Ancient Egypt is not a particularly lovely place in April. The air is hot, the sand is hot, the sun is... hot. This is how Vernon and Doyle began their first day in Ancient Egypt. They were confused and unhappy.
Vernon came to first. He shook Doyle. Doyle awoke with a cough and sat up. "What happened?" Vernon asked.
"I have no answer to that, but I have a guess..." Doyle replied, exhausted.
"Well, out with it!" Vernon demanded.
"My guess is this... that old man was a scientist and managed to create a prototype device to warp time and space!" Doyle answered excitedly. Doyle was quite enthusiastic about science.
"That's ridiculous! And impossible, I might add," Vernon commented.
"It is not impossible with the right technology. Think about it: if time travel was possible in the future, that man may have come from the future!" Doyle suggested.
Vernon sighed in frustration with his friend's ridiculous notions. "I think you're imagination is a little overactive."
"But you have to think... what other explanation do we have?" Doyle asked.
"Magic," Vernon said simply.
"Magic? And you said my imagination is overactive?" Doyle asked, astounded.
"When you're in the antique business, magic explains a lot of things," Vernon said. Vernon was a little bit more artistic than Doyle, and had more fantastical explanations for things.
Doyle, on the other hand, was very scientific, and hated it when people explained things with magic.
"Magic! I've never heard something so preposterous! Magic!" Doyle scoffed.
"Well, how else do you explain how we got... wherever it is we are," Vernon said.
"Egypt. That's the River Nile," Doyle explained. Doyle was more familiar with geography... and history... and mathematics... and pretty much all things academic. But he was lost when it came to the arts and fantasy. That's where Vernon excelled.
"So, if we were in 21st century Virginia, and now we're in 21st century Egypt..." Vernon began thinking.
"Not 21st century," Doyle explained. "Judging by the incomplete pyramids off in the distance, I'd say we were in ancient Egypt... 25th century B.C.E., probably."
"Alright, ancient Egypt..." Vernon began to contemplate the situation.
"Suddenly, time travel makes more sense, doesn't it?" Doyle mentioned.
"You shut up, Mr. We-traveled-back-in-time. Magic is still not out of the question!" Vernon shouted.
"I just can't believe you're hung up on that! It's completely ridiculous!" Doyle shouted back.
The two friends began to argue about magic and time travel, and sorcery and spell-casting and science and space-time and who-knows-what-else. Meanwhile, a few feet away from them, the River Nile began to bubble. Something was underneath it, and it was not a simple crocodile. But it was a crocodile... of sorts.
The giant reptile began to rise from the murky waters of the river. Vernon and Doyle began to silence themselves as they looked on in horror at the monstrous creature before them. Slowly, the crocodile rose... and even more terrifying, it was not a crocodile at all. It was a man... with a crocodile's head. The man was eight feet tall, one of the tallest men Vernon and Doyle had ever seen. And easily the only man with the head of a crocodile!
"May I suggest," Vernon said nervously, "that we... GET THE HECK OUT OF HERE!"
"Motion carried," Doyle agreed, and the two sped away. They turned around to get a better look, only to observe that their sprint had done nothing to help them escape the monster man. He was faster than they were. It appeared he wasn't moving at all, and yet, he was right behind Vernon and Doyle!
"How is he doing that?" Doyle shouted in terror.
"Magic?" Vernon suggested.
"Science!" Doyle snapped back.
"Admit it, Doyle. The ancient Egyptians didn't have the technology to do this, especially since even we don't have the technology! He isn't moving, and yet he is right behind us! And we went back in time and space. One word: magic!" Vernon was certain that magic was the answer.
"I am not admitting anything about magic being real! BECAUSE IT ISN'T!" Doyle yelled.
"Hey! Magic is real, idiot!" someone shouted.
"Don't call me an idiot!" Doyle said angrily to Vernon.
"I didn't call you an idiot!" Vernon said.
"I called you an idiot, idiot!" the voice repeated. Vernon and Doyle turned around. The crocodile-headed man had spoken.
"Who the heck are you?" Doyle asked. He was no longer scared. Now he was angry.
"I am Sobek, God of Crocodiles!" the man said.
Vernon and Doyle stood dumbfounded. Vernon began to analyze the recent events and realized the irony. He and Doyle, two atheists from Virginia, had ended up face to face with a god in Egypt!
"A... god?" Vernon said, his nervousness resumed.
"Gods don't exist," Doyle said plainly.
"Yes, they do. I am right here," Sobek said, frustrated and thinking about how stupid the two mortals before him were.
"You aren't a god... just an impressive actor," Doyle said.
"Oh yeah? Turn around," Sobek commanded.
Vernon did so immediately. Doyle did not.
"What if we don't want to?" Doyle said.
"Um, I do," Vernon said. "God or not, I don't want the eight foot crocodile man to get angry."
Doyle sighed. And turned around.
"Now turn around again," Sobek said. The two turned around again.
Sobek was no longer an eight-foot man. He was at least twenty feet tall now.
"How in the heck did you become... that?" Doyle said, in such disbelief that he couldn't even say the words 'twenty feet tall.'
"Magic," Vernon and Sobek said at once.
"Fine then," Doyle admitted. "Magic."
Sobek lead Vernon and Doyle towards the unfinished pyramids. Sobek and Vernon had been talking the entire time. Despite the fact that Sobek was rather rude when he spoke, the two were enjoying their conversation.
"So, you really are an Egyptian god?" Vernon asked for the seventh time.
"Yes, I am the god of crocodiles," Sobek said.
"I just don't understand how that's possible!" Doyle said, still stunned.
"Well, here's the proof. Right before your eyes!" Vernon said.
"Figures. You idiots have to see something to believe it," Sobek said dryly.
"Seeing something proves it," Doyle responded.
"And believing without seeing is real faith," Sobek snapped back.
"Faith is unnecessary," Doyle argued.
"Take that back, you stupid excuse for a mortal!" Sobek shouted.
"Are we returning to that again?" Vernon sighed. "Please. Enough arguing! Here are the pyramids now."
Vernon, Doyle, and Sobek arrived in the site of the incomplete pyramids. In one year's time, these structures would become the great Egyptian pyramids.
"Breathtaking," Vernon breathed.
"Maybe you could stay a year and see the finished structure!" Sobek suggested.
"How did you know the would be done in a year?" Doyle asked.
"Come on. What kind of supreme magical being would I be if I didn't know exactly when everything in my culture will happen?" Sobek laughed. "For instance, in the year 2052, Egypt will be the first country to allow camels to vote."
Doyle and Vernon disregarded Sobek's comment.
"So, are you the only Egyptian god?" Doyle asked. If there was one thing that Doyle could care less about, it was ancient mythology. It was one thing he hadn't studied.
"Don't be ridiculous, Doyle!" Vernon laughed at his friend. Vernon, unlike Doyle, loved to study myths, and often used mythology in his artwork, which was yet another of his hobbies. "The Egyptians had a massive and extensive pantheon made up of many deities!"
"For an atheist, you sure do study gods a lot!" Sobek laughed and patted Vernon on the back. Vernon noted that the pat of a god is painful.
"So, where are your brothers and sisters?" Doyle asked.
Sobek laughed again. "You just automatically assume that all of the gods are siblings? What a riot! We aren't all related... and by Egypt, we also don't go around marrying each of our siblings like those gods-darned Greek gods, so don't go thinking that either."
"Alright, Sobek," Vernon said. He had become better friends with the crocodile god than Doyle had. "Take us to the others."
"It'd be my pleasure," Sobek replied. He walked into the nearest incomplete pyramid and disappeared.
"Of course," Doyle sighed, frustrated. "More magic."
"Come on, Doyle," Vernon coaxed his friend. The two entered the unfinished chamber that Sobek had entered.
"Isn't this dangerous?" Doyle reminded Vernon.
"I suppose, yes," Vernon answered. Vernon, however, continued to walk.
"Of course," Doyle said. "This idiot doesn't care if it's dangerous. He would walk into a shark tank if he were following more of his mysterious giant pixies."
"Less talking, more following the crocodile-man!" Vernon called back. Doyle looked ahead at his friend. Vernon was a few feet ahead of Doyle. Vernon continued to walk, until he too vanished.
"Vernon!" Doyle shouted. Doyle raced through the catacomb, dodging unfilled holes and ancient construction tools strewn about. Doyle ran faster and faster. Even though Vernon had the ability to annoy Doyle to high heaven and low hell, Vernon was still Doyle's best friend. Doyle was not going to sit back as Vernon was kidnapped by an eight foot tall crocodile-headed fairy. Doyle sprinted forward, and suddenly, the unfinished walls of the pyramid began to ripple, and slowly, shifted to reveal a giant marble room. And Vernon and Sobek were already in it.
"It's about time you joined the party!" Vernon called. Vernon and Sobek, along with many other eight foot tall mutated humans, were enjoying the snack bar at some sort of, as Doyle saw it, alien drinking party. They were in a large marble room. This room was easily the size of a large house, or even a mansion. A regular-sized banquet table sat on the left side of the room, and at the front of the room, were thrones. Not thrones fit for a king. Thrones fit for a giant. These thrones were bigger than the thrones upon which statues of presidents sat. And yet, most of the strange mutants, like Sobek, were only eight feet tall. Eight feet seemed small in comparison to the thrones. And, smaller than everyone there, there was Vernon, a mere five feet, eleven inches. Vernon was already holding a glass of beer.
"Ah, Vernon. What a surprise to see you already drinking beer, and you've just arrived to the Disco Party of the Ancient Gods," Doyle said sarcastically.
"Doyle, you ought to try this beer. It can't be described by any words in my vocabulary!" Vernon said.
"Well, to be fair, that isn't many words," Doyle joked. The gods laughed.
"Oh, look, the mortal can tell jokes! I say we put blindfolds on and play pin-the-tail on the donkey!" one of the mutant-looking gods laughed. This god was, surprisingly, tiny. So short that Doyle hadn't noticed him before. He was only about three feet tall.
"Pin the tail on the donkey?" Doyle began. "Well, line up, everyone, because we've got an ass right here!" Doyle laughed at the short god.
"Oh, you think you are so funny!" the midget growled. "Well, you're about to see what happens when you make fun of Bes!"
Bes, the short god, glared at Doyle. Suddenly, Doyle began to glow. When the glowing subsided, Doyle had become a donkey.
"Now who's the ass?" Bes laughed.
Vernon approached Doyle in his donkey form.
"Uh, this may not be the best time to bring it up, but..." Vernon began.
"Yes, Vernon," Donkey Doyle interrupted. "Magic is real."
"Yes, you admit it!" Vernon celebrated his victory with a long swig of alcohol.
"So," Vernon asked, feeling awkward and a little stupid for talking to a donkey, "want any beer?"
"What I want," Doyle said, "is for you to reverse this spell and TURN ME BACK INTO A HUMAN!"
"Relax," Bes said. "I was just having a little fun. Here you are!" Bes glared again at Doyle and in a flash of light, Doyle was returned to normal.
"It's interesting to be an ass," Doyle commented.
"Well, that's one thing I can't change," Bes muttered.
"What was that?" Doyle asked.
"Nothing at all," Bes said.
Doyle and Vernon decided to go speak with the gods present at the banquet. They first were sure to talk to Sobek, with whom they were already acquainted.
"Sobek, exactly what is this party for?" Doyle asked the crocodile god.
"It's celebrating the near-completion of the pyramids, and between you and me, it's also because Ra had this new beer he wanted to test out," Sobek explained.
"This stuff is really good," Vernon said.
"I know, right!" Sobek agreed. "It's got that sweet quality with the citrus tang..."
"And the refreshing taste..." Vernon added.
"Oh would you please shut up!" Doyle snapped. "This stuff isn't even that good. Do we have to talk about god beer? Please change the subject."
Sobek and Vernon sipped their beers in silence.
"And personally I thought the taste was a little bitter," Doyle added.
Doyle and Vernon walked around for a few minutes before bumping into Bes again.
"Greetings, Vernon and rude friend whom I turned into a donkey!" Bes greeted.
"It's Doyle," Doyle said quietly.
"Sure, hey Dylan," Bes said. "Vernon, how's the beer?"
"Oh, can we please talk about something other than the beer!" Doyle shouted.
"Sure!" Bes said. "New conversation topic: are you two fulfilled with your sexual experience?"
Vernon and Doyle stared blankly at Bes.
"Sexual fulfillment can be very important. If you aren't getting the full experience out of your sexual activity, I have a very helpful course you can take, or you can buy my book or a ten-minute DVD..."
As Bes droned on, Vernon and Doyle decided to exit the conversation and speak with another god.
As the two walked around the party, they encountered a mutant similar to their 'friend' Sobek. He was an eight-foot man with a jackal's head instead of a crocodile's.
"Hello, I am Doyle and this is Vernon," Doyle explained.
Vernon did not greet the god; he was too busy gulping down more divine beer.
"Hey. I'm Anubis, the god of dead people," the jackal-man introduced himself. He seemed rather depressed. There was no joy in his voice.
"Is something wrong, Mr. God of Dead People?" Vernon asked.
"Well, I'm not actually the god of death," Anubis explained, "but I'm the god of embalming. Or, the god of mummies, if you like."
"And that makes you sad?" Doyle asked. Doyle was quite uncomfortable consoling a god of mummies.
"No man. It's just that... you see so many dead people in my line of work. What is the point of living if you're just going to see more and more dead people every day!" Anubis began to cry into Vernon's shoulder.
"There is one thing here at this party to cheer you up," Vernon said.
"What is it?" Anubis sobbed.
"There is some really awesome beer..." Vernon said.
Doyle slapped his face.
"Beer?" Anubis asked.
"Yeah. It's cold and really good. Would you like to come drown your sorrows and all other emotions in alcohol with me?" Vernon asked.
"Sure," Anubis said, still teary.
"Oh brother," Doyle said. Doyle continued to walk as Vernon escorted Anubis to the beer cooler.
Doyle, bent on meeting the gods and convincing himself, somehow, that they didn't really exist, continued to stroll through the room, and was drawn to a strange scene: a man made of rock and a woman made of clouds making out, and near them, a cow.
"Uh, hello?" Doyle said. The rock man and the cloud lady would not break up their embrace.
"Dear, you aren't going to get any conversation out of them right now," the cow said.
"Oh, a talking cow. Of course," Doyle said. "With all the strangeness today, I was beginning to think the day would be incomplete without a talking cow."
"Hey, no need to be sarcastic, deary," the cow said. "Allow me to introduce myself. I am Hathor, the cow goddess of love."
"And I am Doyle, the confused atheist with a drunk friend."
"Well, nice to meet you, Doyle," Hathor said. Hathor's figure began to shift and it vanished into the figure of a woman with cow horns. She shook Doyle's hand.
"So, what you're goddess of love?" Doyle asked, trying to make conversation.
"I am lady of the vulva," Hathor said casually.
"Goodbye," Doyle said.
Doyle again passed the kissing couple.
"Pardon me, but, may I talk?" Doyle asked.
The rock man turned around. "What do you want? You just interrupted the kiss of our 123,113,657 minute anniversary!" he complained.
"You know what, never mind," Doyle said. He turned around and left.
"Honey, it's our 123,113,658 minute anniversary," the cloud lady said.
"Of course, dear, how could I forget," the rock man said.
"I say every single person here is nuts," Doyle said.
"No, only Geb is Nut's," the cow said. Hathor had resumed cow form and was now following Doyle.
"What in the heck is that supposed to mean?" Doyle asked.
"That couple over there! That was Geb and Nut! The closest pair of lovers in our world," Hathor explained.
"Geb is the earthy dude? And Nut is the lady of the clouds?" Doyle asked.
"Precisely," Hathor replied. "Such a story! Geb was going mad searching for a lover, so mad that he raped his own mother to experience the thrill, but Nut forgave him of his vile act, and now, the two are an inseparable union!"
"Entertaining story," Doyle said sarcastically. He was tired of the pure craziness of everyone at this party, and he even though he was going crazy himself, because he was beginning to believe the gods around him were real.
"Having some trouble not believing, are we?" a familiar voice said.
"Would you please shut up, cow," Doyle said. He turned around, but Hathor was already gone.
"Who said that?" Doyle asked.
Doyle looked beside him to see an old man sitting in a wheelchair. It was the same old man from Vernon's basement.
"You! You're the crazy old dude that sent us here!" Doyle accused.
The old man in the wheelchair smiled. "Sure. I am the 'crazy old dude' at fault. Nice to see you again, Doyle. I don't believe we've properly met."
"Save it. Just send us back home!" Doyle demanded.
"I would, but, you're friend over there," the old man motioned to Vernon, who was currently vomiting along with Anubis, while both were still drowning themselves in beer, "he is drunk. And you know what they say about drunk driving... er, travel through space-time. It's unsafe."
"You have to be kidding me!" Doyle said.
"Hey, I didn't make the rules! Well, actually, I did, but still. Once Vernon is sober, I'll take you away from here."
"Fine." Doyle turned to go shake Vernon.
"Also, Doyle, know this! The people here are not exactly as they seem! You alone must discern real from fictional, even if you can see both!" the old man called.
Doyle pondered the old man's words, but disregarded them. Little did Doyle know that the old man knew Doyle disregarded his words. And the old man had always known he would.
Doyle grabbed a drunk Vernon by the shoulders and shook him.
"What is it?" Vernon said sleepily.
"You and you're ridiculous obsession with this fancy beer just cost us a ticket back home!" Doyle growled, annoyed.
"What? Why?" Vernon shook his head, but this did nothing to sober him up.
"The old guy is here! And if you were sober, he would've taken us home!"
"But Doyle, the old guy isn't there!" Vernon argued.
"Yes he is, you're just too drunk to..." Doyle turned his head to see that the old man was not anywhere. "...See him."
"Now may I please return to my beer?" Vernon asked.
"No!" Doyle said.
Anubis was beginning to recover from his last vomiting fit. "This whole beer thing was a terrible idea," Anubis said as he began to vomit again.
"You guys are pathetic," Doyle said, and left Vernon and Anubis to their vomit.
Doyle sat down on the white marble floor near one of the thrones. He was so frustrated. Frustrated with the old man who had sent them here and refused to bring them back. Frustrated with Vernon and how drunk he was. Frustrated with how ridiculous the people at the party were. But most of all, frustrated with himself. Doyle was having a hard time believing that he really was surrounded by gods. For his entire life, he had been an atheist, believing gods were no more than fairy tales. And now, he was suddenly being forced to change his views. It was awful and very hard for him.
"Something got you down?" someone said.
Doyle looked up to see a tall black man with his legs bandaged like mummy's.
"Hello," Doyle said, too upset to make dry or frustrated remarks.
"What's wrong?" the black man said. "Name's Min, by the way." Min had a deep yet soft voice with a soothing quality to it. He was the first person he had seen tonight that he was not frustrated to talk with.
"Well, Min," Doyle began. "All my life, I've been an atheist. Gods were tall tales to me. And then, some old man just comes into my life and forces me to start seeing things his way. It's such a sudden and upsetting change. All night, I've been convincing myself that gods aren't real, even though I've been talking to them all night. I'm in denial. I just hope me telling you that I don't want to believe you're real doesn't make you angry."
Min thought long and hard about how to respond. Doyle hoped Min wouldn't turn him into a donkey or kill him or something. He braced himself for punishment.
"Don't worry, kid," Min said. "I'm faced with tough and challenging choices every day. Everyone is. But here's the thing: you can't let others make those big decisions for you. You have to dig deep, and make those decisions, like about marriage, sex, or religion, for yourself. That decision will affect you for the rest of your life. So you have to think hard and make the decision that you want to live with until the day you die."
Doyle thought about Min's words. "Thank you, Min. Thank you so much." Min nodded to Doyle. Inside, Doyle was beginning to make a decision of his own. He had to go find Vernon. Maybe these 'gods', if they really were, had some sort of potion or magic hocus pocus to sober up Vernon. Doyle started walking towards the beer cooler.
As he was walking, he was stopped by yet another eight-foot man with an animal's head. This time, the man appeared to have the head of a donkey.
"Out of my way, ass-head. I have to speak with my friend," Doyle said.
"You dare call me an ass-head?" the ass-head roared.
"Oh, put a sock in it, Set!" Min shouted. He stood up and walked toward Doyle and the ass-head that was evidently named Set.
"This mortal called me an ass-head, and I will make him pay!" the ass-head Set threatened Doyle.
"Oh, Set, you are so funny. You are an ass-head, if you haven't noticed!" Min laughed.
"How dare you!" Set roared. "Hathor, I am an ass-head?"
"Yes, Set," the cow goddess said.
"Oh, screw you people!" Set growled and walked away.
"Thanks, Min," Doyle said.
"Don't mention it. Now go get your friend!"
Doyle reached the banquet table to see a sober Anubis indulging in some crackers.
"Anubis, where's Vernon?" Doyle asked.
"He's over by Ra's special beer cooler," Anubis reported. "He's sobered up, but you'd better hurry, he's about to get another drink!"
"Vernon, don't touch that cooler!" yelled Doyle.
Doyle finally caught up with Vernon and prevented him from drinking another beer. He apologized to Ra, the bird-headed god that had provided the beer, for Vernon's taking so much of the beer, and Vernon and Doyle said goodbye to Sobek. Sobek bid them farewell.
"Good luck in the future, guys!" Sobek shook Vernon's hand and patted Doyle's back.
You were right: god pats do hurt!" Doyle whispered to Vernon.
Doyle bid final farewell to Min, the god who had helped him with his problems with the old man.
"I am always glad to help with the problems of the confused mortal," Min said.
Doyle smiled. Despite his strangeness, Min was the one god that made Doyle actually want to believe everything around him was real. But inside, he knew it wasn't. None of it was.
Vernon and Doyle wandered around the room until they found the 'sweet spot' that caused the room to vanish, replaced by the interior of the pyramid.
"Well, did you enjoy yourselves?" a voice asked. The old man now stood before Vernon and Doyle.
"Yes, we did... now take us home!" Doyle demanded.
"Fine... but what did you learn while here?" the old man asked.
"That magic is real and that divine beer tastes good," Vernon answered.
"That big decisions can be made for one's self by one's self," Doyle concluded.
"That is all true," the old man said. "Except for the beer thing."
"No really!" Vernon said. "I can go back and get some if you..."
"That won't be necessary," the old man assured.
"If you think I can make decisions for myself, why are you trying to change my choice?" Doyle angrily asked the elderly man.
"Because I am trying to prevent you from making the wrong decision," the old man said. The old man had a tear in his eye and a solemn but sincere look on his face.
"Take us home, old man," Doyle said. "We're ready to leave."
The old man nodded. He produced the amulet from before from his ragged shirt. It began to glow intensely. Doyle turned away.
"Hey, man, you never told us your name!" Vernon said.
"That is for another time, Vernon," the old man said. He smiled weakly as a tear fell from his eye. Then, Vernon and Doyle were gone, bound for home.
They awoke on the ground in front of a Buddha statue in India.