The stairs creaked as the two girls and the cat climbed to the top.
“I wish my house had an attic,” sighed Abigail.
“Really?” Ruby sounded surprised.
“Yes, really. I LOVE your attic. It is the best place ever! I love all the old stuff, and nobody ever bothers us when we are up here.”
Purr-meow, mewed Priscilla.
“You see? Even Priscilla agrees.”
Priscilla headbutted the attic door, as if she wanted the girls to hurry up and open it.
“Priscilla does love the attic,” admitted Ruby. She opened the door and switched on the light.
The attic had a rather low, sloping ceiling and was filled with anything and everything. The girls loved to play with the old tea set that used to belong to Ruby’s grandmother. They also enjoyed playing dress up with some old clothes that they found in a trunk. Sometimes they just sat quietly on the squashy orange couch, which Ruby’s mum no longer fancied for the lounge, and paged through old photo albums filled with yellow photographs of people they didn’t recognized. The attic was a treasure-trove of antiques and oddities, begging to be explored.
Priscilla slipped in first, quick as a flash. She made a beeline for a colorful carpet that lay in the middle of the floor.
“Whoa!” exclaimed Abigail. “Where did that carpet come from? It wasn’t here last time I visited.”
“I have no idea," said Ruby. "I have never seen it before. I suppose it must have been up here all along, perhaps rolled up and stashed in a corner. Where else could it have come from? My mom probably put it on the floor to air.”
“I suppose... Well, whatever, it's absolutely beautiful,” said Abigail. “Do you think it is a Persian carpet?”
Ruby shrugged. She wouldn’t know a Persian carpet from any other kind, but she had to agree with Abigail, it was quite beautiful. In the center of the carpet was a large ancient-looking map of the world, woven in blue and gold and shades of brown and green. All the continents were there, and even the names of the oceans were woven into the design. The map was surrounded by a red, blue and gold border of ornate curls, running along the edge of the carpet.
Priscilla stepped onto the carpet. She walked to the middle, fell over on her side and started rolling around.
“She seems to be enjoying herself,” smiled Ruby. She went and sat down next to Priscilla. “Wow, it’s incredibly soft,” she said as she traced the outline of Africa with her finger. “One day I am going to become an explorer, you know. I’ll visit all the places in the world and even discover a couple of new ones.”
Abigail plunked herself down next to Ruby. “I think they have already discovered everything there is to be discovered on the earth, but there are plenty of strange and interesting places to visit. Where would you go first, if you could?”
“Egypt,” replied Ruby without hesitation. “I want to go and see the pyramids of Giza. You know – the three famous large pyramids, and the Sphinx is also close by.” She touched a spot on the carpet right at the top of Africa. “Egypt is somewhere around here.”
Priscilla got up, yawned and stretched. Then she walked over to a corner of the carpet and started clawing at it.
“No, Priscilla!” exclaimed Ruby. “Don’t! You’ll damage the carpet.” Priscilla glared at Ruby, but she didn’t stop. Ruby leaned over and picked Priscilla up. “You’re such a naughty girl!”
Priscilla did not take kindly to being held. She wriggled and writhed and managed to escape Ruby’s embrace. Then she hopped over back to the same corner and clawed at the carpet again.
“Maybe she is trying to tell you something,” suggested Abigail.
“You don’t say?” Ruby crawled over to the corner of the carpet and pushed Priscilla away. “Now stop it!” she said angrily. Suddenly her eye caught an anomaly in the curly border pattern. “Abby, look!” she cried out. “There are words woven in among the curls! I almost didn’t see them.”
Meow! mewed Priscilla, sounding rather smug. Who’s a naughty girl now? she seemed to say.
“Well, what does it say?” asked Abigail.
“The letters are very small,” said Ruby. She screwed her eyes up and tried to read the words. “Magic carpet on the floor, the Earth is mine to explore. Take me where I want to go. I’ll say the name – please make it so!”
Abigail’s eyes grew larger as Ruby spoke. “Wow!” she said when Ruby had finished. “It sounds like some kind of spell. You said you wanted to visit Egypt?”
“Are you crazy?” said Ruby. “This isn’t really a magic carpet. There is no such thing. It’s just a silly little rhyme, that’s all.”
“How sure are you of that? The words wouldn’t be there if they didn’t mean anything.”
Meow, said Priscilla. She walked up to Ruby and headbutted her leg.
“Okay, let me prove you wrong,” sighed Ruby. “Magic carpet on the floor, the Earth is mine to explore. Take me where I want to go. I’ll say the name – please make it so! Egypt! Take me to Egypt. I’ll say the name – please make it so, Egypt!”
Suddenly the girls felt a light vibration. The edges of the carpet started quivering.
“Hold on!” Ruby called out.
The corners of the carpet curled up and folded over the girls. It became dark around them. The carpet jerked and the girls grabbed each other’s hands.
“I am afraid,” said Ruby.
“Are you in here as well, Priscilla?” asked Ruby surprised.
“I don’t feel so well,” moaned Abigail. “My head is spinning.”
“So is mine. And my tummy feels strangely hollow, like it got left behind somewhere,” said Ruby.
Just as the girls thought they could not feel any worse, it started to become light again. The carpet slowly unfolded until it was lying as flat as it had been on the attic floor. They were somewhere above the ground, moving through the air at quite a speed.
“We are really flying on a magic carpet! I take back what I said about them not existing. This is fun,” laughed Ruby as the wind blew through her hair.
Suddenly Abigail pointed at the ground. “Look over there. Is that a pyramid?”
“It is! In fact, it’s two pyramids, and a bunch of smaller ones … and the Sphinx. It really is the Sphinx!” exclaimed Ruby.
“Are we actually …?”
“In Egypt? You bet we are!”
“So, these are the pyramids of Giza,” stated Abigail. “You said the Sphinx was near the pyramids.”
“Yes …” Ruby sounded unsure. “But something is not right. There are supposed to be three big pyramids at Giza. I only see two.”
Suddenly it felt like the carpet was slowing down. The wind was not blowing so much through the girls’ hair anymore.
“We are moving closer to the ground,” observed Abigail. She sounded nervous. “Do you think we’ll ever make it back home again?
Ruby shrugged as the carpet touched the ground in the shadow of one of pyramids. “I really hope so, but seeing as we are here, I need to find out what has become of the third pyramid. I just wish it wasn’t so hot!”
“It’s a desert, it is supposed to be hot,” laughed Abigail.
Around them people were going about with their daily business, rushing to and thro. Nobody seemed to notice the girls or the cat.
“Are we invisible?” wondered Abigail. “And what strange clothes are the people wearing?”
Most of the men they saw, wore something that resembled a short skirt. Few of them wore shirts.
“Look over there,” Ruby called out in surprise. “No wonder there are only two pyramids. They are still busy building the third one. And the people are not wearing strange clothes! It must be what they wore in those days. Do you know what this means, Abby?”
“That we went back in time?”
“Yes! We are not merely in Egypt; we are in ancient Egypt!”
“I wonder what year it is,” said Abigail.
“I wouldn’t know, but these pyramids were built for kings who lived about four and a half centuries ago. They were Khufu, Khafre and Menkaure. That must be Menkaure’s pyramid they are building right now.”
Abigail frowned. “How on earth do you remember all those names?”
Ruby shrugged. “I don’t know, I just do.”
“Priscilla! I almost forgot you were here too,” said Ruby. “You mustn’t go wandering about. I don’t want to have to look for you in ancient Egypt.”
Meow, said Priscilla. She then stepped over to the middle of the carpet and proceeded to curl up into a ball, as if she understood perfectly what Ruby had said.
“I think we should go home now,” said Abigail.
Ruby shook her head. “No, we have just arrived and I would like to see as much as I can before we leave again. I want to see the Sphinx. I want to see if it is painted or not. Some people think it used to be painted, because they have discovered a bit of paint near its one ear. I could not really see when we came down to land, but now I can go and look for myself.”
“I still think we should rather go home,” mumbled Abigail.
“Please, Abby! You were the one to believed that the words on the carpet meant something. Do you really think we were just supposed to arrive and then leave again immediately?”
“I guess not. But we shouldn’t stay too long. Which way is the Sphinx?”
Ruby looked around.
“Careful Ruby!” shouted Abigail. She pulled Ruby out of the way of a group of men approaching on camels.
“Thanks!” said Ruby. “We had better keep our eyes peeled. These people really can’t see us.”
Abigail tugged at Ruby’s arm again. “Here comes another camel,” she warned.
A boy of about their age was sitting on the camel’s back. He brought the animal to a halt right next to the girls. The camel bent its knees and the boy alighted with ease.
“Hello,” he said.
Ruby and Abigail just stared at him.
“Hello,” he said again. “I am Amun.”
“He can see us,” whispered Ruby without taking her eyes off him for even a second.
“I know!” replied Abigail.
“Who are you and where do you come from?” the boy asked.
“He is not speaking English,” said Ruby, still staring at the boy.
“I know!” replied Abigail.
“You are not from here,” the boy said. “My people can’t see you, only I can.”
“So, how can we understand what he is saying?” Ruby wanted to know.
“I don’t know!” replied Abigail.
Amun laughed. “Listen, I don’t know what English is, but I understand you perfectly as well. So please tell me who you are.”
Abigail nudged Ruby with her elbow.
Ruby cleared her throat. “I am Ruby, and this is Abigail,” she said. “I can’t tell you exactly how we got here, because I don’t really understand it myself, but we come from far away.”
“Far away?” asked Amun and looked at the carpet by their feet. “More likely another world, I’d say. Only I can see otherworldly people, and they are not always as pretty as the two of you …”
“Do you think he means ghosts or aliens?” whispered Abigail so that only Ruby could hear.
“Have you ever ridden on a camel?” asked Amun.
The girls shook their heads.
“Would you like to?”
“Yes, please,” replied Ruby before Abigail could stop her. “If you would take us to see the Sphinx.”
“The Sphinx?” Amun frowned. “What is the Sphinx?”
“I don’t know what you call it,” said Ruby, “But it is a big statue carved out of stone, with the head of a human and the body of a lion. We call it the Sphinx.”
Amun laughed. “Oh, that. Sure, I’ll take you. It is not far from here, just on the other side of the pyramid.” He looked up at his camel and muttered a few words. The camel bent its knees, first the front, then the back. When he was down on all fours, Amun said: “Get on.”
Ruby and Abigail looked at each other.
“You go first,” said Ruby.
“No, you go,” said Abigail.
Ruby sighed and rolled her eyes. “Okay!”
It wasn’t easy climbing onto the camel, because even as he was kneeling down, his back was still quite a distance from the ground. The camel waited patiently and at last Ruby succeeded.
Amun turned towards Abigail. “Your friend made it. Can I help you get on?”
“No thank you,” replied Abigail. She grabbed hold of Ruby’s hand and while Ruby pulled, Abigail managed to scramble to the top.
“Where are you going to sit?” Ruby asked Amun.
“I won’t be sitting,” he replied. “I’ll be leading the camel.”
A beep-beep, beep-beep sound suddenly pierced the air.
“My cellphone!” uttered Abigail. “It’s an SMS!”
“How can your phone work in ancient Egypt?” wondered Ruby.
“What is a cellphone?” asked Amun.
Abigail stuck her hand in her pants’ pocket and took her phone out. “This is a cellphone,” she said. “We use it to talk to people who are far away. Please don’t ask me to explain how it works.”
Amun frowned. “It is not from this world.”
“No, not form your world, anyhow,” said Abigail. She opened the message and read it. “It’s from my mom. She obviously thinks that you and I are at your house, Ruby. She says she is going to the shop and that I should be home by six.”
“What is the time now?”
Abigail looked at her phone again. “It’s five o’clock. In an hour’s time my mom is going to start looking for me.”
“That doesn’t give us much time,” said Ruby. “We’d better hurry.”
“The Sphinx, as you call it, isn’t far,” said Amun. “You are already seated on the camel. I’ll take you there quickly and bring you right back.” He spoke softly to the camel. The camel started walking.
He led the camel along the foot the pyramid. “It doesn’t look good,” he said after a while.
“What’s going on?” asked Ruby.
Amun pointed at the horizon. “It is a sandstorm. Look at that enormous cloud of dust. It is approaching very quickly.”
“We must turn around,” said Abigail. “Just now we get lost.”
“I want to see the Sphinx,” said Ruby quite stubbornly. “We’ll never get this chance again. And we won’t get lost, will we, Amun?”
“People have gotten lost in such storms before,” replied Amun. “But we have one of the biggest landmarks in all the world, right here besides us. As long as we walk back exactly the way we came, and keep the pyramid close, we should not get lost.”
“I say we do it!” exclaimed Ruby. “But we’d better hurry. Can this camel go any faster?”
“Sure. He can go as fast as I can. Luckily I am a very good athlete.” Amun started running. They were really picking up speed now. The camel galloped along with long easy strides.
The girls bounced around on the camel’s back, but they didn’t care. All they wanted was to see the Sphinx before the sandstorm engulfed it. Soon they were approaching the furthest corner of the pyramid.
“I am so excited,” exclaimed Ruby as they turned the corner, but the wind blew her words away.
All of a sudden, the Sphinx was in front of them. They were just in time to see the majestic statue fade into nothingness, as the dust cloud surrounded it.
Whether the Sphinx was painted or not, Ruby would never know. She decided not to ask Amun either. Perhaps it was better not to know. “What a pity,” she said.
“I am sorry,” said Amun, trying to catch his breath, “but the sandstorm was too quick for us. We had better turn back now. It won’t be long before it catches up with us as well.”
He led the camel back in the direction which they came from. Within minutes, they were in the midst of the dust cloud. There was sand everywhere.
At last the camel came to a halt. He bent his knees, first the front ones, then the back.
“This is where I found you,” said Amun.
“How can you be so sure?” asked Ruby as she slid down from the camel’s back. “It’s impossible to see where we are.”
“Trust me,” answered Amun. “This is where we part. Goodbye, girls from another world. Who knows? Maybe we’ll meet again someday.”
“You can’t leave us here in the middle of nowhere,” objected Abigail.
“You are not nowhere,” replied Amun. “You are here. Here is somewhere. You will always find your way back home. Just trust in each other.” Then he grabbed the camel’s leash and walked away. Within seconds the dust swallowed him.
Abigail grabbed Ruby’s hand. “We have to stay together.”
“I agree,” said Ruby.
“Do you hear that?” Abigail asked.
“Do I hear what?”
“It’s Priscilla!” exclaimed Ruby as Priscilla mewed and headbutted her leg. She bent down and stroked her silky back. “It’s good to see you, Priscilla. Now all we need is to find the carpet.”
Priscilla stretched out and yawned. Then she proceeded to claw at the ground. Her nails hooked on to something, and as Ruby watched, Priscilla lifted the corner of the carpet. “Oh, wow!” shouted Ruby. “We’ve been standing on the carpet all along. It’s covered in sand.”
“Good thing Priscilla was here to mark the spot,” laughed Abigail. “Now shall we go home?”
“We shall,” said Ruby. “Let’s see if I can remember the magic words. Hold on tightly.”