Lapis, the ancient Egyptian cat, returns in this spooky two-part adventure
We cats have our hates. We hate water ( except to drink), crocodiles, snakes, fleas, rotten fish, feeling hungry, dirt, stupid dogs, and all sorts of ghosts and spectres.
So if this story is a bit scary, I’m sorry, I can’t help it. Spooky stuff happens sometimes.
It was the time of the month when Lord Khonsu is round and fat. Oh, I am forgetting, you future people don’t call the gods by the names we use. I had better let you know that Lord Khonsu is the moon god.
Around midnight, my sister friend, Chloe, and I were sitting on the roof of the house belonging to Nanoona, the priestess. We were enjoying the aroma of grilled fish that was still lingering around the smoke hole in her roof, just above the stove where she cooks.
All was quiet - but here’s the thing - the deadliest danger isn’t yappy like a dog, or hissy like a bandit cat - it sneaks up silently. Chloe and I both felt it at the same time. It was the feeling you get along your spine when a snake slithers out of the grass just in front of you. It was like UGGGGGGG! Only it wasn’t in front of us, we both knew that whatever it was lurked behind us.
We wanted to run, but our legs were frozen. A moment or two later a large white cat sat down beside us.
“What are you doing?” he asked.
“Can’t you smell?” murmured Chloe. “We are savouring the smoke from the grilled fish.”
“I can’t smell anymore.”
“Poor you,” I said, “have you lost your nose in a fight?”
“No,” said the white cat. “We dead cats can’t smell.”
“Chloe and I both shuddered. “Did you say, d-d-d,” asked Chloe, but she could not finish the dreadful word. The pale cat nodded.
“Well,” I said, “Nice meeting you. It’s time for us to be heading off. Our master will be worried that we’re not back.”
And then Chloe and I both legged it across the rooftops faster than a pair of shooting stars.
Back home, I pawed at Amon’s sleeping head. He’s our master, a priest at the temple of lady bastet, and he understands our language.
“Amon, Amon,” we meowed.
“What is it?” he asked drowsily, “you look like you just saw a ghost.”
“We did!” we both screeched.
“Don’t be silly kitties” said Amon now sitting up, “Ghosts aren’t allowed out of the underworld. Lord Osiris is strict. Once a spirit has been admitted to the Field of Reeds, there’s no turning back. You just got spooked by some shadow or something,”
He was so certain that spirits are not allowed to flit around the living world, that we began to think that he was right - and the cat we had met wasn’t a ghost, just some kind of freaky weirdo.
Even so, we both thought it safer to skip the midnight strolls. It was about a week later, when we were curled up on the foot of Amnon’s bed, when we were awoken by a caterwauling and screeching so deafening and scary that even Amon exclaimed: “Ye Gods ! Has every spirit been released from the underworld?”
“You told us that was impossible!” I reminded him.
“It’s is!” answered Amon, “But sometimes the impossible happens, before adding, “Well, don’t just sit there, go and find out what’s making that row!”
“Are you kidding?” We both replied shaking our heads. “We’re going to hide in the cupboard until the dreadful noise stops.”
Which is what we did.
The terrifying sounds continued to rip through the night skies until Lord Ra’s red sun peeked over the horizon in the East. By dawn we were certain that the world must have ended amid some end-of-days war between the gods. But when we finally peaked through the slats of the window shutters, we saw that our neighbours houses were still standing, and the River Nile was gently flowing, not flooding nor dried up, and no gods were flying around the sky in their chariots.
“By Lady Bastet,” said Amon, “apocalypse has been postponed.”
Which was a priest’s fancy way of saying that the world had not ended just yet.
It was at Lady Bastet’s temple that we learned what had happened. As I have mentioned before, there are thousands of stray cats who stay on the steps of the temple, competing for the scraps thrown by the priests and the pilgrims. Every so often, some wicked priests catch a whole load of cats and turn them into mummies to sell to the tourists. It’s one of the hazards of hanging around the temple, and is why we are so lucky that Amon took us into his house.
This is what we learned. In the middle of night, the temple cats were almost spooked out of their skins by an invasion - an army of ghost cats and shining luminous skeletons came running across the surface of the river Nile and up onto the steps of the temple. That was when the apocalyptic screeching shredded our peaceful sleep. As the temple is on an island, the living cats had nowhere to run. The Nile is wet and full of crocodiles, and nobody in their right minds wants to dip a paw into those waters. Some cats hid, some fought, some ran around in circles. The chaos and screaming continued until dawn when the dead cats departed as suddenly as they had arrived.
In the morning, the chief priest, Simon the Greek, called an emergency meeting of all the priests and priestesses. He spoke from the top of the temple steps and of course we cats listened with pricked up ears.
“This is a cataclysmic catastrophe,” he declared, which was priest-speak for “bad - seriously bad.”
“Never In my whole career have I seen such a marketing disaster. Tourists from the Pharaoh's palace were sleeping in the Sanctuary of Heracles just behind the temple. They almost died of fright and could not sail away fast enough. I must warn you. Business is going to take a downturn. People come to the cat temple for a great day out, not to meet the spirits of the dead.”
We all knew that this could not have come at a worse time. The rival cat Temple at Alexandria was growing in popularity and had already been stealing business from us before this spooky news. No tourists would mean no scraps. Kitties’ bellies would go empty. On the plus side, there would be less demand for mummified cats.
After that, the boats that travel up and down the Nile sailed on past our temple island without stopping, and the priests’ souvenir shop was as quiet as a Pharaoh’s tomb. The scary spectors continued to stalk around the island at night, and sometimes scrimished with the living cats.
Chloe and I reckoned we were safe enough, so long as we did not set a paw outside the house when it was dark. That was until Amon told us one day, “Simon the Greek has asked to see you two in his office.”
This was the worst possible news. A few weeks back, we had caught Simon trying to sell off a sacred statue. We both knew that he was itching for revenge.
Simon was the highest of high priests at the cat temple. When we entered his office we had to show respect by kissing his feet with our noses. By Osiris ! He hadn’t washed this feet since walking to work that morning!
‘Meeow, we are at your service,’ we both said, looking up at him. I did not like the way he was holding his sharp quill pen. It looked like he wanted to throw it at us. He told us:
‘Lady Bastet in her wisdom has chosen you as her most highly favoured cats,’ he said. We nodded - in fact we both knew that was the one reason he had not had us skinned.
‘Therefore,’ he went on, ‘I am entrusting you both with a mission that is vital to the future of the temple.’
‘What mission is that?’ I asked, my voice trembling.
‘You must visit the land of the dead and ask Lord Osiris to stop letting the dead cats to go out at night and walk through the land of the living.’
‘But, But,’ said Chloe, ‘you can’t reach the land of the dead unless you are dead.’
‘If it’s a problem I can help you with that,’ said Simon, with a little smile that showed his gold teeth. It gave me the creeps.
‘No, no, we can manage on our own,’ I replied, hastily. ‘I’ve heard they are letting visitors into the Land of the Dead these days. We’ll get there just fine even though we are alive.’
We left the office of Simon the Greek in the most downcast of moods. Before we returned home we sat in the harbour and looked at the River Nile, and the peaceful marshes behind it, until Lord Ra pulled the burning sun down behind the horizon.
“They say the sun visits the land of the dead at night, “ I told Chloe.
“How will we get there?” she asked.
“And more importantly, how how we get back?” I added.
We were both meowing piteously when our master, Amon, came to find us. We heard his voice calling, “Lapis, Chloe, here kitty-kitties, where are you?” We both came running up to his big feet.
“Here you are, “ he said. “I was worried when you did not come home for dinner.”
“Perhaps we will never come home for dinner again,” I replied. “Because Simon the Greek has ordered us to visit the Land of the Dead.”
Amon has a short temper, but deep down he loves us - we cats can tell that sort of thing you know. He took us both up in his big hands and placed Chloe on his left shoulder and me on his right. This is how we rode home in style.
Now as every cat who hangs around the temple knows, Amon is the most highly skilled magician around these parts - which is why most of us think that he should be the highest of high priests in the place of Simon the Greek. If there is spell worth knowing, then Amon knows it.
The most important scrolls in his collection make up the Book of the Dead. Wealthy people pay him good money to teach them the spells they will need to reach the Field of Reeds when they pass into the next life. Now he gave us a quick lesson.
“You have a long journey ahead of you, “ he told us. “You will take a boat along the dark river. When you reach the hall of Maat, a god will ask you, “Have you ever made anyone cry?’ And you must reply, “No, not ever.” Next a god will ask you, “Have you ever told a lie?” And you must reply, “No, not ever.” Have you got that?
“Yes,” we both said.
“And finally a god will ask you, “Have you ever peed in the River Nile?” And what do you think your reply should be?’
“Why yes, of course,” I said.
Amon shook his head, “No, no no, you silly Kitty, ‘no’ is correct answer.”
“But that would be lying,” protested Chloe.
“I know, I know, everyone, even the Pharaoh, has to tell a fib or two to reach the Field of Reeds in the Land of the Dead. But don’t worry. I shall give you both magical collars that will keep your heart from betraying you. When you are wearing these collars, you can tell as many lies as you like, and you will always be believed. By the way, you must promise to give them back to me when you return.”
“If we return,” I said sadly.
“You shall, you shall,” Amon reassured us, before adding, “I think.”
“What do you mean you think?” demanded Chloe with a swish of her tail.
“I mean,” said Amon, “Is that it makes no sense to keep living cats in the Land of the Dead, so I have good reason to hope that Osiris will allow you to return to the Land of the living. In fact, he’ll probably kick you out!”