To read the previous installments, please visit http://curiosityquills.com/published-authors/johanna-pitcairn/death-by-chocolate/
Weeping like a child doesn’t equal badass in my book. But I guess I needed to open the dam, and let all the emotions out. Catching my breath was a challenge for a few long minutes. How many tears could I shed?
The Stranger kept staring at me with an expressionless attitude. Maybe he found my crying amusing; something else he could take advantage of once the right occasion would come. As if I hadn’t shown enough weakness for one day.
“So… I hope you find the answers you were looking for,” he said.
Well, no, but thanks for asking anyway.
I shook my head. “I’m tired.”
He raised an eyebrow. “Tired? But you just slept. Come on, let’s get you out of here, you need some fresh air.”
Fresh air? I thought no one exited the pyramid.
He grabbed my hand and pulled me away from the bed. As I stood, the muscles in my legs all cramped up. How long had I been under? Days? After rubbing my limbs to release the stiffness, I slowly moved out of the room.
I had become a robot following the Stranger’s steps wherever he had decided to take me. And I stayed convinced his intentions, as good as he pretended them to be, were not to take me outside.
Dreaming of Kara had ripped a hole in my heart and the residual pain of her memory lingered like a hangover. I had traveled back in time to when we thought our friendship was so strong, it’d last forever. But actions mean more than words, obviously. And our unbreakable bond proved unable to stand the test of time.
We returned to the chamber where we ate earlier, and I noticed the table had been wiped completely clean. The army of attendant-priestesses had also disappeared. Leaving me standing, the Stranger proceeded to rearrange the furniture by setting the chairs against one of the walls and moving the table away from the center of the room. His back turned at me, I watched him kneel and slowly run his fingers against the floor tiles.
After going back and forth between the same two spots, he finally stopped and pressed an imaginary button with his palm, and then stepped back and grabbed my hand again.
“Watch,” he prompted.
I heard the sudden clicks of a mechanism echo inside the room, as the floor tiles started shifting sideways and then down, creating a passage in the middle of the ground. I recognized the steps of a stairway at which the Stranger pointed.
I threw him a questioning look.
“Let’s go,” he pressed his hand on my lower back and pushed me forward. Either I’d resist and die of a hole in my head bored by his glowing golden eyes, or I’d survive a bit longer. As if the choice wasn’t already made. Setting one foot on the first step, I stared at the blackness below.
So we weren’t going outside! Right once again. Exploring basements didn’t belong to my area of expertise so…. What would I find there?
“Are… Are you coming with me?” I asked with a timid voice.
“Of course,” he replied, smiling. As if that comforted me.
Okay… I started my descent into the unknown. A few feet down, a strong smell of mildew attacked my nostrils. Dust made me sneeze. It was incredibly hard to see anything, and I moved carefully not to trip and break my neck. Now would be the right time for a magical Evan light bulb to appear! And also a box of tissues, please!
The Stranger followed behind. His clicking sandals didn’t click anymore, and his steps actually sounded muffled as if he cared about being as silent as possible. Would we wake someone up if we weren’t? A lump formed in my throat – maybe I’d stumble on another monster at the bottom of the stairway… with no chocolates to defeat it. But if fighting an ugly shapeless creature could help me get rid of the overpowering mildew stench, there’d be progress somewhere. I seriously sneezed at least fifty times, and was far from being done.
“Bless you!” Evan interjected.
“Woah you snuck in here too, huh?” Rhetorical question since Evan was a part of me, but it felt comforting to talk to him again.
“Well… I wish I could come more often but the old man behind you poured something in the wine you drank and you hallucinated for a while up there.”
The evil Anakin Skywalker becomes Darth Vador – and uses his powers against me?? Ha! Nothing new here.
“And I dreamed of Kara. Not in a nice way either.”
“I know! The bastard is forcing you to remember something you’ve ignored for too long.”
Glancing sideways, I caught the green glow of Evan’s eyes. They looked so captivating in the dark… And his familiar orange halo also illuminated the way before me, so I finally knew where I was. Well, at least see where I was. Wait… How could my subconscious turn on the light? And would the Stranger notice anything?
“You’ll worry about that later, pal!” Evan interrupted my train of thoughts by firmly patting my shoulder. “Focus on where you’re going because it ain’t pretty down there.”
Along the way lay the remains of bodies partly or fully decomposed. Walls on each side lined the death row I was supposed to follow and the execution room seemed like the most logical destination. The stench inside the confined area increased with every step, becoming putrid and unbearable.
“W-What happened?” Throwing up would happen in 3… 2… 1…
“They hid from the truth… and died,” the Stranger’s voice echoed all around me and I instantly shuddered.
“I’m scared,” I whispered to Evan.
“Just have faith. And don’t ignore Kara. She has something to tell you,” my subconscious replied.
Hearing her name made me want to break down again. “Why are you talking about her?”
“Because she holds many answers to your questions… Don’t worry, soon it’ll be all over,” Evan added.
As if this statement made me feel any better. What would be over exactly? My life? My lies? My torment? My relentless mal de vivre?
Applying my fingers against the cold stone of the walls, I suddenly thought about the Gypsy and our encounter outside the grocery store. Wise decision making had never been my forte. But who could have predicted a Tarot card reading session would turn into an introspection of my soul? Maybe lazy eyed lady wandered in the rain for a reason, and I was destined to find her. Bullcrap. I never believed in fate.
Evan’s comforting orange glow switched off – hey! Turn the light back on.
“Sorry pal, exceptional circumstances,” he murmured softly.
A water drop suddenly hit the top of my hand. Okay… Pretty normal for a basement to be humid. As long as no bat would fly my way, or I wouldn’t have to slide down poo to find the exit, we were in good shape. A second drop landed on my skin, and I shivered. A faint breeze raised the hair on my arms and neck. There close to me, I was sensing a presence.
A scratching burn confirmed someone indeed stood in front of me.
“Ouch!” I exclaimed, “What was that?”
No one responded. And the Stranger was gone too. What the heck!
Clearing my head of all unnecessary thoughts, I focused on remaining as calm as possible. A purple mist appeared through the darkness, forming the shape of a body I recognized immediately. She was wearing the same white gown and her shining crucifix. Kara.
“What do you want again?” Taking a step back, I bumped against a wall instead of going down the hallway. Had I turned around by mistake? Extending my hands, I kept touching stone instead of open space, confined in a dead end.
There was nowhere to run. Prisoner of Kara’s apparition, I could either watch her materialize before me, or close my eyes. But what closing my eyes would help me achieve exactly? And Evan told me to listen to her because she held many answers to my questions. As if I really needed answers to my growing claustrophobia.
Kara stood in her adult form, the purplish glow of her eyes giving me more the creeps than a child molester in search of a crowded playground. I’d have actually traded places with an about to be molested child not to deal with her again. But she trapped me for a reason. Had she come back to claim my soul in payment for something evil I had done a long time ago and couldn’t remember?
A grin split her face from ear to ear. Super duper creepy. Help!
“Are you even real?” My fingers passed between us, and I felt a cold pocket of air.
Another burn slashed the skin of my arm.
“Why are you hurting me?”
I started getting pissed instead of afraid. Could I shake her like a doll until she’d finally speak to me?
More scratches followed, and each felt like papercuts, insidious but constant reminders more injuries had been inflicted. She couldn’t be serious. I was tougher than her. She had backed off during our previous interaction. What was giving her the power to strike me like that? Her devious games effectively triggered my harshest reaction.
She wanted me angry? She’d see me angry! I jerked my body forward in an attempt to catch her but a force of incredible proportion stopped my momentum and propelled me backwards. Losing my balance, my face hit the hard wall, pain throbbed up to the top of my skull and my vision blurred.
I cursed at the top of my lungs and looked at the purple mist.
“What do you want!?!” I screamed, and as response, Kara’s laughter echoed all around me.
“Oh you think it’s funny!”
Her face came very close to mine, floating like a shaky hologram. But the purple glow of her eyes didn’t cause enough uneasiness to make me forget about my rage.
“You hurt me,” her voice finally said, but the character before me didn’t move her lips once. She kept staring at me like a lifeless doll. Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to the creepy fest!
“What are you… talking about?”
“You really don’t know?”
Her face melted away and got replaced by a screenshot. It felt like watching TV. I saw a house in the background. Cars parked in the driveway, and kids stumbling in and out. I entered. Music blasted in every room. I recognized some of my former high school mates cluttered in the kitchen and the hallways, drinking cheap booze out of red plastic cups. A girl finished a kegstand. A couple was making out by the first floor bathroom.
I took the steps up to the second floor. Passed a few other students, and then quickly moved to a bedroom. Posters of football players plastered the walls. On the bed, Kara and Dan sat next to each other, and she was playing with his hand. Her head remained very close to his face, so he could breathe the vanilla scent of her hair or something. Good god. She seemed… drunk. And so was he. She kept pressing herself against him, running her other hand along his back and his waist. She murmured something in his ear, and he giggled. Finally, he held her by the neck and pushed her onto the bed, where they ended up kissing.
Talk about voyeurism.
But I kept watching. I had to know what Kara tried so hard to show me. The scene quickly shifted to the interior of a car, presumably Dan’s. Dan was driving and Kara sat on the passenger seat. She grabbed his free hand and set it on her knee, but he surprisingly didn’t comply. The more she kept trying, and the more he rejected her advances.
“You jerk!” she spat and landed a punch in his arm.
“Leave me alone!” he ordered.
“Let’s pull over! I forgive you…” she slurred.
She threw herself at him – and he pushed her back.
“Not while I’m driving!” he scowled. “Stop acting like a child!”
“Don’t you want to be my teddy bear?” she giggled and threw herself at him again. “I love you my teddy bear, I love you!” she chanted and pressed her arms around his neck in a headlock.
“You gotta stop, you’re gonna kill us!”
Despite his efforts to make her move, she held on strong. The car started swerving on the road. It was dark, and hard to see whether oncoming traffic was approaching.
“My teddy bear, my lovely teddy bear!!” Kara sung while nibbling on Dan’s cheek. “Tell me you love me teddy bear, tell me you love me!!”
Distracted, Dan had a tough time keeping the car in a straight lane.
“My teddy bear!!”
“Stop calling me like this!”
“Why?” she whined.
“Just let me drive, please?”
“You hate me!” she started crying. “You hate me!!!”
The nibbling turned into biting.
“What are you doing!”
Pushing her away from him appeared a real challenge. The car kept swerving between lanes. She bit him harder. He screamed. Ripping her off him, he slapped her and she landed against the passenger door.
“You bastard! Julie was right! You’re a woman beater!”
“Why are you talking about Julie?” he replied angrily.
Kara cried more, and screamed. “Woman beater, woman beater, woman beater!!”
“Shut up!” he slapped her again. Her head tilted backwards and she hit the door.
The sound of a horn resonated in the distance. The car was in the wrong lane. Kara threw herself at Dan once more.
“Woman beater! Woman beater!” she repeated relentlessly.
“SHUT UP!” Dan smacked her with the back of the hand.
The deafening sound of the horn intensified, and headlights flooded the inside of the vehicle. Dan tried to regain control, while Kara was passed out on the passenger seat.
But a too sharp turn sent the car rolling onto its side, and tumbling several times before landing on the roof in a cloud of dust. One front wheel spun until halt and silence invaded the scene that completely faded out.
An immense sense of despair overwhelmed me. I wish I had been in the car to reason with her, and tell her how stupid she had been. Why did she act this way with him? I told her to stay away. I had warned her.
Feeling the taste of my own vomit in my mouth, I closed my eyes. I wasn’t guilty of anything. This guy did this to her! Not me! He was a jerk and yet she still went ahead because she had a crush on him.
When her face reappeared in front of me, her hand ripped through my ribcage and gripped my heart very tight between her tiny fingers. Just like with the strangers, air was being squeezed out of my lungs again. Was it really the only way people knew how to catch my attention in this world?
“What… Are… You doing?” I blurted while choking to death. Maybe now I could finally let go and not wake up to deal with this crap anymore, whatever new crap would be thrown at me next.
“Do you feel my pain?” she replied with her disembodied voice. “I want you to know what it feels like to have your heart crushed into a million little pieces. You weren’t there for me, Julie. You were my friend. My best friend. Where were you when I needed you the most?”
Her eyes shined a brighter purple, like two LEDs suddenly powered by a violent surge. How did she turn so evil? I left her because I moved away, and then she stopped talking to me…
“You really don’t want to see the truth, do you?” she whispered and her mouth grimaced looking totally distorted. Meanwhile, my vision blurred again.
“I don’t know… What you… Want!” I exhaled my last breath.
She huffed and squeezed my heart harder. “How about an apology?”
No need to fight any longer. I was letting go.
She squeezed harder. “Look at me! Look at me!” she shrieked.
She pulled my eyelids open, and released her grip so I could breathe. Her bloodied face was staring at me from inside the car. Dried out black mascara tears streaked her cheeks down to her chin, her eyelids shut. Her lower lip hung low and swollen. I understood her pain, but could have done nothing to save her. She was alone with him.
I didn’t do this to her! I tried to scream and fight. I even tried to reject the fact she was dead.
My best friend was dead!
“Do you understand now what you’ve been missing all along?” She whispered and her cold breath made me have goose bumps. “You ignored my passing. You didn’t come to the funeral and you didn’t visit me once at the cemetery. You just pretended I didn’t exist anymore,” she said. “My friend abandoned me. My best friend left me all alone. I was sad. So sad. Do you realize what you did?”
While regaining control over my senses, I felt her hand holding my chin up and forcing me to look into her eyes… Her beautiful blue eyes that usually expressed nothing but love. But these eyes had died like the rest of her, and only her ache remained.
“You have to pay for what you did,” she said as I tasted the salt of my own tears.
She let my chin go, and without a word, glided away from me. Once I could breathe normally, I started heaving and let my face fall into my hands. Staying like this, I didn’t see light all around me. Finally looking up, I recognized the room where I had fallen asleep, and was actually still lying on the bed.
The Stranger was leaning against the doorframe, his golden eyes fixated on me.
“How was your nap?” he asked.
“A-Are you real?” I wiped away the tears covering my face. “A-Am I still dreaming?”
He chuckled softly. “Yes, I’m real. And no, you’re awake.”
Sighing, I grabbed the fabric of my linen robe and rubbed it between my fingers, as if this action helped remind me what reality truly felt like. But I wasn’t convinced yet the nightmare with Kara had ended.
“My friend’s dead.” I said, and more tears welled in my eyes.
“Come with me,” he approached and extended his hand for me to grab.
I hesitated. “Last time you asked me to go anywhere with you, you imprisoned me underground and I almost got killed by Kara’s ghost.”
“I understand your frustration, but you need to come with me,” his eyes were glowing like two golden nuggets. A bit more of resistance on my part and my brain would be fried on the spot.
“Why?” I reluctantly asked.
“So you can leave this place.”