In 1920, Emma made the decision to accompany her archeologist husband on an expedition to Ancient Egypt. Unfortunately for her, it was far worse than she’d been warned. Bored and irritable, Emma hung around her neck an amulet dedicated to Nehkbet, the Egyptian vulture goddess. It certainly was a pretty bauble, but it also sucked her away into a void, from which her descendents have been trying to retrieve her.
Emma held up the vase and turned it to study the painted images. “So these symbols mean something?”
“They’re hieroglyphics. That’s how the ancient Egyptians wrote.” Her husband scribbled into a notebook without looking up at her.
She sat back on the heels of her ankle boots. “Can you read them, Todd?”
He chuckled. “I hope so someday. Well, better than I can now. I can teach you a few later on.”
“I’d like that.” Emma tucked a strand of hair that had fallen free of her bun behind her ear.
Her husband’s colleagues from his university had set up tents similar to Todd’s; some of the men mingled amongst the crowd and others slaved over crates taken from the latest pyramid find.
Emma had begged to accompany him. “Some women go,” she’d pressed. “Please, Todd? We’ve only been married a year. How can you want to part with me so fast?”
“It won’t be pleasant,” he’d said. She had imagined the heat – they were in Egypt, after all – but the dryness, and the baking sun… No, she could endure it all for Todd.
“So you’re going to take an inventory.” Emma waved her hand at the table where her husband had spread out their artifacts.
“Yes, dearest.” Wryness crept into his tone. “If you didn’t hail from gypsies, I swear you’d want to stay home with our daughter instead of traipsing through the desert.”
“The nurse can handle any baby ailments.” Emma had never dealt with a babe before – the nurse would be a much better parental figure. “My ancestors weren’t really gypsies, you know.”
“They weren’t witches, either.” They might have dabbled in herbs and spirituality, but that didn’t make them pagan.
Emma lifted a necklace off the table. “Is this real gold?” The thick chain weighed against her hands, with a blue stone – a sapphire, perhaps – the size of her thumbnail hanging from the center.
Todd sighed. “Yes, my not-a-gypsy wife. That’s real gold.” He’d complain that she bothered him from his chores if she didn’t keep to herself, but sometimes it grew so tiresome not having a job like the men. She could only reread the three novels she’d brought so many times, and only write so many letters to her parents, brothers, and baby. Her daughter, only two months old, couldn’t even read yet. Words from a distant mother wouldn’t mean much to her until she aged a bit.
Emma held the necklace up to her throat. The heaviness rested against her blouse as if she’d been born to wear exquisite jewelry. Perhaps she should start wearing the locket Todd had presented her with on her last birthday. “How do I look?”
Todd glanced up from his notebook with that crooked smile she loved so much. “Amazing, Emma. That piece was created in honor of Nekhbet, the vulture goddess.”
Emma clasped the necklace and rested her hands on her hips. “I’m sure she would look lovelier in it than I do.” Her husband would say no one could look better wearing it than Emma did, certainly no vulture goddess, and Emma would return the bauble to its crate. She would behave then, and get a drink from the canteen, rather than pestering him more.
A strange roaring started from behind her, and when she turned her head, sand and wind bombarded her face; darkness crept over the edges of her vision.
Julie slid the five-dollar bill over the counter to the clerk. “This is all I have.”
The woman shifted her green-eyed gaze from the money up to Julie’s face.
“The sign does say the price is recommended.” Julie pointed at the board over the counter.
“Have a good day at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.” The woman passed Julie one of the tiny metal clips and a receipt, and Julie grabbed a brochure from the stand near the cash register.
“Thank you!” Julie clipped the pin to the collar of her T-shirt and melted into the crowd. She’d been to the museum with a college group the year before, and as a child, her parents had taken her twice, so she remembered the suits of armor and Grecian statues. She’d posed beside famous paintings, with her braces shining from her mouth even without the flash going off, and she’d ogled the African masks.
“Go right to the Egyptian wing,” her grandmother had insisted.
Julie pulled the paper her grandmother had given her from the back pocket of her jean shorts and unfolded it. Grandmother Trievel had scanned a copy of her late father’s notes and circled the necklace in question, an amulet dedicated to the vulture goddess.
Okay, her grandmother hadn’t scanned it herself, the day nurse had. Grandmother Trievel liked to joke she’d been raised by a nurse and she’d be seen off from the earth on her deathbed by a nurse. Julie’s great-grandfather had been an archeologist and a professor at a university in England, but he was most infamous for the fact his wife had vanished on their first trip to Egypt.
“My father went back so many times to find her.” Grandmother Trievel would sigh at that point in her story. “No one could tell him what had happened to her.”
Julie unfolded the brochure she’d taken at the counter and perused the glossy map until she located the Egyptian wing. The memorable part of that area for her child-self had revolved around searching for her great-grandfather’s name, but the plaques focused more on the historical aspects than who found what centuries later.
She wove through the crowd of tourists, a barrage of languages bombarding her ears, and entered the hallway of sarcophaguses. Cases held broken pottery and jewelry. She paused at the jewelry, but she skimmed the other exhibits. There had to be one piece in particular, a golden necklace with a blue sapphire, an amulet dedicated to Nehkbet. Grandmother Trievel and her nurse had scoured the Internet until they’d tracked it to the New York City museum.
A four-hour train ride had delivered Julie to the doorstep.
She almost trailed her fingertips over one of the display cases before she pulled back; an alarm might sound, and even if it didn’t, she’d have sullied the pristine exhibit with her fingerprints.
Julie rounded the corner to the next hallway, her heart thudding, and she sucked breath between her teeth. An amulet, almost identical to the scanned sketch, rested as the centerpiece in a case, amongst bejeweled bracelets and earrings. Her hand trembling, Julie turned over the sketch and read the scrawled handwriting. Where Grandmother Trievel had gotten the spell could be anyone’s guess, but her mother, Emma, had descended from gypsies, druids, or witches – exactly what lay up or debate.
Time be well,
Time stand still.
Cross the plains that bade it nil.
Bring back that which had been gone,
Once again born.”
The chant didn’t quite rhyme, but it didn’t sound too bad. If it worked, that mattered. Julie glanced up at the amulet and held her breath. Perhaps she hadn’t used the right inflection on the correct words.
The sapphire flashed, as though someone had set a camera off on it.
A young woman appeared crumpled at Julie’s feet. Brown hair hung over her face, and she wore a white blouse and a long black skirt.
Her grandmother’s chant had actually worked. Wow.
Julie laughed and spread her hands, while she glanced around the aisle. “Magic. Ta da.” People didn’t believe in real magic; they saw parlor tricks.
No one glanced at them. The few visitors in that section of the Egyptian wing concentrated on exhibits farther down the hallway, and a boy a few years younger than Julie’s twenty-four years scribbled on a sketchpad.
“Um…” The young woman twisted her head back and forth. “Todd?”
“Hi.” Julie crouched to rest her hand on Emma’s shoulder. “I’m Julie Trievel. We have a lot to discuss, and the first point is going to be not to ever put on an Ancient Egyptian amulet.”