Chapters 19-20 Summary

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Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 809

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...

(The entire section contains 809 words.)

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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 things livened up," but admits that sneaking down to Egypt alone in the dark had been quite scary. He says that he had actually been "about to quit the oracle business" even before the others had decided to, because when he had been heading home from his last late-night venture to the Professor's storage yard, someone had been in the alley, and had tried to follow him.

The problem Toby, April, and Melanie must face now is what to do about Marshall, who fully believes that the oracle can help him find Security. After a short discussion, the three older children come up with a plan. April, who will play the high priestess, will conduct the ceremony of consulting the oracle as usual that afternoon, and she will pretend to read off the back of the little boy's query that Security has gone to visit relatives in Los Angeles. Melanie reasons that this will give everyone more time to look for the precious stuffed octopus, and, if it still is lost, Marshall will at least have a few days to get used to the idea that Security is really gone.

That afternoon in Egypt, everything goes as planned, until April makes the eerie discovery that, on the back of the slip of paper entrusted to Thoth, the words

Look under the throne of Set

have been written in a fine, completely unfamiliar script. Marshall happily goes over and reaches under the egg-crate which makes up the altar, and pulls out his slightly damp but otherwise intact stuffed octopus. As the ecstatic child sits with a radiant smile, hugging Security to his chest, the others gather together in alarm. Looking at the temple "that they had made themselves, out of ordinary stuff and their own imaginations," the children wonder: what in the world have they done?

Fear Strikes

The Egyptians continue to meet as usual over the next few days, but as a whole, no one really wants to try consulting the oracle again. Instead, the children sit around and talk; Security and the mysterious response to Marshall's question is a frequent topic, but they also discuss things like Christmas, which is right around the corner, and the still-unsolved murder in the neighborhood.  

One evening, the Rosses ask April to stay with Marshall while they go to a concert with Melanie. While April is getting ready to go down to their apartment, she finds that her math book is missing and concludes that she must have left it in Egypt that afternoon. After playing with the kid for awhile, and reading him a story, she decides that she will run down to the Professor's storage yard to fetch her book. As it will only take a few minutes to get there and back, she plans to leave Marshall, who is occupied with a project, alone in the apartment, but the little boy insists on coming along. 

It is much scarier going down the alley in the darkness of night, even though Marshall is carrying a flashlight. At the storage yard, April pushes aside the loose board in the fence, and she and Marshall enter Egypt to retrieve the math book. They then make haste to leave, and the little boy shines the light on the opening in the fence so that April can squeeze back into the alley. Just when she is reaching out to help Marshall come through after her, something seizes her, and a large hand covers her mouth so she cannot scream.

In the brief struggle that ensues, April twists the loose board in the fence so that the rusty nails holding it let out a piercing shriek. She catches a glimpse of Marshall, who is holding the light and inexplicably looking over his shoulder at the window in the wall of the Professor's store. She hears the "splintering crash" of a window breaking, and the rasp of a strange voice shouting, "Help...help!" The crushing hands holding April release their grip, and when rescuers arrive, they find her lying on the ground, and Marshall squeezing out through the fence to meet them. 

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