The Cat in the Museum
Well, that was stupid. All the signs in the museum tell you not to touch the displays, so of course I just had to do it. Honest, all I did was reach through and touch the ivory cat. How could this happen to an average guy like me? Tom Layton, you jerk! One minute, here I am – the next minute, where am I?
I had been looking forward to seeing this Egyptian exhibit for many months. I’m no scientist or anything, I just like seeing these old things, particularly if they’re from Egypt. I’ve read my share of novels about Egypt, and maybe a little bit of the educational stuff, but a scholar? I don’t think so!
My hand still tingled where I had caressed the beautiful white cat. The jeweled eyes had drawn me across the room with their magnetic gaze – it wasn’t my fault, I promise! I had been moving slowly from room to room, marveling at the objects that had been transported through the centuries to arrive on these little tables when I saw it sitting there. I hurried over to see – I knew that my time was almost up because the visitors had thinned out and the lights had flickered once or twice already.
I stood there transfixed – this cold carved creature was so perfectly done I could almost see the individual hairs on its coat. There was an amulet hanging from its neck, and I just had to touch it. As I made contact I was thinking to myself how neat it would be to visit the time of the Pharaohs, to actually walk among these amazing people who lived four thousand years ago.
In an instant the walls of the museum vanished and I was standing beside a large river, my hand outstretched toward… where was the cat? My mind reeled – my senses were being overloaded with the magnitude of this incredible displacement. The blazing sun bathed me in a brilliant light. There was a slight breeze rustling the palm fronds above me, and its coolness was wonderfully welcome. I could see several wooden boats coming down the river in a line – they seemed to be transporting huge blocks of stone. I saw a cat curled up by the base of the tree. What the heck was going on?
In another instant I was back inside the museum. I looked around quickly – did anyone witness my disappearance, if indeed I did disappear? I stepped back from the display, unconsciously rubbing my hand. Again I looked around – was I going crazy, or did something really happen? I glanced at the clock in the main hall, and couldn’t see that any appreciable amount of time had passed – my ‘transit’ was apparently brief. The lights flickered again, so I headed for the exit door, lost in thought.
That night, safely back at home, I couldn’t quit thinking about it – I couldn’t watch tv, couldn’t read. My wife noticed that I was different. “So, Tom – what is it? You’ve been in never-never land since you got home.” I decided not to reveal my newly-realized insanity, “Oh, nothing. I was just thinking about all those neat things I saw, wondering how those people really lived.” She shrugged, then went into the den to watch tv.
My hand was itching again – I was idly scratching, and happened to look down at the back of my hand. I lurched back in the chair, as if I was trying to get away from my hand. There was an imprint of the amulet design on my skin! I quickly slid a section of the newspaper over it, then peeked again. Yes, it was still there, it was not my imagination!
I leaned forward to look – yes, she was still watching her program. I removed my hand from its hiding place and examined the reddish pattern. It was the likeness of a pharaoh or a queen – I couldn’t really tell which. In the foreground was a cat – the same cat god, presumably. Hmmm, did they have cat gods? I’ll have to look that up on the internet. I was thinking again about the ancient Egyptians, and their beliefs, as I absent-mindedly covered the pattern with my other hand.
Again I was transported – mentally, physically, both perhaps! This time I was in a large room of a palace – it just had to be either a palace or a temple, and it looked too lavish to be a temple. There were people standing around in small groups, and they were paying no attention to me. One or two people passed nearby and detoured slightly to avoid bumping into me, so I knew I was visible. I guess I was just one of the boys.
Just then the massive doors at the end of the room were pushed open by several men who had the look of slaves or servants. Like magic, everyone in the room fell to the floor onto their knees, leaning forward with arms outstretched. I figured it might be a swell idea if I followed suit. I surreptitiously peeked under my arm to see what might happen.
Now coming down the main aisle was a superbly dressed man wearing a tall crown. He was preceded by a small group of people, some making music with lyres or drums, others spreading flower petals. The person in the very forefront was making some sort of continuous announcement, all about the power and glory of the well-dressed fellow, and I was actually able to understand the words. This was SOME smart cat I had hooked up with. Following the important personage were more people carrying various things on pillows or in baskets, most of which I could not identify. Nearby I could see a cat watching me.
I heard a voice saying, “Who wants to be a millionaire?” I was back on my couch in that instant, feeling like I had been for a ride in the washing machine on spin cycle. I noticed that I was no longer covering my decorated hand – perhaps that was the key to this power. Maybe all I had to do was cover the pattern with my other hand, then hold it there until I wished to return. I was fairly new to spells and magic, so this was a guess, you understand.
Next day was a workday, so I didn’t feel like I had time to do any more experimenting tonight. The foreman isn’t too happy when you come bouncing in late. I’m supposed to be out there at 7:00 a.m., driving that big dozer, pushing dirt around – it’s a modern world we live in, but it still takes men to get construction done. Timely men – men who don’t oversleep. The boss had a saying, “There’s only two CAN’T’s on this job – if you CAN’T do ‘er, you CAN’T stay!”
All that week I was consumed with thoughts of Egypt; going to Egypt, Egyptian cats. I rode that Caterpillar all day, then tossed and turned all night. My wife was definitely getting worried about me now. I had some time to get online with the computer, and I quickly found out that cats were revered in ancient Egypt, and yes, they did have a cat goddess, named Bastet, or simply Bast. Sometimes the goddess was represented as a cat, like the one I saw, or sometimes as a human female figure with the head of a cat. I had never been much of a cat person, and now I’m thinking I really, really like dogs better.
Saturday finally came around, and it happened that my wife was planning to be gone most of the day, helping with the church bake sale or something (who listens?). I told her I was going to the library later to do some reading about Egypt – she said, “Yeah, right!” I said, “Really, honey. Just in case you don’t get an answer, I’ll likely be at the library.” Again the skeptic, she responded, “Whatever.” At least I had a small alibi in place in the event I got displaced and was late returning. I was still trying to figure out the timetable for the Giza Express.
Just for luck, I sat in the same place on the couch where I had debarked on my last visit to the Valley of the Nile. It wasn’t clear to me how I could ‘travel’ to another place and time, and still be here controlling whether I had one hand covering the other, but perhaps today was the day to learn. I decided that perhaps one way to make sure I got back was to balance the ‘patterned’ hand on a stack of small throw pillows, then place the other hand over it. This way, the stack would likely become unstable after awhile and my hands would naturally separate.
My thoughts drifted again to things Egyptian, and I positioned my hands to attempt a repeat visit. Exactly as I hoped, I found myself in that distant time. I thought smugly, “Hey, this isn’t so tough to learn.”
It was quite dark where I had wound up this time, and as my eyes started to adjust, I realized I was a prisoner in a cage! Sharing my cage was another of those darned cats – the things were apparently everywhere! Just then a torch flared into light, bringing the details of the room into view. Now I could see that there were several people in the room. The ones who really got my attention were the large slaves who were carrying swords. The torch-bearer looked to be some kind of priest – lots of robes, oily skin, shaved head. He approached the cage and intoned, “So, it is done! He has come to us as our sacrifice! Praise be to Bast!”
“Uh-oh”, I thought to myself – this would be a really good time to figure out how to get my hands apart, back in the world where I wasn’t about to become a sacrifice! In the light of the torch I could see that my hand no longer bore the mark of the amulet.
I tried flailing my arms about, but that seemed to have no effect on the ‘other’ me. The torch continued to flicker, reflected in the intense gaze of the priest. I noticed that there was a scantily-clad woman back near the wall, arms crossed, eyes closed, holding the Crook and Flail of power – I remembered that from my limited reading. A high priestess, maybe? It looked like she was wearing the twin to the amulet I had encountered.
Unless something good happened soon, it wouldn’t matter much who she was! I’d be dismembered or burned, possibly both – I’d read those books, too! The priest spoke again, “We set forth the trap, the Amulet of Control, and from across time you come to us! Now we can free great Bast from her curse! Twice you have come, each time we sent the sacred cat to retrieve you – each time you escaped. Now it is done!” Perhaps the woman wearing only the little scarf was standing in for Bast.
I decided to do the unexpected – the cage didn’t seem to be very securely fastened, so maybe with the right distraction I could break free and live a little longer. I reached through the cage bars and slammed the torch against the leering face of the priest. He howled in pain and staggered back. I gave the cage door a big kick – us construction guys have BIG kicks – and it ripped right off its mountings. I picked up the surprised cat and tossed it toward the advancing guards, trying to keep them busy.
Then I quickly ran to the high priestess – Miss Modesty herself – and grabbed the amulet from her neck. I did my best to picture my home (yes, I felt just like Dorothy Gayle), and placed both hands over the amulet. I sensed someone behind me and wheeled to see a huge guard swinging his sword at me – it actually whistled as it came down, and I dropped the amulet!
The dark chamber melted away, and my living room and couch reappeared. I was safe again. Well, sorta safe – I was on the floor, looking up at my wife, and she was saying, “What the HELL are you doing? And how did you get that big rip in your new shirt?”
I mumbled something about tearing my shirt in the garage, then coming in for a nap – she didn’t look totally satisfied with my story, but who knows how wives think?
Since the mark on my hand had disappeared, I had no proof of my adventures – who’d listen, anyway? I was happy when I heard that the exhibit had left town. Hopefully, that was the Last of Bast.