Mythology with Erin

Adventures in storytelling

Tag: Story

Week 11 Story: Daedalus’ Haunted Labyrinth

Author’s Note: I hope you enjoyed this choose-you-own-adventure Halloween story! I had a lot of fun working with Twine to create it. Hopefully you found a way to survive!

The rooms and monsters within the story come from different episodes I’ve read from throughout the semester.

The giant spider is based on Arachne, a Greek woman who was turned into a spider after challenging Athena to a weaving contest. Versions differ about whether or not Arachne won the competition, but the transformation was because of her hubris (pride) in challenging the gods. Thus, by flattering her, you can talk your way past the fearsome spider.

The flaming field of grass comes from the stories of the Japanese hero, Yamato. At one point, Yamato is stuck in a burning field, and he uses his sword to put out the flames. In my version, you can use the blanket from Arachne as a shield against the flames.

The monster in the forest is a Wendigo, which I learned about in a Crash course Mythology video about monsters. The Wendigo is a mythical monster from Native tribes in Canada. They are humans who have surrendered to their own wickedness and have become cannibal monsters. In some tribes, the transformation can be reversed with fire, which is seen as purifying. 

Finally, the eye-stealer in the mansion comes from a Blackfoot story that I read last week about a man called Thunder, who steals eyes and displays them in his house. The only way to defeat him is with a raven’s medicine (or power) so you need to team up with a raven to get past him in my story.

The overarching concept is that of Daedalus’ Labyrinth, which is where the minotaur is kept in the story of Theseus. 

Bibliography:

Here’s some more information about Arachne.

Crash Course Myth: Monsters, Horses, and Dragons. Web source.

Romance of Old Japan by E.W. Champney and F. Champney. Web source.

Blackfeet Indian Stories by George Bird Grinnell (1915). Web source.

Image: Stone Labyrinth. Source – Wikipedia.

Week 9 Story: Space Escape

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It’s usually a dull job writing the transcripts to security tapes, but the events in this series are the highlight of my career. These tapes just came in to the USS Argofrom a captured ship of the Varknoss race.

This camera shows a long hallway deep in the belly of the ship, which doesn’t look as alien as movies would have you think. It’s pretty normal, except it’s lined with doors, each with a label and a barred glass window. This is the brig. All the lights are on, and some of the prisoners pace their cells or sleep. It makes the hair on my arms stand up to see: most of them are humans.

At the end of the hallway, two figures appear. The first is our young hero: Lieutenant Chris Rowland of the USSS Endurance, a small vessels pilot. He looks pretty beat up, though the picture is blurry from this distance. The second figure is one of the Varknoss, a tall alien creature with a long, reptilian snout, clawed hands, and such a high body temperature that they can breathe fire. The Varknoss have a tentative peace treaty with us Earthlings, but the brig of this ship proves that the race still harbors cruel intentions toward humans.

The Varknoss goon throws Rowland in one of the cells, his nostrils hissing steam to scare the other occupants of the room from the door. Then the alien leaves, and the hallway returns to its previous silence.

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This camera gives us a better shot of what’s going on in Rowland’s room. Despite his bloodied lip, the captured pilot doesn’t seem fazed as he addresses his five cellmates.

“I didn’t spend six years in officer’s school to get eaten by a dragon-man on my first transport job,” he says, pulling a small rectangle out of the interior pocket of his jacket. Is that a…cassette player?! This space-jock has watched to much Guardians of the Galaxy.

Several of the cellmates—and most of the humans in the brig—are also soldiers, and they’re sick of watching their numbers dwindle day by day as their companions are taken to satisfy vicious Varknoss appetites. If Rowland is clever enough to get them out alive, they’re in.

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This is the part of the video where we come in. Three days have passed since Rowland was taken prisoner. His commanders don’t even know he’s missing yet. But it turns out that Rowland’s little cassette player also picks up radio waves, and he knows exactly what we’re about the see on this camera, which is affixed to the exterior of the Varknoss ship, keeping watch over an airlock. Technology, huh? 

Everything seems really slow in space, so if you really closely, you’ll see a giant silver and white bullet floating across the corner of the feed. Yep, that’s the USSS Argo, completely unaware that they’re skimming the skies several hundred miles above a Varknoss ship containing dozens of illegal human prisoners. 

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We’re back in the cell with Chris Rowland, and he’s in action. In one minute, the Varknoss guard is going to deliver food, and the prisoners are ready to escape. Rowland is wearing the standard-issue military jackets of the three soldiers in the cell with him, plus his own. Why? It’s unclear, but he looks like a navy marshmallow man.

The Varknoss opens the door, and the prisoners press themselves to the far wall, but then Rowland jumps forward!

Smoke fills the air as the Varknoss lashes out with fire, but the flames have no effect of Rowland as he wrestles the reptilian alien to the ground. The layers of flame-retardant military jackets protect him. 

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While Rowland occupies the roaring guard, the rest of the prisoners stream into the hallway. Once all 46 humans are free, they dash out of the brig. Rowland disengages from his foe and sprints after them, followed closely by the alien.

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Clever Rowland chose to escape during Varknoss dinner time, so the ship’s hallways are empty as the long line of humans hurtles toward the nearest escape hatch. Rowland is still at the end of the line, and the Varknoss guard is so, so close. Close enough to grab him.

The pilot suddenly thrusts his arm into the air and uses his thumb to click a button on the cassette player he holds aloft. Funky music starts playing, with a catchy bass riff and tasty guitar licks. This man knows his enemy. The Varknoss soldier suddenly stops to dance to the groove. That’s their biggest weakness: they love music, and it holds an almost magical power over them. The Varknoss keeps dancing until Rowland and his speaker are too far away to hear. Then, the spell is broken, and the ugly creature races after his quarry.

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When the Varknoss gets close to the prisoners again, Rowland blasts the next song. Once again, the alien has to stop to dance. The lieutenant repeats this process until his group finally reaches the escape pods.

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Varknoss escape pods are strange. They can connect together in a long chain to help an escaping population stay together, which will make Rowland’s task much easier, as only three people can fit in each pod. When it’s Rowland’s turn to board the sixteenth pod, he tosses the cassette player at the Varknoss’s feet, leaving it trapped in a dancing frenzy.

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A long, straight chain of escape pods slowly crosses the distance between the Varknoss ship and the Argo. By this time, the Argo has noticed the enemy ship and hailed the pods. The Varknoss ship doesn’t stand a chance as the warship turns to rescue Rowland and his friends.

Author’s Note:

This story is based on “Why the Moon and the Stars Receive Their Light from the Sun” from West African folklore. In the original tale, Anansi and his son, Kweku Tsin, get captured by a dragon along with many other people, and Kweku helps them escape by throwing a ladder up to the gods and playing a fiddle to district the dragon and make him dance. In the end, the gods turn Kweku into the Sun because of his good deed. I changed the setting of my story because I’ve been wanting to write a story set in outer space, and this seemed like a good one to do it for. The Varknoss are a dragon-like alien race, meant to equate to the dragon in the original tale. Chris Rowland represents Kweku, and like the African hero, he is clever and quick-thinking. I still wanted to have the aspect of music to distract the dragon, so I threw in some Guardians of the Galaxy.

I wrote my story from the point of view of a person transcribing the events as seen through security cameras. This technique is inspired by one of my favorite book series, The Illuminae Files, which are written as a collection a files, many of them being security footage transcriptions. I thought it would be a creative and high-tech way of telling the story. I hope you enjoyed!

Bibliography:

West African Folktales by William H. Barker and Cecilia Sinclair with drawings by Cecilia Sinclair (1917). Web source.

Image 1: Milky Way galaxy. Source – Pxhere.

Image 2: Cassette tape. Source – Flickr.

Image 3: Artistic rendition of Earth in space. Source – Pixabay.

Week 7 Story: The Red River Showdown

One day, a strong, young pioneer man fell in love with a wise and beautiful princess. He wanted to marry her, but, though she loved him in return, she would not marry him until he proved he was worthy by obtaining the Golden Hat, a mythical relic that would bring glory to whoever wore it.

So, the pioneer, determined to find the hat and prove his devotion to the princess, tied his two white ponies to his covered wagon and set off into the prairie.

He traveled south through grasslands and rolling hills. Sometimes, the wind howled and battered the wagon fearsomely, but his ponies were loyal and hardy and scarcely slowed at the obstacle. 

After two days of riding, the pioneer came to a wide gorge at the bottom of which was a winding river. 

“I haven’t seen many rivers,” the pioneer said to himself and his ponies, “but of those I have seen, none of them have been red!” For this river’s water was a murky red-brown from the mud and silt that flowed through it. 

The pioneer followed the river until he found a bridge. On the other side of the river was a town. He stopped at the local inn to feed his ponies, and he decided to go inside and get some food for himself. The pioneer was surprised to find that there was no one else in the inn except for the innkeeper.

“No one stays here anymore,” said the man as he wiped a glass dry with a filthy rag.

“Why not?” asked the pioneer.

The innkeeper sighed. “There’s a demon-possessed bull that rampages through town every day, destroying buildings and goring other animals. All of our wranglers have tried to stop it, but none have been able to calm it down.”

The pioneer was sad to see such a nice town laid to waste, and he was interested in seeing a demon-possessed beast. “I’d like to try to catch this villain,” he told the innkeeper confidently.

“I can see there’s no deterring a strong and energetic young man like yourself, but you should know that the bull can only be harmed if you break off its horns. Otherwise, even if you it kill it, it will come back from the dead twice as strong,” said the older gentleman.

The pioneer thanked him for his advice and went back out to his ponies, who were gleaming and lively after their dinner. He hitched them up and procured a heavy sledgehammer from the back of the wagon. Then he went to the field outside the town and waited for the demonic animal to arrive.

Just before sunset, a cloud of dust appeared on the horizon, and soon the pioneer saw his foe: It was an enormous longhorn, with blood red eyes and rippling muscle. It’s pelt was white dappled with burnt-orange patches, and its each horn was as long as a man’s wingspan. With a start, the pioneer noticed a glint of gold between the beast’s two horns: a hat made of solid gold. It was the famous relic he had been seeking! Now he knew not only had to defeat the beast; he had to snatch the prize from his head. The pioneer half-expected his ponies to buck and bolt at the gargantuan longhorn, but they trusted their master and pawed at the dust expectantly. Taking the sledgehammer in one hand and the reins in the other, the pioneer cried, “Yah!” and the wagon shot forward.

The two opponents thundered toward one another until they met, and at the last second, the pioneer pulled his ponies to feint left. As the wagon narrowly missed the charging longhorn, the pioneer leaned from his seat and swung the hammer at the razor-sharp horn. With a crack, the horn broke, leaving a splintered nub on longhorn’s head. Like jousting knights, the two pulled away from one another and turned around for a second engagement.

This time, the longhorn’s head tilted to one side, off-balance from the loss of his horn. The pioneer knew this was his chance to take the Golden Hat!

The wagon and longhorn charged closer and closer to one another, and this time, the beast was even angrier. He leveled his head, ready to maul the twin white ponies with his remaining horn.

The pioneer quickly snatched a lasso from under his seat and tossed it. It snaked around the horn and held fast! Using all of his strength, he pulled the longhorn alongside the wagon. Like a snake, he snatched the Golden Hat off of the longhorn’s head and placed it on his own. With only a half-second remaining before the bull could smash the wagon, the pioneer swung his hammer once again and snapped off the remaining horn. The longhorn lowed with fury, and the pioneer, his prize obtained, dropped the hammer and lashed the reins! “Go!” he urged.

The ponies shot forward, and the pioneer realized they were heading straight for the red river’s gorge! Behind them, the hornless longhorn pursued, its eyes rolling, mouth frothing. The pioneer did not turn the ponies from the gorge but let them run until the very last second. Then, he yanked sharply on the reins, pulling the ponies and the wagon in a steep U-turn at full speed. Miraculously, the wagon didn’t tip, but the longhorn, in its fury, did not have time to stop himself from flying off the edge of the gorge, where he fell into the raging river below.

The pioneer returned to his princess with the golden hat perched on his head, and he told her about his daring adventure. Impressed with his bravery and skill, she finally decided to marry him, and the Golden Hat brought the two of them glory for many years.

Author’s Note: 

The story is based on the adventures of Yamato, a Japanese hero. In honor of Texas week, I decided to turn the original into a story about a Sooner versus a longhorn. In Yamato’s story, he is sent to find a Golden Apple in order to get a beautiful siren to love him. In my story, the pioneer is searching for a Golden Hat, which is the trophy in the Red River Rivalry. On the way, Yamato has to fight a demonic boar. The boar can only be harmed by the Sacred Sword, and only on his tail. I reflected this by making the pioneer have to break the longhorn’s horns before it could be defeated. In a later story, Yamato loses the Sacred Sword and finds it again nestled between the antlers of a stag. I alluded to that by having the pioneer find the Golden Hat between the horns of the longhorn. Finally, Yamato kills the boar by jumping onto it, cutting off its tail, and riding it off of a cliff (of course Yamato escapes the fall). I mirrored this by having the longhorn chase the pioneer to the gorge of the Red River. If you’ve ever driven I-35 South toward Dallas, you’ve driven over the gorge that I’m thinking of! The sharp U-turn that the pioneer pulls the wagon into is meant to allude to our own covered wagon that rides through the end zone after a touchdown and turns around sharply. In a way, the pioneer did score a “touchdown” by stealing the Golden Hat and carrying it all the way to the end of the “playing field.” At least, that’s the allusion I’m trying to invoke. I hope you enjoyed the story! Boomer!

Bibliography:

Romance of Old Japan by E.W. Champney and F. Champney. Web source.

Image 1: Sooner Schooner at an OU football game. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 2: Covered wagon. Source – Flickr.

Image 3: Longhorn. Source – Flickr.

Week 5 Story: Cooper’s Delay

“I loved that movie!” I said to Cooper in the hallway. He looked exhausted and had a coffee in his hand because last night we had gone to the midnight premiere of Desert Saga, a new fantasy movie set in Arabia. 

As the bell rang for first period, Cooper stood from where he lounged against the wall, and we walked to Mr. Vizir’s English class. I patted Coop’s service dog, Oliver, on the head. Cooper had epilepsy, so he had Oliver, a golden retriever who was trained to alert and respond to seizures. 

“I feel like I’ve forgotten something,” Cooper said as we turned into the classroom. I was about to echo his thought when it hit me. In the room, our classmates shuffled through flash cards, scanned over books, and gave off a palpable air of stress. We had an exam today, and Cooper and I had forgotten about it.

Coop and I nervously took our seats at the far side of the classroom, and Oliver curled up under Cooper’s desk. 

“Good morning, class,” Mr. Vizir said cheerfully as the tardy bell rang. He was a kind teacher who loved interacting with students. “How is everyone? And you, Ollie?” He winked at Oliver, who raised his shaggy head at the attention.

The rest of the class grumbled as they put away their study materials, and I feverishly wracked my mind for facts about Frankenstein. Mr. Vizir walked toward his desk, getting dangerously close to a stack of papers: the test.

Then, Cooper blurted: “Mr. Vizir, the craziest thing happened yesterday.”

Our English teacher loved wild stories, so he stopped and said, “Yes, Cooper?”

And so, Cooper attempted to pull off the most daring filibuster any of us had ever witnessed:

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Yesterday, I was at my job at Jinn’s. It’s almost Halloween, you know, so I was putting out costumes. This man and his young daughter came over and were looking at the costumes, and of course, the little girl noticed Oliver.

“Daddy, look at the doggie!” she cried. She stretched out her hands, but her dad caught her by the back of her jacket.

“No, Allie, that’s a service dog. See his vest? You can’t pet service dogs because it distracts them from their job,” he said.

The girl looked sad, so I said, “He’s right, and you should always ask before petting anybody’s dog. But Oliver’s not busy right now, so you can pet him.” 

While Allie was petting Oliver, the man asked me, “When did you get your service dog?” So, I told him the story of how I got Oliver:

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You probably won’t believe it, but Oliver is my brother. He’s older than me, and it’s almost the anniversary of him becoming a dog. One Halloween, he was supposed to take me Trick-or-Treating.

We were walking around, going to houses, when some of Oliver’s friends found us. “Ditch your brother,” they said. “We found a super scary shed out in the woods.” Oliver ran off with them, leaving me alone. I was really young, and I didn’t know the way home, so I just walked into the woods where Oliver had gone. I realized I was lost, and I started crying. A woman found me, and I told her my brother had left me.

“Poor thing,” she said. “Let’s find your home.” She took me to her house, which was a cabin in the forest. When we arrived, she said, “Let me tell you a story about my sister.”

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We raised chickens when we were young. My job was to feed them every morning and collect any eggs they laid, and my sister’s job was to feed them at night and make sure the coop was locked. One day, a fox came and saw our chickens. He wanted to eat them, but he saw how well my sister and I took care of them and knew he would have to play a trick. He turned into a human boy and came to my sister as she was locking the coop one evening.

He said, “Do you want to see my meteorite?”

“My mom says I can’t go off with strangers,” my sister responded.

The fox-boy looked shocked. “Not even for a meteorite? It fell out of the sky ten minutes ago! It’s beautiful and shiny, and if you don’t go see it now, a grown-up will take it away!”

My sister loved shiny things, so she followed the boy to a field, where they found a large rock.

“That’s no meteorite!” my sister said, looking at the perfectly normal rock.

The fox-boy feigned glumness. “Oh no! It must have cooled off already, so it’s not pretty anymore. Who would have thought that space-rocks would just be normal rocks?”

My sister was smart, and she knew the rock had never been a meteorite, but she hadn’t guessed the boy’s trick. She stomped home, but she was so upset about the incident that she forgot to lock the chicken coop. The next day, all of our chickens had been eaten!

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Then we heard boyish giggles and whispers outside. Sure enough, it was my brother Oliver and his friends sneaking around the old shack.

“How could you leave your little brother all alone on Halloween?” the woman said when she saw Oliver. “Maybe this will make you more loyal.” Suddenly my brother was gone, replaced by a golden retriever puppy. I took him home and told my parents what had happened, but they couldn’t do anything about it. So we had Oliver trained to be a seizure dog, and that’s why he’s with me all the time.

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After I finished my story, the man seemed unsurprised, and he said, “I thought I noticed something human about your dog.” His daughter picked out a costume, and before they left, the man gave me a coin. I tried to tell him that I can’t take tips, but he told me it was for changing Oliver back into a human! I would take it out now and show you, but I need to get a new seizure dog first.

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We held our breath as Cooper finished his series of tales and Mr. Vizir said, “That does sound exciting, Coop.” His eyes flicked to the clock and sighed. A heartbeat later, the second period bell rang across the school. The entire class erupted in a cheer. “And you’ve talked yourself out of an exam. We’ll try again on Monday!” 

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Author’s Note: This week I read excerpts from Arabian Nights, which is a frame story like the one I’ve written here. The general premise is that a sultan takes a new wife every night and kills her in the morning. One day Scheherazade, the vizir’s daughter, decides to put an end to this and volunteers to marry the sultan. Every night, she tells part of a story. The sultan wants to hear the rest of the story, so he spares her life day by day. However, because the stories are nested within other stories, Scheherazade never really finishes the original story, which saves her from the terrible fate. I wrote this as a lighter-hearted version of Scheherazade’s procrastination because many students can relate to trying to distract a teacher to avoid a quiz.

There are white spaces where the story changes levels. We begin in Level 1, where the protagonist and Cooper go to class. Then, Cooper start Level 2, where he talks about the man and girl in the store. Then, Level 3 is Cooper’s story about how he got Oliver. Level 4 is the woman’s tale about her sister. From there, the levels ascend until we’re back in the classroom.

The Arabian Nights stories also feature a lot of casual magic and times where humans are changed into animals as a kind of punishment. I threw in several allusions to Arabian Nights, too, in the names of characters and the movie.

Bibliography: 

The Arabian Nights’ Entertainments by Andrew Lang and illustrated by H.J. Ford. Web source.

Image 1: High school hallway lockers. Source – Pexels.

Image 2: Golden retriever service dog. Source – Flickr.

Week 4 Story: Psyche’s Quest

Cape Taenarus wasn’t special. I could barely see the flagged turrets of Aegean Sparta behind the rolling cliffs. The salty air stung my nose as I clambered to the top of the highest bluff—you would think to get to the underworld, you’d have to go down—and I paused a moment to collect myself. 

The bluff rose above the ocean, making a looming cliff. I gazed at the white-capped waves. How many a heartbroken lover had thrown herself onto the rocks? My heart weighed heavy as I opened my bag and counted my items: two golden coins, two honey-cakes, and Venus’ empty jar. 

It did not take me long to find the Crag of Dis. I merely had to follow the cold wind and moans groaning from it. As I drew near, even the sky darkened in mourning, and the scents mold and rot filled the air. I drew my cloak around me before descending into the fissure. In front of me, I saw the fires of Pluto’s palace, but behind me, the shadow was solid as rock.

The River Styx rumbled ahead, and I found my first obstacle. At a bend in the road, an old man hunched over as he collected sticks. I clenched my teeth and sped up.

“Young lady? Could you spare a coin?” The man’s aged voice was kind as he called to me, but I swept past him without a glance, as the tower spirit had commanded me.

The peal of a bell broke the air, and I heard a voice cry, “Last call!” I dashed forward until I came to a river, where a boat full of moaning people waited. The boat driver, a tall man with a gaunt face and hollow eye sockets held out a hand. Swallowing my disgust, I handed Charon a golden coin and squeezed onto the boat. It was impossible not to touch the cold spirits around me, despite how their clammy, incorporeal skin made bile rise in my throat. I squeezed my eyes shut and imagined my lover, dear Cupid. I would win him back, no matter the discomfort.

I shut my eyes for the entire ride. Once we reached the far bank, I scrambled from the boat and followed the path. Finally, I came to the black marble steps of Pluto’s palace, but on the lowest stoop, a young girl sat, tears in her eyes. “Please, ma’am. I am so hungry. Do you have any food?” My heart ached for the child, dead and alone in this dismal place, but I knew this was a trick from my enemy. I looked away and began up the stairs.

The doors to the palace were open, but the three-headed Cerberus stood before them. Upon sight of me, the beast barked thunderously. Wincing, I reached into my bag and withdrew a honey-cake. Suddenly, Cerberus sat, his three tongues lolling. I smiled and tossed the honey-cake away from the door, and Cerberus chased, each head competing for the prize. “Good boy,” I said before striding into the hall.

A beautiful woman with cunning eyes met me in the foyer. “Welcome,” she said, “come eat.” She gestured to a table covered with food. My stomach grumbled at the smell of the roasted meats, but I knew this was Proserpine, the goddess of the underworld. 

I knelt on the cool tile. “Great goddess, I am not worthy to eat at your table, though I do not insult your gracious hospitality. Instead, give me a crust of bread.”

Proserpine smiled, and the feast disappeared, replaced by a loaf of brown bread. She handed it to me, and I took a bite. Wonderful tastes filled my mouth, more satisfying than any meal of meat. Strength returned to my limbs.

“You have a favor to ask?” Proserpine prompted as I savored my crust. I hurried to offer the empty jar.

“Venus separated me from my lover, Cupid, and punishes me with horrible tasks. Please, fill this jar with beauty so I may give it to her and win back my love,” I begged.

Proserpine smirked as she took the jar from my hand. “Venus is no friend of mine. I’ll fill this jar so you may see Cupid again.” In an instant, the jar filled with blue light. “Only Venus may open this,” she warned, “else your mission be for nothing.” I nodded my understanding and turned to leave.

At the door, Cerberus barked again, so I threw the second cake. Strengthened by Proserpine’s bread and the excitement of seeing Cupid again, I began to run. I handed my second coin to Charon, this time the only one on the ferry. At the far bank, I dashed away. I sprinted until I could see the stars through the chasm above me. I stopped. Soon, I would meet Venus. I would prove my worthiness, and then Cupid would be returned to me. I became aware of my tangled hair and tattered clothes. How my beloved would laugh at me in this state! I fingered the jar in my pack. I could use a little beauty to clean myself up; Venus had enough already. With this rationalization, I unscrewed the lid. The blue light escaped from the vessel and consumed me. As it flooded my nose, my eyes, my mouth, I was overcome with weariness. I collapsed to the ground, eyelids heavy. Proserpine had played a trick on Venus! Then, I fell into the vice-like arms of Stygian sleep.

Author’s Note:

This story is an episode from Cupid and Psyche that doesn’t get much attention in the text. Venus has kept Psyche, a mortal, from seeing her lover, Cupid, who is Venus’ son. Psyche has to perform a number of impossible tasks to prove to Venus that she’s worthy of Cupid. In the story, Psyche is kind of a waif, and other animals and spirits help her complete the tasks. I wanted my version to give Psyche more drive, so I wrote it in the first-person point of view, and I fleshed out the most exciting of the tasks: the descent into the underworld.

Bibliography:

“Cupid and Psyche” from The Golden Ass by Apuleius. Translated by Tony Kline. Web source.

Image 1: Aeneas and Sibyl in the Underworld. Source – Wikipedia.

Image 2: Psyche in the underworld. Source – Wikipedia.

Week 3 Story: The Ballad of Hector

Alas! Woe to Prince Hector,
Honored Trojan warrior,
Cursed by the gods to be a pawn
To fight and die despite his brawn.
In Olympus, cruel Athena grinned
As Hector awaited the fight to begin.
Andromache and Priam in Troy cried
And immortal Apollo seethed inside.
Because their champion would fall
To the best Greek warrior of them all.
Across the field, Achilles came,
That vengeful, warrior, eyes aflame,
His brand new armor gleaming gold
Forged and hammered by the crippled-god.
Alas, Hector! Woe to Troy!

Before the gates of Troy, honorable Hector waited;.
Sure-footed Achilles prowled toward the foe he hated.
If only the prince had not slain dear Patroclus.
Though the fault belonged to that young Greek’s hubris.
It was Apollo’s hand that sent him to death.
Yet Hector would pay with his final breath

Before Achilles could start the fight,
Poor Hector was overcome by fright.
He fled his death with fast feet
But Achilles’s were even more fleet.
Thrice they ran ’round the walls of Troy
Following the paths Hector ran when he was boy.
Hector’s flight was futile as Achilles pursued.
His god-blessed speed Hector could not elude.

Finally Hector, too young, accepted his fate.
He came to a stop outside Troy’s gate.
He decided to stand to retain his honor
To fight for his city, his son, his father.
Hector turned to face his Greek enemy,
Who would have been friend but for Paris’ folly.
With great strength of arm, he hurled his spear,
And the Trojans at the wall let out a cheer.
His aim was true, and Achilles would have been killed
But his god-wrought plate was made with great skill.
It turned the iron tip aside, and unharmed Achilles began to draw near.
Curse the intervention of the gods and that magical gear!
Yesterday Hector and the Trojans were favored by Zeus.
Now he sides with the Greeks, and there’s no hope for a truce.

Unlucky Hector of Troy cried out across the plain,
And everyone heard the prince’s last strain.
Priam of the Trojans and the Greek kings
Were moved and quaked in their very heartstrings:
“Woe to me, Hector, defeated and cursed!
If only the days could still be reversed.
Today I shall die, my life taken for a mistake
Caused by a god’s dishonorable prank.
Let no one remember that I ran from my doom
But that I went with courage to my tomb!
Let the legends tell of the poor Hector’s fall,
And of mighty Troy, greatest city of all!”
Then he let loose a dreadful roar
That shook Mount Olympus to its core.
Hector charged Achilles with sword-arm raised
Like the talon of a diving hawk, the blade blazed.
The prince fought with keenness and zeal
But Achilles met him steel for steel.
The Greek was bolstered by god-strength and magic,
Making Hector’s mortal strength pale and tragic.

For hours through the day, the matched men sparred,
Neither finding holes in the other’s guard.
Even the gods on Olympus high
Respected brave Hector, doomed to die.
Finally Achilles overcame his cursed foe
Stabbing Hector’s soft neck with a cheap blow.
For the prince’s armor once belonged to him
And the Greek knew its flaw where shoulder met limb.
The plate had been bent by a hammer’s strike
Leaving a gap wide enough to wedge in a spike

Hector sunk to his knees, life-blood gushing.
He spoke quickly, as he could see the boatman rushing.
“Strong Achilles, I beg you with my last breath,
Give my body to my father upon my death.
Tomorrow or the next day the Greeks shall prevail,
So let my funeral be Troy’s final farewell.
For today I have fought with true honor and valor.
Even the gods who have cursed me mourn my pallor.”
And Achilles replied, heart hardened by grief,
For young Patroclus, taken as by a thief,
“You are no better than a fatted swine
And deserve no honored funeral shrine.
Priam shall have no ransom for you.
I’d rather give your body to the dogs to chew.”

And, filled with prophecy in his final minute,
Hector spoke with the last of his spirit.
“With those words you have sealed your fate.
You may have returned from this war rich and great,
But to your enemies you are merciless.
This war shall end, but with your death.
Yes, Troy’s sponsor Apollo will have his revenge.
As you kill me for Patroclus, my Paris will avenge.
The fickle gods will finally turn on you,
And despise your strength, there’s naught you can do.”
And with these words, Prince Hector died
And his soul departed for its last boat ride.
Alas for poor Hector, great prince, great man! 
Mourn for him, and curse the gods’ cruel plan.
May Troy live on in this weary tome,
That fallen city, the mother of Rome.

Author’s Note:
This story is based on a specific episode from Homer’s The Illiad in which Achilles, the Greek hero, kills the Trojan prince and commander, Hector. The Illiad, in short, is about the Trojan War, which was started because Paris of Troy kidnapped (or ran off with) Helen, who was the wife of a Greek king. Thus, the Greeks attack Troy with every intention of burning it to the ground. Achilles is, generally, the protagonist of The Illiad, but I was particularly taken with his rival, Prince Hector, who seemed to be to be the better man and undeserving of his fate. In the original text, the reader sees that Hector is a great leader, a loving husband and father, and an honorable man. On the other hand, Achilles seems prone to anger and pride. Unfortunately, Hector kills Patroclus, who is Achilles’ most dear friend. This is somewhat of a mistake because Patroclus was dressed in the armor of Achilles, and then Apollo hurt Patroclus so he could be killed. However, Achilles does not see it as such and vows to kill Hector for the murder. At this point, Zeus, who has been favoring Troy, decides to let Achilles kill Hector, which is why in my story, Hector feels so betrayed by the gods. I did not change the story very much, aside from removing a few details and adding others, but I wanted to try relaying the story as an epic poem, which is what The Illiad was written as, though we often retell it in prose. I really enjoyed writing it like this because it was a different challenge than writing prose, and I feel it does a good job of capturing the tragedy of Hector’s death. I learned that the traditional meter of epic poems, dactylic hexameter, does not work well in English. Therefore, I wrote it in heroic couplets, which much Greek and Roman epic poetry is translated to for English-speaking audiences. It was fun working with this rhyming dictionary website (Rhyme Zone) to work the story into rhyme!

Bibliography:

“The Slaying of Hector” from The Illiad retold by Alfred J. Church. Web source.

Image: Achilles slays Hector by Peter Paul Rubens. Source – Wikipedia.

Week 2 Story: Susanna and the Last Prince

On a fair and sunny day, the lady-knight Susanna went questing into the countryside, searching for someone to share the time with. After riding for many hours, she crossed the river that formed the border of her country; she had never gone so far before.

            While she traveled down the narrow forest path, Susanna began to hear loud sniffs and gasps of air. She dismounted her horse and followed the sounds until she discovered a beautiful clearing in the trees. The ground was coated with the softest grass, dappled by splotches of sunlight filtering through the trees. It would have been the most peaceful place Susanna had seen, if it weren’t for the young man sitting in the center of the clearing.

            He was sitting cross-legged on the ground, his chest bare. He bore no weapons and had no companions. Even as he saw Susanna enter the clearing, he did not move. He just sat, staring straight forward. His face would have seemed stoic and serious if it weren’t for the tears that dripped from his chin or the way his fingers trembled as they rested on his knees. Every minute, he would draw a great breath to clear his running nose.

            “Who are you?” Susanna asked, approaching the man. “And why do you sit here crying?”

            “I am the prince of this small country,” he answered. “And I sit here crying because I am about to die. There is a terrible monster that plagues my land, and if it does not feast on rich, royal blood, it will eat my people. It has consumed my father, the king, and my mother, the queen. Not more than three months ago, it took my two older sisters, and its appetite has already returned. Every time it eats someone, it grows a new head, so my problems have only gotten worse! I am the last of my family, and after it eats me, it shall ravage my land and my innocent people. I have failed as a ruler.” The prince’s shoulders slumped as his face filled with shame.

            Susanna considered the prince’s plight and decided that she was honor-bound to help in whatever way she could. “You won’t be eaten today, Your Highness. Together, we will vanquish this demon!”

            Still, the prince was without hope. “I see that fearsome sword at your side, lady knight, and I do not doubt your skill with it, but even the greatest warrior cannot fight five monsters at once!”

            “We will put four to sleep, of course,” Susanna said. “It would not be honorable to silence all five and then kill the thing in its sleep. I shall make it a fair fight: one on one.”

            Susanna gave the prince her bow and told him to slay five small creatures and put their blood into five bowls. While he did this, she walked in the forest until she found a stream with a patch of beautiful scarlet flowers growing at its edge. She returned to the clearing with an armful of the flowers. She ground them up with a stone and mixed them into four of the five bowls of blood the prince had prepared, leaving one untainted. Once she had done this, Susanna explained the plan to the prince, who then returned to his place in the center of the clearing, this time with five bowls of blood in front of him and no tears on his face. Susanna took her horse and hid in the darkest patch of trees.

            It was not long before the monster appeared in its terrible glory. Each of its five ugly heads sat at the end of a long, muscular neck attached to a dragon’s sinewy body. It lumbered into the clearing, and the five heads converged toward the prince.

            “Wait, Great Dragon,” the prince cried as the five mouths opened to reveal five hundred sword-sharp teeth. “I know how hungry you must be, so I prepared these bowls of animal blood as an appetizer.”

            The dragon considered this request by sniffing the five bowls. Satisfied, each of the five heads lapped up a portion of the blood.

            Susanna had prepared each bowl with five times the strength that would be used for the flower concoction’s normal purpose: putting soldiers to sleep after particularly painful wounds. Thus, almost as soon as they swallowed the drink, four monster heads began to droop. The fifth, which had drunk the untreated blood, looked at the sleepy heads in confusion. Within a minute, four of the heads were snoring on the ground, and only the one was still held aloft, growling at the prince.

            This was Susanna’s cue. With a mighty roar, she charged from her hiding place and swung her sword at the creature’s thick neck. She dodged the monster’s head as it lunged back, but with most of the beast unconscious, the fight was quick. It took only five slashes to decapitate the monster’s head. Her honor-battle completed, Susanna went to each of the four remaining heads and lopped them off. Finally, the monster was truly dead.

            While the prince lavished his thanks onto Susanna, each of the dragon’s heads began to glow and dissolve. Suddenly, where five horrifying heads had been, there were five people! The first two, a man and a woman, wore gleaming crowns, and the second two, both young women, wore fine diadems.

            “Mother! Father! Sisters!” the prince cried, and he ran to embrace his family. The fifth person, an old man, rubbed his head and explained to Susanna that he was a magician who had messed with the wrong spell and become the monster that had tormented the land.

            Susanna escorted the prince and his family back to their castle, where the people rejoiced in seeing their good rulers returned. The lady-knight remained in that country for many days with her new friends, until the questing spirit sent her toward her next adventure.

Author’s Note:
This story is based off of Susanoo and the Serpent of Koshi. In the original, I noticed that it followed a damsel-in-distress trope, which, while classic, is not the most inspirational of story structures. I also noticed how easy it was to turn the name Susanoo into Susanna, and I love stories about lady knights, so that’s what it became! I liked how the conflict in the original story was solved by cleverness, but I also felt like it was kind of cheating for Susanoo to just kill the monster in its sleep. Because of that, I decided to include at least one small fight in my version. I was also inspired by the metamorphosis idea present in the anthology, and I wanted my story to have a happy ending, so I had the prince’s family come back in the end. This also made a great way to explain why the monster had so many heads!

Original Source: “The Eight-Forked Serpent of Koshi” from Romance of Old Japan, Part I: Mythology and Legend by E. W. Champney and F. Champney. Web source.

Image: Woman in armor at a tournament. Source – Pixabay

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