By the end of the afternoon, we were really running out of steam. The furniture was more or less where it belonged, but we still had a lot of boxes to unpack. The empty boxes were all in the living room, waiting to be broken down and taken down to the street for recycling. The three of us were sprawled behind them on the sofa and chairs, unable to face any more. I noticed Dad’s head through the window as he came up the stairs to the front door.
“Hi Honey, I’m home!” he called out cheerfully, as he often did if he got home after Mom. We were well hidden behind a wall of cardboard. He laughed, “Whoa, dem’s a lotta boxes!” He pushed aside one stack of empties enough to walk into the room and then he saw us, the casualties lying where we had fallen. “Hey guys! Man, what a mess!”
Mom shot him a look and he fielded it cleanly. “Which is a sign that you must have gotten a lot done today. It’s already starting to seem more like home.” But then he added, “You must be as hungry as I am! What’s for din–“ Three heads jerked toward him simultaneously. Before an attack could be launched, he drew on years of experience and smoothly changed course. “You know what I was thinking? We should try out the pizza from the place at the top of the hill past the park. What do you think, Lil? Should we order in or would you like to get out of the house for a bit?”
Mom groaned as she lifted herself from the chair. She put her arms around Dad’s waist and leaned into a hug. “Welcome home, Christopher. So, how was your day?”
The pizza turned out to be terrific. The location near our house was mostly a kitchen for deliveries and there were only three or four tables. It was early and we were the only ones there. Otherwise, I doubt we would have been talking about the lamp.
Naturally, it was Taylor who brought it up. “You didn’t just miss all the work today, Dad. You missed a little drama, too.”
Dad winced and said, “I’m sorry about shirking my share of the unpacking today. The Dean wanted to meet with me and I had to submit a packet for one of my graduate courses. But, I told them I have to take off the rest of the week. I want to be around for your first day of school tomorrow and help Mom with getting the house set up.” Then he frowned, “What little drama?”
“Noah opened a box and found a certain something from Saudi Arabia,” Taylor said mischievously, and sat back to watch the fallout.
“Wait a second,” Dad interrupted Taylor and looked at Mom. “Lillian, I thought we were going to leave that box in Arlington.”
“I thought we had,” she answered dejectedly. “I think we did. In fact, I know I did.”
“Maybe the moving company went into that room and took it by mistake,” Dad ventured without conviction.
“Christopher, I put it at the bottom of a stack of four boxes, then stacked other boxes and everything else we were leaving all around it. This was the only thing from storage that ended up in Seattle.”
Everyone focused on their pizza for a minute, before Dad had a thought. “Did it come with everything else on the truck, or might it have possibly just, just… you know.” He was making a spooky sound and a weird gesture that meant who knows what. But Mom knew.
“It’s all right, Christopher. I told them about what happened when we tried to return the lamp in Riyadh.”
“Really?” he said, raising his eyebrows.
“Well, yes,” Mom shrugged. “I mean, Noah was standing there, holding it. Taylor was there, too. I just think it’s a whole family thing, now.”
I wanted to get back to the mystery, so I said, “I’m pretty sure it came on the truck. I took that box off the top of a stack that I watched Jorge bring in the door with his hand truck.”
Everybody looked at me curiously. “Jorge?” Mom said quizzically.
“Uh-huh. I talked with them off and on during the day. It was a chance to practice my Spanish,” I explained. We had a Filipino nanny when we lived in Qatar, when I was a preschooler, and she taught me Spanish. Being bilingual was something my parents encouraged, so I stuck with it in school. Taylor not so much. She’s the family tech expert.
“Anyway,” I persisted, “it seems to me that the lamp managed to stow away on the truck, box and all.”
Dad looked hard at me for a moment before saying, “Lillian, since the lamp is here now, I’d like us to reconsider taking it to Dr. Khalid. I mean, you’re going to be doing some work with him anyway.”
“Explain, please,” Taylor demanded.
Dad gestured to Mom, who sighed and said, “Dr. Khalid is a very respected scholar in the Anthropology Department at the University of Washington. Artifacts like the lamp are his specialty. Before we moved we talked about approaching him for help with the lamp, but decided it would be safer to leave it behind. The part time teaching and field work I’ll be doing are through his Department.”
“That’s great!” I said.
“No. It isn’t,” Mom said firmly. “Hi, Professor. I’m very excited to be back at the U and want to make a good impression on everyone. By the way, I wonder if you could help me with this lamp I dug up in Saudi Arabia and took out of the country without permission and that seems to be enchanted because every time I try to get rid of it, it magically comes back to me on its own?”
We could see her point and were quiet for a minute, until I had a thought and asked, “What did you mean when you said, ‘it would be safer to leave it behind?’”
Mom looked imploringly at Dad, so he answered, “Until you were born, Noah, we used to keep the lamp out somewhere in each house we had. The weirdness in Riyadh was past and, even though we couldn’t seem to restore the beautiful finish it had when we found it, it still was a reminder of a special time in our lives.”
“What happened after I was born?” I asked, not sure I wanted to know.
Dad hesitated, but went on, “The first time was when you were about six months old. We had recently moved you from sleeping in a bassinet in our room, to a crib in your own room. Are you sure about this, Lil?” he suddenly asked Mom, who just nodded. “One night, I heard you stirring and went in to check on you. After getting you settled, I reached to turn up the volume on the baby monitor. On the table right next to it was…”
When he paused again, I whispered, “…the lamp.”
Taylor, brows furrowed, asked quietly, “That had never happened with me?”
Mom shook her head. “In fact, before Noah’s first birthday, we left for a two year contract in Cairo, where we were in a smaller place. An apartment, actually. Only two bedrooms, so you had to share a room. The lamp was very well behaved our whole time in Egypt. But, when we went to Qatar, Noah was three and back in his own room.”
I noticed something for the first time that evening. My parents could be like a mental tag team when they talked. Mom glanced at Dad and, tag, he climbed back in the ring and she took a break. “The first few months, between us, Mom and I must have found the lamp in Noah’s room four or five times.”
“Didn’t you try to stop it?!” Taylor’s voice was loud enough that the guy behind the counter looked up.
“We had long since stopped thinking about returning or getting rid of the lamp,” Dad replied. “As for stopping it, we couldn’t think of a ‘how’ or even a ‘why’. I mean, it wasn’t doing any harm, really.”
“Then, something happened when Noah was four.” Mom’s turn now. “We had a break-in, a robbery attempt.”
Dad interrupted. “If they’re ready to hear the story of the lamp, Lil, it might as well be the whole story.”
Lowering her eyes and nodding, she resumed, “Right. It was a break-in but not a robbery. We woke up out of a deep sleep, hearing a loud crash from your room, Noah. We ran in and found you on the floor, with a gag in your mouth and bundled and tied in a blanket. You were kicking and crying. A few feet away was a bald man dressed in black, lying face-down and unconscious, with a very heavy dresser on top of him. Not fallen over on him. Lying directly on top of him with the drawers facing up, like it had been picked up and placed there to hold him down.”
I could only stare, but Taylor said, “You’re saying the lamp had something to do with this?”
“The lamp was lying on it’s side, close to the man’s head, where a small pool of blood was forming. I checked to make sure he had a pulse, then noticed that the blood was coming from a semi-circular cut above his ear. I held the lamp close to his head and we could see that the round base perfectly matched the man’s wound.”
“The lamp was protecting me?” I asked, and thought how ridiculous the question sounded. I expected Taylor to laugh, but she didn’t.
They both nodded before Dad continued, “The police, an ambulance, and someone from the American Consulate came. It turned out that this man was part of a team who had already kidnapped for ransom two or three other children of Westerners to raise money for Al Qaeda.”
“What happened with the lamp?” Taylor wanted to know.
“Well, we couldn’t exactly share our theory with the police inspector,” Dad laughed. “So, we put it away before anyone arrived. Fortunately, the kidnapper was still alive, so the focus was on getting him in custody and to the hospital rather than any real forensic investigation. We just told them that I heard a noise and came in and surprised him, hit him with the metal bowl that was on the table, and that Lillian and I lifted the dresser on top of him in case he came to.”
Now Mom was laughing, too. “The American official that was there didn’t buy it, I’m sure, but he knew better than to complicate things. It was a good thing for us the inspector was more Clouseau than Poirot.”
“Hunh?” Taylor and I both said.
“Old fogey joke,” Dad said with a smile.
“Google them,” Mom said and actually giggled.
Taylor wasn’t satisfied. “That’s all very interesting, but you’re saying the lamp attacked someone. I don’t know whether to believe that or not, but I’m not sure I feel very comfortable with the idea of a rogue oil lamp in our house!”
Dad was more serious now. “I understand. We talked about that for days after the break-in. We couldn’t get over the feeling that the lamp was more than an inanimate object. Wait, I know,” he said and held up his hand to stop Taylor’s objection. “I mean, even if we accept the apparent fact that there’s some kind of enchantment attached to it, we think there’s more to it than that. We have the sense that there’s something personal in the lamp’s behavior. But, it had been in our possession for years and we weren’t getting any closer to understanding it. So, we decided to try putting it away, out of sight, until we could learn more. I had some plastic cable ties that we had for bundling wires and cords. I fastened the top of the lamp’s bag with one of those and put it in an old storage chest. We were busy with work and the two of you and a lot of time went by before we realized that there hadn’t been any appearances since we’d put it away. I looked in the chest and it was still there. After that, I think we just kept putting off dealing with it, since it seemed– I don’t know– dormant, I guess. It just slipped further and further to the back of our minds, until it came time to move here.”
“Where is it now?” Taylor asked Mom.
“I’ve put it away.”
“Where?!” I blurted out, surprised to feel so alarmed. Twelve hours ago, I didn’t even know the lamp existed. Now I felt a curious but powerful connection to it.
Surprised herself at my reaction, Mom said, “I’d rather not tell you until I, we, figure out what to do with it now.”
Before I could argue, Dad was standing. “Come on. I think we all need some rest. And, you two start school tomorrow!”
Crap, I thought. I totally forgot. I could tell Taylor had, too, only I was guessing her four-letter word might be a bit stronger.
“Hey, isn’t it great that the furniture arrived today?” chirped Cheerleader Dad. “We’ll all be able to sleep in our own beds tonight!”
His fans didn’t respond the way he had hoped. Instead, we filed sullenly to the door as Mom patted him on the back. “Sorry, Dr. Wayne, the movers said their contract was for delivery, not set up. You and I are putting the beds together tomorrow. We have one more night in sleeping bags.”
Even Dad’s shoulders were slumped as we got to the car. We were all talked out, so the ride home was silent. I had left my backpack on the car floor and lifted it to my shoulder as we started up to the house. I was startled by the weight. I let the others go ahead as I held it in both hands in front of me. I didn’t have to open it, because I could feel the outline of the lamp through the fabric.