About Death by Chocolate
At seventeen years old, Julie deals with more problems than most teenagers her age. A runaway, she quickly ends up homeless and broke. When an old Gypsy woman offers to read her future in exchange for a meal, the challenge sounds like a dare. The tarot cards reveal a great destiny, and a perilous journey – and a red heart shaped box of chocolates melts reality and fantasy into one never ending nightmare where failure equals death.
Julie wakes up in an unwelcoming world filled with danger. A boy named Evan introduces himself as her guide, but will he really help her when she needs him the most? Demons of a long forgotten past haunt her dreams and seek revenge for something she doesn’t remember. Too many questions receive too little answers.
Will Julie accept the truth to survive?
“Gimme one reason why I should agree with you,” I said, attempting to skid a small rock over the ocean surface. Despite a promising throw, the pebble landed in the water with a faint plop and sunk right down to the bottom. Okay… Something else I wasn’t great at.
Kara sat behind me with her knees to her chin and her arms wrapped around her legs. Out of the corner of my eye, I noticed she was still in her bathing suit – and, also, just how much darker her skin looked in the setting light. ‘Course, after surfing all day and not turning into Little Mermaids, we were getting off easy.
I stared at the pink and purple sky and felt a pinch in my chest. No need to cry now. Still about a week left.
Turning away from the vista, I crawled over and grabbed one strand of Kara’s long auburn hair. Long auburn dreadlocks, I should say. In drying up, sea salt did that to surfers.
“You should see yourself…” I chuckled, “Kingdom for a shower, girlfriend!”
“No need to get so upset. I just want your opinion,” Ignoring my comment, she sheltered her eyes with her hand.
“Okay,” I watched the sun crashing its course on the horizon and waited for her to continue.
“You know…” she said, “I really like him.”
I glanced at her and suppressed an angry snort. “So you said. To which I said, you know I can’t protect you if something ugly happens.” Despite my best intentions, the bitterness in my tone came through loud and clear. Or, maybe, because of them.
“Really, the world will come to an end if I date him?! Out of all guys?” She stared at me, and all I read was disappointment in her eyes. She wanted me to support her in her choice to ask Dan out. “Out of all guys”… Yep. Dan was a player and certainly didn’t deserve her.
Dan Goldberg, six foot three, two hundred pounds, blond Justin Bieber hair and hazelnut eyes. A dream for all these desperate gals willing to cut an arm to stand in his vicinity without dying first of hot flushes.
He did nothing for me. Too cute to be true. And my sixth sense never lied. Besides looking good, Dan also played as quarterback for the school’s football team. Hanging out with him was like finding the Holy Grail, but I had heard nasty things about the way he treated the girls he went out with.
Allegedly, Dan liked to be in control and have the upper hand – at all times. If dating got ranking anything like football, he would have been the MVP every year for the rest of his life, except relationships didn’t belong to the running or passing play category.
Kara should have put a stop to her infatuation with him a long time ago. I might know her better than she knew herself, but ha, but who was I to tell her who to fall in love with? And the one year age difference between us so didn’t help my case. She was older, and therefore wiser. Bite me!
I stayed quiet while she bore holes in the side of my head
“Soooo…. Tell me,” she whined.
I hated when she whined. A few more years down the road with her and I could start a healthy and successful career in politics… Exhaling, I picked my words carefully.
“I know stuff.”
“What kind of stuff?”
Gosh, drop the attitude will you? As if it wasn’t hard enough to be “honest”. I swallowed hard. “Dan is not nice to girls. He treats them like… garbage.”
“You’re lying.” She threw me a suspicious glance. “You’re serious?”
“But he seems so perfect…” Her voice trailed off.. Quit dreaming and come back to earth, Missy! This ain’t American Idol here!
“You didn’t tell me. Before.”
“I did tell you. Before.” I so hated repeating myself. Though, admittedly, it might not have been in so many words.
“Just be careful.” White and yellow trails crisscrossed the darkening sky as the waves went on throwing themselves against the shore in a fruitless display of aggression. As fruitless as this conversation, come to think of it.
“I’m supposed to see him in a few days,” she said.
Oh Lord! The key was to stay diplomatic. “Listen, I don’t want you to get hurt, that’s all.”
“But they’re rumors. And you know what I think about rumors…” Same strategy every time! Not that dismissing my words is going to make the problem go away. Ugh!
“Dan went out with Lilly and she said he had been horrible.”
“So you base your opinion of him on what one girl said?”
And here we went. Again. She was digging her own grave and there was nothing I could say that would change her mind.
I distractedly played with sand and let it clump between my fingers. That beach would become a distant memory and us together would soon belong to the past. There was no need for more drama.
“You’re right.” I surrendered to her almighty will. “I rely on what one girl said. What do I know? Nothing.”
She looked at me and smiled. Yep, she had won. The sky had become completely dark; time to head home.
“Thanks for being such a good friend.” That sealed the lid on the coffin. She shivered. “Let’s get dinner. My house?” She stood and extended her left hand for me to grab.
We walked until the the beach became a street and Kara’ house, the third one on the left, winked at us with its already-lit streetlight.
I’d have had dinner at Kara’s almost every evening if my own mother didn’t bribe me with fat allowances to also eat at home, although her cooking was well… kinda meh. But the money didn’t hurt, so we made a deal, and every two days I stayed over at Kara’s. I loved her mom. She was so sweet and always asked me what I’d like. Often threw together my favorites, too: creamy spinach and baked potatoes, or corn on the cob and roasted chicken breast…
As memories of Kara faded away, I awoke to the overpowering stench of… urine. Gosh! Talk about feeling hungry for breakfast. I closed my eyes and pressed the back of my right palm on my forehead. The skin felt damp and warm as if I had broken a fever.
My new shelter consisted of a ten by ten foot jail cell and my bed had been stuffed with so much straw, whatever position I adopted was itchy and very uncomfortable. Moving my limbs felt out of the question since I ached everywhere. Result of goo fighting? Gah, I was a mess, and hated every minute of it.
Where had I been transported against my will this time?
Sunlight entered my cell through an opening as big as my forearm, and sadly, I hadn’t developed the ability to see through walls, which meant I would eventually have to stand up to peek outside. Crawling seemed the most efficient solution to reach the ridiculously small window. After much mental preparation and physical struggling, I reached the slit and noticed the stone walls were very thick, which reminded me of Civil War forts and… Alcatraz… Oh lord. Was I in prison?
No no no…. Not possible. No bars to this window. And no glass either. No bars equaled no penitentiary of any kind, unless it was a post-apocalyptic war penitentiary or the city had embezzled too much money to afford bars or glass on their prison windows. Either way, I needed to look and check whether the outside meant courtyard, barb wire and armed soldiers or… the square of a village? What? Okay, as I peeked, nothing struck me as unusual. People strolling and going their way. Ha, listen to me talking. Because nothing until now had been unusual… Well, at least there were no multi-headed slimy creatures slithering on the ground or mangled walking dead feeding from human brains. That was already something! What did I try to demonstrate here? In a hopeless situation, little things did make a huge difference. And maybe it was time to announce “it’s a wrap”? That movie set looked too awesome to be true. Could I go home now?
My head hurt, and I was officially losing my sanity. Lying back down, I took a series of deep breaths. Whatever tranquilizer my abductors used, my hands were still shaking hard, and a strong feeling of doubt started growing in the pit of my stomach. Would anyone locate me before I’d die? If I was indeed in Mexico, I could probably kiss goodbye to ever coming back home in one piece. Someone behind the door of my cell was getting ready to cut me open and sell my organs on the black market. Snap! Maybe they had already done their deed now that I thought about it.
I quickly sat and ran my fingers along the skin of my back but didn’t feel any unfamiliar bump or cut that might have alarmed me. I checked my front and didn’t find anything suspicious either. Phew! I was still whole. So far.
When would someone come and get me? And more importantly, what would they do to me? The ugliest scenarios played in my head while my eyes checked the rest of the room and stopped on the wooden bucket that served as my bathroom. Ew. That’s where the urine stench came from! Gross. What the heck was wrong with these people?
Feeling rather thirsty, the inside of my mouth felt like parchment. I had lost my appetite but could certainly use a fresh cup of iced water. Room service? Nah. Of course not. My abductors had not been very thoughtful if they gave me a bucket to pee in but no water to hydrate myself with.
I was growing more and more annoyed. This whole ordeal had to stop. What could I do to get out of this rat hole? Maybe if I ate another chocolate…
Frantically searching for the non FDA approved sweets, I ripped the burlap mattress and tossed straw all over the floor… except the box was nowhere to be found.
Talk about luck.
Gosh!! I wanted to scream, kick, punch… Heck to the bastards who decided to play a joke on me! What else had they stolen from me, huh? I swear, if they took what I thought…
Mechanically glancing at my left wrist, I noticed my watch was still there. Okay… these people, whoever they were, were the most clueless abductors I had ever encountered. Why would they steal a cheap box of chocolates and not my three thousand dollar gold Cartier watch? Unless chocolates were worth more in this world than gold? Seriously??
But by looking closer at the face of the watch, I realized the glass had shattered in the middle and a shard had sunk in, ultimately preventing the arms from moving. So yes, now my Cartier was worth less than these damn chocolates.
What else could go wrong?
A faint whisper and scratching noises coming from behind the door distracted me from ripping more of the burlap mattress. As I crouched and applied my ear against the wood, I heard a series of steps. Oh heck yeah! Whoever entered would be welcomed by a heavy and smelly bucket in their face. Too bad it was empty, because I also would have certainly rejoiced at the idea of covering them in fresh pee.
A few seconds passed before the door finally cracked open. And I was ready.
Only catching the glimpse of a dark mass of hair, I hit the head hard. My unidentified victim lost his balance, and collapsed to the ground, dropping at the same time a ceramic bowl and a jar. Food splashed like blood, and water wetted my feet. Nice. Too bad there was no camera shooting the scene that day, because it could have entertained a wide audience.
I grinned. Last time I had inflicted such a blow, the school’s principal awarded me with one month suspension. My self defense argument had fallen down deaf ears. But the kid who had tried to grope my butt deserved his just punishment, and I didn’t care if he weighed two hundred and fifty pounds and was a senior. Nobody touched me without my consent.
A hefty and aggravating lawsuit had been avoided after my dad agreed to cast the kid’s older sister in a horror chick flick that scored a few hundred millions at the box office. She had played a tiny role that had landed her in the bathtub with her throat slit from ear to ear. Such acting skills.
That movie sucked.
I examined the body I had reduced to vegetable and realized he was just a boy. Crap. I had expected to hit a huge and mean abductor, not a frail twelve or thirteen year old! Okay… so much for being a badass.
I shook the stranger by the arm to wake him up. My job would have been easier if I had thrown water at him… but the only water available now stagnated among the debris of the jar and the bowl on the filthy floor of my cell.
The boy seemed really out of it, and I started to think my blow might have killed him.
Oh my God.
Adrenaline rushed through my veins and sweat ran down my neck and along my spine but I couldn’t panic. The door was open and I would escape. The rest didn’t matter. That boy was collateral damage.
Okay. Move. Get to your feet and run. Do something, dammit!
I heard more footsteps. Someone else was coming.
Now or never.
I swallowed hard and stood. The pain in my knee shot right through and made me cringe. I was freaking unable to go very far, but I could at least try it.
I glanced one last time at the boy.
I limped over the threshold and stepped foot in a narrow hallway dim-lit by torches. No real bathroom, and no electricity either? Had I travelled back to the Middle-Ages?
The steps sounded closer.
Make a left. Make a left.
Functioning on a pure adrenaline high right now, I walked as fast as my injured knee let me. Blood pounded in my head as if it was about to explode. Gosh, when would I get a break?
Where are you going?
I kept moving fast. Cold air whipped my face as I halted before the same tiny opening in a wall exactly like the one in my cell. Oh no… a dead end?
No, no, no… My hands ran against the wall as if I’d find some magical button that’d let me out through a secret passageway or something. Drenched in sweat, I was panting. My knee prevented me from standing for too long. All the strength in my body quickly disappeared. I had no juice in my batteries left. The burning sensation in my lungs didn’t subside as I slipped to the ground to sit down. The end of the road? Most likely. I seriously sucked at escaping from prison.
The steps that followed me finally came to an end and I sensed a presence next to me.
Looking at my reflection, I didn’t recognize the girl staring back at me. My long dark hair had been braided into a band over my head, and my skin was as pale as snow. A coat of black make-up had been smeared across my face over my eyelids, which reminded me of Pris in Blade Runner, except the beige linen robe I was wearing added nothing futuristic to my eccentric outfit. But I guess it was finally time to discard my waterfall washed up goo covered jeans and useless sneakers.
I had been stripped of my watch too. Okay, maybe now someone would come and tell me I either was prepared to be sacrificed to a God I didn’t believe in, or they wanted to shoot a nice ransom video and I needed to look the part so the money would get here faster. If they had asked my opinion, I would have told them linen robes didn’t look scary enough, but who was I to voice my concern? Only a poor injured victim. No one important, really.
I had been moved from my jail cell to a similar looking but bigger space where the straw bed had been replaced with a wooden bench and the rustic version of what I’d call a mirror – mere polished piece of metal – which I assumed was made of solid gold. The openings previously as big as my forearm were the size of regular windows too, and curtains served as actual panes because glass apparently didn’t exist anywhere in this place. No bathroom bucket in a corner this time though. Maybe they had a water closet for that purpose. Just like these good old French.
Ha, could they serve food now? The tiny indigenous woman who stood next to me hadn’t said a word. She kept moving me around like a doll, placing golden ornaments in my hair, on my forehead and around my neck. She put gold rings on all my fingers and gold bracelets up to my elbows. The more she added, and the more I started to feel like a really expensive Christmas ornament.
Strange custom for Mexicans to cover their visitors in gold. Could someone tell me where the heck I was, please?
A gust of wind blew the curtains open and offered a snapshot of the outside. An ocean of trees stretched far ahead on the horizon, vanishing into a thin line that melted into the bluest sky. No clouds obscured the bright sun that had reached its zenith.
It must have been the middle of the day. And if my calculations were correct, I had spent at least an entire night inside the jail cell before passing out of exhaustion during my escape attempt and being brought up here for my Halloween costume transformation.
So many things happened in so little time. Two or three days ago, I sat at the Gypsy’s table, and the world already seemed pretty crazy. But now? There was no comparison.
I startled when another presence entered the room. Oddly enough, it felt like déjà vu, as if he had been the same presence who watched me after I escaped from the jail cell. A very tall bald man with dark skin complexion approached and the woman next to me immediately bowed her head and mumbled something I didn’t understand. Okay… My level of Spanish was average but I knew what she said wasn’t Spanish.
I stared at him. He wore a tunic similar as mine, and the same jewels. His golden sandals made a clicking sound with every step he took. He came near me but didn’t make a sound. His black eyes didn’t once look at the other woman. He was focused on me, and only me.
Was he my abductor? Why did he take me here? What would he do with me? I burned to ask a million questions but didn’t know which language he’d speak.
I felt incredibly nervous. His stare was hypnotizing.
“I’d like to show you something,” he suddenly said in English, and grabbed my hand in the process. Without resisting I followed him. Strangely enough, my right knee didn’t hurt anymore. Actually my entire body felt fine. Woah. What had he done to me? And how did he speak my language without a hint of a Mexican accent?
We walked to the open window, and reached the small balcony that overlooked the forest. My breath stopped when I saw a giant edifice ahead of me, something I hadn’t noticed earlier. The pyramidal construction rose very high in the sky, and shined like gold. I gasped. Never had I seen something so magnificent.
“This is where you shall go for the final judgment,” the man said.
I thought I heard wrong.
Final judgment? So I would be sacrificed? What?!?!?!?!
I looked at him and felt a huge pressure release inside my chest. My eyes watered and tears started streaming down my cheeks.
“Don’t be scared,” he said. “You’ll see. It’s actually a great place to be in.”
Was his smile supposed to bring me at ease? Because it did the exact opposite. As I kept crying, I wondered how he’d kill me. With a knife? With his bare hands? Oh god.
The stranger wiped some of the tears away with his fingers. “Don’t be sad. It won’t hurt.”
Pulling my hand back into the room, he said something to the woman and she handed me a clean piece of cloth.
“Come on, you don’t want to show the world so many tears. The show must go on, remember?”
A few more words like these and no need to sacrifice me because I’d die of a heart attack. What the heck was he talking about?
“What have I ever done to you? Is this money you want?” I blurted in between sobs. “Why are you taking me there?”
“So you can finally open your heart,” he said and we walked out of the room.