Brian couldn’t understand how he had become lost so fast. He’d taken just a few steps, progressed no more than a few yards. Yet when he looked back the church had disappeared. The terrain in that direction now looked unfamiliar. In an instant, he became disoriented, unsure even of the direction from which he had come. All around him, desolate and monotonous in the failing light, the desert rolled away to the four horizons. There were no landmarks, nothing which could help him discern his position.
“Well, now you’ve done it,” Brian said aloud. At the far end of his field of view, the panther waited, sitting on its haunches, watching him. Brian recalled again the time in his childhood when he’d become lost and the panther had appeared. He forced the thought from his mind, refusing to contemplate the thing he suspected—that he had somehow left one plane of existence and entered another. When the panther moved off at a trot, Brian followed.
It grew dark, with no period of dusk, and the temperature dropped. The constant breeze became icy, and Brian cursed the jacket he’d left back in the trunk of Hank Frye’s stolen car. The sand reflected the light of the crescent moon well enough, though, for Brian to make out the panther ahead of him, a lithe shadow moving against the lesser shade of the velvet sky.
The terrain grew steeper. Brian began to breathe harder, to perspire with the exertion. The panther would halt at times, waiting for him to catch up. Brian abandoned all hopes of ever finding his way back without help. The panther had led him away; he hoped it would lead him back when the time came.
Brian stopped as he reached the top of the long ascent, frozen into immobility. There could be no doubt now that he had somehow crossed over some sort of barrier between what Dave called the “latitudes of reality.” What lay before him, as the ground dropped to a seemingly endless plain, allowed no possibility that he was still within the borders of New Mexico.
A solitary pyramid rose from the sands, purple in the moonlight. Not a step pyramid like those in Central and South America, it looked instead like those Brian had seen in photographs and on television, those found in Egypt. Unlike the monuments of Giza, however, this structure connected to another, one that jutted out from the pyramid’s base like a doorstep, only a quarter as high as the pyramid itself. This building did not, to Brian’s uneducated eye, look at all Egyptian in design. It reminded him instead of the Indian pueblos he had seen, or the abandoned cliff dwellings that predated them. Outside a large doorway, opening near the center of the shorter structure, stood two statues, both holding staffs that supported stone bowls in which fires burned. Brian judged the statues to be colossal in size. One, a falcon-headed man, wore what looked like an Indian feathered headdress. The other had the head of a serpent and wore the traditional Egyptian headdress typically associated with the burial mask of King Tut. The pyramid itself appeared immense from the top of the hill.
The panther coughed, getting Brian’s attention. He watched as it headed for the structure, tail twitching. It looked back at him.
Up until now, Brian hadn’t felt afraid, only concern at being lost. He hadn’t sensed any hidden danger or skulking threat. Now, however, staring at the impossible edifice looming before him, alone, Brian felt small and vulnerable. He thought of turning back, wondering if he could somehow find his way back to the church if he did so. The panther growled, deep and resonant as it echoed through the chill air. Powerful, commanding, majestic. “You’d better not get me killed, furbag!” Brian yelled at the big cat, following.