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?
A rapid surge of adrenaline blasted through my entire body as if I was about to slide down a roller coaster very very fast, my heart thumping hard and nearly bursting out of my chest. Everything around me changed. The cave instantly lit up in a purplish hue so captivating, I almost walked into the river water suddenly turned plasma. Flashy oranges, yellows, reds were undulating uncomfortably near my feet, and ahead, a bluish mass of goo bubbled by the breach in the walls.
The animal seemed five times my size. In other words… well, not huge. But quite, quite impressive.
Okay… I had to calm down and focus. If the creature indeed blocked the entire opening of the cave, I was screwed. Unless…
“Evan…” Cold sweat dripped down my back.
“What is it?” He grabbed my hand and his touch put me a bit more at ease. Exhaling deeply, I searched for his glowing eyes.
“W-Will I defeat it if I eat another chocolate?”
“Yes,” he softly said in my ear, “Whatever you wish will come true.”
The familiar pebble shape materialized on the inside of my palm, and without more ado, landed in my mouth. The bitter taste overwhelmed my senses, and energy spiraled through me like electricity.
Well… here came nothing!
I leapt toward the blue shape, but sensing me, it ponderously moved to the side and grew even bigger.
What the heck?
I blinked several times, thinking my vision might be playing tricks, yet caught in the momentum, I was kind of stuck. Whichever one of us hit the other first, the beast or I, the end result was the same: dive and swim. And say what you will, the plasma river didn’t look remotely appealing. Nor did the creature, rising ready to swallow me.
“Don’t think you’ll ever be in control,” Kara suddenly spoke in my ear, and just like that, I was on the beach in Oceanside, that first time she taught me how to surf. The butterflies had been going hog-wild in the pit of my belly, but squeezing her fingers for dear life before braving the frothing ankle busters, the look in her bright blue eyes, it helped… “Learn to listen to your instincts. I have faith in you,” she squeezed my hand back, then let it drop.
My nine-year-old body ready to engage the elements, I was paddling away when a wave reared up like a lion stalking its prey. Swelling with my every breath, the watery mouth looked ready to gulp me down alive, and I fought the urge to swim back to shore.
“Go for it, Julie! Come on!” Kara screamed. Barely a year older than me, she had been surfing since she could walk. My record didn’t stand a chance against hers. I stared at the mountain of water.
“You can do this!”
Gripping the board hard, I set my eyes on the target. 3, 2, 1… I bent my knees just like Kara told me to, and spread my arms as if getting ready to fly.
“Go girl!” Kara shouted, and when I glanced in her direction for half a millisecond, I saw her giving me both thumbs up.
“Banzai!” I screamed back. I totally googled surfer slang; might as well trot it out.
Too good to be true, my success story came to a literally screeching halt when the wave smacked me hard in the face and I toppled off my board like a potato sack. I tasted the salt of the water, and a sharp pain burrowed deep into my right knee. My arms battled to keep me afloat, but I still choked.
Back on solid ground, which I reached… don’t know how, it was a blur…, Kara took over in no-nonsense Kara style. “Hey, you’re ok. You’ll be fine.” Her hand pressed on my chest as I slowly came back to what was left of my senses. “You surfed like a champion out there.” Her fingers brushed the side of my face. “I’m proud of you.”
Yeah, right. I wanted to cry.
Her voice echoed all around as if she was really next to me. Kara…
The memory ended and I landed on the creature’s back. Without thinking twice (which, admittedly, I maybe should have), I started crawling toward the massive head.
Every superhero flick teaches us to aim for the eyes whenever the goal is to disorient a stronger enemy. Not willing to reinvent the wheel, I went with that tactic. The drawback, of course, was that no user manual existed to instruct me how to effectively search a pile of goo for the animal’s face. Did a mountain of slime even have one? The acrid stench to put an army of pissed off skunks to shame was definitely the cherry on top of the massive “cake” I had to defeat before close of business. How I managed to avoid a healthy throwing up session must only have been made possible thanks to all the psychedelic chocolates I ingested earlier, and also the lack of real food for the past two days.
Through the retching, I kept my fingers busy probing the goo and naturally, the monster growled and snarled, persistently trying to shake me off. I doggedly held on. Stalemate?
But when I accidentally took a hold of the ears and twisted them against the increasingly violent shaking, the giant shrieked. Oooh… Achilles’s heel!
Unfortunately, whatever kind of heel it was, it still didn’t solve my problem of drowning in goo like in wet sand. But a fleeting thought of Freddie Kruger and his claws cutting through heads with a single blow? That did.
A tingling sensation flared to life in my fingertips, and the more I scratched at the beast, the more my nails grew into blades. These chocolates were better than a two thousand dollar shopping spree at Victoria’s Secret!
Reborn as a bloodthirsty serial killer on a savage hunt, I let ‘er rip until I was shredding the creatures’ insides. A very primal rage dominated every part of me as the beast yelped and cried, and its bluish hue bled into a darker, unhealthier color.
“I’m proud of you,” Kara’s voice echoed again and instantly decupled my anger.
My arms and hands became sharp swords and went on cutting until there was nothing left to destroy.
When the stinky remains finally collapsed, their weight sent me underwater where I rolled and tumbled like a wet cloth in a dryer. My eyes stung when I chanced to open them, and small bluish air bubbles greeting my dive were the last remnants of… whatever I just went full berserker on…
Despite my best efforts to celebrate surface-side, the tumbling continued unabated. Dirty liquid now back to good old H2O from its odd plasma state started filtering down my airways, and the muscles in my legs and arms cramped up. Did I need another chocolate to swim away from this hell?
Maybe everything was supposed to end now…
I listened to the rumble of the deep riverbed and heard the beating of my own heart. Each beat thumped weaker than the one before…
“I’m so proud of you,” Kara sung to me again. When my head finally reached the surface, I gasped for air and there it was shining in front of me. The light.
Mark often visits my dreams. My most vivid showed him taking a drag, the skin of his cheeks receding slightly as he pulled, and a dot of fire sparking at the end of his cigarette. Smoke escaped from his nostrils like two delicate twirls of purple and blue joined in a sensual dance that quickly vanished into thin air.
Too shy to start a conversation, I watched him from afar. He looked so unattainable under his Valentino jacket and behind his Balenciaga shades. He waved and smiled at me, and seconds later, magically cupped my face to give me a kiss. I smelled his fragrance and let my eyes drift shut, melting into his arms. His fingers traced the edge of my chin and I exhaled softly, longing for his lips to finally press against mine.
But… ha! An entirely different kind of touch kicked my altogether unprepossessing reality back into gear.
“Wake up!” Evan shouted.
“You jerk,” I rubbed the spot where he’d slapped me.
He scowled. “You think we have time for stupid Mark dreams? We must keep moving.”
Moving. Moving where?
I rubbed my goo-crusted eyes. At least, my vision had returned to normal and oh… I didn’t look like Edward Scissorhands anymore! Yay for feeling like myself again!
Lounging on the luscious grass in broad daylight, I stared at Evan crouched next to me, all basic put-uponness and demonstrative huffs. Someone suffered from serious mood swings around here… I concentrated on the warble of water nearby, and ignored his scolding.
“Where are we?”
“You fell down the waterfall and landed here.”
“Without a bruise? Did you see me kill the monster?” I said.
He grunted and stood. “You know… you’re being difficult. Really difficult.”
“What did I do?” Jumping to my feet, I cringed when a sharp pain awoke in my right knee. So much for without a bruise…
Evan stared away. “You don’t need me to tell you what you did. You failed. You simply failed.”
“What?!” I’ve had it with the cryptic act! “I killed the monster, didn’t I?” His Majesty Cranky Puss watched the line of trees behind us and kept tapping his left foot on the ground in the determined show of not-giving-a-flying-banana-ness. “What’s going on? Will you tell me?” I tried to grab his arm but he stepped away.
“There’s nothing I can say that you’ll understand,” he snapped. “We have to keep moving.”
When he started walking, I stayed put.
“Who are you to treat me like this?”
He quickly glanced at me and chuckled. “So proud, aren’t we? Look at us all playing tough. But can’t say it took you very far, can you?”
I had no idea what he was talking about. He pointed a finger at me and my defense mechanism went on autopilot. My fists curled seemingly of their own volition and positively itched to initiate contact with his supercilious mug. What exactly had I done to deserve this crap? Wasn’t he the one instructing me to defeat the goo creature in the cave and wasn’t I the one complying like an obedient little soldier? What else did he want? And what was up with him knowing I was dreaming about Mark? Had he like… entered my mind or something?
“You’re a coward,” he added and resumed his stroll.
“You’re gonna die!” I propelled myself after him, but he dodged my blow like it was nothing. Unable to regain my balance, I sloped to the ground – and landed right on my injured knee. The pain shooting up my leg made me see stars and I screamed. And the evil bastard? Why, he laughed his butt off.
“She who raises the sword and all that… And FYI, you fighting me will only make your journey harder. But hey, your decision. Either you follow me, or I leave you on your own. Not like it’s going to make a difference.”
“I don’t care about your stupid powers…” Tears streamed down my face as I tasted blood coating my tongue. “Leave me alone!”
“Is that really what you wish?” Clearly unmoved, he watched me suffer as I dragged myself up into a semi-upright position. Wishing he were the cave monster 2.0 and my claws were still present and accounted for, I ignored his cold glare.
“Very well. Take your chocolates.” He handed me the familiar heart-shaped velvet box.
Blankly staring at the ground, I started limping away from him, and every step forced a grunt out of me. Glancing back, I saw Evan was gone. Good riddance to bad saviors! Now all I needed was an escape route, and I was golden.
The aforementioned no-Evan’s path took me into the woods. Potentially dangerous woods, but nothing mattered more just then than the lack of answers to my million questions since I had landed here. And many of these questions had to do with Kara. Why did she appear to me as I was fighting the goo monster? The flashback had been especially vivid… The chocolates had certainly induced something in my brain to make me think of her so much, but she had appeared also when I was sober. But was I? Solving Rubik’s cube was duck soup in comparison to this mystery, and no, I wasn’t a competitive Rubik’s cube solver.
Gah! An orange and green Toucan flew by my face and almost scared me to death. Okay… I didn’t know there were Toucans in the holy gambling state of Nevada. And I certainly was no accomplished rain forest trekker as I amply proved to myself not a minute later.
As I kept walking to God knows where, none of the branches slapping my arms and scratching my neck like manic cats did a blessed thing to prevent me from stumbling over entangled weeds and promptly spraining my ankle. My heavy fall to the ground was ensued by a load of cursing and dirty words I shall not repeat here, but you know the drill. In addition to the pain in my knee, the amount of injuries sustained during this journey to hell would have to eventually stop… unless this was my punishment for punching Melissa. Oh heck with her too!! This tramp would not make me quit. Not yet at least. Maybe if I never took a break, I’d find the answers I was looking for.
The box of chocolates tightly clutched in my hand, I wondered how Evan managed to keep it dry. Yet, he hadn’t lifted a finger to help me defeat the goo monster. Well… Guys, right? Not that I needed him… Whatever anyone said, I was old enough to make my own decisions in the real world.
Speaking of which…
What’s with that “real/fake world” baloney? I wasn’t part of the latest sci-fi blockbuster! There was a logical explanation to everything that had happened so far. For instance, the throbbing pain in my knee felt very genuine. As did the red heart-shaped box. So, the chocolates had to be full of drugs. Gosh. I must have been kidnapped to some hidden part of Mexico. Don’t they do it in the bad ‘hoods of Vegas for ransom money? The Gypsy must have looked for my driver’s license and googled my name. Probably, a piece of cake to find out who my father is and connect the dots from there.
But I escaped. Even full of whatever they had pumped me with, I managed to free myself – and bring the stupid chocolates along for evidence. I was good!
Which brought me to now wandering around in slowly-loosening fugue state as I came off the bad stuff. Like this big forest here, that was, also quote-unquote, real. Equally real had to be the lack of any sort of civilization nearby, but if I continued going about it an intelligent way, I’d ultimately locate a village with a working phone booth so I could call the cops. I would even trade my precious watch for a single call. That’s why I didn’t pawn it. I knew I was hoarding it for something important.
Okay, made sense, right? Yeah, I would go with that.
What would my story be? I ran away from school and home and hid in a motel, and then met a Gypsy who sold me to drug dealers? Or organ harvesters? Or something?
Well, that sounded clichéd, but coherent reasoning often does. Much more realistic than what Evan let slip with his “five-headed snakes” and “mysterious people” wanting to kill me. I hadn’t seen anyone! Well, besides him, but he was a liar and a perv.
However… Was talking with the police such a brilliant idea? What if Melissa had filed charges against me and there was an arrest warrant?
Beads of sweat formed on my forehead and I realized I was panting. Pending warrant or not, my survival chances would seriously decrease before I ever put two and two together if I didn’t find food and drinking water soon. My stomach had been growling non-stop, and the chocolates had done nothing to calm my hunger. And no, insane hallucinations of invulnerability didn’t count.
Now that was weird. I halted and listened carefully to the sounds of the forest, but heard pretty much nothing other than unfamiliar birds chirping and wind chiming through the dripping foliage. I resumed walking.
I froze. Stock-still, I searched for the source of the noise. And for whoever was watching me.
“Evan!” I shouted, “Couldn’t leave me alone, could you?”
No response. A few breathless minutes later, I concluded my imagination was playing tricks. There was no one in this forest but me and the stupid psychedelic chocolates.
Or not! Ouch! Pain blossomed in my right arm. Oh, for crying out loud… A downward glance revealed a tiny dart protruding from the skin. Pulling it out stung. A small drop of blood beaded where the needle had pricked me. After examining the culprit, I realized it looked exactly like a tranquilizing dart. Those movie directors had their props down pat.
But, as I had established, this was “real”. So, why on earth was I being hunted like an animal? And with such primitive technology, no less?!
I tried a determined step… somewhere, but the line of trees started dissolving like colored pigments under the brush of a painter, and nausea hit my throat. I stared down at the red box of chocolates and realized my hands were shaking.
My legs wobbled and I grunted as my right leg bent. I could swear I heard voices, but the sounds quickly melted as if underwater. I tasted bile, and then threw up. A small dark puddle formed on the grass below. A deafening ruckus of foreign tongues grew in my ears as human silhouettes swayed before me.
“You…” In a last attempt to touch whatever stood next to me, I collapsed face first into my own vomit.