Tracie dragged her feet as her mother led her to the temple. Sandstone loomed above, carved with hieroglyphs that had eroded into niches and cracks barely distinguishable from what nature had added. The structure was a proud silhouette against the overcast sky.
"Temple of Dendur," her mother read from the museum plaque. "Fifteen BCE. Given to the United States by Egypt in 1965. That's quite a gift. Isn't it?"
Tracie wondered why Egypt had given the gift. Her pink sandals scuffed the polished floor, adding squeaks to the echoing sounds of other museum patrons. A sloping glass wall dwarfed the temple. She imagined sunlight drenching it. As the glass wall vanished inside her mind, there was a lull in the noise level. The blur. Tracie snapped out of her daydream in a panic. What if the rest of the museum vanished along with the wall? She focused a family of tourists. Concentrating on other people's conversations usually helped.
Everyone said that Tracie had a vivid imagination that sometimes ran away. She could feel when it might happen; light and sound would become blurred. She hated it. Her mother called the blur a "fit," and was usually embarrassed for Tracie. And angry.
"Tracie?" Her mother gave her a gentle tug.
Tracie resolutely followed her mother through the temple gate, which was narrow for its height, as though the ancient Egyptians had been as tall and thin as afternoon shadows. There were no places for door hinges anywhere on the temple. It seemed the ancient Egyptians had feared nothing external. Perhaps they welcomed the elements of nature -- as long as nature could tolerate dim chambers.
"Are you afraid?" Her mother bent down to look at her six year old daughter with concern. "We don't have to go in there, sweetie, if you don't want to." Yet her voice was heavy with disappointment.
Tracie didn't want to prevent her mother from seeing the best exhibit in the museum because of her. They might not return to New York for a long time.
"I'll go," she said, trying to be brave. Maybe the blur would not happen. She just had to control her imagination.
"Come on," said her mother in a voice that was stiff with false cheeriness. "Let's see what those ancient Egyptians saw! Isn't this exciting?"
As they approached the shadowed entrance, Tracie felt offensive in her bright pink clothing, here in this place that had survived hundreds of human lifetimes. She was an insignificant speck of lint. Shadows were sharp here, erasing hers. The air stirred in a breeze, but that was impossible indoors…
It began the same way it had happened in the House of Seven Gables in Massachusetts, and the Pueblo Indian ruins in Arizona, and Independence Hall in Pennsylvania. Tracie felt as though she were moving in slow motion. Her mother blurred and began to fade, replaced by light and shadow and color. All of it was out of place and dreamlike. The sounds of the museum echoed into meaningless wind. When Tracie inhaled, she smelled sand. The floor she stood upon was no longer uniform, but rough, and she had to shift her balance to keep from falling. The temple was the only thing that did not blur. She clung to the sight, afraid to close her eyes and find the world vanished. Unfamiliar words and names tumbled through her mind.
She could almost see the ancient Egyptians. She didn't want to. They weren't supposed to be here. Soon her mother would shake her shoulder and the trance would break. There would be frightened words exchanged, but Tracie would be safe. That was how it always happened.
The blur ended. Dread boiled in Tracie like poison; she was no longer in a museum. The Temple of Dendur stood before her like a mirage. It was taller now -- because it was whole. The stone blocks that formed its surface were smooth and gleaming in the pink light of dawn. The carved hieroglyphs were painted with brilliant reds and blacks.
Tracie spun around. The temple gate was behind her, flanked on either side by a wall of dark bricks.
She could see mud huts through the gate.
There were palm trees on the slope below the village, and a river that could only be the Nile. The people wore white linen wraps that left bare shoulders or torsos. Their skin was dark, their forms sinewy. One by one, they stopped their various activities to stare at the little girl inside the temple gate. Tracie jerked her gaze down to see her own clothing, and was horrified that it hadn't changed. She wore pink shorts and a white tee-shirt.
A hand clapped her on the shoulder. She hadn't noticed the man standing so close to her, and she staggered. He pulled her roughly toward him. His face was shaven except for a goatee, and he wore robes, like a priest. Studying her, the man began asking questions in an alien language.
Tracie shook her head, beginning to cry. "I don't understand. I don't understand."
The priest continued to speak softly. His tone was incredibly patient, and he looked at the temple several times.
A crowd was gathering in the village. Tracie stared at them helplessly. Her imagination had run very far this time.
The priest began to fondle her clothes. He made sounds of approval as he rubbed her tee-shirt between his forefinger and thumb. She tried to pull away, but the man held her in place. He examined her shorts in the same manner, though with less enthusiasm.
Her sandals were another point of interest. He lifted her feet one at a time, examining the heels, soles, and straps. The Velcro caused him to shout in delight. He unfastened and refastened a strap multiple times. Frustration leaked into his patient tone.
Tracie stared at the temple; the nexus between this world and her own. Had she known what deity it honored, she would have fallen to her knees and prayed fervently. Dendur was older than any structure she had ever visited before; perhaps that was why she was here. She'd seen shadows of the past in other places. She'd blurred into eras where men wore wigs, and once a seventeenth century maid had bustled down a primitive flight of stairs and walked directly through Tracie. But those figures had never seen her, let alone spoken to her or touched her.
The Egyptian priest tried to pull her toward the temple. Tracie twisted away and focused desperately on the temple, trying to see its stone eroded and shed of vibrant paint. The sky ought to be duller, diluted through panels of glass and a blanket of clouds. The stench of oils should be replaced by the scent of the museum. That was reality.
The priest blurred away, but Tracie barely saw, she was so focused on the temple.
The blur lasted an eternity this time. She quivered with anticipation until exhaustion defeated her. Hours of standing made her legs ache. The ache crawled up her spine and settled inside her head. Surely she had been standing inside this blur for days. Her legs felt like cast iron. Her feet were spikes of agony.
She felt herself tipping forward. She was going to fall. When she tried to force her legs back into position, they would not obey her brain.
She landed hard on a dusty floor, face down.
When the ringing, rushing echo inside her head faded, she realized that someone was speaking. "…Help! Someone help! Tracie? Tracie? Speak to me! Tracie!"
She turned her head and saw her mother.
Tracie ended up being carried from the museum in her mother's arms. Her body ached for hours afterward. To her mother, she had suffered another fit; or perhaps a seizure. No one ever understood about the blur.
"Not enough water," her mother stated firmly, later. "You must have been dehydrated. I didn't give you enough to drink."
Tracie shrugged numbly over her bran muffin. They were breakfasting in the hotel this morning. Her mother had felt her forehead for fever all night. The one time Tracie had brought up ancient Egyptians, her mother had laughed about her overactive imagination. Tracie knew better than to expound upon the subject.
"Look at this!" Her mother paused in organizing Tracie's clothes. "Your sandals have dust all over them. I wonder where that happened?" She held up her own shoe for comparison.
The muffin in Tracie's mouth tasted like dust.
"Well. What do you say about visiting the Morris-Jumel Mansion today? The guidebook says it's the oldest house in Manhattan, and … Tracie?"
Her daughter put her head in her hands and began to sob.
A graduate of the 2004 Odyssey writing workshop, Abby Goldsmith supports her writing career by animating characters in videogames. Her stories have been featured in Cyberpulp Magazine, Neverary, Deep Magic, and other webzines. Her animated short films are screened at international festivals and hosted online. Samples of her writing, illustrations, and films are available at http://www.abbygoldsmith.com/.
Published by permission of the author.