The Last of That Strange Wine

The ferryman sipped the last of his ouzo and waved me over.

“I’ll take another,” he said as I walked the length the bar. I grabbed a bottle and gave him a long pour. He raised his glass to me, then brought it to his lips.

“I’m tired of coins, you know,” he said.

I knew, but just gave him a questioning look.

“What use are they to me?” He drank the last drops from his refilled glass and stood. “I don’t even need them _here_.”

It was true. All our drinks were free.

“See you tomorrow,” he said on his way to the door.

“Tomorrow,” I replied.

Soon, I was closing up the bar for the night. As I worked, I tried to keep my mind from the pull, that constant ache in my head telling me that I didn’t belong here, that I should be across the river.

I washed the glasses and put everything back in its place. I didn’t need to check the bottles; after all, they’d all be full again tomorrow morning.

Well, all but one.

I went into the back room where I slept, thinking about that strange skull-shaped bottle of wine that I kept out of sight below the bar. There was one drink left — for me, when my wife Helena joined me here on the shores of the Acheron.

I’d found the bar when I was new to this place, having just died.

There’d been a sudden storm and I’d pitched over the side of my fishing boat and drowned. We were far from shore, so I wasn’t surprised my body hadn’t been recovered and I had no coin for the ferryman.

Anatolios was the bartender then. My first night in the bar, we talked well past last call.

He asked if I was in a hurry to cross the river. I shook my head.

“The pull of the other side is strong but what good would it do to be in a hurry? A hundred years is a long time. And may Helena live a good many of those so I can join her quickly as possible once she crosses over.”

I stood then, ready to find a soft spot on the beach to sleep.

“Have you ever thought about running a bar?” Anatolios asked me before I could leave.

Three days later, he’d shown me the ropes and was ready to be on his way.

“Pour me one last drink,” he said.

“Name it.”

Then he told me about the skull-shaped bottle, how the ferryman accepted a drink of that wine in lieu of a coin. I found the bottle; it was a bit less than half full.

“I’m trusting you not to abandon the bar,” he said as I passed him a small glass of the wine. I swore I wouldn’t.

“Good. And make sure to save yourself a drink for when Helena arrives.”

That was decades ago. Through the years one person after another presented such a sad case that I’d pulled them aside, handed them a small glass of the wine, and told them to take it to the ferryman.

Even though I knew some felt the pull worse than others, and I seemed to be less affected than many, it still ate at me every day. I’d be lying if I said I’d never considered pouring that last drink and being on my way. But Anatolios had left me with a job to do and I waited for the day when Helena arrived.

One morning I woke early, and the ever-present pull across the river was overwhelmed by a stronger sensation leading me to the beach. I walked for quite a while and then I saw her, wandering and wide-eyed.

I called her name and ran to her. She looked dazed and when her eyes met mine, I saw them fill with emotion. She embraced me, sobbing.

“It’s been so long,” she said.

“But we’re together now.”

She was silent for a long time. “I have no coin,” she said at last. There had been a volcanic eruption and she’d been lost in a blanket of ash and rock.

We sat on the beach and talked. Before long she clutched her head. “I’ve had this pain in my head since I got here,” she told me. “It hurts so bad.”

I knew what I must do and led Helena to the bar. “Take this to the ferryman,” I said, pouring the last glass of the wine. “He’ll let you across.”

She insisted I come with her to the ferry. The ferryman was halfway across, returning from the other side. I held her by the waist as we waited. Knowing we had forty-seven more years of waiting before our next reunion, I savored every moment of holding her in my arms.

When the ferryman landed, he saw what Helena was holding and took the glass with obvious excitement.

“Enjoy it,” I said without thinking, “It’s the last glass.”

He looked me over for a long moment before taking a small sip and welcoming Helena aboard.

We held each other’s gaze as the ferry pulled away but soon they were gone in the mists.

“So it was you,” the ferryman said when he came to the bar that night. “I wondered where that wine came from all these years.”

I nodded.

“And that was really the last of it?”


“A pity,” he said. “Ouzo then.”

I asked how Helena’s ride was as I poured.

“It was smooth.” He looked me over. “Your wife?”


The bar was packed and other patrons kept me busy. I didn’t notice the ferryman leave.

When I went to where he’d been sitting to clean up, I found his glass upside down on the bar. Beneath it, tucked along the rim, was a small coin.

I picked it up carefully and put it in my pocket.

An unfamiliar fellow in a battered tunic came through the door then. He sat where the ferryman had been sitting and asked for some wine. I poured him a generous glass of a sweet white wine and he picked the glass up and began to drink almost before I’d finished pouring.

“What’s your name?” I asked, once he sat his glass down.

“Nicodemus,” he said.

“No coin?”

He shook his head.

“I know a hundred years may seem like a long time,” I said. “But have you ever thought about running a bar?”

Michael Haynes lives in Central Ohio. An ardent short story reader and writer, Michael has had stories appear in periodicals such as Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and Nature and also in anthologies such as Deep Cuts, Not Our Kind: Tales of Not Belonging, and Kwik Krimes. He serves on the board of Rainbow Dublin, an LGBTQIA+ advocacy group, and enjoys photography, cooking, and travel. His website is and he can be found on Twitter as @mohio73.

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