The Original Zodiac or Philo and Pater

Other submissions by Dacia Weist:
If you want to read their other submissions, please click the links.
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The Sinners' Club (Contemporary Fiction, Book Award 2023)
The Dragon from Guangzhou (Historical Fiction, Screenplay Award 2023)
Trials & Tribulations of Modesty Greene (Historical Fiction, Screenplay Award 2023)
Glue (Women's Fiction, Screenplay Award 2023)
The Sinners' Club (Contemporary Fiction, Screenplay Award 2023)
Trial of Reality (Sci-Fi, Screenplay Award 2023)
Bek (True Stories, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
Letters to the Bottom of Elephant Butte (Women's Fiction, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
In the Interim (Drama, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
Lori; my favorite four-letter word (LGBT, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
Manuscript Type
Logline or Premise
700BC. This is 9-year old Pater's year to transition from child to young man. His pater (father) will be teaching him a new life lesson every new moon beginning on the spring equinox. Pater shows Philo how to read the stars so he knows exactly how to do more than stay alive but to thrive.
First 10 Pages

The Original Zodiac – 700 BC

Music from several reed flutes combined with the beat of handheld drums floated through the air and mixed with the smell of meat cooking over a large pit. The energy when all the village people gathered was nothing short of late summer storm, brewing and moving in harmony. Philo sat with his pater (father), mater (mother) and little soror (brother) as they watched the Vernal Equinox celebration. Some people were dancing or playing games, others laughing and enjoying nothing but lazy conversation. All of the villagers had gathered in the sacred space to celebrate the commencement of another year. The gathering only happened twice a year and this showground had been created specifically for these special nights; the vernal and autumnal equinox.

Philo grinned as he watched the single men try and outperform each other, showing off their strength with hopes of impressing a young woman or two. A thrill ran down his back, this was his year. The year he would transition from child to young man. He could only imagine what was in store for him. Kid’s talked, they shared their experiences of the life lessons. Each new moon brought an education of a expertise that would be useful later in life. In approximately five years he would be expected to take a wife. He needed time to master these skills before taking on the care of a mate and eventual children.

Philo had lived in the same adobe brick, two-room structure his whole life. The sleeping room he shared with his parents and sibling comforted him. The noises of their breathing were like music of its own. He dreamed of his own dwelling, he could picture it in his mind, almost see his would-be wife and hear the soft snores of his would-be sons. He was looking forward to being an adult.

Pater’s nudging brought Philo up from the dreams of his own home and woman to the reality of a predawn departure from the comfortable furs that made up his sleeping spot. Embers still glowed in the pit offering a little light. Not as if he needed any light to be able to get dressed. Philo pulled the buckskin tunic over his head and tied a leather belt around his narrow waist then silently wrapped the leather cords around his ankles to secure his woven footwear.

Pa grabbed a rolled up fur and tied it to the back of his belt then slung a small pack over his shoulder as they left. The sky was dark, the moon had been new the night before, blacked out completely signifying the end of winter, the beginning of spring and a brand new year. The stars stippled the heavens. Philo kept close to his pater, the dark scared him a bit. Things could be dangerous during broad day-light so the dark added an element of risk. They had passed the village boundaries when the sun outlined the horizon at their backs.

“Where we going, Pa?” Philo asked in a loud, childlike whisper.

“To get the doe-lings,” Pater answered matching his son’s tone.

“Where are they?”

Pater pointed upwards, “See those three stars, son?” Philo nodded even though he was entirely sure which three stars of the thousands Pa was pointing at. “Those are Alpha, Beta and Gamma Arietis.” Philo didn’t respond because he didn’t understand. “To make it more easy to remember, we’ll call it Aries.”

The confusion was too much. “What does that have to do with finding the goats, Pa?”

“Everything. Those stars tell us the goats are ready to come home. They lead the way.”

Philo was more worried than he was before. The answer wasn’t really an answer, maybe it was a riddle? How would they walk all the way to the stars and how would the stars know where the goats are. Walking to the stars could take days, he thought. What will they eat, where will they sleep. Philo surveyed the pouch Pa carried. There couldn’t be that much food inside. He glanced back over his shoulder and could barely make out the outline of the small village where they lived. They were already farther than he had ever been from his home. Certainly it would only be a day’s trip and he would be back snuggled in his furs by nightfall. Philo turned his attention back to the stars, his stomach sunk, they looked so far away. Had Pa even brought food? Mater always took care of their meals at home. What were they going to do? Philo marched on, lost in thought.

The sun eventually crept up from behind causing long shadows to bounce in front of the pair. Philo moved faster trying to move the shadow of his head high enough to match the older man’s height as if they were the same size. A hearty chuckled rolled up on Philo from behind. Pater stepped to the side and the boy’s shadow disappeared entirely.

Philo reached his arms out wide and began to flap them like a bird of prey about to take flight. Pater held his arms high and suddenly the shadow looked like a four-armed man. Philo liked this game and moved his limbs with carefree innocence of a nine-year old boy enjoying his last year of childhood.

“Look,” Pater interrupted the fun and Philo’s eyes scanned the rolling hills in front of him. He wasn’t expecting to see the long white splotch that spread like a fallen cloud across landscape. Of course he knew what does were, they were girl goats but he hadn’t expected so many that he would be able to see them from such a distance.

The sun was past its highest point when Pater found them a place to observe the tribe. There were hundreds of goats grazing contentedly not even looking up at the pair of humans. Pater took a long drink from his water vessel and handed it to Philo then he opened the pouch that he had been carrying. Philo eyes grew wide and his mouth began to water when he saw Pater remove two large pieces of naan, roasted garlic spread and some jerked meat. Philo tried to peer in the sack when Pater returned the leftover spread to its storage space. Could there be more food in there? Philo hoped so.

They approached the herd. Collectively, the does started to get uneasy and pawed the ground looking left and right with the beginning of a sense of panic. Pater retrieved a long rope whip that was tied to his back.

“If we’re going to get the whole tribe to move, Philo. I’ll need your help.” Pater explained how he was going to frighten some of the sheep with his whip, when they started to move, the others would follow. He would move the leaders and Philo’s job was to make sure all the other goats trailed along. “Don’t be afraid to make loud noises to get them to obey,” Pa continued, “Look for a stick you can swing around so they know they must do as you tell them.”

Philo swallowed hard. They were going to move all the goats at once? Together him and Pater walked to the main trailhead. Philo found a nice sized stick he could use as a walking stick and a prodding one if needed. Then they walked to the opposite end of the herd.

“Are you ready?” Pater asked. Philo nodded. “You need to watch me and the goats, can you do that?” Philo nodded again. “Watch your back too, we don’t want a hungry wolf to mistake you for a kid.” Philo’s chest seized in a moment of fear. He hadn’t thought about wolves, only goats. He glanced around nervously. “I’ll go to the front now and start to move them,” Pater continued, “you stay here and make sure none go behind you up that crevice.” Pater pointed with his chin and Philo turned to study the potential goat escape routes or the potential wolf lairs.

An anxious feeling swept over Philo as Pater started to jog through the tribe. Philo watched and held his stick at his waist ready to charge a wayward doe. He wanted to impress his pater and show him he was already becoming a man and he certainly did not want to get eaten by wolves. The goats bleated and moaned, their odd eyes watched Philo with agitated curiosity.

Philo could see his pater had reached the opposite end of the tribe. He swung the whip around and it cracked loud when it hit the ground. Pater did it again, and again in a rhythm. The goats near Philo looked up curiosity but without alarm. The front began to move and there was some chaos within the herd for a few confused moments. Philo held his stick above his head and made a warrior war scream. The dozen or so goats nearest him moved away and began to crowd the middle section of the tribe. Then suddenly, just as Pater predicted the goats began to move down the hillside and towards the village as one big entity. Only twice did Philo have to veer from the end of the herd to yell and swing his stick to make a rouge goat move back into the herd.

By dusk they were approaching the outskirts of their village. Philo had a funny thought of taking all these goats back to their dwelling. He laughed at the image of his mother’s face when she saw them coming in. Darkness was setting in making Philo nervous again, he glanced over his shoulder often. If a hungry wolf was going to come, it would be now, just as the sun set. They were close though, Philo didn’t think it would happen but was on his guard anyway. Pater was leading the goat herd toward a large round pen near the outer edge of the village. A few villagers saw them coming and joined them for the last little bit. It made Philo feel safer even though the wolf could eat anyone there was still comfort in the presence of others.

Philo’s ma had a hot dinner of elk stew for them. What a relief he made it to his warm pile of furs to sleep that night. He was exhausted after today’s adventure. Before dawn, he heard mater up and making food, then mater said, “How did it go yesterday?”

“The boy’s got a long ways to go but he did good for his first time out,” Pater replied.

“It is time for him to get up if he wants breakfast before the work day begins.”

The goats were shorn, the wool collected and packed into large bags to take to the women who would spin it into twine and then weave it to cloth. Uncle’s rams were brought and bred with many of the doe. Day after day, the moon got bigger until it hung huge as the sun set. The night after it was full, the moon didn’t make an appearance until after the sun had made it’s exit. It was slightly smaller each night.

Once the goat chores were complete Philo noticed the moon was near black. The next adventure would upon them soon. “Now what do we do?” he asked his father one night after their supper meal.


“What are we doing with Shmoo?” Philo loved their old bull. He had big horns and long, coarse fur. He was such a gentle creature, Philo had climbed on his back many times.

“We’ll stud him out to uncle. They have the milking cows. All goes well, we should get a couple calves sometime after the winter’s solstice. Perhaps we should marry old Shmoo off, what do you think?”

Pater shrugged not knowing if the old bull would want a wife and calf, he’s just an old bull. Early in the morning, the day after the new moon, they set off on their task.

“Well look at that,” Pater said pointing to the pre-dawn sky, “it’s Aldebaran.”

“What?” Philo asked scanning the sky for something unusal.

“That star that tells us it’s time to get Shmoo to Uncle’s cows if we want to have little Shmoos”

The sun back lit the eastern hills. The flowers were in full bloom giving the air a pleasant floral scent. Philo scanned the sky trying to discern one star from the next as the sun extinguished them one by one.

Shmoo had a loose rope tied around his neck and followed with ease until they reached Uncle’s dwelling which sat at the outskirts of the village not far from the goat pens. Without warning the big bull became agitated and started side stepping, trying to free himself of the lead. His horns were too big to just toss off the rope. Some of the older men were already outside smoking their pipes. They cackled encouragement to Shmoo as he hesitantly moved past the wooden gate into the herd of cows.

“Go introduce yourself,” they laughed, “give you some time to warm up to the married life.” Philo felt a moment of awkwardness because he didn’t see what was funny but managed a little smile.

The next few weeks were busy preparing the land for planting the garden. There was nothing new to this chore, it was something Philo had done with his mater his entire life. This year it seemed more serious somehow; perhaps it was because he was learning the life lessons.

They retrieved Shmoo a few days after the moon faced off the sun at dusk. It was the opposite of when they came, now the bull didn’t want to leave. It flared its nostrils and postured itself pawing and stamping the ground.

“Don’t be like that old man,” Pater said as he cautiously slipped the rope around Shmoo’s neck and secured him to a post. Uncle appeared yelling and whooping and swinging his hat around above his head. It was a shock to see his uncle behaving this way. The startled cows agreed and jumped. They started to move towards the open gate, Shmoo pulled at the rope around his neck and bellowed loudly. Further down the way, there was a second pen with its gate open. Philo’s cousins were on either side of the opening and manipulated the cows into the empty pen. Once Shmoo was alone, Pater went in and untied the tether. Shmoo followed, there was no resistance now the females had been moved.

When the moon grew dark and then began to grow without a new lesson, Philo sought out Pater. “Is that all? What do we do next?” he asked.

Pater smiled and patted his son on the head, “There’s still plenty of work to be done. For your next lesson, well, you’re already doing it,” he explained, “The tilling of the earth and the planting of the seeds during the darkest part of the month is to ensure the best harvest. If we don’t’ do that, we’ll have no food to eat this winter.”

“But what about the lesson?”

“It’ll come when it comes,” the answer was vague and left Philo wondering if he would ever know enough about life to be a man on his own.

Another week passed without anything out of the ordinary. The moon was getting lean again and would be pitch black in another week. Then one afternoon when the sun was high, the family was enjoying a lunch break after a long morning of tilling and planting. Two men came to their dwelling. Pater jumped up and greeted them with enthusiasm.

One man held a roll of papyrus, the other talked to Pater about their recently planted garden. Pater recited the seeds they had recently sown, he told the men about their goats and mentioned Shmoo’s visit to the milking cows at Uncle’s. The three men stepped outside and Philo followed as Pater showed the pair their water vessels on the north side of the house. The man without the papyrus asked questions about the business relationship Pater had with Uncle. Once the meeting was over, the two strangers left.

“Who were those men?” Philo asked when they had gone.

“They’re the census takers,” Pater replied.

“Why did they come here?”

“Well, it’s important to know who’s having children, who’s planting squash instead of beans, who has extra cows or pigs or chickens. All of this information is useful for our community to grow and thrive.” Philo nodded in deep thought, Pater continued, “this is the third lesson in becoming an independent man. Keep track of your mammon, son, report it to the census for the greater good of the settlement. It’s important to be a part of something bigger than yourself.”

“Are there stars for the census takers?” Philo asked.

“Castor and Pollux.” Pater smiled. “I’ll show them to you tonight before bed. You’re catching on already, Philo.” Philo beamed with pride.

Once the seedlings came up and became sturdy the garden didn’t need to be tended as much. Philo’s mater and soror had taken over the daily watering. The moon was dark again and once the longest day of the year had past Pater brought a large skein of plant fibers to Philo.

“Weaving is woman’s’ work,” Philo said hastily. Certainly none of these lessons included women’s work.

With a chuckle, Pater continued to loop and twist the twine, “women’s work, men’s work, son it’s all the same. We live more contentedly when we all work together,” he didn’t look at Philo but continued to weave the fibers.

“What are you making, pa?”

“Crab pot,” he continued his weaving without looking up. Now Philo was interested in the project. Crabbing was not for women, that was man’s work.

“I love crab,” he said more to himself as his father showed him how to loop the knots needed to create the cylindrical contraption. For several days, the two worked