Perhaps it was due to the reason I was there, but France had never looked quite so beautiful. The sun shone palely on the sparkling, smooth surface of the river that hugged the western curve of the village of Champs Les Sims and the soft hues of the landscape complimented each other so perfectly that for a moment I wondered whether or not I had just stepped into a painting. How was it even possible for such beauty to exist?
It was here too where I would find the cure for Catherine. I was sure of it. In such a breathtakingly beautiful place, how could miracles not exist?
As soon as I arrived at the base camp and dropped off my things I left, my heart pounding as I headed toward the nectary—the place where I knew my answers would be had. It was a place I hadn’t explored much, having tried to avoid it as much as possible after my less than pleasant experience there, but the thing was, there was so much to explore there…..
After all, the nectary had been around for hundreds of years, thousands, in fact, although that far back it looked nothing whatsoever as it did today. If there was any place in France that would carry what I needed, this was it. The bigger question was, how would I get to it? Would anyone know about it? Surely a nectar that could cure anything would have been big news by now?
I racked my brain as I walked up to the nectary, gravel crunching beneath my shoes, and the most obvious answer was the first to come to my mind. There should be a tomb here….catacombs…an underground vault….something….And that was where I’d find my prize. I was sure of it.
I wasn’t sure if I’d found a tomb per se, but I did find an underground cellar. Unfortunately, there wasn’t really anything down there except some old bottles of wine and some locked doors. Although on that note, nothing drove me crazier than locked doors.
No matter how hard I searched though, I found no keys that would allow me further entrance into the tomb, so I just had to return to the surface, anxiety now beginning to creep into my being as the full extent of what I’d done hit me like a speeding train.
I was about a month pregnant, newly married, my husband was still dealing with issues from his divorce, and my sister was….well, she was really sick, and here I was gallivanting in France, having left only a short note as an explanation. And what was I looking for anyway?
The realization that I wasn’t even sure settled unpleasantly in the pit of my stomach, leaving me feeling sick. For a moment, I even thought I would actually be sick, but a few deep breaths solved that. I just needed to think. There had to have been some reason my gut led me here! There’s something here…something here that can help….or perhaps….someone?
I rushed back upstairs to speak with the owner of the store, but stopped dead in my tracks when I noticed just who it was. Sure I had remembered that it was here that I’d met André and sure I remember him running the register, but somehow, after all this time…well, I just kind of figured he wouldn’t be here anymore. But alas, there he was, just as much of a scum bag as he always was, just waiting smugly until someone bought one of his overpriced products.
Still, I needed information, so, biting back the sick feeling in my stomach, I approached him.
“Hello! So…so it’s been awhile,” I said as I walked up, trying to make casual conversation. As soon as I saw the look on André’s face though, I wish I had tried to pretend I was someone he didn’t know. Or better yet, not approached him at all.
“I never knew you, leave me alone!” he cried in a panic, jerking his head hastily from left to right, as if expecting his wife to instantaneously materialize behind him.
“I’m not here for that,” I responded in annoyance, narrowing my eyes at the idiot before me. “I’m happily married now, thanks. Something that actually means something to me.” André stared back at me coolly, his face a bitter mask. Part of me was thrilled that I’d clearly said something that had gotten to him, but the other part of me regretted my words. After all, I needed his help right now. The last thing I needed to be doing was insulting the guy.
“Look, I’m sorry,” I hastily said. “I didn’t come here for any of that. I honestly just had a couple questions. About…about nectar.”
“About nectar?” he asked skeptically, raising his eyebrows at me.
“Well, yeah. Um…well, for instance…” I paused, trying to think of the best way to word this without sounding like a crazy person. “Err…have you ever heard of a fruit that…that’s like…hot? I mean like warm to the touch and kind of….glowy?”
“You mean flame fruit?” he asked, his eyebrows still raised. “What about zem?”
“Oh! So you’ve heard of them?” I asked excitedly, my heart suddenly pounding faster.
“Yes. Zey are a fruit…found in Egypt.”
“Yes…..zey contain a leetle bit of capsicum, which makes zem warm to ze touch. Any drink wiz zem in it is spicy…like…like a spiced cider though, not like a pepper. Zey are much sweeter than zat.”
“And the glowing?”
“It is a reaction between ze chemicals in ze fruit. Totally ‘armless though.”
“Please, could you tell me…do…do they have any…any, er, healingproperties, these flame fruits? Like when you make them into nectars?”
André laughed a bit. A dry, almost-mocking laugh. “Well, I suppose you could zay zat all nectars ‘ave healing properties, no? Just drink a few glasses after a rough day and suddenly you will feel so much better.”
“Oh…haha,” I said, forcing a small laugh. I licked my lips nervously and then cleared my throat, trying to formulate my next question the best that I could. “So…so you’ve never heard of any nectar that’s a bit…odd, then? Maybe even a bit…” Please don’t mock me. “magical?”
“Magic, ah? No. I do not know of any nectar like zat. Of course, zere are ze stories about the nectar of the gods, no? Ze nectar that grants the gods zeir immortality, but zey are just a part of Greek mythology. Nothing ‘as ever been found like zat…I would know. My family ‘as been working in this business for many generations.”
“I see,” I whispered, more than a little crestfallen. “Thanks for your time.”
I wandered off before André could say anything else to me, feeling like the dumbest person that had ever walked the planet. How could I have thought there would be some magical plant, or drink that could heal Catherine? How could I have been so taken over by something I had read in an old children’s book? The extent of my stupidity made me want to cry, but instead I settled for grabbing some nectar.
I knew I wasn’t technically supposed to have any, but I figured just one glass couldn’t hurt.
Lo and behold, I actually did find a bottle in the sample shelf that was made out of those accursed flame fruits, so I decided to try that. I poured a tray of them, since there were a lot of people in the nectary, but I only planned to drink one. I kept reminding myself of that as I poured, until I became faintly aware of a presence behind me.
“Hmph,” an elderly man behind me said. “Zat eez a winter wine. Not fit for such warm weather,” he sniffed. “You should try something far more mild.”
“I just want to try this one,” I muttered, and then hurried off with a glass before the elderly gentleman could say anything else.
The drink was kind of warm, just as the old man had said, and a sweet spicy, like a spicy apple cider, just like André had said. And also just like he said, it really didn’t do anything out of the ordinary to me. It warmed me up a little bit and made me feel a touch more “floaty,” but that was about it. No different than any other drink that had alcohol in it.
In order to prevent myself from grabbing another glass, I decided to go exploring downstairs again, but this time my way was blocked by the same gentleman who had looked down upon me earlier. Fantastic.
“So you are interested in magic, hmm?” the old man asked as he came right up to me, not even batting an eye. “I could not ‘elp but overhear.”
Of course you couldn’t, I thought bitterly to myself.
“Kind of,” I responded, trying to remain polite. “I’d just…read something about…about a magic drink that…that could….heal….” I clarified, my voice trailing off with every word. My cheeks burned. It all sounded so stupid now. So damn stupid.
“Well, I ‘aven’t really ‘eard of zat, but surely you ‘ave ‘eard rumors about a certain secret place in Egypt, no? A certain…healing place?” he asked, giving me a pointed look.
“…w-….what place is this?” I asked cautiously, forcing myself not to get overly excited.
“Alas, I do not know,” the old man sighed with a shrug of his shoulders. “I ‘ave only ‘eard rumors. Rumors of a secret tomb where a very powerful goddess lives. A goddess who blesses all those worthy with strength. I ‘ave mostly read about it in the old stories, but occasionally you hear whispers.”
“But if there’s such a place, wouldn’t there be a lot more than whispers about it?”
“Ahhh, chérie, not necessarily,” the man responded with fervor. “Sometimes, when zings ‘appen zat do not make sense, or are not logical, people keep it to zemselves, for fear of being looked at as crazy. I mean, look at ze look on your face now. You are ze one asking about magic, and here I tell you what I know, and you too look at me as if I ‘ad lost my senses. People do not take kindly to zat which zey do not understand. ‘istory is full of proof for zis.”
“I am soree, chérie, but I must go now. I ‘ave told you all zat I know. Good luck in your travels, young one. I ‘ope you find what you are looking for.”
And before I could say anything else, the man was turning away and hurrying off, leaving me more confused than ever. But there was one thing for sure that I knew I needed to do…and that was look further into this story.
So I went to the only place I could really even think of going—the library. This one was massive, with rows after rows after rows of books. You would have had to live many multiple lifetimes in order to read all of the stories in this collection.
So many books…surely I would find an answer?
I really don’t know how many hours I spent just pouring over books on Ancient Egypt, but try as I might I saw no mentions of healing. I read stories of Osiris and Isis, of King Tutankhamen, Nefertiti and Marc Antony and Cleopatra and the Great Pyramids of Giza and mummification and even some mumblings about curses, but nothing of healing. Plagues, curses, and monuments, yes; places of healing, no.
It didn’t take me much longer to realize that I needed help, so I went up to the librarian to ask him instead. Surely he might know a little bit more than the old gentleman I met at the nectary?
“You uh…wouldn’t happen to know what book I should read to find out about er…well…okay. I mean- well…you haven’t heard of say, like, a…a…place or fountain or food or I don’t know, somethingof healing, have you? In Egypt? I’ve…I’ve heard stories about this place…and I’m doing a research paper on it,” I lied stupidly. “Only I don’t know the name of the place.”
The librarian looked at me for such a long moment that for a second I feared that he hadn’t understood a word I had said. Amidst all the chaos of my mission I’d almost forgotten I was in a different country. I opened my mouth to apologize, but the man spoke before I could.
“I suppose you must be talking about Ze Great Sphinx,” he supplied. “Does zat sound familiar?”
At first I wasn’t really sure what to make of that information, seeing as I literally had no idea what I was looking for, but just as I was thinking that, another thought came into my mind, or more specifically, a memory, and suddenly a genuine smile was pulling at my lips—the first I had made since my wedding.
“And you’re sure you weren’t cursed?”
“Yes, silly girl! Cursed! Mummies can do that you know. Do you feel alright? Not clammy or sick or anything, right? If so, you have to go to Egypt. To the Sphinx. As quickly as you can possibly make it….”
I hurriedly thanked the librarian and then grabbed some more books, and sure enough, once I focused in on some of the older books on the Sphinx, there were mumblings and hints at some supernatural force. Sure they were interwoven between mythological stories of gods and goddesses, but somehow, I had a good feeling about this one.
THIS was it! It just had to be!!
Shutting the last book with a slam, I hastily put it away and then grabbed up my phone, my heart pounding. I ignored the 50 some-odd missed calls and texts and quickly dialed the number of the person I intended to save.
“Catherine!” I cried as soon as she answered. “Catherine, I need you to meet me at the lake tomorrow night, okay? Real late…like midnight. You need to meet me there!”
“Tamara, what are you talking about?” Catherine asked wearily. Her voice sounded weaker, much more quiet and hoarser than last time. “God, we’ve been worried sick…are you insane? Where are you? You’re pregnant for gods sake!”
“I know that,” I said impatiently. “Look, I have some news for you. Helpful news! You just have to meet me. I’m coming home, okay? I’m fine. You just have to meet me,” I repeated firmly.
Catherine was silent for a long moment, and for a second there I thought she might have hung up, but finally she responded in a low, tired voice. “Fine. The lake at midnight tomorrow, Tamara. And you have to tell me everything. I just can’t believe you’d leave like this. At…at a time like this….” her voice trailed off.
“I know,” I said quickly again. “But it’s for you, I promise. Look, I have to go, but I’ll see you then. At midnight, alright?”
I was on the first train out to the airport after that call, hastily packing up my sparse belongings and heading back home. I had already booked two flights to Egypt while on the train. Red-eyes that would depart in the middle of the night. This was it. This was the thing that was going to save her. I just knew it.
“You’re so fucking stupid!” was the first thing out of my sister’s mouth as soon as she saw me walk up to her. I opened my mouth to speak, but she started crying and then looked as if she were about to fall over, so I quickly steadied her. She felt so much lighter than the last time I’d seen her. So much…weaker. How had she deteriorated so fast?
I pushed the thought of my mind as I slowly let go of my sister, but not before I knew she was steady on her feet. “I know,” was all I could say at first. “I’m really fucking stupid, but this is important, I swear. This is going to change everything!”
“Yeah…it sure is going to change if I end up murdering you for driving me insane,” Catherine muttered, her eyes wet and the bitterness evident in her voice despite its volume.
I ignored the comment and pushed forward. We didn’t have much time.
“Catherine, you have to come with me,” I stated firmly, leaving no time for explanations and pleasantries.
“Where?” she asked, giving me a look as if I’d suddenly sprouted another arm.
“Egypt! To the Great Sphinx, specifically,” I gushed. “I’ve been reading about it. It has healingproperties, Catherine. I heard all about in China, and in France, and the books say it too. Look, I’m sure of this. This will heal you, Catherine! I just know it!”
“Tamara….” Catherine whispered sadly. The look she gave me then was one that I didn’t even recognize because I hadn’t seen it before on her face, but it registered quickly enough. It was pity. “I’m too ill to go anywhere, let alone Egypt. Are you crazy?”
“I know, but this is important,” I pressed. “It’s going to heal you, I’m sure of it! It’s…it’s magic, Catherine. I just know it…”
“There’s no such thing as magic!” she shouted, looking as if she were using every ounce of strength in her to try to convince me. “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
“Oh yes you will. I’ll tie you up and carry you there if I have to, but you are GOING to this place. I don’t think you understand,” I snapped. “It’s going to HEAL you!”
“NOTHING CAN HEAL ME!” Catherine shrieked, tears streaming down her face now. “I’M DYING! DON’T YOU UNDERSTAND THAT? I’M DYING, TAMARA!” She lost herself to her tears, and it was then that I realized that my own cheeks were wet with tears as well. For a long moment, neither of us could speak. Catherine’s words seemed to echo on the wind and swirl all around me, making me sick to my stomach and barely able to breathe.
“I know that, too,” I finally whispered, my throat so tight it was a real wonder that I could even speak. “That’s why I want to try this. Please. Just do this, for me. For Riley. For Mom and Dad. ….for Chandler. Please…this…this one last trip,” I forced out in a whisper. My eyes met hers and we stared at each other for a long moment, both our eyes shining with fresh tears.
And it was in that moment that I think we both understood each other more than we ever had before.
This was the end.
There were no other options.
“Okay,” she finally whispered, making no effort to wipe away her tears anymore. “Okay.”
This was the trip that would be fueled on desperation.
When we arrived in Egypt we didn’t do any sight-seeing. Hell, we had barely even settled down in the base camp before I urged Catherine to follow me. I didn’t even take a single moment to revel in the fact that I was back in this wonderful place—the place that had once healed me when all I’d been able to see was the gray expanse ahead of me. Now I hoped that it would do the same for Catherine, but in an entirely different way.
Now I needed it to perform a miracle.
From the start of the trip Catherine wasn’t doing well. It hadn’t even dawned on me just how physically demanding my so-called “adventures” could be until halfway just in making the journey to The Sphinx she started to get dizzy and out of breath. We sat for a moment and she drank some water, but I urged her onward once again. I just felt at that moment that nothing else was more important.
Catherine must have picked up on that too, because she didn’t say a word as we resumed our journey. It wasn’t even until we had reached the massive monument that I even paused for a moment, staring up at the incredible structure before me. Even Catherine went quiet, previously having been breathing hard and stumbling. She stared upward and then glanced at me, and I knew we were thinking the same thing. There was something different about this place.
Encouraged by this thought, I immediately continued our foray into its depths, my heart beating erratically. This was it, I just knew it. It had to be.
The first thing we encountered was a series of traps and puzzles. For the first time, they genuinely stressed me out. I was wary of Catherine getting caught in a trap, making sure I always went before her, my mind working at a million miles per second to anticipate the dangers of the tomb. I could not, however, completely stop her from doing anything, as she seemed particularly embarrassed about struggling just to get here and wanted to make up for it. I tried to tell her it was fine, but she ignored me, determined to help me figure out the puzzles of the tomb.
This did nothing to help my anxiety.
The way was longer than I’d hoped, and much more dangerous than I’d originally anticipated. It was taxing on Catherine, to say the least, and I almost gave up and rushed her right then and there to the hospital, but then I came across a promising placard. The words were kind of faded and there were symbols on it that I didn’t recognize, but the message was still clear enough. The path to peace and healing was violet lit.
I looked over at Catherine to exchange an excited look, but she barely paid attention, a look of pain and exhaustion upon her face, her pale skin covered in sweat. Her hands were even trembling.
“We’re almost there,” I whispered encouragingly to her, my hand on her back to steady her. She gave a brief nod, but gave no more indication that she’d heard me. It looked like it was taking her every effort just to stay standing, but I had to keep going. We had to keep going.
We had walked for a long time before the hallway we were in opened up into an expansive room with massive statues of sphinxes lining it, but they weren’t what really caught my attention. What really caught my attention was the pulsating turquoise light ahead…that and the massive statue of Anubis carrying a cauldron of fire. Fire symbolized vitality.
I took Catherine’s hand and gave it a tight squeeze, looking over at her. “I think that’s it. It just…feels different,” I murmured, afraid to speak any louder in what was clearly such a sacred place. Catherine didn’t respond, but instead stepped forward, as if in a trance. Her gaze was locked on the statue before us, her bright green eyes glimmering with the light of the fire and the aquamarine atmosphere.
“Catherine?” I asked questioningly, raising an eyebrow at her.
She continued to walk though, right up to the cauldron of fire and light, both of which continuously poured forth from its depths, enveloping her in their embrace. She continued to stare ahead as if some other force was urging her on.
…and then she got a sad look on her face.
“Cath-?” I started to say, but the words froze on my tongue as the light bathing the room suddenly expanded and brightened to such an extend that my eyes watered and my skin felt uncomfortably warm.
I was sure my heart stopped though when I noticed that the light was all centered around one point—my twin sister.
I watched as the light bolted out of both the cauldron and the base of the statue, casting high arching beams that reached toward the ceiling of the room. Catherine let out a gasp, and then suddenly the light brightened to such an intensity that I cried out, blinded by its brilliance.
“Catherine!” I shouted in alarm, suddenly unable to see her. I cried out then as I heard a sound like the rushing of a train passed my ears, covering them hastily and cringing as fire licked at my exposed skin. Had the room exploded?
“CATHERINE!” I shrieked again and then, without thinking, plunged right into radiant warmth. The shock of the feeling knocked the air out of my lungs, but just as soon as I thought I’d suffocate, the light dimmed, the warmth dissipated, and my eyesight slowly returned to normal, great splotches of black and purple dots dancing before my vision.
I blinked my eyes hard and stared ahead only to see Catherine collapsed on the floor, unmoving. My heart jumped up in my throat and I let out another cry as I rushed toward her, immediately falling to my knees beside her. Oh god, what had I done?
I scooped Catherine up in my arms gently, tears already falling down my face before I even knew if she was okay.
“Catherine?” I whispered through my tears, holding her closely. “Catherine, can you hear me?”
There was no response. No movement. Her body was as limp as a sack of flour.
Or a dead body.
No, no, oh god no….
“CATHERINE!” I finally screamed in my hysteria, shaking her desperately. “Catherine, please speak to me! You can’t leave me, you can’t!”
But all thoughts of trying to get her to say something to me were quickly abandoned when I discovered one fact so terrifying that I could literally feel the cold vice of unadulterated fear threatening to crush my entire being.
Catherine was not breathing.