Passages From The Dead (Revisionist Stories about Trojans and Greeks)

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Busted (Tax Dollars at Work) (Creative Non-Fiction, Book Award 2023)
Manuscript Type
Golden Writer
Logline or Premise
The 4 parts are anti-war, -authoritarianism, and -organized religion. Helen, widely blamed for the war, is given a chance to speak in Part 1. Wrath, about Achilles, is a love story. Ajax's story is a murder mystery. The last story presents Penelope's version, bringing many characters together.
First 10 Pages



My life happened as if I were in a waking dream. I observed myself as a character in a play, a movie, a show. Time compressed, events happening too quickly. The action, fanciful. The feelings, exotic. The characters and actions, symbolic. The terror and horror, stunning. It couldn’t be true. I never awakened. It never happened. Or did it?


The Blue Aegean

(Helen’s First Origins Story)

Clover walked slowly past the cliff’s edge, seemingly hovering on air over sky, her suddenly panic-stricken feet whirling with nothing beneath, trying to catch ground, plunging in slow motion one hundred feet above me.

She had renamed herself Clover. “As sweet as honey, Helen,” she used to say to me. Clover had been a brothel slave on Pirates’ Island for a while before my arrival, always cheerfully talking about a better life coming soon, tall, slim, witty, and charming. Her prince had never found her. He had never come. You could see her on the cliffs looking out to sea, keeping a lookout, lighting a candle. I saw her that day from the beach, standing on the cliffs over me. I don’t think she saw me. She didn’t wave or nod or do anything to suggest recognition. She stared straight out at a distant horizon, her point of fixation far out to sea, a kindred spirit, a sister, with a lookout for freedom. Where could it be?

She bounced off the rocks fifty feet below, her body shifting to horizontal, then plunging head first into the next landing, bouncing again into nothing but air, her limbs dangling, no longer moving. Her head hit the rocks by the beach, her body bouncing, a squashed pumpkin sound echoing. Clover lay motionless, thirty feet in front of me, incoming waves washing toward her, rolling sea sounds enveloping me. I ran, but it didn’t matter. No matter how far I ran, I could never escape. It follows me always. I awake and find the horror is real, even worse than I dreamed. No harbor in which I sleep is safe. I must keep moving, perpetually restless, in search of relief.


Our Sea of Troubles, the Aegean, home to an immense population of islands, stretches north and south, ironically a blue paradise on the northeast end of a vast sea known as the Mediterranean. My parents were merchants from the southern island of Crete, running commercial vessels to distant lands. Goods were offloaded and replaced with the mundane, like wheat, and the exotic, like spices, which came from trading routes going south. Travelers told of ships on southern seas beyond Africa and Asia, which voyaged under different stars. Our crews mostly rowed steady penteconters, galleys with fifty oars. Many ships would typically venture from Crete to Egypt, and from there to ports in the north, exchanging merchandise, making a profit at each destination. The third leg, the voyage home to Crete, completed the transactions.

My parents charged me, Helen, with an education. My mission was to learn our script and how to use numbers. The writing consisted of symbols, each representing a concept or syllable. The numbers were comprised of symbols representing amounts. I knew three languages in addition to the Greek we spoke.

The island of Crete sat on the south extreme of the Aegean, halfway between the Greek mainland and Asia, partway to Egypt on the south shore of the Mediterranean, a fortunate intersection in the middle of the known world. Fierce battles were fought over these waters, many ships finding the bottom, their crews’ shouts drowned by masses of water as they were sucked down stadia after stadia. The winners, the Cretans, known as Minoans, with their totem, the bull, were positioned to collect tribute, payments for the use of the sea routes. Crete ruled the waves for hundreds of years, becoming fabulously wealthy, putting more money into war and war fleets than their rivals, establishing an empire of the seas. The pushback came from the mainland, their coalitions forming fleets, which challenged for supremacy. The maritime struggle eventually bled the Cretans into weakness. An Athenian-led expedition sank large segments of the Cretan fleet, landed troops, and forced a new accommodation without tribute or fees. The Greeks felt avenged, making up stories about monsters, claiming Cretan women lusted after animals, spreading these tales around the Aegean. The Greeks characterized themselves as victims, claiming the Cretans violated their sea freedom. The Cretans remained skillful sailors and captains of commerce but were inundated with Greeks. Crete was divided into many small city-states ruled by Greeks. The populations blended. It was from these that my father descended. These people could engage in commerce, navigate the oceans, and form coalitions.

I was born into this Aegean imperium, a loose confederation of traders in independent city-states spread throughout the region, each a kingdom in its own right. The imperium spilled into the broader Mediterranean, including the Ionian Sea on the southwest side of Greece. My merchant family lived in the city of Phaistos on the south shore of the island of Crete. Our city on a hill overlooked a river running to the harbor and sea. Warehouses extended back on the plain from the harbor. Switch-backed avenues climbed the hill. The old defensive walls and stout gates were no longer used and had become dilapidated. A valley full of produce and grains stretched behind us. Harbor watchtowers provided a grand view of the comings and goings, ships with multicolored sails bobbing in the water, and colorful orchards and fields stretching to snow-capped mountains behind us. Treasure was kept in a citadel in the hills behind us.

My childhood included lots of play on the waterfront, mostly pretend with friends. Armies and navies moved at our whims. Pirates were sunk or favored, depending on our script, which we invented as the action proceeded. I played the pirate queen. We voyaged clear ‘round the Earth in less than a day, voyages as fantastic as the real ones awaiting me.


My parents began to take me on routes into the Aegean in merchant convoys designed to ward off pirates. The northern routes included ports on the mainland, both Greece and Asia. We toured the islands. There were too many to count, and no one knew how many there were. Civilization had not come to some. Many islands were uninhabited. You had to be careful around these. Pirates were adept at turning them into hangouts, anchoring ships inside hidden coves, using camouflage to hide ships and buildings. They were careful with smoke and fire, not wanting to give away a location to marauding fleets. Pirates attacked pirates, and cities sent out avenging daggers to bury deep in a pirate’s back. There were hangings and beheadings but not much in the way of trials. Cretan sea captains were the law of the sea. All captured pirates were legally executed, whether given a hearing or not.

While the Aegean archipelagos generated much trade, it gave pirates safe havens from which they could sally and raid. How could the sea sprout so many islands, dozens if not hundreds? The complexity of memorizing the many islands of the Aegean archipelagos was aided by grouping them.

Our voyages took us to what we considered the north coast of Asia, mostly known for the city of Troy. The Trojan citadel sat on a hill, much like my hometown of Phaistos, overlooking a harbor with warehouses and connecting roads. Troy was like Crete in some respects. Although they spoke Greek quite well, it was a second language. While they worshipped the same gods, it was hard to tell which they adored more, gold or commerce. Their enemies said they put both in front of the gods, predicting catastrophe.

I voyaged there last with my parents just after turning twelve. Our ships anchored in the harbor, the farthest point we would travel both north and east, our cargoes offloaded and replaced. We were invited to a banquet in this city on a hill hosted by its king, Priam. We were given a tour from the walls, viewing the straights from the towers and the sea to the north. Mount Ida towered to the south. We watched the sun set over the Aegean to the west, déjà vu descending upon me time and again, as if in a loop between past and future. The stars came out, turning in the heavens, the sky putting on a magical show.

Dinner was served in a banquet hall with minstrels, déjà vu once again upon me, feeling as if I were stuck in a loop forever. We sat next to a young man from the other side of Greece who lived in an island kingdom, introducing himself as Odysseus, quite the flirt. A man of many stories, he came with his merchant fleet to seek a fortune. I surmised he needed a wife, imagining myself at his side. One man kept staring at me, a Trojan prince, one of many. There were about fifty, Priam being kept busy by more than his wife. This shy one, Hector, didn’t speak except to say I looked like his older brother. I looked carefully after that for this look-alike but didn’t find him. I also looked for sailors from ports beyond our seas, listening for unfamiliar language. Mostly, I kept an eye out for the scourge of the seas, pirates, confident they were hiding among us. Finding none of the above despite careful spying, I fell asleep at Father’s side, waking the next day as we started preparations for our pirate-free return voyage to Crete.


Our merchant fleet would divide into fours, each with a destination kept secret except from the captains and their designees. There had been no reports of pirates, the seas being pronounced calm and safe. Our flotilla would head for an island chain with twelve major islands on the Aegean east, the Dodecanese, before turning southwest to Crete.

A nightmare descended on me, as they often did when sleeping at sea. The sea was frightening, with formidable depth, overwhelming breadth, and panic-inducing storms causing pulsating anxiety. Lightning flashes pursued me as I ran down endless corridors, opening doors into angry, thunderous clouds. I could hear the storm closing on me, the thunder louder, then louder still, waking in a sweat, breathing fast and hard, gasping for air. I awoke and found that the sounds had not disappeared with the dream. I wondered whether I was still in a dream as sometimes happened, dreaming I was waking, then waking into a dream, frozen, unable to move, terrified, unable to breathe, a presence nearby making no sounds. Bolting upright, I suddenly realized the dream was true.

The sounds were real and outside my cabin. Men were screaming, bronze clashing with bronze. I ran to the cabin door, the sounds of battle growing fiercer, the door opening into water rising from the deck below. The thunder had been real; the sounds of ships colliding, our timbers splintering into the night. I ran again to the stairs and the upper deck. I knew how to swim, but who wanted to jump? Father turned, looking at me with horror on his face. Pirates! Just as in the stories told late after dark.

Mother fought by his side. A blade slid clear through Father’s neck. Mother’s turn to scream before being thrown to the deck. The pirates were fascinated by this new blond treasure, pulling her robe over her shoulders: One fell on her, she being face down; the others erupting in gleeful laughter, clapping in time to an unheard beat, their preoccupation increasing my odds of escaping. I bolted for the railing, jumping into the night, hitting the water, turning and swimming to I knew not where, just away from pirates and their victorious fleet, our treasures now theirs, our ship kept afloat by hawsers fastened to pirate ships while hands looted our treasures. Let loose after the cargo had been offloaded, the vessel would merge with the waters, possibly glugging through depths until hitting bottom or, retaining buoyancy, floating uselessly just below the surface, disappearing into time and from memory, except mine.

I swam through the night, knowing I was surrounded by islands, hoping to hit land in some random fashion. I suppose I did more bobbing and floating than swimming. The sails appeared on the eastern horizon as the sun rose behind them. I wondered who they were and whether they could see me. The oars swooshed through water, the ship’s first audible sound. The sound increased in volume, becoming a steady whoosh. It looked as if the boat would pass by at a distance of several hundred stadia. I was exhausted and confused, not knowing whether I should hope for rescue. As the man in the bow pointed, the ship turned toward me, taking time.

This lookout had spotted me. The crew pulled the oars from the water, the ship gliding on its momentum. The team rowed backward, slowing, stopping the galley dead on the water before tossing lines. This was followed by two splashes, one for each swimmer. These crews were adept at pulling jetsam and flotsam from water, knowing the ebbs and the flows, the tides and the gyres, which way the loads floated, secret maritime data. My rescuer reached me, turning me face up with his left arm hooked around me, kicking and stroking with his free arm. The other man retrieved and readied the lines. I could feel a line rap around me, over my shoulders, then under them. I was pulled from the sea, up to the ship, falling on my back on the deck, thinking of Mother, she shouting no as I had leaped.

A slim man with a beard stood over me, long arms akimbo, smiling. He had the air of command. “Good morning, my dear.” I had no reply but wondered where I had landed after my night swim. “Give her a minute, then take her to my cabin. Let her rest there from her long dip. Make sure there’s a guard. No more swims, eh? I imagine she’s the jetsam who ejected herself from the ship last night, making quite a splash before disappearing into darkness. How else would she get here? Do you have a name?”

He stared at my blond hair and perfect face, my blue eyes rolling up, locking onto his. He fell in love, not the first time, but perhaps the first with perfection. “He. Hell. Helen,” stumbled out.


“Yes, Helen,” was all I could say.

“Don’t worry. You’re safe with us. You can be sure we will treat you right. No one touches her, you understand. She’s worth gold, lots of it.”

“That other one must be her mom. Blond and blue. Just the same. No more than thirty, I would say. She must be worth silver. But we touched her, all right.”

“She had nothing to lose, did she?” The question was followed by raucous laughter.

“I wouldn’t know,” caused even more laughter, although I saw nothing funny.

“What do you mean?”

“Didn’t go there.”

The entire crew was made stupid by laughter.

Pirates! This very morning. They had found me, pursuing me in dreams until my capture.

It sounded as if Mother had had it rough but remained alive. I hoped I could see her, be with her. The presumed captain pointed to stairs leading below the deck. A taller, thick man with arms made huge from years at the oars led me to seclusion in a cabin on the sea.

Mother had been kept on a different ship. I would see her only once again, a momentary glimpse from the distance of an anchorage of our ship as pirates offloaded her at a slave-trading port. Mother, human cargo, shuffled down the dock, her eyes focused on the past. My father had met her in a far port on the distant Black Sea, a descendant of tall northern merchants who sported blond hair and blue eyes. These trade routes from afar connected with ours, linking frozen domains with us, from us to Egypt, from thence to torrid southern lands, and to the west and beyond. For those who could see and were bold enough to retrieve it, profit poured forth from the intersection of these routes, golden rain falling on a blue sea.

Father had fallen for mother hard and fast, love at first sight. She was just fourteen, an appropriate age for a first marriage, tall, blond, and blue. Mother’s parents would have sent vengeance squads if they had ever learned of her fate. The northern men were taller and fierce at war, although preoccupied with trade. They had different gods, my mother telling me about them in stories, tales making them sound heroic and brave, but not real, like our gods. They were mere superstitions, left over from an uninformed past. My grandparents were probably dead: I had never heard from them. Nonetheless, I entertained myself with daydreams of gored pirates, avenging north angels slicing them in half, sending their leftovers to the depths.

I was twelve and in the grip of pirates. Mother disappeared into slavery; Father was just gone. I would survive as a commodity, a golden sexual curiosity. The pirates took me to an island brothel they owned in secret. I learned about pleasure in this place, schooled by women twice my age in arts girls shouldn’t know. While I didn’t understand the goal initially, it became clear eventually: my sale price at a future fourteen depended on looks and virginity. Meanwhile, I would live on Pirates’ Island, dreaming of revenge, my powerful imaginary fleet battling pirates into submission, then torturing the survivors for years until they were mercifully visited by death.

By the gods, I’ve been captured by pirates at age twelve. What becomes of me now? What happens next?