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?
It’s already hardly a piece of cake for any self-respecting female to take care of her complexion on a day to day basis and in a normal environment. Falling into puddles of bat feces would not have made my job any easier, and I was relieved to finally reach the end of the tunnel. Water dripping from the ceiling proved itself an efficient improvised shower as we entered a…less constricted space? A blasted Radio City Music Hall? No way to tell how big the place was since I wasn’t possessed of a foresight to bring along portable light sources when visiting lazy-eyed Gypsies in bad sides of town… Only Evan’s glow helped me get a sense of where we stood.
“There’s water if you want to wash your hands,” Evan said gracing me with nary a glance.
I noticed a dark mass in front of us, possibly a pool, and after my poo crawl, immediately yearned to shed all my clothes and take a good long soak.
“I know what you’re thinking,” he smirked. “I’d be willing to look away if it’s truly what you wish.”
“One of your other powers?” I snapped.
“I told you. You can trust me.”
“Fine. Then I’m going in.” I hastily removed my sweatshirt and dropped it on the ground. My shoes, socks, and jeans followed, then my tank-top. Trust or not, undies stayed.
The cold stung my skin the moment I hit the water, but a few strokes reenergized me. My fingers probed the blackness before me, and I ventured further away from the edge. When I finally resurfaced, Evan’s orange glow had become a small dot on the horizon. Alone in the dark, I took a minute to rest before dipping my head underwater again.
I hadn’t swum like this since moving to L.A. after my fifteenth birthday. Dad landed a hot executive job at one of the movie studios and nothing had been the same ever since. My parents sold our condo in Oceanside right by the beach, and despite Mom working to convince me there were beautiful beaches all around Los Angeles, I couldn’t keep up with the change. No matter what, nothing felt right. My best friend, Kara, being left behind? Fat chance it would!
Of course, I put up a valiant fight. I cried, threw hissy fits, even argued the sudden move would mess with my mental health, but Mother Dearest just rolled her eyes and placidly told me to check whether I had packed everything.
So, I gave up, and a few nights before my departure, Kara and I went good-bye surfing. The water looked like crude oil as the moon played hide-and-seek with a thick cloak of clouds. Kara’s head popped out as soon as she entered the water with her surfboard. But we knew the area.
Darkness stretched for miles ahead, and I listened to the ocean. Holding my breath, I slowly paddled against the small breeze that pushed me back to the shore. There in the distance, I caught the outline of a wave.
Focused on paddling faster, I prepared to stand. The countdown started in my head. 5… 4… 3… 2… 1… A thrill ran through my body like a jolt of electricity, and I closed my eyes. But the smooth ride came to a grinding halt. Water splashed in my face, and when I emerged after losing my balance like a frigging greenhorn, a climb onto my board to catch my breath was way too shaky for my peace of mind
“Kara?” I called, “Kara?”
The water looked so dark.
“Julie! Time to go!” Evan yelled back instead of Kara. Rude, totally rude way of snapping me out of my funk. But heck, it worked!
“C-Coming!” It felt so strange to think of Kara again… She hadn’t crossed my mind in years. Heart pounding inside my chest, I started for the edge of the pool. Seriously, what’s with the sudden flashback? I shook it off and, refocused on my strokes, reached Evan in no time.
Guess what – he was watching me. Perv!
“I thought you wouldn’t look…”
He smiled. “Couldn’t help it. Seemed like a grand old time in there.”
“So, am I the only one allowed to have a break? Why didn’t you join me?”
“I can’t let my guard down. You know that,” he replied.
“Will I be attacked by a five-headed snake here?”
He chuckled. “If you’ve been fine during your swim, I don’t think so, but better safe than sorry, isn’t it what they say?”
“They should shut up. Know-it-alls…”
Evan made a face. It was cute. But he was still a perv.
“Okay… Well, I’m coming out.”
He turned around as I grabbed the edge and pushed myself out. Back on solid ground, I grunted at the sight of my guano-covered duds.
“I can’t wear that stuff again.”
Evan was staring at me. In my underwear.
“Hey! What do you think you’re doing?!” I lunged for my tank and dragged it on.
“Sorry. You can wash your pants if you’d like.” He was smiling like a little kid caught with his hand in the cookie jar.
“Some privacy, if you don’t mind!”
He shrugged. “Nothing I haven’t seen before.”
I threw him an angry glance.
Once sure he wasn’t looking anymore, I examined my jeans. They smelled like they looked. Some poo smeared the back of the legs and even spread inside the back pockets. I couldn’t wash that stuff away with mere water! What I needed was a Laundromat.
“Guess they’ll do as is.” I fumbled to insert my left leg.
“Are you sure?” Evan said.
“Yeah. They’ll dry. Eventually.”
“We’ll be in this cave for a while. So, up to you.”
“You can look now.” I buttoned my jeans and grabbed my shoes.
“You’re a fine swimmer.” The glow in his eyes intensified.
“It’s cool. I just don’t do it as much,” I replied.
“It will help you here.”
“There’s more water coming up.”
And he knew this… how? “So, why did I take off my clothes?”
“Hey, no one forced you to dive.”
I ignored his wink and laced my muddy sneaks. “Yeah, yeah. So, how long do we have to be in this bat shelter? Until we find light?”
I snuck my head into the hood of my sweatshirt. Being wet and putting on wet clothes wasn’t the best combination in the world, but one made do.
“How do you know where we’re going?”
He shrugged. “I just do.”
“Really?” I found no hint of deception in his eyes.
“Oooookay. You’re all so precognizant there, wherever you’re from…” Not to change the subject too abruptly here, but curiosity was killing me.
“We must keep moving.” Right. Good thing it wasn’t killing me literally. “We have little time.” He extended his hand for me to grab. One thought struck me. The chocolates…
“Have you …” Evan must have caught the startled look on my face because he waved at me. Practically glued to me earlier, the box had magically ended in his hands…. Odd!
“It shouldn’t get wet,” he said.
Millions of questions coursed at one hundred miles per hour while I watched him grin at me like a nagging straight-A student, but reality forced me down to more pressing concerns. Water dripping from my hair through my sweatshirt made me wish hard for a towel. I might even have clicked the heels of my sparkly, red shoes – darn tootin’ this wasn’t Kansas anymore!
My hands automatically squeezed as much dampness out of my tousled rat’s nest as they could, but it didn’t really do the trick. Which brought me back to… “And how are you going to keep my precious dry exactly?”
He winked again and brandished the box. “I have my secrets.”
“Don’t you ever!” Practicality prevailed. I braided my hair and stuck it in my hood. “I don’t know why I feel so attached! It even sounds stupid.”
“No. This is your pass back to the real world. You must keep it with you at all times.”
“W-What… What did you say about the real world?” I searched for an answer in his glowing eyes but he looked down.
“Nothing. We gotta go. Come on.”
He quickly gripped my hand and pulled me forward. I let him, silently fuming over what I was now sure was his conscious effort to hide stuff. What did he mean about the real world? As opposed to the fake world? Or…
Not talking meant we circled the pool in what seemed to me record time and exited into another chamber, and then the next. The waterbed kept widening, so I figured we were walking by a river. Good thing Evan called me back when he did!
His orange light glowed against fields of stalagmites and stalactites bulging all over the place like mushrooms after a heavy rain. Wishing I had brought a camera to take some shots of the eye candy, all I had was my mind’s lens. Figures!
Distracted by the dripstones, I bumped into Evan as he suddenly halted.
“Hey, what are you…”
“Shhhh.” He pressed his fingers against my lips and I replied with a questioning look. “Listen.” Squeezing my hand hard, he whispered very softly in my ear. “Don’t fret, but I have to turn off the light for a minute.”
“Okay…” I mouthed back.
The orange glow vanished almost immediately, and everything turned pitch-black. Had Evan not held my fingers, I’d have freaked out again. Did I mention I really didn’t like bats? I breathed softly and waited for something to happen.
What should I be listening to?
And then, I heard it. Through the constant dripping and flowing of water, a very low murmur pierced the murk. It sounded like a cat in heat meowing to find a mate far, far away. Okay…
“You hear it now?”
I nodded, and then realized he couldn’t see me. “Yes.”
“I hope the beast didn’t smell our scent,” he said reflectively.
“Beast?!” I was losing my cool. Which was all right. If ever there was a time… “What beast?!”
“Relax. I think I have an idea,” he paused, “I’m going to distract its attention while you run for the exit.”
Um, okay… and where was the exit exactly?
Evan couldn’t suppress a chuckle. “The beast is protecting it.”
Duh, ha, very funny. Hold on. I hadn’t spoken out loud.
“How did you…?”
“Because there’s light,” he added.
“No! How did you read…?” As my eyes browsed the darkness, I began to panic.
“Patience!” he ordered.
Seriously! This guy was beyond frustrating! But I suddenly caught a dot as small as a needle head.
“Yes,” he answered.
“How are you going to distract the beast then?”
I had started a whole conversation about how to defeat a creature blocking a potential exit without asking once what this beast looked like or how big it was.
Evan’s hand suddenly left mine, and a feeling of deeper uneasiness grew in the pit of my stomach. Where had he gone? Okay… Positive thoughts. As long as the animal didn’t move, there was nothing to be scared of.
After a few long minutes, I pictured an hourglass in my head just like when Kara and I used to play Pictionary. We always whined time ran too fast, mostly because our drawing skills sucked so bad… But now it seemed like the sand fell very slowly… Where the heck was Evan?
Hey! This was the second memory I had of Kara in less than an hour – well, I hadn’t checked the time since leaving the Gypsy’s house. Unless… My fingers immediately grabbed my left wrist, and I sighed of relief. The Old Lady hadn’t stolen it. Yes! At least one thing worked out in my favor.
I exhaled deeply. Kara hadn’t been in my memories since the move from Oceanside. And we had been BFFs for over five years! Gosh… She never returned my calls, or answered my emails. Some friend…
My stomach growled. I shivered in my wet clothes and imagined a big In & Out burger sitting on a plate with tons of fries and a giant soda. Last time I went to In & Out with Kara… Alright, this had to stop.
I needed a distraction. What could he possibly be doing that’d take such a long time? Oh no… Not that. Gross!!
But when his hand touched mine, I jumped and found it hard not to yelp. “Are you crazy? You almost gave me a heart attack!”
He placed something in my palm. “You should eat this.”
“What is it?” I felt the edges of a small round shape as smooth as a pebble.
“What?” I didn’t understand.
“Just do it. Come on.”
He gently grabbed my hand and moved it toward my mouth. As soon as I felt the pebble on my tongue, I swallowed it.
“Did you eat it?”
“You didn’t chew,” Evan said.
“I gulped it.”
He chuckled. “Okay… well, you should’ve bitten into it first.”
I could tell he was making fun of me. Again. “Why?” I replied.
“You don’t like chocolate?”
And then, my chances to say anything else poofed out like a curl of smoke from Bilbo’s pipe. Hopefully whatever I wished to add wasn’t meant to be too profound.