25. How Can We Lose?

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Darkness still clung to the forest, as Fisher stepped quietly out of the river. He had resisted the temptation to run all the way back to the valley, but instead had moved slowly and silently. By the time the house came into view, the eastern sky had gone from coal black to charcoal grey. Creeping up to the front door, Fisher listened intently for several minutes, then wrenched it open and leapt inside.

Grandfather and Grandmother were tied to their chairs, which were lashed back to back. The room was in disarray, and there was no sign of Sandy. Startled to see Fisher rush into the room, the old couple were at first struck speechless, then both started talking at once.

He stopped them with a wave of his hand. “One at a time: tell me what happened. Where’s Sandy?”

“They came and took her away just before you got here.”

“Who came?”

“The men who’d been left behind to watch us. They said something about news, and that they had to act quickly.”

“Where did they take her?”

“I think they were going first to the meeting house,” said Grandmother. “It’s a short walk from here, past the storage shed at the end of the corn field. Oh .. please hurry Fisher!”

In the next instant, Fisher was out the door and gone, racing to catch up with the men who had taken Sandy. He was no longer concerned about silence, but pushed his way through the undergrowth without pausing to stop and listen, driven by thoughts of Sandy, and what might be happening to her. “Oh God,” he prayed as he ran. “Please don’t let anything happen to her. Help me …”

His prayer was cut short by a tree limb lying on the ground, which suddenly and unexpectedly rose up off the ground to knee level. Fisher fell headlong, landing on his face. Hands came from all around him, grabbing and holding him so that it was useless to struggle. He looked around to see five or six men surrounding him.

“Kind of hard to miss you coming,” the man said. “We thought at first one of those monster things was after us.”

“If you’ve hurt Sandy, you’ll wish it had been one of those ‘monster things’. He would have shown more mercy.”

“Now, no need to get all upset; not now at least. Your wife is right here with us.” The men parted enough so that he was able to see Sandy, being held firmly by two men. Even in the semi-darkness, he could see that her eyes were opened wide in fear. Undoubtedly she would have been voicing her emotions had there not been a piece of cloth tied across her mouth, gagging off all sound.

“Sandy!” Fisher cried out. “Are you okay?”

She couldn’t say anything, but nodded her head to let him know that she was not hurt. “Listen to me, all of you!” said Fisher. “The others will tell you that I spoke the truth. You don’t have to do this!”

“I don’t see the others,” said one of the men. “Did they decide to not come back with you?”

“They’re coming soon,” Fisher promised. “They’ll tell you everything. Just wait. Please!”

“Well,” said another of the men, “that would be nice if they did come back. But I’m afraid another story has come to us this morning. Maybe you’d like to hear it firsthand.”

With a shove, Fisher was pushed forward and made to walk. He tried to catch up with Sandy, who was being led just ahead of him, but they wouldn’t let him. After awhile, the trees opened up into a large clearing, in the center of which stood a large structure. A crowd of perhaps fifty men and women had gathered, all focused on someone at the center of the group. Then a voice rose above the rest. “It’s true, I’m telling you! And we have to act now, or we’ll all die. Those things will be coming after us if we don’t do something right away.”

At first, Fisher thought he must be mistaken .… but no; it was them all right: the two men who had run away from the group yesterday, and right into the pursuing demons. Their clothes were torn and they had scratches all over their faces, and they were both shouting at the top of their lungs. As they turned in Fisher’s direction, their words were cut short. “No,” they shouted. “It can’t be! You’re dead!”

“We’re very much alive,” Fisher shouted back. “All of us. God rescued us.”

“That’s not possible,” said one of the two, whom Fisher recognized as Seth. “We saw those things. There was an army of them. No one could have escaped. The only reason Samuel and I are still alive is because we were coming back. The beasts let us go because we weren’t trying to escape.”

Samuel joined in, “You must be lying! Those beasts killed everyone; how is it that you alone came back? What deal did you make with them?”

“I make no deals with the Evil Man’s demons,” said Fisher. Our salvation came by the Hand of God, the Creator of everything.”

“But where are the others, if you’re speaking the truth?” one of the men in the crowd ventured.

“They’ll return. Soon. In the meantime, you all must put your faith and trust in God. Have nothing to do with the one you call ‘Ruler’. He rules over nothing, except by lies and deceit.”

“No!” Seth shouted. “You can’t talk about the Ruler that way. What he demands are small things, compared with all the good that he gives his people. We’ve been prevented from giving him what was rightfully his, and now his anger is near. He’s already slaughtered Ken and rest, and may be planning to destroy us today. We have to do something now! Lisa is gone, but we have those two. Maybe they will appease the Ruler.”

The crowd still seemed uncertain. Some were talking among themselves, others were shouting at Seth and Samuel; whether they were words of agreement or words of denial, Fisher couldn’t tell. It seemed that all order had broken down, and the crowd was moving swiftly to anarchy. Seth yelled again, and finally got the people to listen again.

“Listen up!” he shouted. “Sam and I will take those two up to Bamah. The rest of you stay behind and pray for mercy.” That seemed to prod the crowd into action. Many were still not sure if this was the right course of action or not, but at least it was action. Several turned to Sandy and Fisher and began them pushing them forward. Sandy managed to untie the gag from her mouth before they grabbed her hands and tied them together behind her back.

“Fisher! Oh, I’m so glad to see you again. Are you really okay?”

“Sandy,” Fisher said, as they were pushed farther toward the front of the crowd. “Have you noticed that now you and I both are tied up and being led to a place where they perform human sacrifices? Define ‘okay’ for me.”

“Hey,” she said with a smile. “While you’ve been out tramping though the woods, I’ve had nothing to do but pray all night. How can we lose?”

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