Really, it wouldn’t have mattered if Liese had asked or not: there was only one thing John could think of to do.
Look at that Tome of Ra again.
He reached into his backpack and fished around. “We need to look at the book I was talking about,” he said. “The Tome of Ra?” Some people behind him grumbled that he’d slowed down, but it was hard to fish for an ancient Egyptian tome and walk at the same time.
“Shh!” Liese hissed at him. “Not so loud. Do you want other people to hear?”
John blinked at her, confused. Then he looked behind him at the other tourists, and it dawned on him that Liese already thought they were playing. He cleared his throat and stopped fishing. “Right. I mean. Uh . . .”
Liese crouched down to tie her shoelace, motioning for other people to go on around her. John waited next to her, wishing he’d been smart enough to come up with the old “I’ve got to tie my shoelaces” trick. Also, his ears were blushing again. It didn’t help that the most of the French group had been behind them. They took turns accidentally falling into John and shoving him into the wall of the pyramid corridor, with the boy he’d gone up to talk to first giving him an extra hard shove.
“Sorry about that,” Liese said when they were past. “I didn’t have time to tell my friends to watch out for us.”
“It’s okay,” John said, even though his shoulder hurt. And then he was staring at Liese and wondering when she might smile again, and wondering why he was wondering about something silly like that.
“Well?” she asked.
Right. The Tome. John took off his backpack and got out the Tome of Ra. Liese gasped when she saw it, making John realize that most people probably would think a book with an eyeball in the cover was something noteworthy. He’s stopped thinking of it as special the moment it turned into a task that had to be accomplished. So . . . right about when he got transported to Egypt in his bearclaw slippers.
“Can I see it?” Liese asked.
John handed it up to her without a word, then worked on getting his backpack closed. When he stood, Liese was poking at the eyeball with her finger.
It didn’t look happy about it. The thing was glaring at her, clenching its eyelid shut and tearing up around the edges.
“How did you get it to do this?” Liese asked. “It’s so lifelike! Animatronics, yes?”
“Sort of,” John said. “It’s . . . complicated. “Can I see it?”
She handed it back without argument.
“Sorry,” John muttered to the book, hoping it didn’t belong to anyone particularly vengeful. “So anyway. Now we . . . uh . . . take the book out, and the location of the entrance is supposed to be inside.” Did he have any confidence that he’d find the location inside? Not at all. It hadn’t been there before–at least, not in anything written in English. But John supposed there was a chance the book had just been waiting to be inside the pyramid to do anything really cool. For a moment, he wondered if it might not burst forth with an ethereal fountain of light the moment he cracked the cover. The light would point directly to where the entrance was. Maybe even illuminate it the way the entrance to Moria appeared as soon as the magic words had been said.
His pulse quickened as he held the leathery book in his hands, wondering what marvels might await him. He took a breath and opened it.
No lights. No pyrotechnics. Just the same dusty pages filled with obscure markings that he’d seen outside, only they were harder to read here in the tunnel. John’s shoulders slumped.
“Well?” Liese asked. “What do we do?”
John shook his head. “I’m not sure.”
“A puzzle, huh?” Liese didn’t let that slow her down an instant. She peered over John’s shoulder. “Can I see?”
John went to hand the book back, but the cover wouldn’t leave his hands. It was as if it had become glued at some point in the last few minutes. Apparently the tome didn’t really want to go back to Liese. Instead, John flipped through the pages, letting her get a good look.
“See?” he said. “Just hieroglyphics.”
Liese shook her head. “I don’t think so. We had to do some studies on hieroglyphics before we left. Some of these look more like pictures than writing.”
John took a closer look. At first, he didn’t see the difference. It was all a blur of just what you’d expect hieroglyphics to look like: Egyptians holding up hands, eyeballs floating in the air, sheaves of wheat next to boats. Your classic picture writing, not that John had any real experience in the subject. But as he looked closer, some of the pages really did seem to be more specific. A few had elaborate drawings, even. He recognized the Sphinx in one, and a scene from the Nile River in another.
And then there was one that featured the Great Pyramid. John and Liese both yelped the moment they saw it. John’s fingers came unglued to the cover, and he was able to flip back to inspect it more closely.
It appeared to be a diagram of the inside of the pyramid, with a map of passages seen from above and from the side. The side view looked familiar: one main path that went down at first before splitting up, with part of it continuing downward, and the rest going on to a big chamber in the middle of the pyramid. “Do you think that’s the path we’ve been on?” John asked.
Liese shrugged. “Maybe? But what about all these others?”
The part of the diagram that showed the pyramid from above depicted a literal maze of passageways heading every which way throughout the structure, like an anthill, but more organized. None of the passageways led outside, but all of them originated from a central chamber in the middle of the pyramid. The chamber itself was marked with an open book.
Liese pointed at the markings, her eyes bright. “That’s got to be the entrance right there! Or at least the way to get to it.”
John shrugged, uncertain. “But do we go up with the rest of the group, or down on that other path?” he asked.
“Down,” Liese said without a trace of doubt in her voice. “That’s the only way so many side passages could fit. If we went further up, then there’s less of the pyramid for them to take up.”
That made sense, and John was all for making sense. “Come on,” he said, snapping the book shut. “We’ll need to go back to where the tunnel started heading up instead of down, and we’d better do it quick, before the group above us starts coming back.”
The two of them headed back down the passageway, their footsteps echoing off the stone walls. John was sweating like a shower by this point, his skin literally dripping sweat onto the ground. His shirt was soaked through, his hands were clammy, and his hair was plastered on his forehead. Liese wasn’t faring much better. But even in that sweltering heat, John couldn’t help but feel excited. Maybe this adventure was going to work, after all.
They got to lowest part of the passage in no time, but there was nothing there to indicate there might be another way to go. It just headed back up to the entrance. “It must be hidden,” John said. “Search all the corners and the floor. Try to find anything that might be a switch or a lever.”
The two of them split up and did as John had suggested. The walls were completely plain, the stone smooth and unblemished, with nothing to indicate there might be something to push or pull. No seams or markings, certainly. John knocked against the stone, but nothing sounded hollow either. Seconds were ticking by, and he and Liese were getting nowhere. This was ridiculous. If the tome wanted to get back to its library so bad, it really ought to help them find–
The tome! The tome had an eyeball. The eye might be able to give him a hint! John took the book out again and looked at the cover. “Sorry about the pokes, again,” he said quietly, while Liese was on her hands and knees inspecting the floor. “But can you tell me what to do? Where should we be looking?”
The eye blinked a couple of times, then looked up. John moved the tome to follow the direction the eye was staring, swinging it around until it was looking ahead at the wall next to where Liese was crouched. Then it began to blink rapidly. “There?” John asked.
“Liese, can you move for a second?”
His new friend got up, her jaw dropping when she saw what John was doing. “Of course!” she said. “Why didn’t I think of that? Those are some pretty expensive animatronics.”
“Yeah,” John said. He stepped forward, following the book’s gaze as it looked down and then left and then up again a bit to zero in on one particular spot on the wall. By that point, the book was no more than a foot from the stone. “Right there?” John asked.
The tome blinked.
There was nothing on that spot of wall to show it was special. No keyhole. No bump. Nothing. John pressed his finger to it, and nothing happened.
Then he pressed harder. It took a moment, but at last a small circle of the wall rumbled inward, stone dust falling to the floor around it. Deep within the walls came the sound of long unused gears moving, with weights dropping to the floor with ominous booms and clanks. John stood up and had just enough time to share a glance with Liese before the entire floor dropped down, sending the two of them tumbling head over heels into darkness.
Make Some Suggestions
No real choice for John at the moment. As I’m writing this, I’m beginning to think the story experiment might work better without strict choices like I’ve been giving. I’ve been loving the suggestions for plot development people have been giving, though, and I thought we could explore those a bit more fully. Give suggestions about what you think could or should happen next, and feel free to have a discussion with other suggesters about the merits of different avenues of exploration. John and Liese are heading into parts of the pyramid where no one has been in millennia. What might they find there? How far from the entrance to the library are they?
This is the kind of stuff I really love about writing: being able to explore a story and find out more as it unfolds in front of me. It’s what I was hoping this series would help others share. Crossing my fingers that we’re getting closer.
Thanks for coming along!