• digitalmedia80

One Man’s Hero

Updated: Jun 15

Rebecca Power, U6, was highly commended in The Classical Association Competition, judged by no other than Stephen Fry. The task was to respond to the theme of ‘Heroes’.

A pale light filters through the thick air, struggling to make its way to the ground. Helen sits up, gazing at her reflection in the dented metal of an abandoned vehicle. Curling, black hair clings to her neck, knotted and untameable. Her father used to brush it, but the last time that happened was… Helen bites her lip and counts back through the winters: Bungalow, Tree House, Foxes, Frostbite, Death. Five years. Her hair must almost be dreadlocks by now.

She turns to look at the Border. After weeks of watching it, the towering structure of smooth, burnished steel still seems impenetrable, a mighty foe to be defeated. Conquered. Slayed.

Helen pulls a crumpled book from her chest pack, a relic of the ancient past found in the rubble of the Inside. As she flicks through it, she pores over the detailed illustrations, pausing on certain pages: Heracles and the Augean Stables; the Trojan Horse; Jason and the Dragon; Theseus in the Labyrinth; Pandora’s box; Icarus. These names mean nothing to her but she knows the images as though they are part of her, ingrained in her mind from the thousands of times she has fingered the curling pages. Though she cannot read, the pictures reveal epic tales. Stories of warriors defeating their enemies, conquering cities, slaying beasts.

Stories of heroes.

Noting the position of the sun in the hazy sky, Helen stands, leaving the book open on the grass. Without looking back, she strides away. Her path joins a stream, the water stained by ash and pollution. The boulder she has placed is still there and she shifts it, pushing her frail frame against the rock until it rolls onto the stream bed. Icy water dances away, rerouted to a freshly dug ditch. Helen waits.

"What the-”

“It’s gonna damage the drones!” A distant exclamation of shock comes from the supply deck at the bottom of the hill. “That’s freezing!”

Helen edges down the slope, flitting from tree to tree. Near the bottom, she passes two guards who are struggling to contain what is now a rushing torrent.

“What in- Where did this come from?!”

Once on the concrete supply deck, she scans the surrounding fields, but they're empty. She isn't surprised. The Border serves only as a reminder of the prison the Insiders are trapped in, a tall and formidable structure impossible to penetrate. Nearly impossible.

Open wooden crates are scattered around the deck, the packaged food long since emptied and distributed by drones. Helen unties the wooden panel strapped to her backpack, taken days ago from a broken container that had rolled off the deck. She clambers into the nearest crate, holding the panel above her head. The container shifts on its wheels as she crouches down.

Curling into a ball, she lowers the panel into place above her. The space is tight and Helen’s breathing becomes shallow as she flattens herself further.

“Let’s just pack this up ASAP.”

The guards are returning, their frustrated conversation muffled by the boards surrounding Helen on every side.

Her container moves as a guard grabs it. There is a short pause, perhaps as he glances in. Helen feels every slight breath bursting from her. Her chest rises and falls and she imagines the false bottom shifting slightly. The guard noticing. The light flooding in.

Instead, the wooden lid clicks into place and the container is rolled away. She is safe.


Lift doors close and Helen's stomach drops as they begin to rise. By the time the lift slows to a jerky halt, Helen feels faint, affected by the movement mingled with her growing anxiety. She cranes her neck as much as possible, focusing on finding a gap in the base. She spots a thin line of light beside her knee, a slit in the panels. With careful precision, she pulls a flask from her pocket, angling the top towards the crack.

As the containers are rolled out of the lift, a trickle of liquid pools onto the wood. The container rattles and a droplet slips away. It drips from the box, leaving a dotted trail behind the oblivious guards. Helen sighs with relief.

After a few minutes, the crates clatter to a halt and she hears the sound of a door slamming



Helen waits a moment, listening. Shifting, she moves the panel balanced on her, pushing it upwards until it knocks against the lid. Again, there is silence. With a shove, the lid loosens and she emerges.

The room is black as a moonless night. The occasional flashing of a red light reveals smooth, metal walls. Helen reaches out, feeling her way around the containers towards the wall, in the hope of finding a door. Her hip knocks against a crate and she flinches, tripping over something unseen. Fumbling, she reaches out to grab the crate, but it slides from her grasp. There is a brief moment where there is only the quiet hum of wheels turning. Then the box

clatters against a shelf and a hollow knock ricochets from wall to wall, amplified tenfold.


A door swings open beside Helen. Light fills the room, which Helen can now see is a storage space that extends further back, filled with shelves of equipment.

“What was th-”

Helen's been practising. Within seconds, she's extracted a small bottle from her chest pack and thrown the contents into the face of the guard. He splutters, sweeping his arms out to grab his attacker, but soon the frenzy gives way to drowsiness. Helen watches as his eyelids droop and his knees buckle beneath him, a smile tugging at her lips. Her own slain dragon, albeit a slightly underwhelming one.

Her hand snatches at the keypass around his neck, which she tucks away. Straightening, she glares at the hollow black eye of a camera that has swivelled to look in her direction. It's time to move.

She steps from the room. Corridors angle left and right, a labyrinth of unknown passages. Pulling a torch from her pack, she shines it against the floor. It casts a luminescent purple glow as Helen swings around, searching for…

There. Under the torch, an invisible droplet lights up. She scurries towards it and the rest of the trail reveals itself, the gleaming contents of the canister pointing back the way she has come. All she has to do is follow.

Helen is breathless by the time the lift comes into view, but she can't afford to stop. Time's running out.


The keypass glows green and the lift doors slide open. Helen steps in, slamming her hand against the highest button. Whirring, the lift begins to crawl upwards. An eternity passes before it finally grinds to a halt and the doors slide open.

Helen steps out onto the roof of the Border.

A concrete plateau sweeps away on either side, encircling the prison in which she has lived her entire life. Behind her, the wasteland of the Inside lies, hundreds of metres below. She begins to run across the expanse, her soul lifting as the Outside nears.

Ahead of her, a barbed fence borders the edge of the roof, the final obstacle in her path. Helen’s pace slows, and she pulls a small box from her chest pack. After placing it with care beside the barrier, she darts behind an air vent. And waits.

The distant sound of the lift opening reaches her. She crouches. Thumping footsteps approach along with urgent shouts. She risks a final look at the box before the soldiers run past.


Helen covers her ears.

Far away, someone finds a book lying on the ground. An illustration catches their eye. They grimace at the image, which depicts Achilles dragging the broken body of Hector through the dust. Below, the caption reads:

Sometimes, it seems to be the hero who commits the worst atrocity.

An explosion shatters the air. Soldiers fly backwards, pierced by debris. Ears ringing, Helen rushes past the scene of chaos, her shoes sliding through rubble and blood. A gaping hole beckons her. Without a thought, she leaps through, thrusting herself into the empty air. The Outside lies before her, stretching away into the distance. She sees cities glowing with light, cars driving along smooth roads… signs of life. The parachute on her back billows out and suddenly she is flying, soaring over compounds and rows of barbed wire. Large signs read: Quarantine Zone. Keep out.

But Helen cannot read. So she does not know.

She does not see the bodies blown apart on the rooftop. She does not hear the screams of people below. She does not sense the deadly virus that she hosts, lying dormant in her cells. All she feels is the wind in her hair, as she imagines the endless opportunities that await her.

And so, Pandora’s box is unleashed upon the world. Except this time, there is no Hope.

#classics #myth #creativewriting #competition

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