An excerpt from
The Greatest Gift
Elizabeth was gone.
“Elizabeth?” Michael yelled, trying to stifle his panic. She could have gone outside to the bathroom. Yeah, that makes sense. I can’t have a meltdown every time she’s not right beside me.
He circled to the edge of the cave and peeked around the corner to check the makeshift facility. “Hey, are you going to hog the bathroom just like you do at home?” he asked, injecting a teasing tone and tamping down the nausea building in his gut. “Hurry it up. It’s my turn.”
When he got no response, he barged inside the bathroom.
It was empty.
Dear God. There’s something wrong with Elizabeth. She wasn’t acting like herself. Tell me she only went out for a short walk. Why did I fall asleep? I should have stayed awake all night and made sure she didn’t leave my sight. He had to stop berating himself and get a grip. Maybe she just went out for a breath of fresh air.
He went outside and scurried up a hill, ignoring the heat and humidity of the morning. He cuffed his hands together and screamed with all his might, “Elizabeth? Are you out here? Answer me.”
His heart raced as fast as his legs as he hurried down the hill and around the other side of the cave.
He spotted his friend tending to sheep in the field. “Abel!” Michael yelled, trying to catch his breath. “Please,” he shouted, waving his hands. “I need your help.”
Abel wiped his hands on his garment. His brow furrowed as he looked at Michael in confusion.
Michael reached him, gasping for air.
Abel spoke in Aramaic and Michael had no idea what he was saying.
His fingers shook as he reached into his pocket and pulled out a cross attached to a string. Thankfully, having this allowed him to communicate in Aramaic. “Have you seen a girl, about this high?” Michael asked, pointing to his shoulders. “She has brown hair and green eyes.”
Abel nodded. “Your language, Michael. Where does that come from?”
Michael shook his head. “What?”
“Your words before. Strange.”
Michael hesitated. “Please forgive me. I was running, out of breath, I could not speak clearly.”
Abel rubbed the side of his head. “Who are you looking for?”
“My daughter. Elizabeth.”
“Your daughter? Your daughter is dead.”
Michael paused, realizing he had told Abel about Elizabeth’s fate a while ago. He knows Elizabeth died. I told him I had only one daughter. How do I explain this to him?
“She is like a daughter to me,” he fibbed. “She is the daughter of my sister. She was visiting. I did not talk much about her for fear the Romans would come after her as well. Do you know how far she has gone?”
“She was running toward the aqueduct,” Abel said.
Michael nodded and he ran back toward the cave to seek the supplies and weapons he needed to safely get her back home.
She’s been through a lot. I have to realize this. She’s confused. Angry. I saw this last night but I tried to ignore it. I should have been more cautious in watching her. She knows I’m worried about her. How could she leave me? Not wake me up. Is this the thanks I get, Lord? This is dangerous time and place for us to be. You know that, Lord. Are you going to protect her? She knows I don’t want her traveling alone with Romans walking around everywhere. Give me patience, Lord. Give me faith. I’m losing it again.
Michael picked up a rock and heaved it as far as he could. Protect her Lord. I need you to do this for me. He kicked at a loose rock and sent it tumbling down a small hill. He reached the cave and growled. Grabbing a makeshift weapon he placed it in a small pouch. He picked up his bedroll, threw it away, and picked up some silver. What else do I need? Think! I can’t panic right now.
One of his garments was missing.
She must have taken it.
He saw some scribbling on the wall. The doodle usually made him smile. It was definitely Elizabeth’s. There was a heart placed above the “i”, her signature artwork which usually brought a smile to his face.
Right now it enraged him.
He threw his pouch down and booted at the smoldering fire, sending a piece still simmering against the concrete wall. It splintered into several pieces as Michael stormed the kitchen area for more weapons.
He punched at the wall and roared. He looked briefly at his bleeding knuckles. “I am going to shake some sense into you when I get my hands on you.”
Michael grabbed the leftover bread from last night’s meal and stuffed it inside the pouch.
He took a few steps toward the opening of the cave and stopped. His heart raced and feeling faint, he held onto the wall.
He ran to a wooden box, opened it and saw the second cross lying there. “My God, why are we in this forsaken time?”
He took out the cross and threw the wooden box it into the fire. “Elizabeth, you think you know it all, teenager. Well, you should know better.” He wanted to curse, but he held back. How could she be so stupid? So foolish. She won’t be able to communicate.
Go now , he implored himself. He raced out of the cave, his pouch strangling on his side as he bounced up a hill and down. He passed a field filled with sheep and scattered the last group while heading toward a cluster of similar looking homes. He tightened the pouch around his waist and fingered a sharpened wooden weapon inside his pocket.
He pulled the top part of his robe over his head like a hoodie to conceal his identity.
I hope Elizabeth doesn’t give Leah a stroke or heart attack. It’s bad enough she’ll be speaking English and can’t be understood. Leah has no idea Elizabeth has risen from the dead. That will either scare her or kill her. There’s no good ending to this.
His thoughts pushed his legs to move with more urgency. After a few minutes, he stopped for just a brief moment to gather his breath and noticed Leah’s town up ahead.
Initially he wanted to complete the journey by finding the Apostle, hide the relic and get Elizabeth back to Northport.
That all changed when she left.
Selfish as it seemed, he wanted no part of the journey asked of him. Lord, please get us home. My daughter’s been through so much. I want to see her graduate from high school. Let her go to the prom. Go to college. Get married. Enough of this running around in the first century.
He sprinted, pushing himself so hard he staggered to the front of the courtyard. He took a quick, desperate sip of water from the well. He threw the bucket back down and ran inside Leah’s house.
Shattered pieces of clay littered the kitchen floor.
A smoldering fire clung to its last spark in the stove.
A wooden table lay broken against the wall.
He raced from room to room, his weapon drawn at shoulder level and then climbed to the second floor. He stepped on the mats, crushing a plate.
Furious he yelled out as if his daughter were standing in front of him. “You make me so mad, Elizabeth. This time you’ve really done it. This time we both may not get out alive. Are you happy about that? How many times must I battle these Romans? How many?”
He scurried to the room at the far end of the second floor, shouting out the window. “Lord,” he screamed. “Where are you? I’m helping you. Why aren’t you helping me?”
He slid down the wall, his head pressed against the lower part of the window. “I want to go home, Lord. I want to take my daughter home, too. Now. Right now. No more delays. No more instructions. No more chasing people. Is that too much to ask? I’ve done everything you’ve asked. Is this how my faith is rewarded?”
He took a deep breath, waiting for an answer. There was none.
The only sounds he heard were kids playing in the neighborhood.
He stood, leaned out the window and saw the vacant courtyard. He looked out to the horizon and turned his head to the right and left. He saw nothing.
Where are they, Lord? Tell me. Point me in the right direction.
He climbed to the last step, hand clenched on his weapon, and looked around.
He circled around the steep and short elevated parts. What is this? He leaned down and picked up a shoe he had made last night. Elizabeth. This is hers. There was blood on it.
He bent his body and squeezed his head with both hands. “No!” He raged around the roof and looked skyward. “Elizabeth!”
Michael fell to his knees and his stomach lurched. He grabbed his chest and threw up. He gagged and staggered back to his feet, tucking the shoe inside his pocket. He raced down the stairs, leaped and fell, never touching the last three rungs. He cursed under his breath and got up, swatting a piece of broken wood from the table. He looked around for other weapons and found a spear buried under a bedroll.
He searched in a small box and grabbed several pieces of silver.
He heard two men approaching the house, sounding like they were engaged in an argument. He remained quiet and listened. He took a quick peek out the window.
Michael recognized Leah’s husband from when he observed them at Elizabeth’s gravesite.
He looks upset. Maybe he knows where Leah and Elizabeth went?
He heaved a deep breath, got control of his emotions and ran outside, shouting to the two men. “Please help me.” He reached to put his hand out in a gesture of friendship. “My daughter is in trouble.”
Leah’s husband glared at him. “What are you doing in my house?”
“I have come looking for my daughter,” Michael said.
“Are you the man from the burial site Leah has spoken about?”
“Go on your way.”
Michael shook his head. “I cannot leave until I find out what happened to my daughter. Her name is Elizabeth. She has hair like mine,” he said pointing to his head. “The same color eyes.”
“Elizabeth? The woman Leah and I visited at the burial site?”
Michael took a deep breath and thought fast on how to spin this without having this man think he was insane. “No. A different daughter. I named her Elizabeth after my first daughter died.”
“I cannot help you.” Leah’s husband walked into the house.
“Something terrible has happened,” said Michael, following him.
“It was the Romans,” Leah’s husband said, turning around. His face was pale. “The soldiers have come for us.”
“The ones looking to avenge us for killing a Roman some sunsets ago.”
“My God, Aharon,” the other man yelled. “Is this so?”
Aharon jolted the man with a thrust to his shoulder. “Stay silent. Do you know how many ears around here would love to fetch a reward? Go home. Protect yourself.”
The man ran out of the house as Michael took a few steps toward Aharon. “It was Marcus then. Right?” he asked.
“Where would they take them?”
Aharon went to the bedroom and came back with a spear. “The fortress.”
“The one by the wall?”
“Near the big Temple,” Aharon said.
Michael smothered a loud sigh of intense fear. “There have to be hundreds of soldiers there.”
“Many,” said Aharon with a frown as he walked past Michael.
“Where are you going?”
“To the fortress to get my Leah back. She was not responsible for killing that soldier. I am. I will give myself up to save her life.”
Michael ran after him and grabbed his arm. “No. There has to be a better way. We can think of a plan, find a way that can save everyone.”