There was and there wasn’t a baby boy named after the moon. He came into the world just before the stroke of midnight near a broad and majestic palm tree not far from the Nile River. His Aunt Salama assisted his mother in birthing him, and as soon as he opened his eyes he stared at the constellations as if morphed from a star to a human. And he was named Amasis.
Before the dawn came, and before the sun licked the freckles on his little round face and gossamer red hair, his mother fell asleep and never woke up. His Aunt Salama had no choice but to honour her sister and raise this little boy as her own alongside her seven-year-old son Rebus, who, as soon as he saw his new brother, whispered, “I promise to always protect you from the dust to the moon.”
Though Rebus was technically his cousin, Amasis felt he was his true brother. “Like two stars that twinkle together,” Amasis would say every time they spoke the same word simultaneously.
There were no bare walls inside their comfortable mud-brick home. Amasis had a penchant for carving patterns into the walls and floors, most often of the stars and the skies that he admired. And sometimes he would sneak one of his aunt’s metal hairpins or find a sharpened stick or a bone awl so he could etch symbols from his dreams on the stretched leather of his wooden cot until he would fall asleep. Salama knew but didn’t mind, as she quietly admired how her sister’s son had made their little home transform into a pictorial paradise. Her eyes would light up whenever she saw Amasis, her moon boy, and Rebus, her little symbol of riddles and imagination, play within the cosmically engraved walls.
Rebus was fascinated by his young cousin’s talent, often squinting and tapping his fingers on his cheek like a pharaoh inspecting a piece of gold. He encouraged Amasis to draw even more detailed scenes and wished he could acquire some papyrus so his cousin could help him capture some of the amazing things he saw in his dreams: unusual objects in the sky or pareidolia, and often an old lady with the longest hair he had ever seen, frizzy and containing multitudes of dangling objects he didn’t know if she’d collected by accident or on purpose. She wore the most unusual attire, not a kalasiris or a shendyt, but a sheath that covered her arms and had many colours and textures woven within it, much like her extraordinary hair. He would tell Amasis to draw the object the lady held, the one that fanned open and clapped closed.
Amasis would often try to interpret Rebus’ dreams and stories while the two boys sat under that fruitful palm tree, Amasis bouncing around in excitement and using a stick to draw in the sand. Then they would erase it. “For the eyes of the constellations and only the two of us,” Amasis would say. “Our secret to keep.”
One day Amasis ventured into an unknown area near the statue with the lion’s body and the man’s head. No one knew what it was called, although people sometimes called it Σφίγξ (sphinx), a word bestowed upon the figure by the Greeks. It was commonly known that people from the village should not go there, that it was full of traps, riddles and peculiarities, or that one could get lost forever in a labyrinth facing a minotaur-like creature. But it was never explicitly said why.
Amasis’ foolhardy attitude made him wander closer to the sphinx when there were no guards. “What would they do to a little kid like me anyway?” he said. “Give me a few lashes? Pfft, I can handle that. I have a strong back!”
He crept closer and closer and he noticed a stone the size of his forearm missing on the bottom of the pinkie talon of the sphinx’s paw, half covered by a sand pile. He looked right to left, left to right. “My lucky day, the coast is clear,” he thought and was proceeding to dig when a hand clamped down on his forearm.
When he looked up, at first the light was so bright he thought he’d been swallowed up by the sun. But when he shaded his forehead with his other arm, he stuttered, “You. You’re the lady my cousin has seen in his dreams. Are you a dream right now to me too?”
“How do you know my name? Am I in trouble? I-I-I’m sorry.”
“Listen, child. Enter or not, you will see where you came from and where you will go. But . . .” She paused.
“The answers will be revealed when you use the gift you were born with to find the one thing that you have desired.”
“What do I desire?”
“If you want to be a part of the constellations, then you will come back another time and know what to do.”
As soon as Amasis blinked, the lady vanished. He scanned the surrounding hills but she was nowhere to be seen.
He quickly dug in the sand around the opening until there was a hole big enough to fit a child. After wiggling his way in, he looking around in utter wonderment. Although he had to crouch at first, he was able to straighten his body as the ceiling grew larger in height. Using the beam of light shining in from the paw, he could see that the inside of the sphinx was painted a brilliant turquoise.
“What am I supposed to find here?” he said aloud. “Everything is blue. There is nothing on the walls—nothing.”
Then he noticed a mountainous pile of blue powder. He jumped up and down, so excited he fell and rolled around on the sandy floor. Rebus had told him this was what they used for painting, and he’d always wanted to try it. He ran right up to it and smeared his cheeks with the powder, marking himself like the god he wanted to be, “Amasis, the god of stars and dreams.”
But his shoulders sank in realization—if everything was already blue, then how was the blue powder going to show on the blue walls? He had nothing with him to transport this powder out, not even a pouch. But he was desperate to paint with it.
Suddenly, he inhaled a little bit too much of the powder on his cheeks and sneezed, a dust of blue spraying the wall in front of him.
Amasis wiped his face with his blue hands in disbelief.
There, in an extraordinarily bright, never-before-seen tint of white paint , was a pattern of stars, but only a few.
Eager to expose more, Amasis continued to blow blue powder onto the walls around him haphazardly. But this was not a job for one day, or even two. It would require many, many visits to unveil the full message.
Amasis squirmed out and dashed back home. The cool Nile River winds combed through the humid air as dusk approached.
“Rebus, Rebus, you never will believe who I saw and what I did today.”
“Something to do with the blue powder all over your hands and face? You should clean that before mother arrives. Then you can tell me.”
Amasis explained and Rebus listened. And by bedtime, Amasis whispered, “Do you want to see the magic? I’ll take you there tomorrow.”
The following day the boys ventured to the claw, Rebus narrowly fitting through the makeshift entrance.
Rebus was astonished as he blew blue powder onto the walls. “Brother, this is an astronomical job, bigger than the galaxy above us. We will never finish unveiling this.”
“But I have to, the lady said.”
“I can’t always come to help you, I have to help mother with the milling. Why don’t you just bring some of the powder home to draw with? Here, have my pouch and I will find you some papyrus.”
“I’ll be careful, I promise. I must do this. Look Rebus, see how straight my back is. I’m the invincible god of stars and drawing.” He smiled ear to ear with his hands on his waist.
Weeks went by and Amasis continued his daily trek to the claw of the sphinx, through rubble and sand, through palm trees and green blades of grass, one foot dry, one foot moist as he followed the banks of the Nile. He would time it so the claw of the sphinx was shaded and the guards were not there.
Every day, he revealed more swirls and stars, more drawings of unusual birds with gigantic beaks or silver wings, of flowers and fruit with hundreds of seeds, and of symbols that seemed like hieroglyphics but simpler, with straight lines and subtle curves. It was like a story he had to piece together, and he could hardly wait to get back home and draw them out on the bits of papyrus he kept under his cot.
The more he worked, the brighter the light was from the inside. The patterns were emanating a faint luminescence.
One night, as he scurried back over the rocky quarries, he realized a guard had spotted him. The guard grabbed his shoulder and kicked Amasis behind his knee so hard he fell to the ground. He then kicked him all over, especially his back.
“That will show you, you scoundrel, you mutt. Do not mess with sacred property. You are lucky I don’t kill you or call the other guards.” Then he left, sneering as he wiped the sweat from his forehead.
Bruised and bleeding, Amasis attempted to call for help, but his cries echoed on the edge of the dusty flattened hill. All he could hear was a buzzing of men moving in worker-bee fashion. He rolled to his back to stare upwards. The constellations were about to surface in the dusky sky, the only source of light by which to see the bright red welts blooming on Amasis’s skin. The blue powder was embedded beneath his fingernails and speckled along his hands, smudged on his cheeks. He looked like the god he wanted to be—the god of stars and dreams.
All he could think was: “I need the blue powder to find the secrets.”
“Amasis, Amasis, wake up, wake up.”
Rebus was slapping Amasis’s cheeks and shaking him. “Don’t go now, don’t. What will I do without you, my cousin? Please breathe, breathe for me, squeeze my hand, something.”
Amasis started choking, coughing up dust, and painfully turned to his side. His vision was blurred by the swelling around his eye sockets.
“I’ve got to get you out of here, it’s not safe. Look what they did to you already—this blue powder of yours is going to get you and me in trouble.” Rebus trembled as he reached in his satchel and applied a poultice that would reduce the inflammation. “Mother always told me to carry these herbs and some cloth as you never know in this arid land when one would scrape a knee!”
Weakened, Amasis rolled to his aching back once again and looked up. “Look at the constellations. So beautiful, I want to paint that.”
“Yes, I know, it is beautiful. But right now your talents are sadly wasted.”
Now that it was nearing midnight and almost pitch-black, Rebus had no choice but to throw Amasis’s wiry frame onto his back and return to the sphinx paw. They had no torch and the close cacophony suggested that a crowd was coming.
Rebus gently pushed and tugged at Amasis until he slid down into the hole. Following him, Rebus was astonished by how bright it was inside with no light.
Now that they were alone, a sense of relief overcame him, and he lay beside Amasis until they fell asleep.
When they woke up there was no sunlight cast onto the walls.
“It must be daybreak?” Rebus said, but inside he was starting to panic, feeling his way around the edges of the paw. The hole was no longer there. It had been closed up.
Amasis opened his eyes sleepily . “So you’re helping me now to uncover the secrets? Mother always said two sets of hands are better than one!”
Keeping his voice even, Rebus turned to Amasis, “I will always be there for you, little brother, from the dust to the moon.” He looked around again to see if he could spot any holes but there were none. He didn’t want to tell Amasis. “Let’s get to work to uncover more. I’m here with you. We may have a lifetime to find out now.”
“Really, you’re the best big brother anyone could have. We are like two stars that twinkle together!”
When the cousins did not return, no one in the village knew why. Salama cried for so many days that she could have filled part of the Nile. Her two sons, the red-maned moon and the squinty-eyed dreamer, had vanished. The village gossip claimed they were taken by slaves for petty thievery. One evening she dreamt of the same kind of unusual woman that she had heard Rebus and Amasis speak of. “The claw has the answers,” is all the woman said, and disappeared.
Salama understood nothing until she removed the crumpled linens on Amasis’ bed and discovered some kind of a map. A ring marked around the sphinx’s claw and a dotted path from what looked to be their mud house.
Salama set off the following day. After checking that the guards were not around, she walked the perimeter but saw nothing to indicate the boys were there. Then after a second walk lap she stumbled upon a clump of red hair twisted in a strap of leather that she knew belonged to Rebus’s pouch.
She started to hyperventilate when a kind-eyed guard came up and grabbed her shoulders.
“Lady this is not the place for you. I will not say a word if you go back to where you came from.”
“Oh please, kind man, please, I believe my missing sons are inside here.” She showed the hair and the leather strap. “It’s theirs, I know it’s theirs. A mother knows her sons.”
“What do you want me to do? There is no passageway around the claw.”
She turned to look again in the same area and noticed a patch of stones of different shape and texture.
“Here, look, see this? This stone doesn’t look right. Someone closed it up. What if they are trapped inside and can’t get out?”
Before the kind guard could reply, a couple of other guards approached, snickering.
“Well, well, well, what is going on here?”
“I know she isn’t supposed to be here but this poor lady believes her sons may have gotten trapped. If it’s true . . .” He turned to her. “Lady, what do you do for a living?”
“I mill. I mill wheat and make bread.”
“This lady here will give us all free bread for thirty moons if we help her and keep this quiet amongst ourselves.”
Salama nodded, and the men helped tug and pull the stone until there was a space large enough to squeeze a small woman through.
“Are you sure, lady? We can open this a little more and get one of our men.”
“No, I will.”
Salama breathed in as hard as she could and slid through.
The room inside the sphinx’s toe was extraordinary. It was beautiful. It was astounding. From the patterns alone, she knew her sons must have been here. The brightness was so overwhelming that she called out for her sons, even though so much time had passed she understood the unlikelihood that they would have the power to respond.
But the interior of the sphinx was empty. Salama finally saw a bright blue circle made of powder, the elusive blue powder she often saw Amasis smeared with. In the middle of the circle was a silhouette of what looked to be Amasis and Rebus, their arms around one another’s shoulders, and strangely the boys’ initials of “A” and “R”.
“My boys wanted to reach the stars, now they have become the stars,” she whispered and began to cry in bitter sweetness, for she felt guilty for not finding them earlier. But now there was nothing she could do but honour them. “They found home. Born to be brothers, died as brothers, always together like inseparable stars.”
“Lady, are you alright?” the guards called and reached inside for her to come back out.
She didn’t tell them a thing of what she found, just that she was sorry to have wasted their time and they should immediately block the entrance back up so that no fool goes in there.
And then she kept her promise to bake them bread for thirty passing moons.
BIO: I was born in Australia to Armenian/Syrian parents. I am now living in Montreal and I have traveled the globe, from Paris to the Middle East! I have studied Creative Writing, Arts & Entertainment Marketing and Design. I have reviewed for Quill & Quire, Canadian Children’s Book News Magazine, and Resource Links, which is distributed throughout libraries and schools across Canada and the United States. Currently I completed my debut novel where you will find elements of fantasy and fables like The Blue Powder within it. In between my writing, I run EnviroARTWORX, an environmentally conscious educational company.
This clipart of a Sphinx by Charles Holme (1914) was sourced from here.