It was a beautiful afternoon, and the ferryman sat back in his chair with his feet up on the railing. His hat sat low on his forehead and a long pipe stuck out of his mouth. He puffed lazily, and he held a fishing pole with a line in the water. There were no fish to be had but the ferryman didn't mind.
"Hello there!" said a man on the bank. The ferryman turned up his head and squinted from behind the brim of his hat. The man on the bank was dressed flamboyantly in red, except for his boots, which were black and embroidered with curlicues in gold thread. "I have money!" The man smiled and held out a pouch.
"You might not be wanting to show off your coin in these parts. The woods are full of thieves." The woods weren't but the ferryman enjoyed watching the man in red crouch and turn around, trying to see into the woods.
The ferryman pulled in the line and put the pole down on the flat floor of the ferry. He went to the paddle and waited.
"You coming?" he asked the man in red, who was now flushed in the face.
"Yes, yes," he said. "I must go to court to see the king."
"Is that right," said the ferryman with zero interest.
"Yes. I've been called to entertain the court at the king's upcoming nuptials."
"Uhn hum. If you step on the ferry, we can get going."
"Uh yes." The man in red looked down gingerly at the floating platform. He stepped on, and the ferryman paddled back a bit, pulling from shore enough to unsteady the man's stride. He lost his balance and fell forward. The ferryman chuckled.
"Three gold coins," said the ferryman.
"Really? That much?"
"Yes," said the ferryman, holding out his hand.
"It seems there's been quite a bit of inflation in the realm lately."
"Let's call it a tax," said the ferryman. He flexed his fingers.
"Three it is," said the man in red. He reached in his pouch and handed over three gold coins. "Thieves in the forest..."
The ferryman pocketed the money and started paddling out. He stared at the man's outlandish attire.
"I suppose you wonder what it is I do?" said the man.
"Not really," said the ferryman.
"I'm not a jester," said the man. "A lot of people make that mistake." The two men looked at each other for a long moment. The ferryman enjoyed the silence, but the same silence made the man in red uncomfortable.
"I tell stories," said the man. "I tell stories of the future."
The ferryman looked off down the river, watching the ripples from the paddle spread out. Sunlight dappled the crests.
"I'm not a fortuneteller though."
"Umn huh," grunted the ferryman. He remembered he had to buy more tobacco leaf.
"I've uh, actually been there. To the future."
"You're not really interested, are you?"
"You speak nonsense, and dress like an idiot."
"I see. But aren't you curious about the future? I could tell you what happens in the centuries ahead, for a gold coin. Or three."
"You have no curiosity at all?"
"No. But it seems like the sort of thing that amuses the idle nobles." They were most of the way across the river.
"You must think I just make up stories," said the man. He began to look a little angry.
"Maybe you are from the future," said the ferryman. "But I don't care."
"Why not? Isn't it basic human curiosity?"
"I'm not curious, because I was there too."
The ferryman winked at the man.
"Why would you--" blustered the man.
"Why do I sit on a river all day?"
"Yes! You could be wealthy and famous! You could do whatever you wanted! I don't believe you are a fellow traveler."
"A life ruled by email and phone calls and text messages, where you count the number of friends from a statistic on a web page--a life stuck in traffic on freeways, listening to radio jingles thousands of times over, watching reruns on TV and eating processed food? I didn't like where we were going. It wasn't for me. So when the opportunity came up, I sold everything to come here. I never set a return code."
The man looked at him, his mouth slightly open.
"And you're happy like this, lost to time?"
"You don't seem like one qualified to judge me."
"I come from a later time than you. Our rules on inhabitant interaction are looser."
"Sure," said the ferryman. The platform nudged the shore. "We're here."
"Yes," said the man in red. "I won't report you," he said after a long pause.
"I'm sure you won't," said the ferryman. He bowed slightly and tipped his hat. The man in red disembarked. He hurried up the path to the road. The ferryman picked up the pole and threw the line into the water. He settled back down into the chair and let the warm afternoon sun relax him into a long nap.