The Egypt Game

Zilpha Keatley Snyder, illustrated by Alton Raible (1967)

My best friend, Lisa, and I tended to immerse ourselves in Zilpha Keatley Snyder’s books, but this one became an obsession. It started with a mild case of Ancient Egypt interest. Which was fine—even healthy. We invented our own hieroglyphs. Nothing fancy, just a symbol for every letter of the alphabet. Lisa was way better and faster at using them than I was.

Then things got more intense. We created an altar based loosely on the one in the book. Needing something to sacrifice on it, we sculpted some miniature oxen out of clay, then baked and painted them. So now it was getting labor intensive as well as time-consuming.

We moved on to costumes—and here I’m remembering togas, which weren’t historically accurate, but we worked with what we had, which was sheets. We decided we needed an Egyptian-style snack and settled on stale sugar cones—so stale they were pliable and could be unrolled into a sort of sweet, soggy flatbread.

At this point the obsession was full-blown, and we were ready for the grand finale. This took place publicly, on Lisa’s front lawn, because her backyard was wooded. We were lucky she lived on a dead-end street, so there weren’t many passersby, but two of my older brother’s friends lived in her neighborhood. I can only hope they weren’t home that afternoon. Ditto Lisa’s older brothers. There we were, in our flapping togas, “sacrificing” our clay animals on our makeshift altar. I think the sprinkler was going, though how that detail fit into the scene eludes me now. Did we bow down at any point? I can’t confidently say we didn’t. Was there ritual dancing of some kind? Mercifully, I can’t recall. I’m sure Lisa can. And there’s no way I’m going to ask her.

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