Awake, p.16

Awake, page 16



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  Don't hurt me. Please don't hurt me.

  He stopped and knelt down winding the vine around the bottom of my ankles. They were tying me up? My breathing came out in thick pants as he wrapped around and around until my ankle was covered.

  With wide eyes, I looked at Fiona. She at least half explained what was going to happen. I knew we were going to a field and there would be chanting but I didn't know about being tied up.

  He stood a few feet away and with a warm smile said, "What are we but part of nature. Like trees breathing new life in spring, we will be born again. Into eternal light, you shall lead us. Wind around our souls and take us with you, my love. The Light, our saviour, my daughter."

  If I could move, I would've run right then. My fists trembled, digging into my legs where I tried to stop people seeing how scared I was. I didn't want to give them the satisfaction, not that I thought they'd get any out of it anyway.

  My eyes flicked to Noah. He looked like the rest of them, calm and happy. He looked like he didn't care about me in the way he'd proclaimed yesterday, but I'd learned the hard way that the guy had the best bloody poker face, so I hoped he was pretending to fit in.

  I was counting on him completely, and I hated that.

  Fiona was the next to move, she picked up her vine and made her way over. She looked at me like she loved me, but she didn't, not in any real way. If she did love me, she wouldn't let this happen. I held myself tighter, my arm now throbbing as it crushed against my side.

  Smiling, she bent her knees and wound the vine around my legs, starting where Donald left off. How long was this going to go on for? "You are the one that will lead us, Scarlett. Your gift grants us eternity."

  You're bloody welcome.

  Biting my lip, I nodded and stopped myself blinking so I could make my eyes tear up. I didn't need them to trust me or think I was all for their cult now Noah was getting me out, but it'd help them relax, and I wanted to catch them off guard when I ran.

  It was thirty-eight against two. We didn't stand much chance, but I was determined to do everything I could to get away. All I wanted was to be back with my family.

  I had a few apologies to make to Mum, Dad and Jeremy.

  I closed my eyes as one by one they tied vines around my body. I hated not being able to move. There was about half a centimetre leeway where I could move and that felt tighter with every second. The vines bound me to the elbow and there was still one person left to go. Noah.

  He stepped forwards, and I held my breath. This was the hardest one. I could push away the panic of being trapped but Noah having a hand in that was awful. When he was right in front of me, far enough from the others that he could show his true emotions, his face fell. His eyes looked haunted, pained. He didn't want to do this. That meant something. Actually, that meant a lot.

  "It's okay," I said under my breath, trying not to move my lips.

  He reached around my back, feeding the vine to his other hand. I didn't take my eyes off him. He worked slowly, eyes tight, jaw clenched, and it didn't bother me as much. As stupid as it was to allow him to be my comfort, he was. We were in this together right now. He was following their orders, but I knew he was with me.

  His breath blew across my neck as he leant around to wrap the vine around me. I closed my eyes and it was almost like we were back in my room, cuddled up on my bed with him kissing my neck and behind my ear.

  "Don't," he said.

  Stepping back, he turned and walked away, leaving the last knot as loose as he could get away with. He hadn't alleviated on his 'don't' but he didn't need to. He knew I was thinking about the way things had been before all this happened, and I knew he wanted it back as much as I did.

  When Noah stood back, I noticed that they'd all closed in, standing in front of me in a crowd rather than a circle. I stood my ground, lifting my chin to appear unaffected.

  Fuck you all.

  They can't kill me. Yet.

  "Let these vines bind her with nature, let her lead us into forever. She is the one; she is the light." Their chant chilled me. It was repeated over and over until I wanted to scream. Even with the crazy chanting they still looked kind, like they would give you their last bloody Rolo.

  I couldn't move at all without hurting my arm more and that made me panic.

  Closing my eyes, I tried to imagine I was somewhere else. I wanted to get out of the vines and be free, but I didn't know how long they were going to keep me tied up. I had to think of something else because I was so close to struggling, and I was trying to get them to think I was coming around.

  I refused to think of my parents or Jeremy because I wouldn't be able to hold it together. Even though I missed them and just wanted to be home, I couldn't cry over my family right now. I looked up at the bright sky and wondered how people like this could exist in such a beautiful place. They had the perfect location; everything was peaceful and pretty but they ruined it.

  Evelyn's pretty face drifted into my head. My sister. I smiled, finally being able to picture her doing something other than running with Jeremy for three seconds. I could still only see her profile but she was standing next to me, holding my hand. I felt love for her even though I didn't remember it.

  I will remember you, Evie.

  I felt someone pull the vine behind me and slowly they were removed. I flexed my hands when they were free, noticing blood begin to seep through the bandage. It came as no surprise that it'd started bleeding again. I didn't care.

  "How do you feel?" Fiona asked as the last vine was removed.

  I couldn't tell her the truth but I couldn't come right out and lie. "It was okay, I suppose. I don't like not being able to move." There, that wasn't too bad but not so positive that she questioned why I was okay with the rituals so suddenly.

  I honestly had no idea if she would suspect anything if I told her right now that I loved her and couldn't wait to be the sacrifice. It wasn't a risk I was willing to take, though.

  "I can imagine that wasn't pleasant. It is done now, and it means we are one step closer."

  I smiled tightly but didn't reply. She could take that however she wanted.

  "Let's head back," Donald said. "We have a communal dinner tonight so let's make it a special one for Scarlett."

  A special dinner with all of the psychos. Daddy really knew what I wanted.

  THE SKY WAS now light orange where the sun had begun to set and it was still warm out. Everyone was outside around the large dug out seating area. Two small pit fires in the middle kept us warm. I was sitting with Donald and Fiona, with Shaun and Bethan beside Fiona.

  Noah was here, too, but I ignored him as much as I could. We needed everyone to believe that he was just with me to get me here and I was still half angry with him. I had to thaw with everyone else the longer I stayed, but I wasn't sure if forgiving Noah would be realistic, so I'd opted for pretending he didn't exist.

  Dinner was large stone baked pizzas with vegetarian toppings. I hated to like anything about this place and these people but they could cook. Living a life the way they do could be amazing if it weren't for the added insanity.

  No one spoke about the fact that they'd tied me up just a few short hours ago, but I did prefer it that way. I couldn't pretend that I didn't hate them if they spoke about one of the most terrifying things I'd been through.

  Noah avoided me just enough but not too much that it looked wrong. He made the effort to speak to me a couple times. I'd overheard him telling his mum that he didn't try too much because he wanted to give me space to realise what Eternal Light were about before we had the inevitable conversation about what he'd done. He was almost too good at lying that it made me question who his allegiance was to - again.

  "Scarlett, would you like pepper and mushroom or spring onion and sweetcorn?" Fiona asked. "Or a little of both."

  "Onion and corn, please. I don't like mushrooms."

  "Really? You used to like it."

  Did I? "Well, I don't now."

Okay, I will be right back."

  Finn planted himself in Fiona's seat and smiled over his shoulder. I couldn't help the less than warm reception I gave him. Tightening my jaw, I made show of looking as far away as I could.

  "Come on, Scarlett, don't be like that."

  I turned back. "Don't be like that? Are you serious right now?"

  "We didn't do any of this to hurt you."

  Sacrificing didn't fall under the category of hurting?

  "Think about that for a second, Finn."

  "Donald and Fiona have explained. Haven't they?"

  My eyes widened. He was questioning with the obvious goal of finding out just how anti-Eternal Light I was. I had been doing so well gradually coming around, and I wouldn't let anything ruin that, especially not Noah's brother. He was the only person who seemed to look deeper than the show I was putting on. I'd barely said anything but I could already feel my shot at freedom slipping and it made me feel like breaking down and crying.

  I just want to go home.

  "They have," I replied, swallowing my emotions. "But that doesn't mean I'm not scared."

  "I suppose that is understandable. You've not been here long, by the time of the seventh ritual, you will be sure. All you need to do is keep an open mind and let the truth in."

  Wow, they all sounded the same. That could've been Finn, Donald, Shaun or any one of them speaking. There was no difference. You could tell they were singing from the same, la-la-crazy song sheet.

  "Right," I replied.

  "Are you sure?" His eyes were too questioning, too searching.

  "Finn, a couple of weeks ago I didn't even know you all existed. I thought two other people were my parents. Forgive me for feeling a little scared and confused right now. I'm human, I need time."

  He looked down, wincing. "You're right, I'm sorry. That is a lot to deal with. We just want the reunion to be a happy one for us all. Sometimes I overlook what a huge adjustment it is for you. Please remember that you are back with your family now. This is where you belong."

  For the next few days. Until you kill me.

  "I'm trying to."

  "It's all we can ask," he said, getting up as Fiona walked back over with two plates of pizza.

  "Have you had anything to eat yet, Finn?" Fiona asked.

  He shook his head. "Noah's gone for us both."

  I hated how casually everyone spoke about Noah in front of me. There was no consideration for the fact that I was in love with him and he'd betrayed me. But then they didn't view it as a betrayal. He was doing his duty, the way I would have to at the sacrifice.

  Human life didn't mean anything to them.

  Unless it was theirs.


  TODAY MARKED THE final full day Eternal Light had planned for Scarlett. At lunch, she was expected to give element offerings and tomorrow those elements would guide her into the next stage of her eternal life.

  It was only hearing it when you'd turned your back that you really heard it.

  I had an ice cold shower, not wanting to be comfortable. My muscles locked; skin tightened and stung. It hurt, but I welcomed the pain, the distraction. Tomorrow weighed heavily on my mind. The responsibility choked me. I shut off the shower when I shook so violently that I felt ill. My skin had lost its colour - I was pale and looked lifeless. Wrapping the towel around myself I stood still until I'd dried enough to put clothes on.

  I had to pull myself together. If I couldn't, Scarlett wouldn't have a chance, and she was all that mattered to me. I dressed quickly, feeling the sting as warmth seeped into my icy skin. I looked tired all the time since I got home with her. Everything that I'd done haunted me, preventing me from sleeping for too long.

  Even though I was now doing the right thing, I still couldn't forgive myself. I never would.

  "Noah, are you ready?" Finn asked, knocking once on the door with what sounded like his palm.

  "Almost, I'll meet you there."

  Communal lunch, offerings, communal dinner, then an early night before tomorrow. That was what Donald had ordered for all of us today. He didn't usually try to tell us what to do and when, we sort of all did that together, but he was completely running the show now.

  "Alright, don't take too long."

  I wanted to take all the time in the world. My nerves were running wild. Although I never had second thoughts about helping her escape, I did about how we were going to do it. Was there a better way? Could I have snuck out of the commune, got help and got back unnoticed before anyone realised I was missing?

  Stretching my muscles out, I mentally prepared to lie to everyone again and pretend I was as excited as them. In a way, I was glad this day was here. I couldn't do this for much longer. Soon I wouldn't have to pretend anymore. Everyone would know where my loyalties lied and hopefully Scarlett will be safely away.

  As soon as the front door closed behind my family, I went to my bedroom. They would be distracted for a while before anyone came to look for me, so I knew I had at least five minutes to find the bag for tomorrow.

  There would be a few things that we needed, and while I didn't have time to pack everything with everyone milling around outside, I needed the bag under my bed ready for me to pack a few things in while everyone was distracted later.

  The bags were in the store cupboard beside the bathroom. I opened the long door and reached up on the top shelf to get it, looking over my shoulder to make sure no one had come back in. I didn't want to use the one I brought here because that was still on the chair in my room, unpacked, and would look suspicious if it suddenly disappeared.

  I grabbed the lone bag right at the back and headed back to my room. I hated lying and sneaking around but they'd left me with no option.

  "Noah," Finn called.

  Jumping, my heart slammed against my chest, and I looked around. He wasn't near me. Yet. But I was in the middle of the hallway holding a bag. Opening the bathroom door as quietly as I could, I stepped inside and carefully slid the lock in place.

  I stopped breathing and pressed my ear to the door so I could try to hear where he was. His footsteps thudded lightly on the wooden floor, but they were getting louder.

  "Noah, are you in here?"

  I flexed the hand that didn't have the bag in a death grip. "In the bathroom," I called.

  "You alright?"

  "Fine, just needed the toilet. I'll be back out soon."

  "Sure? You want me to wait?"

  No, please just go.

  "I'm alright, thank you. See you outside in a minute."

  "Sure," he replied.

  I forced my ear against the door harder, but it was difficult to hear. I felt sick at the thought of being caught. What would I tell him if I walked out there and he'd decided to wait for me anyway?

  Giving him enough time to leave, I placed the bag on the floor where it would be hidden when I opened the door, flushed the chain and washed my hands.

  My nerves were shot as I unlocked the door and pulled it open. I was met with complete silence. Finn would surely talk to me now if he were here. Poking my head around the corner, I did a quick sweep down the hall. Empty.

  I swiped the bag, dashed to my room and shoved it deep under the bed.

  "Where have you gone now?" Finn asked.

  I froze, crouched on the floor by my bed. He'd been waiting where? Straightening my legs, I turned to face the door a second before he walked through it.


  "I was just contemplating getting a jacket, but I think I'll be too hot."

  "Yes, it's warm out. You ready now?"

  "I am," I replied. "You didn't have to wait."

  He shrugged. "I was worried when you didn't come out."

  I smiled as I left my room, closing the door behind me. "Let's do this," I said.

  "Alright!" Finn didn't hide his excitement. I used to feel the same when we spoke about what was going to happen and what Scarlett was leading us to.

  When we left the house, the last few people we
re making their way to our outdoor dining area. They carried vases of water and bright green leaves.

  Scarlett stood in a long, white dress that made me think about marrying her one day. She was undeniably beautiful, naturally beautiful. She had no make-up on, and nothing had been done to her hair, but she took my breath away.

  "Finally," Zeke said, handing me and Finn a lantern.

  Donald was, as usual, the first to approach Scarlett. He carried soil and a rock in one hand and placed them by her feet. Earth.

  Fiona stepped forwards next, placing a small, freshly dug plant next to Donald's offering. Air.

  Judith was up next, laying down a lantern. The orange flame flickered in the glass. Fire.

  Lastly, Bill laid a vase of liquid by Scarlett. Water.

  Gulping, I held my lantern at arms length the same as everyone else and closed my eyes. I couldn't watch.

  "By the four elements we live. By the four elements, you shall ascend. By the four elements we shall live on, be reborn upon death so that we shall be joined in eternity," Donald said.

  "By the four elements we shall live on," I said in tune with the rest of the community, a piece of me dying because, technically, I was still taking part in this.

  TONIGHT WAS ALSO the last time we'd eat together as a community before Scarlett was supposed to be sacrificed. There was a buzz in the air that was slightly infectious. Everyone was elated that we had finally reached the point we'd been striving for.

  It felt a bit nostalgic to be living something we'd spoken about almost on a daily basis. But I now knew the dangerous truth behind Eternal Light's teachings.

  Under her perfected act, Scarlett looked rightfully terrified, and I had an even harder time tonight pretending that I couldn't wait until tomorrow. Things were about to get very real, and I still wasn't convinced we'd be able to pull it off and get away. It had to work. If we didn't get out, the girl I was in love with was going to die.

  "Are you okay, Noah?" Mum asked, frowning, questioning why I didn't have a big, fat smile on my face.

  "Yes, I'm fine. Just can't believe it's finally here, you know?" Please know.

  She smiled. "I do, I know exactly what you mean. But it is here so please try to enjoy it."

  Damn. "I am, Mum. I'm just taking everything in. This is the night you've been talking about since I was little, you told me to step back and take everything in because it'll go by in a flash. That's what I'm trying to do."

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