Over breakfast Triana told us what she could. She had dressed in her school clothes for a normal day’s teaching – she told us that keeping the routine would be helpful for us all, but I got the feeling that today more than ever she would be the one teaching us. Usually only one of us would be at home with Triana while the other went to work, but for reasons we weren’t sure of we knew that wasn’t possible today. We weren’t aware of being fired or our bank going into administration, it just… wasn’t there.
“I don’t know how much you remember right now,” Triana began, “but first I need you to know that you are the most wonderful, amazing parents I could ever have asked for. You brought me up to be the best version of myself, you dedicated yourselves to teaching me at home when school couldn’t meet my needs and are still here with me now. Whatever happens from here on in, please know that I love you both more than anything and that I am so thankful for everything you have given me. I can see things now that I couldn’t before, but we’ll discuss that later. Tell me, what’s the last thing you can remember us doing together?”
Steph spoke up: “I remember us lying together in the back garden, in the middle of the night, looking up at the sky.”
“That’s right,” Triana continued. “That was when I started to really make connections between life and the universe. You took me to an observatory to see the universe through a proper telescope in a dark sky. It was staggeringly beautiful, like all the little fragments of everything I ever knew coming together before my eyes. I saw patterns stretching out into infinity, far off stars and planets which we could never visit but which are connected to the smallest living thing. And I knew that we all have a place, a purpose in the cosmic mess. Do you remember that?”
I remembered the trip. I remembered our joy at seeing our daughter happier than she’d ever been, the elation as we got in the car to make the journey back home after dark, the trip down the motorway. Before I could follow the memory any further, Triana cut in with another question.
“By the way, can you see auras?”
“Auras, like a sort of field around people. I couldn’t before, but now I’m sensing a strong field around the both of you. Mostly confusion at this point, which is understandable, but a lot of love and energy too.”
Steph and I had gone to some crystal healing workshops in our festival days, reading auras had been a part of it but neither of us had ever actually seen anything physically manifested. We’d put it down as more of a metaphorical notion about people’s charisma and influence. By those criteria Triana had always had an aura like a lighthouse bulb, but I couldn’t say I was actually seeing anything now or previously. Steph said the same.
“Interesting,” said Triana.
We spent the morning on general studies; Maths, English, general reading. Triana picked the materials, we worked through it with her well aware that it was as much for our benefit as hers. We had vague memories of the visiting tutors that we’d hired previously, but somehow knew they wouldn’t be coming anymore. As with our jobs at the bank, it was as if all our previous arrangements and acquaintances had been hit with a giant reset switch and would need to be set up again. Triana seemed to know more than we did, but was still working out the details and wanted us to ease us into our own understanding of what was going on.
In the afternoon we went for a walk around town. Everything we saw was familiar, but different; the same buildings, streets and parks, but it felt mysterious and otherworldly, as if we had entered a parallel dimension. The people we passed seemed normal enough, I noticed Triana looking closely at various passers-by. As we sat together on a bench she told us what she could see.
“Remember when I said I could see your auras earlier? Well, I’m getting a sense now of everyone we come across.”
She nodded towards a woman walking up the other side of the street.
“Take her, for example. Her energy level is fairly neutral, she’s taking things as they come at the moment. There is a warmth to her aura, but there’s an edge of worry, a fear of letting go. Are you sensing any of this?”
Before we could answer, the woman turned and saw us looking. She gave a start as she saw Triana and hurried away.
“Well, that was weird,” said Triana. “Am I that frightening?”
“No,” said Steph. “And no, I can’t sense any of this. You say all this came on just today?”
“Just today,” said Triana. “Have you noticed anything else odd?”
“It feels different, but I can’t put my finger on the specifics,” I said. “It’s like someone’s hit a switch and everything went to default settings.”
Triana looked carefully at me as if considering her response.
“Hold that thought,” she said.
On the way home we passed a familiar building which we recognised as the bank where Steph and I had begun both our careers and our life together. We stood outside in the very spot where Steph had had her bath of beans, looking at the row of posters in the window. There seemed to be a new bank occupying the premises – the colour scheme was similar, but the fascia board now read Charon Bank Ltd.
Triana walked over to a poster by the door showing a diverse group of smiling people in company uniform.
“Oh, look, they’re hiring,” she said. Without waiting for our thoughts, she set off inside with a determined gait.
Steph and I looked at each other and followed after her. It’s not like we had a choice.
The interior of the bank was almost exactly as I remembered it, only the company name and logo had changed. Triana was talking with the lady at the front reception desk, her shoulder bag open on the counter. The receptionist was looking at some A4 documents from hard backed envelopes, which we realised were our CVs. I wondered whether Triana had planned this or if she carried copies of them around with her all the time. I wouldn’t have put either past her.
The lady saw us and smiled.
“Hello,” she said, “you must be Bob and Stephanie, it’s lovely to meet you, your daughter has been telling me all about you. She’s a special girl, isn’t she? Tell me, what school is that uniform from?”
“It’s her own uniform,” said Steph. “She put it together herself for when we were homeschooling.”
“Well, she’s very smart, both in appearance and intelligence,” said the lady. “I’m Analise, by the way. If you’re interested in working here I can arrange for you to talk to our manager, Mr. Phillips. I know he’d love to meet you.”
Mr. Phillips turned out to be a slim, cheerful man with an angular suit and neat brown hair. He shook both our hands and led us to his office while Triana stayed with Analise. Apparently they had plenty to talk about, I could hear Triana enthusiastically asking questions as we headed off.
On the way we were introduced to Sian, the bank’s IT technician. Sian was a slim woman with short dyed red hair, black drainpipe trousers and a charcoal sweater with her security badge attached. She nodded a silent greeting as she saw us.
“Sian keeps everything running around here,” said Mr. Phillips. “Any time there’s a problem, she’ll fix it.”
I was regretting not having dressed a little smarter – we hadn’t expected to be attending a job interview today, even if Triana seemed to have come prepared.
“You must be feeling a little disorientated,” said Mr. Phillips, as if reading my mind. “Please be at ease, everything will make sense before too long.”
“It sounds like you were expecting us,” I said. Mr. Phillips smiled.
“You will find that things work a little differently to how they used to,” he said. “For one thing, there are a lot of strange coincidences. People end up where they are supposed to be, with a particular purpose. You and your daughter are no exception.”
“Triana?” asked Steph, only slightly surprised. Mr. Phillips smiled and continued.
“I understand you previously had a jobshare arrangement so you could homeschool your daughter. I’d like to continue that arrangement, but I’d also like you to know that she is welcome to accompany you to work any time she wishes. She’s already hit it off with Analise, who you can think of as a professional mentor for her, if you’re happy for her to take that role.”
“What would we be doing?” I asked.
“General duties,” he replied. “As you’ll see, there are some differences with the type of banking you did before, mostly we keep things flowing. But it’s fascinating in a whole new way. I’ll give you the guided tour when you do your induction training.”
We left the office as confused as when we entered, but oddly reassured about this strange world we had found ourselves in. Apparently we had just walked into our new jobs. They seemed to have plans for Triana as well and wanted to support us in completing her education – Triana came back from her conversation with Analise more confident and determined than ever, so it was clear what her views were on the subject. We arranged to start the next day, when we would all go in together so Steph and I could undergo induction before breaking off into staggered working schedules.
“So,” said Triana over the dinner table that evening, “what have we learned?”
It was obvious she knew way more about what was happening than we did and whatever she’d talked about with Analise had filled in the blanks. But for whatever reason she couldn’t just tell us. We needed to piece things together, with her help.
“Well,” said Steph, “I noticed that you’ve been taking charge. What did you and Analise talk about while we were being interviewed?”
“It’s a little complicated and I can’t tell you everything just yet,” said Triana. “I wish I could. But she did tell me why I’m here and how she could help me, a lot of things make a lot more sense now. I will say this: what did you make of the name of the bank?”
Charon Bank Ltd. I hadn’t heard of any such company before, but there was something familiar about the name. It had come up during some of the lessons we’d worked on with Triana, but I couldn’t remember which one.
Steph was the first to make the link. “Charon, from Greek mythology?” she asked.
Triana nodded. “Do you remember what his job was?”
Before I could think about this cryptic clue, the memory of our trip to the observatory entered my mind. I remembered Triana’s awestruck delight at what she had seen, the elation of seeing her so happy and the trip home along the moonlit motorway. I remembered what was playing on the radio, one of those quirky shows stations schedule in the graveyard shifts when DJs get to go off playlist and play the more obscure records. The song I remembered was by a band I didn’t know but who sounded Scadinavian, it had the kind of chillout, dreampop vibe I liked which fitted the icy open sky perfectly. I was aware of going perhaps a little too fast, but there was very little traffic and I was at that particular stage of tiredness where you start to buzz a little.
Suddenly the memory shifted gear into something more alarming. I remembered the wheels of the car suddenly losing traction and the brakes locking, I must have hit a patch of black ice. I struggled to regain control of the car, which mounted the central reservation and flipped over the barrier into the opposite carriageway. The spinning car came to a halt facing two large bright lights directly in front of us, accompanied by the deafening sound of a truck horn and the screech of brakes as the driver tried unsuccessfully to avert the collision. There was noise, impact, concussion, then silent blackness, fading back into the room we were sat in now.
“I… killed us?” was all I could say. Triana got up from her chair and rushed around the table to give me a hug.
“Dad, it was an accident, there was nothing you could have done. It was a thing that happened, we all died together and ended up here.”
“Where is ‘here’?”
“Let’s just focus on us being here together,” said Triana. “I really am glad of that.”
Steph puffed out a breath of air in the manner of someone confirming something they didn’t want to be right about.
“I don’t know exactly where we are,” she said, “but I do remember who Charon was.”
“Go on,” said Triana.
“He was the ferryman of the River Styx,” said Steph. “His job was to help souls pass on to where they were going.”
“And that’s more or less what Analise and I were talking about,” she said. “You two weren’t the only ones to get jobs today.”