The path he had been following ended abruptly. Before him loomed a cliff so high he could scarcely see the top of it. There was no way he could climb, even if he was brave enough to try. There were simply no footholds in the rocky face, not even a tiny ledge that was less than thirty feet off the ground. What was he to do? He was hopelessly lost, and the stress, the fear, the desperation of the past hours and days was threatening to render him powerless against the onslaught of this insidious evil that wanted to reclaim him as its victim. The escape he had seen as a bright light of hope was quickly fading. If only he could hear the voice again . . . . . . . .

How long had he been out here? How far had he run? Twenty miles? Thirty? Fifty? When did he leave? His tormented mind worked hard to hold on to reality. He looked back across the hills, over the tops of the tall pines that made up the forests and beyond them to the desert that stretched for mile after mile. As he took several deep breaths he willed his thoughts into order, reviewing his actions while continuously glancing around, watching like a wild thing, trying to plot what he would do next. The events of the past two days began to come into focus, and he concentrated on the facts, desperately grasping hold of the truth.

He was out here because he had run away. Yes, it felt good to admit that. He let the thought play itself across his mind, knowing that when one ran away it all began with an escape and, hopefully, ended with a freedom. Freedom . . . . . . . . . what would it be like? It had been so long he couldn't remember. Had he ever really been free? He seriously doubted it. He had always gone with the flow, always accepted what he was told, and because of this passivity he had walked into a bondage that had imprisoned him for years. At least now he had done something decisive for a change. For once, he had considered himself and his future and had acted upon that consideration. He had escaped from one who he had loved, trusted, given himself to, and even put his faith in. His life had seemed so peaceful and uneventful. When had it all started? He couldn't single out one event or name one specific time, but little by little he had faced the fact that he was being used. The one who had pledged love and devotion to him and, with great shows of affection, had made so many promises, in reality had deceived him. It hadn't just been some little lies or half- truths; it had been a whole false world that encompassed everything about his life. Ever so slowly he had discovered the deception. It was, oh, so close to the truth that it was hardly detectable. He remembered the day the revelation hit him like the hot blast of a furnace - This one who he was living for and putting his trust in was, in reality, a tormentor. Every day he felt chains tightening around him, and every day he knew with a sickening dread that his existence had become, not the dream that was promised him, but a horrible nightmare.

A tear slid slowly down his cheek as he thought of the wasted days and months and years that he had lived for that one. He knew those times he had considered so safe and peaceful had been built upon lies and deceptions that he had willed himself to believe. But that was over now, and he understood it all perfectly. This was no time to continue this reverie. He was being pursued, followed relentlessly. But why? Weren't there others who would be willing victims? Why was he so important? Why wouldn't the tormentor just let him go without this cat and mouse game? Maybe he did need to think about this after all. The answers could be important, and within them might be the key to his escape, and beyond that escape, freedom. Yes, he needed to let his head clear, to review what had happened. Looking to his far right, he noticed a dark shadow beside a rocky outcropping. Making long strides, he was soon facing an indentation in the cliff, a tiny cave half hidden by the rocks. Crouching down, he pressed through the opening and found himself in a space just large enough to lay his exhausted body down. The relief that came to him was immediate. It seemed like such a very long time since he had been able to rest.

He closed his eyes and forced his body to relax. He wanted to recall it all in detail and bring everything into focus. He let his thoughts drift back to that moment two nights ago when he knew that he could not face another day, not even another hour, of the lying and the pretending. The quandary had lasted only moments. He had known suddenly what he was going to do, and he was going to do it without delay. He had to get away from this tormentor, and he had to get away now. He made no preparations, and the only thing he grabbed up to take with him was a small bottle of water. Then and there, in the dead of night, he ran. He ran without looking back even once - out into the desert where he would not be found. He knew it would be a place were the tormentor would not think to look or even consider, at least for a time. The tormentor would not imagine the possibility that he might still have enough strength, enough hope, to be out there alone. . . . . . . . No, he was not a brave person; in fact, he had always been quite a coward. To be alone was something he had never tried, and his tormentor knew it and had taken advantage of it at every opportunity. But he had misjudged him. That thought alone increased his resolve and gave him more strength. It compelled him to run harder and with more assurance. The cool air and the eerie stillness enveloped him and the night sounds seemed to taunt him with every stride but he ran as if his life depended upon it. But, of course, it did. Suddenly he knew that fact with such reality that it forced him on.

After running for the remaining hours of the night, he had fallen into a fitful sleep in a grove of scrubby trees. He awoke with a start, fearing that his hiding place had been discovered but as his head cleared, he realized that he would not have been missed at this early hour. He had always been a late riser, and the absence of his presence would not yet have been detected. As he looked around at his surroundings, to his amazement and encouragement, he detected a tiny path a few yards to his left. It was obvious by the many rocks and cacti almost obscuring it that it had not been used for a very long time. He followed it as far as his eyes could see and realized that it led out over the wide expanse of desert wasteland and on toward the mountains in the distance. For only a split second he worried that he could never make it, but the alternative propelled him onto his feet and headed him toward the path. He downed the last of his water, buried the bottle in the sand to hide any evidence that he had been there, and started following the path.

When the sun was high overhead, his thirst became so great that he even considered for one brief, insane moment that he would have to go back. But the jeering words of the tormentor sounded in his ears. The constant control and manipulation, the fits of rage intermingled with words of love and trickery and deception flashed across his mind, convincing him that he would never return. If he died out here, he would prefer that death to a life of bondage that was really no life at all. And so, he pressed on.

By mid-afternoon he knew he had to rest for awhile. He could not continue at this pace without rest, and he knew that his body desperately needed water. He sat down beside a large rock where its shadow gave him some relief from the blazing sun. He even imagined that a cool breeze blew across his sweat-soaked body as he lay back against the smoothness of the rock. Almost immediately he drifted into an exhausted sleep only to awaken a few minutes later by a faint murmuring sound. He strained his ears to discern the source of the noise, imagining that it was the soft voices of the tormentor and his servants watching him sleep, waiting to seize him. He glanced around, his heart pounding, ready to defend himself against an attack, but suddenly he knew where the sound came from. About twenty yards to his right he noticed a patch of green mingled with some bright colors. He supposed that he had not seen it before because of his extreme tiredness when he had sat down. Getting up to investigate, he almost shouted aloud when he discovered a little spring feeding a tiny pool of water, around which grew a few desert flowers among a small patch of rough grass. He dropped to his stomach and drank thirstily. Knowing that he could make himself very sick, he forced himself to stop drinking for a few minutes before consuming more of the crystal clear water. Its coolness worked a miraculous restoration in his body, and he thought that he had never tasted water so good in his life. It came to him that he had been so unthankful, so unappreciative of all the little pleasures that he took for granted every day. Just to have a refreshing drink of water and to appreciate its cool taste was never a thing he would have thought to consider a blessing. But here in this place, running for his very life, everything took on a new perspective. He only wished he had kept his water bottle so he could have filled it with this delicious liquid. He considered staying at the little oasis for the rest of the day but dismissed the idea as quickly as it had come. He feared the tormentor would know of this place and suspect that he was hiding here. No, he must go on, and he must go now.

Suddenly, he wondered if he should abandon the path, concerned that the little desert trail would lead that one he feared directly to him. He was at a loss to know what to do, realizing that thoughts of the tormentor had always unnerved him and put his mind into confusion. Love and devotion had kept it in check, but the nervy confusion was always there. The old fear now began to distort his ability to reason. The familiar helplessness began to paralyze him. What was he thinking? Did he really think he could escape from this tormentor? The tormentor knew everything about him and never failed to use that knowledge to his own advantage. At times he had believed that the tormentor could even read his very thoughts. Was that the case right now? Did the tormentor know where he was? Was he watching him sitting here by this little pool, just waiting for the opportune time to capture him and drag him back with him, laughing at his muddled thoughts and dominating fears? His body began to tremble. Why had he thought he could really get away? How could he hope to escape from one so much stronger than he? so much wiser? one who was so insidiously evil?

As despair began to wash over him in waves and sorrow filled his heart, he heard a voice speak plainly the words, "Follow the path." He jumped up to run, thinking the tormentor had indeed followed him, found him, and was now taunting him with a hopeless command. But then it came again, "Follow the path." The voice was one of gentleness and compassion, certainly not the taunting voice of the tormentor. A spark of hope rushed through his weary mind and filled him with a power that he had never felt before in his life. He knew instinctively that he could trust this voice. In his heart of hearts he knew that he would be safe if he obeyed what the voice was telling him. Dropping down on his stomach once more, he took a few more long drinks of the refreshing water that now seemed to energize and invigorate him. Getting up, he began following the little path that was so obscure at times it was almost invisible.

He walked on and on across the desert and into a forest. The sun had sunk low behind him, and upon entering the forest he was immediately shrouded in a semi-darkness. He picked his way through some brushy undergrowth, climbing over fallen logs and pushing through some closely growing cedar trees. He forced himself to continue until the exhaustion of his body was so great that he had to stop. He ignored the gnawing hunger that threatened to overtake him and marveled that he wasn't more thirsty than he was. Thinking back to the little spring an immediate refreshment - an ethereal strength - coursed through the very fiber of his being. The tremendous exhaustion that had taken hold of every muscle and every bone of his body kept him from considering the strangeness of it. A peace enveloped him as he crawled into a clump of small bushes and lay down under their covering. His last thought was a hope that the seclusion of his little bed would keep him hidden if anyone should be searching for him. The forest became as black as midnight as the last rays of the sun dropped below the western horizon, and he slept dreamlessly, deeply, his body being rejuvenated in the hours of the night.

In the pre-dawn of the morning before the first rays of sunlight penetrated the dense canopy of the forest, he was awakened by some unnamed sound. He came fully awake, straining his ears to hear the slightest noise that would alert him of danger. He knew beyond a doubt that what had awakened him had not been a dream or a product of his imagination. Not a sound could be heard there in the darkness. The knowledge of this was what bothered him. The usual forest sounds had ceased. There were no noises of birds or animals or insects, just an unearthly silence. Everything was waiting . . . . .waiting . . . . waiting. He was certain that what had awakened him was real, and he was just as certain that he was not alone in this place. The hair on the back of his neck stood up as he allowed that truth to permeate his mind. The tormentor had found him. He needed no evidence of this fact; he simply perceived it. He wondered if he was even now reading his thoughts, if he could sense the fear that was possessing him. Yes, he had to admit it. He had always believed the tormentor could read his mind. Hadn't he always anticipated his thoughts and actions? And now, somehow, his hiding place had been exposed. The stillness surrounded him, held him close. Then he heard it, almost imperceptible yet it was there. A few yards from the bushes that concealed him, the soft rustle of grass told him that his pursuer was stealthily approaching. He had not moved even a fraction of an inch, and his muscles were tensed into painful knots. A terror had seized him, had taken hold of his senses, had totally engulfed him. Suddenly, he realized he had been unconsciously holding his breath and quickly buried his face in the crook of his arm so he could inhale without making gasping sounds. Just as he lifted his head he heard it - the soft whisper of his name. Panic seized him as he heard a footstep close to the bushes where he lay hidden. The whisper came again, this time with a declaration of love and a promise of some newly-devised bribe to coax him into submission. There followed a silence so thick he could almost feel it. The minutes that passed seemed to him like hours; then, suddenly the silence was broken by a low, familiar chuckle. As he remained silent, the taunts began, then the accusations, the demanding words, the all too familiar threats. His stomach churned violently, and he thought he would surely be sick. He began to face the inevitable fact that at any moment the tormentor would be upon him, forcing him to return, taking him back to an existence of bondage.

All of a sudden a desperate longing swept over him to hear the voice again - that compassionate voice that had given him directions and hope yesterday. As soon as this thought was fully formed in his mind something crashed to the ground with such force that the place where he was laying shook beneath him. A shriek of pain split the air followed by sudden thrashing sounds and the noise of snapping twigs. Someone was running away, crashing through the dense undergrowth of the forest. Instinctively, he knew who it was. But how? It could not be possible. No one overpowered the tormentor. Nothing drove him away. Laying very still and silent for a few moments, he wondered if this was just one more of his clever tricks. Then, he heard it. The same kind voice that had spoken to him yesterday was speaking now, "Rise. Follow the path." A sob of relief escaped his throat, and when he lay there hesitantly the voice repeated, "Rise. Follow the path."

How he crawled from his hiding place and picked himself through the dense undergrowth he could not remember, but he found the path at the forest's edge. Still tiny, still half-hidden, it beckoned to him like a golden light. As he followed it across a grassy meadow he began to sense within his being a promise of freedom that he knew was not his imagination. He knew he was being rescued. He understood that he was being "called out." He began to run faster as wave after wave of joy flowed over him like the freshness of a mountain stream. An energy took hold of him, lifting him up, carrying him away from the bondage of evil and manipulation and deception. He did not know where this path was leading, but the joy and peace that surrounded him gave him the assurance that wherever it led he would indeed be free.

He alternately walked and ran hour after hour, never pausing even once to rest. As the path led him into some low foothills, his progress slowed considerably but still he continued on. When the sun was directly overhead, weariness combined with thirst and hunger to dominate his thinking. The heat was becoming oppressive as the sun's rays beat mercilessly upon his head. He knew that he would have to stop to rest soon. Where he would find water or food he did not try to contemplate. To die out here of hunger or thirst was a far better fate than to be apprehended by the tormentor. To fall into his hands, to be drug back into that prison. . . . No, he would not even consider the possibility. The little path wound in and out between the hills, sometimes leading over the tops where he could see a mountain range in the distance. He forced himself to walk on in spite of his weary body, the gnawing hunger, and the parched dryness of his mouth and throat. After another hour passed, he rounded a hill covered with leafy vines and to his amazement he discovered a stream flowing alongside the path for a few yards before it wound away through the hills to the south. Full of joy and thanksgiving, he dropped to his knees upon the low bank and began scooping up handfuls of the icy water, drinking thirstily, then splashing it over his face again and again until he felt cool and refreshed. Sitting up, he peeled off his shoes and socks to dangle his tired, aching feet into the tingly coolness. As he sat gazing around him peacefully he noticed that the vines covering the hillside were loaded with huge dark berries. Wondering if they could be poisonous, he walked over to some vines to inspect them. Picking a few, he gingerly tasted a tiny bite of a particularly large berry. He had never in his life tasted anything so sweet and delicious. Thinking of the kind voice that had instructed him to follow the path and how it had led him to this place, he felt a peaceful confidence that the berries were good, and even healthy for him to eat. As he ate his fill he began to experience the same exhilaration that had energized and encouraged him that morning. Somehow he was going to be safe. Somehow he was going to escape the tormentor once and for all.

At the thought of his relentless pursuer, anxiety began to creep into his mind. Had he followed him here? Was he close by at that moment? He knew that he would not give up easily, that he would be outraged at losing his prisoner. Yes, that is what he had been. He might as well be honest. He had never been more than a prisoner. Hastily, he sat down on the bank of the little stream, pulling on his socks and quickly shoving his feet into his shoes and tying the laces. As he bent to take a last drink of the cool water he wondered how long he had been here and why he had allowed himself to waste so much time. Jumping up, he continued along the path breaking into a run. Why was he feeling so panicky? What had so suddenly robbed him of confidence? Where had his hope and joy gone? He had no answers to these questions arising within him, and the same old fears began to creep over him, taunting him, possessing him.

He ran until he began to feel nauseated, realizing that he shouldn't be exerting himself like this so soon after eating and drinking so much. What was he doing? What nameless terror had taken hold of him? Surely this was only his imagination. He tried to tell himself to stop, to believe that there was absolutely no cause for alarm, but deep in his heart of hearts he knew that this was no case of an overactive imagination. Although there was no explanation, no concrete proof, he knew that he was being followed again. He was certain that the tormentor was back and that he was quickly closing the distance between them. He could not rationally prove it, but he knew.

As he ran, despair threatened every one of his senses. As his mind began to give way to a crippling fear, his body was affected. He slipped on loose rocks, falling several times as his balance was thrown off. Where could he hide? He scanned the surroundings for some sign of shelter as he stumbled on. He could see nothing but hills that were becoming steeper and more rugged as he approached the mountains. Finally, he was forced to go slower, to pick his way over piles of rocks and fallen boulders. He stopped momentarily, his breath coming in great rasping gasps. A violent trembling shook him from head to foot, and he seemed unable to move. He knew that the tormentor was close, that he was even now approaching him. Possibly he was watching him that very moment. He glanced furtively around at the rocks and hills and the mountains towering above him. He caught a brief, swift motion as he stared up a steep hill to his left. As he wondered if he had really seen something, several huge boulders came crashing down the hillside toward him. He forced himself to move, to break the kind of paralytic spell that he had been under. He leaped out of the way a split second before the rocks landed on the path at the very spot where he had been standing. Without stopping to look up to the place where the rocks had come from, he ran. like a wild animal. His only thought was to escape as swiftly as he could. The path straightened out for a few yards, then wound in and out through little canyons and across rocky hills. He ran until his lungs felt as if they would burst from the sure effort that he was exerting. How strange that he did not hear the pounding of footsteps on the path behind him. Surely the tormentor would pursue him more than ever since his attempts had been thwarted twice. Where was he? He did not stop to analyze this nor did he slow his pace. But soon the thought began to present itself to his mind that he was really running into a trap. Maybe the tormentor was watching him from some high hill, waiting for him to wear himself out or to fall. Unable to help himself, he looked up into the rocky hills above his head, and in that moment he stumbled and fell, crashing to the ground painfully. All was silent around him until a peel of laughter began to echo back and forth upon the mountain walls. It grew higher and louder in pitch, and he covered his ears to blot out the maniacal sounds. Where was his hope now? Where was the promise of freedom that had given him such encouragement? His own mind ridiculed him for believing such things. This was reality. This was his fate. This was the stark and horrible truth. All else surely must be his own dream castles. But what about the voice - so calm and comforting, so different from the noise that was threatening and taunting him here? The voice had been real. Hadn't it given him the instruction about the path? Or was the voice a clever manipulation of the tormentor, a deception far greater than anything he had ever devised before? At this sobering thought his whole being went weak. Could it all be a lie?

Just as he was ready to give in to the horrible despair threatening him, he heard it clearly. In spite of the echoing laughter, he heard the voice. It's clear beautiful tones speaking right beside him once again, "Rise. Follow the path." Chills of ecstasy flowed over his body as he quickly picked himself up to obey. As he began to walk along the path, strength flowed powerfully into his being. The laughter died away into silence, and from somewhere upon the mountain heights he heard the song of a bird. No longer contemplating whether it could be his imagination, he walked and ran along the path. As he went, the fear ebbed away from him and was replaced with a peaceful calm. Without being able to explain it, he knew that the evil had been thwarted. The tormentor had been somehow turned back. His schemes had been foiled once again.

He continued climbing and picking his way through the foothills that led to the mountains. Carefully he followed the path, not knowing where it was taking him but having the confidence once again to know it was leading him to safety and freedom. As the sun was dropping low on the horizon behind him in a blaze of bright orange, the path ended at the foot of the cliff. There was no sign of it branching off another way. It simply ended. Now, here he lay in the tiny cave reviewing, retracing the steps he had made over the last forty-eight hours. What should he do now? There was no path to follow, no place left to go. Maybe this really was a cleverly devised trap of the tormentor. Maybe. . . . . . . . No, he would not allow his mind to go there. The voice, the path, the hope, the rescues had all been very real. Surely he would be shown what he must do. Surely he hadn't been guided all this way for nothing. His aching body and tired mind succumbed to the cool stillness of the cave and sleep overtook him, restoring and invigorating.

How many hours passed he could not tell, but suddenly he was very much awake. The inky blackness still enveloped him, telling him that it was the middle of the night. Stretching slowly, he realized that he was totally rested - more rested than he ever remembered feeling before. There was not even an inkling of fear upon him, only a peace, a rest, a calm. He marveled at it all, and was wondering how he could feel so refreshed after sleeping on the hard rock floor of this little cave. He was still considering it when he heard the voice, "Rise. Follow the path." He had to smile as he listened to those kind tones again. There in that cave he knew the truth that he had never even considered. Fear had kept it hidden from him. This was the Rescuer. He had heard stories about him but the tormentor had always ridiculed him when he mentioned them, telling him that the Rescuer was only a figment of peoples' imaginations. But now he knew the tormentor for the liar he was. The Rescuer was real. He was more powerful than the tormentor, and he had saved him from the tormentor's clutches. This revelation burst upon his mind with great surety. Yes, this was the whole truth. He had been saved by the Rescuer who was even now calling to him. Realizing that the path ended at the foot of the cliff no longer gave him cause for despair. There had to be a way to pass over it, to go through it or around it. He knew within his being that the Rescuer would not, could not, deceive him. He was in this very cave because it had been shown to him. As he had rehearsed these days in his mind, the key to his escape had been revealed. The key was the revelation that the Rescuer had intervened in his life of bondage. His escape would be complete if he obeyed the Rescuer's voice.

With that knowledge he crawled out of the cave and stood, breathing in the fresh night air. He retraced his steps to the foot of the cliff where the path had ended. Hearing some indefinable noise he looked up, astonished to see little white lights descending in a strand over the face of the cliff. As he watched, more and more lights appeared over the crest, causing the strand to extend to the ground close to him. His astonishment grew as a man, then a woman, dropped to the ground next to him with small lanterns hanging from their belts. A rope bound the two together, and silently the man took the long end of the rope and began to bind him around the waist. With tenderness the man and woman placed their hands in his, looking up the cliff's face at the string of people who were waiting there. All at once he understood, and as the realization of his rescue penetrated his understanding he began to weep. He wept until great sobs racked his body, and the man and woman put their arms around his shoulders. They waited silently until he regained composure, quietly telling him that they, too, had once been rescued, that they, too, had escaped from the hands of the tormentor and his bondage. The Rescuer had saved them, and now they were here to help others who he had called.

Gently, they urged him forward toward the cliff and the line of those who would help in his complete deliverance. The woman attached the rope that bound them to the next person hanging just above the ground, and they began the slow ascent to the top. His joy could not be contained, and he began to laugh and cry and shout over and over again. The beauty of his voice echoing there over the mountains caused the others tied to him to respond in laughter as well. These same mountains which had echoed the evil laughter of the tormentor hours before now rang beautifully with these voices of victory and joy. As he rose higher and higher over the hills and forest and desert he had passed through, he knew his life of bondage was over. His freedom was sure. The old things had been destroyed. The Rescuer was making everything new.