Read Unmasked Online

Authors: Hope Bolinger

Unmasked

Unmasked

by Hope Bolinger

Dedication

to Maddie Cuckow, for mentoring and teaching me that Christ is all I need

 

PART ONE – FAME

“Fame is a bee.

It has a song—

It has a sting—

Ah, too, it has a wing.”

-Emily Dickson

 

Chapter One – Unleashed

A shudder cascaded down her spine as she slowly peeled her green eyes open.

She scanned the room curiously, but cautiously, like an infant peering at the world for the first time. 

Slowly awakening, slowly, she inhaled the soft air into her oxygen-starved lungs.

Breathing. She instantly grew accustomed to the process.

Inhale… exhale… inhale… exhale …

So many questions buzzed around her mind, as new words began piling into her vocabulary, as well as intake a sharp whiff of air spiraling into her chest.

She began to test each word out, liking some while not sure how to react to others.

As she delicately rotated, she caught her reflection in a mirror against the wall as she admired her chestnut skin radiating her olive eyes. A tentative hand combed through the pin-straight, ash-brown hair. She practiced smiling as her hand reached out to palm the cool glass, entranced with wonder.

Her gaze focused on the simple white t-shirt and dark-wash jeans. They bundled her in a surprising cocoon of warmth.

A shadow entered the room, and she froze, all at once forgetting how to breathe.

Forgetting how to speak.

Startled, she stumbled back and collided with a vase on a marble stand.

It shattered on the floor, echoing its cries throughout the room in a shuddering resonance. The girl quickly hid behind her hands hoping to turn invisible.

The man stepped into the light.

Or rather, he was the light. Eyes blazing with an unquenchable spark and hair glistening like snow.

Tall. Powerful. Wonderful.

Untouchable as a moonbeam… just looking at him was like staring at the sun itself. The ultraviolet rays rippled outlined his figure, quivering like a current of fire.

She shut her eyes forcibly to avoid the burning rays.

Dangerous…dangerous…

“I’m not going to hurt you.”

She withdrew her hands from her face and peered up at him. Bewildered at the kindness of his smile and radiance of his face, she sat stunned as if petrified by a wizard who turned her into a statue.

He offered a hand painted in bronze, and she carefully took it as he drew her to her feet.

“Who are you?” she trembled not sure whether that was the right question to ask.

What she really wondered was:
Who am I?
But her newly found vocabulary deserted her in his presence.

She was truly at a loss for words.

“I am the Author, and you are my creation. I want you to be a part of my story, and I have great plans for you, child. I love you.”

Each word sank into her skin like raindrops on a desert land. She craved more. Everything inside her felt complete and whole.

She glanced sideways at the shattered vase. Embarrassment flooded over her like a waterfall slipping down from the top of her head plummeting to the depths of her stomach.

She stuttered sheepishly, “I – I’m sorry about your –”

The Author waved off the broken glass dismissively.

“Don’t worry. There is nothing broken in this entire world that I can’t turn beautiful.”

She threw another glance at the smashed vase, perplexed as to how he could ever create something wonderful out of something so torn and damaged.

She softly returned his warm smile; her finger traced her lips in order to discover this new expression of happiness. She took a strong liking to the idea of smiling almost immediately.

“Now,”
the Author strode over to a wall. He pressed his hand against it, and a pearl colored door appeared.
“Are you ready for your adventure?”

#

The two passed a beautiful garden, and the minute the girl glanced at it, she all at once forgot how to breathe again. She glided along a bush full of sapphire-tinted berries. She paced closer to it, and discovered that a wave of patience rippled through her body when her fingertips brushed the fruit.

“Did you plant these?” she asked curiously as she took a bite of the berry only to find the taste rather bitter.

“Yes.”

The girl longed to stay in the garden longer to try the other fruits, but the Author beckoned her to another direction.

He led her to a stone-paved road and paused.

“This is where your journey begins, child,"
he explained.
“Remember me, and I will always be with you. Call on me, and I will always come.”

He paused and stretched out his hand in which the girl assumed to be a final handshake of a sort.

However, when he took hold of the girl’s hand new memories of a great world began spilling into her like an unquenchable flood. A bright light collapsed into an ocean of water that sprang up plants that fluttered into birds swooping into the horizon.

From animals to sciences to the unspoken habits of school children her age, she collected enough information on the world around her. For what would usually take a human eighteen years, the girl understood in a span of eighteen seconds.

The Author, without another word, took one last prideful glance as his creation.

Then with the snap of his fingers, he was gone.

The girl inhaled deeply another fresh breath of oxygen, and then she delicately placed her foot on the path.

#

Besides the trees that lined the path, the girl didn’t find any signs of life for miles. She lost her interest about the scenery around her after five minutes of walking.

About forty-five minutes into her journey, a bird’s tune softly vibrated in her ear. She tried to echo its song, but noticed that her replication didn’t sound nearly as beautiful or fragile.

She approached the bird outstretching her hand slowly, but it evaded her grasp as it took to the skies.

The girl sighed enviously, as she massaged her tired feet. She wished that she could fly to her destination; how much longer would it take?

She groaned disappointedly, but before she could take another step further, a shuddering
snap
echoed in the forest. 

A scream pulsated in the air before something slammed against her, knocking the air out of her chest. She nearly blacked out from the impact, and dizzily she struggled to regain her stance back on her feet.

“Sorry! You okay? Usually when I drop from trees people aren’t below me.”

She blinked several times to erase the blur in her vision. Once it disappeared, she saw a girl, who seemed to be her same age. The girl was slightly taller, and looked as if she could be snapped in half with just the flick of a finger.

The young girl’s nearly silver hair had a few golden streaks that radiated sunlight brilliantly. The girl’s hazel eyes reminded her of a bush she found in the Author’s garden where the ancient, brown branches were encircled by a few flakes of green here or there.

“I’m Elm,” the girl outstretched a very bony hand that looked fragile at the touch. The girl observed Elm’s skinny frame, and wondered how a creature so delicate managed to climb up a tree when she could shatter so easily.

The girl echoed Elm’s greeting gesture, not quite sure what to say.

“Don’t you have a name?” Elm asked pressing on for a response during the dead silence.

The girl shrugged, feeling somewhat stupid for not being able to answer such a simple question, “Wasn’t given one…”

“Oh,” she laughed somewhat obnoxiously, “I just chose my own. I spotted another camper a few miles back, who walked a little slow for my taste. He wasn’t much of a talker that one…All he said was two words to me when I asked what was the name of the tree I was about to climb. All he responded was, ‘It’s elm.’ So I decided to make my name that. Come to think of it, he didn’t even give me his name. Which is weird because everyone –”

“Hold on,” the girl interrupted Elm’s rant, somehow knowing that it wouldn’t end any time soon. “Do I even need a name?”

She felt as if this detail could easily be overlooked. Why need to be called by something, when she had an adventure to fulfill?

Judging by the perplexed expression planted on Elm’s face, she didn’t quite understand the question.

“Of course you need a name! What am I supposed to call you by? ‘Hey,
you
?’  Besides how do you ever expect to become a Main Character at campus if you don’t even have a name?”

“What’s ‘campus’? What the heck are you talking about?” the girl exclaimed remembering that Elm had mentioned a camper a few moments ago.

“You mean, no one told you
anything
?”

“Maybe we were late or something,” Noelle said automatically, but the Author didn’t seem to be in that much of a rush now that she thought of it.

After all, he had given her memories about birds and school children, did he forget about campus too?

Elm shrugged and muttered something about camper orientation.

“All right I’ll explain,” she let out a long sigh, accompanied by a conspicuous eye roll, as if she had done this a thousand times.

Maybe she did
the girl thought, somewhat eager to disappear after Elm’s explanation,
this girl really likes to talk a lot.

“We are about to enter a place where they train us to be a part of storybooks. When we get to campus, after orientation, they’ll sort us based on what genre and characterization we fit best. At campus they’ll explain the different roles, but I’m really hoping to get a Main Character. I mean Supporting Characters are all right, but like, sometimes they die. And personally I could never be a Villain, because I would get stuck in a cabin with a bunch of weirdoes and – well, enough about me; we need to assign a name to you,
chica
,” she winked as her arm encircled the girl’s as if they were old friends.

Subtly, the girl slipped her arm out of Elm’s when Elm’s gaze had shifted distractedly upon a tree which she seemed very tempted to climb.

“Do we really need to give me a name?” the girl asked quickening her pace, but much to her dismay, Elm seemed so pleased about this she almost skipped as she caught up to the girl.

“About time, I was going to say that we were going really slow. We were almost traveling at the speed of the one boy I ran into a few miles back. Yeah, he sure didn’t like to talk a lot – anyway, you could get assigned one at campus.”

“A boy?”

“No! A name, but usually campers create their own before they enter. That way others can remember you, thus you’ll grow in popularity. Plus, the campus gives out pretty lame names anyway.”

Before the girl could utter a protest, Elm halted in front of her and stared at her intently as if probing a bug under a microscope. For the first time, Elm had fallen completely silent. The girl didn’t know whether to embrace this moment or not. Somehow the silence seemed unwelcoming.

Moments later she snapped her fingers, “We could call you Evergreen, your eyes are about the same color of that tree. I tried to climb it earlier, but it was way too sticky.”

The girl didn’t have any desire to be named after something sticky.

“I don’t think everyone’s name needs to be tree-themed.”

Elm looked highly disconcerted that the girl didn’t jump at her offer right away, but she concentrated harder.

“I saw a flower, and another camper I ran into told me it was called a Lily. I mean that wasn’t the first time that I heard the name, but it’s kind of pretty,” Elm said with a gleam of hope that the girl would settle on the name.

“Do I have to be named after a plant?” the girl asked exasperatingly.

Suddenly the girl grew very frustrated with herself. Why did she care what her name was anyway? The sooner Elm picked a name, the faster she could get to campus.

The girl secretly decided to choose whatever name Elm appointed for her next, just so that her irritating friend could drop the subject. The girl wanted to start her adventure and didn’t really care about the small details.

“Well, I ran into this one girl who was choosing between two names. I thought the one that she didn’t choose was kind of cool.”

“What was it?”

“Noelle.”

The girl shrugged, secretly admiring the curious beauty of the name, “Sure, why not?”

Elm looked slightly crestfallen by Noelle’s reaction, but relieved that she finally chose a name. She began to pick up the pace once more as if they were running late.

“Now,” Elm clapped her hands together while Noelle struggled to catch up to her, “next order of business. We need to see which genre you would fit into best. There’s Adventure, Romance –”

Noelle tuned Elm out hoping that she could escape her constant babble. She considered slowing down and letting Elm pass her, but she was too anxious about her adventure that she didn’t want to lose time.

The information that Elm uncorked like a bottle of wine, though lush and buzzing at first taste, intoxicated Noelle’s thoughts. It became too much and she couldn’t focus.

While Elm’s voice slowly faded out like incoherent humming, Noelle focused her mind on how the Author looked at her before she departed. He had a certain gleam of pride in his eyes.

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