Awake, p.14

Awake, page 14

 

Awake


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  "So you come in here to do what?"

  "This is where we hold meetings and celebrations if the weather isn't nice. This is where we give thanks for you on your birthday. My beautiful daughter. Our saviour."

  "Saviour? Who's threatening you? As long as you're not off sacrificing people no one's gonna care that you're here."

  "If they hadn't taken you, I would have raised you and you wouldn't be so disrespectful."

  "If they hadn't taken me, I'd be dead."

  "You would be at peace, waiting for us to join you. We have the chance to live another life; this is not the only one we can have, Scarlett."

  She believed that totally. She stared straight into my eyes and said it with so much conviction I understood why so many people were sucked in.

  "How can you be so sure?" I whispered, purposefully widening my eyes.

  The corner of her mouth twitched. She thought that was the first crack: that my mind was beginning to open. Good.

  "Faith, my darling. I would not risk my daughter for something I was not completely sure of."

  There it was. My appeal-to-the-mother-in-her plan vanished with her words. Not that I held up much hope for it.

  I stood in their pretty barn and knew that my only option was running.

  "But what if you're wrong?"

  I felt the tingle of tears and blinked rapidly. She wasn't going to see me cry. I wouldn't crumble in front of them.

  "I am not. That I can promise you. Now, let me show you the outdoor communal eating area before dinner is served."

  "Will you tell me more about the rituals?"

  "Of course. I can tell you some," she replied, smiling. Some.

  I couldn't work her out. One minute she was cautious of me, suspicious even, and the next she was grinning like I'd just converted to her church of crazy.

  "So?" I pressed, not totally sure if I even wanted to know.

  "Most involve us calling upon nature, chanting if you will. The first one is a cleansing and the call will be for nature to accept you and accept us. Ritual two," she started, closing the doors behind us, "links us to you. We have to become one entity to follow you into eternity."

  I gritted my teeth. "And how long will I be in eternity alone until you all follow? You killing yourselves after or waiting out your cosy, little lives here until you die old, fat and happy?"

  "It is not what you think, Scarlett; you will be happy. You will be at peace."

  "So you are living out your lives here. Lovely. And I was perfectly peaceful back home."

  "You will understand if you allow yourself to open your mind to us."

  "Perhaps you'll understand if you open your mind to what's really going on," I said. "What're the other rituals?"

  "They are much alike. There is a binding that will then bind us as a whole."

  "I thought I'd already be linked to you all with that first one?"

  "That is slightly different. We need a piece of you, so we are physically linked, each one of us to you, and then we need to be spiritually bound as a community."

  That made absolutely no sense. But then what did here?

  "Right. Lots of chanting, cleansing and binding."

  She smiled, and it looked a lot like mine. She may look like my mum, but she certainly wasn't. "Ritual one that will take place tomorrow will be in the lake. But don't worry, the water is clean."

  She was murdering me in seven days time but thought I'd worry about a little dirty water.

  I was speechless for a second before replying a sarcastic, "Great."

  "You will be dressed in a white gown and stand in the middle of the lake. It is not too deep, perhaps waist height on you. Donald and I will bless you and then we will leave. For ten minutes, we will stand near the lake and say a few words."

  "Where will I be?"

  "In the water still. To be cleansed you need to be alone, we don't want to contaminate the blessed area by staying. You are the key to everything, Scarlett. We don't want to get in the way of your light."

  Then let me go.

  "What time are you doing this cleansing?"

  "Tomorrow at noon. The water should have warmed up a little."

  I found myself almost thanking her, but fortunately I caught myself. I had nothing to thank her for. I turned away, not being able to look at her anymore.

  Scarlett

  THE MORE I knew about them, the more terrified I became. There wasn't going to be any getting through to them. They genuinely believe all the crap about my 'crossing over' and 'opening the door' for all of our eternal life. In-bloody-sane.

  Today marked day one of the ritual and my second full day at the commune. It was too soon for me to jump in the water and cry with happiness because I was The Light, but I also didn't want to put up too much fight.

  I was told to wear one of my white gowns; they hung to the left of the wardrobe. Not giving a crap what I wore, I ripped the first white one off the hanger and threw it on. Tonight was the first 'ritual'. We were going to be joined or some rubbish like that. We weren't going to be joined; I was just going to be terrified while they did whatever they felt they had to. Then I'd die.

  "Are you ready?" Bethan asked.

  The last time I spoke to her she was offering me cake in her kitchen. I straightened my back and stared at the traitorous bitch. How could she have had me over at her house so many times knowing what was going to happen?

  "Yes," I replied sharply.

  "Don't look afraid, Scarlett, this is just the beginning."

  Yeah, that was what I was afraid of.

  "Can't wait," I said sarcastically.

  Smiling, she reached up and placed a headband made from daisies on my head. I almost asked the significance of it, but then I realised I didn't care.

  Fiona and Donald walked me out of their house and towards the lake. The rest of them followed. I didn't falter one step as we walked past the houses and stopped in front of the water.

  "The Light has returned," Donald said. "She and she alone will lead us into eternal peace and harmony. We will become at one with nature. We accept The Light as our salvation. Cleanse her and let her lead."

  Fiona took my arm and walked me into the water. My bare toes slipped beneath the cool surface, and I wanted to bolt. Donald's words were insane. This was all insane. Fiona took another step forwards and extended her arm, making me go it alone the rest of the way.

  Looking back over my shoulder and purposefully avoiding Noah's eyes, I took a step closer to the centre. The water stung for a second before I became accustomed to the temperature. Fiona was right about one thing; it wasn't too cold.

  I shook with fear as I reached the middle, flattening the dress to my side, so it didn't puff up and float to the surface. Turning around, I saw them all standing much further back, watching me. They were in one single row and although I couldn't hear them I knew they were speaking. Their mouths moved in perfect synchrony.

  Leaves rustled in the light wind, making it even harder to hear. I managed to lip read The Light a few times. The dress, now plastered to my legs, felt like it weighed a ton. I might as well be wearing an anchor.

  I could run now. They were far enough away that I could get a head start, but it would probably just be a few seconds. And I had no idea where I would go.

  Gulping, I closed my eyes as I couldn't hold in the fear and uncertainty anymore. I cried in the middle of the lake while thirty-nine people watched.

  I HOPED RITUAL day two was going to be better. Yesterday was horrendous. Ten minutes after I was sent into the water, I was taken out, carried back to Fiona and Donald's and put in a bath. I tried to be strong, but I was exhausted in every sense. I curled up in bed, refusing to talk to anyone or eat anything and cried until I fell asleep.

  That was the one weak moment I'd allowed myself, and I put it down to the shock of it all actually happening. From now on I would hide my feelings. I would be strong. Whatever they had in store for me over the next few days, I would be ready, and I wou
ld deal with it.

  All forty of us sat around the communal outdoors dining table eating dinner. I knew the second ritual was coming this evening, but I didn't know exactly when and that had me on edge. I didn't want to ask because then I'd be able to count down the minutes and stress.

  At the end of the table was Noah. I could feel his gaze burning a hole in the side of my head. Hell would freeze over before I acknowledged him.

  I picked at, annoyingly, one of the most delicious homemade bread rolls I had ever eaten. We had vegetable soup, bread and salad for dinner. I was starving but I knew something was happening to me again soon, and that made my stomach churn too much to accept food. It looked like I was missing another meal.

  If I weren't careful, I wouldn't have enough energy to bloody escape.

  "Are we all ready?" Donald asked once Judith and her sister, Mary-Elizabeth, had cleared the table.

  Everyone stood and walked off without answering. Noah too. He was ready. I wasn't but then I didn't get a choice.

  Where were they going? I craned my neck to try and see, but they disappeared around the houses, lost to the night. My eyes darted towards the people that gave me life. What was going on?

  "It is time," Fiona said, after five minutes of nail biting silence.

  Like with the last ritual, they led me to what felt like my death already. I hated having no idea what they were going to do to me, almost as much as I would hate knowing what was coming. This time we went to their community hall. I bit my lip, heart hammering. It was eerily quiet tonight, and the sky was a moody grey. I walked slower, placing my gladiator sandal-clad feet hard on the grass as if I could make them stick.

  As we approached the barn, I started to feel cold and wanted to bolt in the opposite direction. Whatever was waiting for me in there, I knew I didn't want it. Every step I made took every ounce of courage I had.

  "Do not be afraid, Scarlett," Fiona said.

  I wanted to ask her why I shouldn't be afraid. I pursed my lips and stared ahead at the closed double doors. It didn't really matter what was going on, they could have me cuddle a puppy for an hour, and I'd still be scared.

  "Okay," Donald said, stopping to grab a handle. "I can't tell you how elated I am that we have been reunited, Scarlett." He already had.

  He opened one of the doors, and I stopped breathing altogether. Everyone was in the hall, dressed only in white, standing in a circle.

  Candles were alight everywhere. They'd done all that in five minutes? I closed my eyes as my mind forced a few missing puzzle pieces together. I remembered this before, a few times it'd happened.

  My head throbbed. I saw a sea of white, smiles on everyone's face, and blood. Why blood? Shit, why blood? My mind felt like it was cracking, fizzing, bursting. It hurt.

  "Are you okay?" Fiona asked.

  There was no point in telling her that I was remembering before. She wouldn't care anyway. "Fine," I whispered, balling my hands into fists as the throbbing escalated so quickly I felt a sharp pain behind my eyes.

  "Good evening," Donald said. "I know how exciting tonight is, believe me, but Scarlett is still new to this, so I ask again that we try to keep things as calm as possible." He was met with a sea of nods. "Thank you. Scarlett, please step into the circle."

  I looked down and on the floor was a ring of wildflowers and sticks. "Are you bloody kidding?"

  "Please step into the circle," he repeated, completely ignoring how rude I was.

  As I stepped forwards, I caught Noah's eye. No, I hadn't wanted to do that. He didn't deserve anything from me at all.

  He watched me carefully, regret plastered across his face. Seeing him brought his betrayal back, and it stung just as much as it did three days ago. I wanted to stop loving him. Turning away, I looked down at the floor. I couldn't do it. I couldn't be around him. He made me feel claustrophobic like the walls were closing in, ceiling collapsing.

  I hated him.

  "Does Noah have to be in here?" I asked, not bothering to lower my voice. I didn't check if he'd heard, I hoped he did so he knew I hated him as much as I still loved him.

  "He does, yes," Fiona replied. "Please don't be too hard on him, he was only doing what was right for Eternal Light. And for you."

  I turned away from her, too. There was no point in saying anything else. They were all too far into their stupid cult to understand that what Noah had done was wrong and see what they were doing was plain crazy. Not to mention illegal and something they'd be imprisoned for.

  "If we are all ready, we can begin," Donald said.

  I'm not ready, but apparently that doesn't matter.

  Everyone took one step forwards. They were so obedient. He'd done a good job in convincing them he was the leader and could take them - by sacrificing his firstborn child - into eternal life. And no one questioned that. No one.

  Evelyn. My heart ached for a sister I didn't even know. I wondered if she cried when she saw what they'd done to me. Was she as scared as I felt? I wished my parents could have taken her, too.

  "The Light was given to us so that our souls may be reborn, and we would be reunited upon our human death. Through her we will live on. Through her, we will be with loved ones passed. We offer her. She is the one; she is the light," Donald said. He spoke slowly, quietly and with so much conviction I could see why the others believed what he said.

  "She is the one; she is the light," Fiona repeated and then so did the rest of them. Their voices, although were low, carried through the room making it deafening. Or it could just be deafening because they were basically chanting about murdering me.

  I was so scared I wanted to run away and hide somewhere until my parents found me. That wasn't an option. I was all I had. Stay calm. If I could just switch off while they did the rituals, I would be able to hold everything together until I found a way out. I could do that.

  Donald took a knife and my eyes widened. I turned cold and spun around to face the door. Behind me, now in front, was Shaun and Bill. They were obviously there to stop me running. They each grabbed an arm and kept me in place.

  I shook my head. "No! What're you going to do? No, please don't." This wasn't supposed to happen, not yet. Ice travelled through my veins. I backed up as much as I could, putting as much distance between me and Donald as I could. He had a bloody knife! "Don't. Please, please don't." I had to stay calm, but I was panicking.

  "It is okay, Scarlett," Donald said.

  "It's not," I wailed, thrashing in their arms, spilling tears over the floor. My heart beat so fast that I felt lightheaded. "Please don't do this. Noah, help me! Please help me." This couldn't be happening. Did they lie about the other rituals? I started to hyperventilate, completely unable to get enough oxygen. This couldn't be happening.

  I screamed, knees buckling as another memory smashed its way back into my mind. Burning fire. A throbbing in my arm. People yelling. Panic. I could taste the panic. I was crying, but it was different to now, it was a petrified child's cry. I was scared of my parents for the first time. Now I was scared of them again.

  I came to again as a pain sliced through my arm. I screamed so loud it left a ringing in my ears. He'd cut my inner forearm. The gash was about four inches long and deep enough for blood to steadily pour out.

  I watched, frozen, wide-eyed and in horror as the man who half created me held a white goblet under my arm to catch the blood. I think I was in shock. Would I know if I was? I couldn't move, too stunned that he'd cut me, even though I knew what their end plan for me was.

  Before, it was all talk but now he'd physically hurt me, and I knew there would be no convincing him to let me go. My breathing was far too fast, but my rapid chest was the only part of me capable of moving at all right now.

  "Shh," Fiona said in a soothing voice while the rest of the cult chanted in whispers.

  I did what she said but not through choice. I latched onto her calm aura and kept my eyes glued on hers. Surely she couldn't actually let her husband murder her daughter?


  "I...I don't... Why?" I rambled, trying to make sense of something that was senseless.

  "It is alright, Scarlett, but you need to calm down and breathe."

  Breathe. I took as even breaths as I could while I was still crying and a little dazed. They'd opened up the light scar that I was told I got from a bike riding accident when I was three. The scar wasn't from an accident.

  Fiona hugged me awkwardly as Shaun kept hold of the arm that wasn't bleeding. But he didn't have to; I couldn't move anyway. I saw Noah over Fiona's shoulder, watching me with such pain and sadness in his eyes that it made me cry harder.

  How could you?

  Bethan brought forwards a large, deep bowl made from bamboo. Donald poured my blood into it, and I watched threads of blood sink into the water. My eyes flicked back to Noah. He was still watching me, still looked in pain.

  Imagine how I feel then.

  "We will become one. We will share her light," Donald said, prompting the rest to switch their chant.

  Noah's mouth moved in time with the words, but it didn't look like he was making a sound, but that could have just been wishful thinking.

  Taking the bowl from Bethan, Fiona held it to her lips and took a sip. I wanted to throw up and felt very close to losing the little amount I ate at dinner. They were all going to drink my blood. Noah. I looked to him but this time he didn't meet my eye.

  Noah

  I UNLOCKED SCARLETT'S door, so grateful that I was allowed to see her again. I needed to see her, especially after today. Irrationally, I could still taste her blood on my tongue, long after I'd eaten and brushed my teeth.

  Today would go down as the worst day of my life to date. When Donald cut her, I wanted to kill him. When she looked at me, tears streaming down her face, I wanted to kill myself. He'd hurt her and every instinct screamed at me to fight them all and take her away.

  I had never felt an emotion as strong as I did then. Standing there and watching it was the hardest thing I had ever done.

  The veil covering Eternal Light lifted as I sipped her blood. What we were doing was wrong. It was murder.

  I loved Scarlett more than anything else in the world and I wouldn't stand by and let anyone hurt her.

  I had to make it right. Today was also a turning point for me. I realised that Scarlett came first. I was turning my back on Eternal Light. All I could see was waves of long ash hair and dark blue eyes.

 
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