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Rebecca

Tag Team Story - Just For Fun!

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Rachel admired John as he left with her father. Although they had informally met during training, he was nothing more than a fellow keeper of the way, but now she saw things differently. Beneath that tunic she saw a man who wanted desperately to slay an enemy that had stopped, and even killed many, who were looking for the way to the tree of life or protecting it. She never thought she could love anyone ever again after the death of Michael. But the day John's memory came back, and she wrapped her arms around his strong torso burying her tearstained face in his chest, she heard more than a heartbeat, she felt timpani of love. A love that coursed through his body, not only for her, but for those who were lost seeking the way to the tree of life.

 

 

Her father and training had taught her a lot about the master and the world. What concerned her most were her feelings for John. Would this jeopardize their mission? If it meant giving her life for the cause of the mission, that was no problem, but she couldn't stand the thought of losing John like she did Michael. When Michael died, her faith was shaken to its foundation and would have crumbled, but her father’s wisdom and words brought light to a dark time in her life. His words of wisdom still brought a certain amount of comfort today. "And we know that all things work together for good, to them that love God, to them who are the called to his purpose." But would it be enough. The thought brought back some painful memories, she willed herself to capture the emotion that was trying to break forth in a torrent of water; but the dark demon pushed hard against the door and broke through releasing a deluge of unwanted tears. She turned her head away from Mrs. Davis hoping she wouldn't see the river running down her face, but it was too late.

 

 

Mrs. Davis stopped her kitchen duties, wiped her hands on her apron, went to the table and retrieved a chair and sat it beside Rachel. Rachel turned her head to avoid Mrs. Davis's eyes. Mrs. Davis reached over and gently placed her fingers on Rachel's face and turned her head so she could look into her eyes. Rachel unwilling gave into the slight tug of Mrs. Davis' hand, the sight of her small round face, deep lines etched into her face full of wisdom, and those soft brown eyes was more than she could take. Mrs. Davis drew Rachel to her bosom, this time she gave in willingly. The pinned up emotions buried deep in the recesses of her heart, pounded against the door with the furry of a rhino. She pushed with all her might against the door trying to keep it from breaking free, but the beast overpowered her will and broke through. Rachel was thankful for the tender comfort Mrs. Davis offered.

 

 

Mrs. Davis' soft, boney hands stroked Rachel's long auburn hair, it reminded her of her mother before she died, how she would stroke her hair and soothe her when burdens were more than she could bear. The steady tempo of her heart as she lay on Mrs. Davis' breast was a melody that eased her pain with every beat. Rachel's sobs settled to a soft whimper and Mrs. Davis spoke softly.

 

 

"What's the matter child?"

 

 

Rachel raised her head from Mrs. Davis' bosom, wiped the watery stains from her face with the back of her hand, then looked back into her eyes and saw a woman who was also dealing with some pain from her past. After a few lingering sniffles had passed, Rachel wanted to know more about Michael's death but wasn't sure how she should approach the topic.

 

 

"Please tell me what's on your heart child; you need to let it out." Mrs. Davis patted Rachel's lap for reassurance.

 

 

"I want to but it's so painful." Rachel knew Mrs. Davis wouldn't stop until she let go of the pain that was penned up inside her, and if anyone understood, surely it would be Mrs. Davis.

 

 

"I was thinking about John and Michael." Rachel watched as Mrs. Davis' eyes turn to sorrow and fill with water.

 

 

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to..." Mrs. Davis raised her hand and touched Rachel's lips with the tips of her fingers.

 

 

"Its ok child, I need this as much as you do, so don't be afraid to share with me what's on your heart." She lowered her hand and placed atop of Rachel's that was resting on her lap.

 

 

"I was told that Michael committed suicide, is that so." Mrs. Davis removed her hand from Rachel's and clutched her chest, beads of sweat formed on her brow and the color drained from her face.

 

 

"Mrs. Davis, are you ok?" Rachel turned in her chair, leaned forward and placed her hands on her legs.

 

 

"I'm fine child; it's just that every time I think about what happened that day, I relive the horror all over."

 

 

"Are you sure you want me to continue?"

 

 

"Yes, I'll be fine." Mrs. Davis patted her hands and Rachel returned her hands to her lap.

 

 

"Is it true that Michael killed himself?"

 

 

"Yes, I'm afraid so." Mrs. Davis lowered her head slightly then raised it to look at Rachel.

 

 

"What happened?"

 

 

Mrs. Davis took a deep breath then released it slowly through her lips with puffed cheeks.

 

 

"When Michael was born, Jonathan and I knew that our little boy was a gift from God. You see we couldn't have any children, kind of like Hannah in the Bible." Rachel raised her eye brows and thought it odd that Mrs. Davis would use the word "Bible." That word had been banned several years ago. Anyone caught using that word was arrested and never seen again. Rachel listened as Mrs. Davis continued.

 

 

"I never gave up on God, even if I were going to be as old as Sarah, Abraham's wife." She chuckled and for a brief moment and Rachel saw her face light up with joy. The joy turned to sadness and she continued.

 

 

"Although I didn't reach ninety years old, I was forty five when Michael was born, and oh what a day. Our prayers had been answered." She stood from the chair, walked toward the open window and stood there for a moment not saying a word. She turned and faced Rachel her face still showing pangs of sorrow, and began from where she left off.

 

 

"After he was born, he grew to a fine young man. At the age of seventeen, he was struggling with a lot of things in his life."

 

 

"What kind of problems?"

 

 

"I don't know, he never told us."

 

 

"Is that when he..." Rachel wasn't sure she should finish that statement, but Mrs. Davis finished it for her.

 

 

"Died?"

 

 

"I'm sorry...I know this is difficult." Mrs. Davis waved her hand in front of her face fanning the emotions that were trying to erupt from deep within.

 

 

"No I need this." She continued. "It was shortly before his eighteenth birthday that his life turned around."

 

 

"How's that?"

 

 

"I will never forget March 1, 2012 at 8:24 pm; Jonathan and I were at a camp meeting. We begged Michael to come along with us but he said he had things to do. So instead of forcing him, we decided to go alone." Rachel interrupted.

 

 

"I remember that day, that was the day that he went to the altar and ask Jesus into his heart." Mrs. Davis smiled and nodded then continued.

 

 

"After he accepted Jesus into his heart, all he ever wanted to do was tell others, and he devoted the rest of his..." She paused for a moment hesitant to finish the statement. "Life to spreading the good news of what Jesus had done for him." Rachel interrupted her for a moment.

 

 

"Wasn't it shortly after that he entered the training program?" Mrs. Davis nodded and returned to the chair beside Rachel.

 

 

"Yes, and we were so proud of him. He would come home and tell us about what he learned. Of course we understood, because it was Jonathan and I who developed the program way before he was born, he had no idea, and we weren't about to tell him." Mrs. Davis stared at the cooking pit, smiled and returned to her story.

 

 

"We didn't want him to know for fear it could jeopardize the mission we were on." She looked back at Rachel.

 

 

"After the Bible was banded, training became of greater importance. If you remember, along that time is when you met our son Michael?" Rachel nodded and Mrs. Davis continued.

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John turned to Isaiah after the stranger disappeared into the ally, Isaiah raised a brow.

 

 

“What was that all about?”

 

 

John turned toward the ally then back to Isaiah.

 

 

“It’s nothing.”

 

 

“It didn’t sound like nothing to me.”

 

 

John looked around then eyed the ally. For some reason, he felt like someone was watching over his shoulder. He couldn't shake the idea that the stranger seemed appeared out of know where. Why was he so interested in what he was doing? Although, the man never ask any probing questions as to what they were up to.

 

 

Isaiah placed his burley hand on John’s shoulder. “Are you alright?”

 

 

John returned his gaze to Isaiah, his bushy eye brows drew together creating a small furrow of lines just above his nose. “Do you…” John stopped. This was crazy, he shouldn’t be so apprehensive about the stranger. He’s nothing more than just a man like him…wasn’t he?

 

 

“Do I what?” Isaiah lowered his hand and eyed John curiously.

 

 

“Do you ever get the feeling that something isn’t right, or someone is watching you?”

 

 

The corner of Isaiah’s lips turned downward and he placed his index finger on his lips. Isaiah nodded slightly and lowered his hand to his side.

 

 

“Yes, and usually when I get that type of feeling, something isn’t right.”

 

 

“Exactly!” John threw his hands out in front of him palms upward then let them fall to his side.

 

 

“So what do you do when you get that feeling?”

 

 

Isaiah shrugged his shoulders. “I pray about it and ask the Lord to help me… along with keeping a watchful eye.”

 

 

“But how can you tell the difference between the good and the bad?”

 

 

“Do you remember in your training what your mentor told you about, ‘trying the spirits?” Isaiah smiled, “You learn the truth, and when a counterfeit comes along, you will see it.”’

 

 

John nodded, “You mean the Ephraim code?”

 

 

Isaiah reached over and patted John on the shoulder, “You got it.” Now let’s go and have that talk.

 

 

The market was overflowing with people buying their wares from various vendors who were trying to entice their prospected customers to visit their little corner of the world. The aroma of fresh backed good, meats and vegetables, drew clusters of people to the smörgåsbord, each vying for position to be the first to get the best and not the leftovers.

 

 

John and Isaiah shuffled through the crowded street toward the temple. As they cleared the masses and entered the temple courtyard, to their right stood a large statue of twelve brass oxen facing outward with a large bowl resting on their backs. The steps ascending the temple were accented by large marble columns atop the porch, supporting a massive roof of sculpted religious art work.

 

 

John and Isaiah reached the top of the steps and entered the temple. They walked to the back of the temple, the sound of their sandals echoed off the ornately decorated walls. Both entered through a curtain separating the sanctuary from the rest of the building. When they entered the room, John saw a man standing in the shadows at the far corner of the room. John squinted to make out the figure, but only saw flickers of the image from the lamp light that danced around trying to intrude on the darkness. Isaiah moved toward the stranger while John waited by the curtain. The mysterious image stepped from the shadowy vale. The short stocky figure with disheveled graying hair looked familiar. Isaiah took a few more steps toward the man with outstretched arms and the plump man extended his arms and they both embraced.

 

 

Isaiah turned and faced John with his arm around the man’s shoulder.

 

 

“John, do you remember Dr. Hamilton?”

 

 

John looked at the man with raised brows.

 

 

“Where did he come from? Last time I saw you was in the room with Rachel and the others.”

 

 

Isaiah and the doctor looked at one another then faced John. Dr. Hamilton chuckled, his round belly bounced up and down underneath his colorful tunic.

 

 

“Surprised John?” The doctor waited for John to process what he had just seen. “We’ve been here the whole time.”

 

 

“We’ve… where are the others then?”

 

 

This was getting stranger by the minute. First the wall he walked through that sent him into a different time, the disappearing act of the others, the strange but colorful place he visited and the list just went on and on.

 

 

“The others are waiting for us in a secret location just outside the city.” Isaiah added.

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Mrs. Davis headed toward a corner of the room that was separated by a curtain that hung from a small beam between two walls. The curtain served as a divider from the bed room to the rest of the dwelling. She pulled the curtain to one side and secured it with a small piece of rope. Just inside the curtain to the right was a wooden table assembled with twine. Atop the table sat a matching red clay wash basin and water pot. Under the window on the far side of the room next to the wall, stood a wooden bed frame filled with straw covered with an old warn linen sheet.

 

 

Rachel watched Mrs. Davis enter the room and stop at the small table for a moment to freshen herself. She stood there for a moment, sighed and then walked toward the bed. As she reached the bed, she gathered the fringe of her dress, knelt beside the bed and removed a wooden box from underneath it. She stood with the box in her hand and turned to Rachel.

 

 

“I have something for you child,” she looked at Rachel and walked to the meal table. “I think you will find this very useful someday.”

 

 

Rachel stood and preceded to the table, she noticed the pain in her ankle was gone. I don’t know what Mrs. Davis used on my foot, but it was like new.

 

 

“I see you’re walking a lot better now.” Mrs. Davis smiled.

 

 

Rachel looked at Mrs. Davis wide eyed. “What was that stuff?”

 

 

“A good old home remedy. Don’t worry about that for now, come over here and have a seat.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis sat in a chair at the far end of the table and Rachel sat at the opposite end. She eyed the wooden container no bigger than a shoe box, and was fascinated by the hand carved floral design on the outside of the box. The art work wasn’t from this century but from a more modern time, somewhere from the late eighteenth century. Mrs. Davis reached into her bosom and removed a small brass key that was attached to a chain around her neck. She removed the key from the chain and inserted it into a small cavity in the front of the box and opened the lid. Inside the box Rachel noticed a cloth covered object the size of a paperback book. Rachel leaned forward with her arms on the table to get a closer look. Embroidered across the white cloth in monogram letters were the initials M. S. Rachel eyed the initials and her heart sank…could that be… Before she could finish her thought, Mrs. Davis broke in.

 

 

“This was Michaels’, we gave it to him when he started his training.” Mrs. Davis gently removed the object from the box, placed it on the table and closed the lid to the box. She picked up the package and coddled it in her bosom.

 

 

“I know I told you we wouldn’t talk about Michael, but I thought this was important.” She brought the package to her face, kissed it and gave it to Rachel.

 

 

Rachel extended a quivering hand. Is this all that remained of Michael, was there nothing else, why couldn’t he be here instead? She would much rather hold him. She longed for his strong but gentle touch. To hear his deep raspy voice fill her ears with whispers of how much he cared, and how they would make a great team battling for a good cause. Her thoughts shifted for a moment to John. She was starting to have the same feeling for him. Would Michael understand? Could he forgive her even though he was gone? Could she forgive herself, she knew she needed to move on with her life and the mission. What if she lost John, she couldn’t bear the thought.

 

 

Mrs. Davis reached across the table and patted Rachel’s hand. Rachel looked into Mrs. Davis’ soft eyes, then back at the cloth covered object.

 

 

“You can open it,” Mrs. Davis nodded.

 

 

Rachel peeled back the cloth, and under it was a black leather bound book. She turned the book over and in the lower right corner embossed in gold letters was the name Michael Davis. Across the center and toward the top of the book were the words, Holy Bible. Rachel ran her fingers across the face of the book and retraced every letter stamped in its cover. She flipped through the pages and her eyes fell on a passage that was highlighted in yellow. Isaiah 40:31 “But they that wait upon the LORD shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

 

 

“That was his favorite verse.” Mrs. Davis reached over and tapped the verse with her index finger.

 

 

Rachel studied the verse a moment longer and looked back at Mrs. Davis. “What happened to him, I need to know?”

 

 

“Everyone said he killed himself, but I never believed that.”

 

 

“What do you mean?” Rachel turned in her chair to face Mrs. Davis.

 

 

“A week before he died, I noticed that he was acting a little edgy. He would come home and go straight to his room and stay there for hours. He wouldn’t come down to eat; I would bring it up to him. Usually he’d have his head buried in his bible and study books, sometimes he’d be lying with his head on the table.”

 

 

Rachel interrupted, “What was he doing?”

 

 

“I think he knew there was a big battle he was about to face and wanted to get ready for it.” Mrs. Davis stopped for a moment to regain her composure. “He did tell me on the night of his death, that if he didn’t make it home not to worry, everything would be alright. When he didn’t come home that night I knew something was terribly wrong. That’s when Joshua, Mr. Davis went looking for him and found him…” She stopped and grabbed a towel from the table and wiped her eyes.

 

 

Rachel wrapped her arms around Mrs. Davis’ shoulder and held her for a moment and deep rivers of water came gushing from both of them. Neither said a word for what seemed an eternity, and then Mrs. Davis continued.

 

 

“Mr. Davis saw the Bible on a table where he found his body and it was opened to that passage.”

 

 

“But what about the police, if they saw the Bible all of you would have been arrested.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis reached for the book and looked at the verse. “Mr. Davis knew that, so he picked it up and hid it before he called the police.”

 

 

“Did Mr. Davis know that Michael was in trouble?”

 

 

Mrs. Davis looked from the verse back to Rachel. “We both knew about the struggle he was having, so we both fasted and prayed for days. The only thing he didn’t know was what Michael told me before he left that night. If I had only been able to get in touch with Joshua that night…” A new flood of tears came streaming down Mrs. Davis’ weathered cheeks.

 

 

“But there was nothing you could have done. He must have felt he needed to do this on his own.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis dabbed her eyes with the towel. “I suppose you’re right.”

 

 

“Who could have done this?” Rachel’s face grew red.

 

 

“I don’t know I only wish I did.”

 

 

Rachel’s mind was trying to process all this, her mind screamed for answers. She knew it was the enemy, but how could she find him and prove it. Better yet, how could she make the person or persons pay for what they had done? Mrs. Davis gave the Bible back to Rachel and continued.

 

 

“Rachel, take this with you, and whatever you do, don’t let anyone know that you have it.”

 

 

“Not even John?”

 

 

“Not even John.”

 

 

“But I thought we were both in this together?”

 

 

“You are, but the enemy doesn’t need to know all your moves or your arsenal.”

 

 

Rachel nodded, picked up the book and placed it in her dress for safe keeping. She stood from the table and asked Mrs. Davis if she didn’t mind if she took a walk.

 

 

“I’ll be fine child, you go ahead; just don’t be gone too long.”

 

 

Rachel smiled, “I’ll be back before you know it.”

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Isaiah motioned to John, "Come on, we'll take you there and explain everything on the way to the lab." John made his way to them and Dr. Hamilton extended his hand.

 

 

"I know our last time together was brief, but I hope we can get better acquainted this time." John grabbed the man's pudgy hand, and nodded his head.

 

 

"Maybe we can.”

 

 

Isaiah turned toward the corner of the temple wall where Dr. Hamilton had been standing when they entered the room. "Let's go shall we?"

 

 

John looked around the room, all he saw were a stone wall, stone floor and a lamp sitting on a shelf to his right. Isaiah grabbed the lamp from off the shelf with his left hand, and placed it in the corner where the two walls met. He lowered the lamp to hip level, and slowly moved it upward and stopped about shoulder height. John noticed that as he moved the lamp, one of the stones changed colors. Isaiah placed his hand on the stone, and an area the size of a door transformed to an open passage way. The doctor and Isaiah turned to look at John; they both chuckled at John's wide eyes and open mouth.

 

 

"Are you coming, or are you just going to stand there with your mouth hung open catching flies?" Isaiah placed his hand on his hip.

 

 

"Ah...Yah...I'm coming."

 

 

Isaiah handed the lamp to Dr. Hamilton and the doctor started through the opening. Isaiah motioned for John to follow, and they both entered the stone stair well. As they entered, the room went black all except for the orange hew that cast shadowy silhouette of their bodies on the limestone walls. John looked over his shoulder and the entrance had changed back to stone.

 

 

"It'll be ok,” Isaiah patted him on the shoulder. "Trust me; I know how to get back on the other side."

 

 

Dr. Hamilton resumed his decent into the shadowy abyss, John and Isaiah followed. Within a few feet of them entering the stone encasement, the entire corridor lit up revealing a cascade of steps that vanished into the light.

 

 

"How far down is this place?" John strained to see the end of the steps.

 

 

"It's not far..." Dr. Hamilton shrugged his shoulders. "Only..." Isaiah finished the statement.

 

 

"One thousand and one steps."

 

 

"One...thousand...and...one?" John looked back at Isaiah.

 

 

"That's right." Isaiah smiled. Before John could say another word, the doctor spoke up.

 

 

"It does wonders for the body, and gets the blood pumping." John eyed the Pillsbury dough boy. It doesn’t look like its done him much good, but then again, he didn't see him resting his hands on his knees when they entered the room behind the curtain. Of course, he didn't know how long the doctor had been waiting in the room before they had arrived either.

 

 

They continued down the steps and John couldn’t help but feel something was different about this place. That's it, his eyes fastened on the steps below his feet, they weren’t made from stone like the walls, it was made from concrete. Portions of the wall were covered with moss and some spots in the walls oozed with a clear liquid that flowed down to the steps. The tentacles of liquid followed the edges of the steps leaving a slimy green trail in its path. John shivered, if he had known it was going to be like this he would have dressed warmer.

 

 

After what seemed to be an eternity, they finally reached the bottom of the steps. They entered a massive cavern supported by large stone columns that looked like they had been left to support the massive rock canopy overhead. Running through its center in a network of carved troughs, streams of water raced in different directions running under its stone walls. Dr. Hamilton turned to John with a broad smile that lit up his face.

 

 

"John, what do you think?"

 

 

John turned in a circle with his hands spread out to his side. "I've never seen anything like it before in my life.”

 

 

"You are standing in one of mankind’s greatest engineering feats. This is the water system that supplies all of Jerusalem.”

 

 

John lowered his hands and turned around one more time to relish the wonder of it all, his gaze fell on another passage way that he didn't see the first time. He turned back to the steps but they weren’t there.

 

 

"What happened to the steps?"

 

 

"There still there, you just can't see them." Isaiah pointed to the other passage, "And that passage will take us to the lab."

 

 

The doctor started to the right and followed a narrow stone path way that lead to the other passage. John followed and Isaiah brought up the rear.

 

 

"Where is the lab at exactly?" John spoke to Isaiah over his shoulder.

 

 

Dr. Hamilton broke in before Isaiah could utter a word. ""The lab my dear boy, Is under a place that you should be very familiar with."

 

 

John shrugged his shoulders and looked back at Isaiah. The doctor continued.

 

 

"Some know it as Moriah; others know it as mount Calvary."

 

 

John looked back up at the rough cut stone ceiling. "You mean we're under the place where Abraham was going to sacrifice his son and where Jesus died?"

 

 

Isaiah chuckled, "No not yet, that's where the lab is."

 

 

"How much further to the lab?" John sighed.

 

 

"We've got another mile and a half to go."

 

 

It seemed as though they had already walked two miles descending the steps just to get this far, and now another mile and a half.

 

 

They continued down the path and entered the entrance leading to the lab. When they passed the thresh hold, the entrance changed back to stone and a soft red hue filled the broad passage that led to the lab. Dr. Hamilton slowed his pace allowing John and Isaiah to merge beside him.

 

 

"John, I know you have a lot on your mind about everything..." The doctor looked at John over his half cut glasses perched on his broad nose.

 

 

"I think that is an understatement, but none the less, you’re going to fill me in aren’t you." John cocked his brow.

 

 

"John..." Isaiah pressed his lips and exhaled through his nose. "Up until now you've been kept in the dark about some things, and now you will know everything about the mission." John stopped mid stride and crossed his arms across his chest. Isaiah and the doctor stopped and turned to face John.

 

 

"Why have you kept me in the dark, don't you trust me?" John leaned back on one foot.

 

 

"We trust you completely." Dr. Hamilton interjected and Isaiah continued.

 

 

"The problem..." Isaiah paused a moment, careful not to say the wrong thing. "When we started the Efraim Code, it was to give mankind hope, an opportunity to come back to a faith and belief in God." John unfolded his arms and listened carefully.

 

 

"Do you remember when the Bible was outlawed and anyone caught with one would be sent to prison or even killed?" John nodded.

 

 

Dr. Hamilton picked the discussion. "The world was already in a mess, and not many years after that, things got out of control. Nobody wanted anything to do with Jesus, God or anything that even resembled religion. Only a hand full of people wanted to continue their walk with God." Isaiah looked at John and placed his hand on his shoulder.

 

 

"Do you know why you were selected for the mission?"

 

 

John's mind rehearsed the question. Why was he chosen, he could remember the training, but for some reason he couldn't remember his child hood. Did he loose his mind; was a part of it erased before the training?

 

 

"Why was I chosen?"

 

 

Isaiah lowered his hand to his side and for a moment John thought he saw tears fill Isaiah's eyes. Isaiah closed his eyes, raised his hand and massaged his eyes with his forefinger and thumb.

 

 

"Your father and I became good friends after we met in the university. Not long after that you were born and your mother died giving you birth. But she made your father promises that he would train you up in the way of God, and your father done just that until your thirteenth birthday."

 

 

"What happened then?"

 

 

"Your father was killed one night doing what he loved most..." Isaiah turned from John.

 

 

"Isaiah?" Why wouldn't Isaiah look at him, was he hiding something?

 

 

Dr. Hamilton spoke up, "Your father was killed by a man when he started telling him about the Lord."

 

 

John's heart sank to his feet and his mind flooded with memories of his childhood. The images where so vivid, like it was yesterday. His father sitting at the table with an open bible, and John standing beside him listening intently to the stories his father told. His father taught him many things from the word, but what he remembered most, was his father’s love for the Lord and his fellow man. Sadness and anger pushed the thoughts aside as he recalled the two uniformed officers standing at the door with a lady holding a file folder close to her chest. They took him away that night, and with it any hope of doing what his father wanted him to do. Following his footsteps, that wasn’t going to happen. If God loved his father, then why did he take him? But he was different now; he wanted to do God's work, didn't he?

 

 

Isaiah turned and faced John. "Do you remember how you came into the training program?"

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...finally it formed. The silvery glow of the arch wavered, then steadied. It was a risk, using the portal. The last time he chanced it, the doctor said his DNA had been damaged, and that another attempt may end his life. He had no choice now. If he didn't go through, all would be lost, not just for him and his family, but all of humanity. Crouching , he headed toward the arch opening at a dead run.

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Rachel walked toward the door, stopped for a moment and looked back at Mrs. Davis.

 

 

“I’ll be fine, don’t you worry.” Mrs. Davis waved her hand like someone shooing away a fly.

 

 

“Are you sure?”

 

 

“Yes, now go child I’ll be just fine.” Mrs. Davis placed her hands on her hips.

 

 

Rachel smiled and was satisfied with Mrs. Davis’ answer. She turned, walked out the door and stopped at the edge of the street watching the people scurry about for the things they needed. The Sabbath was only a few hours away and she knew she needed to be back before it began. Even though she and the others were not from this time period, they at least tried to obey the customs.

 

 

She looked up at the clear blue sky, took in a full breath of fresh air, closed her eyes and exhaled slowly. She needed this time alone to sort things out about her and John. She had no problem with him being on the mission, both of them had been through the same training, and neither of them would have made it this far if they hadn’t passed the test.

 

 

Rachel took off down the crowded dusty street weaving her way between the hordes of people toward the outer city wall. She stopped at the gate where she had snooped on John the night he left the house, now if only she could remember how to get to the oasis where she and John had talked. She looked around and nothing looked familiar, it was dark when she followed John. A voice from behind startled her.

 

 

“Are you lost?”

 

 

Rachel turned to see who the voice was. She crossed her arms and narrowed her eyes.

 

 

“No I’m not lost.” Her own voice cut through the air like a knife.

 

 

“There’s no need to get defensive, I mean you know harm.” The man threw up his hands palm facing outward.

 

 

Rachel lowered her hands to her hips. “What are you doing here?”

 

 

“I’m here to help you and John achieve you goal.” The stranger dropped his hands to his sides and smiled.

 

 

Rachel eyed the dark haired man, his square jaw and dimpled chin reminded her of someone from a gangster movie. What did he know about the mission? As far as she knew, the only ones that knew anything was John, her father and the others.

 

 

“What do you mean; you’re here to help us achieve our goal?”

 

 

The stranger extended his hand. “Can we call it a truce?”

 

 

Rachel crossed her arms once again and softened her glare toward the man. “That depends on what you have to say.”

 

 

The stranger bowed his head and lowered his hand. “That’s fair enough; can we go somewhere quiet and talk?”

 

 

Rachel looked around. “And where might that be?”

 

 

The stranger extended his hand outward toward an obscure trail that headed toward the mountains.

 

 

“I know just the place if you’ll allow me?”

 

 

“How about I follow you, and don’t try anything funny.”

 

 

“I assure you, you have nothing to worry about.” The stranger lead the way and Rachel followed.

 

 

Rachel kept a steady pace and a safe distance behind the stranger, although if he wanted to overtake her, she knew he would have no problem in doing so. He stood a head taller than her, and she noticed he’d shortened his stride so she could keep up.

 

 

After walking for a few hundred yards, the path opened into a small oasis. The place looked familiar, then it dawned on her, this was the place she and John sat and talked the night before. Rachel was lost in the moment, the stranger stopped abruptly and Rachel almost ran into the man. She quickly distanced herself from him and he turned to her.

 

 

“So, what do you think, will this work?” The stranger pointed to the secluded oasis surrounded by palm trees.

 

 

“I’ve…been here before.”

 

 

“Oh?” The stranger crossed his arms and shifted his weight to one foot.

 

 

“Yes with John as a matter of fact.” Rachel replied quickly. She would have much rather be here with John than with this man, but she did agree to hear what he had to say.

 

 

“John is such good man.”

 

 

“How do you know John?” The beacon from Rachel’s radar intensified and the hair on the nap of her neck stood at attention.

 

 

“Please, it’s not what you think…can we go to the shade and I assure you I will fill you in on what I know.”

 

 

The stranger didn’t wait for a reply; he turned and headed toward a small out cropping of rocks by the oasis that was shaded by a group of palm trees. Rachel reluctantly followed and they both sat under the trees across from one another.

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"For some reason I can't seem to remember parts of my childhood."

 

 

Isaiah stepped closer to John. "That’s because when you teleported from the twenty first century to the first century parts of your mind was affected."

 

 

John ran his hand through his short cropped brown hair and turned from Isaiah. The doctor spoke up.

 

 

"It's nothing to worry about..."

 

 

"It's nothing to worry about," John spun around and thrust his hands out in front of him. "That's easy for you to say, it's not part of your life that's been erased, it's mine."

 

 

Isaiah reached out to place his hand on John's shoulder but John swatted it away and pushed his way through the doctor and Isaiah. He stormed a few paces, the clacking of his sandals against the stone floor echoed off the walls.

 

 

Isaiah yelled, "John stop and listen."

 

 

John whipped around with clenched fists. "Why, everything I've been doing seems to be nothing more than just a dream." If it was a dream, why didn't he just wake up and be done with it, he didn't need all this. The memory of his father opened deep wounds that he thought he had buried long ago. Isaiah walked toward John and the doctor stayed behind giving them both the space they needed. Isaiah stopped a couple of feet in front of John.

 

 

"John, you've got to trust me on this." John averted his eyes to one of the red lights fastened on the wall. The soft glow of the light accented the rippled that undulated on the side of John's jaw. John took a deep breath; he couldn't escape the feeling that they may be telling him the truth. He resigned to the fact that he would need to trust someone, and it might as well be Isaiah. Isaiah hasn't done anything to him, he's only helped him. He looked back at Isaiah.

 

 

"Ok, I'll listen, but it doesn't mean I'll agree."

 

 

"Fair enough," Isaiah extended his hand and John took it. "Let's make our way to the lab and talk on the way." Isaiah released John's hand and motioned for the doctor to join them. They headed down the tunnel toward the lab and John spoke first.

 

 

"You said it's nothing to worry about, will I get my memory back?"

 

 

"You'll get it back, and some of it you may wish you didn't get back."

 

 

“When?” John threw his hands out and returned them to his side.

 

 

“You’re just like your father; it took him some time to learn patience.” Isaiah chuckled then continued.

 

 

“You’ve already started to regain some of you memory haven’t you?”

 

 

John nodded and Isaiah responded.

 

 

“You should have all your memory in the next day or two.” Isaiah paused for a moment waiting to see if John had anything else to say. When he didn’t respond, Isaiah picked up the conversation about John’s recruitment.

 

 

“John after your father died, you were taken to a foster home. You only stayed there for a month and decided to leave.” The look on John’s face told Isaiah that John had no idea what he was talking about.

 

 

“It’ll come back to you I’m sure.” They kept walking and Isaiah continued to fill John in on the missing parts of his life.

 

 

“After you left the foster home, you started living on the streets and that’s when I started looking for you. I couldn’t find you anywhere for months and had almost given up hope.”

 

 

John stopped for a moment and Isaiah stopped to face John.

 

 

“Why were you looking for me?”

 

 

“Before your father died, he told me that if anything ever happened to him, he wanted me to make sure you would be taken care of and that’s what I intended to do.”

 

 

Isaiah motioned for them to continue their walk.

 

 

“Do you remember anything about Safe Haven?”

 

 

The mention of the name unleashed a still image of a multi-storied red brick building with large store front windows. Painted on the windows was a mural of a ship tossed about in a stormy sea. In the distance, standing atop a rocky ledge was a light house, but this light house was different than other light house. Perched atop the light house, instead of round structure full of glass and a revolving light, this one had a large cross with light emanating from its center.

 

 

“I remember the place; it was the place I came to when I had no other place to go, and there was a man standing behind the counter with a girl.”

 

 

Isaiah nodded and smiled.

 

 

“That man was me, and the moment you entered the building, I knew that God had answered my prayers.”

 

 

John turned his head and studied Isaiah’s face for a moment. The sparkle in the man’s soft blue eyes, and the smile that covered his entire face had eluded him behind the light brown beard. Now he could see the resemblance, it was him standing behind the counter that stormy day.

 

 

“Then who was the girl…” John paused for a moment, and then slapped his hands together and the sound echoed of the tunnel walls.

 

 

“The girl was…” John’s voice caught in his throat.

 

 

Isaiah patted him on the shoulder. “That’s right; the girl was my daughter Rachel.”

 

 

John slowed his pace and Isaiah followed his lead. His mind was reeling now, he thought he had met Rachel during training, but now things were becoming clearer. He started remembering things that he thought was gone forever. Isaiah had taken him in like a son, continued the training that his father was unable to finish. The emotions mounted like the raging sea that was on the store front window of the mission, and a passage of hope surfaced to the top of his memories like the light house in the mural. “I will never leave you or forsake you.”

 

 

John stopped and Isaiah stopped a few paces in front of him. He turned to face John and caught sparkling clear crystals dripping from his chin. Isaiah approached John; the moment Isaiah was within reach, he grabbed Isaiah around the neck and embraced him like a long lost friend.

 

 

“Thank you, thank you.”

 

 

The words filled the hollow tunnel and faded into soft sobs as they both embraced. They held one another for a moment, neither said a word; they didn’t have to, they were united once again. Although he didn’t have his father with him, Isaiah had become a dear friend and the closest thing to a father any young man could want.

 

 

John released Isaiah, they both turned toward Dr. Hamilton who waited patiently further down the corridor at a bend in the tunnel. Isaiah and John started toward the doctor and Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

“John, around the next bend is the lab.” John’s heart started pounding in his chest; he wiped his hands on his tunic, and couldn’t wait to see the lab. Isaiah continued with a slight hint of apprehension in his voice.

 

 

“John, when we enter the lab, you’re going to see some things that you might not understand.” John looked at Isaiah with a furrowed brow.

 

 

“Don’t get upset, you’ll understand once we get in the lab and I explain. It’s part of the mission that will help you and Rachel accomplish what you’ve been trained to do.”

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The stranger turned from Rachel and looked off into the blue sky dotted with soft marshmallow clouds. He placed his hands behind him on the ground, leaned back, and turned his gaze from the sky to Rachel.

 

 

“I know you don’t trust me, but I am a friend.” The stranger sat upright Indian style, placed his arms on his knees and laced his fingers together.

 

 

He was right, she didn’t trust him, and she fussed at herself for being here alone with him. “And why would you say that.”

 

 

“I can tell by the way you react.”

 

 

Rachel looked into the stranger’s dark brown eyes, they demanded attention.

 

 

“Ok, so what do you know about the mission?” Rachel held his gaze looking for any clue that might reveal his intentions.

 

 

“I’ll tell you what I know, but you have to promise not to tell anyone, if you do it could compromise the mission.”

 

 

Rachel stood and walked to the water’s edge of the oasis. She couldn’t read the man which made it difficult to know what he was up to. Should she even listen to him? What if he did know something that she didn’t know? He could be setting her up for something. She whispered a silent prayer, Lord please help me to know the difference between the truth and a lie, A-men. She returned back to the stranger and stopped next to a tall palm tree resting herself against it with her arms crossed.

 

 

Rachel took in a deep breath and let it out slowly through her nose.

 

 

“I’ll listen to what you have to say, but it doesn’t mean I have to believe it.”

 

 

The stranger smiled, “You won’t be sorry.”

 

 

The stranger stood, and walked slowly to where Rachel was standing. He stopped within arm’s reach of her and placed his hands behind his back.

 

 

“I’d like to start over if I may?”

 

 

Rachel noticed his tone carried a sense of humility, not an attitude of arrogance like before. He should win and Oscar for his performance. The stranger extended his hand and continued.

 

 

“My name is Bill…” He waited for her to take his hand as a gesture of trust. She only eyed his hand wearily. He returned his hand to his back and reintroduced himself.

 

 

“My name is Bill, Bill Isles.”

 

 

Rachel raised a brow, lowered her hands to her stomach, and interlaced her fingers. So he does have a name, if that’s his real name?

 

 

“My name is Rachel…” The stranger interrupted her before she could tell him her last name.

 

 

“I know who you are. Your name is Rachel Smith, your father is Isaiah Smith, your mother Sarah died giving you birth…”

 

 

The stranger watched Rachel’s face redden, and then he fired off another round of information.

 

 

“The others in your group associated with the “Efraim Code,” Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Davis, have something… or should I say…someone in common that you and they both loved dearly.”

 

 

The color drained from Rachel’s face, her hands suddenly grew wet with moisture. She wiped them on her dress and was thankful the tree that help to support her. He couldn’t be talking about… before she could finish the thought, his name exploded from the mouth of the stranger.

 

 

“Michael Davis.”

 

 

Rachel started to falter and the stranger jumped to her side offering her a hand. She placed her hand in his, and he gracefully helped her to the ground. She rested against the tree, closed her eyes, and covered her face with her hands.

 

 

“I didn’t mean to harm you; I just wanted you to know that I am familiar with what you are doing and who is involved. I truly want to help.”

 

 

Rachel’s mind and heart reeled with emotion. How could he know anything about the Efraim Code, the others, or Michael especially? Rachel lowered her hands revealing red rimmed eyes and a trail of tears.

 

 

“How do you know Michael?” Her voice was filled with sorrow and rage at the same time.

 

 

The stranger lowered himself to the ground resting on his haunches directly across from her, not wanting to invade her space.

 

 

“He was one of the original team members selected for the project like you.”

 

 

“You still haven’t answered my question?” She looked the stranger in the eyes. This time her voice was a little more potent.

 

 

The stranger turned his face from Rachel and looked at the oasis for a moment. He drew in a deep measured breath, let it out slowly then turned to her with a solemn face.

 

 

“I was with Michael when he was killed.”

 

 

Rachel eyes widened, her heart pounded in her chest and her mouth grew dry. How did he know that Michael was killed? The newspapers, along with the police reports according to Mrs. Davis, reported that he had committed suicide… unless he really was there when Michel died.

 

 

“What happened…I mean, how did he die?” Rachel wasn’t quite sure if she wanted to know how he died, but she wanted the truth no matter how much it hurt.

 

 

The stranger repositioned himself and sat on the ground with his legs crossed. He leaned forward, and with his right hand started writing something in the dirt. Rachel watched the man’s finger scribble the letters, D-r-.-H-a-m-i-l-t-o-n. She studied the letters then looked at the stranger with raised eye brows.

 

 

“Dr. Hamilton? What does he have to do with this?”

 

 

The stranger looked from the ground back to Rachel.

 

 

“I knew Dr. Hamilton before I knew Michael. He was the one who introduced me to the Efraim Code in its early inception. The purpose of the code was find a portal, or away of transporting the guardians of the way, to the Garden of Eden. If we could get to the Garden, then we would be able to protect the way to the Tree of Life.”

 

 

Rachel broke in. “What does this have to do with Michael and Dr. Hamilton?”

 

 

The stranger threw his hand up with its palm facing outward, and then placed his index finger against his lips.

 

 

“Be patient, I’m getting to that.” He lowered his hand to his knee and continued.

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“After the program started to get well under way, the doctor began having second thoughts about me being involved with it anymore.”

 

 

The stranger looked back to the name he scribbled on the ground, reached over and wiped it clean leaving raked fingered impressions. Rachel got the impression that there was no love lost between him and Dr. Hamilton. She sat forward resting her elbows on her knees with her head in her hands.

 

 

“Did you know Michael then?”

 

 

“No, but I did see you Michael and the others standing in the hallway the day I was booted from the program.” He reached down, grabbed a small hand of pebbles along with a little sand, and tossed it lightly into the air. “My departure wasn’t a pleasant one.”

 

 

Rachel raised her head and placed her hands on her knees.

 

 

“You’re the one who stormed out of Dr. Hamilton’s office and swore he would pay for this.”

 

 

The stranger lowered his head for a moment then looked back at Rachel with tender eyes.

 

 

“Yes, and I’m not proud of what I did that day. I was angry for being betrayed, I didn’t understand why he did what he did until later.”

 

 

Rachel plopped against the tree resting her head against it. Maybe the stranger or Bill Isles isn’t as bad as she thought he was. Her emotions were running high. What was Dr. Hamilton’s part in all this? Lord, please help me to know who’s on your side, and help me know what to do. She watched a small bird flutter through the sky, somehow she wish she could be free to soar above all the problems she was facing now. Rachel raised her head from off the tree and looked at the stranger.

 

 

“When…I mean, how and when did you meet him?” Rachel stood to her feet and the stranger joined her.

 

 

“After Dr. Hamilton restricted me from the project, I started watching the building, hoping that I would have the opportunity to meet with the doctor. I wanted to know why he removed me completely from the project and restricted me from the building.” The stranger headed for the oasis and Rachel walked with him.

 

 

“The problem was he always had someone with him.” They both reached the waters’ edge.

 

 

“I noticed there was a young man that always accompanied him. I figured he was the doctors’ apprentice or someone close to the project.”

 

 

The stranger bent to one knee, scooped up a hand full of water and splashed it on his face. Rachel waited patiently for the stranger to finish refreshing himself. He stood, ran his hand through his dark black hair and continued.

 

 

“I kept watching and following them. They always stopped at a local coffee shop a block from Safe Haven Mission.”

 

 

Rachel snatched her head around and looked at the stranger. He noticed her sudden interest.

 

 

“You know the place I’m talking about?”

 

 

Rachel nodded. “I know the mission and the coffee shop you’re talking about.”

 

 

The stranger didn’t pursue the issue but continued with his story.

 

 

“I followed them into the coffee shop, and sat at a table where they couldn’t see me. I couldn’t quite hear all they were saying, but I could tell things were starting to get unpleasant. Dr. Hamilton started getting loud and told the young man that the accusation he was making wasn’t true, and if he knew what was good for him, he’d better keep it to himself, or he may regret it.”

 

 

Rachel interrupted. “Was it Michael Dr. Hamilton was talking to?”

 

 

The stranger looked at the rippled reflection of them standing at the water’s edge for a moment then back to her.

 

 

“Yes… of course I didn’t know his name was Michael until the incident at the warehouse.”

 

 

Rachel knew Michael was facing a battle, but she didn’t know anything about a warehouse.

 

 

“What did he mean by he may regret it?”

 

 

With a frown on his face, the stranger asked Rachel to sit down. She sat and a dark feeling of despair settled over her. She tried to prepare herself for what was coming. The stranger sat across from her, this time a little closer. The stranger violating her space didn’t seem to matter this time, all she wanted was to get to the bottom of Michaels death.

 

 

He reached across with his hand, and gently touched her hand resting on her knee. She removed her hand and gave him a stern look.

 

 

“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have done that. Please accept my apologies; I don’t know what I was thinking.”

 

 

The stranger leaned back, laced his fingers together and rested his elbows on his crossed legs. Rachel raised a brow and nodded acknowledging his apology.

 

 

“After Dr. Hamilton made his threat, he got up from the table and stormed out. Michael sat there for a moment and then left. Later that week about eight o’clock that night, I was watching the building and was about to go home when I noticed Michael leaving the building. Instead of heading in the direction of his house, he made his way toward an old section of town.”

 

 

“Where was he going?”

 

 

“I followed him to an old abandon warehouse and he went to an office inside the building. I hid in the shadows and watched him for a moment. He turned on a light, took off his coat, and removed a black covered book from inside the pocket of the coat. He looked at the cover, opened it and placed it on the tabled in front him. I tried to get a little closer to see what he was reading, but before I could make my way to the office, I heard a warehouse door open. Heavy footsteps headed my direction, so I backed further into the shadows.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes grew wide. “Who was it?”

 

 

The stranger paused and looked into Rachel’s eyes and whispered.

 

 

“It was Dr. Hamilton.”

 

 

Rachel turned to the stranger and didn’t say a word. Why would Dr. Hamilton want to meet secretly with Michael…unless?

 

 

“Why was Dr. Hamilton there?”

 

 

The stranger turned from Rachel and started to walk away. Rachel grabbed him by the arm and forced him around.

 

 

“Don’t you walk away from me, I want to know what happened that night.”

 

 

The stranger hung his head refusing to look into her tender eyes.

 

 

Rachel pleaded with him and gently took her hand and pushed his chin upward. What she saw made her yearn more for the truth, yet another emotion seethed deep down in her soul. Bill’s eyes were filled with moisture and started streaming down his cheek. She lowered her hand to her side and with a trembling voice Bill continued.

 

 

“Dr. Hamilton entered the office where Michael was and started arguing with him. Michael sat in the chair behind the desk and asked the doctor to have a seat. The doctor sat in a chair across from Michael and wanted to know why he was so intent on stopping him from obtaining the tree of life. Michael told him, he wasn’t trying to stop him he wanted to help him. The next thing I know, the doctor reached into his coat pocket, pulled out a gun and shot him.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes grew wide, she started to feel sick and her vision narrowed. The trees started spinning, the water and sky fell into a fog, then her world went black.

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Dr. Hamilton walked to the big polished steel door and stopped two feet in front of it. The distortion of the metal made his plump frame look like a tall thin man you'd see in a house of mirrors. John and Isaiah followed the doctor and stopped just behind him. The doctor moved his head to the right of the door and placed his eye in front of a small rectangular box. At the bottom end of the box were two small lights, one green, and the other red. Above the lights on the box, there was a small four inch square screen.

 

 

A razor thin red beam emanated from the screen and moved up and down over his eye. One of the lights on the bottom of the box turned green and a clacking noise echoed through the enclosed space. The large steel door slid to the left into the recesses of the cave wall without a sound, and a bright white light pushed back the red glow of the lights in the tunnel. John blinked several times allowing his eyes to adjust to the white light. Dr. Hamilton stepped to the side, extended his hand toward the lab and smiled.

 

 

"Well, here is the nerve center of it all."

 

 

John entered the lab and stopped just a few feet inside stunned by what he saw. The doctor made his way across the polished white tile floor to a person strapped to a modified dental chair. Evenly spaced to the right of the chair were six other chairs occupied by four other people. Behind the chairs fastened to a light gray wall perched on adjustable pedestals, monitors kept rhythm with two green lines dancing across the screen. Other numbers on the screen changed in synchronous chorography with one another. A separate screen sat atop a stainless steel counter to the right of each chair with a bundle of wires running from the back of it, to the head of each person strapped to the chair. Several multi-colored lines moved across the screen in nervous order. Suspended from the ceiling adjacent to each station, were clear plastic bags filled with a clear liquid on treble hooks. Each bag trailed with tentacles of clear plastic lines that attaching themselves to the arms of its intended victim. Stationed by each chair, a small adjustable steel table on wheels was covered with various instruments lying across a blue surgical towel.

 

 

Isaiah stopped next to John and placed his hand on his shoulder. John ignored Isaiah and continued to take in what he was witnessing. Standing over one of the bodies with his back to them, was another man wearing a lab coat carrying a clip board reading the instruments. John turned to Isaiah wide eyed with his mouth hung open.

 

 

“What…I mean, who…” He tried to speak but the words hung in his throat almost gaging him.

 

 

Isaiah moved toward the chairs and motioned for John to come forward. He stopped in front of one of the bodies, looked at John, who’s color drained from his face.

 

 

“John, I know it’s hard for you to see yourself and the others in this state, but I will explain.”

 

 

John stood and watched the even rise and fall of their chest and the rapid eye movement underneath their lids. He moved next to Isaiah and stared at the body in front of him. He couldn’t believe his eyes, what in the world was going on here. He carefully scanned the other bodies and turned to Isaiah.

 

 

“Why are Rachel, Dr. Hamilton, Mrs. Davis, you and me in this room connected to all this equipment? What is this place anyway?”

 

 

The color started returning to John’s face but with a little more redness than normal. Isaiah motioned for John to join him at office located at the far end of the lab. They walked to the office, Isaiah held the door open for John, he entered and Isaiah followed. Isaiah sat behind the desk and extended his arm in the direction of a chair in front of the desk. John plopped in the arm chair and started drumming his fingers against its wooden chair.

 

 

Isaiah propped his elbows on the desk, steeples his fingers and rest his index fingers against his lips. He looked at John, took a deep breath and lowered his hands to the table palms down while letting out his breath.

 

 

“John…”

 

 

John raised his eye brows and continued drumming his fingers with a little more force.

 

 

“John, this isn’t what you think.”

 

 

John stopped drumming his fingers and sat forward in the chair glaring at Isaiah.

 

 

“Just what exactly am I thinking,” John’s voice changed in pitch. “I guess with all these brain monitors and other equipment you can tell me what I’m thinking.” John threw his hand in the air. “Or better yet, maybe you’re think for me, is that what it is?”

 

 

Isaiah lowered his head, the words stung and spread through his soul. He looked back at John and watched him fall back into the chair. He looked like someone who just finished the tenth round of a boxing match, and was ready to throw in the towel.

 

 

“John you, or should I say, we are at the place where it all began.”

 

 

John couldn’t respond, his whole body and mind were numb. Was he dreaming, was any of this real? How could it be, this kind of stuff only happened in science fiction movies. Just when he thought he was getting his mind back together, they had to scramble it up again. John stood and started for the door.

 

 

“John if you leave now there will be no hope for any of us, you, Rachel, or the world.”

 

 

The mention of Rachel made him stop dead in his tracts. His emotions where like a super ball that had been thrown against a hard wall in a small square room. Anger, mistrust, sorrow, loneliness, and confusion, where would he go, what would he do, he was here to complete a mission. He turned to Isaiah, and Isaiah motioned for him to sit back down in the chair. John returned to the chair, sat down, threw his hands into the air and slapped them down on the arms of the chair.

 

 

“Ok I’ll listen.”

 

 

Isaiah half smiled and continued.

 

 

“First, let’s talk about the people in the chairs. They are real and so are we.”

 

 

John turned from Isaiah, look out the observation window of the office for a moment then back to Isaiah.

 

 

“How is that possible?”

 

 

“What you see in the lab, is actually the time period in which we are from. Back in Jerusalem where we just came from at the temple, is where we have been teleported.”

 

 

John ran his hand through his hair, threw his head back and drew a deep breath, then slowly let it out through puffed cheeks.

 

 

“I know this is a lot to take in, but it will all make since once I explain.”

 

 

John lowered his head and returned his gaze to Isaiah.

 

 

“I do have one question.”

 

 

“What’s that?” Isaiah leaned back in the chair.

 

 

“Does what we do here affect to us there?”

 

 

Isaiah stood and John watched him as he rounded the table. He stopped beside John.

 

 

“Let me see your right arm.”

 

 

“What?”

 

 

“Just humor me and let me see your right arm.”

 

 

John stood, rolled up his sleeve and thrust out his arm. Isaiah pointed to a spot on John’s arm.

 

 

“Do you remember where you got that scrape from?”

 

 

John looked at the scab on his forearm.

 

 

“Yeah, I got it the day I chased the man down the alley and fell rounding the corner.”

 

 

The corner of Isaiah’s mouth turned upward.

 

 

“Follow me.”

 

 

Isaiah opened the door and headed to John’s body lying in the chair. John followed and they stopped at the feet of him lying in the chair. This was too much, seeing himself lying in a chair hooked up to all this equipment. He looked at one of the screens monitoring his heart rate and respiration. His heart pounded in his chest, he took several deep breaths trying to relieve the anxiety, but something on the monitor caught his attention. Every time he took a breath, he noticed the machine responded with his breathing. Could it be that what he does here affects him there? Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

“John, look at the right forearm of the person lying in the chair.”

 

 

John circled to the left of the chair, lifted the sheet and saw an identical scab on the arm of the body in the chair. He reached over and touched the arm, it felt warm, and the color and texture matched his identically. He lowered the sheet and returned to Isaiah’s side.

 

 

“So you’re saying that what happens to us here, will affect us there?” John pointed to the chair where his body was in a state of animation.

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“So if I…” John paused a moment, not sure if he wanted to know the answer to the next question. “Die here, then that means…” He didn’t have to finish his statement, Isaiah finished it for him.

 

 

“Yes, that is if we don’t catch it in time.”

 

 

“What do you mean, if we don’t catch it in time?”

 

 

“That’s why we have all this equipment attached to everyone. We monitor the bios of each person. If we see spikes in activities that indicate severe duress, we can remove them from the situation by bringing them back.”

 

 

John walked over to his monitor, touched the screen with his hand for a moment then lowered it to his side turning to Isaiah with a solemn look.

 

 

“What happens if I…or if we died instantly?” John already knew the answer to his question. He was thinking more about Rachel than himself. He didn’t mind giving his life for someone else to accomplish the mission; he just didn’t want anything to happen to her. Isaiah lowered his head, and then returned his gaze to John.

 

 

“They wouldn’t make it.”

 

 

John turned from his body and looked at the one next to his. Rachel looked so peaceful lying there. The thought of anything happening to her made him sick. He couldn’t let anything happen to her, he needed to finish the mission and keep her safe at the same time.

 

 

John started toward Isaiah, but stopped suddenly when one of the monitors started beeping. He turned to see which monitor was making the noise but was pushed aside by Dr. Hamilton and the other man in a lab coat as they rushed past him. Isaiah reached over and grabbed John by the arm and pulled him out of the way. John looked at Isaiah and saw the color drain from his face. He turned to see which monitor was making the fuss and his heart sank when he saw them rushing to Rachel’s side

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John and Isaiah watched as Dr. Hamilton took Rachel’s vitals while the other man checked the monitors. The doctor took a hypodermic from off the table sitting next to the chair and walked to a refrigerated sliding glass cabinet. He removed a small vial of clear liquid, stuck the needle into the vial and drew out some of its fluid. John had no idea what the doctor was doing. Can a doctor of quantum physics administer medicine? Isaiah could see the concerned look on John’s face.

 

 

“It’s ok; Dr. Hamilton is also a doctor of medicine.”

 

 

Isaiah’s response brought a certain amount of comfort, but it didn’t relieve the sickness in his stomach not know what was happening to Rachel. If she’s here, then that means she is in trouble somewhere else. He felt so helpless, he had no idea where she was and he couldn’t do a thing about it.

 

 

The monitors returned to normal after the doctor administered the medicine in the IV. He took a few more readings and walked to Isaiah and John, his face showed no concern about the situation.

 

 

“I don’t think it’s anything to worry about, her vitals are fine, and I gave her a sedative to calm her.”

 

 

“Then why were the monitors beeping and going crazy?” John shifted his weight to one foot.

 

 

“When someone is faced with a difficult situation, sees, or experiences something unusual, adrenalin courses through their body causing the heart, respiration and other organs to go into overdrive.”

 

 

John wiped his face with his hand and let out a sigh of relief. Isaiah shook the doctor’s hand, walked to Rachel’s side and John joined him. Isaiah reached under the sheet and gently placed her velvety soft hand in his. He stroked the back of her hand for a moment, and then clasped her hand between both of his. The gravity of the moment between father and daughter gripped John’s heart.

 

 

The doctor shuffled to the other end of the lab opposite the office, and disappeared behind a wall with a one way mirror. John quietly made his way to the doctor, leaving Isaiah and Rachel alone. As John approached the wall he heard the doctor speaking to someone. He stopped just around the corner not wanting to interrupt the conversation but couldn’t help but hear what the doctor was talking about.

 

 

“I don’t care what you are doing, we can’t afford another situation like that, do you understand?” There was silence for a moment, then a loud slap of something against a hard surface. Your job is to make sure you find out where it is I’ll take care of the rest.”

 

 

John heard the sound of a chair grating across the floor and decided it was safe to enter. He rounded the corner and saw only the doctor with his back to him, sitting at a wooden office desk staring at a blue abstract screen of a lap top computer. Who was he talking to? There was no other way out of the room that John could see. He decided to let it go, but would keep it in the back of his mind. Everything about the past couple of days didn’t quite make sense, only that he and Rachel needed to get on with the mission.

 

 

The doctor stood and turned to leave but flinched and grabbed his chest when he saw John standing in the entrance.

 

 

“John you scared me, I didn’t know you were standing there?”

 

 

“I just came around the corner; I didn’t mean to scare you.” He wasn’t lying; he just did come around the corner. Some things are best left unsaid.

 

 

The doctor wiped the sweat off his forehead with the back of his hand and offered him a seat. John perched himself on the edge of a stainless steel swivel stool next to the desk and the doctor sat back down in his chair.

 

 

“So John, what can I do for you?” The doctor reared back in his chair and crossed his leg.

 

 

John stared at the lap top for a moment watching the background fade in and out between land scape scenes. He had many unanswered questions but wasn’t sure where to start, so he figured one place was as good as another.

 

 

“Doctor, can you explain how it is that…we’re here…and there?” He pointed to the lab.

 

 

The doctor drummed his fingers on the desk, then removed his wire rimmed glasses and placed them on the desk.

 

 

“John I’ll try and keep it simple so you’ll understand.”

 

 

“I’d appreciate that.” John straightened himself and leaned his back against the wall.

 

 

“Have you ever been sleeping and had a dream that was so real, that you actually thought you were there?” John nodded and the doctor continued.

 

 

“When you are in a dream state such as that, you are in what is called R.E.M. rapid eye movement. The senses are heightened mentally, and create an acute awareness to the situation. It can even cause us to react to the situation in a physical way.”

 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

 

“Have you ever went to bed and dreamed you needed to go to the bathroom, but everywhere you went something was wrong with the bathroom only to discover that you wake up needing to go?” John shook his head no.

 

 

“Have you ever dreamed that you were hungry, and sitting in front of you was a juicy hamburger on a plate; you grab the hamburger, take a bite, it disappeared and you wake up?”

 

 

John licked his lips and nodded.

 

 

“What we’ve done here is place you, the others and myself, into state of R.E.M. and focus on the dream waves. Using the energy from the brain, and focusing on the appropriate brain waves, we are able to influence and transport the subject’s dreams into another time and location. Without getting into the complicate part of quantum physics and the equipment required to complete the time continuum, that’s the just of it.”

 

 

John leaned forward placing his elbows on his knees and blew out a long sigh.

 

 

“So let me get this straight, you put us to sleep, manipulate our minds while we sleep, so you can put us anywhere you want?”

 

 

The doctor shrugged his shoulders, raised his bushy eye brows and frowned.

 

 

“That pretty much sums it up.”

 

 

John stood, turned toward the two way glass and stared at the occupants in the chairs.

 

 

“Do we have any control over anything?”

 

 

The doctor stood and joined John by the window.

 

 

“The one thing we’ve been unable to control…” The doctor paused and looked at John’s reflection in the window. “Is the human will.”

 

 

John lost in the moment, jumped at the sound of someone’s voice entering the room.

 

 

“He’s right…” John turned to see Isaiah propped against the wall, his eyes puffy and red from his time alone with Rachel. “The human will is something that only the individual has control over. God allowed man to exercise his will in the garden, he chose not to obey…and look where we are today.”

 

 

Isaiah pushed himself off the wall and walked toward John and the doctor. They faced one another and the doctor spoke up.

 

 

“Gentlemen, it’s time we start heading back to the temple.”

 

 

John looked back and forth between the doctor and Isaiah.

 

 

“But what about Rachel?”

 

 

“She’ll be just fine.” Isaiah patted John on the shoulder and smiled.

 

 

“Besides,” the doctor reached over, picked his glasses up off the table and placed them on his face. “Doctor Davis will be here to take care of things for us.”

 

 

John looked back out the window then back at the doctor. The doctor smiled a broad smile causing his pudgy cheeks to lift his glasses slightly off his nose.

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Rachel opened her eyes, the palm trees waved back to her in a blur against the bright blue sky. She closed her eyes trying to clear the fog that obscured her view. When she opened them, a shadowy figure was kneeling by her side. She squinted against the noon day sun and focused on the shadow. For a moment, the face of the man eluded her mind. He spoke.

 

 

“Are you ok?” The voice sounded familiar.

 

 

Rachel propped herself on her elbows, her head still swimming not quite sure what had happened. The man spoke again.

 

 

“Rachel, take it easy, you just passed out.”

 

 

“Bill?”

 

 

“It’s ok; I think the heat may have gotten to you. Here let me help you.”

 

 

Now she remembered; it wasn’t the heat; it was the news of Dr. Hamilton killing Michael. It was the thought of Michael’s body lying in a pool of blood all alone, and no one there to help him. She looked at Bill; he extended his hand and helped her to her feet. The color returned to her face and her vision cleared. She slowly walked to the edge of the water and one question kept replaying itself in her mind. Why didn’t Bill stop him?

 

 

Bill stood by one of the palm trees and watched her pace back and forth. Rachel turned sharply and faced him.

 

 

“Why didn’t you stop him?” The stranger threw out his hands.

 

 

“There was nothing I could do, it all happened so fast.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes turned from a steely stair to a distant gaze. He’s right, what could he have done? He didn’t know the doctor was there to kill Michel. She focused on Bill’s saddened face.

 

 

“I’m sorry…It’s just that…” Bill interrupted her.

 

 

“It’s ok; I understand how hard it must be.”

 

 

Rachel turned from the stranger, walked back to the water’s edge and stared at the palm trees swaying gently in the breeze. How do I know if he’s telling the truth about Michael’s death? How do I know that Bill didn’t have anything to do with his death? He seemed sincere about what happened, but it could be he is looking for answers. Jesus, you’ve got to help me.

 

 

Bill walked to her side and didn’t say anything. Rachel turned to him.

 

 

“How did you get here, if you were with Michael when he died?” Rachel understood how she came to this time period, through the lab in a state of dream sleep. If he was kicked out of the program by Dr. Hamilton, there was no way he could be here without some kind of help. Bill leaned against a palm tree, lowered his head and let out a long sigh.

 

 

“The one thing that I failed to tell you…” He returned his gaze to her and let out a sigh. “Before I was dismissed from the project, I collected all my research and stored it in a safe place.” Rachel looked puzzled, but continued to listen.

 

 

“I knew Dr. Hamilton wouldn’t approve of me taking my research, and I didn’t want to give it up, so that’s why I hid it.”

 

 

“So how did you get here?”

 

 

“With my research in hand, I decided to continue my work without him. I bought all the equipment I needed, the only problem I had was how to get from there to here.”

 

 

“So, how did you manage that feat?”

 

 

“It wasn’t easy. First I needed to know where I was going…” Rachel stopped him.

 

 

“How did you know where you were going?” She crossed her arms.

 

 

“I knew that the doctor wanted to find the tree of life. So I started searching for the location of the Garden of Eden, using what I knew about it, and the research of others. Once I had an idea of its location, I started to memorize maps, landscapes, and it surroundings.” Bill looked across the oasis and continued.

 

 

“I thought it important to know about Jerusalem also.”

 

 

Rachel leaned against a tree directly across from Bill. “Why Jerusalem?”

 

 

Bill looked back at Rachel. “I knew that if anyone would have any idea about the garden’s location, it would be some locals or even the High Priest.”

 

 

“Ok, and…” Rachel rolled her hand in a forward circle wishing him to get to the question at hand.

 

 

“And…I needed to know everything about the locations, so when I put myself to sleep, I would only think about that location and arrive at my desired destination.”

 

 

“Who’s helping you?”

 

 

“No one, it’s just me.”

 

 

Rachel dropped her hands to her side, turned from Bill and started walking the edge of the oasis. How could he do that, it would mean certain death if he didn’t have any one to help him when he got into trouble. Was it even possible to do that? She turned and started back to Bill. There must be some truth to what he was saying, because he isn’t a figment of her imagination. She stopped by the same tree she leaned on earlier, propped her shoulder against it, and remarked.

 

 

“What happens if you get hurt or die while you’re here?”

 

 

“I hope that doesn’t happen, but if something is about to happen, I will try to wake up before it gets too far.”

 

 

Rachel was grateful she and the others had Dr. Hamilton, or was she? Thankfully, Mr. Davis, or as everyone else called him, Dr. Davis, would be there in case something went wrong. She let it all sink in and decided to question Bill further.

 

 

“What exactly is the doctor’s plan?”

 

 

Bill reached down and picked up a pebble and tossed it into the water.

 

 

“I think he wants to gain control of the tree of life.” Rachel’s eyes widen, and her jaw drop.

 

 

“How is that possible, what does he hope to gain by controlling the tree of life?”

 

 

“He said the person that controls the tree of Life, controls life itself.” Bill gave her a side glance, and then bent to pick up another stone. Rachel rubbed the back of her neck and watched Bill throw the stone into the water. She watched the ripples on the water and sighed, that was her life right now. Someone has tossed a rock in her life, and now it’s full of waves.

 

 

“Bill, what else do you know about the mission?”

 

 

He slumped against the tree directly behind him, looked at the ground in front of him, and started moving the sand and pebbled around with his foot.

 

 

“I know the mission is to find the tree of life, but it requires two things.”

 

 

“What two things is that?” She lowered her hand and laced them in front of her.

 

 

“One is the harp, the other is the code.”

 

 

“What do you know about the harp?” Rachel cocked her head to one side.

 

 

Bill stopped playing in the dirt and propped his foot on the tree behind him.

 

 

“I know the harp is not important for the music it plays, but for the engravings on it. I know its clues that will lead you to the tree of life. I’ve never seen the harp up close, so I have no idea what’s carved into it.”

 

 

Rachel nodded her head and looked back at the water. She knew Bill was right about the harp and wondered if she should let him know anything about the symbols. Her concerns about Bill’s motives were full of uncertainties, but why would he be so forthcoming with her if he had bad intentions. She thought about it for a moment and a verse popped in her mind; Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light. Before she could dwell on the verse, another thought entered her mind; forbid him not: for he that is not against us if for us. She shook the confusion from her head and looked back at Bill.

 

 

“Is something wrong?” Bill asked lowering his foot from the tree.

 

 

“No, just had a thought run through my mind.” She waved her hand in front of her trying to abate the question. She asked Bill another question.

 

 

“What do you know about the code?”

 

 

Bill raised his brows and shrugged his shoulders.

 

 

“That I couldn’t tell you, I was kicked out before I could learn anything about it.”

 

 

“So you don’t know anything else about the mission?”

 

 

“Sorry, that’s all I know.” Bill hung his head and let out a sigh. Before Rachel could say anything else, Bill looked back at her and asked.

 

 

“I know you don’t really know me that well…” He paused, took a deep breath and continued his question. “If you would let me, I’d like to help you find the tree.”

 

 

Rachel stared at Bill, her face stern, her eyes piercing, searching for any clue as to his reasoning.

 

 

“I don’t know, I’ll let you know after I talk with the others.”

 

 

Bill interjected, “Whatever you do, don’t talk to the doctor.” He waited for Rachel’s reply.

 

 

She thought about it, remembering what Bill had told her Michael’s death and thought it was a good idea to keep the doctor out of the loop for now.

 

 

“Ok, I won’t say a word to him, but I will talk to the others.”

 

 

Bill nodded, “Fair enough.”

 

 

Rachel looked back at the water, the ripples long gone and the oasis had settled into a smooth clear glass of water. Maybe her life would settle down after all this was over. She turned to Bill.

 

 

“It’s getting late; I think I’ll be heading back to the town.” She turned to leave and Bill offered.

 

 

“I’ll escort you if you’d like?”

 

 

“That’ll be fine.” She glanced over her shoulder at him. Bill smiled, joined her and they both walked down the narrow path back to the gate.

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Dr. Hamilton extended his hand toward the big metal door coaxing John and Isaiah to make their way to it. As they reached the door Isaiah moved to the side allowing the doctor access the security panel to its left. The box scanned his eye and the door slid into its recesses.

 

 

They entered the tunnel, and for John the red glow didn't have the awe and excitement he felt when he entered it the first time. The crimson glow overshadowed him with a sense of urgency and warning. The mission needed to get underway, lives were at stake, the future of mankind weighed in the balance, and with a little help, he and Rachel could change that. He couldn't shake the Idea of Rachel being placed in harm’s way, but he knew both of them received the same training. So why did it bother him so? John rubbed his forehead and sighed. Isaiah looked at him.

 

 

"Are you alright, you look like something is bothering you?"

 

 

John removed his hand from his forehead with a wave and shook his head. "I'm fine, I was just thinking about the mission."

 

 

"What about?"

 

 

John lowered his hand to his side. "Seeing everything in the lab made me realize how serious this mission is. If anything were to happen to..." Isaiah cut in finishing John’s statement.

 

 

"To Rachel?"

 

 

John nodded; he couldn't imagine what he would do if anything happened to her.

 

 

"John..." Isaiah waited for him to look his direction. "You need to understand a few things."

 

 

"What's that?" John hung his head, he knew Isaiah was a man of wisdom and well versed in the code or the "Bible," as they use to call it.

 

 

"Both you and Rachel have received some of the finest training in the world. You have the code with you to help you along the way, and most of all you have Jesus abiding in you."

 

 

John tilted his head slightly upward in Isaiah’s direction with a half-smile, and Isaiah patted him on the back.

 

 

"Besides..." Isaiah paused for a moment to tease him.

 

 

"And..." John's voice hung in the silence for a moment, and Isaiah continued.

 

 

"And...I'll be going with you." Isaiah laced his hands behind his back, and John stopped abruptly almost tripping over his own feet.

 

 

"You’re going with us?"

 

 

"Is that a problem?" Isaiah stopped and turned to John.

 

 

"N..no, not at all." John was relieved to hear that Isaiah would be a part of the team.

 

 

Isaiah smiled, turned and started back down the corridor yelling over his shoulder. "Are you coming?" John bounded toward him; maybe things wouldn't be so bad after all. He reached his side and asked.

 

 

"Isaiah?"

 

 

"Yah."

 

 

"What's so important about the harp?"

 

 

"The harps not that important, it's what's on the harp."

 

 

"You mean the engravings?"

 

 

"Yep, the symbols are the key to the location of the garden."

 

 

"Do you know what they mean?"

 

 

"I've got an idea." Isaiah looked down at the walkway with his lips tight against his teeth.

 

 

"Well are going to tell me or do I have to beg?"

 

 

Isaiah let out a long slow breath through his nose, raised his head and eyed John for a minute. John could see that something was bothering him; he’d never seen Isaiah so troubled before. Isaiah lowered his voice to a whisper.

 

 

“John now is not a good time.”

 

 

John didn’t understand, didn’t he trust him? Wasn’t he supposed to know everything about the mission? Isaiah motioned with his head in the direction of the doctor who was walking about thirty paces ahead of them. John furrowed his brow and looked at Isaiah. Isaiah shook his head and John thought it better not to say another word about the subject.

 

 

The doctor stopped and turned toward them both.

 

 

“Are you two going to stay back there forever, or are you going to catch up? I’m the one who should be lagging behind you two strapping men.”

 

 

Isaiah chuckled, and retorted.

 

 

“We’re coming, just hold your horse’s old timer.”

 

 

“Who you calling old, I may be a little older than you by a few months, but look who’s ahead of you.”

 

 

Isaiah chuckled and threw his hands up in surrender. “Ok, you win this time.”

 

 

The doctor placed his hands on his broad hips. “I thought you’d see it my way.”

 

 

John and Isaiah caught up with the doctor and the threesome started back down the tunnel.

 

 

John wearily eyed the doctor and didn’t say a word the rest of the way. Why didn’t Isaiah want to say anything with the doctor around? Didn’t Isaiah trust him? He was a part of the team, and how could you be part of a team you didn’t trust? He couldn’t shake the conversation he heard before entering behind the wall at the lab. I don’t care what you are doing; we can’t afford another situation like that do you understand? Your job is to make sure you find out where it is I’ll take care of the rest. What did he mean; he’d take care of the rest?

 

 

They reached the end of the tunnel and the stone wall dematerialized and the cavern stood before them. Making their way around cavern to the hidden passage that led up to the temple, they entered the long ascending passage and slowly trekked to the top. As they reached the top, the doctor placed his hand on one of the stone blocks and the opening materialized into a clear barrier.

 

 

The doctor looked around as if looking for an intruder, but no one was there. John wondered if there had been anyone on the other side of the wall, would the person on the other side see them. The doctor saw John’s bewilderment and explained.

 

 

“You don’t have to worry, from the other side it looks like stone. On our side as you can see it’s crystal clear. This allows us to enter without surprise; to us or anyone else.”

 

 

The doctor turned back to the wall and placed his hand on another stone allowing them to enter the room.

 

 

“Gentlemen,” the doctor motioned toward the opening. “I’ll see you later. I have some more work to do at the lab.”

 

 

Isaiah and John entered the temple and the void in the wall filled in with stone.

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Rachel and Bill entered the city gate. The bright orange sun lowered casting long shadows on the dusty streets of the city. Children were being huddled together by mothers eager to hurry home with their wares. Men who were once bantering about prices of products, sat across from one another laughing and sharing stories of their bountiful catches for the day. Many merchants were busy dismantling their makeshift stations and gathering their leftovers. Dogs darted in and around people looking for anything that may have fallen to the ground, while others remained hidden waiting for an opportunity to snatch unprotected goodies off the tables.

 

 

Bill stopped, closed his eyes, tilted his head back and inhaled through flared nostrils. Rachel stopped and looked back to see what he was doing. He smiled, lowered his head, let out a long slow sigh and opened his eyes.

 

 

"Don't you just love it?"

 

 

"Love what?"

 

 

"Love the smell of fresh air mingled with the aromas of the day."

 

 

Rachel shrugged, she hadn't giving it much thought, she had been preoccupied with other things like Michael, Dr. Hamilton, John and the mission. The idea of just taking in the moment seemed like a good one. She looked at Bill with a curious smile, closed her eyes and mouth and drew in the evening air. The aroma snatched her away from the depravity of the world, and filled her with a sense of hope and peace. She wished the moment could last forever, but she knew tomorrow, she, John, and her father would start their journey in search for the tree of life. The moment was cut short with the sound of a familiar voice calling her name. She opened her eyes and saw Bill looking in the direction of the temple.

 

 

Rachel turned toward the temple and saw John along with her father standing on the temple porch. She waved and both of them started down the steps in her direction. She walked toward them, thankful for their presence. She needed the break from Bill; this would allow her to sort out the things she had discovered.

 

 

John quickened his pace leaving Isaiah behind. He was relieved to see that Rachel was ok. They both met in the center of the street and Rachel extended her hands toward John and he clasped his hands in hers.

 

 

“Thank God you’re ok.” John gently squeezed her hands.

 

 

“Sure I’m ok, why would you say that?”

 

 

“It’s just that…” John thought it best not to trouble her with what he’d experienced at the lab.

 

 

“Just that what?” Rachel released his hands and they fell by her side. John ran his hand through his hair.

 

 

“It’s nothing; it’s just that I don’t want anything to happen to you.” Rachel’s face lit up, and John saw the sparkle in her eyes. What was he thinking, that was a little forward. But after what had happened at the lab, he knew that his feelings went deeper than just friendship.

 

 

“Well…” The corner of Rachel’s mouth turned upward as she placed her hands on her hip. “You don’t have to worry about me, I’m perfectly able to take care of myself I’ll have you know.”

 

 

Rachel fussed at herself for what she had said, she wanted to play cat and mouse with him but she didn’t want to run him off. She felt the burning embers fuel the longing in her heart toward him, and if she didn’t know any better, she thought he might feel the same toward her. John snapped to attention.

 

 

“Yes ma’am.” John had a serious look on his face and then they both burst into laughter. Isaiah spoke up a few feet from them.

 

 

“What seems to be so funny?”

 

 

They both looked at Isaiah as he stopped beside them.

 

 

“We were…” They both spoke in unison and broke out laughing again. Isaiah raised his eyebrows waiting for them to regain their composure. Rachel spoke up.

 

 

“It’s nothing.” Her face changed like a chameleon from white to red. “It’s a woman thing.” Isaiah thought best to leave that alone, if he knew anything, he knew that you could quickly find yourself treading in places you didn’t want to be when it came to women; so he figured he’d change the subject.

 

 

“So, who was that that you were talking to over there?”

 

 

Rachel looked to where they had been standing and was surprised. She looked back at her father.

 

 

“It was Bill, but he’s not there now, I don’t know where he is.”

 

 

“He was telling me about Michael and Dr. Hamilton.”

 

 

Isaiah and John looked at one another. Her father spoke up.

 

 

“What did he tell you?”

 

 

Rachel couldn’t keep anything from her father, but she knew if she told him what had happened to Michael it might compromise their mission.

 

 

“Father…” Isaiah knew that look; it was her mother’s look. Anytime her mother wanted him to trust her judgment, her face would soften, and her eyes made his heart melt. “I’d rather not say right now, trust me on this.”

 

 

Isaiah hung his head down, sighed and then looked back into her soft eyes.

 

 

“Ok, but whatever you do remember; the devil walks around like a roaring lion.”

 

 

Rachel’s heart skipped a beat at the phrase her father mentioned. Jesus, are you trying to tell me something? If you are please help me to understand. Rachel looked at John, she could see that he was troubled by this new information he had just received. Isaiah followed Rachel’s stare to John.

 

 

“John, I know it’s hard to understand right now, but let her tell you in her time.”

 

 

That was easy for him to say, he didn’t hear Dr. Hamilton’s conversation in the lab. He couldn’t help but feel that somehow the doctor and Bill didn’t have something up their sleeves. John eyed Rachel curiously.

 

 

“Rachel.”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Did anything happen to you earlier today?”

 

 

Rachel furrowed her brows, looked down at the ground and played with her ear lobe. John adjusted his weight to his right foot, placed his arm across his chest and his other arm rested on it while he rubbed his chin with his free hand. She snapped her head upward, slapped her hand to her side and began to explain.

 

 

“Bill and I were talking about Michel’s death and the other things that had happened, and I fainted.”

 

 

John lowered his hands. “How long ago was that?”

 

 

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe an hour or two, why?”

 

 

“I was just wondering.” John realized that was about the time that Rachel’s monitors went wild in the lab, and the doctor was talking to someone.

 

 

“How long were you out?”

 

 

“Ten, maybe fifteen minutes…I don’t know.”

 

 

John could see Rachel was getting aggravated and gave her a taste of her own medicine.

 

 

“Just trust me on this will you?”

 

 

Rachel spouted the phrase back at John under her breath. “Just trust me on this will you?”

 

 

Isaiah chuckled, placed his hand over his mouth then smoothed his face with it down to his chin.

 

 

“I think you’ve met you match.”

 

 

Rachel cut her eyes in her father’s direction and crossed her arms. Isaiah placed his arm around Rachel’s shoulder and pulled her close.

 

 

“Come along sunshine, why don’t we all head to the house. We’ll need an early start to follow the clues that will lead us to the tree of life.”

 

 

Rachel could never stay upset with her father. She knew more than ever, that no one could love her more, except Jesus. The three of them walked down the dusty road to the house.

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Isaiah, John, and Rachel approached their temporary home away from home. A joyful sound escaped the stone dwelling and filled the street with a solo of delightful music. They looked at one another then back at the entrance to the building. They approached the porch quietly not wanting to interrupt the moment. Isaiah snuck to one side of the door while Rachel and John hastened to the other. The three of them poked their heads around the edge of the door and watched in amazement, they couldn’t believe their eyes and ears. Mrs. Davis was setting the table and singing like a canary at the break of a new day. Before they could snatch their heads back behind the wall, Mrs. Davis chimed.

 

 

“Ok you three, are you going to come in, or just stand there gawking at me like children looking under a circus tent at a side show.”

 

 

The three of the bashfully entered the room and Mrs. Davis straightened herself, wiped her hands on her apron and frowned at them.

 

 

“What were the three of gawking at?”

 

 

They stood there unable to say a word like school children sent to the principal’s office.

 

 

“Well, are you just going to stand there, or are you going to say something?” She crossed her arms and drummed fingers on her upper arm.

 

 

Isaiah broke the silence. “It’s just I’ve never heard sing like that.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis placed her hands on her hips. “And just what’s that supposed to mean?”

 

 

Isaiah suddenly developed lock jaw and Rachel jumped in to rescue her father from his size eleven.

 

 

“What he means is we’ve never heard you sing before and it sounded wonderful.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis removed her hands from her hips and laced them across her round belly. Isaiah was grateful for the reprieve and let out a slow breath. John learned real quick how to keep his mouth shut this time. For once, keeping his tongue locked behind his ivory teeth kept him out of trouble. Rachel hoped her answer somehow got them off the hook.

 

 

Mrs. Davis looked at them sternly for a moment letting them fret, then she broke into a teasingly smile and opened her arms wide. The three of them took a deep breath and sighed through puffed cheeks.

 

 

“Come and get it while it’s hot.”

 

 

The four of them sat at the table and thanked the Lord for the food. Mrs. Davis dished out the food and drinks, all of them were famished and didn’t say a word until they had finished eating. Mrs. Davis stood from the table and gathered the dishes Rachel helped while Isaiah and John discussed the mission for tomorrow.

 

 

“John, tomorrow, you, Rachel and I will start our journey to the garden, but before we go there are a few things you need to know.”

 

 

John leaned forward and crossed his arms placing them on the table.

 

 

“Do you remember the markings on the harp?”

 

 

“Yea,” John listened intently.

 

 

“Those symbols are the key to finding the tree of life.” Isaiah watched John’s face light up and then fade as quickly as it came.

 

 

“How are we going to find the garden with the tree in it, don’t you need an archeologist or something?”

 

 

Isaiah reared back in his chair and laced his hands behind his head.

 

 

“That’s where I come in.” He smiled.

 

 

John unfolded his arms and placed his hands on the edge of the table. He turned his gaze from Isaiah to Rachel and saw a broad smile fill her face.

 

 

“Why does it seem like I’m the only one in this room who doesn’t know everything that is going on here?”

 

 

Isaiah lowered his hands and pushed himself back slightly from the table.

 

 

“John, there are some things about me that you don’t know.”

 

 

“That’s obvious.” John moved his chair from the table and leaned back on two legs. Rachel sauntered to the table and sat across from her father with John to her left. She patted the table in John’s direction.

 

 

“Don’t worry John, it’ll all come together.”

 

 

Isaiah continued with his explanation of the harp and the symbols.

 

 

“Mrs. Davis, will you bring the harp to the table please.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis walked around the fire pit and retrieved the harp from the crack in the wall next to the pit. She walked to the table, placed the brown linen bag on it with the harp inside. She pulled out a chair and sat next to Rachel. Isaiah reached for the bag, unwound the cord from the top and removed the harp. John brought his chair back down to four legs so he could study the harp with the others. He wanted to know what the message was in the carvings.

 

 

The sun had settled behind the mountains making it hard to see the markings, so Rachel retrieved the oil lamp from off the stone ledge and placed it in the center of the table. Isaiah ran his hand across the wood face of the harp and pointed to the first symbol.

 

 

“This symbol,” Isaiah tapped the top one with the king sitting on a throne pointing in a forward direction. “Represents the king of Susa located in Elam, the capital of the Persian Empire.” John leaned in a little closer to the table and Isaiah continued his lesson.

 

 

“Legend has it that one of the kings of Persia found the entrance to the Garden of Eden.”

 

 

John leaned forward with his chest against the table, the reflection of the lamps flame danced in his eyes. Isaiah watched John’s expression and remembered how he felt when he heard of the entrance.

 

 

“Where is the entrance to the garden?”

 

 

Isaiah raised the palm of his hand in John’s direction.

 

 

“Just be calm and I’ll tell you where we think it is.”

 

 

John took a deep breath and leaned back in his chair. Isaiah pointed to another symbol directly below the top one, an image that looked like a cave entrance.

 

 

“Based on my research, I believe this cave entrance is located around the Zagros Mountains region; although it’s possible that the entrance could be located between what we call the Tigris and Euphrates rivers.”

 

 

Isaiah paused for a moment allowing John to process what he had just told him. John’s eyes grew to round white circles with blue centers.

 

 

“How are we supposed to find this place? It’s like looking for a needle in a haystack."

 

 

“You see these two hands carved on the harp?” Isaiah moved the harp closer to the lamp and John leaned in to get a closer look.

 

 

“Yah, what do they mean?”

 

 

Isaiah pointed his index finger toward the ceiling and continued.

 

 

“The hands are those of the keeper of the way.”

 

 

John interrupted, “Wait a minute, if they are the hands of the keeper of the way, then why do we need to find the tree of life? Shouldn’t he be taking care of that?”

 

 

Isaiah lowered his finger and pointed to the carving.

 

 

“What do you see?”

 

 

“I see two hands.” John shrugged and looked perplexed.

 

 

“Look closer and tell me what you see.” Isaiah started at the top of the carving and ran his finger down across the image until he reached the bottom.

 

 

Isaiah watched John study the image for a while, the perplexity on his face told him he was having trouble. Isaiah started to speak up but the change in John’s face told him that he finally saw it.

 

 

“What is it?” Isaiah smiled

 

 

“I see it now; the hands are cupped together with the palms facing upward and pointing up to the mountains.”

 

 

“That’s right.”

 

 

“What does it mean?” John leaned back in his chair and Isaiah laid the harp down on the table for a moment.

 

 

“The hands don’t represent a living person; they’re like the true north on a compass. The hands show us the direction and mark the spot to the entrance.”

 

 

“Well then,” John threw his hands in the air and slapped them on the table. “We shouldn’t have any problem finding it.”

 

 

Isaiah interjected. “It’s not quite that easy; if it was, don’t you think others would have found it by now?”

 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

 

“What I’m saying is… I have no idea where the hands are. But I do know that they are around the area where we’ll be going. We’ll need to locate the hidden temple.”

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John pinched the bridge of his nose, closed his eyes briefly, then opened them.

 

 

“I’m glad you’re the one who knows how to find this place, because you’ve just given me a headache.”

 

 

Rachel piped up. “Just think of it as a treasure hunt.”

 

 

John looked at Rachel with raised eye brows and she replied with a sheepish grin. Isaiah enjoyed the bantering between the two of them, something he hadn’t seen her do since Michael’s death. John looked back at Isaiah and asked him for the harp. Isaiah picked up the harp and handed it to him. He studied the other symbols closely, looking for any other clues, but they were nothing more than carvings in a piece of wood. He pointed to the Greek letters carved into the instrument.

 

 

“What do these mean?”

 

 

Isaiah leaned closer to get a better look at what John was pointing at.

 

 

“Those are two letters of the Greek alphabet Alpha and Omega. They mean the beginning and the end.”

 

 

“How do Greek letters help us find the tree of life?”

 

 

Isaiah repositioned himself in the chair and placed an elbow on the table.

 

 

“They don’t.”

 

 

“Then why are they on here?”

 

 

“There symbols of hope to mankind.”

 

 

John studied the two letters, symbols of hope to mankind. If people needed hope, it was definitely now. The world they lived in was on the brink of destruction, not the dream world that he and the others were in now, but the world he’d left to find the garden. The United States had turned its back on Israel. The Bible had been banned by the United Nations. Religion was whatever you wanted it to be, just don’t interfere with others who believe differently than you do. Yes, if there was a time when people needed hope, it was now. John lowered the harp to the table and spoke up.

 

 

“What do the eye and the angel blowing a trumpet mean?”

 

 

“The eye is the way into a man’s soul. It’s through the eye gate that one sees light or darkness.” John cocked his head to one side and Isaiah explained further.

 

 

“When we fill ourselves with the things of God, we can clearly see those things that are dark and evil and our life will reflect who we truly are for Him. On the other hand, when we indulge ourselves with the pleasures of this world and its vices, it defuses the light and causes us to stumble or fall; it also will cause those around us to follow the same path of destruction. So the eye plays an important role in finding the tree of life and leading others to it.”

 

 

John fell back into his chair and looked at the three of them. He caught Rachel wiping the crystal clear stream rolling down her face. His own heart ached ready to explode with emotion. He hadn’t truly let go of the bitterness of someone taking his father from him. Why should he, didn’t they deserve what they had coming to them? The words that Isaiah had just spoken chipped away at the black coal of bitterness. The eyes play an important role in finding the tree of life and leading others to it. A piece of the dark stone fell into a bottomless pit. More of his words chiseled away at the unforgiving ore. When we fill ourselves with the things of God, we can clearly see those things that are dark and evil. The overwhelming load was getting lighter and a bright ray of hope penetrated a small fissure that developed in its flawed center. The hammering intensified in rapped succession; our life will reflect who we truly are for Him. Pieces of the shadowy substance turned to dust, yielding to the brightness of His glory, and vanishing into a sea of forgetfulness.

 

 

John’s heart exploded, salty rivers cascaded down his face and dripped off his chin. Looking through watery eyes in the dimly lit room, John could see Rachel’s soft face marked with trails of tears. Her eyes met his and neither had to say a word. They both understood the transformation that was taking place. He stood from the table, walked to her side and knelt on one knee. She pushed herself from the table, took his hand and knelt beside him. As they both prayed in silence, Isaiah and Mrs. Davis joined them.

 

 

The four of them stood and returned to their places around the table. John spoke in a soft broken voice.

 

 

“Thank you for what you’ve done.” He reached across the table with an extended hand.

 

 

“Now we’re ready for our journey.” Isaiah extended his hand and John clasped his in Isaiah’s. He knew now he had made the right decision.

 

 

Mrs. Davis stood and announced, “I have some fresh goat’s milk and desert if anyone is interested?” They all responded with smiles and nods. Isaiah released John’s hand and John asked him a question.

 

 

“What does the angel with the trumpet mean?”

 

 

“Ah, the angel with the trumpet; that my friend is the herald of truth. That is a sign that we as God’s people should sound forth the truth of the word of God like a trumpet. We should tell everyone of about Jesus’ love for them.”

 

 

John acknowledged Isaiah and Isaiah concluded. “Well, it’s going to be a long day tomorrow; so let’s enjoy our desert and turn in early.”

 

 

Mrs. Davis served them and when they finished, John and Rachel made their way to the porch and sat on the bench just outside the door.

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Rachel and John sat in silence, she shivered and goose bumps covered her arms. The cool night air was a stark contrast to the hot days. John offered her a blanket but she refused and instead edged closer to him. He welcomed the intrusion and slowly placed his arm around her shoulder. She didn’t object his offering but snuggled closer and laid her head on his shoulder. Now he was sure that he was more than just a friend.

 

 

Rachel looked at John as he stared at the velvety black sky studded with sparkling white dots. When he was in training she didn’t pay him much attention; but that was because Michael was an important part of her life. Somehow, the headstrong man who walked off into the sunset at the well; was now an essential part of her life. She hadn’t felt that way in a while and wanted to cherish every moment of it.

 

 

John turned and looked into her soft hazel moonlit eyes and smiled. Her face beamed back at him and he wondered if he should interrupt the moment. The conversation he overheard at the lab gnawed at him, and he wanted to share it with her; but was afraid she might not understand. Rachel lifted her head from off his shoulder; she could sense something was bothering him.

 

 

“John, what’s wrong.” She turned to her side and faced him.

 

 

“Nothing.”

 

 

“John, if we’re going to make it through this mission together, we need to be honest with one another.”

 

 

John leaned over and rested his elbows on his knees and stared at the ground. Rachel’s words stung a bit. He had no intentions of not being truthful, he was just trying to protect her, or was he afraid of how she might react? He knew he could trust her, but going into the mission he didn’t know if he should say anything that might would cause her any doubt. Rachel placed her hand on his knee and spoke softly.

 

 

“John, look at me.”

 

 

John turned his head to the side and looked at her out of the corner of his eye. Rachel reached up to his chin and gently forced his head back. He yielded to her touch, propped himself against the wall and faced her with one leg propped on the bench. When she knew she had his full attention, she lowered her hand to her lap and spoke.

 

 

“John I know that you think that you have to carry the burden all by yourself, but we must trust one another. Doesn’t the code tell us that we must “bear one another’s burdens?” John responded with a nod. “Then please tell me what’s on your mind?” John sighed, hung his head for a moment then looked back at her.

 

 

“Rachel, when your father and I went to the temple; we met Dr. Hamilton and he took us to a lab. Did you know about the lab?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“Is there anything that you don’t know?”

 

 

“I didn’t know what the symbols meant until tonight.” She shrugged with a sheepish grin.

 

 

“Well that doesn’t matter.” John decided to continue.

 

 

“When we were in the lab and things got a little touchy with you, I walked away to give you and your father some time alone.”

 

 

Rachel interjected. “That must have been the time I fainted.” John looked at her quizzically and countered.

 

 

“By the way, what did Bill want anyway?”

 

 

Rachel patted his knee and redirected the conversation.

 

 

“We’ll get to that later; just tell me what happened at the lab?”

 

 

John pushed the question aside but kept it in the back of his mind.

 

 

“While your father was with you, I decided I would go and talk to the doctor for a moment. When I got to the office he was in, I heard him talking to someone.”

 

 

“Who was he talking to?”

 

 

“I don’t know; I didn’t want to interrupt him, so I waited until he finished before I entered the room and when I entered, no one was there.”

 

 

Rachel looked puzzled. “What was he saying?”

 

 

“That’s the strange part; he said they couldn’t afford another situation like that. Then he told the person that he was talking to it was up to him to find it and he would take care of the rest.”

 

 

“That’s odd.” Rachel turned from John and stared blankly in to the night.

 

 

Now more than ever she questioned the motive of Dr. Hamilton. Was he in it to help others find their way to the tree of life, or did he think that somehow it will give him a fountain of youth that he could control. When the project started she felt sure that his intentions were pure, now she wasn’t sure. The conversation between her and Bill earlier that day ran through her mind in instant replay. Maybe Bill isn’t the bad guy. He did tell her everything that happened between him and the doctor. He even told her about Michael’s death.

 

 

John continued staring at the radiant glow of Rachel’s face reflected by the silvery moon set in the early evening sky. He could see that she was in deep thought about something he said; but he knew that she would share it with him in her time. He turned and leaned against the stone wall waiting patiently for her to share what was on her mind. He knew she would open up soon; she was the one who said they needed to be honest with one another. Just as the thought cleared his mind, Rachel spoke up.

 

 

“John…” He turned his head in her direction with has back still against the wall.

 

 

“I’m listening.”

 

 

“When Bill and I were at the oasis today, he told me that Dr. Hamilton killed Michael.”

 

 

John shot straight up and pivoted toward Rachel.

 

 

“He what?”

 

 

Rachel blinked away her gaze into the dark and faced John.

 

 

“Bill said that he had been kicked out of the program…”

 

 

John interrupted her.

 

 

“Michael got kicked out of the program?”

 

 

“No, Bill was kicked out of the program.”

 

 

“Why?”

 

 

“He never did find out.”

 

 

“So why did the doctor kill Michael.”

 

 

Rachel took a deep breath to regain her composure and continued.

 

 

“From what I understand, Dr. Hamilton thought Michael was going to stop him from getting the tree of life. But according to Bill, Michael was only trying to help him, not hurt him.”

 

 

John stood and paced in front of the building. This new information sent him into a tail spin. Here is a man whom we’ve entrusted our lives too, somehow has turned out to be a greedy, power hungry murderer. What could they do? Tomorrow, the three of them would embark on a mission to help save the lives of others, while wondering if their own lives were at stake. He stopped and turned to Rachel.

 

 

“Does your father know about all this?”

 

 

“No, as far as I know, he and Dr. Hamilton are friends.”

 

 

John’s eyes grew wide and he turned from Rachel and started pacing again. Isn’t this great, the doctor and Isaiah are friends. Did this mean the Isaiah was in on it? John chided himself for thinking such a thing. Isaiah was a man that loved the Lord more than any man he knew. He knew Isaiah’s passion was to help others get to the tree of life. Maybe Isaiah wasn’t aware that his friend’s heart had changed about the project. He stopped and sat beside Rachel, lowered his elbows to his knees and placed his face in his hands. Rachel reached over and placed her hand on his back and spoke up.

 

 

“John, don’t worry, everything will be fine.”

 

 

John lifted his head from his hands and replied.

 

 

“We need to tell your father before we leave tomorrow.”

 

 

Rachel pulled John close to her and whispered a prayer. They stood, went into the house and turned in for the night.

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John woke with a stark, beads of sweat coursed down his ashen face. He quickly scanned the room for intruders but only saw two sleeping bodies lying on sheep skins wrapped in blankets. Where was Mrs. Davis? The drumming sound in his ears increased in tempo until his eyes rested on the multi colored curtain that separated the living quarts from Mrs. Davis' bed room. The vivid images of the nightmare replayed itself against the early morning darkness. Isaiah lying in a pool of blood, Rachel pleading for help and he stood there feeling helpless. The sinister shadowy figure that wreaked havoc in his vision, evaded his mind slithering off in to darkness. What was happening? Who was the obscure shadow? Was this a warning about what was to happen? Should he tell the others?

 

 

John wiped the sweat from his face and scooted backward toward the stone wall. Resting his back against the wall he drew his knees close to his chest and prayed. Before he could finish talking with the Lord, he heard a commotion coming from behind the curtain. He jumped to his feet and started toward the curtain, as he reached the room the cloth went flying to one side against the wall and both he and Mrs. Davis jumped with a stark. Mrs. Davis gasped and clinched her chest, and John stumbled backward almost falling into the fire pit.

 

 

"My lands child, what are you trying to do, give me a heart attack?"

 

 

John extended his arm with the palm of his hand facing out, and the other planted against his chest.

 

 

"No ma'am, I just thought someone was in your room."

 

 

"Well I assure you, there's no one in the room except me."

 

 

"I'm sorry."

 

 

"No harm done." She made her way to the pit.

 

 

"Are you ready for the big adventure?"

 

 

"Yes ma'am." Although after waking up in a cold sweat, he wasn't sure if he wanted to continue.

 

 

"Good then, we'll need to be getting the others up and ready to go. You've got quite a bit of traveling ahead of you."

 

 

Mrs. Davis stood at the pit and stirred the ashen embers, bringing them to life. The orange glow filled the room with soft light and a fresh wood smoke smell. John walked to where Rachel was sleeping and stood there admiring her beauty. He liked her unwavering faith and wished his could be just half as much as hers. If anything would test their faith, it would be finding and protecting the way of the tree of life. She turned toward John, rubbed her eyes and looked at him.

 

 

"And what are you looking at?"

 

 

"I was just admiring your beauty."

 

 

"I think you need to be admiring what you need to carrying on this trip."

 

 

John placed his hands on his hips. "Oh really?"

 

 

Before Rachel could respond, a rustling was heard by the other wall and Isaiah was propped up on one elbow looking in John's direction.

 

 

"Yes really."

 

 

John quickly lowered his hands to his side and replied in a dry squeaky voice. "Yes sir." He hurried to his bed and busied himself packing up the bed roll.

 

 

Rachel turned to her father and they both busted out laughing. John didn't know how to take Isaiah at times. Did he want him getting close to his daughter or not? Time would tell, if they made it through the mission, he would ask his permission to start seeing her in a more serious manner.

 

 

Mrs. Davis broke in. "If you folks want to eat before you leave, you best be getting up and helping me with the wood so I can cook before the embers go out."

 

 

John and Isaiah left the women to themselves while they left to collect wood. They returned a short time later laden with an assortment of clean branches. Mrs. Davis turned to them as they entered.

 

 

"Well, I see it doesn’t take a man...or should I say men long to get the job done when they’re hungry." She chuckled; John and Isaiah looked at one another with raised eye brows.

 

 

They placed their load by the fire pit, made their way to the table and sat across from one another. Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

"John, this trip will test your faith, your conviction and your love for Jesus. It's important that you hold fast to that which you believe and we work as a team."

 

 

John leaned forward, placed his elbows on the table and interlaced his fingers in front of him. He knew what Isaiah said was true; this is what he had been training for, wasn't it? Sure he had doubts at times, especially with what he had learned about Dr. Hamilton. He also knew that Jesus was always there with them, along with Mr. Davis working in the lab, this gave him some consolation. The thought of Mr. Davis made John realize that Mrs. Davis had no idea about how Michael died. She needed to know what happened and who was responsible. John spoke up.

 

 

"Isaiah, I need to tell you something about Michael."

 

 

Rachel spun around and dropped a plate of food on the floor. John turned to see what had happened and when Rachel bent down to clean up the mess, he saw her shake her head from side to side. He acknowledged her, and then turned his attention back to Isaiah. Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

"What where you saying?"

 

 

John furrowed his brow and slightly shook his head from side to side.

 

 

"I'll tell you later."

 

 

Isaiah decided that it would be best if he waited until him and John were alone.

 

 

Mrs. Davis turned to Rachel. "Are you alright child?"

 

 

Rachel looked up with a sheepish smile. "I'm fine, just a little clumsy this morning, that's all. Sorry for the mess."

 

 

Mrs. Davis stooped to help her. "That's ok child, you’ve got a lot on your mind with this trip and all."

 

 

Rachel cleaned up the mess and threw it into the fire. She and Mrs. Davis finished setting the table and they joined John and Isaiah. Mrs. Davis looked between John and Isaiah.

 

 

"Ok you two, what were you whispering about?"

 

 

John spoke up before anyone could answer. "It was nothing."

 

 

"You know it's not polite to be whispering about people." She shook her index finger in his direction.

 

 

"Oh no, we weren’t talking about you." John quickly starred back at his plate and quickly changed the subject. "I'm hungry, let's eat." They bowed their heads and prayed.

 

 

After the meal Rachel and Mrs. Davis cleared the table. Isaiah instructed John on what they needed to carry for the trip. John went to his bed roll and picked up a small hand woven shoulder bag. He placed a few clothes, some dried meat, and the Efraim code in the bag. He returned to the table and waited on the others to finish packing. Mrs. Davis went to her room and returned with Michael's bible and gave it to Rachel. She looked at it for a moment and then held it close to her breast. It was a book and memory she would never forget, but this was a new chapter in her life now.

 

 

Isaiah returned to the table and the four of them stood in silence for a moment, then Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

"We must get going before the caravan leaves us, but before we go, let's pray and ask God for safety and wisdom in our journey."

 

 

They joined hands and bowed their heads for prayer. When they finished they said their farewell to Mrs. Davis, gathered their supplies along with the harp and left for the Camels gate.

 

 

As John, Isaiah, and Rachel reached the wall's gate, they were greeted by the leader of the caravan. The man ducked under the head one of the camels standing in the front of the camel train. He thrust his boney arms out of the tattered sleeves of his dusty tunic. When he approached Isaiah, he wrapped his arms around Isaiah, lifted him from the ground with ease and sat him back down.

 

 

"Glad to see you made it my friend, and who are your friends?"

 

 

Isaiah turned and extended his hand outward to Rachel and John.

 

 

"This young man is John."

 

 

John nodded and Isaiah waved to his daughter to come forward.

 

 

"And this, Rose of Sharon is my daughter. They will be joining me on the trip."

 

 

Rachel blushed and the man smiled, his long straggly black beard parted uncovering half eaten rows of dark teeth.

 

 

"Well then, we must get going while it is cool, the day will get hot soon." The man pointed to the camels, barked a command and the camels lowered themselves to the ground so their riders could mount them. The three of them mounted the camels and waited for the other members of the caravan to do the same. The leader made a noise with his mouth and the caravan stood almost in unison. He turned his beast toward the caravan and gave some last minute instructions about the trip and the animals they were riding. With a kick of his feet against the animal and a high pitched whistle, the lead camel took off and the others followed.

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Their first stop would be an oasis in the middle of a desert waste land where they would set up camp for the night and continue their journey the following day. John, Isaiah and Rachel brought up the rear of the train laden with people and supplies. Rachel looked back at the stone wall that protected the city and an overwhelming peace shrouded her; this was a new day and a new beginning in her life. She tilted her head skyward, and filled her lungs with the crisp cool morning air and let it out with a smile. She never thought she'd find anyone to replace Michael, especially someone so caring and energetic as John. She watched John and her father as they rode side by side. On the left sitting straight and tall, a man full of wisdom with shoulders broad enough the carry the weight of the world, and hands gentle enough to cradle a fragile life. To his right, a young man determined to prove himself to her and his Lord, willing to fight the good fight of faith.

 

 

John turned on his camel toward Rachel and signaled her to join them. She smiled back at him and nudged her beast with the heels of her feet and the animal bolted toward them. She reached John's side and the animal continued his gate past them. Rachel clung to the unruly beast and looked at John in despair. John gouged his camel, leaned forward and started pursuing the runaway brute. As he drew closer the animal quickened his pace tossing its rider from side to side. John slapped the side of his camel with the loose end of his rein and the beast bolted forward closing the gap between them. He leaned forward next to the camel's neck with his arm stretched out and grabbed one of the reins dangling from the camel. He pulled the rein toward him and the animal slowed his pace. When they both stopped, he watched Rachel's face transform from an ashen white to a soft pink.

 

 

“ This your first camel ride?" John said teasingly trying to calm her fear.

 

 

"Yes. Whatever gave you that clue?" She snatched the rein from his hand.

 

 

"It was the frightened look on the camel's face."

 

 

Before he could react, a loud crack filled the air and John grabbed his forearm letting out a yelp.

 

 

"What did you do that for?"

 

 

"You deserved it."

 

 

"But I saved your life."

 

 

"I was doing fine; I was just letting the camel run free for a moment." She cut her eyes toward him with a half grin.

 

 

"Ok...Well next time, don't forget to hold the reins, it might help."

 

 

She swung at him again but this time she missed.

 

 

"You swinging at flies now?"

 

 

"Yea, big ones."

 

 

Isaiah caught up to both of them.

 

 

"Is everything alright?"

 

 

John piped up. "Yea, just killing flies." Then he quickly darted to the other side of Isaiah.

 

 

Rachel whorled the end of the rein, "You better hide if you know what's good for you."

 

 

Isaiah looked back and forth between the both. "Don't get me in the middle of this."

 

 

Rachel raised a serous brow and slapped the rein against her palm. "I don't think I'll have any more problems out of him if he knows what's good for him."

 

 

Isaiah nodded toward the caravan and the three of them joined up with the others.

 

 

The hours passed on as they made their way toward their first stop. The sun creeping slowly toward the center of the bright blue sky: John looked up at the blazing ball of fire above them, then at the rippling heat waves dancing across the sandy desert. The waist land showed no mercy and played no favorites; the sparse bleached bones of those yielding to its will were evident of that. The caravan has slowed to a steady pace conserving energy. Hopefully they would reach the oasis soon so they could rest.

 

 

John blinked and adjusted his eyes, just up ahead distorted by the heat; it looked like trees that were made of rubber. Was his mind playing tricks on him, or was this the oasis he was looking at. In front of the caravan, the leader peeled away and made his way to the back. John could hear him talking to the others as he approached them, but he couldn't understand what he was saying. The man turned his camel around and rode next to Isaiah with a big grin on his face.

 

 

"Up ahead is the oasis, we will stop there and rest for a while." John let out a long sigh and wiped the sweat from his forehead. "I thought we'd never get there."

 

 

The man looked at Isaiah. "Your friend does not handle the desert well."

 

 

Isaiah looked behind the man at John. "No, but he's learning."

 

 

"We will be their soon my friends." The man made a clicking noise with his mouth and the beast of burden trotted to the front of the caravan.

 

 

"What does he mean I don't handle the desert well?" John cut a curious face toward Isaiah.

 

 

"What he means is, you’re new to this."

 

 

"And you aren't?"

 

 

"I've travelled the desert a few times since I've been here."

 

 

John responded with a raised brow and Isaiah cut him off before he could respond.

 

 

"John, you said you wanted to tell me something about Dr. Hamilton?"

 

 

John paused for a moment; he wanted to choose his words carefully. "Have you noticed anything unusual about Dr. Hamilton?"

 

 

Isaiah turned the corners of his mouth downward. "He's been acting a little distant lately. Why do you ask?"

 

 

John shared what he had heard at the lab, when he finished Rachel broke in.

 

 

"That's not all."

 

 

Isaiah turned his attention toward Rachel and waited for her explanation. He couldn't believe his ears. Hearing about the conversation in the lab, the doctor killing Michael and Bill Isles being a part of the experiment was a lot to swallow. Although now that they had mentioned it; a bearded image of a man with disheveled hair filtered into his mind. Could it be possible that Bill and the image in his mind were one in the same? Isaiah cut his eyes in Rachel's direction.

 

 

"Didn't you say he was the man that was making all the fuss when he was dismissed from the project?"

 

 

Rachel nodded "Yep."

 

 

Isaiah didn't say a word and Rachel could tell by the look in his eyes that something didn't quite add up. He shifted his attention forward to the horizon and the oasis was in plain sight. As they drew closer to the watering hole, John spoke up.

 

 

"Looks like we’re going to have some company."

 

 

Isaiah and Rachel averted their attention to the spring. Standing next to the water’s edge they could make out an outline of a camel. As they drew closer, they could make out an image of a person resting against a tree. When they got to within shouting distance, the person stood to his feet, faced them and waved his hand in the air. Now they could see it was a man and he called to them.

 

 

"Hello."

 

 

The familiar voice drifted through the air, they looked at one another and John spoke up.

 

 

"Is that who I think it is?"

 

 

Rachel spoke in disbelief, "I think so."

 

 

As the caravan reached the oasis, the man went to meet them and they couldn't believe their eyes. The three of them spoke in unison.

 

 

"Bill?"

 

 

He smiled and thrust his hands out in front of him. "That's me."

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The leader of the caravan commanded the camels to lower themselves, and the three of them dismounted along with the rest of the weary travelers. Bill sauntered over to them.

 

 

"Well what a surprise!"

 

 

Rachel gave a side glance to her father and John who were eyeing Bill with a questionable stare. She couldn't believe he was here; how did he know that they would be coming to this place? Now that he was here, she might as well ask her father if he could join them; he was looking for the same place. Bill stood there for what seemed like an eternity and decided to break the silence.

 

 

"It's not what you think."

 

 

John raised a brow and crossed his arms.

 

 

"Then what is it?"

 

 

"I have some unfinished business in Ur, and from there I hope to be off to Susa."

 

 

Isaiah glanced over to John and Rachel, then back to Bill. She could tell by the look on her father's face they too must be going to those places. Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

"What kind of business is that; if you don't mind me asking?"

 

 

Bill grimaced. "I'm looking for the tree of life."

 

 

"Really?" Isaiah cocked his head in Rachel's direction. Well the cat was out of the bag now. She winced and told her father about Bill's interest in locating the tree of life. Isaiah looked back at Bill then to his daughter and John.

 

 

"Well, there's no reason to stand in the heat; let's go to the watering hole and get under the shade and will talk more after we get refreshed."

 

 

Rachel lingered a few steps behind them, she knew her father would want to question Bill about his motives, and figured if she gave them a little space it would help things. They reached the water's edge and the four of them sucked up the cool refreshing water. Isaiah stood to his feet and motioned for John to help him with some food they had packed for the trip. John sprung to his feet and followed Isaiah to the camels. He couldn't help but wonder why Isaiah needed his help; he was perfectly capable of getting the food himself, unless it was because Isaiah wanted to talk to him away from Bill. When they reached the camels, Isaiah spoke to John in a low voice.

 

 

"What do you think he's up to?"

 

 

John thought for a moment. "I'm not sure; he says he looking for the tree of life, and the way Rachel was talking about him I think she believes he's sincere."

 

 

Isaiah twisted his mouth to one side and nodded. "Did he ever say anything about being a guardian of the way?"

 

 

John thought for a moment. "He's never said anything to me, and Rachel’s never mentioned it either."

 

 

Isaiah gathered some provisions out of the goatskin bag and looked in Bill's direction. Rachel seemed to be comfortable around the man, and he knew she was a pretty good judge of character, but for some reason, something didn't feel quite right. Rachel looked in their direction and smiled; she could sense that her father had reservations about Bill, but she didn't feel the same way she did about him when they first met. Sure, he was a total stranger when they met, and his obsession about finding the tree of life was justifiable; he had been on the project from the beginning, and then cast to the side like soured milk. She would ask her father about Bill joining them in their search when they returned.

 

 

Isaiah and John returned with the food, and Isaiah extended an invitation for Bill to join them in the meal. Bill started to turn down the invitation but was stopped by Rachel.

 

 

"You should join us; it'll allow the four of us to get acquainted."

 

 

Bill accepted the invite reluctantly, and the four of them sat in a semi-circle under the shade of the trees surrounding the oasis. Isaiah spoke up.

 

 

"Bill, why don't you ask God to bless the food?"

 

 

Isaiah could see that he was taken back a bit about the request, so he asked John to pray. When John finished, Bill spoke up.

 

 

"I...I...don't want you to think that I didn't want to pray; it's just that I'm not very good at it."

 

 

Rachel spoke up, "What's to be good at?"

 

 

Bill shrugged, "I don't know, it's just that I've found it easier for me to pray in silence, that way I don't get embarrassed."

 

 

Isaiah broke in, "Well that doesn’t matter, we’re not here to embarrass you."

 

 

"Thank you." Bill dipped his head.

 

 

"I don't know about you guys," John reached for the food laid out on the cloth in front of them. "I'm hungry." He snatched up a piece of flat bread and shoved it into his mouth. Rachel scolded him for being so rude, John stopped mid chew and offered a muffled apology. Isaiah chuckled; John's impatience and Rachel's firmness reminded him of he and his wife when they were younger.

 

 

The four of them sat in silence and enjoyed the meager morsels. When they all finished Rachel gathered the remaining food and returned to the camels to pack the food away. She turned to join the others and was startled by her father standing only a few feet from her.

 

 

"You scared me."

 

 

Isaiah smiled apologetically and drew closer to her. "I didn't mean to do that, I just wanted to talk to you."

 

 

"About what?"

 

 

"About Bill."

 

 

Rachel looked over her father's shoulder in Bill's direction. "What about Bill?"

 

 

He extended his hand. "Come, let's take a walk."

 

 

Rachel clasps his hand in hers and they slowly walked to the far side of the oasis. They stopped by a small clump of trees, and sat down by the water’s edge. Rachel loosened her sandals and dipped her feet in the water’s edge. She looked at her father and could tell something was bothering him. She reached over and placed her hand on top of her father's. She and her father could talk about anything; the only time he wouldn't tell her things was when he felt it could harm her. He turned and looked into her soft hazel eyes then spoke.

 

 

"Rachel, do you trust this Bill fellow?"

 

 

Rachel removed her hand and turned to face her father drawing her legs to one side. She knew by her father's question that he had doubt about Bill. After talking with Bill, any doubt she had about him was now a fleeing thought; but with her father asking her about this Bill fellow, doubt began to rear its ugly head. Had she let her emotions get in the way of better judgment? Isaiah interrupted her thoughts.

 

 

"Well?" Isaiah spoke softly understanding the complexity of the situation.

 

 

"I...well...I...I don't know what to think. He seems sincere about what he told me." She lowered her head and looked down at her father's strong hand; the same hand that supported her through many difficulties in life, especially during the time of Michael’s death. She looked back into his eyes.

 

 

"Do you trust him?"

 

 

Isaiah pursed his lips and stared off across the oasis at Bill and John for a moment then let out a slow breath.

 

 

"I would like to trust him, but there is just something about him I can't seem to put my finger on."

 

 

Rachel raised a brow and then focused her attention toward the two men on the opposite side of the water. Both John and Bill seem to be getting acquainted well; a hardy laugh filtered its way across the oasis toward Rachel and her father. Rachel turned back to her father.

 

 

"Father?"

 

 

"Yes?"

 

 

"Do you think we should invite Bill along on the mission?" After asking the question, she wondered if it was a good idea to have him tag along with them. Isaiah stood and offered Rachel a helping hand. She stood and faced her father waiting for an answer.

 

 

"Well, whether he is friend or foe the Lord is with us to protect us along the way."

 

 

Isaiah placed his arm around her shoulder and they both returned to the other side.

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John and Bill stood as Rachel and Isaiah joined them back on the other side. John smiled teasingly at Rachel and her father.

 

 

"A little father daughter time?"

 

 

"You could say that." Isaiah looked at John with a forced smiled then at Bill. John couldn't understand why Isaiah felt threatened by Bill's presence. Just the short time he had gotten to know Bill dissolved any apprehensions he felt toward the man. If Isaiah could get to know him a little better there was no doubt he'd feel the same way. All of them had the same objective didn't they; find the tree of life and protect the way?

 

 

Isaiah motioned for them to sit. They sat and Bill cautiously asked a question.

 

 

"Isaiah?"

 

 

Isaiah raised his head in Bill's direction, waiting for him to continue. Bill starred long and hard into Isaiah's eyes.

 

 

"I get the impression that you don't trust me?"

 

 

Rachel and John shot a surprised look in Bill's direction then back to Isaiah. Isaiah grinned, then laced his fingers together and placed his elbows on his crossed legs.

 

 

"I wouldn't say that I don't trust you, it's just that I have some reservations."

 

 

Bill raised a brow then leaned backward and propping himself on his hands.

 

 

"And what reservations might that be?"

 

 

"Rachel told me your interest in finding the tree of life, but what's your motive?" Isaiah carefully watched Bill for any signs of nervousness, but the man sat there undaunted by the question. Bill sat forward and glanced between the three of them then rested his eyes on Isaiah.

 

 

"My motives are the same as yours."

 

 

Rachel knew what was coming next; her father would continue questioning him until the man either left, or answered the question to her father's satisfaction. She prayed a silent prayer for her father and waited for the results. Isaiah straightened himself and crossed his arms.

 

 

"Well if you have the same motives, why don't you share them with us?"

 

 

Bill scooted backward and leaned against one of the trees lacing his hands behind his head.

 

 

"I know there are those out there who want to protect the way to the tree of life; there are others who would like to destroy it, and there are those who think that possessing it somehow it will give them control to life itself."

 

 

Rachel and John glanced at Isaiah expecting to see some kind of reaction but his face was fixed like granite. Bill continued.

 

 

"When Dr. Hamilton told me of the project and invited me to help, I was excited and welcomed the opportunity in preserving the way to the tree of life." Bill turned his head toward the oasis and took a deep breath, then returned his gaze to Isaiah.

 

 

"After working with the doctor for a while I soon realized that his motives were not the same as mine."

 

 

John spoke up. "How so?"

 

 

Bill glanced at the sandy ground between him and Isaiah, and spoke with a little reservation.

 

 

"You may or may not know, but Dr. Hamilton's wife died while giving childbirth to their son."

 

 

Surprised, John and Rachel stared at one another for a moment then eyed Bill. Isaiah uncrossed his arms, placed his hands on his knees and spoke up.

 

 

"He's never told me that before." The tone in his voice reflected a slight surge of disbelief. He and the doctor had become close over the years. It didn't make any sense that the doctor would not have told him about it; but, knowing the doctor, he was a private sort of man anyway. Bill looked back into Isaiah's wide eyes.

 

 

"From what I understand he never told anyone about it."

 

 

"How did you find out about it?"

 

 

"He was talking about the tree of life; he said his wife often mentioned that it was the pathway to God. I think it was a slip of the tongue though, because he tried to change the subject. Later I ask him about his son and he told me that he died also at birth."

 

 

"What made you think the doctor's motives had changed?"

 

 

"As time passed, it looked as though all the work spent on the experiment would be nothing but a failure. Each time we tried R.E.M. with a subject they would return from the deep sleep and remember nothing but falling endlessly into a dark hole. During one of the experiments, Dr. Hamilton decided he wanted to try and enter the other side. Myself and Dr. Davis..." John interrupted, "You mean Mrs. Davis' husband?" Bill nodded and continued.

 

 

"We were monitoring Dr. Hamilton's progress and all was going well; that is until his monitors started spiking. We were concerned that something terrible was happening with the doctor so we brought him back. When he woke up, he was crying and repeating himself saying, "we need to find it, we need to find it." we gave him a mild sedative, and when he calmed down Dr. Davis ask him what he was talking about."

 

 

Bill took a deep breath, unlaced his hands, ran them through his thick black hair and brought them to rest on his lap. Isaiah looked at the others in disbelief then back to Bill. Rachel wanted to know more.

 

 

"What was he talking about, was it the tree?"

 

 

Bill nodded and pursed his lips.

 

 

"Why was that so important?"

 

 

The three of them listened intently waiting for an explanation.

 

 

"That's when it became clear about his intentions." He stole a glance between the three of them and finished telling the story. "Dr. Hamilton said; "If I can control the tree of life then I can control life itself; no one will ever die, and I bring my wife and child back."

 

 

The color drained from their faces and they sat there dumbfounded for a moment. Isaiah spoke breaking the silence.

 

 

"So your saying, the whole purpose of him finding the tree is to control life itself?"

 

 

Bill hung his head for a moment then looked back up.

 

 

"It seems that way."

 

 

"You know that's not going to happen. We're here to help keep the way."

 

 

Bill shrugged. "That's what I know and that's why I’m here to help."

 

 

John couldn't believe his ears. Was the doctor up to no good? No one can take control of the tree of life; it's free to anyone who wants it, all they have to do is seek it and find it. Now he was more determined than ever to find it and protect its way.

 

 

They continued to sit there for a moment digesting what they had just heard. Before they could think about it any longer, the leader of the caravan joined the group and informed them it was time to go.

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John watched the leader of the caravan meander his way leisurely through the weary train of travelers. Two days had passed since they left Jerusalem, and his body certainly reminded him with every step the smelly beast took. He scanned the horizon for any signs of life, relieved to see a large building surrounded by smaller dwellings silhouetted against the lowering orange sun. He adjusted himself atop the camel, pointing at the tall structure.

 

 

"What is that building?"

 

 

Isaiah shielded his eyes from the sun. "I believe that is the temple of Ur."

 

 

John returned his gaze to the massive stone edifice then back to Isaiah. "Is that the secret temple?"

 

 

"No, I wish it was that simple."

 

 

The leader drew alongside of them and interrupted the conversation. "Well my friends, we'll be arriving at Ur shortly."

 

 

"Not a moment too soon." John rubbed his bottom and Rachel massaged the back of her neck.

 

 

Isaiah thanked the man; the leader rode off leaving Isaiah and the others to bring up the rear.

 

 

They arrived at the traveler’s gate; the setting sun cast long shadows of buildings on the stony ground. John felt uneasy like someone was watching them. He observed a man shrouded in some kind of priestly garment propped against the stone entrance staring at them. The mysterious stranger pushed himself from the wall and casually strolled toward them. As the intruder approached, the camels’ gracefully lowered themselves to the ground as if giving homage to some sort of deity.

 

 

The uninvited guest beckoned them. John could not explain it, but somehow he would have no problem following the man. There was something vaguely familiar about him; a sense of peace washed over him. He didn't know if the others felt the same about the newcomer, but he was sure they were safe. They dismounted, gathered their things and fell in behind him with Rachel at John’s side. He looked into her eyes and knew she could feel it too.

 

 

The host led them through a maze of stone alleys and passage ways. John was completely lost and knew he wouldn't be able to find his way back if his life depended on in. After what seemed like miles of walking, they stopped in front of a small obscure wooden door. The guide opened the door and motioned for them to enter. They walked into the dimly lit room and heard it close behind them. He turned expecting to see the robed man, but saw only the door. In two quick steps John reached for the door, swung it open and looked up and down the alley but saw no one. How could that be, it was at least fifty yards to the nearest ally or passage way. He stood in the doorway for a moment, then spun on his heel to face an unfamiliar voice calling his name from within the room. The raspy sound echoed from a dark corner.

 

 

"John, don't worry I know who you are and why you’re here."

 

 

"Who are you?"

 

 

"I'm here to help you and the others."

 

 

"How do you know me and the others?"

 

 

"I've known you, Rachel, Isaiah, and Bill for a long time."

 

 

John glanced at the others in disbelief and then back to the dark corner. A shuffling noise against the sandstone floor along with a muffled thump every other step drew closer to him. Emerging from the shadows a small stooped figure clutching a wooden staff approached. The feeble white haired man stopped in front of him and stroked his long silvery beard. John stared into his cloudy eyes and waved his hand in front of the man’s face.

 

 

"You don't have to do that; even though I'm blind, I can still see."

 

 

"Sorry, I didn't mean any harm."

 

 

"That's quite alright; when you've been around as long as I have, things like that don't matter."

 

 

The old man beckoned them to follow, and they joined him. His blindness didn't hinder his frail frame from negotiating the room or the stone archway that led to a small chamber. They entered the room, and in the middle was a table filled with food. He raised his staff pointing to the cornucopia of delight.

 

 

"I know you must be hungry after a long dry trip from Jerusalem."

 

 

John interrupted. "Before we eat, I'd like to know who you are and how you know about us."

 

 

The old man smiled and shuffled toward the table. "My name isn't important; I know your mission, and know that you descended from the lineage of Mary the mother of Jesus."

 

 

John glanced between the three of them in disbelief; he couldn't wrap his mind around the idea that he was somehow related to the Savior. No one had ever told him about his ancestry, and by the raised brows, they had no idea either.

 

 

The old man chuckled. "Don't worry yourself about that; what's important now is that you eat and get some rest. Believe me; all of you will need your strength for what is ahead, both physically and spiritually."

 

 

The man motioned for them to sit at the table. The four of them gathered round, and the host sat at the head. He offered a prayer of thanks for the food and for his long awaited guests. When they finished eating, they entered the other room and John patted his stomach.

 

 

"I haven't eaten that well in awhile."

 

 

Bill rubbed his and retorted. "After a meal like that, I need to take a walk. Anyone care to join me?"

 

 

The old man half-wittedly replied. "It's a little too dark for me."

 

 

John looked at the others with a puzzled look. Rachel slapped him on the shoulder and responded. "He's blind..."

 

 

John smacked his forehead with the palm of his hand. "I'm a little slow at times."

 

 

Isaiah chimed in. "A little slow?"

 

 

A chorus of chuckles filled the small room and Rachel patted him on the arm. After Bill left the group and went outside, the old man asked John to get the oil lamp as he shuffled to the far side of the room toward a wooden door.

 

 

John hadn't noticed the door before, he raised the lamp to get a better look, and then asked. "Was that door there before?"

 

 

The man stopped and turned to John. "You tell me?" He paused for a moment then continued. "Just remember John things aren’t always as they appear."

 

 

"You can say that again." Since he had been on this mission, nothing was what it appeared to be.

 

 

"Don't worry; it'll all be clear soon." The mystery man spoke and a slight gleam flashed in his eye. He turned back to the door, pushed it open, and a light breeze of stale air filled the room.

 

 

John entered the room holding the small oil lamp slightly above his head. He stopped just inside the entrance and stood there unable to move captivated by the sight.

 

 

Rachel tapped him on the shoulder. "Well, why are you just standing there, are you going to let us in?"

 

 

He numbly moved to the side and allowed them to enter. Rachel and Isaiah pushed by him stopping a few feet inside the large room. On the far side carved in the wall were the same images as the harp. Against the wall to its right, stood a stone statue of an old man holding an open scroll facing outward as if inviting those who would, come and read. Gathered around the feet of the graven image, smaller figures sat looking intently at the statue.

 

 

Rachel walked to the sculpture and noticed an unusual carving on the page. "You need to see this."

 

 

John and Isaiah joined her.

 

 

"What language is that?" John ran his fingers across the lines in the scroll.

 

 

Isaiah smiled, and then turned to them. "That my friend is Hebrew."

 

 

"You can read that?"

 

 

Isaiah nodded.

 

 

John cocked his head and looked at Rachel then back to Isaiah. "What does it say?"

 

 

"It says, "Suffer not the little children to come unto me. For such is the kingdom of heaven."

 

 

"That John ..."They jumped and turned to see the old man standing directly behind them. "Is something that each of you need to understand."

 

 

John recalled reading that very saying in the Ephraim code, and understood it meant you must have a child like faith to enter heaven. Why would the old man say that? Weren’t they all children of God?

 

 

"What do you mean?" John turned, watching the old man shuffled to the door.

 

 

"I'll explain it tomorrow, for now I think we need to rest, and prepare for the day ahead."

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He saw what he assumed was heaven, green hills, bright shining mansions, a golden road leading to a main gathering center. Fascinated at the possibility that he could come face to face with the creator of the universe, face to face with the one that could answer all of the questions that he had so longed to have answered, why were his parents killed when he was so young, why did he have to go through a life of hell, in and out of foster homes, never able to fit in to a family, until he had found his wife and had made one of his own. He would be able to ask all of these things and more, if only he could get through the portal before it closed again. He stood and began to cross the room, but he stumbled and

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The cell phone screen went blank. John's whole life flashed before his eyes. He knew his family needed his help. He tried to get the screen to come back on. He tried frantically to remember the sequence to the code. He tried not to panic. He scratched his head and scrambled his brain, struggling, struggling, and then....

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The old man disappeared into the shadows and Isaiah spoke up. "It looks like it's going to be a long day tomorrow."

 

 

"And an interesting one at that." John chirped.

 

 

John walked to his bed roll, and picked up his things and placed them by the far wall. Reaching into the bag he removed the harp, sat down on top of his bedding and carefully studied the symbols. If the carvings on the harp and the engravings on the wall are the same; is it possible the place they're staying at for the night is somehow connected? If that's the case, what does the statue mean? How is it connected to all of this? He ran his fingers across the strings filling the room with delightful sounds. Although he knew he couldn't play the harp, the sound transformed a heart of doubt to one of assurance. Is it possible that this instrument is the key to it all? No it couldn't be; Isaiah said that it had nothing to do with finding the tree of life; its only purpose was to comfort the heart.

 

 

Isaiah joined his daughter, gave her a hug and told her he was going for a walk. She knew when he took strolls by himself he wanted to be alone to think and seek Jesus' wisdom. She hugged him and kissed him on the cheek and he whispered, "I love you." she smiled and he walked to the door, while opening the door he spoke over his shoulder. "Don't wait up for me, I may be awhile." He shut the door before either of them could respond.

 

 

Rachel strolled to where John sat. "May I?" she pointed to a spot on his bed roll. Although she didn't think it would be a problem, she felt it only proper to ask. He patted the straw mat and moved over a bit. She sat beside him and didn't say a word; she could see he was troubled about something but didn't want to impose.

 

 

John broke the silence and faced her. "Rachel..." She turned looking into his eyes, an ocean of blue against the back drop of a dimly lit room. He continued. "Do you wonder what's going to happen?"

 

 

She started to speak but John interrupted. "I mean..." John was trying to put the words together. He knew this wasn't the time, but if he didn't say it, he may never get the chance.

 

 

"John, what is it?" Rachel's words hovered just above a whisper.

 

 

John bowed his head slightly, and she reached over and placed her hand under his chin lifting it upward. The moment he looked into her tender eyes he knew the time was right. "Rachel, I know this mission could cost us our lives, and if anything ever happened to..." Rachel placed her velvety fingers against his lips, and a flicker of light crossed his eyes. He closed them and a shimmer of moisture trailed down his cheek. She gently wiped it away and he opened them. She spoke before he could utter a word. "John, before you say anything, I need to tell you something."

 

 

She softly placed her hands in his and continued. "After Michael's death, I thought no one could ever replace him, then the day I met you at the well, I knew you were the one. I struggled with it for a while thinking it wouldn't be fair to Michael." She bit her bottom lip and closed her eyes. An image of Michaels' dimpled smile flashed in her mind. Maybe it was too soon to tell him. Had she completely gotten over Michael? Another picture of Michael faded into her mind, this time with a look of approval. She longed for the image to linger, but he smiled and nodded his blessing, then vanished into the darkness.

 

 

She started to speak, but John interrupted gently pressing his index finger against her lips. Her emotions spilled over her cheeks and John softly kissed them away. There was no doubt both of them felt the same for each another. They embraced, the only sound that could be heard was the timpani echoing from the chambers of their chest.

 

 

The next morning, startled from the pounding sound coming from the outside door, John and Rachel shot up from their beds. He quickly surveyed the room and noticed Isaiah's bed roll by the entrance of the door. He looked at Rachel. "Where's you father?"

 

 

Rachel shrugged. "I don't know."

 

 

The pounding grew louder and a familiar voice from the other side called out. "John, open the door, it's Dr. Hamilton."

 

 

John shot to his feet and scrambled to the door. Why would Dr. Hamilton be here? Something must be wrong. He opened the door ushering in the winded man. Beads of perspiration poured from the doctor's red face. Panting, the doctor puffed the words from his mouth. "We...have... a...problem." John helped the doctor to a chair allowing him time to catch his breath.

 

 

Rachel stood and joined them. "What kind of problem?"

 

 

The doctor's eyes bounced between John and Rachel. John knew from the look on the doctor's face it wasn't good. Dr. Hamilton wiped the sweat from his face with the back of his hand. "It's Isaiah." Rachel gasped placing her hand over her mouth.

 

 

John grabbed the doctor by the shoulder locking eyes with him. "What's wrong with Isaiah?"

 

 

The doctor took a deep breath and began explaining what happened. "Everything was going well until around twelve o'clock; that's when it started happening."

 

 

Rachel broke in. "What started happening?" Her voice fluctuated with an adolescent tone.

 

 

The doctor wiped more sweat from his brow. "Isaiah's monitors started going off the charts."

 

 

John and Rachel glanced at one another then back to the doctor. John continued. "Did you say it was around twelve there?" The doctor nodded.

 

 

John thought aloud. "If it was twelve o'clock there and we're seven hours ahead of them; that was about the time Isaiah went for a walk."

 

 

Rachel interrupted his thoughts. "Is my father ok?"

 

 

The doctor reassured her. "He's fine, after a few moments, his monitors returned to normal."

 

 

John snapped back. "Well then, what's the problem?" He regretted the sharpness of his tone and apologized. The thought of Isaiah being in danger and the fact that Dr. Hamilton may have killed Michael didn't help matters. Now wasn't the time to be questioning the doctor about Michael's death. The important thing was Isaiah's wellbeing.

 

 

The doctor stood. "The fact that everything returned to normal is good. What it means is, Isaiah must have been struggling or facing some kind of opposition when the spikes accrued."

 

 

Rachel didn't understand. "Then, what caused them to return to normal?"

 

 

The doctor raised a brow cocking his head to one side. "The only thing that could bring that sort of reaction would be; sedation, fainting, being knocked out, or just plain calming down."

 

 

John ran his hand through his short brown hair turning to Rachel. "We've got to find him before we start for the tree."

 

 

Rachel buried her head in john's chest wrapping her arms around him. Pent up years of emotions from the loss of Michael, and now possibly her father erupted into long hard sobs. Her shoulders shook and a liquid river soaked the front of John's tunic.

 

 

John embraced her and whispered in her ear. "He'll be ok; I'll find him no matter what." No sooner than he spoke the words, he realized what he had said. How could he find him? He had no idea where to look or even begin. He didn't want to lose Isaiah either. After his father died, Isaiah was the one who took him in. If it hadn't been for Isaiah, he would have forsaken God and given up on everything his father had taught him. Jesus, why are you allowing this to happen now? We're so close to finding the tree of life. We're suppose to be the protectors of the way, and you haven't even protected Isaiah. He could feel doubt rearing its ugly head, a sensation he refused to entertain.

 

 

John closed his eyes squeezing them tight and prayed silently. Jesus, forgive me for doubting you. I know that your word says; you work all things together for good to them that love you. I love you; I also love Isaiah. Please protect him and help us find him.

 

 

Rachel lifted her head from his chest and he opened his eyes. She looked into them searching for answers and hope. He wiped the dampness from the side of her face with the back of his hand, and gently tucked long think strands of auburn behind her ear. He forced a smile, bent down ad kissed her forehead reassuring her. "He'll be alright, and I'll find."

 

 

Rachel returned a weary smile. "I know." Her words hardly above a whisper.

 

 

The doctor interrupted. "I'm so sorry, really I am."

 

 

Rachel reached over and patted his chest. "Jesus will work everything out."

 

 

Dr. Hamilton bowed his head for a moment then looked back at them. "I need to get back to the lab so I can monitor things there."

 

 

Both thanked the doctor and he left.

 

 

Rachel backed away from John, wiped the tears from her face, and grabbed his hands. "John..." She bit her bottom lip fighting back the rolling tide of emotions that wanted to resurface, she tool a deep breath and continued. "We need to do two things."

 

 

"What's that?"

 

 

"We need to pray and seek the advice of the Efraim Code."

 

 

John nodded in agreement and suggested they pray in the room with the statue. Both entered the room and knelt in prayer.

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