The pursuers were no longer too close. I could still hear their cries and the sound of them crashing through the undergrowth. I could no longer hear their loud breathing. Even so, I knew that I could not slow down. Whatever had caused them to fall behind would not hold them back for too long, and soon they would be upon me again. Tired as I was, I had to speed up. I struggled to pick up my pace through the bush, hindered by the saplings and branches of trees swinging and snapping into me and the leaves brushing into my eyes. I was running a dangerous course with my eyes almost closed.
The terrain had been sloping upwards slightly, and even though I was not fully familiar with the land, I gauged that I was moving away from my destination and had to get back to flat land before I could get back home.
I ran though the bush, wincing but refraining with from crying out loud as the branches snapped into my face, and the sharp pebbled surface of the floor of the forest cut through my torn shoes. The ground dipped irregularly and I caught myself from stumbling a number of times, each time catching my breath and muttering a roughly termed prayer for my life. I hoped I was not near any cliff, and even as the thought escaped my mind into the dark moonless night, I tripped, fell, slid, rolled down the sudden steep slope downwards, catching at saplings and low branches of trees, desperately trying to stop my momentum. The thundering rush of blood to my heart drowned out the sound of any pursuers, and suddenly I found myself dangling from the edge of a cliff, a branch of a tree growing at the edge cutting into my palms as I clung on for dear life.
It was with tremendous effort that I caught the cry that rose from my throat, petrified of being heard by the hunters. I clung on to the over hanging branch. power rising from my desperation to live and fear of falling. Each limb trembling, I tried to find a foothold, but could only feel smooth rock. I could not heave myself up for fear of cracking the branch that held me to my life, and being found. I tried to quiet my breathing, softening the rasping by degrees. The crashing of the undergrowth brought news that they had come close, and would be at the cliff in moments. I flattened myself into the cliff as much as I could, clutching onto the branch with increasingly sweaty palms, praying that they did not have lights and would not think to look down the cliff side. I remembered that they had not had any lights before, and counted my blessing.
They were at the cliff top, hollering at each other, I was glad I was in deeper shadow under the tree. I dared not look up in case my movement caused the tree to move, and alerted them. I dared not look down terrified that the dark void reaching far to the bottom would overwhelm me. It shames me to admit it, but I am terrified of heights. I buried my face into the slight growth in the side of the cliff, closed my eyes and mingled desperate prayers with the effort to still my trembling. I had no idea how long I would be able to hang on, but I knew that I would have to, for maybe longer than I could.
After a long time, a very long time, my hunters suddenly stopped the yelling and stomping and milling around at the top of the cliff, and following a loud barked command stomped away through the forest. I listened to the noises fade away until at last the forest returned to its nightly quiet. I did not think it would be a good idea to try and climb back out to the hilltop and I was certain that letting go would precipitate me to a sharp and very painful death. Now seemed a good time as any to turn to prayer.
Tears scalding my cheeks I whispered, “Please God, please save me, please show me that miracle I have been waiting for all my life.” Beyond the breeze seeming to suddenly cool and fan my face lovingly, there was no response. My hear still thumped with fear, and my arms still screamed with intense pain reminding me that to let go meant certain death. I tried again, “ Please God!” but could go no further as I did not have any other words. Everything seemed inadequate. I felt like it was getting light, so I opened my eyes a slit wondering whether it was already turning into day, but it was not. All was still dark, it was just that there was a ball of light a little bigger than a humming bird hovering next to me. I thought I could make out wings flapping furiously as the light steadied itself close to my head.
I heard a soft whisper, “Just let go.”
Huh? That was my miracle? Just let go, and plummet to your death? I was not ready to die! I heard it again.
“Just let go.” Then, even more bizarrely, “You are safe”.
Sure. I am safe in the arms of God. I would just be gathered up. Dead! Nope! I was not letting go.
“You are safe. Let go of the branch”. The ball of light seemed to pulsate around me glowing in itself, but without imparting light to the surroundings. “Just let go.”
I heard my own voice speak in a fierce, low whisper: “NO” through shut teeth.
“Could you loosen the little finger of one hand? Just one little finger? You are safe”. Insistent little firefly!
I wondered whether God really wanted me to die, or was this beautiful, seemingly harmless light straight from the Devil? Even as the thought crossed my mind, I nearly laughed out loudly at my religious conundrum. Alright, one little finger could do no harm. Holding my breath, I let go of one finger. I gritted my teeth, but did not fall.
“You are safe” The little light fluttered around, weaving in and out of my field of vision. My head was still pushed hard into the cliff wall. I would not risk anything by moving my head too much.
“How about the other little finger?” The cheeky little flicker of my imagination seemed to know all the tricks. “You are safe”.
I hesitated. The light grew closer to me. “You are safe”.
Feeling a little braver now, I pried the other little finger off the branch. My state of dangling hopelessness seemed not to have changed. The cool breeze was certainly cooling off my heated brow, and making my shirt less sticky on my back.
“You are safe.” It said again. “You are safe”.
“Who are you?”
“I am your miracle. Go on, try another finger. Just let go”.
Now this was almost too much, but the soft light, cool breeze and drying sweat seemed to have calmed my nerves. I slowly unfurled one index finger. Wow. With seven fingers doing the work of ten, I was still hanging on securely, and the little piece of light had gone into a frenzy of celebration.
“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”. It chanted softly as it danced around me, only slightly more tangible than a will o’ the wisp, though the whirring of the wings remained loud and clear.
Slowly through the night I was coaxed into letting go finger by finger.
“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”.
As I marvelled at the ease with which I could hang on to the branch with a diminishing number of fingers, the little light danced around me.
“You are safe. You are safe. You are safe”.
At last, there I was, hanging on by one hand and three fingers, having let go of the last couple without much prompting from the now dizzily happy little bubble of light.
It floated so close to my eyes, I could not look away.
“You can let go of all three fingers together now. You are safe”. This whisper was urgent in its insistence. A climax seemed to have been reached.
Allowing my head to turn and look straight into the light, I took a deep breath, and so much more easily than I thought would be possible, I let go of the branch that had been holding me to the edge of the cliff. I might have heard some clapping as I slid down the cliff side and suddenly found myself on solid ground. I fell on to my knees, exhausted and triumphant, and slowly straightened up. Far in the East, there was a hint of light, the harbinger of sunrise. I looked up at the cliff. That little bubble of light had been right. I had just come down maybe a foot or two. I had been safe. All along.