Tony crept through the early-morning calm. The grass felt cold and wet on his bare feet, but he didn’t seem to notice. To the east, the first hint of day glowed amber along the horizon.
A cow in the barnyard stirred, watching the silent figure move slowly toward the workshop. The animal voiced its concern with a low “Mooo.”
The farm’s cocky rooster, used to being the first to rise, was heading for his usual perch on the gatepost to announce the coming day. He jumped sideways in startled surprise when he saw Tony slipping along the fence. Confused, the proud bird spun around and raced back into the chicken house.
Tony stopped and listened. Yes! There it was again! From inside his workshop came a rat-tat-tat-screech noise he had heard through his open bedroom window. A sly grin creased Tony’s cheeks. The intruder had returned.
High in the big yellow house two sleepy faces appeared at different windows. Tie Li and Kim pressed their noses against the cold glass. They had heard the sounds too and now watched as their brother closed the gap between himself and the workshop door.
Tie Li held her breath, watching Tony’s hand slowly reach out and grasp the doorknob. Then with one quick move the boy darted inside.
Nothing happened at first. Then a wild commotion sent them racing down the stairs, bathrobes flying in their wake.
They reached the door to the workshop at the same instant. Breathlessly they gazed into the darkened room. Kim reached up and flipped on the light. Papers, books, electronic equipment, and other items had tumbled from the workbench and lay scattered across the floor.
“Not again!” Tie Li moaned.
“Never again,” came the reply from a corner of the room. Tony sat cross-legged on the floor. Beside him a wooden box rested against the wall. From inside the crate came a strange, whirring sound, like an electric blender gone haywire.
Kim eyed the noisy enclosure. “You caught the intruder?” he asked.
“And he fits into an apple box?”
Kim bent down and slowly pulled back one of the boards covering the top of the box. Two flashing eyes surrounded by a dark mask stared back at him.
“It’s an animal!” Kim gasped. “And a strange-looking one at that.”
Tie Li joined her brother. “It look like a furry burglar.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” Tony agreed, painfully rising to his feet. “I can’t think of a better way to describe a raccoon.”
“He cute!” Tie Li squealed.
“That ‘cute’ thing sent us all into the void. Those little furry fingers were the ones that pulled the wires in Voyager. And that sweet little bundle of energy trashed my workshop”–the boy looked around the room–”twice!”
The raccoon trilled angrily.
“You think that’s hilarious, don’t you?” Tony snapped, addressing the animal. “Well, I’ve got a news flash for you, you crazy wrecking machine. Let’s see how funny you think it is when I let you loose 20 miles from here, out in the middle of nowhere.”
Kim snickered. “He’ll love it.”
“I know,” Tony blushed. “I’m a real meanie, aren’t I?”
Tie Li giggled. “He probably take the bus back.”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Tony said, passing a strong rope around the box. “Let’s get Dad. He’ll drive us over to Bartin County. Lots of raccoon country out there. Maybe this crazy furball will fall in love with some other masked burglar and stay away forever. We can only hope.”
After lifting the raccoon-filled apple box onto the back of the farm pickup truck, the children headed for the big yellow house. The mystery had been solved. Now Voyager could make future journeys without the reprogramming offered by this furry forest friend.
Grandmother looked up in surprise. “A raccoon did all that?”
Tie Li nodded. “It was big mess.”
Tony walked from the kitchen, a glass of milk in one hand and a plate of warm peanut butter cookies in the other. “He was probably looking for food or something,” he said, seating himself by the fireplace. “Oh, well, he’s history. I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s raiding some unsuspecting
cabin in Bartin County at this very moment.”
Grandmother smiled. “I wish I could have seen him.”
“We can go bring him back,” Kim offered. “I’m sure he loves cookies too.”
“Never mind,” Grandmother laughed. “We’ll let him bother someone else for a while. We mustn’t be selfish.”
The children sat in silence for a few moments enjoying the sweet, tasty treat Grandmother had baked. Their “mmm’s” and “ahhh’s” were the old woman’s reward for her thoughtfulness.
“So,” she said after the last crumb had disappeared, “what’s happening with your machine, Tony? Where are you off to next?”
The boy became serious. “To Jerusalem,” he said. “It’s time for the Passover.”
Grandmother glanced at her grandson, then at the others. “Oh. I see,” she said quietly.
“I can’t believe what the Book says happened,” Tony continued. “It doesn’t make sense. Why would they do that?”
Tie Li looked up at her brother. “Do what, Tony? What happened in Jerusalem?”
Kim studied Tony’s face. “Whatever it is, it’s not pleasant, is it?”
“No,” Tony admitted, “it’s not pleasant at all.”
“Do we have to see it?” Kim asked. “Can’t we just go someplace else?” Grandmother placed her hand on Kim’s shoulder and addressed the children. “Come back here on your return. We’ll talk about it, 0K?”
The three nodded. Quietly they made their way out of the cabin and followed the path leading to the farm. Tony looked up at the sunlight streaming through the trees. How could he explain it to his brother and sister? He felt a growing fear deep in his chest.
Jerusalem swarmed with activity. In every corner of the city, travelers moved along the crowded streets, searching for places to stay and food to eat. In the distance the white-gold gleam of the Temple dominated the scene–and the thoughts of each visitor. Passover was a time of remembrance, a time to reflect on God’s deliverance, a time to be thankful.
The children made their way through the city, Tony in the lead. He said nothing. Kim and Tie Li wondered what could make their brother so sad with all the joyous celebration going on around them.
Their journey led them through tall, stately gates and along a busy thoroughfare outside the city walls. Here the crowds thinned a little. But something else was changing too. Instead of shouts of greeting and happy conversations, the children heard voices raised in anger and someone barking orders. Through it all a steady thud, thud, thud reverberated in the warm air.
The road wound up a steep hill. At the summit, the children saw tall Roman soldiers standing in a circle, motioning toward something on the ground. A crowd had gathered nearby, shouting encouragement to the soldiers. One of the helmeted men was on his knees, pounding a large spike. A long piece of wood jutted from between the feet of another soldier.
“They build something?” Tie Li asked, straining to see. “Tony? They build a house here?”
The boy didn’t answer. Tie Li noticed that her brother was searching the faces of the crowd standing on the other side of the soldiers. His eyes focused on a small group huddled together at the front of the gathering. “Oh, no,” he whispered. “She is here.”
Tie Li and Kim followed his gaze to a woman whose face was buried in the chest of a big, bearded man. “There Peter,” the little girl said, pointing. The woman in the big man’s arms looked toward the soldiers, her face twisted in agony.
“Isn’t that Mary, the Nazarene’s mother?” Kim asked. “I remember her from before.”
“Yes,” Tony answered. “And those are the disciples.”
“Tony, what’s going on here? Why is Mary crying?” Kim looked at his brother. “Where’s Jesus? Where’s the Nazarene?” He was beginning to sense something was terribly wrong.
The soldiers bent down and started to lift something heavy from the ground. It was the long plank of wood. As the burden cleared the circle of men, the children saw another plank crossing the first near the top. But wait! There was something on the wood. It was a man! There was a man on the wood! Tony, Tie Li, and Kim stepped back in horror. The man’s hands and feet had long metal spikes driven through them. Higher and higher the structure was lifted. The soldiers strained, one holding the end of the plank on the ground. A deep hole had been dug at his feet. He was going to slide the plank into that hole.
Tie Li gasped as the full realization of what she was witnessing washed over her. The face of the man nailed to the wood was grotesquely deformed with pain. Higher, higher he went. Blood ran down his sides and legs.
The plank teetered at the top of its climb as the soldier at its base wrestled it toward the hole in the ground. Then, with a wrenching thud, it dropped into position. Flesh tore along the hanging man’s hands and feet as his full weight tugged at the spikes. His body swung out away from the planks, then suddenly slammed back against them as the structure settled into its foundation.
A cheer rose from the crowd. Fists waved in the air. Voices shouted, “We have no king but Caesar! We have no king but Caesar!”
Tie Li cried out, her body shaking, “Tony, Kim, that Jesus! That man up there is Jesus!”
A long branch bristling with sharp thorns formed a twisted crown around the Nazarene’s head. Puncture wounds dotted his face as the makeshift crown scraped against the wood behind him.
Kim felt sick, dizzy. He looked toward the disciples. Mary stood gazing up at her bleeding, dying son. Her lips moved. Kim recognized the unspoken words. “Jeshua, Jeshua.” Then she collapsed in Peter’s arms.
Tie Li fell to her knees, tears streaming down her thin face. “Why?” she screamed. “Why they do this? He not hurt anyone. He not bad person. Why they do this to him?”
Tony walked toward the cross, his eyes on the man hanging high above. He heard the soldiers laughing and joking with one another. He noticed two other men were being dragged up the hill. Two other crosses waited on the ground.
Tony glanced up at the outstretched hands, now swollen and turning blue as the lifeblood flowed from them. An image of a little boy holding his palm up to his father flashed through his mind. “It hurt, Daddy, it hurt.” The tiny voice echoed in his memory. Where was the father now? Would there be no one to comfort the man on the cross?
Tony glanced at the crowd. How could these people do this to the Son of God? Didn’t they know? Didn’t they want to know?
“Father.” A strained, gurgling voice called softly above the boy. Tony looked up to see the man trying to lift his head. “Father,” the Nazarene repeated, the effort racking his body with convulsions, “why . . . have You . . . forsaken me?”
Tony turned toward his companions. They stood holding each other, sobbing, their faces ashen. “Come on,” he said quickly. “Let’s get out of here.”
The three made their way down the hill to where Voyager waited. Before entering the machine, they turned and gazed toward the distant hill. Now three crosses stood against the sky. Behind them storm clouds were building, shutting out the sun. Tony shook his head in disbelief. Even heaven was drawing a curtain across the awful scene.
Why? Why was the Saviour of mankind, the Creator of the earth, the only power willing to take on Satan, hanging up there on the hill? Had the serpent won? Was there no hope after all?
The door to Voyager closed. Burning questions hung in the minds of the travelers as the machine disappeared from view.