Archive for the ‘Leaving The Trail’ Category

22. The Battle

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Without back packs, Fisher and the men with him made fast time. By noon, they had reached the site where he and Sandy had camped, and stopped to rest. Sitting by the ring of rocks he had stacked together to make a fireplace, Fisher felt a twinge of pain. He and Sandy had vowed to follow this call together, and already less than two days later, they were separated and quite possibly in grave danger. He still had no intention of letting these men bring Lisa back so that she could be sacrificed to the Evil Man, but how could he rescue Sandy and the grandparents? His thoughts troubled him as he stared into the ashes of what had been their fire two nights ago.

Then his eyes focused on the ashes. Why was he seeing them? He and Sandy had very carefully extinguished their fire and covered the ashes with dirt before leaving. Now they were scattered all around the camp. Ken noticed his concern and asked, “What are you doing?”

“This camp has been ransacked since we were here.”

There in the thin layer of ash was a clearly defined footprint: bare and huge. “They were here last night,” Fisher said. “They checked out everything, probably picked up our trail, but didn’t follow us since we were going into the valley.”

One of the men moved even closer and whispered, “But now we’re going the other way.”

“That’s right,” Fisher finished his thought. “And they won’t like that.”

Ken straightened up and spoke in a normal tone of voice, demonstrating more bravado than he felt. “But like I said, as long as they know we’re going to get the girl, they’ll let us pass. We’ll be all right.”

“I’m not sure I’d give them that much credit,” said Fisher. “Unlike the Evil Man, demonic warriors don’t seem especially bright. They’re all muscle and very little brain. I think their orders are pretty simple: moving this way,” he pointed back in the direction they had come, “okay. Moving that way, toward the trail, not okay.”

Fisher could see the rising panic in the men’s eyes and added, “But listen to me: they’re not very fast, and their tactics are predictable. If you’ll just watch how they move, you’ll be able to get out of the way and get in a few licks of your own before they have a chance to react. Whatever you do, stay together. Don’t let them separate and surround you. Cover each other’s backs. Once we get to Rendezvous, there will be others who will help us, so keep moving into this valley. At the bottom, there’s a trail. If you get there before I do, turn right and keep going until you find other men.”

“What’s ‘Rendezvous’?” another man asked.

Fisher smiled. “It’s where Lisa is. Let’s get moving.”

They continued for about half an hour when Fisher stopped. Something was out of place. There. About fifty yards ahead, was a spot of red. It seemed to be a piece of cloth, hanging from a tree limb. Cautiously, he moved forward a few paces, listening in every direction. It was cloth, all right, maybe a piece of someone’s shirt. On the ground nearby was something white. A step closer, and he could see that it was bone.

Fisher looked around the area and realized with horror that he had come to the same clearing as before. A pack of wolves had been here then, finishing what was left of the carnage left by the demons. They had done their job well: all that remained were a few scraps of cloth and bone. And something metallic. Ken stepped closer and picked it up.  A shovel. Except that it had been ground down to a sharp point, like a heavy spear. The point was bent backwards, as if someone had tried to thrust it into solid rock. The handle had snapped halfway down the shaft.

“That’s Brian’s shovel,” one of the men whispered. “I saw him grinding on it one day. He said he was trying to make a prod; something to use for snakes. I told him it was a crazy thing to do with a perfectly good shovel, but he just said, ‘Different jobs, different tools,’ and kept on grinding.”

One of the other men spoke up, his voice cracking as he tried to control his terror. “I don’t know about the rest of you, but I’m going back.”

The man next to him said, “I’m with you, Seth. Let’s get out of here.” The two of them turned and started back up the hill, soon disappearing into the undergtowth. Ken started to call out, but was interrupted by a roar which shook the ground around them, followed immediately by screams. Fisher shouted to the group, “Stay together! Don’t let them separate us. Keep moving down the hill!”

Turning to run, he caught a glimpse of gray moving through the trees immediately to his left. A beast was trying to get below them, to ambush them as they ran down the hill. Best defense is a good offense, thought Fisher, and ran toward the movement, sword in hand. Following the creature was no problem; his size created a path in the undergrowth big enough to drive a truck through. In just a few seconds, he had caught up with it. Obviously thinking that it was now far enough below the fleeing men, it slowed and turned to the right, to attack them as they ran toward him. It was at that moment that his peripheral vision caught the sight of Fisher bearing down on him. He began swinging around to face him, massive club high overhead, but it was too late. Fisher’s momentum and the beast’s exposed side played against him. A sword thrust just under his arm found the space between the ribs and made its way directly to the heart. The beast fell like an oak, taking down several small trees in the process.

Fisher looked back to see the rest of the men close behind.  Not ten yards behind them was another demon, steadily gaining, club at the ready. They wouldn’t be outrunning this one.

“Everyone! Stop and turn,” he shouted. “Go for that one all together.” Whether it was the authority in Fisher’s voice or the sight of the fallen beast behind him, the men came to a stop as commanded, and turned to face the charging warrior. This was the one thing it had not expected, and began trying to check its forward momentum. Instead, his mass carried him directly onto the scythes, axes and pruning hooks of the waiting line, without even a chance of bringing his club to bear. By the time it fell, its body lay next to the first one. As all the men stood in amazement and gasping for breath, Fisher said, “Well, either this will make the others pause for a moment, or else it’ll make them really mad. Either way, we’d best keep moving. The trail’s not much farther. Let’s go!”

The men needed no more urging, and leapt as one through the undergrowth and on down the hill. A few seconds later, the sound of an ear splitting roar could be heard, coming from the spot they had just left. Fisher glanced back, then shouted to Ken, who was running alongside, “My guess is it was the ‘mad’ option. Faster!”

A hundred yards later, the group broke out of the trees and into a field of low growing weeds. Farther on, Fisher could see the trail, winding through the valley floor. It occurred to him that he didn’t know now why they were so desperate to get to the trail, except perhaps to allow them more room to maneuver. Looking again over to Ken, he shouted, “When we get down to the trail, stop and form a perimeter. We’ll make our stand there!”

21. Captured

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

At the sound of whispered voices, Fisher and Sandy sat up from their sleeping bags. Grandfather said, “It’ll be daylight soon. We thought you might want to get an early start.”

“Yes we do,” said Fisher, wiping the sleep from his eyes. “We can make it to the trail in one long day, but I don’t know how far we’ll have to go before we catch up with the Rendezvous team. We’d better plan on a couple of nights on our own.”

He and Sandy began rolling up their sleeping bags and organizing backpacks. Strapping his sword onto the outside of the pack within easy reach, he added, “I don’t need to remind you of the danger we may face. The Evil Man won’t like it if he sees you leaving, and any place away from the trail he considers is his. We may have to fight our way out.”

Grandfather pulled out a curved scythe from his own backpack. “This is the best I could come up with. I haven’t had much practice in fighting, but I’ve spent more hours with this thing than I care to admit.”

Fisher smiled and said, “I’d hate to be on the receiving end of that. You’ll do fine.” Grandmother took one last look around the room and said, “Well, it’s not much, but I’m ready to leave it. Let’s go.”

Grandfather opened the door and they all stepped outside. The sky was just beginning to turn gray in the east, but there was enough light to reveal the faces of the men standing in a half circle in front of them. There were at least twenty, all armed with axes, pitchforks and scythes. Standing near the center of the group was Grandfather’s son Ken. He spoke.

“We had an idea you might do something like this.”

“Ken!” Grandfather exclaimed. “Listen to me, all those old stories about a Power stronger than the Ruler’s? Those stories are true, son. Come with us, all of you! Don’t let yourselves be blinded anymore.”

Fisher studied the faces of the men in the dim light. They seemed to be listening, but fear kept them from speaking out. Given more time, they might come around. But Ken kept that from happening. “Enough of your treachery!” Turning to Fisher, he continued. “You’d have us put our lives, and the lives of our families in your hands? Who knows what you’ve brought down on us already, just by coming here? There’s just one chance for us, and that’s by sticking to the plan. You’ll take us to where Lisa is, so that we can bring her back to her people. Your wife and my parents will stay behind until we get back. After that, you can all go. But Lisa belongs with us.”

“So you can carry her to Bamah and face the Ruler’s cruelty? I’ll die before I see that happen.” He was reaching back to pull out his sword when Sandy put her hand on his.

“Wait,” she pleaded. “You don’t have a chance like this. Do what they say, please. We’ll be okay here.”

Fisher looked closely into her eyes and saw the unspoken words. To resist now would mean certain death. Wait…. Wait.

There was so much he wanted to say, but before a word could come, the men had grabbed him from behind, tearing off his backpack with the sword and throwing it to one side. “You won’t need any of this,” Ken said. “We go there and come back, then you leave for good. Fletch!” he called to one of the men. “You’ll go with me while the rest stay here and watch over these people.”

“Ken! Listen up,” Fisher said. “Those brutes won’t let us leave this place without a fight. They killed Brian and Charlotte, and they’ll try to kill us too. Have you seen them?” The blank stares told him that they had not. “Ask your father. He has.”

As a man, the whole group turned to Grandfather, who nodded in affirmation. “I’ve seen them. Once, a long time ago. I was looking in the next valley over, trying to find better farm land. Yeah, I know we’ve been told by the ruler to never leave here, but I was young, and curious. I saw them before they saw me, and that probably saved my life. They passed right by where I was hiding: huge, gray things. I don’t think they’re even human. I counted five. Every few steps, they’d stop and listen, testing the air. I think they may have picked up my scent, because they kept looking in my direction. I got the idea they were patrolling, on the look out for people just like me, too far from home. That idea was confirmed just the other day when Brian and his family left here. You’ll meet them out there too, Ken. Believe it.”

Ken was silent for a long time. Even in the dim morning light, it was easy to see the fear on his face. But set against that was the fear of failing to provide what the Ruler demanded. Finally he said, “If these creatures know we’re going to get Lisa, they won’t stop us. Still … Fletch, pick ten more men to go with us. Make sure they have something to fight with.”

He bent down to Fisher’s backpack and pulled out the sword. It was obvious he’d never seen one before. “What kind of tool is this?” he asked.

“It’s a tool for defending myself and my family,” Fisher replied. “Let me take it, and if I have to, I’ll use it against the demons.”

Sandy spoke up from the front step of the house, where she and the grandparents had been pushed. “He knows how to use it. He’s already killed one of those things with it. You’d do best to let him carry it.”

The entire group looked open-mouthed first to Sandy, then to Fisher. Ken held the sword with a new reverence, then taking it in both hands, he gave it to Fisher. “Don’t forget,” he reminded him, “your wife is staying here. She doesn’t have one of these.”

Fisher said nothing, but strapped the sword to his waist, his eyes locked on Ken’s. With a glance to Sandy to assure her, he turned on his heels and started in the direction of the river. The men gathered up axes, scythes and pruning hooks and followed along behind.

20. Jake Returns

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Reaching the top of the pass just as the sun was going down, Friend had instructed the Rendezvous team to make camp there, taking advantage of the relatively flat terrain. Patches of snow in the shadows provided great fun for the children, and soon enough was melted over the cook fires to produce both supper and coffee.

Taking his steaming cup with him, he wandered a short distance away from the camp. Looking back over the dark valley from which they come, he wondered again if they had done the right thing, leaving Fisher and Sandy to venture off the trail alone in search of Lisa’s family. This was their calling, he was certain, just as surely as his calling was to guide the Rendezvous team. But did the two have to be exclusive to one another? Couldn’t they work together, helping and supporting one another when the need arose but remaining faithful to what each had been given to do?

“Oh Lord,” he prayed. “I need Your wisdom. Help me do the right thing.”

“Sometimes we just have to wait.” A familiar voice came from Friend’s right, and he turned to see Jake, sitting on a rock and watching him in the starlight.

“Jake!” Friend exclaimed. “Is it really you?” But even as he asked the question, Friend knew beyond a doubt whom he was addressing. It seemed so long ago, back down the trail, when this seemingly old and grizzled traveler had come into his life. Before they had parted, Friend discovered that the man was actually a messenger from God.

The angel smiled, and Friend could feel the warmth invading every part of his heart and soul. “Like I told you before, God has given me the best job in the world, looking out for pilgrims like you.”

“You did say that,” Friend declared, filled with joy at the confirmation. “Oh Jake, I have so much to ask you. I don’t think I’m doing very well at this responsibility. And now … well, I just don’t know what to do.”

“I know,” said Jake, the smile never leaving his face. “That’s why I’m here. I have a word for you, and it comes from God Himself. The word is: wait.”

“’Wait’? That’s it? How long do we wait? And what do we do in the meantime? When will I know when it’s time to stop waiting? How …”

Jake held up his hand. “If I knew the answers to those questions, I’d tell you. Unless of course I wasn’t supposed to. Listen Friend, you’ve been on this trail long enough by now to know that sometimes the best answers are the shortest ones. The long ones just get people confused. What I’ve given you is simple and easy to obey. Just wait.”

“Yes … yes, of course you’re right. And I’ll do that. We all will. For as long as it takes.

It seemed as though the conversation was over, leaving Friend with a sense of panic. “But Jake, please don’t go. Please tell me something, anything.” Even in the semi-darkness, Friend could see Jake’s eyebrow go up, as if he had just heard something funny. “I know it sounds silly,” Friend went on. “It’s just that, well, you’re up there with Him, seeing things and doing things that people down here can only dream about. If you could only teach me what I need to know, I would …”

“You’d what?” Jake demanded. “Go on with your journey with no more doubts, no more fears, no more questions? I think you’ve read His Word enough by now to know that things like that never bring people closer to Him. It’s like those ‘long answers’ that get twisted and turned until they’ve lost all sense of the original.”

Jake stood as if to go. “Speaking of His Word,” he said, “do you remember what we do?”

Thinking this was some kind of test, Friend thought carefully, then answered, “You’re messengers … and warriors, right?

“That’s right,” Jake said. “But one thing we’re not is teachers. That job has been left to the Sons and Daughters of Adam. And in order to do that, you have to spend plenty of time in God’s Word. And remember this: one day you’ll be in authority over us, so study hard.”

And then he was gone. There was no puff of smoke, no flash of light; he simply vanished. Friend resisted the urge to fall on his knees, remembering what Jake had told him the first time they had met. Realizing that he was standing in the presence of an angel, he had almost knelt to worship when Jake stopped him with a strong reprimand. Friend would never forget his words: “Stand up! I know where you’re going with this, and I need to tell you right now, it’s the wrong way. You think I’m some kind of superior Being because I know a few things about you and I talk about your friend who died in the present tense. But let me tell you something: it’s you that’s turning heads in heaven. From the very beginning, God’s been doing some amazing things with the sons and daughters of Adam. None of us knows for sure exactly how it’s going to play out, but everyone knows that you and those like you will be at the center of it all. I’m just a caretaker, nothing more.”

Some caretaker, thought Friend to himself with a smile. He turned to head back to camp, and almost threw out his coffee, which by now had to have turned cold. A warm sensation in his hand made him stop, though, and noticing steam rising from the cup, took a cautious sip. It was piping hot, and he even imagined that it tasted better than before. “Well, there’s one for the next Bible study,” he said aloud.

Returning to the camp fire, he found his wife, his daughter April and little Lisa sitting close together, wrapped in a sleeping bag and soaking up the heat from the flames. The two girls were laughing about something while his wife stirred the coals with a stick. Joy doesn’t come any deeper than this, he concluded. “What’s so funny, you two?”

“Lisa’s trying to say ‘Tall slim slick sycamore sapling’”, laughed April. “But she can’t do it!”

“Yes I can!” demanded Lisa. “Tall, sim sick, sickie, sickie mores!” That brought another burst of laughter.

“Honey, can you put some more wood on the fire?” Friend was glad to oblige, and as he stacked it carefully, his wife said, “It’ll be good to get off this pass tomorrow. We’re freezing!”

“Well my dear,” he said, dusting his hands off on his jeans. “I think we better break out the long underwear.” When she gave him a puzzled look, he added, “We’re going to be waiting here awhile!”

19. An Unholy Sacrifice

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Darkness fell quickly in the valley where Fisher and Sandy sat with Lisa’s grandparents. The smell of honeysuckle blossoms pervaded the gazebo while from somewhere in the distance the sound of a whippoorwill announced that nighttime had come. Lisa’s grandmother had been a gracious hostess, preparing a meal which, compared to what the young couple had been having on the trail was a veritable feast. Now in the quiet of the early evening, they sat outside, watching the stars appear and engaging in conversation typical of farmers the world over.

“Now that stand of corn back there,” Grandfather said with a sweep of his arm in the direction of the house,” that sits on some of the finest topsoil you ever saw. If I leave my hoe in the ground overnight, I declare it’ll start to sprout. But back this way,” he said as he pointed in the other direction, “that’s a different story. Nothing but rocks. When it’s quiet at night, you can hear them growing, pushing their way up to the surface. I’d about decided to give that section of land up and let the rocks take over. Who knows? Maybe we could harvest enough to build us a better house.” He looked over at his wife, who turned away with a slight smile, in spite of her obvious grief.

“We’d have gone ahead with our rock farm, too, if it hadn’t been for Brian. He kept telling me, ‘Dad, there’s good soil down there. I know I can make something out of it.’ I finally told him to go ahead and try. Even promised him he could have anything that patch of rocks produced. Well, he worked that ground like a mad man. Morning til night, and sometimes even after dark. Charlotte and Lisa came out sometimes to help him. You should have seen them. They finally got the soil prepared enough to plant, and the crop came up good.”

The old man leaned back and sighed, his breath exhaling shakily as if he were trying not to break down. “It’s just about ready for picking.”

They sat quietly after that, no one sure what to say. Finally Fisher asked, “Why did your son and his family leave?”

“Because it was time,” Grandfather said simply.

“Time? Time for what?”

This time Grandmother spoke up. “It was time to take Lisa to Bamah.” Grandfather put his hand on her knee, but she had found a new strength in her voice. She sat up straighter and went on. “They wanted to take our precious Lisa to that horrible place, and we weren’t going to let that happen. We’d fight if we had to … but Brian and Charlotte came over a few nights ago and said they were leaving. They were just as disgusted as we were, and decided to do something about it. We’d heard the stories about other places … where people don’t do horrible things like that; where you can raise your family the way you want. That’s where they were going, they said. No matter how far away. No matter how hard it would be to get there. They even asked us to come along and find that land together. Oh, it was tempting, but we both knew we’d never be able to make it. We’d only hold them back. Better that we stay behind and try to slow down the ones who’d be going after them.”

Sandy moved closer to Grandmother and looked deep into her eyes. “I’m sorry, but I don’t understand,” she said. “What is ‘Bamah’, and what does it have to do with Lisa?”

Grandmother returned Sandy’s gaze, then looked over to her husband, who seemed deep in shock. “Do you really not know?” she asked, and when Sandy nodded, she turned back to Grandfather. “The stories are true!”

This brought him out of his shocked silence, and he explained, “Bamah is where the Ruler lives. He owns all this land … and all of us. He’s powerful; more powerful than you could ever imagine. I’ve seen some of the creatures that work for him, and believe me, you wouldn’t want to go up against one.”

Fisher glanced over at Sandy, who was looking at him. They didn’t speak, but let the old man continue.

“The Ruler holds the power. He can bring the rain, or he can keep it away. It’s because of him that our crops grow and the river runs. Without him, life just wouldn’t be possible. He uses his power so we can live, and I guess we should be grateful for that. But …” He paused, looking for words but not finding any. Fisher helped him.

“But there’s a price to pay for his generosity.”

The old man simply nodded, looking up at the sky. Fisher went on. “This ruler, as you call him, demands certain things for his favor. A child’s life, perhaps?”

“So you do know him!” Grandmother exclaimed.

“Yes, we know him,” said Fisher. “And there are some things you need to know about him as well. He’s been around a long time, and he’s been known by many different names. The most fitting name I’ve heard given him is ‘Liar, and the Father of Lies’”.

Grandfather sat up straight at that. “Who would have the nerve to call him that?”

“The One who created him called him that. And that’s exactly what he is: a liar and a deceiver. He wants you to think he has all power over the earth, but his strength goes only as far as his Creator allows it. This “Bamah” as you call it is his way of trying to establish authority over people. He’s done it before, a long time ago in another land. The people there set up temples on all the high places. They took offerings of food and jewels, and yes, they even sacrificed their first born children, all because of a lie.

“I can tell you this” Fisher went on, “the Rulers’ days are numbered.  The One who created him is coming. When He does, He’s going to defeat this Evil one and all those who follow him. Then the Creator is going to set up a new kingdom: one where there are no more tears, no more death.”

Grandmother rose up from where she was sitting, walked out into the yard a few steps, then turned back to face the others. “I’ve never heard anyone speak like that before,” she said. “And yet, in my heart I know it’s true! My whole life, something has been in me and around me that I just couldn’t explain: something that kept telling me to look at the world and recognize Who made it. That thing that sits up there at Bamah, I know he had nothing to do with the beauty and mystery I see here.

“And when everyone started talking about sacrifice, I was convinced more than ever that something was wrong. Who would ever create a beautiful world like this, and then demand such a hideous thing as to kill a precious child? I wouldn’t stand for it. I won’t stand for it. And neither would Brian and Charlotte.” At that, she broke down in tears again, with Sandy at her side.

“And they died for it.” Grandfather’s anger was rising again as he spoke. “Those things killed my boy and his wife, but they won’t get their filthy hands on our little Lisa. Mister,” he said, looking at Fisher. “If you can help us leave this place, we’ll do whatever you ask. Just lead us to our granddaughter. Please.”

“We’ll do more than that. Sandy and I will take you to a place where the Evil One has no more claim on you. There’s a trail, and it leads to the Creator’s Kingdom. As you journey, you learn more and more about Who really made you, Who loves you, and has already done wonderful things for you. It’s a trip worth giving your life to, believe me.” Stretching out his hand, he added, “And by the way, the name is Fisher.”

18. Meeting the Grandparents

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Ken’s voice was resolute. “Tomorrow me and a few of the fellows will go with you back to where you came from. We’ll bring the girl back, and that’ll be the end of it.”

“Yes, of course,” Fisher began. “Lisa belongs with her family. But before you do that, I’d like to tell you about the people she’s with now, and what we’re all about. You might like to know that …”

“No I wouldn’t like to know!” Ken got to his feet and kicked at the ground. “You’ve got your ways and we’ve got ours. It may not be the best there is, but it’s how we’ve done things here for as long as anyone can remember. Tomorrow you’ll be leaving.” He glanced around the woods surrounding his house. “And you won’t be coming back.”

Sandy was still kneeling at Dorothy’s feet. Taking her hands in both of hers, she said softly, “Is that how you feel as well?”

“I … I … I just don’t know.” Sandy could feel that her whole body was trembling. “He’s right. We’ve done things this way all of our lives. We wouldn’t … we couldn’t change. I …”

“Dorothy! Ken!” a voice came from the edge of the woods, and they looked up to see an older man coming toward them. He limped as he walked, but seemed to be moving as quickly as his feet would take him. As he got closer, he called out again, “Ken! I just heard …”

His eyes fell on Fisher and Sandy, and he stopped short, a look of surprise with just a trace of fear on his face. Fisher walked out to meet him, reached out his hand, and when the man took it, he said, “I’m very sorry to have to tell you that Brian and Charlotte are both dead, murdered. But Lisa is well, and in good hands. We’ll see that she gets back to you tomorrow.”

Fisher thought the old man would fall. His head dropped down and his legs seemed to buckle. It was almost as if some superhuman strength was keeping him on his feet. He made a choking sound as he fought back tears, then reached out and put an arm around Fisher’s waist. Fisher took the cue and supported him, leading him over to the steps of the house, where he helped him sit down. They were all silent for what seemed like several minutes, then the old man spoke. “Lisa,” he began, searching for words. “You said she was in good hands. Is she really okay?”

Sandy moved beside him and placed a hand on his shoulder. “She cried a lot at first. But she’s a strong girl. She’s with a family right now who have a daughter; she and Lisa have hit it off wonderfully. April is just like a big sister to her. You’ll be proud when you see her.”

Lisa’s grandfather started to speak, then seemed to change his mind. Instead, he got to his feet and said to Ken, “We’ll be going back to my place now. Anything you folks have in mind can wait until tomorrow.” He motioned to Fisher and Sandy, and after retrieving their backpacks from inside the house, said goodbye to Ken and Dorothy.

They walked in silence to the edge of the clearing. There was no obvious way through the woods, but the old man pointed straight ahead and said simply, “That way.”

They pushed through low-growing tree branches and stepped over rocks and dead trees, moving deeper into the darkness of the forest. Fisher stopped to hold a limb back so that Sandy could duck under. “Not many trails around here,” she commented to no one in particular.

“There’s only one trail in these parts,” the old man interjected. “The one to Bamah.”

“Bamah,” Fisher repeated. “What’s that?”

“Not here,” he said, holding up his hand to silence them and looking around into the surrounding darkness.  “We’ll talk later.”

After about half an hour, they began to notice that the forest was growing lighter. An occasional patch of blue sky was visible ahead, and finally the three stepped out into a cleared field. Like the last one, tilled by Ken and Dorothy, this one also was made up primarily of corn and tomatoes. But very much unlike the other one, this field was in prime condition. The rows of plants were evenly spaced and weeded. Big red tomatoes were secured to sticks driven into the ground, and there was evidence that the plants had been watered recently.

Beyond the field stood a house, and like Ken and Dorothy’s it too was made of timber and grass. But again, the difference between the two was palpable. Flowers grew around the front door, and the yard had been swept clean. A small gazebo stood a short distance from the house, covered in honeysuckle vines. In their shade were two wooden benches, one of which was occupied by a woman whom Fisher and Sandy assumed was Lisa’s grandmother.

“Helen!” the old man called out as they drew closer. She looked up quickly, and even from a distance they could see that she had been crying. Standing to her feet, she looked carefully at the three, then hurried out to meet her husband. He took her in his arms while she sobbed, and as he patted her back said quietly, “It’s true Helen. It’s true. But Lisa’s fine, and being taken care of. We’ll see her soon.”

17a. Appendix 4 Party Three

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Appendix 4

Party Three

Main Events of Part Three:

  1. 1. Conflict between Fisher and Rendezvous
  2. 2. Fisher and Sandy leave the trail, discover village

Scripture References:

And I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades shall not overpower it. ?19? “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

Matthew 16: 18 – 19

Then I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” Then I said, “Here am I. Send me!” Isaiah 6:8

And a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a certain man of Macedonia was standing and appealing to him, and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” ?10? And when he had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them. Acts 16: 9 – 10

Think about this:

Conflict develops in this section between Fisher, who is convinced of his call to leave the trail and seek out those who are lost, and Friend, who is equally convinced that Rendezvous (The Church) must under no circumstance be led away from the trail. By now, every pilgrim knows that he leaves the trail at his peril. Even Friend could attest to that truth, having lost, strayed or been frightened away on more than one occasion, each time suffering as a result.

Does this concept make sense to you? In other words, what “path” has been laid before you, and how might you step away from that path? What has God called His people to do? How important is it that the Church be a guiding light to every traveler? Have there been times in history when the Church has failed in this task?

Fisher and Sandy remain convinced of God’s call for them, and set out alone to find Lisa’s people who live in the wilderness away from the trail. Friend and the Rendezvous team pray for their safety and struggle with the decision to remain behind. Ralph especially believes that they should be more aggressive in seeking the lost. Do you see parallels in this chapter within the church today? Are there elements within your church who hold a “fortress mentality”, which says that God’s people must remain inside, away from the world? What about those who would say that the only legitimate church is the “reaching out” church, constantly looking beyond itself to people and places where the Gospel is not known?

Eventually, we meet Lisa’s aunt, uncle, grandparents and others who, as Fisher and Sandy suspected, have made their home in the wilderness. Memories of the trail are so far removed that they even deny its existence. Instead, they have fallen victim to a power more sinister than they could ever have imagined, the tragic consequences of which will become clear in the next chapter.

Try to imagine life in the Garden of Eden, when God would come in the “cool of the day” to walk with His creation (Genesis 3:8), and contrast that to the days of Enosh, when Adam’s grandchildren began to “call out to God” (Genesis 4:26). In the generations since, people have slipped farther and father away from that familiarity with the Creator, so that there now exist whole nations who can no longer recall those past days. Like Uncle Ken, Aunt Dorothy, Grandmother and Grandfather, they live their lives in quiet desperation, searching for truth in a darkened world. What responsibility does the church today have for those nations? How can you play a part?

17. Finding Family

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

They walked on for about ten minutes, the trail all but invisible under their feet. The men walked in silence, except for the one with the shovel, who was engaged in a heated conversation with the man closest to him. They kept their voices low, and when Fisher tried to close the gap between them, the man directly in front of him seemed to block his way, without it appearing too obvious. Finally he dropped back and whispered to Sandy, “I’m still not sure what they’re up to. Stay alert.”

After a few more minutes, the trees opened up to reveal an area of land which had been cultivated. Corn and potatoes were growing in haphazard rows, interspersed with an occasional tomato plant. At the far end of the field was a rough looking house, made of timber and roofed with grass. A stone chimney perched at one end, from which a wisp of smoke was rising, remnants of what Fisher and Sandy had seen earlier that morning. Two small windows faced the clearing, but rather than glass, were simply covered with cloth. Looking closely, Sandy could see that one side of the cloth had been pulled back slightly, and a pair of eyes was watching them intently. As they grew closer, the cloth fell back down, and from inside the house came the sound of shuffling feet.

The men continued on in silence, into the woods, pushing their way through more thickets. Eventually they came to another clearing, marked by more signs of cultivation, and at the far end, yet another crude cabin. It was to this one that the men turned, leading Fisher and Sandy to the front door, where they stopped. Without a word, shovel man went inside, leaving them to stand with the other men. They heard a woman’s voice, crying, they thought, then more harsh words, this time from the man. Finally, the door opened, and he beckoned the couple inside.

Stepping through the doorway, Fisher paused to allow his eyes a chance to adjust to the darkness. There was a strong scent of wood smoke, masking other, unidentifiable odors. To his left, as far back as she could move, stood a woman, clutching her hands and looking from Fisher to Sandy in rapid glances back and forth. The man spoke first. “This is Dorothy. My name is Ken.”

“Uncle Dorothy and Aunt Ken!” Sandy exclaimed. “Lisa told us about you! I’m so sorry about her parents, but I know she will be glad to see you again.”

“Brian was my brother,” said Ken. “He never had much sense.”

“Excuse me,” said Fisher. “Do you mind if we take our backpacks off? They’re pretty heavy.”

There was a moment of uncomfortable silence, as if neither Ken nor Dorothy knew what to say, then finally she spoke up. “Of course. You can put them over there by the wall. I’m sorry we don’t have any place to sit.”

It was true, Fisher noticed, looking around the cabin for the first time. Besides the fireplace and a few assorted cooking utensils, there was nothing else to speak of in the one room house. Some bedding was piled up in one corner, where they apparently slept, and gardening tools were stacked near the door. “Maybe we could sit outside and talk?” he suggested. Ken nodded and they all moved out the door.

Fisher found a spot of grass and he and Sandy sat facing the house. The other men had disappeared. Ken and Dorothy moved out and sat side by side on the front step, facing them. They didn’t seemed inclined to speak, so finally Fisher cleared his throat and began.

“Do … did Brian and Charlotte live nearby?” he asked.

Ken indicated with his chin in the direction beyond them and said, “Back that way. He and our dad cleared off a plot of land and worked it together. They didn’t come by here much.”

“Grandma and Grandpa,” said Sandy. “Lisa talked about them too. And about Mr. Snuffles.” Ken and Dorothy didn’t respond, so she explained, “Her cat.”

“Didn’t know she had a cat,” said Ken.

Fisher said, “Ken, do you think it would be a good idea to go and see them? We’d like to let them know that Lisa’s okay.”

“They’ve been told by now,” said Ken. “Will probably be over soon.”

Fisher was becoming frustrated with the conversation and finally said, “Ken, I’m surprised you haven’t asked us how your brother and his wife died. Don’t you want to know?”

In reply, Ken looked over at Dorothy, who buried her face in both hands. “We know.”

Dorothy lifted her face and through fresh tears said, “They just wouldn’t listen to us. We tried to make them understand, but they wouldn’t hear of it!”

“Hear of what?” asked Fisher. “What were they supposed to have misunderstood, and how do you know for sure what happened to them?”

Neither of them answered. Ken sat looking at the ground in front of his feet while Dorothy lowered her face again and sobbed. Unable to take it any longer, Sandy stood and walked over to her. Kneeling, she put a hand on Dorothy’s shoulder, making her jump in shock. She looked up and stared into Sandy’s face, then leaned forward to embrace her. The two knelt together for a long time. Finally Dorothy spoke.

“We loved Lisa, too. All of us did. It’s just that, well, there’re some things that can’t be changed. Brian and Charlotte, they wouldn’t accept it. Kept saying that when it came time, they would …”

Ken interrupted her. “Some things are better left unsaid.” He looked up and his eyes darted back and forth between Fisher and Sandy. There was an unmistakable anger there, and when he spoke, it was almost a threat. “Look, both of you: I appreciate you coming here and telling us what you did. But the way we do things around here is our business. Tonight you’ll be staying at my folks’ place, then tomorrow me and a few of the fellows will go with you back to where you came from. We’ll bring the girl back, and that’ll be the end of it.”

16. Contact

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

“Umm, that smells good,” Fisher said softly, his eyes still closed and his head buried in Sandy’s red hair.

“You think so?” Sandy mumbled, still half asleep. I haven’t washed it in days. It must be pretty smoky by now.”

“No, I don’t mean your hair,” said Fisher, coming awake another notch. “I meant breakfast. It smells like sausage.”

“Guess again,” she said, opening her eyes for the first time. “I haven’t even built the fire back up, much less started cooking. But wait … I smell it too. Where’s it coming from?”

They both sat up, tested the air, then moved together for the tent door. Stepping outside, they looked first at the campfire, which had indeed burned itself out, then all around the camp. But there was no sign of life except for their own. “I’m sure I smelled it,” said Fisher. “Somebody’s cooking, and not very far away.”

Moving over to the edge of the ridge on which they had camped, he looked out over the valley. There below them, they spotted a thin column of smoke, rising above the thick blanket of trees. “Look! There’s more smoke over there. And back off to the right!”

“Looks like it’s breakfast time all over the place,” Fisher said. “Let’s go say hello, shall we?”

It took nearly an hour of fighting through bushes, which were turning steadily thicker. The morning sun, which had greeted them in their tents had long since disappeared behind the canopy overhead, making it even more difficult to see where they were stepping. Fisher was leading the way, pushing through a curtain of vines, when it seemed to Sandy that he suddenly and inexplicably became several inches shorter. The mossy ground under his feet had crumbled away, leaving him standing in water which reached just above his boot tops. He stood unmoving then slowly turned to Sandy. “I think we’ve found a river.” Fisher moved ahead a few more feet, then came back. “Yeah,” he said, “it opens up into a shallow stream. You might as well step in too. I think we’ll find the walking easier out here than in all that brush.”

Sandy stepped down, let out an involuntary shriek as the cold water made its way over her boot tops and down around her feet. It was a beautiful sight, they both had to agree. Trees growing along the riverbank met overhead to form an iridescent green ceiling. The water flowed quietly, and except for a few pools, never reached more than knee deep.

Their feet and socks were already wet, so they kept their boots on, preferring the sure footing offered by the thick tread of their soles. Occasionally a brook trout would dart away, or leap into the air farther downstream. “What would you say to broiled fish for supper tonight?” asked Fisher.

“Sounds good, unless of course we could eat while we dried our feet by whoever made that fire this morning.”

“Yeah, that would be great, wouldn’t it? Of course we have no idea what these folks are like, and how they’ll accept us. Judging from Lisa, though, I’d like to think they’ll be friendly.”

“Don’t forget we have some bad news for them. I wonder how they’ll react to hearing about Lisa’s parents?”

“I’ve been thinking about that,” said Fisher. “Why were they running, anyway? And where were the rest of the people? Did they know they had left, and did they come looking for them?”

Suddenly Sandy put a hand on Fisher’s shoulder, bringing him to a stop. “I don’t know, but I think we’ll find the answers pretty soon. Look.”

Fisher looked in the direction Sandy indicated and saw a woman kneeling by the edge of the water. She seemed to be washing a shirt, and was so engrossed in the effort she had not heard them coming. Now they stood less than thirty feet away, near the center of the stream.

Fisher cleared his throat. “Hello there.” She stopped, looked over her shoulder, then back toward the river. Her eyes fell on Fisher and Sandy, then she leapt backwards with a shriek and turned to run away, leaving the shirt to float in the water. Sandy hurried over to retrieve it, then she and Fisher stepped up onto the river bank. The woman was nowhere to be seen, and only a faint trail leading into the woods betrayed her flight.

“So,” said Sandy. “I don’t think that went too well. Shall we follow her, or wait here?”

“I’m thinking we’d do better to wait. If she’s as frightened as she seemed, our following might be misinterpreted as an act of aggression. Let’s get these boots off, dig out some dry socks and see if the cavalry arrives.”

They didn’t have to wait for long. Fisher and Sandy barely had time to change their socks and re-lace their boots before the sound of approaching footsteps reached their ears. A man appeared first, clutching a shovel as he broke through the bushes. Seeing the couple, he stopped short, raised the shovel as if to defend himself, then called back over his shoulder, “Over here!”

Soon he was joined by five more men, all armed with various farming implements. They looked uncertain, almost fearful but at the same time resolute. Fisher decided it was time to try another greeting. “Hello,” he said. “My name is Fisher, and this is my wife, Sandy.”

The first man to appear stepped forward a few paces, still maintaining his grip on the shovel, but perhaps a little less frightened. “Where did you come from? What are you doing here?”

“We’re travelers. We’ve come from the trail on the other side of that mountain.”  The answer seemed to have no meaning to any of the men, so Fisher continued. “We’ve come looking for anyone who knows a five year old girl named Lisa.”

That got a response. The men turned to one another, mumbled to themselves, all the while looking back at Fisher and Sandy with new expressions of fear. Finally another of the six moved to the front. He was dressed roughly in working clothes and carried an ax in his right hand. “What do you know about Lisa? Where is she? And where are Bryan and Charlotte?”

Sandy spoke up. “Are Brian and Charlotte Lisa’s parents?” Their silence answered the question, and Fisher continued.

“I’m sorry to tell you that they are dead. Lisa is okay, and being taken care of. We’ll take you to her, if you like.”

The news struck the men like water on a campfire. As a group, they were instantly transformed into quivering shells of men, speechless and seemingly incapable of rational thought. No one asked how they had died, but seemed to know already. The man with the ax, which had now fallen to the ground, was the first to speak. “I told them … I said it was crazy. They had no right … no right …”

The rest of the men nodded and murmured as if in agreement with some unspoken truth. Then the one who had appeared first turned back to Fisher and Sandy. His voice sounded stronger, and to some degree, more hopeful. “You said Lisa is alive?”

“Yes,” answered Fisher. “We met her on the trail. She told us what she could, and by backtracking we were able to find this place. But there’s no need to worry about her; we left her with a family. They’ve taken her in and are treating her as one of their own.”

There was a collective sigh from the group, then the man with the shovel spoke again. “I’m sorry if we seemed inhospitable. It’s just that, well, we don’t get strangers here. Ever. You’ll come with us now. Have a meal, and tell us what you know. Tomorrow we’ll go and bring Lisa back.”

That seemed to end the discussion, and the group turned to go. Shovel man led the way, followed by the others, then Fisher and Sandy. Only ax man stayed behind, bringing up the rear. “Are we guests or prisoners?” Sandy whispered in Fisher’s ear.

“I’m not real sure, but he did mention a meal. That can’t be all bad, can it?”

15. Parting Ways

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

Fisher and Sandy stood at the edge of the trees, looking back the way they had come. The Rendezvous team had packed up the camp and was beginning to move off down the trail. Friend had already disappeared, followed his wife. April and Lisa walked together, and even from a distance it was obvious that the five year old was in good hands. Ralph brought up the rear, sword in easy reach while he constantly scanned both sides of the trail. Just before he went out of sight, he stopped to look up toward them, raised a hand in farewell, then was gone.

“We’ve done the right thing, haven’t we, Sandy?” Fisher breathed.

“Yes. No doubts. But that doesn’t make me any less afraid.” She gripped his arm until it hurt, then released him to adjust her back pack straps. “Which way now?”

Fisher looked ahead, and recognized the stand of trees where he had found the remains of Lisa’s parents. “Let’s move up that direction,” he said, pointing slightly to the left. “If we can work our way to the top of this valley, maybe we can see where the village might be.”

They climbed for the rest of the day, detouring around rock outcroppings when necessary, but maintaining a steady pace upwards. The valley below faded into a carpet of green, until the trail was no longer distinguishable. As they gained altitude, different varieties of flowers and grasses began to appear. The lush pine trees, so common along the valley floor, were becoming smaller and more twisted, evidence of harsher conditions toward the top of the mountain they were climbing.

Finally they reached a flat space between two higher peaks to the left and right. For the first time, they could see over to the other side, but could make out nothing that seemed manmade. Fisher set his back pack on the ground and said, “We don’t want night to catch us on the side of a steep mountainside. Let’s make camp here, and get an early start in the morning, okay?”

“Sounds like a plan,” agreed Sandy, and took off her own back pack. “I’ll see what I can put together for supper if you’ll make a fire to cook it on.”

While Fisher gathered wood and stacked rocks into a rough fireplace, Sandy unpacked dishes, cook pots and utensils. Looking for a knife to use for chopping vegetables, her eyes fell on Lizzie’s wooden spoon. She lifted it out of the backpack with reverence and sat looking at it for a long time. “Oh Lizzie,” she thought to herself. “How I wish you were here. You always seemed to know just what to say, even when I didn’t ask the right questions.”

She lifted the spoon to her nose and caught the faint aroma of meals gone by. Every spice, every vegetable, every ingredient added by every traveler flooded her senses. Was she really smelling them, or just remembering them? But it really makes no difference, she thought. The memory is there, and that’s what’s important. She closed her eyes and let the memories come. Early mornings by the fire. Evenings as the stars came out. The sound of Lizzie’s humming as she worked around the camp, always ready to listen, always ready to share a story. Sandy began to hum along, a tune she remembered learning from Lizzie. When she had commented on it one evening, Lizzie just laughed and said, “Oh child, that’s a hymn that’s even older than I am!” Then she had begun to sing: “Immortal, invisible, God only wise; in light inaccessible hid from our eyes. Most blessed, most glorious, the Ancient of Days; Almighty, victorious, thy great name we praise.”

Suddenly one word from the hymn leapt out at Sandy: “Immortal’. Lizzie had talked about that late one night as they had watched the fire burn down into glowing coals. “We are, you know,” she had said. “Immortal, I mean.”

“But everyone dies,” Sandy had protested. “When my parents died, I learned that lesson.”

“Of course you did,” Lizzie smiled, laying a hand on Sandy’s arm. “But that’s not what I meant. Being mortal means that our lives could be taken from us, any time, any place. But for the people of the Way, that’s not going to happen. Oh, we’ll die, all right; you can be sure of that. But it will be at a time of God’s own choosing. How does that verse go? Psalms 139, verse 16. “And in Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”

Lizzie had chuckled softly and said, “It’s almost sad, isn’t it, that the poor enemy of this world thinks he’s got the power of life and death over us. He bristles and growls and makes all kinds of threats, but at the end of the day, he can’t make a move toward us unless God permits it.”

The sound of Fisher dropping a load of firewood brought Sandy back to the present. He looked carefully into her face and said, “Looks like you’re off in a world of your own.”

“Not exactly,” she said, placing the wooden spoon carefully onto a nearby rock so she could reach it later. “I was just remembering something Lizzie told me one time. She quoted from a letter written by a young missionary lady by the name of Lottie Moon, who lived in China a long time ago. She wrote, ‘I consider myself immortal until my work on earth is done.’”

Fisher thought about that a moment, then said, “Sounds like a good way to live. But you know what that means, don’t you?”

“What?”

“It means, my dear, that we have to find us some more work to do!”

As the smell of vegetable stew drifted around the camp, Fisher and Sandy lay back and watched the stars, crying out in delight when a meteorite would streak across the sky. They lay in their tent a long time, talking about life, and love, and the joy of having a purpose. Then they slept peacefully, unaware and unconcerned over the surrounding darkness, nor of any threat which lurked nearby. Their dreams were filled with the peaceful assurance that they were in Hands bigger than their own, and that their days had been ordained since before they had even been conceived.

Life was good.

14. Call Confirmed

“For our newcomers: while Tony & I are on the road, please enjoy his book, ‘Leaving the Trail’ as a weekly series in condensed form. Be sure to go back to the beginning to understand the story! If you can’t stand the suspense, simply order a copy from Amazon or write toinfo@martonpublishing.com.”

“Okay, I know you’re little, so I’ll show you again. Watch: you take one lace in this hand, see? Hold it between your thumb and forefinger – that’s this one – then take the other lace with this hand, like that. Good! Now …”

Friend’s daughter, April, had taken right away to the task of helping Lisa settle in. Finding her asleep in the tent when dawn broke, April had given a squeal of delight which woke the whole camp, including Lisa. It wasn’t long before she established her own role as big sister. For her part, Lisa quickly overcame her shyness, drawn to this older girl. Friend and his wife watched from a distance as they finished their coffee. “She’s amazing, isn’t she?” he said.

“Are you talking about Lisa or your daughter?”

“Actually, I was thinking about April; but now that you mention it, they’re both pretty incredible. It’s almost as if they’ve been sisters all their lives.”

Friend’s wife put an arm around him, pulled him closer, and said softly, “Do you think she has family somewhere? Someone who will come looking for her?”

“It sounds like you’re thinking the same thing I am. I don’t know. Let’s take it one day at a time. For now, Lisa needs a friend, and April’s just the girl for the job. Tomorrow, well, I guess we’ll see what happens.

“Speaking of which, we need to get everyone together. Catching Ralph’s eye as he walked passed, he called out, “Ralph, we need to have a meeting. Can you arrange that, please?”

“Sure thing, Friend. I’ll tell them to come to the big open area near the bridge.”

By the time everyone had gathered, Fisher had already approached most of the men, seeking their support for what he and Sandy intended. Friend grimaced at that, hoping that they would be able to present all the facts carefully and objectively. Instead, the meeting had already begun, and sides were forming.

“What’s this all about, Friend?” Aaron called out as he approached. “Are there really people up there?”

“What happened to that little girl’s parents?” called out another. “Were they one of us?”

“When are we going up there?”

“Where are we going?”

“What about all our equipment? We can’t take that with us, can we?”

Friend stood up on a rock so the people could see him, and finally got the crowd under control. “Hold it everyone!” he shouted. “Please keep your comments until we have a chance to hear the whole story. We haven’t decided to do anything yet; not until we know what we should,” he glanced at Fisher, “or should not do.”

“It sounds to me like you’ve decided already,” Fisher interrupted. Then in a louder voice, “Look, there are people up there in the hills: people who don’t know anything about us or why we’re here. Three of them tried to leave, and only Lisa here made it here alive. If we don’t try to help those people, then we’re just as evil as those things that killed her parents.” He looked over the crowd, then added, “Sandy and I are going, with or without you.”

This brought a new uproar among the camp, with some shouting out words of support and promises to help, while others were incensed at Fisher’s arrogance. It was several moments before Friend could restore order and speak again.

“People, please! Let’s not forget who we are. We’re all on this journey, called out by the same God and headed for the same goal. It’s what makes us family. Of course we want everyone to know the joy and purpose we know. Many of you here have friends and loved ones back home, and we pray together for them every day.” Turning to Fisher, he said, “Have you forgotten when we first met? You were going back, giving up the journey, because you didn’t understand what it was all about. Praise God, your eyes were opened, and He’s led you and Sandy into a whole new world.

“But there’s one difference between you and those people up there in the hills. You were on the trail; going the wrong way, granted, but still on the path He had set you on in the first place. Now you’re insisting we leave this trail to go find others. That’s what I’m concerned about.

“Most of you here know what it’s like off the trail. You’ve experienced the hardship, the desolation, and the danger. And there’s another thing: we’re not just another group of travelers who happen to be moving together. We’re the Rendezvous team. Other pilgrims look for us on this trail; they depend on the things we prepare for them. Without Rendezvous, how would they find the things they need to keep moving on? If we leave the trail, even if it’s for a good cause, what happens to Rendezvous?”

Turning back to Fisher, he said, “Fisher, I certainly don’t want to discourage you from what you feel is right. But tell me this: are you convinced that this is God’s call for you and Sandy, and for us? Has the Lord spoken to you directly? Because if He hasn’t, it scares me to think of what you and we may be getting ourselves into.”

“I’ve never been more sure of anything, Friend. And Sandy feels the same way.” He looked in her direction, and she gave a nod of agreement. “This is what we’re here for, and we intend to go.” Fisher looked at the people crowded around. “As for the rest of you? Honestly, I don’t know. You’ve got a good point, Friend: Rendezvous is a calling all by itself. You shouldn’t throw one away to pick up another one, even if they’re both good.”

Stepping closer to Friend, Fisher held out his hand. “I’m sorry if I came across too strong. I guess a part of me is just plain scared. I’ve gone against one of those creatures out there, and it’s not something I’d like to do again, not alone. Somehow it feels better going with an army than just the two of us. But then, I guess if this really is from God, then we’ve got all the army we need, right? We’ll be okay. All of us.”

“He’s right,” Sandy spoke up for the first time. “This is scary for both of us. I guess if I had my choice, I’d stay right here with all of you. You’ve become my family, and it hurts to think that we might be going separate ways. But I have a new family now, and a new responsibility. God has called us both to this job; I’m sure of it. But I can’t say what He’s calling you to do. We’re leaving now, and by God’s grace we’ll be back. All I ask is for your blessing, and for your prayers.”

“You know you have those,” said Friend. “And we’re going to stop now and ask God to lead you where you need to be, and in His time, to bring you back to us.” Raising his voice, he called out, “Gather around, everyone. Let’s pray.”