To read the previous chapters, please visit this link: http://curiosityquills.com/published-authors/johanna-pitcairn/death-by-chocolate/
Mmmmm. The wine actually had an aftertaste of pomegranate juice, and certainly not of arsenic… I think!
I gulped down half a goblet before putting it back down on the table. That seemed to pacify the hospitality police, as the warrior priestess cum waitress had moved away from my throat – for the time being. I could still sense her and her menace of a spike not far behind.
The Stranger glanced at me and smiled.
“Was it to your liking?” he asked, as another priestess approached him with a platter-full of guinea pigs. Planting his knife in several of the sorry-looking critters, he proceeded to gobble them up like one would a kebab.
“Oh delicious… Very… sour,” I said.
The guinea pig platter came my way. I caught the priestess’s stare and tried to imagine what her face looked like behind the mask. Vitriol disfigurement sounded a bit harsh… Wondering how the Stranger managed to turn all these women into his slaves – given he nearly asphyxiated me for daring to ask about the blasted chocolates – I realized he probably had them wrapped around his finger with his mind tricks. And that seemed the most logical explanation to their lack of resistance against wearing such crazy outfits, on top of the golden jewelry fetish…
But why was I wearing the same disguise? Certainly not because he also wanted me to become one of them! Oh no…
I nervously grabbed my knife and pressed the cutting edge against my thumb. No way were they turning me into a worshipping puppet! Aiming at a very roasted guinea pig on top of the pile, I did my best not to stab the priestess in the stomach instead. Committing murder would not lead me anywhere… Plus, she wasn’t the problem.
I stared at the dead animal on my plate and noticed the tiny claws left on each leg. Getting a buzz from the wine would help me eat this thing… And thinking of hamsters running inside a wheel was totally out of the question.
“I’m glad you enjoy it,” the Stranger said as I reached for the goblet, “it is holy.”
Forcing a smile, I gulped the rest of my drink to stop a non-too-gracious grimace. I might even go so far as call it grimace of utmost repulsion. Not only didn’t I give a flying you-know-what about the holiness of the wine, but drinking in general so wasn’t my hobby. Last time I touched booze must have been months ago. Tell that to the priestess, though! The damn yes-woman refilled my cup as soon as I put it down. Great. Any more, and I’d be in tip-top slurring shape in record time.
“So… what exactly do you have in store for me? In this kind of getup! Having fed me hamsters for breakfast,” I ventured, giving a last glance to the creature on my plate. Might as well, right? If the attendants didn’t kill me for turning down the main course, hunger-related blackout just might.
I broke off a leg and started chewing. Mmmm, not bad, actually. Evan was right, it did taste like chicken. The stranger’s laughter filled the room.
“You have a lot of anger in you,” he said.
Well done, Sherlock. I guess after the many unfortunate episodes leading me here, getting angry was clearly an understatement.
“And how would you know?” I snapped and went for the full cup. More wine would help me relax and maybe fall asleep… Okay, why did I think this was a bad idea?
But the priestess’s spike stopped me midway.
“Not yet,” the Stranger added.
My turn came to burst out laughing.
“You really like to give orders, don’t you?” Wishing I also possessed the power to make his head explode with a single thought, I tossed the half eaten guinea pig leg on the floor and leaned back against my chair.
“What are you going to do with me?”
The stranger didn’t even flinch. We spent the next few seconds staring at each other.
“I’m not scared, you know?”
Yes, hardly the most original line, but I was under the influence. Sue me. Better yet, find me a bar-admitted lawyer in this hellhole, and then we’ll talk copyright violations.
“I know why you’re so angry,” the Stranger finally fired back.
“Oh, do you?”
“Yes. You’re very smart and have a lot of fire inside.”
I shrugged. “What a pertinent observation.”
“But you need to learn something about yourself. That anger won’t last,” he said.
The alcohol was doing its thing. I giggled. “Come on, cut the crap, will you? Why am I here?”
“No matter how long the journey, you’ll end up in the same place, and resisting will be a mere waste of everyone’s time. But I’m sure you heard that before… so what do you decide?”
Indeed, Evan had said the exact same thing after our heated argument by the forest. Yeah, and he was also a figment of my imagination. If he was to be believed.
Um… Which meant the Stranger could read everything inside my crazy mind! I wouldn’t be surprised if he had built an army of slaves – much like these guinea pig-wielding warrior chicks – by knowing exactly what played in everyone’s head. Something I’d like to try my hand at once I found my chocolates. Of course, who knows when or if I’d ever get to them… in the meantime, outsmarting him had become the priority. But the wine! Oh snap.
“Stay focused,” Evan blurted next to me.
“Easy to say when you’re the sober one.”
“Just play along… Are you even that drunk?”
I caught a glimpse of his green glow, and almost tilted the chair backwards. Yes, I was that drunk! Oh, the liquor must have been spiked… Just like I predicted earlier.
The Stranger was now grinning from ear to ear. Probably because he also noticed I wouldn’t keep my self-control for much longer.
“I… will try to… stay good, then,” I slurred.
“I’m glad to hear you’ve decided to be reasonable.” He raised his glass. “I assure you, you won’t regret a single second of it.”
“Okay…” I closed my eyes because the ceiling was starting to spin. And about to be sacrificed or no, I liked my construction to remain… well, constructed until the last possible minute.
Ah, that was nice. I could totally use a nap. One not featuring any cheerful Jedi-Psychos, if I could help it. .
Not that I was given said luxury. Someone grabbed my hand, and pulled me up.
“She’ll take you to a room to rest,” the Stranger said, indicating one of the interchangeable attendants.
Fine with me! Even if “room” meant “execution. Whatever.
In a drifting haze, I was marched into a side chamber modestly furnished with a bed in one corner and a table with a chair against the opposite wall. The priestess sat me on top of the covers, and I crashed into the pillows.
I could get used to this kind of execution.
I opened my eyes to realize I had been dipped in a bath of iced water. My entire body couldn’t stop trembling, and my teeth chittered so hard, I thought they’d shatter.
Stunned by the cold, I didn’t notice the hand that suddenly pushed my head under the surface.
Thick air bubbles escaped my mouth and nostrils. Raising my arms, I tried to grab whoever was hovering over me… My mouth finally caught on to the rest of my thought processes and closed, and all my vital functions went into alert mode. But the misery oxygen quickly being replaced by carbon dioxide inside my lungs without any access to breathable air suggested it was too little too late. My knees and feet slammed against the sides of the tub, crushing ice cubes on my skin and sending spikes of pain and cold throughout my limbs. Way too soon, I was numb, and weaker than a newborn kitten facing a very late term abortion by a toilet bowl drowning.
Just for kicks, I fought some more – and then quit struggling. A deep sense of relief overcame me, and the ache finally subsided. Drowning, ha? Well, we all went some way.
Drifting to a very last sleep of my illustrious sleeping career, I recognized the face smiling at me. Kara… She spread her arms and I automatically welcomed her hug. The vanilla scent of her hair and her soothing touch were… pure peace. And home. Beach in Oceanside home.
But the light in her eyes reflected something different, an eerie purple glow I had never seen before.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“You know what’s wrong,” she replied in a disembodied voice more befitting a ghost than my bud with some weird iris coloration issues.
I shook my head. “Tell me.”
“You gotta stop ignoring the truth or you’ll never move on.”
“What are you talking about?”
I took an automatic step back – and noticed she was wearing a white cotton dress, pretty much like a nightgown, except the garment looked very familiar. She wore it during her confirmation. I remember because she begged me to go shopping with her, even after I told her at least a million times I didn’t believe in God anymore. Why was she dressed like going to church when we stood on the beach? And how come her old confirmation-sized clothing fit her now-adult shape? A dainty string of pearls with a tiny silver crucifix pendant dangled around her neck.
“Why are you here? And… where am I?” A strong feeling of uneasiness quickly set in.
“You still won’t accept what happened to me, will you?” She frowned and a tear appeared at the corner of her eye.
“I… I… I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
The purple glow in her eyes intensified as she snatched my arm and squeezed it between her ice-cold fingers. I shrieked. “You have to listen to me!” she said while digging her nails deep into my skin.
I tried to pull back.
“Let me go!”
But she maintained her solid grip.
“What do you want?” I gritted my teeth. How could she behave like this? With me, her best friend!!
My nervousness instantly morphed into anger, and suddenly, I craved to scratch her, pull her hair, wrestle her to the ground until she’d surrender. A feeling of deep resentment fueled every part of me. The bitch would not win!
“I know what you’re made of,” she said and slowly released her grip. She must have sensed I’d strike back. “And you’re too stubborn to realize what you’re doing… But you’ll have to remember what happened if you want to move on. Otherwise you’ll be stuck here forever.”
The sound of waves crashing on the shore suddenly became deafening background noise, and as she moved away, the crucifix around her neck caught a spark of light bright enough to blind me.
I closed my eyes, but too afraid she might come back and try something nasty on me, reopened them only after a few seconds. The sun was setting on the horizon. A strong wave reached my feet and foam covered the top of my toes. I looked for Kara, but didn’t see her on the beach anymore. She had vanished. Rubbing the spot where she had held me, I could still feel the ice cold of her fingers on my skin.
A twinge awoke in my chest and I gasped for air. My fingers ran over the sheets and twisted the covers. Just a dream, after all. And my head hurt so badly. The wine…
I breathed deeply, fighting to regain control of my senses. Disgustingly groggy, I slowly sat on the edge of the bed and squeezed my temples in a vain attempt to sober up. . Kara had visited my thoughts again, and not in a nice way this time. What did she mean by “I had to remember if I wanted to move on”? What memory was she referring to? And move on where? Was I already dead?
The purple glow in her eyes had looked particularly frightening. She didn’t seem real, not like the Kara I used to hang with day in and day out. It felt like someone else had possessed her to talk to me, like a demon or something…
I was driving myself completely insane…
But not so insane as to miss someone approaching. I immediately plopped back down and pretended to still be asleep. Of course, now that I couldn’t adjust them,all those hefty golden bracelets and necklaces seemed to magically start weighing me down by another ton. I wished I could take them off. Precious metals were decidedly overrated.
“How was your nap?” The Stranger inquired from behind me.
I rolled over to my side and opened my eyes. The crazy bastard stood by the entrance, looking as still as a statue. Why had he not killed me yet? I ran a tongue over my lips. My mouth felt parched from all the wine.
Ugh, and what was the whole drowning experience about? Only a deranged mind could’ve spawned a tub full of ice! But since I progressively agreed with myself I had lost a few screws on my descent to hell…
“Gah, so many nightmares…” Swallowing past a threatening sob, I didn’t feel a drop of saliva running down my throat. Could someone please get me some water?
The Stranger walked toward the bed and sat next to me. That’s when I noticed his eyes glowed gold again. Oh gosh. Yep, this time, my death would happen for real. I stared at the ground.
“What kind of nightmares?” he asked and patted my shoulder.
I brushed the air with my hand. “Nothing crazy. BFF issues.”
“Really? Do you want to talk about it?”
Note to self: don’t look at his eyes, Julie! He’ll kill you.
I resisted the temptation to rub my aching temples. Gosh, that cat and mouse game had lasted long enough. I was growing tired of fighting for my survival.
“Stay focused…” Evan’s voice erupted out of the blue.
Oh, how much I needed him now!! He was right… I pretended to wipe a tear away. Sober, I could maybe fool the Stranger into believing he possessed absolute control over me and this ploy would save me some precious time for my escape.
I carefully chose my words before speaking again, and tried as much as possible to sound completely broken.
“Well… I don’t know how to explain this. But I’ve been seeing her quite a lot since I came here.”
Oh, so now he pretended like he couldn’t read my thoughts? What the heck! Okay keep playing along… Outsmart him! Just like a game of chess… Anticipate his next move.
“My friend Kara. We spent our childhood together.”
“And what happened to her?”
“We lost touch. I moved to another city.” Forcing myself to cry a few more tears, and also sniffling loudly to give myself more credibility, I figured I had to break out the big guns if I wanted to stand a chance against the lethal golden eyes.
“I see… So why is she visiting your thoughts now?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know.”
“Are you sure?”
I didn’t respond. Why was Kara haunting me through flashbacks? All communication had ceased since my move to L.A. We hadn’t stayed friends despite the numerous promises to do so. But her visit in my nightmare had felt entirely different than those out-of-the-blue reminiscences I’d been having since arriving here. It was like she was getting impatient.
Another memory unexpectedly struck me. A few days after we chatted about her crush on Dan, she had stopped by one afternoon as I was packing the remaining boxes in my room. I had stayed sort of aloof since the move came to be finalized. I had my crap, and even besties needed their alone time.
But as soon as I saw her coming, I knew. She radiated happiness, like those angels painted on big murals of Jesus I used to stare at in church. She couldn’t stop mentioning Dan, and how he’d attend a party at his best friend’s house the night before my departure. I stopped listening to her as soon as I heard her say his name. What was the point?
She punched me in the arm when I frowned. ” Can’t you be happy for me? Friends are supposed to be happy for each other!”
“I can’t,” I said. “I just can’t.”
“Fine. Do what you want.”
And you are gonna do what you want?”
” That’s how we’re gonna part ways?”
I knew my next words would hurt her, but didn’t care at this point. The move was inevitable. Long distance friendships didn’t last. Out of sight, out of mind… Too irritated to think clearly, I wanted her to understand what she was getting herself into. And maybe after she cried, she would realize I was right and wouldn’t go out with Dan. If that happened to be the last favor I did her, yep, I was fine with that.
“Whatever! If you want this guy for a boyfriend, you might as well stop being my friend.”
She shrieked. “You’re insane! But I know why you say that. Fighting me won’t make you stay here! Do you hear me?”
I probably could have slapped her just then. I cared about her. Why didn’t she see that?! I turned my back to her and walked away.
“You love your anger more than you love me!” she shouted.
I halted. Then slowly turning around, I delivered the last blow. Even a nuclear bomb wouldn’t have accomplished so much damage.
“It doesn’t matter whom or what I love. You, on the contrary, seemed to have moved on quite nicely despite me still being here. Maybe you always were an insensitive selfish bitch, and you’re showing your true colors only now.”
She threw me a wrathful glance, and then raised her hands in surrender.
“Fine. Be that way. Have a nice life!”
Woah. The friendship had ended on a bitter note because of a guy!? Color me flabbergasted..
I hadn’t thought about that fight in years. I guess I didn’t want to. All unbidden now, it was It sizzling through me like a dying fuse, leaving me with a gaping hole in my heart.
“So you really don’t know why she’s visiting you now?” the Stranger asked.
Despite the golden glowing eyes, I dared a look. “She’s mad at me…” And cried for real this time.