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Rebecca

Tag Team Story - Just For Fun!

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John and Rachel finished praying and she faced him. "John, we need to get the Efraim code and see what it has to say."

 

 

John stood, took her by the hand helping her to her feet; they walked to the other room and he retrieved the code from his bag. Lowering himself to the floor with Rachel at his side, he wipes the dust from the thin clear screen, and then pushes the power button. A soft red glow lit his face as the screen flickered to life.

 

 

The electronic reader fades from red, to green, finally to a light blue with two small square thumbprints situated in the middle of it. John, eyed the device for a moment, and then passed it to her. She took it from him and placed her thumb on one of the images. The box disappears replaced by the words, "Print Recognized" flashing at the bottom of the screen. Returning the device to him, he places his thumb on the remaining box, and for a brief moment the words, "Access Granted" appear, then the screen filled with bold black letters.

 

 

"The Holy Bible, for, The Keepers of the Way, designed by: Sons of Light Software development. Lighting the way so that others may see."

 

 

John flipped his finger across the screen and the sound of a page turning filled the room. Listed on the page were the names of contributing designers and engineers. John’s eyes stopped at the top of the list, and the color drained from his face when he saw the name of the chief engineer. This can’t be, a lump filled his throat and he swallowed trying to push it down. He had no idea he was involved with the program. Why did he keep it from him? John lowered the device to his lap and stared blankly at the wall across from him.

 

 

Rachel touched his hand. "What's wrong?"

 

 

He sat there refusing to say a word. Rachel looked down and scanned the screen. Her eyes landed on a familiar name, she gasped placing her hand over her mouth, and then looked at his tear stained face. "Is that..."

 

 

John nodded and spoke just above a whisper. “Yes, my father."

 

 

She glanced back at the screen, and just under her breath, she pronounced the name. "John Wellington Sr."

 

 

Rachel started to speak but stopped when she heard his quivering voice. "Why didn't he tell me?"

 

 

She placed her hand on his shoulder. "Maybe he didn't want you to get hurt."

 

 

"If that's the case," he turned and looked at her. "Why did he teach me so much about God's word before he died?"

 

 

"You were younger then, and maybe he was preparing you for what was ahead."

 

 

"How, by dying on me?" He let the code drop to his lap and a fountain of water streamed down his face. Rachel wrapped his head in her arm and drew him close to her bosom. For the first time she understood his pain. The death of her mother was painful, but time had a way of healing most things. Now that her father is missing, and not knowing if she will ever see him again, his pain became hers.

 

 

After a few moments, John lifted his head, and wiped the tears from his face. Picking up the device, he flipped the screen with his finger. The page transformed from Times New Roman to hand writing. John, read the note with Rachel looking on at his side.

 

 

My dearest John

 

 

By now, I am sure you have come to realize that the world has nothing to do with Jesus. I knew that one day, His word would be rejected, and those who believe in it would be punished. One day the word, that is so precious to his people will be banished. That’s why I, and many others like me have devoted our lives in developing the Efraim Code. If you're reading this, it means it has come to that point.

 

 

Son, your mother and I knew the day you were born God had placed you here for a purpose. I feel that purpose is to help others find their way to the tree of life. This tree will free many from the bondage of sin. It can also restore those who have fallen away. The training from the word you received from me was to help you in accomplishing that mission. It has been my prayer, that if anything should happen to me, you’d continue your training with my dearest friend Isaiah.

 

 

The fact that you are reading this letter means my prayers were answered. It is up to you to continue with the mission. You will soon learn, if you haven't already, there are many who will say they are friends and want to help, but are nothing more than wolves in sheep’s clothing. You must be vigilant and try the spirits. Some will be angels unaware; others professing to be angels of light. Trust the Spirit. He will help you discern the difference.

 

 

Son, remember this; you must complete the mission no matter the cost. Many have sacrificed their lives so that others may know the truth, but the greatest sacrifice was Jesus Christ.

 

 

Love your Father

 

 

PS. We will meet again one day.

 

 

John, placed the tablet on the ground between them, drew his knees to his chest and buried his head between them with his hands laced behind his head. His emotions spewed forth filling the empty room with sobs. He missed his father dearly. Just when a boy needed a friend in life, his father died. He was thankful for Isaiah and all he done for him, but now even he was gone. Rachel had to be feeling the same.

 

 

Rachel softly stroked his arm and the painful thoughts faded when he saw the hurt in her red-rimmed eyes. Gently clasping her face in his hands, he kisses her on the forehead. "We will find your father, and then we'll find the tree."

 

 

She nodded in agreement, but froze when she saw the shadowy figure standing in the doorway. John twisted following her gaze and spotted the frail man with his cane. The man shuffled toward them and both stood to greet him. "We didn't hear you come in."

 

 

"That's quite alright; most don't pay attention to an old man anyway."

 

 

Rachel spoke up. "Sir, my father is missing."

 

 

"I know that."

 

 

Puzzled, John and Rachel looked at one another. He couldn't believe what he was hearing. How could he have known Isaiah was missing? Did he have something to do with it?

 

 

Rachel blurted out. "How could you have possible known he..."

 

 

John held his hand up cutting her off while taking a step toward the man; he could feel the heat rising in his face. "How do you know he was missing, unless you had something to do with it?"

 

 

The man placed the end of his staff against John's chest. "I had nothing to do with Isaiah's disappearance. Do you remember? Yesterday I told you things aren’t what they appear to be?"

 

 

John nodded. "So what are you saying?"

 

 

The old man lowered his cane. "The device you were reading earlier..."

 

 

John stole a glance at Rachel then back to the old man's milky eyes. "I thought you couldn't see?"

 

 

"I can't."

 

 

John eyed the man coarsely. "Then how did you know we were reading anything?"

 

 

"Like I said before..." The man waved his bony hand in front of his own face. "Just because I am blind, doesn’t mean I can't see."

 

 

John stepped back. "Then where is Isaiah?"

 

 

"That, I can't tell you."

 

 

"What do you mean you can't tell me?" John's voice raised an octave higher.

 

 

"John, time is running out. You and Rachel must decide whether you want to find Isaiah, or the tree." The man turned and started for the room with the statues.

 

 

"Wait!" John and Rachel gathered their things and caught up with the man. "Is he ok?" Both spoke in unison.

 

 

The man stopped abruptly almost causing them to run into him. "He's fine."

 

 

The old man turned to enter the room and the front door sprung opened. John and Rachel turned hoping to see Isaiah, but were surprised to see Bill instead.

 

 

"Good morning everyone,” Bill threw his arms outward. “Hope all of you had a good night’s rest?"

 

 

John blurted. "Where have you been? Have you seen Isaiah?"

 

 

Bill stammered. "I've been out taking in the sights; when I left Isaiah was with you guys." He joined them and could see the concern and disappointment on their faces. "What happened to him?"

 

 

John shrugged. "We don't know. We woke up this morning and he wasn't here."

 

 

Bill turned and started to the door looking over his shoulder. "We need to find him, let's go."

 

 

Before either of them could respond, the old man spoke up. "You must go now or it will be too late."

 

 

John looked between the old man and Bill. "If we leave now we may never find Isaiah."

 

 

"If you don't leave now, you may never find him." The old man pointed to the room with his staff.

 

 

John turned to Rachel, their eyes met and he could see her desperation. She bowed her head turning her gaze to the old man, and then back to John. "John, we need to complete the mission. We have to trust that Jesus will take care of father.”

 

 

John pointed over his shoulder. “But...”

 

 

Rachel cut him off placing her hand on his chest. “John, you know we have to do this.”

 

 

John sighed and slumped his head. “I guess you’re right, we need to get going.” He turned to Bill and motioned. “Are you going with us?”

 

 

Bill ran his hand over his face allowing it to rest on his chin. “Someone needs to find Isaiah; I’ll stay behind and look for him while you two go. I’ll catch up to you later.”

 

 

John stepped toward Bill extending his hand but came to a halt when the old man placed his staff between them. “The time is now, you must go.”

 

 

John and Rachel nodded at Bill and followed the old man into the room. When they entered the room, the symbols on the wall started swirling in different directions. The old man walked to the wall, tapped it with his staff, and it parted.

 

 

Watching the wall vanish before their very eyes, John and Rachel took a few steps back. The old man turned and faced them pointing back at the wall with his staff and began to explain. “This passage way will lead you to the tree of life. When you get through the other side, you will be at the foot of the Zagros Mountains. When the east sun rises in the morning, you will see what looks like two hands cupped together pointing downward. At the tip of the fingers, you will see a cave that is visible only when you see the hands. You will enter the cave, and there you will find several tunnels, but only one will lead you to the garden.”

 

 

John interrupted the old man. “How will we know which one to take?”

 

 

The old man spoke slow and steady. “Only you can know that.”

 

 

John raised a brow, pulled the hair on the top of his head while the old man continued. “John, you and Rachel have the code, use it. One thing I can tell you. Trust in Him with all your heart, He will guide you.”

 

 

John released his hair, sighed, and slapped his thigh. “What happens once we find the right passage?”

 

 

The old man stepped toward them and placed his bony hand on John’s shoulder. “When you find the right path and reach the end, you will know. But there are two things you must be aware of.”

 

 

Just when he thought, things couldn't get any worse. “What’s that?”

 

 

The man lowered the staff and placed his hand on top of it. “When you get there, the enemy will be waiting, and once you pass through this wall, you will not be able to return this way again.”

 

 

John’s mouth flew open, Rachel grabbed his hand and they both starred at one another in disbelief. The man spoke up. “You must go now, the wall will not wait.”

 

 

Rachel squeezed his hand, he nodded, and they picked up their bedding and supplies and disappeared through the wall.

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They stepped across the threshold, and both turned to look at the old man standing in the room. John saw a glint in the man’s eye and wondered what he was thinking. He opened his mouth to speak but the man’s image faded as the wall rematerialized. The passage faded to an eerie darkness. He reached for the wall but the stark reality of no return set in when he touched the cold stone surface.

 

 

John reached for Rachel’s hand but instead grabbed air. He groped in the darkness and couldn’t find her. She was just here! Where did she go? He tried calling, but her name went no further than the lump in his throat. This couldn’t be happening. Swallowing hard, he tried again but jumped when a hand touched his chest. When he touched the hand, he heard a familiar voice calling his name. “John, I thought I’d lost you.”

 

 

John grabbed her hand, pulling her close he whispered in her ear. “Rachel, I thought you were gone. I don’t want to lose you.”

 

 

Rachel buried her head in his chest for a moment and whispered. “Nor I you.”

 

 

They held one another for a few moments longer then John noticed a small light appearing at the end of the tunnel. “Look!”

 

 

Rachel turned, and was relieved to see the vale of darkness vanishing to a ray of hope. “That must be the way out.”

 

 

Gathering their things, they walked toward the light and stopped just outside the entrance. John studied the towering mountains standing before them. Scantly scattered along the rocky formation, patches of green dotted the landscape giving a hint of life to an arid scene.

 

 

Looking up and down the jagged range, he noticed something unusual. The shadows of the rocks and plants where in the wrong place. If he were facing the mountains in the west, and the sun is behind him to the east, then the shadows should be pointing to the west. Instead, the shadows were pointing toward them, which meant that the sun was past the mid day point and setting. How could that be, they left that morning.

 

 

John turned to the entrance and gasped. “What…”

 

 

Rachel whirled around and the color drained from her face. The entrance had been replaced by a blanket of sand stretching toward the horizon. She looked at John. “Where did it go?”

 

 

“I don’t know.” John surveyed the area and a sense of hopelessness overshadowed him. He knew they needed to continue, but the idea of no escape was unsettling. He always made sure he had a way out, but this time whether he wanted to or not he had to trust the Lord.

 

 

John turned to Rachel. “We need to find the entrance the old man was talking about, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow.”

 

 

“Why not now?”

 

 

John shook his head, “You see that?” He pointed to the sun shielding his eyes. “It’s lowering toward the mountains which are in the west.”

 

 

Rachel eyed the bright orb just above the jagged range and returned her gaze to John. “What do we do now?”

 

 

John pointed to a small outcrop of rocks at the foot of the mountain. “Maybe we ought to settle in for the night.”

 

 

“But what about the entrance to the cave?”

 

 

“We won’t be able to find it until morning when the sun rises, remember.”

 

 

Rachel forced a smile, “I’m sorry, it’s just that I keep thinking about my father.”

 

 

“I know, I can’t stop thinking about him either.”

 

 

Rachel averted her eyes toward the ground. She knew completing the mission was what her father would want them to do. Without him it wouldn’t be the same, he had always been there for her. When her mother died she blamed God. She knew father did his best in trying to help her understand, but she refused. He never pushed her, but allowed her to handle the grief in her own way. When Michael died, her father’s unwavering faith and endless love comforted her. She remembered what he had told her one night while sitting in the mission. Rachel, one day you’ll have to face some things on your own. But, just remember this; Jesus will be with you all the way. She knew he was right, but why did it have to be now?

 

 

Rachel looked back into John’s soft brown eyes. “Do you think he is alright?”

 

 

John reached over and gently grabbed her hands and drew her close. He could see the pain in her eyes and knew her life wasn’t the same without her father. “He’ll be fine, remember what the old man said?”

 

 

Rachel nodded, “I know you’re right, it’s just…”

 

 

John interpreted her pressing his index finger against her lips. “Just remember, Jesus is our protector as well as your fathers. We may not understand, but He does.”

 

 

Rachel grabbed his hand and turned his palm toward her face resting her cheek in it. The steadfastness in his tone, and the touch of his strong hand brought comfort to her soul. She spoke softly. “Thank you, I’m so glad we’re doing this together.”

 

 

John smiled, gently stroking the back of her hair. “Me too.” Then he lifted her face. “Now let’s set up camp for the night, it’ll be dark before you know it.”

 

 

They gathered their things and headed for the small enclave at the foot of the mountain. When they arrived, John signaled Rachel to wait outside for a moment. After looking around, and confident it was safe to enter, John gave the okay and she followed. The place was just big enough for two people and recessed enough in the side of the mountain to protect them from the elements.

 

 

Rachel started unpacking her things and John stopped her. “I’d leave my bed rolled up until it’s time to go to sleep if I were you.”

 

 

Rachel frowned. “And why is that?”

 

 

“An unrolled bed is a mighty inviting place for critters.” John slithered his hand back and forth in a forward motion.”

 

 

Rachel shivered and quickly rerolled her bed. “I didn’t need to know that, but thanks for the advice.”

 

 

John placed his arm across his stomach, bowed, and said with a English accent. “My pleasure madam, I’m here at your service.”

 

 

“Well then, if you’re at my service, maybe you can round up some wood, and get a fire started to keep those critters away for the night.”

 

 

John bowed again. “As you wish.”

 

 

Just as he turned and headed toward the entrance, he felt something hard bounce off the back of his head. He turned to Rachel who was standing there with a sheepish grin and her hands behind her back.

 

 

He rubbed the back of his head. “What was that for?”

 

 

“What are you talking about?” She said twisting back and forth.

 

 

“You know what I’m talking about. I’m not chicken little and the sky is not falling.” He shook his finger at her. “I’ll get you later.” A mischievous grin crossed his face then he turned and left.

 

 

Rachel silently thanked the Lord for him. It felt good to have someone to care about her once again. She went to her things and sat on the ground next to her bed roll. Gathering the bag that held the harp, she untied the string, removed the instrument, and placed it upright in her lap. She plucked at the strings listening for any notes that were out of tune. Closing her eyes, she glided her fingers across the strings and they became one.

 

 

The cave resounded with celestial music filling her heart with joy. Soaring high above the hounds of doubt and fear that waited for her demise; she bathed herself in the love of Jesus. His love enveloped her, and her lungs burned with the fullness of His breath. Her heart became an emotional roll-a-coaster filled with singing, laughter, and tears. She heard him whisper. Everything is going to be alright my child, just have faith.

 

 

John returned and stopped just outside the entrance listening to Rachel’s voice. Realizing she was sobbing, he dropped the wood and rushed in looking for any intruders. Surprised by the smile on her face and moist streaks running down her cheeks, he didn’t know what to think. He settled to the ground next to the entrance, crossed his legs placing his elbows on his knees. Resting his chin in his hands, he admired her beauty and the angelic sound emanating from her mouth.

 

 

Rachel opened her eyes and was startled at the sight of John sitting next to the entrance. He spoke up, “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

 

 

“That’s okay, I just didn’t expect you back so soon.” She wiped her cheeks with the back of her hand.

 

 

“So soon? I’ve been gone for at least forty minutes. Are you okay?”

 

 

Rachel hugged herself and smiled. “I’m fine, and everything is going to be fine.”

 

 

John raised a brow and stood. “Well, being that you’re okay, I’m going to start a fire.”

 

 

John finished with the fire and returned to the den. Rachel prepared the meal, they ate and settled down for the night.

 

 

A golden shaft of light filtered into the den alerting John to the early morning. Rubbing his eyes, he sat up admiring the golden orange sphere poking it head above the sandy horizon. He stretched, stood to his feet and left the den to retrace the steps he and Rachel left behind the day before. The foot prints ended abruptly where they exited from the point of no return and entered their new journey.

 

 

John turned and faced the mountain with the sun at his back. He looked at the entrance to where he and Rachel spent the night, then scan the mountain for signs of a shadow resembling hands, but saw nothing. It was still early and he didn’t want to leave fearing he might miss the sign that pointed to the cave’s entrance.

 

 

Rachel rolled over, propped herself on her elbow and looked at the bedding on the other side of the room. When she didn’t see John, she jumped to her feet and exited the den. Shielding her eyes from the sun with her hand, she scanned the area and spotted him standing in the distance. Breathing a sigh of relief, she waved and he waved back signaling her to join him.

 

 

She arrived and John greeted her teasingly. “Glad you could join me sleepyhead.”

 

 

She swatted him on the arm. “A girl needs her beauty sleep you know.”

 

 

“If you get any prettier, I don’t know if I could stand it.”

 

 

She could feel her face growing warm and decided to avert the conversation. “Have you seen anything yet?”

 

 

“No, but it’s still early.”

 

 

Rachel nodded while turning her attention toward the mountain. “What’s that over there?” She pointed to the mountain off to her right.

 

 

John looked to where she was pointing. “Where?”

 

 

“Over there.” She jabbed her finger at the mountain.

 

 

John squinted, then his eyes grew wide. “I think that’s it.”

 

 

He turned to her. “You stay here.”

 

 

“Where are you going?”

 

 

“I’m heading up there to mark the spot. I’ll need you here to direct me. It’ll be hard to find the entrance as I get closer to the shadow. We won’t have much time before if fades away.”

 

 

Rachel nodded and John sprinted toward the mountain. When he reached the foot of it he stopped and turned to Rachel. She waved her hand to the left and he followed until she waved both hands in front of one another above her head.

 

 

John started his assent up the shallow incline with little effort. After a few feet, he stopped and looked back at her. She waved him ahead and he continued climbing, looking around for any sign of a cave opening. From where he stood out there, the shadow didn’t appear to be very high up the mountain. He looked back at Rachel who waved him to her left. He quickly maneuvered across the rocky terrain watching for Rachel’s signal. She threw her hand forward above her head signaling him to climb higher.

 

 

Rachel watched the shadowy image come into focus, and it was just as the old man had told them. Two hands cupped together pointing to a location in the side of the mountain. She looked at John then back to the hands; he was closing the gap, but the sun was rising as quick as he was climbing.

 

 

John looked over his shoulder and saw Rachel jumping up and down throwing both hands forward over her head. He could tell by her actions he was on the right track but time was running out. He pushed himself harder, his lungs heaving and his calves screaming for relief. It couldn’t be much further. He looked back and saw Rachel waving her hands franticly back and forth over her head. He stopped and placed his hands on his knees taking deep breaths. Now all he had to do was find the entrance.

 

 

Rachel watched John regain his composure then start his search of the area. She knew he couldn’t be more than a few feet from the site. She bowed her head asking Jesus to help him find the entrance. When she opened her eyes he was gone.

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Rachel franticly scanned the rocky surface looking for any sign of John. The shadow had vanished and every stone and crevice looked the same. Suppose he was hurt. She had no idea where to begin her search. If she waited until the next morning for the shadow to return it may be to late.

 

 

A tidal wave of emotions sent her crumbling to her knees burying her head in her hands. This can’t be happening, you said have faith, I’m trying. Her thoughts were interrupted by a distant voice calling her name. She raised her head, looked around and saw no one. Closing her eyes she continued praying but stopped when she heard the voice once more.

 

 

She lifted her head and spotted movement on the side of the mountain. Standing to her feet staring at the area where she last saw the evasive object. The silhouette of a man reappeared and she gasped clutching her chest. Realizing it was John a large grin spread across her face, he’s okay. She looked upward at the bright blue sky and thanked the Lord for his safety. When she returned her gaze back to the mountain, she was surprised to see he was gone again. Where did he go? No sooner had she finished her thought he reappeared.

 

 

John ducked in and out of the rocky formation that obscured the entrance to the cave. Stepping from behind the cloak, he cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted to Rachel below. “I’ve found the entrance.” She waved back in acknowledgment relieved that he was safe.

 

 

He yelled to her once more. “I’ll be down in a minute.”

 

 

He knew finding the entrance without the shadow would be impossible. Scouring the area for anything he could use to mark the spot, he found an old limb not far from the entrance. Tearing off a piece of his tunic he tied it to the end of the stick, then jammed it into some rocks by the entrance marking the spot.

 

 

Rachel watched him slowly descend the rocky face onto the desert floor. Her eyes narrowed as she watched him bound across the sandy ground leaving sprays of roster tails in his wake. She had something for him when he arrived. He approached her with a big grin plastered across his face. When he reached her she punched him in the arm.

 

 

“Ow!” John grabbed his arm and rubbed it. “What was that for?”

 

 

“Don’t you ever do that to me again.” She crossed her arms.

 

 

“Do what?”

 

 

“Scare me like that.” She turned a shoulder to him.

 

 

John decided it best not to argue with her and changed the subject. “So, would you like to check out the cave?”

 

 

Rachel lingered a moment giving him time to think about what she had said, then turned and headed toward the cave where they had spent the night.

 

 

“Where are you going?”

 

 

“To get my things.” She yelled over her shoulder not missing a step.

 

 

John shook his head, threw his hands in the air and ran to join her.

 

 

He caught up to her and glancing out of the corner of his eye he saw a hint of a smile cross her face, then fade to a more serous tone. He knew she couldn’t stay that way for long so he decided to played along. They entered the cave, gathered their things and trekked up the side of the mountain to the hidden cave.

 

 

They reached the cave’s entrance and John ducked under the stony arch stopping just inside with Rachel close behind. Rachel shivered and wrapped her scarf around her neck a few more times. The musty cave reminded her of stale wet clothes. They waited a moment giving their eyes time to adjust to the darkness.

 

 

“How are we going to see where we’re going.” Rachel lowered her things on the ground.

 

 

“I’ve got just the thing.” John reached into his tunic and removed the Efriam code.

 

 

“What good is that going to do?”

 

 

“Just wait and you’ll see.” He opened it up and placed his thumb on the bio-scanner. “Here, put your thumb here.” He pointed to a small rectangular part of the screen.

 

 

Rachel placed her thumb on the screen and it came to life with a soft red glow. John flipped the device toward the wall and the crimson light illuminated part of the empty room. He scanned the rocky enclosure and quickly returned the beam of light to a hollow spot on the far side of the wall. Unable to make out the object sitting in the recess, he slowly walked toward it extending the device as far as his arm would let him.

 

 

John stopped just in front of the opening and saw a clay lamp. He removed the lamp, and engraved on the back wall where the lamp sat was an inscription with letters like the ones he saw earlier. He called to Rachel. “I think you need to see this.”

 

 

Rachel joined him. “What is it?”

 

 

John pointed to the writing and she looked at the inscription then back to him. “Thats Hebrew.”

 

 

“I thought that’s what it was. What does it say?”

 

 

Rachel brushed away some of the dirt. “It says, thy word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path.”

 

 

John looked at the lamp then back to her. “Do you think this lamp means anything?”

 

 

“I don’t know.”

 

 

Rachel looked back into the hole and saw something that didn’t look quite right. “John, what’s that back there?”

 

 

He handed Rachel the lamp and stooped to get a closer look. “It looks like some kind of parchment or something.” Reaching in he grabbed the weathered end and carefully removed it. The texture didn’t feel like paper, but more like some kind of soft animal skin. He carefully unrolled the hide, held it up to the device perched in the opening and saw nothing but a red reflection from its smooth surface.

 

 

Rachel shrugged her shoulders looking at John. “Why would someone place a blank skin in there?”

 

 

“I don’t know. Maybe over time it just faded away.”

 

 

“No, there’s got to be a reason.” Rachel looked back into the nook where they found the lamp. She ran her hand around the stony interior and the top felt different than the rest.

 

 

“You need to feel this.” She backed away allowing John access to the hole.

 

 

John placed the roll inside his tunic and ran his hand along the top of the hole. Cocking his head to one side with his eyes closed, a mental image of the surface filled his mind. He couldn’t believe what he was feeling. The surface was smooth as glass and rectangular in shaped. He needed a better look so he stuck his head in the opening and saw only the glowing reflection from the electronic device. Lifting his head from the opening he turned to Rachel with a puzzled look.

 

 

She shook her head with raised eye brows. “So, what is it?”

 

 

“I don’t know. I need to get a better look But the light isn’t that good in there.”

 

 

“What about the lamp?”

 

 

“Why didn’t I think of that?”

 

 

John went outside, gathered some dry grass then returned placing it on the ground in a small pile. Removing a small piece of flint rock from his tunic, he picked up a stone and started striking it toward the grass. Rachel stooped to help and blew on the sparks that fell on the dry tender. A tiny flame fluttered and a tentacle of smoke streamed upward. John carefully lowered the spout of the lamp to the fledgling flame and both were surprised at the turquoise colored light that flickered from the end of the lamp.

 

 

They stood and John held the lamp at eye level admiring the flame. He walked over to the hole in the wall and placed the lamp inside. Kneeling on one knee, he gazed at the smooth surface and saw only a green glow. Frustrated, he slapped his knee then ran his hand through his hair. He stood and turned to Rachel who was staring wide eyed at the opening.

 

 

“What is it, you look like you’ve see a ghost?”

 

 

She pointed to the rocky surface of the hole. “What’s that?”

 

 

John turned to see what she was pointing at and took a few steps back to get a better look. The jagged surface was filled with uneven emerald lines. He scratched the back of his head then smacked both hands together. “That’s it.”

 

 

“What’s it?”

 

 

“That’s our answer!”

 

 

John took one step to Rachel, placed his hands on her shoulders and with a big grin asked. “Don’t you see it?” Rachel didn’t quite understand but let him continue. “Come here, let me show you.” He took her hand and led her to the opening.

 

 

He reached into the space and grabbed the lamp. “Hold this.” She took the lamp from him and he removed the skin from his tunic and placed it inside the hole. Gathering four stones from the floor, he placed one on each corner and sat the lamp in the middle of the roll. A big smile crossed his face as he looked at Rachel.

 

 

She couldn’t believe what was transforming before her eyes. The tan color of the skin morphed into a distorted geometric design of the cave where they where standing. “Why is the drawing so fuzzy?”

 

 

“The light must not be right.” John walked over to the lamp, twisted and moved it until the image became sharper, then he turned to Rachel. “How’s that?”

 

 

She clasp her hands over her mouth and muttered in disbelief. “That’s much better, but how do we know which cave is the right one?”

 

 

“It’s got to be in here somewhere. Just give me a minute.”

 

 

He stepped back from the map to get a better look. The reflection revealed the main entrance to the cave and directly across from it where five different passages. He studied the image a little longer, but the map gave no clue as to which passage was the right one; or did it. He noticed the shadow from the spout of the lamp dancing around on the skin. When the flame whirled and flickered the shadow was fuzzy, but when it stood still it was sharp and pointed toward the entrance on the far left side of the page. Could it be?

 

 

John removed the lamp and stood in the middle of the cave with his back toward the main entrance but didn’t see any other openings. He walked around the perimeter of the cave and found nothing but stone walls. Returning to the center in frustration, he sat the lamp on the ground and Rachel shouted. “John, look!”

 

 

He turned to see what she was talking about and saw five openings in the rocky formation. He picked the lamp back up and they disappeared. He couldn’t believe his eyes. Sitting the lamp back on the ground they reappeared and he walked to the first entrance but stopped abruptly when Rachel screamed.

 

 

He turned to her. “What’s wrong?”

 

 

“What if there’s nothing there and it falls into a cavern?”

 

 

“I guess you’re right.” He picked up a rock and tossed it through the entrance waiting for it to hit the floor, but nothing happened. He looked back at Rachel wide eyed and continued doing the same with the others. When he came to the last entrance to his left, he sighed, picked up another stone and looked at Rachel. “Well this is the last one.” He turned back to the entrance tossing the rock into the darkness and a thud echoed back into the cave where they stood.

 

 

“You’ve found it!” Her voice cracked.

 

 

“No, we found it.” He ran to her, swept her off her feet whirling her around for a moment then sat her back down.

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Their moment of joy was short lived by the sound of a familiar voice calling their names. They turned to the intruder and said in unison, “Bill?”

 

 

“I’ve finally found you.” Bill continued toward them.

 

 

John couldn’t believe his eyes. “How did you get here?”

 

 

“The same way you did.”

 

 

“The old man?” John glance at Rachel then back to Bill.

 

 

“The old man showed me the way and wallah.” He changed the subject and pressed on. “I have some good news, I’ve found Isaiah.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes grew wide and she gasped spitting out questions in rapid fire. “Is he okay? Where is he? Why isn’t he here?”

 

 

Bill threw up his hands. “Whoa, slow down and I’ll explain.” He stopped a few feet in front of them and went on to describe what had happned. “I started retracing our steps from the night we arrived thinking Isaiah might have went back to the camels. When I got to the gate, they were gone and Isaiah was no where in sight. A young boy standing at the entrance caught my attention and pointed to some blood and drag marks near the animal's foot prints.”

 

 

Rachel steadied herself against John and Bill gently touched her shoulder. “He’s okay I promise.”

 

 

“So what happened to him?” John’s patience was growing thin.

 

 

“I followed the tracks and found Isaiah lying in some brush. When I got there he was breathing but unconscious. I checked to see how bad he was hurt and noticed his head covered in blood. I gave him some water, cleaned him up a little bit, and brought him back to the temple. The funny thing was, the old man seemed to know we were coming because when we got there he was waiting for us.”

 

 

Rachel spoke up, “Did he say what happened?”

 

 

“He said he was going to take one of the camels and find a place to pray when someone struck him from behind. He said he didn’t remember anything after that.”

 

 

John steadied Rachel helping her to the ground and then started pacing. Who would do such a thing and why? The only ones who knew their location were the Doctor, Bill, Mr. Davis, Mrs. Davis, and the old man. He came to an abrupt halt as the last person crossed his mind. He decided not to tell the others what he was thinking but turned to Bill and asked, “Do you think it was a robbery?”

 

 

“I don’t know, nothing appeared to be missing.”

 

 

John pressed on, “You said the old man was waiting for you?”

 

 

“Yes.”

 

 

“How did he know you were coming?”

 

 

Bill shrugged. “I have no idea.”

 

 

Something wasn’t right and John couldn’t put his finger on it. The conversation he overheard at the lab with Dr. Hamilton, the mysterious old man, and Bill’s canny ability to be at the right place at the right time. Who was friend and who was foe? He asked one more question, “Will Isaiah join us here or meet us at the garden?”

 

 

“All he said was that he would meet up with us.”

 

 

John decided to let it go and they gathered their things and entered the passageway. They traveled a few hundred feet into the tunnel and the narrow cavity forced them to their hands and knees. John yelled for them to remain behind while he explored the rest of the confined space. He went a few more feet and froze when the lamp blew out.

 

 

Rachel shouted, “John, are you alright?”

 

 

“I’m fine but now we don’t have any light and I can’t see a thing.”

 

 

“What are we going to do?” Rachel’s tone was filled with panic.

 

 

“Don’t worry, I’ll figure something out.”

 

 

John didn’t move. What could he do? No light, no map, like a map would do him any good at this point. Wait, if the lamp blew out, that meant there was a draft of air, and if there was a draft, that means there's an opening somewhere. He decided to follow the direction of the wind and shouted back to the others. “Come on up here, I’ve got an idea.”

 

 

Rachel and Bill pushed ahead in the darkness until they reached John and Rachel asked, “So what is your plan?”

 

 

“Just follow me and don’t worry.”

 

 

John felt around and found three entrances, one to his right, the other to his left and another straight ahead. Now what am I going to do? If I had a candle I could tell which way the draft came from by the direction of the flame. He thought for a moment, then stuck his finger in his mouth and pulled it out holding it upward. Rachel patted his foot. “What’s the hold up?”

 

 

“None now, I just had to figure out which way the draft was coming from. What ever you do, stay close behind me.”

 

 

John took off to the right and heard a bone chilling scream. “Rachel!”

 

 

“Over here,” Bill screamed.

 

 

John backed down the narrow space scurrying back to Bill. “Where is she?”

 

 

“I don’t know, one minute she was in front of me, the next she was gone.”

 

 

“Rachel!”

 

 

“Down here, I don’t think I can hold on much longer.”

 

 

John slithered to the sound of her cry and caught himself just before plunging head long into a shaft. “Rachel you down there?”

 

 

“I’m here.” she shouted in a quivering tone.

 

 

John reached over the edge feeling for her but could not reach her. “Bill, help me out. Grab my ankles and lower me over the edge.”

 

 

John eased over the shaft at the waist and found her hand clinging to a ledge. “Rachel, give me your hand.”

 

 

“I’m scared.”

 

 

“Give me you hand and I’ll help you.”

 

 

Rachel placed her sweaty palm in his. “Now let go of the ledge and use my arm and clothes to pull yourself up. Don’t worry I got you.” She hoisted herself over top of John and rolled to his side. They both embraced in the darkness for a moment, and then pressed on with their journey.

 

 

Traveling further down the scant passage, John noticed the floor growing damper and taking a slightly downward turn. He paused and listened to a faint dripping sound that echoed off the walls. Instructing the others to stay behind, he decided to explore the rest of the cave. After Continuing a few more feet into the darkness, he let out a scream while plunging head long down the slippery hole into a pool of water.

 

 

Rachel let out a scream and started to come to his rescue but was jerked back Bill clinging to her ankle.

 

 

“You can’t go down there?” Bill held on tighter as she tried to pull away.

 

 

“He needs our help. We can’t just sit here and do nothing.” Panic mixed with anger filled the hollow chamber.

 

 

“But we don’t know what’s down there and it won’t do us any good if we’re all…” Bill hesitated realizing what he was about to say.

 

 

Rachel refused to believe it and pulled harder against his iron grip. “Let me…” A coughing sound reverberated through the open space forcing her to stop her struggle. “John, you okay?”

 

 

“I’m fine, just a little wet.” John noticed a reflection of light filtering upward from the bottom of the crystal pool that surrounded him, and a small opening in the cavern above him. That explains the fresh air filtering through the shaft. He plunged his head into the clear liquid to get a better look. The light seemed to be bouncing off the bottom of the floor. He raised his head and screamed to the others, “I think I’ve found something, I’m going to check it out.”

 

 

Rachel yelled back, “Be careful.”

 

 

“If I’m not back in ten minuets then go back to the cave where we started.”

 

 

“I’m not leaving with…” Rachel heard the splash and knew John couldn’t hear her.

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John swam toward the glittering bottom and rainbow of colors that filtered through the shroud of liquid. The clarity of the water gave the illusion that it was closer than it appeared. His lungs screamed for air but he pushed on. Reaching the shaft of light, he looked toward the surface and saw a distorted image of an entrance just above the water line. He lunged for the surface and broke through gasping for air.

 

 

John quickly surveyed the area and spotted a rocky ledge at the far end of the cave. He swam to the stony mantle and hoisted himself up. Just out of arms reach above his head was the entrance he saw earlier. How would he reach the opening? The face leading up to the entrance was covered in slime and there was nothing to grab onto. He jumped back into the water and returned to the other side.

 

 

Rachel heard the splash and called out, “John, are you alright?”

 

 

John gulped a few breaths of air and yelled, “I’m fine.”

 

 

“What took you so long?”

 

 

“I’ve found another passage, but I need your help.”

 

 

Rachel didn’t like the idea of plunging blindly into water. She took a deep breath to calm her nerves, slid forward and let out a scream as she plunged down the slippery slope. She hit the water like a cannon ball and shot to the surface wiping wayward strands of auburn hair from her face. “That was scary.”

 

 

John laughed and another splash filled the chamber. Bill joined them and John pointed toward the reflection below. “There it is.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes grew wide. “Down there!”

 

 

“You can swim underwater can’t you?”

 

 

Rachel cocked her head to one side. “Yes I can swim underwater, but how far is it?”

 

 

“Let’s just say, you better take one good breath.”

 

 

Rachel with a raised brow spoke nonchalantly, “Well, what are we waiting for?”

 

 

The three of them dove into the water and entered the other side gasping for air. John swam to the ledge, lifted himself to the cool stony floor and assisted the others. The three of them sat there for a moment to catch their breath and rest.

 

 

Rachel stood and studied the cave briefly and walked toward the entrance. “Is this where we need to go?” She looked up at the opening.

 

 

“Yep,” John said standing to his feet.

 

 

Bill spoke up, “How do you propose we get up there?”

 

 

“Well,” John stroked the back of his head, “that’s what I was hoping you could help me with.” A sheepish grin crossed his face as he glanced between the two of them.

 

 

Bill nodded and rubbed the bottom of his chin. “Well the way I see it, the opening isn’t that far up and there’s three of us.”

 

 

Rachel broke in, “We could hoist one another up, and the last person we could pull up.”

 

 

“Now that sounds like a plan,” John said pointing his index finger in the air.

 

 

John motioned for Bill to join him and each laced their fingers together forming make shift stirrup. Rachel placed one foot in John’s, the other in Bill’s, and they lifted her to the entrance. She grabbed the stony sides, pulled herself through the opening and stood there staring in disbelief.

 

 

John yelled, “Hey, you okay up there?”

 

 

Rachel muttered, “Yeah …”

 

 

“What did you say?” John yelled a little louder.

 

 

Rachel turned to the cave, her voice filled with excitement. “I’m okay and it’s beautiful.”

 

 

A few minutes later, John and Bill joined her and the three of them stood in awe.

 

 

John took a few steps on the lush green grass and stopped. He had never seen anything like it. The colors crisp and clear full of life. The leaves on the trees glowed in a radiant green silhouetted against a deep blue sky. Flowers of assorted sizes blanked the landscape in a rainbow of brilliant colors that permeated the air with a sweet aroma.

 

 

“Have you ever seen anything like it?” John could barely get the words out of his mouth.

 

 

Rachel just shook her head unable to say a word.

 

 

“Bill, have you ever seen anything like this?” When he didn’t respond, John turned to ask him again but he was gone.

 

 

“Where did he go?”

 

 

“Where did who go?” Rachel turned and was surprised to see Bill missing.

 

 

“He was just here.” John glanced at Rachel and both of them went to the entrance. He looked into the dimly lit cave and called out, “Bill, you down there?” The only reply he received was an echo of his voice.

 

 

John rubbed the back of his neck. This couldn’t be happening, first Isaiah disappears, and now Bill just vanishes into thin air. Rachel shouted, “Look!” John saw her pointing at the matted grass to their left.

 

 

John stooped to get a closer look. “That looks like foot prints.”

 

 

“Looks like there heading that way.” Rachel pointed to a line of trees off in the distance.

 

 

“We better hurry; these tracks won’t last long in this soft grass.” Rachel nodded and John took the lead.

 

 

They followed the tracks and John noticed them getting lighter instead of heaver and more distinct. How could that be, if they were getting closer to Bill, his tracts shouldn’t be fading? John slowed his pace and stopped to study the impressions a bit closer.

 

 

Rachel asks, “What’s the matter?”

 

 

“His trail just disappeared.”

 

 

“What do you mean?” Rachel looked at the ground and back to where they came from. “He wasn’t that far ahead of us?”

 

 

“I know, that’s what I don’t understand.”

 

 

“What are we going to do now?”

 

 

“Maybe we should just continue toward the trees and see what’s out there. Our mission is to find the tree of life, isn’t it?”

 

 

Rachel nodded and John continued thinking out loud, “Something doesn’t feel right.”

 

 

Rachel felt the same way, the thought of Bill vanishing without a trace, and her father beaten and left for dead didn’t bring her any consolation. She pushed the thought aside and watched John slowly turn around in a circle.

 

 

“Well, you ready to go?” John motioned toward the trees.

 

 

“After you.” Rachel swept her arm in front of her signaling John to press on.

 

 

John took the lead with Rachel at his side. He was excited about finding the tree of life but at the same time apprehensive about what lay ahead. He thought about the advice his father had given him as a little boy. “Son, always remember what Jesus said, “I’ll never leave you or forsake you.”

 

 

They approached the forest and John spotted something weaving through the trees and then disappear. “Did you see that?”

 

 

“See what?” Rachel looked toward the forest.

 

 

“It was right in there.” John pointed toward the trees no more than fifty yards in front of them.

 

 

Rachel shook her head. “I didn’t see anything.”

 

 

John knew he wasn’t seeing things, or was he? He continued walking toward the tree line where he last saw movement. As they approached the forest he stopped and held up his hand.

 

 

Rachel whispered, “What is it?”

 

 

John pressed his index finger to his lips and spoke softly, “Did you hear that?”

 

 

Rachel shrugged, and before John could say another word a crunching sound came from the forest. He turned toward the noise and motioned for Rachel to follow sweeping his hand behind him. She obeyed and fell to the rear following closely on his heel.

 

 

When they got to the edge of the forest, he held up his hand and turned to face her. “I’m going in to find what’s in there. I want you to stay here …” Rachel started to object but John interrupted her. “I’ll be alright, besides, I need you to stay her in case Bill shows up.” Rachel sighed and as he turned to leave she grabbed him and kissed him on the cheek. His face flushed a bit, but he welcomed the subtle hint that Rachel cared for him.

 

 

John trudged through the thick underbrush carefully surveying the area for any signs of movement. Small shafts of light fought to pierce the thick canopy but were overcome by the massive giants that loomed high above the ground. Slowly his eyes adjusted to the dim setting and the underbrush thinned to a scant few bushes making it easier to navigate. A crunching noise and a shadow to his right shifted his attention deeper into the looming darkness. Cautiously, he moved toward the place where he last saw the shadow. He stopped and listened for any sound or movement. He heard a crack behind him and turned to see what it was. Before he could turn, a large hand covered his mouth and told him to be quite.

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Rachel stared in desperation at the darkness that swallowed John. The sound of him fording through the forest brought her some comfort amid the uncertainty that lie ahead. She started pacing, glancing between the ground and the forest thinking he would appear any moment. The noise in the forest stopped, and fear gripped her with its ugly talons. Worried, she whispered a short prayer, “Please Lord; don’t let anything happen to him.” She wasn’t sure if she should stay or go. Her heart was telling her to find him, but her mind told her to stay as instructed.

 

 

She couldn’t wait any longer, Bill or not, she had to find John. With determination, Rachel stormed toward the last place she saw him. As she entered the lush green canopy, the light grew dimmer transforming bushes and branches into eerie apparitions. She knew he was in here, but where? She started to call for him but stopped when she heard something tromping through the forest toward her. Not knowing whether it was John or something else, she decided to keep quite.

 

 

Relieved to see two shadowy human figures and not some beast, Rachel yelled, “John is that you?” She held her breath waiting for a response. Neither replied, and she started to call again but froze at the sound of a twig snapping from behind. She turned to investigate and jumped clutching her chest when she saw Dr. Hamilton standing there. She started to speak but Dr. Hamilton interrupted her placing his finger against his lips. “Shh, don’t say a word.” The Doctor patted his hand in a downward motion signaling her to get low to the ground.

 

 

Rachel squatted alongside the doctor behind some brush and waited while the two approached. With a puzzled look, she eyed the doctor. Why did he want her to stay quiet and hidden? Were John and Bill in trouble? Was it even John and Bill? Turning her attention back to the pair, she could see one helping the other. Straining against the darkness, she waited patiently for them to enter the light. As they drew closer, she immediately recognized John and her father. She sprang to her feet, ran to her father, and embraced him in a bear hug. His strong arms around her fragile frame, and the sound of his heart pounding in her ear, unleashed a flood of emotions.

 

 

John waited until the reunion was over and interrupted, “Isaiah, I do have one question.” Isaiah turned to John with his arm around his daughter and John continued, “Why did you sneak up behind me, cover my mouth, and ask me to be quiet?”

 

 

Isaiah glanced down at his daughter and back to John. “Just before you entered, I was tracking someone, and I didn’t want them to know they were being followed.”

 

 

John scanned the area for intruders. Satisfied the forest was clear, he turned his attention back to Isaiah. “I don’t see anyone, and besides, when I came in here the only one I saw was…” He paused at the sound of rustling bushes and saw Dr. Hamilton emerge. “When did he get here?”

 

 

Rachel shrugged. “I don’t know, I came in looking for you, and the next thing I know he’s behind me.”

 

 

Dr. Hamilton approached the trio. “Isaiah, John, boy am I glad to see you.”

 

 

The three exchanged glances, and John spoke up, “Why is that?”

 

 

The doctor patted his forehead with a cloth. “When I left you and Rachel at the temple, I went back to the lab to check Isaiah’s monitors. Everything was reading normal, so I wasn’t worried about his condition. The next day, Dr. Davis and I were checking the status of everyone, and Isaiah’s vitals started jumping off the chart.”

 

 

John glanced at Isaiah then back to the doctor. “What happened?”

 

 

The doctor ran the back of his hand across his chin removing a dribble of sweat. “Usually with readings like that, it only means one thing.”

 

 

Rachel blurted, “What’s that?”

 

 

“It means they are in big trouble, like they’re knocking at death’s door.”

 

 

John looked at Rachel and saw the color drain from her face. The doctor started to say something else but John interrupted changing the subject, “We were going to the meadow so Isaiah could rest up a bit. Why don’t you join us?” The doctor nodded wiping sweat, and the four of them left the forest.

 

 

John helped Isaiah to a shady patch of grass at the forest’s edge. Rachel sat beside him and the others joined him sitting in a semicircle. John couldn’t help but wonder who attacked Isaiah. He wanted to ask, but knew Isaiah needed to rest. Pulling at a few blades of grass, he looked off toward the horizon and jumped to his feet. “Who is that?” The others turned to see what he was talking about but the figure was to far away to make out.

 

 

As the stranger drew closer, John cupped his hand against his forehead to shield his eyes from the sun. He couldn’t believe his eyes, was it him? He spoke just above a whisper, “Bill?”

 

 

The doctor’s attention shifted from the stranger to John. “Did you say Bill?”

 

 

John lowered his hand and looked at the doctor. “That’s who it looks like.” John watched the doctor as he stood and turned his attention toward the man. He could tell the doctor didn’t seem too happy about Bill’s appearance, but then again, the way the doctor kicked Bill out of the program, what could he expect. John chuckled to himself; this ought to be an interesting reunion.

 

 

Bill stopped a few feet from the group. “Well, if it isn’t Dr. Hamilton.” The doctor took a step toward Bill, extended his hand and Bill returned the jester smiling.

 

 

“I must say,” Bill said as he walked past the doctor to join the others, “I’m surprised to see you here.”

 

 

The doctor faced Bill and the others with a hint of a smile. “I needed to check on Isaiah’s condition, especially after the attack.”

 

 

The conversation continued among both men like two-old friends catching up on lost time. John couldn’t believe what he was hearing, Bill acting like nothing happened between him and Dr. Hamilton. The way Bill talked about being removed from the project by the doctor, they should be fighting. John averted his attention to Rachel who was staring intently at the friendly duo. The look in her eyes, and the determination on her face, told him that she wasn’t happy with the situation.

 

 

Rachel stood to her feet, walked to both men and stopped within arm’s reach. “I have a question?” Rachel crossed her arms. Surprised, both men stared at her for a moment and Bill spoke up, “And what’s that?” Bill settled back on one foot and the doctor crossed his arms. Rachel thought about what she was going to say. She knew asking the question would open old wounds. Her eyes shifted between the two and rested on Dr. Hamilton. “Why did you murder Michael?”

 

 

The doctor raised a brow. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

 

“You know exactly what I’m talking about.” Rachel took a step closer to the doctor and peered into dark green eyes.

 

 

The doctor took a step back. “I swear to you, I have no idea what you’re talking about.”

 

 

Rachel stepped back and crossed her arms. “Bill told me everything. You kicking him off the team, Michael finding out the real purpose for you wanting the tree of life…”

 

 

Dr. Hamilton threw his hand up trying to stop the interrogation but she swatted it down and continued. “No, you listen to me,” her lower lip started trembling and tears streamed down her face. “Bill told me he saw you enter the warehouse, and kill Michael in cold blood.”

 

 

The doctor starred at Bill in disbelief. “What is she talking about?”

 

 

Bill hung his head and spoke softly, “It’s…” He paused, raised his head and met Rachel’s gaze. “The part about Michael being murdered by the doctor is a lie.” Rachel slapped him, John rushed to her side and she buried her head in his chest.

 

 

“It’s a lie?” John shouted, “You made her believe that the doctor killed Michael?”

 

 

Bill turned from the couple unable to look them in the eye. John pulled Rachel from his chest, grabbed Bill by the shoulder and spun him around. “Don’t you turn your back on me. What kind of beast would do that? Now I’m going to ask you one question, and you had better tell me the truth.” Bill diverted his attention toward the ground, and John asked enunciating every word. “Did you kill Michael?”

 

 

Bill snapped his head up and met John’s icy gaze. “No! I wouldn’t do that.”

 

 

John searched the man’s dark-brown eyes. Bill’s look of surprise, melted into a river of sadness that flowed down the man’s square jaw and dribbled off his dimpled chin. John wasn’t sure if the emotional change was real. He asked Bill one more question, “Why did you lie about the doctor killing Michael?”

 

 

Bill dipped his head to his chest and spoke in a soft broken tone, “I was mad at the time and wanted to hurt the doctor. I figured if I told you he killed Michael, you would stop him from finding the tree of life.”

 

 

John ran his hand through his hair. “Why would you do that? We’re all in this together, aren’t we?”

 

 

Bill raised his head and exchanged glances with the rest of the group. “I truly am sorry. I hope you can find it in your hearts to forgive me for what I’ve done?”

 

 

John shook his head in disgust and turned to walk away but not before Rachel could grab him. “John…” He wanted to pull away but couldn’t ignore her. “We must forgive those who have wronged us, if we are to find forgiveness for ourselves.”

 

 

Giving in, he bent over, kissed her forehead and stepped to her side. “I guess you’re right.” He extended his hand. “Bill, I forgive you.”

 

 

Bill grabbed John’s hand. “Thank you.” The others nodded their approval of forgiveness.

 

 

Isaiah spoke up, “Well everyone, it’s been a long day, and I plan on turning in for the evening. Does anyone care to join me?”

 

 

Bill spoke up, “Sounds good to me.”

 

 

“Me too,” The others chimed in a chorus of round-robin.

 

 

As they settled in, John asked, “How are we going to find the tree?”

 

 

Bill answered with reservation, not knowing if the others would trust him, “I think I know where it is.”

 

 

Dr. Hamilton smiled and listened as the others questioned Bill about its whereabouts.

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John woke up before daybreak and didn’t want to disturb the others, so he figured he’d take a stroll and enjoy the quietness and beauty of the area. The time alone would allow him to clear his head. He followed the edge of the forest taking in its beauty and enjoying the fresh clean air. If only back home were like this. The thought of home brought back painful memories of his father’s death. He was killed doing the very thing he loved, telling others about Jesus and his love for them. He struggled with the senseless death of his father, but he promised to carry on the work his father started.

 

 

The remaining stars bowed out gracefully to the brighter light rising above the horizon, transforming the veil of darkness to cascades of reds and oranges. John stopped and turned to look at the group, no one was stirring so he decided to continue. He walked a little further down the forest’s edge and noticed a narrow path in the woods. Curious, he decided to investigate; maybe it would lead to the tree. He tried to imagine what it would look like. He did remember reading in the code that it was protected by an angelic host with flaming swords.

 

 

He entered the wooded area and pushed his way through the thick undergrowth. The deeper he went, the more it pushed back with its long tentacles of vines and branches. He had only traveled a short distance, but it felt like a mile. Stopping to take a break, he looked around to orient himself, but everything looked the same. A cottony film filled his mouth, his heart hammered against his chest and beads of sweet trickled down his face. Okay, take a deep breath and calm down. He stood there for a moment, closed his eyes and whispered, “Lord, I need your help.” A voice from behind spoke softly, “John, I’m with you.” He jerked toward the sound and saw no one. I must be losing my mind.

 

 

After regaining control of his emotions, he wondered if he should find his way back to the others or press on. The voice returned. “Trust in me, and I will show you the way.” This time it sounded vaguely familiar. Where had he heard that voice before? He pushed the thought aside and continued fighting the gauntlet of tangled growth. He had no idea it would be this hard to make it to the other side. The thought of trying to find his way back to the others started to sound better.

 

 

The path narrowed and became impassable forcing him to stop. He closed his eyes briefly, and when he opened them, he was stunned to see a twenty-foot circle of light around him. Everything outside the circle was nothing but darkness. How could that be, he didn’t have a lantern? Things were getting strange and he couldn’t explain it, then he remembered what the old man had told him earlier. “Things aren’t always what they appear to be.” He chuckled to himself and heard the voice telling him, “I am the light for your path, and a light for your feet.” He turned looking for the voice and saw nothing but darkness.

 

 

Who are you looking for?” The voice sounded even closer.

 

 

“I’m looking for you?” John said with a hint of sarcasm.

 

 

I’ve been with you the whole time.”

 

 

“How come I haven’t seen you?” He slowly turned in a circle looking for the elusive intruder.

 

 

You know me; it’s just that we haven’t talked in awhile, until now.”

 

 

Something about the tone of the voice brought some comfort to him. “Who are you?”

 

 

Think John, I’ve always been with you, even during your father’s death.”

 

 

Why did he have to bring that up? The image of a police officer silhouetted against alternating flashes of red and blue standing at the door, and the cry of his aunt came rushing back as if it were yesterday. He couldn’t comprehend his father’s untimely death then, and he was having a hard time understanding it now. Although he had buried the bitterness, talking with the voice made him realize how much it had consumed him like a cancer.

 

 

John, I was with your father when he died.”

 

 

John spoke through clenched teeth, “If you were there, why did you let him die?”

 

 

He chose to die for me.”

 

 

He felt the guile of bitterness erupting deep within his soul, and the hand of compassion knocking at his heart’s door. The battle raged inside him threating to tear him apart, he knew the choice was his and he needed to decide before it killed him. Should he let the icy tentacles of bitterness stay intertwined with his soul, or allow love to melt the cold frozen tundra of his heart?

 

 

He fell to his knees looking at the dark canopy above. He sobbed uncontrollably and trails of moisture ran down his face. Closing his eyes tight, he cried out in broken muttered words, “Jesus, can you forgive me? I’ve been so selfish.”

 

 

The voice spoke, “I love you my child, I’ll always be with you.”

 

 

His sobs melted into cries of happiness, joy and laughter filled his heart. He stood to his feet, thrust his arms from his side, opened his eyes and started singing praises to the one who loved him even when he felt unlovable. Warmth covered his body from the light that broke through the dark vale above. He watched in amazement as the gnarled path parted yielding to a beam of light that illuminated the way to the other end of the forest.

 

 

The voice uttered words of caution, “John, follow the path and let the light be your guide. The enemy will try to stop you from leading one of them to the tree; it may even cost someone their life.”

 

 

He lowered his hands to his side. “Who’s the enemy?”

 

 

You must try the spirits.”

 

 

“How?”

 

 

You will know when it’s time.”

 

 

John shook his head and asked, “Who’s going to die?”

 

 

That’s not important, you must help one of them get to the tree.”

 

 

“You’re not making any sense.”

 

 

Remember, I’m always with you. It’s time for you to go.”

 

 

John spoke but the voice didn’t respond, he mumbled under his breath, “Thanks, that’s just what I needed to hear.”

 

 

He started down the unobstructed path toward the opening at the other end. The weight he had carried around for so long was finally gone, now there was a new burden to bear. The voice said someone may have to give their life? He tried pushing the thought aside but Rachel kept popping in his mind. He would rather give his life than to see anything happen to her. He shook his head, looked up at the green canopy and whispered, “I hope you take care of her.”

 

 

He approached the entrance stopping a few feet from the opening and took a deep breath. “Well this is it, it’s all or nothing.” As he left the forest entering the unknown, his heart started racing, and his legs felt like rubber sending him to his knees.

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Rachel forced her eyes open against the early morning sun, shivered a bit and drew in the cool fresh air. The new day brought her a renewed sense of hope. Maybe they would find the tree of life today. She sat up and ran her hands through her tangled hair removing the knots the best she could. She admired the light blue sky, colorful trees in the distance, and basked in its beauty. “Only God could paint such a beautiful tapestry of colors.

 

 

The serenity and splendor of God’s creation made her think of John. She drew her knees to her chest wrapping her arms around them, closed her eyes and a smile crept across her face. His presence brought back a feeling she hadn’t experienced since Michael, a sense of hope, love and comfort. She opened her eyes and looked over the sleeping group, but something was out of place. Standing to her feet, she counted three tranquil bodies lying on the grass instead of four. Where was John?

 

 

She strolled to a patch of grass next to her father where John had bedded down. The spot was dry surrounded by dew with foot prints leading from it to the forest edge. She wanted to follow them, but seeing there were only one set, she figured he wanted to be alone. She couldn’t blame him, especially after yesterdays escapade with the doctor and Bill.

 

 

A rustling noise to her right shifted her attention to her father rousing from his sleep.

 

 

“Good morning sleepy-head.” Rachel grinned and joined her father sitting at his side.

 

 

“Good morning.” He groaned while sitting up.

 

 

“How are you feeling?”

 

 

He looked at her with a smirk. “Considering what I’ve been through, I feel great, and looking at you makes me feel even better.”

 

 

She swatted him on the arm. “No seriously, how do you feel.”

 

 

“A little sore, but I’ll be fine once I get moving.”

 

 

Rachel stood and offered her hand. “Need some help?”

 

 

He cocked his head to one side. “Are you trying to say I’m an old man?”

 

 

She chuckled and replied as she watched him struggle to his feet moaning, “Well, you know what they say?”

 

 

“No, what’s that?” He stopped on one knee.

 

 

“You’re as old as you feel.”

 

 

He frowned and shook his head. “Well maybe you need to help this old man up.”

 

 

She extended her hand once more teasing him, and he swatted it away. It was good to see him back to his old self, it meant he was doing better. She asked, “Would you like to go for a walk, it would help work the kinks out?”

 

 

“You’re pushing it.” He looked at her in a stern but playful way.

 

 

Rachel and her father took a quite leisurely walk across the grassy field holding hands. She savored the time they spent together. She could talk to him about anything, well almost anything. The only subject she felt awkward about was boys. It wasn’t that she couldn’t talk to him about them, it’s just that it made her feel giddy.

 

 

Her father broke the silence. “So, what do you think of John?”

 

 

She looked up at him and opened her mouth, but her tongue wasn’t communicating with her brain.

 

 

“Well?” He glanced down at her from the corner of his eye.

 

 

She shrugged, and in a childish tone said, “I kind of like him.”

 

 

“You kind of like him?” He raised his brow in response.

 

 

“Well,” she felt her face flush a little. “I like him a lot.”

 

 

“You know he’s a little head strong.”

 

 

Rachel stopped, forcing her father to a halt. “I remember mother saying someone else was the same way when they met, but the Lord with her help was able to change him.”

 

 

Isaiah chuckled and changed the subject. “Where is John anyway?”

 

 

“I think he went for a walk. He was gone before I woke up. Didn’t he tell you where he was going?”

 

 

He shook his head, “I haven’t seen him since last night.” He turned and they started walking again.

 

 

“I’m sure he’s okay.” She said trying to extinguish any thoughts of John being in trouble, then asked her father, “what about you?”

 

 

“What do you mean, what about me?”

 

 

“How did you get hurt?”

 

 

“When I left the temple going to the city gate, I was jumped by four men. One of them hit me over the head with something, and that’s all I remember.”

 

 

“How did you end up in the forest?”

 

 

“I don’t know, all I remember is waking up in the forest trying to figure out where I was. I stumbled around looking for a way out, and realized someone was following me.”

 

 

“Who was following you?”

 

 

“I didn’t know who it was, so I hid myself and waited until they came close enough for me to grab them. When I saw it was John, I just figured it was him that was following me.”

 

 

Something didn’t add up, and she was determined to find out what was going on. She opened her mouth to ask her father about the doctor, but shook her head and decided against it. He and Dr. Hamilton were good friends, and she didn’t want to say anything that would cast a shadow on that friendship.

 

 

Isaiah spoke up, “What’s the matter?”

 

 

They stopped and he turned to her. She looked into her father’s inquisitive eyes wondering if she should brush it off, or tell him what she was thinking. She decided to answer and chose her words carefully.

 

 

“Do you think Bill or Dr. Hamilton had anything to do with it?”

 

 

“Do with what?”

 

 

His puzzled look told her he had no idea what she was talking about, “Never mind.” She waved her hand.

 

 

He cocked his head to one side. “Are you talking about them having me roughed up?”

 

 

“Yes, but please don’t be hurt or upset.”

 

 

She watched him as he looked at the ground, the silence was unbearable. Seeing pain in his eyes made her wish she hadn’t asked the question. She knew if her father had any doubt about the two he would tell her. She could tell he was weighing the matter carefully, but it didn’t settle the butterflies in her stomach.

 

 

She started to say something, but he interrupted her, and placed his hands on her shoulders. “I’m not upset with you, I’ve always valued what you thought. It’s just…” He paused, swallowed hard, let out a long low breath and continued. The question you asked struck a nerve, something I didn’t want to face.”

 

 

“What do you mean?

 

 

He lowered his hands. “After listening to them both last night, I don’t know who to trust, and the night I left the temple, I thought I saw the doctor in the shadows.”

 

 

Rachel’s eyes grew wide. “What do you mean you thought you saw him in the shadows?”

 

 

“It looked like him, but it was to dark to tell.”

 

 

“Why would he be following you?”

 

 

“I don’t know?”

 

 

“What about Bill?”

 

 

Isaiah rubbed his chin. “The thing that bothers me about him, he lied about the doctor killing Michael.”

 

 

“He said it was because he wanted us to hate the doctor.”

 

 

“I know that’s what he said, but he’s new to the team, and we really don’t know that much about him.”

 

 

As she was processing everything, he patted her on the shoulder. “Why don’t we head back, maybe John will be back from his walk.”

 

 

The thought of seeing John brought a glint of joy to her face. She laced her arm in his and they started toward the others. The sun sat well above the trees, and the dew transformed into a thin haze floating toward the heavens. As they approached, her moment of joy shifted to despair. Two figures stood by the tree line, and John was no where in sight. She scanned the forest edge hoping he would emerge any moment, but her hopes were shattered when they reached the doctor and Bill.

 

 

“Well, you guys are early risers.” The doctor said yawning under his breath.

 

 

Bill spoke up, “Where’s John?”

 

 

“I was hoping you knew where he was.” Rachel eyed them both.

 

 

“We haven’t seen him.” Both men said in unison.

 

 

She glanced at her father then back to the others. “We need to find him, he could be in trouble.”

 

 

Her father wrapped his arm around her. “I’m sure he’s fine. We’ll give him some time, and if he doesn’t show up soon, we’ll go looking for him.”

 

 

She knew her father was probably right, but she couldn’t escape the thought of what’s happened in the past few days. Her father being abducted. John losing his memory and getting it back. Bill and his magical disappearances and reappearances. The doctor mysteriously tracking her father, and now John was no where to be found.

 

 

She couldn’t wait any longer. Turning to her father and the others with her hands on her hips, she snorted, “We need to go now.”

 

 

The three men looked at one another, then back to her.

 

 

“Well, do you need an invitation.” Her words had a little more bite to them this time.

 

 

She turned to leave and her father asked, “How do you know which way to go?”

 

 

She spun on her heel and faced him. “When I woke up this morning, I noticed his foot prints were heading off in that direction.” She pointed over her shoulder toward the tree line with her thumb. Her father nodded and the three men joined her.

 

 

They followed the tree line and combed the area looking for signs that might lead them to his whereabouts. She knew the foot prints trailed off in this direction. He couldn’t have gone too far. If they had left earlier, they might have been able to find him. Now, things weren’t looking so good. She perished the thought and pressed on, now more determined than ever to find him.

 

 

They continued for a few hundred feet, and the sound of crying, singing, and laughter forced her to stop. “Did you hear that?”

 

 

The others froze and she heard the noise again. “It’s coming from in there.” She pointed to the forest.

 

 

Cautiously, she moved toward the sound emanating from the green vale. Reaching its edge, she noticed a small trampled path. “Over here.”

 

 

The three men joined her and Isaiah spoke up, “What is it?”

 

 

“Look here.” She didn’t wait for a response, but plunged into the barrage of dense foliage and the others followed. As she pushed through the onslaught of twisted branches and brush, the chorus of distorted sound grew louder. The closer she approached, it became apparent that the chatter was coming form John. She pushed harder to reach him, and froze for a moment when the forest fell silent.

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Seeing the tree and the garden for the first time triggered a rush of mixed emotions. Joy and happiness, intertwined with sorrow and regret, spawned a river of moisture that trailed down his cheeks. The beauty of the twisted tree in the mist of the garden captivated his soul. Until now, John never realized something so ugly could bring such peace. He wanted to stay and bask in the moment, but the urge to tell the others forced him to leave.

 

 

Standing to his feet, he trotted off toward the path that lead through the forest. Stopping at its edge, he turned to admire the twisted tree and garden full of colorful flowers and foliage. The gnarled branches and twisted limbs beckoned his return. He wanted to stay longer but the others needed to know.

 

 

He turned and dashed through the thick foliage eager to tell the others about his discovery. Halfway down the trail he spotted Rachel along with the others standing in the path. Without thinking, he embraced her, and whirled her around. He could tell by the look on her face she was happy to see him, and a little embarrassed by his actions, but he didn’t care.

 

 

He set her down, and with a huge grin on his face shouted, “You’re not going to believe what I’ve found.”

 

 

She took a step back and with a stern look responded, “Where have you been?”

 

 

“I’m trying to tell you.”

 

 

His response didn’t register with her and she chided, “I’ve been worried about you.”

 

 

“I’m fine,” he took her hands in his and continued. “You’ve got to see this.”

 

 

“See what?”

 

 

“See what I’ve found.”

 

 

Before she could utter another word, he took off toward the garden with her in tow, and the others following. He stopped abruptly a few feet from the clearing and faced her.

 

 

Puzzled by his action, she asked, “What’s the matter?”

 

 

“There’s something I need to tell you before we enter the garden.”

 

 

Her eyes lit up. “You found the garden?”

 

 

He shook his head slowly.

 

 

“Well let’s go.” She started around him but he stopped her pulling her toward him.

 

 

“What are you doing?” She could see the serious look on his face.

 

 

“When you enter, don’t be afraid of what you see.”

 

 

“What do you mean?”

 

 

“I’m talking about the guardians of the tree.”

 

 

Her expression morphed from excitement to curiosity. “What about them?”

 

 

“You’re gonna see some angelic beings there to protect the way to the tree of life. They might look frightening, but they won’t hurt you.”

 

 

Dr. Hamilton interrupted, “Did I hear you say the tree of life?”

 

 

John looked over Rachel’s shoulder at the doctor and nodded. “That’s right.”

 

 

“Well then lets go.” The doctor took a step forward.

 

 

“Wait!” John held up his hand.

 

 

“Wait for what?”

 

 

“I think we need to pray.”

 

 

“Pray for what?” The doctor pressed on.

 

 

“We need to pray for safety, because I believe we are about to enter a battle that may cost someone their life.”

 

 

The pudgy man stopped, and four sets of eyes quickly focused on John.

 

 

“Are you saying someone is going to die?” Rachel’s face grew flush.

 

 

Seeing the worry on her face, he quickly responded, “No, what I’m saying is, that we need to be ready to face what’s ahead, because it could get bad.”

 

 

He was thankful to see the color return to her face. He didn’t intend to frighten her or the others, but wanted to make them aware of the encroaching danger. The idea of any of them getting hurt was unsettling, but especially her. He needed to protect her, although he knew she was more than capable of taking care of herself.

 

 

The doctor tossed his hands into the air. “Nonsense, I’m going with or without you.”

 

 

He pushed his way past the others and headed for the garden.

 

 

Rachel shouted, “Dr. Hamilton, wai…”

 

 

John interrupted her, “Let him go, we’ll catch up to him later.”

 

 

The four of them prayed, then John led them to the garden. As they entered, he noticed the doctor admiring one of the two trees in the garden.

 

 

“Dr. Hamilton, are you alright?” John shouted.

 

 

The doctor stood motionless and didn’t utter a word. John quickly made his way toward the man and gently touched his shoulder.

 

 

“Dr.Hamilton?” He studied the man’s tear stained cheeks and red rimed eyes for a moment.

 

 

The doctor broke the silence and muttered, “This is it.”

 

 

“This is what?”

 

 

“This is the tree of life.”

 

 

John eyed the ornately adorned tree with its luscious fruit hanging from perfectly formed branches and brightly colored leaves, then turned his attention back to the awe-struck man.

 

 

“Doctor, I’m sorry.” He spoke in a soft tone, “That’s not the tree of life.”

 

 

The man quickly turned his attention to him and spat out, “What do you mean it’s not the tree of life?”

 

 

He looked into the man’s dark green eyes and witnessed something he’d never seen before. The pudgy man’s face contorted in anger and his eyes burned with fire. The change from Mr. Hyde to Dr. Jekyll forced him to take a step backward.

 

 

“The tree you’re looking for is over there.” He pointed to an old gnarled tree full of twisted limbs. The trunk bore gaping wounds of missing bark. Streaming from its side, crimson sap flowed to its base leaving small puddles of red.

 

 

The doctor turned his attention to the tree and retorted in disgust, “I don’t see anything but an old dead tree!”

 

 

John glanced at the man’s fiery face, then back to the others standing at the edge of the forest. Couldn’t he see the battered tree and the four guardians standing watch over it. The bewildered look of the others told him they could see it.

 

 

The doctor’s eyes shifted back and forth between the two trees. He could sense the man was captivated by the beauty of the other tree. Somehow he needed to convince him that the tree he admired wasn’t the tree of life, but a lie that would lead to death.

 

 

The doctor started toward the succulent tree and John cut him off. In one swift motion the man shoved him, and John stumbled backward tripping over his feet. Landing hard against the ground, his head struck a small boulder protruding from the grass that surrounded it. Looking skyward,John watched the sun and clouds transform from vivid colors of white and blue, to a haze of gray, followed by darkness.

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Dr. Davis made one last round in the lab checking the life support monitors of the team. The past few days proved to be more excitement than he wanted in a life time. John and Rachel’s vitals spiked sending him into a frenzy trying to make sure none of them flat-lined. Two days before that, Isaiah’s bios bottomed out almost ending his life, but he recovered on his own. With Dr. Hamilton in a state of R.E.M., the deepest subconscious part of sleep along with the others, he was the only medical doctor in the lab. His wife Athena, had returned from the other side, back to a state of consciousness from her R.E.M to assist him. Although she wasn’t a doctor or scientist, she did help him from time to time with some of the mundane operations.

 

 

He finished making his last entry in the chart, removed his lab coat and hung it on a hook next to the observation cubicle. His wife met him just outside the cubicle holding two cups in her hands. He smiled and she held up one of them. He took it wrapping both hands around its sides, the warmth was a welcome relief to the cool lab. They entered the cubicle and sat to relax.

 

 

“Well...” He sipped his coffee. “Hopefully things have settled down for a bit.”

 

 

“Maybe so.”

 

 

“I wish I could be with them.” He took another swallow.

 

 

“I'm sure they’re fine, besides, someone needs to be around in case something happens.”

 

 

She was right, there’s no need to worry, it wouldn’t do any of them any good and he needed to keep his mind focused on his responsibility. He took another sip and his wife interrupted.

 

 

“Do you think they’ve found the tree yet?”

 

 

“I don’t know, but something happened earlier causing a spike in everyone’s signals.” He took another sip.

 

 

Athena sat her cup down. “I heard him talking to himself just before we started to cross over, and he said something that made me question his motive.”

 

 

Dr. Davis placed his cup on the table and leaned forward. “What did he say?”

 

 

“He said, he hoped this worked, because he wanted to bring his wife back.”

 

 

“You don’t think,” He curiously eyed his wife a moment. “That he believes finding the tree will somehow bring his wife back to life do you?”

 

 

“I don’t know?”

 

 

“You and I know, the tree of life doesn’t bring back life, it gives life to those who seek and accept it.”

 

 

“I hope John and the others are able to show him the way.”

 

 

“Me too.”

 

 

Both finished their coffee, and he stood to get another cup when one of the monitors sounded an alarm indicating someone was flat-lining. Rushing out the cubicle to the lab, he shouted, “Check the other monitors.”

 

 

He stopped at John’s station and noticed a flat pale green line crossing the screen. Quickly glancing at the wall clock, it read twelve-o-two, and he knew he had only one minute to bring him out of R.E.M., or he’d be gone forever.

 

 

“Grab that cart.” He pointed to a mobile station sitting against the wall beneath the clock.

 

 

He lowered John from a semi-upright position to a flat position and stopped the I.V. drip. As his wife arrived, he removed a syringe and small vile from the top drawer, filled it, and injected it in to the port. He glanced at the clock, thirty seconds, come on John, snap-out of it. Another ten seconds lapsed, he looked at the monitor, and nothing changed. Grabbing another vile, he filled the syringe and injected another dose into the line. Ten more seconds had faded into eternity.

 

 

“What’s wrong?” His wife gripped the sides of her dress.

 

 

“The medicines not working, and if we don’t bring him out in the next ten seconds, he’ll die.”

 

 

He ripped open John’s shirt, powered up the defibrillator and removed two paddles. Placing one on each side of his chest, he pushed the button, and then looked at the monitor. The eerie green line maintained a straight path across the screen. He had no more time, this was his last chance to bring him around. He held the paddles tight and pressed the button once more. His heart sank when he glanced at the monitor. Nothing had changed.

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Rachel screamed and ran to John’s aid. Falling to her knees by his side, her heart sank when she saw his eyes rolled back in his head. This can’t be happening; she couldn’t take it if she lost him. She had promised herself she’d never fall in love again after Michael’s death, but John’s tenderness and compassion somehow breached the barrier she built to protect her heart from any intruders.

 

 

She cupped his head in her hand and drew him close listening for any signs of life. Unable to feel his breath against her cheek, she shook him. “John, you’ve got to wake up.”

 

 

Feeling something warm and sticky against her hand, she withdrew it and discovered blood. The sight sent her into a rage and she turned to the others glaring at the doctor.

 

 

With fire in her eyes, she stood to her feet. “You killed him.”

 

 

Rachel ran to the doctor and started pounding on his chest emphasizing each blow with the words, “You-killed-him, you-killed-him, you- killed-him.” Her drumming ebbed into long hard sobs. Isaiah pulled her from the doctor and embraced her while doing his best not to let his emotions run away and beat the doctor himself.

 

 

Dr. Hamilton left the group, lowered his plump frame next to the lifeless body and felt for a pulse. Unable to find one, he started CPR and Isaiah came to assist him. Both worked frantically to bring the shell of a human back to life. The team pumped and blew for what seemed like hours before stopping. Sighing, the doctor shook his head, looked at Isaiah then back to Rachel.

 

 

Rachel screamed and ran to John’s motionless body; as she fell to his side, she buried her head in his chest. Her sobs echoed through the garden and she muttered a small prayer between each heave. Lord, please don’t take him from me, I need him.” With no response, she lifted herself and starred at his face stroking his short brown hair. Bending over, she kissed his tan forehead and whispered, “I love you.”

 

 

Numbly standing to her feet, she looked down at the doctor. “Why did you have to kill him?”

 

 

“I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to.”

 

 

“Well you did.” Her words were sharp and measured.

 

 

The words John spoke earlier filled her mind, we need to pray for safety, because I believe we are about to enter a battle that may cost someone their life. Why did he have to die. She had been strong, kept the faith, and her training taught her things could get tough.

 

 

Pushing the thought from her mind, she eyed the doctor and his face transform from sadness to glee. “What are you happy about? Can’t you see he’s gone?”

 

 

The man heaved himself to his feet. “Don’t you see?” If we eat the fruit from that tree,” he pointed to the tree filled with fruit. ‘’We’ll see him alive again.”

 

 

Rachel eyed the doctor curiously. “Is that what you think?”

 

 

The man’s eyes filled with moisture and trickled down his round cheeks. “My wife told me before she died, that I needed to find the tree of life if I ever wanted to see her again.”

 

 

Her emotions tottered between anger, sorrow, and resentment toward the man who took John’s life. How could she convince someone who she wished were dead instead of John, that the tree he desired would bring death and not life? She knew their mission was to be protectors of the way of life, but she didn’t think it would come at such a great cost.

 

 

She stared at John’s lifeless body, fell to her knees, and looked toward heaven, then buried her head in her hands. It was no use. What could she do? The life had been sucked out of her. She tried praying once more, but it seemed as if heaven’s gates where sealed, and the angels commanded to stand down. The longer she sat, the chains of hopelessness and despair drew tighter almost making it impossible for faith to move.

 

 

Unable to muster enough strength to fight, and before withering to the ground, a strong hand gently touched her shoulder. A warm feeling of love and compassion coursed through her body. She looked to see who it was and was surprised to see the old man she and John met at the temple.

 

 

She glanced at the others, then back to the old man. Something was different about him. Although his eyes were still a cloudy white, she could see through them into his soul. Feeling his warmth and love, an ember of peace grew from within sending an eruption of laughter from her mouth. She stood to her feet and began whirling around singing praises. After a few moments, she stopped and embraced the old man, then released him as sorrow gripped her soul once more.

 

 

He placed his hand on her shoulder. “He’ll be fine.”

 

 

Rachel, for the first time felt the burden of John’s death lifting from her heart. She knew what he said was true, but wasn’t certain if he meant now or later. She shot a glance at the others and noticed her father smiling. Could he see the old man standing next to her? Why did Dr. Hamilton look so puzzled? Did the doctor think she was crazy? She also noticed Bill’s hardened face and steely gaze. What was wrong with him?

 

 

Dr. Hamilton spoke up, “We need to get to the tree now before it’s too late.”

 

 

She held up her hand. “Not yet, there’s someone here to help us.”

 

 

He raised a brow and looked around. “Wait for what, there’s nobody here but us?”

 

 

She looked at her father and he shook his head. It was obvious the doctor couldn’t see the old man, and her father was telling her in a discreet way that he wouldn’t understand. She should have known her father could see him; he’s the one who introduced him to her when she was a little girl.

 

 

She walked to the doctor’s side and took his hand. “Dr. Hamilton…” A lump grew in her throat and her vision grew blurry by the emotion that came spilling over her cheeks. Could she really say what she was about to say without malice toward the man that killed John?

 

 

She remembered the old man saying John would be fine and took a deep breath to regain her composure. “Dr. Hamilton, John’s death was not in vain. What John was trying to show you was something we’ve known all along.”

 

 

She studied the man’s face and could tell he had no idea what she was talking about. “Doctor, didn’t you say your wife was a Christian?”

 

 

He slowly nodded. “But what does that have to do with this?”

 

 

Rachel pursed her lips, thought for a moment and then continued, “Man has always tried to pursue God through his own knowledge and failed. Your wife discovered that the tree of life was Jesus and the cross.” She pointed to the gnarled tree in the middle of the garden, “That’s why it’s not so appealing to people.”

 

 

“Nonsense!” Bill blurted.

 

 

Rachel turned to Bill with a startled look. Did her father and Dr. Hamilton see what she saw? Her eyes darted back and forth between them. The doctor’s blank expression told her he couldn’t see it, but her father’s bewildered look assured her she wasn’t seeing things. She watched Bill’s appearance morph from a human being to a devilish creature with narrow green eyes, a body full of scales, and long talons protruding from the ends of his fingers.

 

 

“Don’t believe her doctor, she doesn’t know what she’s talking about.” The words rolled off the tip of his forked tongue in a yellowish smoke. “You’ve been pursuing this tree ever sense your wife died.” He pointed over his shoulder to the beautiful tree in the garden.

 

 

“That’s not true.” Rachel’s eyes narrowed as she looked at the creature that enveloped Bill’s body. Now it was making sense, his name wasn’t Bill Isles, but Belial, a deceiver, a liar, a demon sent to misguide people.

 

 

She looked back at the doctor and grabbed his other hand. “You’ve got to trust me, the code says there’s a way that seems right to man, but the end is death. What do you think happened in the garden with Adam and Eve?”

 

 

The creature stepped closer. “Do you really believe that?”

 

 

She could feel his hot breath against her face and smell the sulphur that oozed from his breath. She looked for the old man but he was gone. What would she do? She couldn’t possibly fight this evil alone, and then she noticed her father kneeling with his hands locked together. Seeing him praying and remembering a verse from the code that said, I will never leave you or forsake you, renewed her strength and confidence.

 

 

“Doctor, don’t listen to him. Do you think the death of Jesus was a pretty sight? Didn’t your wife tell you how he suffered a cruel death on a cross? How he was beaten, and humiliated?”

 

 

The creature leaned in closer to the doctor with his eyes growing darker. “He was a fool; do you really think your wife suffered like he did? Does he want others to suffer? Look at that old tree.”

 

 

The doctor studied the old gnarled tree for a moment and then turned his attention back to Bill. “What about it?”

 

 

The demon placed his bony hand on the doctor’s shoulder and dug his long talons into the man’s plump flesh. “Now Dr. Hamilton, you told me to find the tree, and you would take care of the rest.” He let the last few words hang in the air for a moment before continuing, “Now I’ve found the tree, it’s up to you.”

 

 

Belial spun the man around and pointed to the beautiful tree. “Look at this tree. See how much life it has compared to that old dead tree.” The scaly creature lured the doctor toward succulent tree and Rachel gave pursuit.

 

 

“Dr. Hamilton!” Someone shouted from behind and the trio stopped.

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And very slowly, Dr. Hamilton tiptoed, craned his neck to see who was shouting from behind. He put on his black jacket, loaded his gun with bullets, got his car key and off he revved to the police station. But on his way to the police station, he noticed something dropped on his car causing his to make a sudden halt. He opened his car door and whack! a man in his bonnet held his arm and so he shouted HELP! Somebody help me!

 

 

But there was no one else in sight except for the man who was holding her. Then he thought of praying and

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Dr. Hamilton and the others turned to see who called. His eyes grew wide, and the color drained from his face when he saw John standing with a very familiar figure at his side. “I thought you were…”

 

 

The young man standing next to John smiled and finished the doctor’s statement. “Dead?”

 

 

The doctor stammered. “H… how is that possible?”

 

 

The young man’s smile softened as he clasped his hands behind him. “I was sent here.”

 

 

Dr. Hamilton removed a handkerchief from his pocket and dabbed his forehead. He couldn’t believe it was Michael, or better yet, he didn’t want to believe it was him. He had to be seeing things? He caught a glimpse of Rachel running toward Michael. This would be the moment of truth. If she embraced him, he knew Michael was real. If she didn’t, then his mind was playing tricks on him; ether way he didn’t like what he was seeing. He held his breath as she approached the young man and was slightly relieved when she passed through him. Maybe it was all in his mind after all.

 

 

Michael interrupted the doctor’s thoughts. “I see she’s found someone to replace me.”

 

 

The doctor ignored him. “You can’t be alive.”

 

 

Michael continued slowly toward the doctor wagging his finger in the air. “Oh Dr. Hamilton, I’m more alive today than I was the day you killed me in the warehouse.”

 

 

The plump man took a step back. “Why are you here? Are you here to exact revenge, send me to damnation?”

 

 

“On the contrary,” Michael stopped a few feet in front of the doctor, lowered his hand and patted his own chest. “ I’m here to help you see what John and Rachel have been trying to tell you all along.”

 

 

Bill whispered to the doctor. “Don’t listen to him, he’s just a figment of your imagination.”

 

 

“How can he be part of my imagination if I’m talking to him?”

 

 

“You tell me…” Belial waited for the doctor to look at him. “You’re the one who created this idea of going to sleep to enter another time and dimension.”

 

 

The doctor glanced between the two of them. Maybe Bill was right, Michael was a figment of his imagination, and the guilt of his murder was the cause of the young man being here. The doctor took a step closer to Michael. “Where did you come from?”

 

 

“The same place as your wife, Heaven.”

 

 

“You’ve seen my wife?”

 

 

“Yep.”

 

 

The pudgy man’s face grew red. “That’s impossible, she’s been dead for ten years.”

 

 

“I know.”

 

 

Michael’s grin told the doctor he knew more than what he was letting on. “How do you know my wife?”

 

 

The young man tapped the side of his face with his index finger. “Let’s see… she had an accident when she was eleven that left her with a limp. She was an only child. She had a scar on her chest from a heart transplant, and died one year later from her body rejecting the transplant.”

 

 

The color drain from the man’s face. How does Michael know so much about his wife, they’ve never met before? Dr. Hamilton ran his hand through his curly hair. He didn’t know who to believe. Why would anyone reject a tree that looks so promising and turn to an old dead tree? His wife did tell him if he wanted to see her, he need to find the tree of life. His thoughts were interrupted as John and Rachel’s approached.

 

 

John eyed the doctor. “Are you alright?”

 

 

The doctor lowered his hand and nodded in Michael’s direction. “Can you see him?”

 

 

John looked at the empty garden, and then back at the doctor. “I don’t see anyone.”

 

 

The pudgy man swiped his handkerchief over his face, there had to be a rational explanation for all this. He had never seen anyone come back from the dead, and he couldn’t shake the idea that Michael said he saw his wife.

 

 

Belial wrapped his long scaly arm around the pudgy man’s shoulder. “Come on doctor, you’re wasting time. If you want to see your wife, you need to eat the fruit.”

 

 

John reached for the doctor’s arm and snatched it back when he realized it wasn’t Bill coaxing the doctor, but a demon. “Who are you?”

 

 

The creature hissed, “Come on John, you know who I am.”

 

 

John watched the scaly creature transform from beast to human as it removed his arm from the doctor and took a step toward him. “Maybe you’d remember me better this way.”

 

 

The demon shifted from beast to a young man that often came to his father’s house. Memories of the young man sitting at their table, eating their food, and talking about the code flooded John’s mind. “You,re the one my father went to see the night he was killed.”

 

 

A sinister grin crossed the beings face and he leaned in next to John’s ear. “I’m the one who killed him.”

 

 

The doctor could sense something was wrong with John. ”John are you…”

 

 

Before the doctor could finish his statement, John lunged for Bill. He watched in horror as Bill grabbed John by the throat and suspended him in the air with his feet dangling only a few inches from ground. The pudgy man grabbed Bill’s hands and tried to pry them from John’s throat. It was no use, he couldn’t break the man’s iron grip. He heard John choke out the name Jesus, the creature released his grip and John fell to the ground.

 

 

The doctor’s eyes grew wide as Bill turned his attention toward him. “What are you doing?"

 

 

“I’m trying to help you get to your wife.” Bill made his way toward the doctor.

 

 

“Then why are you doing this?”

 

 

Bill stopped and pointed to himself. “I’m not the enemy, they are.”

 

 

The doctor looked at Rachel and her father who were praying. “Then why are they praying and you’re not?”

 

 

Bill continued toward the man and extended his hand. “Dr. Hamilton, please trust me. Let me take you to the tree, and I’ll help you reunite with your wife.”

 

 

He longed to see his wife. Everyday since she died, he devoted every waking hour trying to find the way to the tree of life. Now, it was in his grasp, but which one was it? Bill had to be right, it had to be the one that looked so full of life itself; but he couldn’t shake the notion that the others were willing to give their life for the old dead tree.

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