Excerpt

THE JERICHO RIVER

Illustration and Text from Chapter 3, Death in Egypt

EgyptianTemple -- cropped 900wPassing through was like stepping into a dark otherworld. Beyond the bronze door was a narrow tunnel of stone. Jason realized they must be inside the little pyramid, or beneath it. Tia led them down stairs and around sharp turns, veering into one narrow side-passage and then skipping another. Jason guessed the odds of ever getting back without a guide were one in fifty. The air grew cold, and only the wavering flame of Tia’s torch lit their way.

Finally, after several minutes, a yellow glow appeared at the end of the tunnel. This gave little comfort because it came with an awful odor. The hall smelled of chemicals and rot, and it reminded Jason of the funeral home where they’d taken his mother. He bit his lip.

The light came from a small chamber full of handsome furniture and works of art, including painted statues and figurines of shining metals. Hieroglyphs and color illustrations decorated the stone walls. At the far end, a lean man in white sat in a high-backed chair, and an elderly woman stood next to him. The man wore a tall Egyptian crown, like a bowling pin in a red basket. His skin was pea-soup green. Jason’s stomach turned as he realized the man wasn’t exactly dressed in white. Rather, he was wrapped in white strips, from neck to wrist to toe, like a mummy. His eyes gleamed with lumin fire.

“O great and eternal Osiris Senusret!” said Tia, falling to her knees before the mummy, “Ruler in life over all the Middle Kingdom, beloved son of Osiris, and regent, in his name, over the dead, I present to you Lord Jason Gallo, ruler of Oregon, and his lumin companion, Zidu.” Tia touched her forehead to the floor and then stood aside, leaving Jason facing Senusret.

“Greetings, Lord Jason and lumin Zidu,” said the mummy. Jason cringed as he executed an awkward bow, wondering if he’d heard a hint of sarcasm around the word Lord. “You are both welcome in the tomb of Senusret.” The dead king’s voice was deep and even. “I knew your father long ago, Jason Gallo: an affable and interesting man. I granted him several interviews. I am sorry to hear he is lost, and I hope no harm has come to him.”

“Thank you … Your Majesty.” Jason choked back a wave of disappointment. Obviously Senusret did not know where his father was. “I came because I’m trying to find my father. There was this priestess, in Sumer, and she said you’d know where he is. At least, she said I should come ask you.” He caught a sympathetic nod from the white-haired woman next to Senusret. “My dad and I, we’re not from your world, Fore. We’re from another world, and that’s where he’s supposed to be. But he’s somewhere here, and he may be in trouble. And you’re the only lead I have. Do you have any idea where he might be?” He blinked away tears of frustration.

“Come closer, Jason Gallo,” said Senusret. Jason approached, hoping the dead king wouldn’t touch him but also filled with morbid curiosity. Was he really talking to a corpse? Senusret sat stiff and still, arms crossed over his mummy-wrapped chest. He held a golden crook in one green hand, and in the other some kind of wand, with short rods dangling from its top, like tiny nunchucks. A rope-like, black beard hung from the center of his chin, and he looked neither young nor old. “Yes, I can see the resemblance,” he said. Gleaming eyes rimmed in black liner gazed at Jason. “It is not strong, but I think it runs deep.” The dead king nodded, still stiff. “I know of your Sumerian priestess. I felt her mind and her goddess weeks ago, and I sensed that she searched for your father. But I do not know where he is. It is nearly thirteen years since William Gallo visited me, and I never learned where he went after.”

Jason stared at the white wrappings covering Senusret’s feet, biting his lip. “Well, um, do you … do you know where he came from—where he was before he came here?”

The dead king turned to the old woman. “Nebetit, you spoke with William Gallo many times. From what land did he come to us?”

“He came from Crete, oh great and eternal king,” said the old woman. “He brought tokens of introduction from the king there, from the palace of Red Knossos.”

The dead king nodded, and Jason sighed. The Egyptians’ information was thirteen years old—at least, thirteen Fore years.

“Do you know—Your Majesty—do you know how long it takes to get to this Crete place?”

“Perhaps two weeks by sail, down the Jericho River, and much longer by land.”

Jason glanced at Zidu, who nodded, looking uncomfortable. A trip to Crete would waste time if it was a dead end, but what else did they have?

He turned back to find the smallest of smiles on Senusret’s lips. He gulped as it occurred to him that visitors didn’t usually ask the dead king for travel tips, or even glance away during an interview. “Uh, thank you very much for seeing us, Your Majesty. I’m sorry if I did anything wrong.”

“I wish I could counsel you more,” said Senusret. “But whatever you choose to do, I see that you need rest and comfort before you set out again. You and your companion will be guests of my temple.” This was not so much an invitation as a command. “Perhaps some guidance will come with prayer. My master, the great god Osiris, protects lost fathers and their sons. After all, he was killed but then redeemed by his son, mighty Horus. As Osiris was redeemed by Horus, may your father be redeemed, Jason Gallo, and returned to you.”*

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* As a young god, Osiris marries his sister Isis and rules Egypt. His evil brother Set wants the throne and kills Osiris. Isis, however, resurrects her husband and lies with him, becoming pregnant. Soon Set discovers the resurrection, and he kills Osiris again. This time, he chops the body into little pieces. But even this seemingly foolproof strategy fails. Perhaps Set should have killed Isis, because she collects the pieces—except the genitals, which have been eaten by fish—reassembles them, and wraps them in linen, making Osiris the first mummy. Even worse for Set, Isis gives birth to Osiris’s son: the hawk-headed god Horus. Horus grows up and fights his evil uncle. Neither wins, but Horus does manage to crush Set’s genitals. Eventually, the council of gods decides that Horus is Osiris’s rightful heir, not Set. So Horus becomes king of the living, while mummified Osiris rules as king of the dead.
~ William Gallo, Palace of the Sphinx, 59.

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