This story is by Darrell Eugene McGuire and was part of our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The morning sun shone bright across a green meadow toward the closed up gates of the city of Troy. A flare of light reflected back from the shield of a lone figure who stood before the walls. The warrior struck a bold stance upon his golden chariot. Tall with broad shoulders rippled with sinew, the Trojan champion posed a challenge to the new day.
He had foregone the use of his charioteer for this morning’s encounter. There were to be no others to cloud his vision or encumber his efforts. His hands were on the reins, eyes on the encampment across the battlefield. Hector lifted his voice to the heavens.
You Spartans! Hear me! I come alone once again to your battle. I remind you that this is your war, not mine.
I am Hector, son of Priam, who is king of Troy. I have killed thousands of your warriors. I have shamed into exile Ajax, who was your greatest champion. His girdle that he yielded to me in exchange for his life now binds my loins. I slew Patroclus and wear today the armor that was his and given him by Achilles.
Ajax was your best. Now, then. Send me your second-best so that I can put down his life as well and end this cursed war forever. That, or you can return post-haste to your homeland and leave us to ours. Subsequent to this duel that may occur, I shall lay down my sword forever and take up a life of peace. Respond, noble Spartans! Yield and go home.
A roar of cheers went up throughout the encampment. Though it was not in praise of Hector’s words. The throng parted, and another came forth from it. A scarlet-colored chariot, also with a lone passenger, drove out halfway onto the field and spun about so that he who drove it could be seen for who he was. The newcomer called out.
THERE, HECTOR! PAY HEED! IT IS I, ACHILLES, WHO WILL MEET YOU IN BATTLE ON THIS DAY!
There was an anxious murmur amid the crowd that stood behind the walls of the city. “Achilles!” they exclaimed. “It is the hero, Achilles!”
Ah, but Achilles! You were to have retired from this war and left it to others. You wanted no more of it. And now you are back?
IT IS SO! BACK I AM, TO CHALLENGE YOU. IT WAS ODYSSEUS WHO URGED ME FORTH. I RETURN TO BATTLE TO AVENGE THE HONOR OF MY DEAREST BROTHER PATROCLUS WHOM YOU HAVE SLAIN. AND FOR MY FRIEND AND MENTOR, AJAX, WHOM YOU HAVE DISHONORED.
FOR AJAX HAS NOW FALLEN UPON HIS SWORD, TO ATONE FOR THE DISGRACE THAT YOU PUT UPON HIM. I HAVE COME TO RETRIEVE THE ARMOR THAT PATROCLUS WORE THAT WAS MINE. I SHALL EXTRACT THAT ARMOR AND THE GIRDLE OF AJAX FROM THE DEBASEMENT OF YOUR TOUCH!
PREPARE TO DEFEND YOURSELF. ACHILLES IS UPON THEE. NOW!
Achilles. Hector feared none other but him. To slay him, who could not be slain. There was no chance here of a Trojan’s victory. Should he fight the Greek’s finest hero and die an honorable death? What good would come of that? None had come of any other of the battle losses they had suffered. But should he run and wait for a better day, he most surely would be thought a coward forever after. Still, survival has a chance, while death offered none. But look!
Achilles charged. His stallions’ hooves thundered forth in a cloud of dust.
Hector pulled his horses to, fell back, and beat a hasty retreat. He cowered thus from the undefeatable warrior who pursued him. Hector drove the Trojan steeds as hard as they could run. Achilles chased him three times around the walls before Hector looked back and saw that he would not escape his assailant’s wrath. He suddenly turned and brought the chariot around to face his nemesis. And his inevitable death. And now, Hector charged!
The Trojan champion raced with full force into the brunt of the fight, spear held high above his head. He gripped the reins in his left hand held down low and out of the swing of his weapon. Achilles stormed straight toward him. Moments to go before they clashed in mortal combat. This last great battle. Achilles down and the war would end here and now. Hector dead, and the war lost, the walls of Troy down forever.
At the last moment, Achilles wheeled about, leaped away from the side of his chariot, and hit the ground running. He ran full speed toward Hector. Such a warrior! He would take on the battle hand to hand, foot to chariot!
What? Stop? What do you mean, stop? You can’t tell me to stop!
I am Hector, and I bid you stop!
No, no. You can’t do this. You are only a character, and I am the Author. I write. You die. That’s the way it works.
I see what you have done. You stole this story from the blind poet, and you intend to get me killed. You know very well that Achilles is invulnerable and cannot be slain. End this, forthwith!
The story is an old one, it has been told before. I will not change it now.
I won’t do it!
You have to do it! This is ridiculous. I can’t argue with a character who was nothing at all until a few minutes ago. You only exist in this story, and you can’t tell me what you are going to do and what you are not going to do. I am writing the story, not you! You only live there on this page, because I created you. You are a fictional character!
I don’t exist, then? But you just plagiarized me into existence, and now I bloody well do exist! You want me to fight a duel that I cannot possibly win, and I refuse to do it.
You can’t refuse. There are boundaries that are set up by objective reality. You cannot cross those boundaries.
Oh? Now, what then if I twist this about, and turn the tables on you? You pick up the sword, and you face Achilles in my stead! You do that while I take up the pen and write?
No, you can’t do that! That’s impossible. You can’t, uh, wait …
Author suddenly found himself atop the chariot, reins in hand. To his alarm, Achilles had leaped to the ground and now charged him on foot, sword held high. Author panicked, fumbled a spear from its wicker carrier, and hurled the weapon toward his assailant. The javelin struck its target. It found the throat of Achilles, but Achilles brushed it aside, and it fell to Earth. Then Achilles snatched back up from the ground the projectile that Author had thrown. He held it aloft as he ran up to the chariot, and plunged it deep into Author’s …
You can’t do this! Let’s get this straight. I am real and you, Hector, are fictitious. I have a family and a dog and live in a house. You are a scribble on a page. There are those rules that prevent this sort of thing. It is reality as opposed to illusion. Step back across the boundary and get on with the story as it is supposed to play out. End this foolishness. Now!
Hector screamed: I am done in! Achilles plunged the spear deep into his throat.
The Trojan fell back and gasped out his dying breath: I beg of you, Achilles, do not desecrate my body. Allow my family to care for it unto its proper burial.
I SHALL CALL UPON THE DOGS OF THE FIELD AND THE CROWS OF THE FOREST TO FEED UPON YOUR WRETCHED REMAINS! YOUR FAMILY SHALL SCRAPE UP WHAT IS LEFT OF YOUR CARCASS!
Immediately, Achilles took his sword and slashed deep wounds across the legs of the dead Trojan. He pulled down from Hector’s loins the girdle that Ajax had given him and threaded it through the leg wounds. He lashed the other end of the girdle to the back of his chariot, turned about, and drove his stallions at full speed into the dust. Achilles dragged the vanquished Trojan hero’s remains back toward the walls and around the circumference once more, before the eyes of Hector’s family.
High on the parapet stood Hector’s brother Paris, the youngest son of Priam. Paris drew an arrow from his quiver and fitted it to his bow. He took aim, pulled back the string, and called to his patron goddess: “Aphrodite, you whom I have called the fairest goddess of them all: guide this shaft to its perfect end.”
The shaft flew straight and found its true target deep within the left heel of Achilles. A gasp arose from the Spartans …