I have decided to create a new habit of writing a short story every month and posting it on my blog! This is the first one I wrote for the month of January. It is historical fiction based on a book I’m reading for history in school. All the characters here are fictional, but the settings are real.
I want to give a quick shoutout to Rebekah Doose, Lucy Lively, and Katherine Bernard for helping me beta-read this story. Thanks, you guys!
So, enjoy reading my first published short story, and let me know what you think in the comments!
The Young Stargazer
Tamzi scrambled up the temple wall, only stopping for a second to catch his breath before he began climbing again. The Mesopotamian priests were still distracted at the base of the temple, but they wouldn’t be for long. Tamzi had to get to the observatory at the top of the ziggurat before they caught him.
He was just about to the top when suddenly his tunic caught on something. Bother these silly dresses, thought Tamzi. Why can’t we just wear something easier to climb in? He thought his position was secure on the small ledge in the ziggurat wall, so he turned to see what his garment was caught on. One of the bricks in the wall was sticking out, and one of its edges was sharp. As he was climbing, his tunic must have gotten stuck on it.
Tamzi took his hands off the vertical wall to remove his tunic from the sharp brick. He pulled on the fabric, not caring if it tore or not. If he didn’t get out of sight soon, the priests would finish talking and notice him. Even though Tamzi had had lots of practice climbing the ziggurat wall, he had never done it in the light of day. And now he was regretting his decision to try it.
Suddenly, Tamzi felt the brick ledge under him shift. He barely had any time to think about what was happening before the ledge he was standing on crumbled, and he began plummeting down toward the hard street below. He screamed, probably alerting the priests below, but who cared? He was about to die anyway.
But just as Tamzi expected to hit the ground and leave the earth forever, he instead fell on something soft and cushy. Well, at least his death wouldn’t be painful. Tamzi slowly opened his eyes, expecting to see bright puffy clouds covered in white light. Instead, he was in the center of a circle of men. But not just any men. The Mesopotamian priests.
Before Tamzi could say anything, one of the priests spoke. “What do you think you were doing up on the ziggurat wall, boy?” he asked sternly. He was an older man with greying hair, and his richly colored tunic was of the finest cloth. Tamzi knew this must be the head priest, Utultar.
“Uh, sir, I mean, Your Excellency, I was just, um–”
“No, you were not just doing anything,” Utultar said. “Answer me directly, without all your stuttering.”
Tamzi gulped. “Your Excellency, I was trying to get to the temple observatory at the top.” Tamzi closed his eyes, expecting the reprimanding that was sure to come.
“You stupid boy, why didn’t you–” Ultutar began, but another priest cut him off. Or rather, another boy.
“Wait, Father,” the boy said, holding up a hand. “Why were you trying to get to the observatory?” he asked, directing the question to Tamzi.
“Um, I just wanted to look at the sky,” Tamzi answered, deciding honesty was the best way to deal with this.
The other boy smiled but quickly hid it. “Get away, you beggar!” the boy said, trying to act stern. “You have no business looking at the stars.”
Tamzi quickly rose and began scrambling off the large pillow he had landed on and down the street, not caring to look back. He was lucky he had escaped without any punishment. If Utultar’s son hadn’t stepped in, it would have been much worse.
Tamzi ran all the way back to his alleyway in the corner of the city. He curled up in the corner, determined to get some sleep before he went out again tonight. He was planning to do what he always did every night, despite the day’s events.
When the cover of night returned, Tamzi scrambled out of his makeshift bed in the corner of the alleyway. He ran past dark buildings, hiding beneath their shadows as he went. He arrived at his destination a moment later: the beautiful, majestic ziggurat.
Tamzi had a habit of coming here every night after all the Mesopotamian priests were asleep. He liked watching the stars and charting them on his roll of parchment he had “borrowed” from the temple. Or rather, stolen. Stealing was the only way to make a living as a poor orphan boy.
He was disappointed he hadn’t been able to get the data he was looking for earlier today. He had been trying to see if the stars and moon were visible during the daytime, but before he could do any of that, he had fallen from that ledge, and the priests had discovered him. Tamzi was still nervous about his secret nightly visits to the temple. If anyone found out…
Suddenly, Tamzi thought he heard footsteps nearby. He stood still, knowing that if whoever was here saw him, he could never revisit this temple, and he would never be able to get as close to the stars as he had been.
The sound of footsteps grew louder and closer, and Tamzi prepared to run if need be.
“Ho, there, Tamzi! I thought you might be here.” Tamzi recognized the voice as the boy who had saved him from the high priest Utultar earlier that day. Tamzi didn’t know whether to hide or to run.
The boy emerged from the shadows, recognizable in the dim moonlight. “There is no need to be afraid,” said the boy. “I am not going to report you to my father, anyway. He can be merciless on perfectly good people who just want to get a chance to do what they love. Trust me; I know what it feels like. I have always wanted to join the Babylonian army, but my father is convinced I must be a priest when I’m older. I’m only fourteen now, like you. I can take you up to the temple if you want me to. I know how to unlock the door.”
Tamzi didn’t know what to say when the boy finally finished his rant. Could he be trusted? He had saved him earlier, but it could be a trick…
After a few seconds of silence, the boy continued talking. “Well, before we start, I suppose you will want to know my name. I am Adrahasis, but you can just call me Adra. My father insists that everyone call me by my long formal name, but I like plain Adra. It sounds better.”
Tamzi was glad Adra talked so much. It made it easier to stay silent instead of responding.
“Tamzi, I know you’re there,” said Adra. “The dark isn’t so dark that I can’t see you.”
There was silence as Tamzi still didn’t respond. He didn’t exactly know why, as there was no reason he shouldn’t trust Adra.
“You’d think I’m talking to a stake in the ground with the silence you’re giving me,” continued Adra. “If you want to know how I knew you would be here, I can tell you. One night I was coming here to pick up a scroll I had accidentally left while I was working with my father, and I thought I saw a shadow creeping up the wall. I looked, and it seemed someone was climbing up the ziggurat, but the shadow soon disappeared. That night was yesterday, and now today, when I saw you fall, I knew it was you. I resolved to come here tonight and watch for you. Now here you are. Are you ready to go into the ziggurat now?”
Adra waited for a response.
Tamzi thought. He felt as if he could trust Adra, but did he want to? He was so used to coming here solitary, with no outside help. Was this the best way to do things? In the split-second that Tamzi had to think, he decided yes. He could trust Adra.
“We can go,” said Tamzi simply.
“Okay, let’s get started then!” Adra said, taking Tamzi’s arm and leading him quickly toward the front door of the ziggurat. “For a second, I thought you weren’t going to talk at all. You are quiet for a young boy. Why? I love to talk.” Adra went on and on with his chatter, but Tamzi listened. Maybe he could learn something from this boy. He probably had some experience in stargazing. After all, he was the high priest’s son.
The two boys entered in through the front door, which Adra unlocked. Adra ran up a long flight of stairs, pulling Tamzi behind him. Tamzi could barely keep up. Wow, Adra is fast, Tamzi thought.
In a few minutes, the whirlwind of the majestic spiral staircase ended, and Tamzi found himself with Adra, up on top of the temple, the whole heavens before him in all directions.
Adra let go of Tamzi’s arm. “Beautiful, isn’t it?” he said. “I always like to come up here. I haven’t been able to in a while, though.”
Tamzi was too occupied studying the stars to pay any attention to Adra. They were like tiny dots of sunshine, spreading out over the wonderful sea of the dark sky. The moon was there too, like a big star, or perhaps lots of small stars combined. Tamzi especially liked the moon. It was…
“I like you, Tamzi,” said Adra, interrupting Tamzi’s profound thoughts. At first, Tamzi was annoyed, but when he looked over at Adra, he saw such a genuine honesty in his eyes that it made him stop. “We can be friends, right?”
In that moment, Tamzi knew that Adra would be a great friend. They could study the heavens together and learn from each other. They could gaze at the beautiful star-sprinkled sky, under the light of the moon, and enjoy the companionship of two young stargazing boys, companions who would one day do something great. Without hesitation, Tamzi said, “Yes.”