Chapters 17-18 Summary
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 someday?
On the other side, in an unfamiliar, cramped script, is a cryptic response, which reads:
Man is his own star, and that soul who can be honest, is the only perfect man.
April accuses first Ken, then Toby, of answering the question addressed to the oracle, but both boys vehemently deny doing any such thing. An argument ensues, and ends only when Melanie diplomatically suggests that they try the whole thing again, with safeguards so that none of them will have a chance to tamper with the process. It is decided that April will ask the next question, and when she has duly written her query on another slip of paper, Toby presents it to the oracle as before, and the children, as a group, get ready to take leave of Egypt.
Even though all of the Egyptians are certain that one of them had managed to write the answer to Ken's question and is lying about it, the feeling as they turn away from their magic land is one of spookiness and unease. The weather is threatening, and black clouds are moving in. Suddenly, there is a clap of thunder, and as heavy rain begins to fall, there is bedlam as everyone rushes at the same time to escape into the alley through the hole in the storage yard fence.
Where Is Security?
The next day is rainy, and altogether unnerving for the six Egyptians. In addition to their anxiety about April's question to the oracle, they must also deal with the problem of Marshall, who has lost his precious stuffed octopus, Security, and is a very unhappy little boy. When the school day ends and the children can finally return to Egypt, Security is not there, and Marshall is devastated. He refuses to take part in the ceremony of consulting the oracle, and just sits to the side, watching the proceedings with "big sad eyes."
The others, without really knowing why, are not very excited about going on with the ceremony either; it is almost as if they are a little afraid of finding that an answer has been given to April's question of the day before. Finally, Melanie gets things going, taking on the role of the high priestess. When the time arrives for her to take the slip of paper from the beak of Thoth, she examines it carefully, and looks "long and hard," first at the other Egyptians, then at the stuffed owl. With sudden decisiveness, she rushes out of the temple, throws the paper to the ground, and exclaims, "I think we just better stop playing this awful game!"
Someone grabs the piece of paper from the ground, and...
(The entire section is 862 words.)