“Simon, I’m home!” Mr. Gorby closed the front door and turned toward the kitchen. He stopped in his tracks. The living room had been cleaned and straightened, the rug vacuumed, the couch cover washed and pressed. Even the stain on the coffee table looked a lot less noticeable.
“Dad? Is that you?” Simon called from behind the open refrigerator door. The boy’s arms were filled with milk cartons and thin plastic bags of assorted fruits and vegetables. “Supper will be ready soon. I did a little shopping. I’m fixing your favorites—baked beans and fried potatoes.”
The man walked to the kitchen and leaned against the doorjamb. “Why all the fuss?” he asked, surveying the steaming pots on the stove. With a little laugh he added, “We expecting company?”
“No,” Simon said, crossing the room and stirring the beans with a big spoon. “Just you and me.”
“What’s going on, Simon?” The father eyed his son. “You’re up to something. I can tell.”
“Well, you’re right,” Simon admitted. “Tonight is special, sort of a celebration.”
Mr. Gorby’s eyes opened wide. “Your birthday, right? It’s your birthday. Happy birthday—”
“No, Dad,” Simon laughed, “it’s not my birthday.”
“It’s my birthday?”
Simon laughed again. “No, no, it’s not your birthday either. That was in September. Remember? I got you a new shirt—the yellow one with the pockets.”
“Oh, yeah. I like that shirt.”
Simon carefully tasted a sample from the pot of beans. “Tonight we celebrate a promise.”
“One you made to me.”
Mr. Gorby stood silent for a moment. “I made a promise to you?”
“Yeah, don’t you remember? A couple of weeks ago you said you wouldn’t get drunk anymore. And you haven’t. So we’re celebrating.”
The man looked at his son and then at the beans bubbling on the stove. He smiled. “You’re right. I did make that promise, didn’t I?”
A bigger smile spread across the man’s face. Suddenly it disappeared. He remembered what was in the brown paper bag under his arm. He slid the package behind his back, hoping Simon wouldn’t see. But it was too late.
“Oh, you got some groceries too? Here, Dad, I’ll put them away for you.”
“No! I . . .Uh . . . it’s just stuff for the bathroom. I’ll take them there myself and . . . uh . . . put ’em away.”
“Good. Don’t be long,” Simon called, lifting the pot from the stove and pouring the contents into a large serving bowl. “Supper will be ready in just a second.”
The man hurried down the hall and disappeared into the bathroom. As he closed the door and switched on the light, he caught a glimpse of himself in the cracked mirror hanging above the sink. He felt ashamed. The bag shifted from one hand to the other. As usual, he’d forgotten his promise to Simon. Now the boy was preparing a special meal and everything to celebrate that promise.
Mr. Gorby leaned close to the mirror. “Well, Harold,” he said to his reflection, “what’s it going to be-—a celebration, or another disappointment?” He stared at his image as if waiting for an answer. All his life he’d made promises that he always broke. Not necessarily because he wanted to. Nobody ever believed him. They just said, “Old Harold Gorby is nothing but a drunk. Why should we listen to him? The only thing he cares about is where his next beer is coming from.” The man opened the top of the bag and peered down at its contents. His hands began to tremble. He needed a drink right now.
“Come on, Dad.” Simon’s voice sounded happy, excited. “Supper’s ready. You’re gonna like it!”
Tears began to smart the man’s eyes. “Why’s he doing this?” His mind whirled. Someone was holding him to his word for the first time ever. “He believes me. The clean house, the special supper—it’s to celebrate my promise.” His hands began shaking uncontrollably. “I need a drink. I must have a drink!”
It seemed like forever before Simon heard the bathroom door open. He straightened the napkin on his plate and turned the dish of apples so the best looking ones faced his dad’s side of the table. He wanted everything to look perfect.
Mr. Gorby stopped in the doorway. Simon looked up at him and smiled. “Happy celebration, Dad. This is my way of saying thank you for keeping your promise.”
The man pulled back the folding chair from the table and sat down. “Thank you, son,” he said tucking the napkin under his chin. “Never let it be said that Harold Gorby doesn’t keep a promise.” With that, the two piled their plates high with steaming mountains of baked beans and fried potatoes.
Down in the alley, under the Gorbys’ bathroom window, a small river of liquid and foam flowed from a crumpled brown paper bag. It ran, twisting and turning, away from the apartment building, away from the laughter coming from the brightly lit kitchen window, and disappeared, unnoticed, into the night.
“Is this winter?” she asked, closing the door to Tony’s workshop and warming her hands by the little electric heater humming in the corner.
Tony inspected the cables running to one of Voyager’s external access panels. “Not yet,” he said.
“It cold outside,” she complained, trying to imagine anything colder. “I think my skin going to fall off.”
Tony straightened up and rubbed his back. “I’ve lived through 11 winters and haven’t lost one inch of skin yet. I’ve even gained some. Mom says I’m growing faster than my skin can keep up with. She says someday I’ll burst and turn into a butterfly.”
Tie Li laughed at the thought. Maybe winter wouldn’t be so bad after all. But did it have to be so cold?
Simon burst into the room. “Admiral Simon Gorby reporting for duty,” he said, saluting Tony. “Ready and willing.”
“And crazy and silly,” Tony retorted, smiling to himself.
“Sometimes,” Simon admitted, joining Tie Li by the heater. “But always kind and thoughtful.”
Tie Li looked up at him. “Only Simon I know is crazy and silly.”
“All right, all right!” Tony opened the door of his machine. “Let’s get out of here before war breaks out.”
Voyager ended its journey beside the foundation of a tall building under construction. Workmen scurried about, carrying loads of brick and mortar. Men shouted down from the different levels high above the ground, calling for materials and plans. The scene was one of organized chaos.
“What’s going on here?” Simon demanded, looking up at the structure towering above them. “Who are all these people? I thought everybody drowned in the Flood.”
Tony lifted Tie Li up so she could look through a window on the bottom floor of the structure. “They did. It’s several generations past Noah’s time. These are descendants of the people who were saved in the ark.”
Tie Li slid to the ground and brushed brick dust from her shirt. “Maybe they build another ark—a very tall one.”
“You’re almost right, little sister,” Tony said, standing on his tiptoes and peering through the open window. “The Book says they were trying to construct a tower tall enough so that if another flood came, they could climb above the waters.”
Simon scratched his head. “That doesn’t make sense at all. Don’t they remember what God said when He made the rainbow appear in the sky?
“Yeah, Tony,” Tie Li joined in, “God said He never make flood again. He make promise!”
Simon looked first at Tie Li, then at Tony. The big boy’s eyes widened with amazement. “You must be kidding! Tell me you’re kidding!”
“I wish I were.”
Simon lifted his hands to his head. “They don’t believe Him! God said He wouldn’t make another flood, and they don’t believe Him!”
Tie Li looked up at her brother. “Don’t they know God keeps promise every time?”
A workman appeared on a ledge above their heads. Cupping his hands around his mouth, he called down to some men standing near the cement mixing pit. “Hey, you guys! I need shu ki makels nert.”
The men looked at each other. “What’d you say?” one called back.
“Send lu kif marfil ralium!”
The men looked at each other again. One leaned over and whispered to a buddy. “Do you know safil flamper?”
A third spoke up. “What are you guys saying?”
The first man cleared his throat. “Marf nogil bafminary blash.”
Simon looked at Tie Li. “Are you understanding this?”
Suddenly, all the workmen tried to talk at once, but each voice spoke strange, jumbled words. Panic began to spread as the builders tried to communicate with each other. Tempers flared.
A low, sizzling noise came from behind one of Voyager’s access panels. The children turned and faced the machine just as sparks began flying and fingers of smoke filtered between the boards. “I was afraid this would happen!” Tony motioned for the others to follow.
“What’s wrong with Voyager?” Simon asked as he, entered the machine.
“It’s the translator circuits.” Tony tapped his finger on the console above his head. “The Book said God mixed up the people’s language so they couldn’t finish the tower. Now Voyager’s speech translator is overloading. It’s having to work too hard.”
With that, a small explosion rocked the machine. “Well, so much for that circuit board.” Tony coughed, waving smoke from his face.
“Just listen to that,” Simon said, pointing toward the building. A confusion of voices filled the air, each speaker trying to be heard and understood, each using words strange and mysterious. “Sounds like my math class!”
Tie Li tugged at Tony’s sleeve. “All this noise just because nobody believe God. Everybody think he say things OK, but nobody understand. Too bad.”
Tony closed the door of the machine. “It sounds like God is making a flood of words for people to drown in. I wonder what kind of ark can float on all that noise.”
As Voyager disappeared from view, workmen threw down their tools in frustration. One by one they left the construction site, until all that remained were empty walls and the wind. The Tower of Babel stood unfinished. A different kind of flood had hit the earth.
1. Why were the workmen building a tall tower?
2. What would Noah have said if he’d been alive at this time?
3. What important thing about God had all the people forgotten?
4. God mixed up the languages of the people. Why couldn’t they finish building the Tower of Babel?
5. Do we have a “flood of words” going on today? If all the churches in the world are saying “Listen to me—I have the truth!” how can we find out what is the real truth?