Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 774
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...
(The entire section contains 774 words.)
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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, carrying a smoking incense burner, followed by Elizabeth, the Chief Mourner. April and Melanie represent the "mourning populace," and they proceed, chanting and scattering flowers salvaged from the trash bin behind the local florist shop. Bringing up the rear are the two high priests, Ken and Toby, carrying the bier of the dead prince.
The ceremony unfolds with great drama, and Toby in particular throws himself into his part, staggering, wailing, and beating his chest with mournful abandon. His demeanor is so different from the "cool-cat sophistication" he maintains at school, that the girls are amazed, and unwittingly find themselves following his example. Reserved Ken also does "a lot better than anybody would have expected" in the spontaneous play-acting, although he never does quite overcome his deeply ingrained sense of self-consciousness.
That evening, Toby goes home and does some research on mummification, and the next day, he directs the immersion of the dead Prince Pete-ho-tep in a solution of salt water. The result is quite a mess, and everyone is a bit queasy when the soggy body is retrieved after an overnight soaking. Toby, however, saves the day by pouring fresh water over the dead bird and drying it with his T-shirt. Pete-ho-tep emerges "almost as good as new," and is buried with proper honors in a pyramid made of old bricks.
As the children become more comfortable in the land of Egypt, they forget about being cautious and secretive about their endeavors. They carry on their ceremonies and discussions in normal tones, and no longer worry about being discovered. Only Marshall, however, is aware that they actually are being watched, and he chooses not to tell.
The Oracle of Thoth
The next project undertaken in the Egypt Game is inspired by a talk about oracles given by the older children's sixth grade teacher. April, Melanie, Ken, and Toby are fascinated to learn that many ancient countries had depended on oracles of one kind or another to look into the future and help rulers "decide how to run things;" conveniently, one of these countries had been Egypt. After much discussion in the Professor's storage yard that afternoon, it is decided that Thoth, Toby's stuffed owl, will be the oracle in their magic land, and that the Egyptians will take turns asking him something. Each asker will write his or her question secretly on a slip of paper, which will then be hooked to one of the owl's sharp talons and left overnight.
It is Ken, the one person who does not want to be chosen, who earns the honor of being the first to question the oracle. Reluctantly, he pens his query on a piece of paper, folds it, and hands it over to Toby. With great ceremony, Toby presents the paper to the oracle; he is so convincing in his exaggerated solemnity that the others find themselves "almost believing" that he is communing with an "ancient and powerful being," and that something "strange and supernatural" is going to happen.
When he is finished with the dramatic ritual, Toby hustles everyone out of the temple; he does not want anyone to have a chance to tamper with the slip of paper so that they can see "what the oracle can do all by itself." Alarmed that his cohort and the others might actually think that what they are doing is real, Ken protests, exclaiming, "Sometimes I think the whole bunch of you guys are going off your rockers!"
Toby reassures his friend that he does not "think anything" about what they are doing, "at least not anything for sure." Then, lowering his voice mysteriously, he suggests mischievously that "you can never tell...after all, [oracles] used to work...." Simultaneously, the six children look back at the temple-shed, which, in the waning afternoon light, is engulfed in shadows. The Egyptians are overcome with a collective chill, and rush as one to escape through the opening in the fence to the alley.