Tony ran along the bank, looking for stronger ice, but the whole pond was now a patchwork of uneven cracks. He called again to Tie Li. “Spread out your arms and legs. Lie as flat as you can. Don’t try to get up, or you’ll break through!”
The boy knew Tie Li must distribute her weight as much as possible. That way, thinner ice would support her.
On the crest of a nearby hill sat a farmhouse—the Bentley place. Tony shouted over his shoulder as he began to run. “I’m going for help, Tie Li! I’ll be right back. Don’t move! Just don’t move!”
As Tony raced up the hill, his mind whirled in confusion. What had he done? His sister depended on him for protection. He’d let her down. He’d not been careful enough. What if she . . . ?
“Help!” he yelled, running up to the front door of the small frame house. “Help me! Please, somebody help me!”
The door swung open. Tony recognized Mr. Bentley.
“Why, Tony Parks, whatever is the matter?”
“My sister . . . the ice!”
Mr. Bentley knew immediately what had happened. “Come on!” he shouted, bolting from the door and heading for the shed by the driveway.
He quickly emerged with a large coil of rope slung over his shoulder. The two ran full speed away from the farm, toward the trees guarding Bentley’s Pond.
Tie Li closed her eyes. She lay on her back, arms and legs outstretched. By now the frigid water was soaking through her clothes. It felt like fingers of fire were running the length of her body, burning her skin, then leaving her without the ability to feel anything. The ice would suddenly crack and shift. She’d slide a few inches one way, then another, as the ice pack twisted under her weight. She felt herself sinking slowly in the cold liquid arms that embraced her.
Unconsciously her lips moved to an almost-forgotten phrase. “Great Spirit, Great Spirit.”
Slowly an image burned into her fear-frozen mind, an image of a Man walking with a pair of beautiful beings through a colorful garden. They were smiling, laughing, speaking gentle words of love. Then she saw a great sea dividing, and a vast multitude of people walking on dry land.
The water was now rising over her ears. The sounds around her disappeared. All she could hear was the loud pounding of her heart and the rasping of her breath. Her lips, now blue, moved in the stillness. “God—God—help me!”
She suddenly felt very sleepy. If she could just go to sleep, everything would be all right. Sleep. Sleep.
A heavy weight slammed onto her chest and face. She opened her eyes. The rough, coarse fibers of a rope went in and out of focus as she fought to stay awake. In the distance she thought she heard Tony’s voice calling out to her. She smiled. Tony was a good brother. Didn’t he always stick up for her at school? Didn’t he make Voyager for her? Yes, she loved Tony. He was a good brother.
Tony continued to scream to his sister as he ran along the bank. Every few steps he’d try to come to her, but the ice would break, leaving him knee-deep in bone-numbing water. Mr. Bentley held tightly to the other end of the rope, waiting for any response from the half-submerged form lying on the ice.
Tony’s voice was hoarse. He felt totally helpless. In desperation he cried out, “God, I need You. Please, I need You!” Gathering all his strength, he called again to his sister. “Tie Li, grab the rope! Take hold of the rope! Tie Li, do you hear me? Grab the rope!”
The girl’s arms swung over her body and closed tightly on the weight pressing against her chest. She closed her eyes as she felt herself being pulled over the wet ice. Now she could sleep. Tony had come for her. Now everything would be all right. She thought of the Man in the garden. He seemed to be looking at her.
The clock on the living room wall ticked quietly as Tony sat on the floor, his head resting on his mother’s knee. Tie Li lay on the couch, wrapped in blankets, sleeping. Mrs. Parks gently stroked her son’s soft, blond hair as they listened to the little girl’s deep, steady breathing.
It was evening. The paramedics, called by Mrs. Bentley, had met Tony and Mr. Bentley at the farmhouse. They’d taken Tie Li to a nearby hospital. The doctor said she’d be all right. He instructed them to keep her warm and let her sleep. Tie Li would remember none of this, he said.
Now she began to stir.
“Tie Li?” Tony said, kneeling beside her. “Are you awake?”
Tie Li’s eyes opened slowly. She saw Tony and smiled. Looking around the room, then back at her brother, she spoke in a whisper. “How I get here?”
The boy told her what had happened, how Mr. Bentley had pulled her across the ice and then carried her to his house, about the ambulance, the doctor, the trip home.
Tie Li listened, then motioned for Tony to bend close. “When I was on pond, I ask God to help me. He did. Now I safe.”
Tony could scarcely believe his ears. Tie Li had prayed! She had spoken to God—not to some ancestral spirit, not to some ancient, mystical idol, but to God, the Being in the Book.
“Me too,” the boy said wonderingly. “I talked to God too!”
Tie Li closed her eyes with a contented sigh. She drifted back to sleep, happy in the discovery of a God who listens to the calls of children, even from a snowy pond beside a winter woods.
In a few days Tie Li was her old self again, enjoying the snow-filled fields surrounding the farm, playing with her classmates, and following at Tony’s heels like the proverbial shadow.
Several weeks after the accident Mr. Parks received the news that his mother had fallen and broken her hip. He gathered the family around him and began making plans for a visit to the big city hospital where she was staying.
“Grandma will be so happy to see us! I know it’s a long trip, but I think she could use some encouragement,” he told them.
Tony seemed reluctant to go. “I’d rather stay home if it’s OK. I’ve got some work to do for school.”
Mr. Parks looked at his son. “Come on, Tony. She wants to see you, too. She always asks about you in her letters.”
Tony shifted uneasily. The Parkses had noticed their son’s hesitancy to go with them last year after Grandma’s surgery. They couldn’t figure out why he was acting this way.
Tie Li was very excited at the idea. Tony had told her about Grandma, how she was so loving and kind, how she liked to play games with him and always wanted to know about his latest invention. Tony said she baked the best chocolate-chip cookies in the world.
That last virtue sealed Tie Li’s undying affection for her yet-unseen grandma. Anyone who was loving and kind—and baked the best chocolate-chip cookies—was tops in her book.
Tony finally agreed to go. The two-hour ride passed quickly, as Tie Li kept a constant barrage of questions flying in the direction of her long-suffering brother. “How can horse sleep standing up?” “Why are barns red?” “Can birds hear you talk when they sit on telephone line?” “Where do chipmunks go when it snows?” “If Simon sat on teeter-totter, how many Tie Li’s would it take to lift him off ground?”
Soon the family was walking down the long hallway leading to Room 308. Tie Li eyed the white-robed nurses and doctors with wonder and amazement. She’d never been in a real hospital before, only in a jungle clinic. Tony reminded her of her recent visit to a hospital after her dip in Bentley’s Pond. She said that didn’t count, because she’d slept through the whole thing.
The little girl was an instant hit with Grandma. Tie Li launched right into an account of her first day in the snow. Grandma laughed until her sides ached. “That was some adventure, Tie Li,” she said, holding the girl’s hand. “Sound’s like you gave your brother quite a scare, right, Tony? Tony?”
The boy wasn’t in the room. Mr. Parks walked out into the hall and looked up and down the long passageway. There at the far end, in a small waiting room, sat his son, chin in hands.
“Tony Parks,” the man said, standing over his son. “What’s the meaning of this?”
Tony cleared his throat. “I—it’s just—”
“Now you listen to me, young man,” his father said sternly. “Your grandmother wants to see you. Mother, Tie Li, and I are heading down to the cafeteria for lunch. You go to Grandma’s room right now and visit with her. Do you hear me?” Mr.Park’s voice softened. “Please, son, you really should see your grandmother.”
Tony nodded and stood to his feet. “You’re right, Dad. I’ll go.”
Grandma looked up as Tony stood in the doorway. “Oh, you just missed everybody. They—”
“I know,” Tony said, forcing a smile. “They went to lunch.”
The boy crossed the room and stood by the window, looking out at the nearby buildings and parking lot
The woman studied her grandson for a long moment. Then she spoke. “Not everyone who comes to a hospital dies, you know.”
Tony remained motionless. His eyes closed as an uneven sigh slowly escaped from deep inside him. His shoulders seemed to sag under a heavy weight. As he turned to face his grandmother, she saw pain reflected in his eyes. “Grandpa did,” he said.
“I know,” she replied, holding his gaze. “He got sick, he came here, and he died. Things like that happen, Tony. There’s nothing we can do about it. They just happen.”
The boy turned back to the window. In his mind he could see the warm, laughing face he used to love. He could hear the deep, booming voice. Now everything was different. Why?
Tony shook his head, trying to erase the memory. An anger rose inside him. Without thinking, his fingers curled into white-knuckled fists at his side. He spoke in a voice strained by frustration. “I don’t understand about death, Grandma,” he said. “It scares me. I can tell you about computers and science and history-—anything. They say I’m supposed to be a genius. Well, then, why can’t I understand about death? Why do I miss Grandpa so much? If I understood, I could say, ‘Well, he’s just gone over here or over there.’ But I don’t know where he went. He left me and I don’t know what happened to him. Why don’t I know? Why?”
Tony buried his face in his fists. Great sobs rocked his body.
The woman raised up on one elbow and reached out her hand. “Oh, Tony,” she said pleadingly, “please let me hold you. Please come to me. I’m still here. I’m not going to leave you.”
The boy ran to his grandmother. He felt her arms encircle him. He’d carried this fear deep inside his heart for so long. For so long everyone had assumed that a smart boy like Tony Parks knew all the answers. No one had ever thought that he might have a few questions of his own.
“My poor little Tony,” Grandma soothed, tightening her hold on the boy. “Death is not something we have to understand, like how an airplane flies or how two chemicals react to each other. Intelligent men have fought over the subject for centuries. But Tony, we can learn some of the things we need to know so we won’t fear it so much.”
Tony lifted his face and looked into the kind eyes of the one who held him. “How, Grandma? How can I learn?”
The woman held his gaze with hers. “You can use Voyager.”
Tony stared at his grandmother. “You—you know about Voyager?”
The woman smiled. “Oh, yes. Your parents told me about it months ago. They had a good laugh over it. But I know my Tony is capable of doing anything he sets his mind to, even building a machine like Voyager.” She leaned over and opened the drawer of the nightstand beside her bed. Tony watched her pull out a Book, just like the one in his workshop. Leafing through the pages, she stopped in a section filled with pen marks and notations. “Go here,” she said, handing the book to Tony. “Here you’ll learn what you need to know. It will be our secret.”