This story is by Benjamin Duggan and was part of our 2023 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The massive iron doors slammed behind me. The noise echoing through the stone corridors was deafening as I descended into darkness. Most soldiers don’t willingly choose to traverse labyrinths with nothing but a rusty sword, a dim torch, and string tied around their waist. I’m not most soldiers, I’m Thesus, Prince of Athens, slayer of giants and beasts alike. And now, I walked into the shadows to atone for the one man I should have never killed.
Years ago, Acasius came to Athens for the Panolympic games. That scene seared into my mind for eternity. Acasius had just gotten a bullseye with his javelin and another medal. I was furious, what did he have that I didn’t? Finally I’d had enough and, when everyone went away, my hands strangled the life from his body. This in turn, led to the siege of Athens by The King of Crete, who made a deal with us: In exchange for not wiping Athens out, every year seven youths and seven maidens were to be sent to Crete as sacrifices to the Minotaur. Year after year I would see the boat leave Athens and beg my father that I might go with them to correct my mistake. Year after year he said no. Finally, in the fifth year of sacrifices, I confronted my father and said, “How much longer of this? Innocent people die because you will not let me fix my actions.”
“But…you are my son,” He said.
“And I rather die a hero than be alive and be the shunned son of a spineless king!”
He agreed to let me go with the others that year. From the boat, I looked at my father one last time, tears in his eyes, as he bid me farewell, and we set sail.
On the voyage to Crete, the sailors told me about the Minotaur, the terrifying ‘pet’ of the king that was used to execute his wrath on his enemies.
I wandered aimlessly for how long? Hours? Days? Years? I had found so many dead ends that when I saw another I hit the wall out of anger, which broke my wrist but that didn’t stop me moving forward.
When I first arrived in Crete, me and the other sacrifices went straight to the dungeon and were to be sent to the labyrinth come morning.
“Give me that back! You can’t do that.” I said.
“Too bad, pretty boy!” Said a guard, laughing as he took my sword and walked away, leaving me without a weapon. “Doesn’t matter.” I thought. “I’ve killed one man with my bare hands, what difference does one more make?” I lay there alone for a while, visioning this creature’s blood being drained by my hand.
Then she walked in. there was only a word on earth that attempted to explain what this stranger was: stunning. Golden hair, brighter than the sun, eyes as clear as the Mediterranean. And that smile, the smile that made a man feel strong, like everything in this dark, twisted world was ok and going to get better. She found me in my cell and explained that she would let me out, give me a weapon, and a method to escape the maze in exchange for taking her with me back to Athens. I agreed, and she opened my cell, gave me a sword she said was once her brother’s before he went to Athens, and a ball of twine. I tied one end around my waist and gave the other end to her at the entrance. So off I went, with a plan, a weapon, and a goal: Kill this monster and sail home with this strange girl of my dreams.
Finally, the once tight hallways that I swore there was no escape from, opened up into a cavernous space with beautiful cracked marble walls that shone in the faint torchlight. The reason I was here stood fifty feet away. As big as a mountain, with the body of a man but the head and hooves of a bull. He locked eyes with me as he crossed the room slowly, double-bladed axe dragging on the ground. I yelled and charged at him, striking him in the chest. I was caught off guard by how docile he appeared. His white, piercing eyes begged my soul to release him from his pain. I examined him relentlessly as he lurched forward by the blow and just smiled. Was this a setup? Something to get my guard down so he could strike while I was open? I had come so far for that. This monster had caused so much pain and sorrow for my people. But then an unwelcome thought popped in, “He didn’t cause the pain, You did.”
“What did he do to deserve this? Why should he die, for my mistakes?” There was something human about this creature, this wasn’t some mindless animal.
“What is your name?” I asked him.
“Asterion…I think…it’s been so long.” there was pain in his voice, sadness.
For an eternity of five minutes I painfully pondered this before saying,“Follow me.”
“I…I can’t do that.” He said as his breathing became heavy.
“Why?” I said.
“Because He will kill all.”
“Who’s he? You’ve been down here long enough, come on.” I gestured for him to follow me out. But he didn’t respond, he just stood there, shaking and holding his face in pain.
He dropped to his knees, and in a whisper said, “Run.”
Suddenly, Asterion’s eyes changed from white to red with rage, and hunger. He dropped his battle ax, let out a howl of insanity and charged at me, horns sharp as swords aimed at my tender stomach. I bolted out of the way and started to follow the string back out of the labyrinth. Asterion not far behind, slamming recklessly into walls and pillars on his way toward me. I dropped my torch after he caused an earthquake that shook it free from my broken hand. In a move of desperation I turned and swung. Chink! Pieces of sword and horn flew in all directions as I was cornered now by him.
“How dare you refer to me as that! I am the Minotaur, rightful king of Crete!”
I thought of ways to escape. Only one made sense. I flung the hilt of my blade and the fragments of blade that had held on at him. The metal dug into his right eye. A disgusting squish! The Minotaur roared in pain and charged blindly at me. I readied my shank as I looked at him. This monster needed to die, but I couldn’t do it. Ever since that day, I vowed not to slay another innocent soul, no matter the cause. Then, for the first time in my life, I came up with a plan: I needed to wake Asterion up.
I ran toward the entrance. The twine wound through the hallways and corridors, becoming smaller and smaller, while the Minotaurs bellows were close behind. By the entrance to the maze, the Minotaur charged for me one last time. I jumped for and grabbed the metal handles of the door and held on for dear life. The Minotaur missed me and slammed into the door, stunning him. Suddenly the doors opened, moonlight flooding in, blinding me for a second before I leaped down and ran for the strange girl as the Minoatuar stared at the full moon, its eyes back to being snow white.
“Brother!” she said, hugging Asterios. He just stood there, stunned. Tears flowing down his face.
“Ariadne.” he said.
I readied my shank, confused by the situation. “What is this?” I said
“A family reunion.” Ariadne said. “Asterion is the half brother of me and my brother Acasius.”
“I had been locked in there for my whole life. A living sign of the sins of my father.” Said Asterion.
I turned to Ariadne, “Who are you? Why did you help me?”
“The king is my father. I walked into the jail to see the sacrifices and saw you. It was like the gods were telling me, ‘He is the one to save him’.”
Out of breath, I could only say,
“Asterion, come with us to Athens.”
“I wasn’t made for out there. Release me from this prison. It’s my time to finally be free.”
“No!” Ariadne said.
“Please,” he begged. I could hear the king’s guards starting to assemble; they would be here any second.
I looked into Ariadne’s eyes and said, “Please forgive me.”
“I already have,” She said, looking down at the hilt in my hand; tears in her eyes and a weak smile on her face.
I thrusted the rusty weapon, barely a sword now, into Asterion’s chest. Ariadne and I ran to free the other sacrifices in the jail and boarded the boat back to Athens before the king noticed. My final thought before leaving the island was of Asterion, that tortured soul now free.