So, here's a bit more of Rage, since it's really the only thing I've been writing lately. Enjoy! ;)
I couldn't bring myself to believe that Neal would follow me all the way here, into the forest.
But there he was, walking toward me, and coming to a stop only a few feet away. It was then that I saw, he was carrying his crossbow in one hand, wearing the familiar quiver of arrows on his back.
“Back to your old ways, I see,” I said, since he didn't bother to greet me.
He shrugged. “Looks like it.”
“What do you think you're doing here? You shouldn't be here.”
“Neither should you.”
“What are you talking about? I'm the Sacrifice!” It was the first time I'd said it out loud. I'm the Sacrifice. The words nearly made me cringe, made my blood go as cold as winter.
“You know what I mean. No one should be here,” Neal said. “And that's why I need to put an end to it.”
I finally lowered my knife. “You can't be serious.”
“I'm going with you. I've always said I would kill the Monster, and now is my chance. Our chance.”
“You're not bringing me into this … this plan of yours.”
“You can't go through the forest alone.”
“I have to!” I burst, silencing him. “This is the way things are, Neal. I was chosen as the Sacrifice, and now I have to make this journey by myself.”
“How do we even know the Monster is there?” Neal shot back. “Everyone who's gone into the forest––everyone who's not a Sacrifice, that is––supposedly gets killed by demons. How do we know the Sacrifices are any different? What if they never reach the Monster at all? You used to say these things yourself, Natasha …”
“And what? I don't say those things anymore? I'm not myself?” I said. He was silent. “What right do you have, to tell me who I am?”
Neal sighed, shaking his head. “I've known you a long time, you know. You don't know how much I notice. In fact, you think I'm an idiot.”
“What does that have to do with anything? No matter how observant you are, you don't know anything about me. I'm not the same person I was three years ago.”
“I know,” Neal said, with a quietness that surprised me. “You really went into the forest that night, didn't you? That's what changed you.”
I couldn't see his face clearly in the dark, so I couldn't guess how serious he was being. “You didn't believe me,” was all I could manage to say.
“I don't think I ever said that,” Neal said. “I didn't know whether to believe you or not. But you were … different, after that. And I started to believe it was true.”
“Then why did you stop talking to me?” I demanded. “Why did you keep treating me like you thought I was crazy?”
I saw Neal turn his head away, although I still couldn't read the expression on his face. “I … don't know. It's so complicated. I was still trying to decide why you'd told me, of all the people you could have told.”
“I told Brandon,” I said. I didn't mention telling Mother Dearest; something about saying it felt wrong.
“But not your mother?” said Neal. “Not Michelle? Not anyone?”
“I didn't think you would believe me.”
“But I do.”
I sighed, wondering how much time I could afford to waste. I wondered if the Monster was waiting for me, whether he'd kill me if I didn't come at the expected time. At the thought, an invisible tight fist seemed to clench around my heart.
“Well,” I said, “if you believed me then, then believe this now––I know things about the forest, things I can't explain. Ever since I came out of it alive, I haven't been able to get rid of all these … these strange feelings. The forest does things to us, to our minds. It's dangerous, and it's unpredictable, and it has a certain … balance. And I'm afraid that if that balance is disturbed, it could mean terrible danger for the Village. Whether that's the Monster's doing or not, I don't know.”
“But what you're saying is …”
“We shouldn't break his rules,” I finished Neal's sentence for him. “No one ever has, and we don't know what the consequences are.”
“What if there are no consequences? What if, all along, we've had a chance to defeat him, but we're too afraid to try?”
Even though I wanted to cry, I could feel a bitter smile tugging at the corner of my mouth. “You know, you're the only Villager I've met who would dare to say such things.”
“I could say the same about you,” he admitted.
I swallowed. “But I still believe there's a reason for the Sacrifices, and I'm going to find out what it is.”
“On your own.”
“That's the way it has to be. Trust me, you should stay here. You're more needed in the Village than out here. Someday, your dreams about killing the Monster will seem like … like silly fantasies, to you. You're not thinking this through.”
“But I've been thinking, since the moment you were chosen for the sacrifice, and I …” He trailed off, sighing. “No. All along, I knew you were going to react like this.”
“What? React like––”
“Let me finish. I figured it couldn't hurt to try, but I had a feeling you'd say no. You wouldn't want me to go with you. But as much as I hate to admit it to myself … and I hate saying it now … I also knew, all along, that you're probably better off alone. And I––I don't mean that the way it sounds. I guess what I'm saying is … I trust you, Natasha. I trust to to take care of yourself, to survive.”
“And if I don't?”
“You will. If anyone can defeat the Monster, it's you.”