favorable way. I loved this!All the characters grab you with their backstories - our protagonist/antagonist is easy to feel though it's hard to tell at times, whose side you are on. I cannot recommend this enough. If you are familiar with Graeme Smith's other works - A Comedy of Terrors, Jack Shadow - you will recognize his style - sometimes darkly funny, sometimes a laugh at one's self attitude. Don't miss this!" READ FULL REVIEW
"4 out of 5 stars. As a non-fantasy reader, my arm was gently twisted to read this and I'm glad I did! This is Greek Mythology like you've never read it. Big trucks? Yup! Abrams tanks? Absolutely! Winged creatures with gattling guns? Really!! And a whole bunch of gods and goddesses in between but appearing as mortals....well kind of. There's even a love story, a dog that can morph into a motorcycle and a mad inventor that comes up with the weirdest things, some involving Higgs Boson particles! Pay attention to this one as there are some great twists and turns. Emotionally it's a roller coaster that will keep you laughing (I kept waking my wife up while I read late at night) and then plunge you into some nail biting suspense. One lesson from the book....don't lose your penny! Read the book and find out why. I can only hope that Graeme Smith comes up with another book soon!" Reader Review
"4 out of 5 stars. Oh, that Graeme Smith comes up with some weird stories! And I'll admit straight-off that I know him from online groups and really like his writing, even if sometimes his tales are a little beyond me. Like this one. Loosely based on Greek mythology, Charon, the ferryman of the dead, is now Charlie, trucker in a big rig. He picks up souls on the Road and delivers them to the Roadhouse. Only something's going wrong; souls are disappearing after Charlie puts them out. Rosie, one of the lost souls, escapes with the help of some fellow dead souls, one of whom's a witch. They all think Charlie's to blame and Rosie promises them she'll kill him. Even tries to. But... I won't tell more. Charlie's voice is engaging, the story's compelling, and anyone who likes dark fantasy will love it." Reader Review
"4 out of 5 stars. This fantastically creative novel re-imagines Charon, the mythological Greek boatman on the River Styx, as a hard-driving trucker cruising the Road, picking up the dead and ferrying them to the Gates. I loved the characters and the humor in this book - Rosie, the kick-ass heroine, is absolutely unforgettable - but alas, I found it consistently obscure. There were many scenes where Charlie/Charon and Rosie have obviously figured out what's going on - what the bad guys are doing and why - but alas, I couldn't, and the author never did spell it out for dullards like me. This may be my problem, not the author's, but it did frustrate me a bit. As I result, I really can't tell much about the plot or the resolution, other than the fact that the good guys definitely do triumph. Lots of figures from mythology show up, including Hephaestos the smith (a tech wizard), the Fates, Hypnos and Morpheus, Persephone, even a hilariously conceited and macho Herakles. Honestly, I've never read anything like it - and originality is one of my most important criteria in rating books. Hence the four stars, despite my confusion. Maybe one of my Goodreads friends will read it and explain it to me!" Reader Review