The Discovery of Egypt
In a distinctively diverse California neighborhood made up of inexpensive apartment houses and small, aging homes clustered around a large university, a "strange old man" runs a dingy second-hand curio store. The man is tall and bent, and his expressionless face is accentuated by a straggly beard and dark, inscrutable eyes nestled under heavy brows. Nothing much is known about him and the children in the neighborhood are afraid of him; for a reason no one seems to be able to explain, he is referred to simply as "the Professor."
The Professor lives somewhere in the rear of his store, which is backed by a small storage yard housing a battered lean-to and a miscellaneous assortment of items, including a broken birdbath and a chipped plaster reproduction of the bust of the ancient Egyptian queen Nefertiti. The yard is surrounded by a high, wooden fence topped by strands of barbed wire; one of its planks has come loose, making it possible for very slender personages to slip in.
The Professor can peek out onto the storage yard from a small, dirt-caked window covered with a gunnysack at the back of his shop. It is from this vantage point that he witnesses the very beginning of the Egypt Game. He looks out one day in early September to see three children from the neighborhood squeezing through the opening in the fence. The two older ones are girls. One, whom he recalls had come into his store a few days earlier and introduced herself as April, is thin and blond, while the other is African American. The third child appears to be the younger sibling of the second girl; he is about four years old and is clutching a large stuffed octopus.
Once they are in the yard, the children survey their surroundings with undisguised delight. The Professor is called away by a customer then, but when he returns to the window about an hour later, he sees that the children have made the lean-to into an improvised temple, with the bust of Nefertiti perched upon the broken birdbath and positioned in the place of honor at the shack's back and center....
(The entire section is 861 words.)
Enter Melanie—and Marshall
Melanie Ross, who, like April, is eleven years old, arrives at the Halls' apartment a few minutes before noon on that same day. The friendly little girl does not know much about Mrs. Hall's granddaughter, but she hopes that she is close to her in age, and that they might become friends. Melanie is quite surprised, however, when the newcomer opens the apartment door to her knock. April has her hair stacked up in a pile on her head; she has an ostentatious "fur thing" wrapped around her shoulders, and is wearing clumsily-attached pair of ludicrous false eyelashes.
Recovering from her initial shock, Melanie introduces herself, explaining that she has come to bring April up to her family's apartment for lunch. Casually, she asks if her new acquaintance will be staying with her grandmother long, but April responds dismissively that she will only be staying a short while, just until her mother, who is traveling with a band right now, is finished with her tour. Melanie recognizes that April is "showboating," but concludes that she is acting that way because she is homesick.
Up in the Rosses' apartment, April meets Melanie's mother and four-year-old brother Marshall. Melanie's mother is a sharp, neat-looking woman, and April senses that she is one adult who will not be easy to fool. During lunch, April talks a lot about Hollywood, where she most recently lived with her mother, and about the movie stars she has met. Afterward, Mrs. Ross, unfazed by the visitor's braggadocio, suggests that April might like to look at Melanie's books, to see if there is something she might be interested in borrowing.
Melanie is an avid reader, and has quite an extensive "library" in her room. At first, April feigns indifference, but in reality, she loves to read and is quickly caught up in the fascinating selection of items in her new friend's bookcase. By chance, she discovers a collection of what appears to be paper dolls in a particularly dull-looking book. Melanie, who uses them to represent players in an imaginary game in which she makes...
(The entire section is 861 words.)
The Evil God and the Secret Spy
When the children return to Egypt for the second time, they find that everything is exactly as they had left it. April and Melanie spontaneously begin clearing out the dead weeds in the yard, shoving them through the hole in the fence and depositing them in a trash bin in the alley while Marshall stands guard. April then notices that, opposite the loose plank in the fence, there is a door to the storage yard which appears to be padlocked from the outside. Idly, she speculates about where it leads to, and Melanie, after thinking about it, suggests that perhaps it goes "to the rest of the Professor's backyard." This thought makes Melanie feel uncomfortable, and she wonders aloud what the Professor would do if he caught them on his property. April, however, does not think that the strange man would care, as long as they didn't "bother him or hurt anything." Just to reassure themselves, the girls creep to the window, and examine it carefully. To their relief, it seems to be covered on the inside by a heavy cloth, and the glass is so dirty, they conclude that no one would be able to see through it anyway.
While Marshall is digging a hole in the yard with a sharp stick, April and Melanie come up with the idea of having him play the part of a young pharaoh, Marshamosis, while they will be high priestesses who plan to offer him up as a human sacrifice to the evil god Set. This is the way the Egypt Game is played: ideas just "be[gin] and [grow] and afterwards it is hard to remember just how—it is what makes the game so much fun!" Melanie manages to convince her little brother to participate, but before they continue with the game, the girls decide that they need more equipment, so they go out to the alley to look for boards and boxes to use as props, "like thrones and altars." The materials they find are too large to fit back through the hole in the fence, so they throw them over the top, making a horrible racket. A short time later, the curtain covering the small window at the back of the...
(The entire section is 841 words.)
Near the end of September, a new girl named Elizabeth Chung moves into the Casa Rosada. April and Melanie are urged by Mrs. Hall and Mrs. Ross to welcome the newcomer, but while April is generally sympathetic, she is quickly overcome by a sense of insecurity and jealousy. She feels threatened by the idea of letting Elizabeth in on the Egypt Game. Melanie suggests that they should get to know Elizabeth, who is only nine, before making that decision. April agrees that they should help the new girl get adjusted to school and find some fourth grade friends, but she is adamant that the Egypt Game should be kept a secret.
The next morning April and Melanie go down to meet Elizabeth for...
(The entire section is 747 words.)
Summoned by the Mighty Ones
It looks for awhile as if Halloween is going to be a complete waste, because the parents are not about to allow their children to go trick-or-treating late at night in the wake of the recent tragedy. Fortunately, a couple of mothers arrange for their husbands to take the kids in the neighborhood out in groups, so all is not lost. At least twenty-five children are expected to be in the group from the Casa Rosada and the rest of the block, which April notes will be a lot for just two chaperones to keep track of. She calculates that if the Egypt gang stays together, they just might be able to slip away to make a brief visit to Egypt.
Melanie, who at first is...
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After the children have presented themselves before the altars of Isis and Set, April decides that the gods are angry at them for their long absence. To appease them, the Egypt gang must offer "a horrible and bloody sacrifice," the nature of which will be revealed to one of them in a message. Following April's example, Melanie, Marshall, and Elizabeth take turns approaching the Crocodile Stone, a distinctive rock they have found and placed before the altar of Set. With great ceremony, they each wait expectantly for a moment, then return to sit in a circle to share the ideas they have "received." Elizabeth's idea is the most audacious; the quiet little girl suggests that they should each...
(The entire section is 767 words.)
Moods and Maybes
By the middle of the week after Halloween, the original "Egyptians" finally receive permission to play outside in the neighborhood again. The timing is perfect; Toby has been grounded for a few days for ruining his box-man costume, so he and Ken will not be able to come until Friday. Anxious to spend at least one day in Egypt without the newcomers, April, Melanie, and Elizabeth pick Marshall up from his nursery school immediately after class and hurry over to the Professor's storage yard. The sense of happy anticipation surrounding the occasion is dampened, however, because April is in a very bad mood.
Unbeknownst to the others, April had received a long-awaited letter from...
(The entire section is 874 words.)
The Ceremony for the Dead
When Elizabeth's pet parakeet dies, April and Melanie plan an elaborate funeral to help lift their friend's spirits. Before they even get to Egypt, the girls have formulated the background material to explain the demise of "Prince Pete-ho-tep, son of the great Queen Neferbeth," who has fallen nobly in battle. When they arrive at the Professor's storage yard, the original Egyptians are pleased to discover that the new members, Toby and Ken, are "gratifying enthusiastic" about this new chapter in the game as well.
The children's ideas spill forth pell-mell, and in no time at all, they have organized a procession for the honorably deceased. Marshall leads the way,...
(The entire section is 774 words.)
The Oracle Speaks
When the children, anxious to see if the oracle has answered Ken's question, arrive in Egypt the next day, Toby takes charge of the proceedings and assigns April to play the part of the high priestess. With due ceremony, April leads the others in processing to Thoth's altar. After a period of wailed chanting, she takes the paper with Ken's message from the beak of the owl, carefully examines both sides of the missive, then frowns and angrily stomps out of the temple.
When the others, mystified, have followed and gathered around her, April shows them the slip of paper. On one side, in Ken's handwriting, it says:
Will I be a big league star...
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Confession and Confusion
Toby makes arrangements to meet April and Melanie out on the playground during first recess the next day. He has a confession to make: he has been pretending to be the oracle, writing the answers to the Egyptians' questions. Toby explains that he had managed to peek at the queries on the slips of paper while everyone else had been bowing before Thoth's altar. He had then gone home and looked up the main words in the questions in a book of famous quotations, chosen fittingly mysterious answers, and returned to Egypt at night to write them on the backs of the missives entrusted to the oracle.
Toby defends his actions by arguing that he had just been trying to "keep...
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At the police station, Marshall will not answer the inspector's questions, but he will talk to April if she does the asking. The little boy says that the man who grabbed April had orange hair and "spotted" skin. He identifies the culprit as the "man who carries things at the store," but the inspector does not hear him.
The Professor is brought in, looking nervous and disheveled. When April, at the inspector's direction, asks Marshall if the reclusive man is the criminal, the boy responds that he is not. Marshall describes the Professor as "the man who watches us all the time...[from] his window." He says that the Professor is the one who broke the window when April was in trouble,...
(The entire section is 1047 words.)