Chapter One of “Undeniably Underestimated”
This is the first post of a short story or sample of my writing every four weeks. This is the first chapter of the book I have written and currently editing. Feel free to tell me what you think and let me know if you have any critiques.
The funny thing about fire is it never really disappears.
As children, we were told to never play with fire because of the unambiguous danger and, you know, the law-breaking part. When we were told this, we were oblivious to the real reason why. Most people never quite know anyway. No matter how much we could attempt to escape it, the fire wins, and we disintegrate.
I wish someone would have told me that before I took the secret under my wing. I never would have buried it in my body and locked it with a key. The fire is continuously growing, building up its strength to destroy me. I believe I will never flee its wrath.
But again, the funny thing about fire is it never really disappears.
The ashes on the ground cover my back side as I wake up from the nightmare again, a vision that is not far off from reality. The flames, the smoke, and the friendly request of death whispered into my ear torture me. The screaming. Oh, the screaming of torture being terrified by the very strength and effect it can put on people. It’s a scream that would have the devil running for God’s comfort. The intensity is overwhelming, and I always wake in a pool of sweat.
The dead trees frown over me, the gray of the morning settling behind their dark branches. They are scorched as if they dreamt with me. I am trapped in a cage of trees, ground, and infinite sky, taunting me to escape. My world is flat and maddening, an impossibly long story of terror, fear, and betrayal. The past will not stay behind me.
Salty tears fall slowly down my face and stain my flesh as I stand up, brush the dirt from my pants, and look around my camp from last night. My vision is hazy, and I am unstable, the dizzy setting forcing me to close my eyes. I begin to wonder if I will ever feel normal.
My long, brown hair falls in my face, and I swipe it away quickly, ridding myself of my fatal flaw. I am beginning to fall apart, the fire seeming to catch up. It only reminds me of my faults; I am a girl too weak for my predicament.
I am simply growing tired of hiding in the woods.
The bed of leaves scratch at your neck all night. The trees cover you with discomfort, and the reminder of your confinement is painted under your eyelids so that no peace, even in your quietest hour, comes. The peace has forgotten about you, but pain will never be away too long. The pain clambers up on top of you until you have completely lost hope, and the only option left is death.
I still have more options than death, even with the despicable vermin scraping at my knees and ankles, prompting me to give up. However, pain is still no match for me.
Or maybe, it is just no match for the secret.
I bend down to the ground and rifle through my black bag, gentle, free stars gleaming in the dark around it, and I suddenly wish to be one.
Anywhere would be better than here.
The note grazes my fingertips, the sharp corner of folded yellow legal paper daring to slice them open. Only, the sad reality is that my fingernails are sharper than the paper corner as they are bitten down with nerves and certainly have not been a priority in a long time. It is hard to believe I used to be civilized, and now my humanity is being torn from my bone piece by piece.
My hand grips the paper and swiftly pulls it from the bag. I hate the paper. Or, rather, I hate who the paper represents. I unfold it carefully, as if it would suddenly disappear from my hands, and in tiny black-ink letters, the two small words I know are scrawled on the third line down.
That’s the note, and it threatens me daily. The note is my death sentence; can we sentence my death sentence to death?
Another hot, salty tear dribbles from my eye down to the corner of my mouth, and it burns just from the touch.
The fire doesn’t end. It keeps going on and on, forever and ever. No matter how much I beg and wish for it to be put out, extinguishing the causalities and minimizing the amount of grief it causes on the world, it never ends.
I am burning from the inside out, and in some cases, the outside in.
No one is allowed to know the secret, or else I will die. The note beckons me to belieb that the harboring secret has been discovered. Only I’m not dead, yet, and funnily enough, that is the surprising part. We shall see if I remain that way.
The sound of rustling echoes through the camp. Someone is here.
I shove the note back into my bag, my other hand reaching for the weapon. Turning back around to face the noise, I hold the splintering stick with its sharpened end tightly, like my life depends on.
Well, it does.
My brown hair is flying to meet my face as I turn, the reminder of weakness returning to my sight. Despite this, I am ready to kill.
Another rustle. My teeth are bared, and oddly enough, I’m painfully aware of the plaque stuck to my teeth. My nose is crinkled. My hair is still in my face.
The stale air sways by me in the silence, a wave of terror crashing down on me. I know there is someone here. Someone must be here. I cannot be crazy; there is too much to do. The sound carries out towards me, and I stand in the eerie quiet until I can no longer endure any more.
“Who are you?” I yell out to the nameless intruder. My voice is a stranger; I haven’t spoken in many hours.
After a few more shifts in the bushes, a boy reveals himself, and the sight of him makes me lose my breath. My cracked, dry lips gape open. “You don’t even recognize your best friend?”
My legs wobble, my suddenly sharp focus fixed on him, the very impossible person I see before me. “Caspian?” His summer-tanned skin glows around his shining blue eyes and wavy, brown hair. His shirt and pants show he’s been out here for hours with the dirt and whatever else he has plastered to his clothing.
“Hello, Cali.” His smile casts a spell on me like it always used to.
“Caspian!” I run to him, and he pulls me close, giving me a warm and meaningful hug. His comfort washes over me, and I realize how much I’ve missed home. The embrace should never end, but he releases me anyway.
He laughs in delight, “I’m so glad I found you. Everyone’s looking for you. Your dad and mom, your brother and sister, and, well… me.” He begins to blush.
“Okay, Romeo, you know how much I love the mushy-gushy stuff, but how about you tell me what you’re doing here?” I tease him, his eyes glimmering at me, the way they used to before I destroyed everything.
Caspian looks at me as if I’ve gone mad, and he’s probably right. “You’ve been missing for three weeks! Why wouldn’t I be looking for you? You’re my best friend, and I love you, and I never should have left you alone that night—”
“You love me?” I stop him. His body backs down, and he is suddenly on pause, frozen in place with his words that hang in the air like a noose.
“I… um…” He manages to utter out.
I don’t know why I do it, but I don’t give either of us time to figure it out. I smile softly before he can explain, “I love you, too.” Our eyes lock, irrevocably linked because there is no hiding it now.
We are stuck in the void of possibilities, the silence swirling around us in the hot air. The intensity and nerves tingle wildly down my spine, but, unfortunately, I am still unsure about my future and if Caspian will be a part of it. I want to kick myself for saying it because I know it is too risky.
Caspian leans down, and I watch him close his eyes and feel his hands placed on my hips, something that would ordinarily be dreamy. He draws me nearer, his lips full of desire, and I let myself go closer, almost give into the temptation, the irresistible chance to be wanted. I realize how selfish this is—how horribly unconventional—and I am baffled by myself.
Just as we are millimeters apart, I push him away, turning my back towards him. I hear both of our hearts shatter, and I cannot bear to face him now.
I know from his silence that he is thinking, probably frowning at my reaction. When I feel his hand on my shoulder, I turn around to see his sad eyes, and he says, “What’s happened, Cali?” My eyes scatter to find a place to settle them amid the chaos I created. My hand unconsciously entwines with his as he looks down at me. I beg myself to stop the insanity, but I know I can’t. “Why did you leave, Cali?”
I take a moment to come up with an excusable lie, something that will shield us both from the pain. None come to mind, and I tell myself to let it out, but I suddenly become nervous of what might happen because of this decision.
“It’s a secret.” My callused hand is still wound up with his, except I am trembling so much that I can barely hold on to it.
He shakes his head at me, the brown curls gently flowing side to side, “I’m your best friend. How can you not trust me?”
“I do trust you; I just can’t tell you,” I try to explain, but my senses seem to be pulling me back. Danger would come with more information, and by breaking the promise, I would defeat the purpose for having run away in the first place.
“Why can’t you tell me?”
The tears crash down my face again. “I’ll be dead if I tell you. That’s why I left. Someone might know about it. There is someone after me because of it.” I finally look at him, scared out of my mind that he will never want to see me again. I deserve to be alone after everything I have done to him.
Caspian does not even seem stunned by my explanation, but I suppose I am thankful he does not ask questions I cannot answer. He just takes a deep breath and sighs, “Why is the world hiding you from me?”
“It’s not that the world is hiding me from you. I’m hiding from the world.” My eyes flicker between his and the trees around us that could be hiding the realistic parts of the nightmare, “And that’s where I’ll stay… until the secret is safe.”
He nods in understanding. “When will you come home?” There is soft hope in his eyes, but I can already tell it is false. This secret ruins everything, and Caspian must understand that for this to work.
I push a strand of dirty hair behind my ear. “All I can hope for is soon, but maybe never.”
It’s silent for a while, and by the look of his stares, I can tell he is fighting with himself over something, trying to understand what he could do. I can’t expect Caspian to comprehend this madness when I can barely handle it.
“Well, at least you have the lovely company of these dead trees,” Caspian smirks like he is hilarious, looking around, “I’ll bet their bark is worse than their bite.”
I smile meekly at his lame attempt for a joke I would have adored, the ones we used to bond over and laugh at because it was always appropriate. Now that things are different, I’m having a difficult time seeing what was so humorous, “You never know about anybody, trees or humans alike. They could grow out of nowhere, plant themselves right where they oughtn’t be. Their intentions completely hidden, cruelty behind the exterior.” I close my eyes and sigh in frustration.
“I hope you’re not talking about yourself,” he tells me, an unusual seriousness taking over him. His tone surprises me, and I look at him and then at the ground. I gulp at the accusations flooding to his eyes like tears.
“I hope I’m not talking about myself either,” I admit.
“What happened to the sweet, little Cali I used to know?” Caspian whispers to me, his voice on edge with despise for the secret. It’s the same loathing bubbling inside me.
Suddenly defensive, I grimace and say, “The sweet, little Cali you used to know was underestimated. She could do things no one would believe. She could have secrets no one would hear. She was underestimated, by a lot.”
“No denying, if this is Cali.”
“This is Cali,” I announce. “Hi. I’m undeniably underestimated Cali. It’s nice to meet you.” I smile at him. His lips barely curl back. Just like me, my best friend has changed.
He releases my hand, “I have to go.”
Unsure of exactly what I’m trying to do, I press myself into him for an intimate hug in the way I can tell myself feels good, but the underlying truth cannot hide itself forever. I can say it is a perfect scenario, and this will end like a Danielle Steele novel, somehow. However, I know I am avoiding the reality. The truth is that this will never work as long as the secret is around, as long as I cannot make up my mind.
“I love you,” he closes his eyes and whispers. “Please, be safe.”
Giving a curt nod, I stumble away from him. “I love you, too, and I will try.” I’m not sure which promise I’m lying about.
He turns around and disappears into the crumbling trees, hidden behind miles of aspens, and he will find himself in his fake-reality once again, one I would hate to tell him is a lie. This reality we grew up with was a series of lies concocted to shield people from the world filled with secrets. He’s gone, and I must continue on my way, hidden from everything, still seen as the little girl I used to be.
I gather all my supplies and stuff them in my black bag with the gleaming, white stars, wishing I were free.
Do you still want to know the secret? The whole reason I’m on the run?
Check my pulse. Put a mirror under my nose. Feel my heartbeat. I’m still alive. Like I told you before, I’m dead if someone knows. And like I said, I still have more options than death.
I continue forward, ready to find my next camp.