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The Judgment of Osiris -- Short Story
 

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The Judgment of Osiris -- Short Story


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  The Judgment of Osiris | A Short Story Exclusive | Theresa Crater | Crystal Star Publishing

  The Judgment of Osiris

  The Judgment of Osiris

  A Short Story Exclusive

  ––––––––

  Theresa Crater

  ––––––––

  ––––––––

  Crystal Star Publishing

  Copyright © 2013 Theresa Crater

  All rights reserved

  By payment of required fees, you have been granted the non-exclusive, non-transferable right to access and read the text of this book. No part of this text may be reproduced, transmitted, downloaded, decompiled, reverse engineered, or stored in or introduced into any information storage and retrieval system, in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented without the express written permission of copyright owner.

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

  The reverse engineering, uploading, and/or distributing of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author's rights is appreciated.

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  The Judgment of Osiris

  Iris held her breath as Owen set his plate down on the table, but the omelet didn’t slosh over the side and no olives rolled to the floor. He sat down before the bounty with a satisfied sigh. His favorite waiter, Ali, appeared at his side as if summoned by some secret signal.

  “Chai leben.” He pronounced the Arabic with relish.

  “Yes, Dr. Owen,” Ali said with a dip of his head.

  Iris took a sip of her own tea to cover her smile. Owen only had a master’s degree, two actually, but all the keepers and waiters in Egypt honored him with that appellation.

  Owen loaded his fork with hash browns and filled his mouth, closed his eyes to chew, entirely in his element. He loved Egypt so. And breakfast here? Nothing could be better. He talked about this hotel at least once a month when they were home, telling her after every tour how the remodeling was progressing, where they’d moved the swimming pool, but most of all how there was no finer breakfast buffet than the one at the Mena House.

  She looked over her shoulder where the steep slope of the pyramid climbed toward the already hot sun. Today at noon they’d go inside for a private meditation in the King’s Chamber. The guards might open all three chambers for them. After the Muslim Brotherhood’s pronouncement that no more meditation—they called it prayer—could happen at the sites, there’d been vociferous protest. The keepers needed the extra income. The Brotherhood had relented and were letting groups in again.

  The visit inside the Great Pyramid crowned their tour. Already they’d floated up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan, exploring all the temples. Owen seemed to leave a piece of himself at each shrine, making him buoyant. Egypt was his true spiritual home.

  “Oh, my God.” Nela, one of the tour guests, slid into the chair as if it were first base, pulling the tablecloth askew. “He’s here.”

  “Who?” Owen asked, a few flakes of croissant falling on his beard as he spoke. He brushed them off, checked his shirt and resettled his napkin.

  “Simon, that’s who.” Nela’s whisper carried to the next table. She hunched her shoulders and lowered her voice. “I can’t believe he followed me to Egypt. The nerve.”

  Owen caught Iris’s eye.

  She finished straightening the tablecloth. “When did he schedule his tour?”

  Nela gave an irritable little shake of her head. “He usually comes the same time every year.”

  “I see,” Iris said. “Too bad we overlapped, but at least it’s just one day.”

  Nela looked across the room. “He’s coming over,” she said in a strangled voice.

  Owen put down his fork and stood up to shield her, at least partially. “Simon,” Owen clapped his brother Egyptologist on the shoulder. “Good to see you.”

  “And you. Tours picking up again?” Simon’s self-satisfied comment set Iris’s teeth on edge. During the revolution most people had to cancel tours.

  “We have a good group,” Owen said. “Finally convinced people Egypt was safe.”

  “We never had much of a problem with that. The Brits are more sensible.” Simon’s accent suggested Oxford with a whiff of empire. He wore the requisite khaki suit, perfectly pressed.

  “Good for you,” Owen said.

  “Too bad Khm wouldn’t publish your last piece. A bit too speculative for them, eh?”

  Owen shrugged. “As usual.”

  “But you did find a home for it in that new eZine. Not the same audience, of course.”

  When Owen did not take this bait, Simon turned to his ex-wife. “Nela.”

  Too bad Simon wasn’t coming with them, Iris thought. That glacial tone would keep them cold even in the pyramid. She took refuge in sipping her tea, wondering if the divorce was final yet.

  “I see you couldn’t stay away.” His eyes cut to Owen, suggesting God knew what.

  Iris set her cup down with a clatter. Really, the man was insufferable.

  “I’ve always wanted to understand Owen’s teachings on Egypt,” Nela said, her eyes glittering. “My mind is open.”

  “Yes, as open as a barn door.” He blinked, aware his rejoinder left something wanting.

  “Well, nice to see you.” Owen put his hand on the back of his chair, ready to return to his breakfast.

  “Oh say, I brought you a gift. Bit of a peace offering, really.” Simon held out a small wooden box. “Found it in the British Museum of all places. Rather unusual bit of hieroglyphs.” He leaned forward and pointed.

  Owen’s head bent to examine the piece. He frowned slightly, his eyes questioning, but he straightened and thanked Simon, like the gentleman he was. “Thank you very much.”

  “My pleasure.” Something belligerent flashed in Simon’s eyes, like a boar about to charge, then it passed. Iris wondered if she’d imagined it. Then he made his way across the restaurant to his seat, back straight, aware of the watching eyes.

  The whole place had fallen into a hush, both tour groups observing their two leaders confront one another. Iris could only imagine the rumors. Tweets would soon fly around the globe. She brushed this thought off like sand on her shoes, picked up a piece of pita bread and dipped it in hummus. “Have you learned new things on this tour, Nela?” she asked, pitching her voice so the neighboring table could hear. Best to redirect everyone’s attention.

  “Huh?” Nela turned her head away from Simon’s retreating back and focused on Iris.

  “What’s the biggest difference in Owen’s teachings about Egypt compared with Simon?” she asked, allowing Nela’s attention to settle.

  “Oh, he’s so traditional.” Nela dismissed her ex with a wave of her hand. “Same old stuff the Egyptologists have been teaching for years.” She warmed to her subject and began to elaborate.

  Iris allowed it all to wash over her. She’d heard it many times, edited her husband’s books, gone to most of his lectures. But Owen listened with careful attention as he ate, correcting a point here or there, expanding on his favorite topics. Soon the two were deep int
o it. Iris wanted to go, but if she left them together, the rumors would deepen.

  Oh, to heck with it. She pushed her chair back. “I’m going back to the room. We’re meeting in front at eleven?”

  “I’ll be back soon,” Owen said. “Now about Atlantis . . .”

  His words faded to a murmur as Iris crossed the sunny restaurant, sure to pass close to Simon’s table and give him a friendly nod. His brown fedora lay in the middle of the table, taking up unnecessary space. She wove through the maze of hallways in the palace, bedecked with golden wallpaper and hung with antique lamp fixtures, feeling like one of the emperor’s women making her way back to the harem. By the time Owen came back to the room, she’d finished packing everything except what she would wear on the plane tomorrow and the few toiletries she would need in the morning. She sat on the bed and watched Owen do the same.

  “Nela thinks she was Nefertiti,” he said, casting a look over his shoulder.

  “Does she now?” Iris said. After a pause she added, “How many does that make?”

  Owen snorted. “There’s at least one on every tour, so . . .” he tilted his head up, thinking “thirty? I can’t remember exactly.”

  “Which makes Simon Akhenaton?”

  “Never,” he said with emphasis. “Not that one. But you know how I feel. People admire and love these great teachers, so they often think they were one of them. Who am I to say?” Owen pushed down on the lid of his suitcase, but couldn’t zip it.

  “Need me to sit on it?”

  “I’ve got it.” He struggled, then gave up.

  “What did he give you?”

  “Who?”

  “Not Akhenaton.”

  “Simon? Where did I—” Owen grabbed his jacket and searched the pockets. He pulled out the wooden box and set it on the coffee table.

  “It really does look like a sarcophagus,” Iris said.

  Owen bent over the cedar casket, examining the hieroglyphs. After a minute, he shook his head. “I can’t see anything unusual about it.” He pulled on the lid, but it didn’t budge. Leaning close, he found a tiny gold latch and pulled it up. He yanked the lid again and it flew up, releasing a puff of dust. Owen waved his hand in front of his face, then sneezed. “At least we know it’s old.”

  “Or that’s anthrax,” Iris quipped.

  “Mummy dust,” Owen said with a smile. He poked around inside the box, but found nothing.

  “Well, that was nice of him,” Iris conceded.

  Owen closed the box and pushed it deep into the middle of his suitcase amongst his wrinkled shirts. He managed to zip it this time. “That should keep it,” he said. “Time to go.”

  Iris grabbed a shawl to sit on in the King’s Chamber and followed Owen out the door. Outside, shouts rose up and a black blur ran past them followed by a man in a kitchen apron waving his arms. The man stopped running and stood with his hands on his hips catching his breath.

  “Was that a jackal?” Owen asked.

  “Probably a dog,” Iris said.

  But the cook nodded his head. “They come from time to time.” He pointed behind him. “To the garbage. But usually at night.”

  “Amazing,” Owen said and grabbed Iris in a hug. “Anubis came to visit.”

  The cook snorted in dismissal, but this did nothing to dim Owen’s enthusiasm. He gave the man a wave and they continued up the drive.

  Their group lounged on a low wall outside the hotel entrance, sun glasses reflecting back the glare, cameras and ID badges hanging from their necks. Their bus pulled up just as Iris topped the slight hill. Owen shepherded his flock onto it. She settled into the front seat and the bus driver handed Owen the mike.

  “Good morning,” he said and waited for the buzz of excited voices to quiet down. He told them about their brush with Anubis. “It is a good omen for today. We’ll get the pyramid to ourselves and should have about an hour to meditate. Once we’re in the so-called King’s Chamber—” that’s how he always referred to Egyptologist’s terms that he disagreed with “—the guard will give us a few minutes to look around. Then we’ll all sit along the wall and they’ll turn off the lights.”

  Iris noticed a thin sheen of sweat on his forehead. Out the window beside her, a camel bedecked with a scarlet and gold bridle kept pace with the bus for a few moments. Then the driver pulled the bus over to allow another one to pass him going in the opposite direction. The dust obscured everything for a second.

  In the front Owen continued, “If you have claustrophobia, please tell me. We can have you sit by the door to the ramp.”

  “Can we lie in the sarcophagus?”

  “Yes, we’ll all have a chance to get into the resonance box during our chanting.”

  “We’re going to walk around in the dark?” someone asked.

  “I have candles and a backup flashlight.” He patted his pockets. “I will escort each of you to the box and back to your seat. Each person will get at least two minutes inside.”

  “Only two?” another wailed.

  “You’ll find this is plenty of time. Remember, the King’s Chamber sits on a layer of crushed crystalline stones, amplifying the energy even more. It really is quite something.”

  He answered a few more questions, but Iris let her attention wander. The driver backed into their parking spot with practiced ease, his side of the vehicle only a few inches from the one next to it, then turned off the engine. The bus slumped down with a wheeze of air like a tired camel finally back in his stall. Once the driver opened the door and the group started getting off, a swarm of children ran up with blue ceramic scarabs, post cards and eyes of God made from red and yellow yarn, mobbing the group as they disembarked. Then adults began to close in with more expensive wares, but their guide scattered all the hawkers with a barrage of rapid-fire Arabic explicatives she was glad she couldn’t understand.

  It worked though. The group walked unmolested across the dusty parking lot to the paving stones of the Great Pyramid that rose, massive and ancient, above them. A sharp call of some bird caught her ear. She squinted up, hand shielding her eyes. Was that a falcon cutting across the sky? It certainly was a day for the unusual.

  Money exchanged hands and the guards ushered the group inside. Iris took up the rear, ducking her head and waddling through the low opening of the vestibule. Once they reached the Grand Gallery, she straightened and rubbed her back, waiting for the group to climb the ramp. After almost two weeks in Egypt exploring all the temples that dotted the Nile, most people were in better shape than when they’d first arrived. They climbed without too much delay. Still it was steep and hot inside. Once the two women in front of her started up, Iris grabbed the wooden rail and climbed, resting each heel against the horizontal wooden slats that formed steps.

  Owen’s voice filtered down to her as he described the corbel ceiling and how it enhanced the vibration. “The pyramid is a coupled oscillator, vibrating with the earth herself.” In mid-sentence, his voice boomed out, which meant he’d stepped into the King’s Chamber and his words echoed off the resonant walls.

  The women in front of her paused to catch their breath. Iris wiped sweat from her face, stuffed her handkerchief back in her pocket, then finished the climb. She ducked down and clambered through the low opening, then stood up in the King’s Chamber of the Great Pyramid.

  The smooth granite walls of the chamber gleamed in the harsh light. She made her way through the group and found a spot near the sarcophagus at the far end. Owen knelt down to put his pack beside her and she took out the small Tibetan bowl they used during the meditation. When he stood back up, she noticed round circles of sweat stained his shirt beneath his arms. His face flushed red.

  “You okay?” she asked.

  “It’s hot today,” he whispered.

  “Global warming.”

  He gave her a weak smile, then turned to his charges, explaining once again what they would do, encouraging people to find a place, speaking more quietly until the group finally settled into silence.
Their guide shouted down to the guards below.

  “Now they’re turning off the lights,” Owen said.

  Suddenly they were plunged into darkness. A few people gasped, then as the generator running the fans stopped, silence reigned. Owen let them sit for a little while to absorb the quiet. At a slight rustle from him, Iris picked up the bowl and began to turn the wooden mallet around it. A faint hum rose in the darkness. It strengthened. Then Owen spoke a prayer into the vibrating chamber. With the last line, “We are the light,” he struck a match and lit a white candle.

  Iris began to tone. She’d learned from a Tibetan monk who stayed with them in America for almost a month. The atmosphere deepened in response to the sound, as if a thunderstorm approached. Others added their voices. They pyramid began to vibrate with them. She felt Owen get up and lead the first person to the sarcophagus.

  His low instructions, the scrape of shoes on stone, faded. The chamber opened out in her vision to a deep blue night sky with stars the like of which could not be seen on earth. The tall figure of a Neter bent to her, reaching out a hand. A lioness face topped by a circle of light. Sekhmet. Iris took the Neter’s hand, knowing from long experience that she would continue to chant and play the bowl even as she journeyed in the astral.

  Sekhmet led her up the steps of a magnificent temple where a woman sat on a throne, the wall behind her covered with etchings of Osiris lying out, a kite hovering above the body. The living figure on the throne wore an elaborate necklace of lapis, turquoise and carnelian. On her head sat a smaller version of the throne.

  Isis. The goddess turned her eyes on Iris, who met those lake blue eyes and blanked out under the intensity of their gaze.

  * * *

  Owen heard the subtle shift in Iris’s voice and knew that now she had gone off into her own vision. He was glad to have such a seasoned partner, someone he could rely on. He put his hand on Joan’s shoulder who lay in the sarcophagus and gave a squeeze. After a moment, she sighed and sat up. Owen helped Joan out and led her back to her seat. He squatted in front on the next person, Mike from Seattle, and spoke in a low tone. “Your turn.”

 
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