There was a moment of weightlessness, and then — like a bubble bursting— everything hit her at once.
First, there was the pain. She was completely sore all over, but her head was causing her the most agony. Had she been drinking last night?
She sat up and groaned.
No… she hadn’t had any since the Christmas Party, which was weeks ago. And did she forget to turn off the lights last night? She could’ve sworn she had turned them off.
“…Too bright.” She muttered.
Was it worth getting up and turning them off and going back to sleep? Maybe, if it wasn’t too late, she could get a few more hours—
There was a gasp, causing her to look up in alarm. Those weren’t her roommates’ voices…
A woman was staring back at her, her amber eyes wide with surprise. She was tawny in complexion, with dark hair pulled back— albeit a bit disheveled. Her clothes were old-fashioned, like she had just stepped out of a production of A Christmas Carol. It was clear she had just been crying, but that didn’t explain why —
“Charlene!” The woman cried out, flying forward and wrapping the confused Addie in a tight hug.
“H-Hey!” Addie cried out, trying to get away but to no avail.
Why was this lady so strong? And...wait... Why was she so tall?
Panic rose inside Addie as she frantically scanned the room. This was not her bedroom. This room was smaller, with unfinished wood walls and sparse furnishings that, strangely, looked more fit for a child.
"What the...?" she started, then realized that the weird woman wasn't the only person in the room.
There were three men altogether, also dressed in outdated fashion. One man looked like an old-fashioned doctor. He was up there in years too. He was a tall, thin man with a pale complexion and thick-rimmed spectacles. At the moment, he was busying himself with folding a dark sheet and stuffing it into a medicine bag.
Next to him, stood a man that Addie could only compare to a knock-off Pope. Okay-- he wasn't dressed exactly like a priest. Judging by the robes and the stick of incense that was burning away in his hands, he had to be some sort of religious figure. A religious figure with his mouth agape, like he had just seen a ghost.
And the third man--
She blinked, her breathing hitched, as she slowly looked up.
A bear. That was the only way she could describe him. A mountain wasn’t as hairy, and a lion wasn’t as large. He had to be at least seven feet tall, standing head and shoulders taller than anyone— and he was absolutely ripped. His hair was like a loose flame, covering both his face and his head in rich auburn.
They made eye contact. And though the man smiled, Addie couldn't stop the cry that escaped her as she attempted, again, to put as much space between herself and these people as possible.
“Charlene?” the woman let go, allowing Addie some air, but still kept her in arms' reach. “Charlene! Honey, sweetheart-- it’s alright!”
Ha! Easy for her to say. She hadn’t been the one to wake up to a bunch of—
“Wait…“ Addie felt a chill run through her as she looked between the lady and the three men. “Did … Did you just say ‘Charlene’?”
They all nodded.
"...Ah." was all she could manage.
To her credit, she did not scream again. She simply slipped out the woman's grasp, got off the bed, and pressed herself against the nearest wall. Her heart was pounding as she shut her eyes, willing herself to wake up.
This wasn’t happening. This couldn’t be happening! Was this a dream or someone's idea of a joke?! She felt her eyes sting as she started to hyperventilate.
She could hear them coming towards her and quickly held up a hand.
“Nope, back,” she managed to choke out. “All of you — stay back.”
It was an empty warning. There was literally nothing she could do. But, thankfully, when she cracked open her eyes, she saw they were staying put.
This felt too real to be a nightmare. Her heart felt damn-near ready to explode out her chest! Had that stupid novel stolen her last shreds of sanity, or was this really a case of—
“Charlene?” the voice brought her out of her thoughts. It was The Bear, looking very concerned. “Charlie, it’s us.”
“Who?” she demanded. “Who are you people, and where the hell am I?”
This was met with no answer. The priest, who already looked like he wanted to bolt, let out a wail and ran out the room. The doctor openly flinched. The lady winced, then gave an unamused look to the bear man, who just sheepishly shrugged.
The doctor cleared his throat. “Well,” he said at last. “There is a chance-- given the injuries-- she might be suffering from memory loss, but…”
Too much was happening at once. She needed air-- time to think & process... Also, just to get the hell away from these mad people!
This had to be a joke right? Someone had to be pulling an elaborate, sick, prank on her. These people were just actors, and her roommates must’ve set this up, hiding behind a two-way mirror and laughing their butts off while she panicked.
She drew in a deep breath and straightened up. Her friends were just messing with her. Fine-- they were not going to get the satisfaction of seeing her panic.
“Okay,” she said, keeping her voice even as she addressed everyone. “Cool. Great. Amazing job, guys. Well— this has been fun, but I'm sure we've all got places to be. So how ‘bout we just call it a day, you collect your paychecks-- or whatever those two jokers promised you-- and we all go home, okay?”
The entire time, she had been inching her way to the exit. Once she was outside, everything would be fine. Her roommates were going to be on the other side of that door, and everything was going to be okay. She was going to be okay... eventually. Probably. And she was going to find out who thought scaring her, first thing in the morning, was a good idea and kick them right in their —
Someone caught her around her middle, lifting her too high off the ground for comfort. She screamed.
"No! Put me down!”
“M-Miss Charlene!” the doctor cried as he struggled to carry her away from the door. “It would be best if you lay back down!”
Okay, the joke had gone too far. This was now just insanity. This was…This was…
But she knew that wasn’t true. This wasn’t a dream, she hadn’t gone mad, and this wasn’t a prank.This was Mysteries in the Mist... and she was now the protagonist.
What. The. Actual. Hell.
But if she was in the novel, did that mean she’d …
“A mirror…” She said as her stomach flopped and churned. “I need... a mirror.”
There was one next to the desk.
With one sudden, calculated move, she knocked the doctor’s glasses off his face and onto the floor.
“Oh!” The doctor exclaimed.
In his surprise, his grip loosen. Addie got free and dropped to the floor. Good-- one less obstacle in her way. Staggering to her feet, she bounded towards the mirror.
“Y-Young lady!” exclaimed the doctor, trying his best to stay still and not destroy his missing spectacles. “Please— you’re not well!”
But Addie wasn’t listening. She was already fearing the worse.
In stories like these, it was natural for certain... features to change. Hair, eyes, facial structure, body type -- all of those had their pros & cons. But the biggest thing-- the largest, glaring elephant in the room was--
White. They became White. White. Like that was the only option for a female lead to be. The paler, the better. No other skintones need apply -- unless you were "exotic"....
Addie shuddered at the thought.
"Extoic" could technically mean anything, and there were no official pictures of any of the characters, but the Author had described Charlene as "an exotic beauty". Long, flowing hair, big, bright eyes, a cute nose — no clue how a nose could be “cute”— rosy, plump lips, and she was toned & curvy, yet slender and fragile. And every guy who “loved” her had called her “the ideal woman”….
Whatever the hell that was supposed to mean, because honestly-- it all sounded gross!
All this ran through Addie’s mind as she reached the mirror. This whole situation was bad enough, but these new thoughts terrified her. Her breath hiked as she gazed upon herself.
... It took her a moment to process what she was seeing, and as she did, her body grew more, and more, relaxed.
The second thing that caught her eye was— well, her eyes. They were pretty eyes, as far as eyes went, as bright as the ocean and almost as wide. She had to brush away the long, dark brown hair covering her face to get a better look. She had freckles now. It seemed to be as many freckles as stars in the sky.
This child couldn’t have been older than seven or eight years old. A bit on the petite side, in a hand-me-down nightgown too big for her. By all accounts, the little girl staring back at her was adorable.
But that wasn’t what caught Addie’s attention. The biggest thing— the first and foremost thing— was…
“I'm Black,” she breathed, the tension evaporating as she pressed an uneasy hand to the glass. “Oh my god, I'm still me.”
She looked down at her hands, wiggling the short, chubby fingers experimentally. Yes — medium-brown skin greeted her.
She turned. The bear man and the lady were watching with bated breath. They probably thought she was insane. And, maybe, she was— but she was also too relieved to care.
“Look,” She held up her arms to show them, feeling light-headed as the giggle rose in her throat. "I didn't change that much. "
Maybe it wasn't that big of a deal, but it was nice to know.
Was this whole situation strange as all get-out? Hell yeah.
Was she going to be doing a double-take every time she saw herself? Probably, but that was mainly because of her eyes being so drastically different. And she was definitely going to have to find her way back h--
She blinked, too stunned to speak. The water was now dripping everywhere.
"Get out, evil spirit!" cried the priest, looking a bit too pleased with himself as he held the now-empty container.
.... What the royal fu--
"Have you lost yourmind?!" roared The Bear.
"What is wrong with you?!" snapped the doctor. "Did you really just throw Holy Waterat a child?!"
The lady, who had been equally surprised by the priest's sudden action, was now scrambling about to find something -- most likely a towel or something. Addie started to tell her that it wasn't necessary...