The school bell announced that lunchtime had finally arrived. Tie Li filed out of the classroom with the other students and hurried down the long hallway to her locker. She knew that Tony would be waiting by the tree beside the playground.
?Hurry up, little sister,” Tony called as she walked toward their special eating spot. ?I’m wasting away to skin and bones waiting for you.” His lunch box lay open in his lap. Tie Li could see that his sandwich had already fallen victim to his hunger.
“I see you wait for me,” she chided, eyeing the crumbs. “You real gentleman.”
A smile played at Tony’s lips. “Oh, that,” he said, brushing the evidence into the grass. “I didn’t do that. This huge serpent came down from the tree and gobbled it up before I could stop him.”
Tie Li sat down beside her brother and looked uneasily into the branches above their heads. “Don’t mention serpent to me,” she worried. “It hard enough for me to sit under tree.”
“I’m sorry, Tie Li.” Tony reached for his second sandwich. “There’s no snake in the tree.” The boy cleared his throat. “I already checked.”
Tie Li smiled and bit into her apple. “Good,” she said, savoring the fruit’s sweet juice. ?Who needs serpent when we have Simon Gorby?” They both laughed out loud, their mirth mingling with the happy sounds of the playground.
After lunch Tony decided to join the football game being organized by some of his classmates. Tie Li walked over to the fence separating the field from the road and sat down, her back against the metal wiring. She closed her eyes. Eating sometimes made her sleepy.
“Hey, little girl,” a voice whispered behind her.
Tie Li leaned forward and turned toward the sound.
“Psst, over here!” The voice came from behind a clump of bushes beside the fence.
“Who call me?” Tie Li stood to her feet. “What you want?”
“Come here, little girl. I want to show you something.”
Tie Li saw a man crouching behind the bushes. He wore a faded jacket and a soiled pair of blue jeans. He held a plastic bag in his hand.
“Why you behind bushes?” Tie Li asked walking toward the stranger. “You lose something?”
“Nah. I just like it here. I like bushes. Bushes are my life.” The man laughed to himself. “You like bushes?”
Tie Li sat down beside the man. ?They OK, I guess. What you want to show me?”
The stranger opened the bag and began pouring a collection of colorful pills and tablets into his dirty palm. “Now what do you think of that?” He lifted his hand toward the girl’s face.
“You sick?” Tie Li asked, looking at the pile of pills. “Doctor tell you to take all those pills?”
The man stifled a laugh in his throat. “Not exactly.” He looked toward the playground. “Let’s just pretend that I’m a doctor and that I’m giving them to you.
“I not sick,” Tie Li declared, studying the pills. “I don’t need to take them. Thank you anyway.” She started to stand up.
The man caught her and pulled her back down beside him. “Not so fast, little girl!” He looked toward the playground again. “You don’t understand. These little pills can make it so you’ll never be sick again!”
Tie Li looked at the man, then at the pills. ?Really? I never be sick again?”
“Oh, sure,” the stranger assured her, pushing his finger into the little pile of colorful tablets. “And they can make you real smart, too.”
The words of the man sounded strangely familiar. As he spoke, it seemed to Tie Li that she’d heard this conversation before, but where?
“I bet your mom and dad say drugs aren’t good for you. Well, let me tell you something. They’re wrong. They just don’t want you to have any fun, that’s all.”
An image started to form in the girl’s mind. She saw a beautiful woman looking up into a tree.
?Not only that, they just want you to be dumb like they are. These little pills can make you smart, real smart. You want to be smart, don’t you?”
Tie Li’s eyes grew wide as her mouth dropped open. She began to slowly move away from the stranger. The vision was clear now. The words were those she’d heard in Eden.
“Here, take one,” the man insisted, holding a little red pill between his fingers. “It won’t hurt you. It’ll make you feel good.”
Tie Li moved away from the man. “Serpent,” she whispered as her legs began to tremble. “You serpent.”
?Hey, who are you calling a snake?” The stranger reached out to grab the girl. His hand swept the air in front of Tie Li’s face.
“You bring evil to world; you tell lies, only lies.” Tie Li stumbled to her feet, trying to coordinate her movements through her fear. “You go away from me. I don’t listen to you. You evil. You serpent!”
Tony was walking back from catching a long pass when he saw his sister backing away from the clump of bushes by the fence. He began walking in her direction. “Tie Li,” he called, “what are you doing?”
Suddenly the man stood up and looked toward Tony. The boy broke into a fast run. He knew something was very wrong. “Tie Li,” he shouted to his sister, “run away! Run away from that man!”
Tie Li turned and fled as fast as she could. Tony saw the stranger jump the fence and race down the street. Cars squealed to a stop, barely missing the fleeing figure that finally disappeared around the block. Tie Li collapsed into her brother’s arms.
Later, when the girl could talk, she told the school principal about the man in the bushes. The principal called the police, and Tie Li told her story to them, too. It was a tired little girl who walked with her brother toward the farmhouse at the end of the long driveway that afternoon. Serpents, it seemed, still crawled among the leaves.
The next day Simon, Tony, and Tie Li met in the workshop to begin their next trip in Voyager. Tony spoke in low tones as he made final adjustments on the computer that was connected by a long cable to the machine’s internal data storage system. “Today’s journey will be a short one,” he said, downloading information into Voyager’s mass of memory chips. “We can stay for only about 15 minutes. But that should give us enoughtime. There’s something we need to see.”
With that, the trio entered the machine and were soon speeding back in time toward a hillside not far from the garden. As the door of Voyager opened, the children noticed a pile of stones beside the machine. The top stones had been blackened by what looked and smelled like the remnants of a fire.
“You brought us back here to see a pile of burned rocks?” Simon ran his hand along the surface of the stones and studied the soot that gathered on his finger. “Big deal.”
Tie Li looked up at her brother. “What happen here, Tony? Why rocks burned?”
“Sacrifice. Someone made a sacrifice here.” Tony grew serious. “He killed a little lamb and burned it on this altar.”
“A little lamb?” Tie Li looked at the stones and then at her brother. “Why, Tony? Why he make sacrifice with little lamb?”
“God told him to, Tie Li,” Tony said soberly. “The lamb represents something that will happen in the future.”
Tie Li walked toward the altar, reached out, and touched the stones. She pulled her hand back, and it was coated with black soot. “It’s dirty,” she said, studying her fingers. “Sacrifice is dirty.” Tie Li looked toward the trees and flowers that surrounded them, then back at her hand. “Who make this altar’?”
Tony began to walk away from Voyager. “Come,” he said. “I’ll show you.”
Simon and Tie Li followed as Tony made his way to the other side of the hill. From there the trio looked down into a little meadow ringed with trees. They saw two figures kneeling by a small mound of dirt. Simon recognized the couple as Adam and Eve.
“So they made the altar, right?” Simon said, pointing in the direction of the meadow.
“No, their son did. His name was Abel.” Tony sat down in the soft grass on the hillside.
“Was?” Simon turned toward Tony. “What do you mean was?”
Tony looked at Simon, then at his sister. “They just got through burying him.
Their other son killed him.”
Tie Li drew in a sharp breath. “Killed him? Why?”
“Abel obeyed God’s command and sacrificed a lamb. Cain didn’t want to lose one of his own lambs, so he brought fruit to his altar. God accepted Abel’s lamb, but not Cain’s fruit. The brother got mad an . . .”Tony motioned toward the mound of dirt between the weeping couple.
Tie Li spoke in a whisper. “The sacrifice maker was sacrificed?”
”That’s right, little sister. Just like it will be in later history.”
Tie Li turned to her brother. “But you said God created sacrifice. He—” The truth slowly crept into the young girl’s mind. “The Sacrifice Maker will be sacrificed? Tony, is that true?”
The boy looked into his sister’s eyes. “The lamb—it represents God’s Son, Jesus, the Creator. The Book says He will be sacrificed.”
Tie Li turned and stared at the scene before them. “Why must God’s Son die too? Why?”
“Simon, Tie Li, we have to go now.” Tony got to his feet. “We’ll find the answers, I promise. We’ll see why for ourselves. But remember what God said to the serpent? That He would put enmity between man and evil?”
“I remember,” Tie Li said soberly, looking back at the meadow.
Tony took her hand. “I think maybe enmity has something to do with the sacrifice that God will make. I don’t know for sure, but I think it does.”
Soon the hillside was empty. The only sounds disturbing the peaceful setting were the call of a bird and the soft sobs drifting from the meadow. A stone toppled from the blackened altar and tumbled down the hillside, covering the grass and flowers with a dark, sooty stain.