For all previous chapters, please visit http://curiosityquills.com/published-authors/johanna-pitcairn/death-by-chocolate/
Right. I had heard that before! Just minutes ago, or hours, whichever, I thought I could leave! But guess what! Someone or something didn’t want me to!
Throwing him a questioning glance, I didn’t reply a word.
“I know what you might think… But there is a way out.” The Stranger grinned from ear to ear. “Come on, let’s go!”
At this point, no, I wouldn’t go anywhere. Why didn’t he just leave me alone? Things would be much simpler for me if put, and awake.
“What is out there?” I said without moving, “another ghost of Kara ready to tear me to shreds?”
“You’re worried about what’s outside? You think something is waiting for you?”
His expressionless eyes made me furious inside. What game was he playing with me?
“Well…” he chuckled, “anything can wait for you. Or anyone. You make your own reality, remember?”
I choked. “Since when do I make my own reality? You think I imagined all of this?” My hands flew in fast circles in the air. “You think I like to experience drowning in my imagination? You think I like to see dead people? My dead best friend hurting me and questioning my past deeds? And for what outcome? This senseless crap???”
A wave of anger surged through me again. Why couldn’t I wake up and be done with everything?
“Here, here…” He smiled. “I understand your frustration but getting angry won’t change the fact you’re stuck here until your mission is complete.”
“And what is my mission exactly?” I grew tired of hearing the same speech like a broken record.
“I told you. Save yourself to save the world.”
His intense golden stare pierced through me and made me shiver, despite the ambient air feeling damp and sticky.
“Did you have a conversation with someone else about this because I can’t remember you telling me about saving the world either,” I snapped.
“Sure you have. And by the way, you agreed to it as soon as you stepped foot inside the psychic’s house.” He winked.
She had showed me no disclaimer to sign! The old Gypsy lady tricked me to read my future because I was lost and hungry. Gosh! I should trust no one. Almost regretting punching Melissa in the nose, I sighed. None of this would have happened if I had kept my cool. But again, Mark had gone too far by cheating on me with her. And punching her was the only way I knew to defend my honor.
“You can justify all the wrong you did as much as you want, in the end you’ll have to pay the price for every sin you committed,” Evan’s voice suddenly echoed next to me.
“I don’t need scolding! I’m old enough to know what I did wasn’t right,” I shouted back at Evan while looking at the stranger who remained perfectly still and silent. “I will redeem myself. I owe it to all the people I’ve hurt.”
I swallowed hard and felt a lump in my throat. Now wasn’t the time to cry again. Glancing away, I took a deep breath to calm myself down.
“I think you’re ready to face your fate,” the stranger extended his hand, and I grabbed it with trembling fingers.
“What is threatening this place?” I asked with a broken voice.
The stranger’s strident laughter caused me to shiver like a leaf again. His face grimaced in the spookiest way, just like an evil clown. When he finally stopped, I felt ready to pee my pants. Well, technically, my linen tunic.
“You know… I think you underestimated this world’s impact upon you. You thought you were so tough and could handle anything, but look at you now. Not so tough after all, huh?” He moved his face a few inches away from my cheek until I could sense his breath all over my skin. “You will battle the greatest threat of all. What makes you whole and empty, what causes you bliss and utmost suffering, what pushes you on the verge of collapse and on the brink of the most glorious satisfaction. You hold it within. You cherish it. You love it. And you also hate it. Do you know what it is?”
I shook my head.
I shook my head again.
“That’s such an easy answer.” He smiled. “Your anger.”
My anger? How could my anger threaten the world?
“You’re so full of yourself. You pretend to understand but have no idea the damage you’ve caused by being so stubborn.” He pressed his hand on my shoulder and pushed me forward. “You need to see how bad your anger can be. How much pain it has caused!”
With sweaty palms and my stomach tied in a knot, I walked out of the room. The muscles in my legs hurt with every step. If I had the power to find the box of magic chocolates, I’d have wished to transform into the tiniest being possible and disappear from the surface of the earth. But the box like everything else stood far away from my reach. I had to endure whatever torture would come my way. No escape. No shortcut. I’d be taught a lesson worth to remember.
My hand in the stranger’s hand, I welcomed my sentencing. I stood alone against an enemy as familiar as it was foreign to me. I never tried to understand my anger, and certainly never worked on tempering myself down. I only reacted impulsively. The end of the world didn’t mean a thing unless I worked on a conscious effort to defeat what was raging inside and dominating me.
We passed the dining area and walked until we were outside again. We left the pyramid behind and entered an open space in broad daylight. The cheering crowd from earlier was still waiting for me. They all looked at me and waived as the stranger led me to a small wooden stage at the center of the area.
The only contender to beat was I. The whole wide world would watch and clap. The sea of heads and hands in the air echoed deafening shouts and chants as a loud roar in my ear. Still holding onto the stranger’s hand, I anticipated the chime of the bell before everything would go down.
The Stranger didn’t look at me once. He only spoke to the crowd and encouraged them to applaud some more.
“My friends…” he said, “today a savior has finally come… Dark times are over… Welcome her home!”
The crowd cheered like at the Superbowl. I closed my eyes. The knot in my stomach had become so tight, the ache gave me cold sweats. No matter how hard I tried to regulate my breathing, my heart was beating at such speed, I thought it’d break down inside my chest.
“Now today, we don’t fear death anymore…” The stranger continued, “we will rise victorious against adversity…”
I prayed for the torture to end. What if I’d faint? What if I’d suffer from a heart attack?
Come on! Put me to the test already…
“Always so impatient, eh?” Evan stood next to me again. I reopened my eyes and stared into his green glow. Dreamy as always, even as a projection of my subconscious…
“Does it make sense now?” he asked.
I stared at him and everything reverted back to Kara and me, exactly at the time when she decided to attend the party at Mike’s house.
“This guy is poison! I told you already.” I was screaming at her like I hated her for even thinking about him.
“You’re being selfish! So selfish…” She said while trying to contain her tears.
“Yeah well next time, have a crush on someone else!”
She came up to me, her blue eyes wet with tears. I knew she was hurt. I knew I couldn’t fix what I had said or done. Our friendship would not recover from that fight. I could have apologized right away, and assured her I only wished her well.
But the truth of the matter was love had gotten the best of me.
I didn’t think falling for Dan would happen to me. The first time our eyes met, I immediately felt a distinct pinch right inside my heart, as if struck by Cupid’s arrow. Stupid analogy, but it really felt this way.
I ignored my feelings because I knew Kara liked him a lot. Every time he passed by me in the hallways, I looked down and kept walking. My exit strategy worked until the day I couldn’t get away from him.
Studying for a test late one afternoon in the school library, I heard his voice and my fingers froze on the keyboard of my laptop.
“I knew I’d find you here,” he said and I melted. He smiled. I found myself staring at the most perfect set of facial features. Forget the Justin Bieber haircut. I sighed. Regaining my composure seemed impossible at this point.
“You’ve worked long enough,” he proceeded to shut my computer, and pulled me out of my chair. I didn’t show any sign of resistance. His after-shave fragrance overwhelmed me as soon as he pressed me against him, and I closed my eyes for a second to focus on the delicious scent.
“Come on nerd, let’s get a bite to eat.” He grabbed my bag and led me out my sanctuary. I was nowhere safe with him. He held the power to break girls’ hearts, and I stood next in line. Worse, what about the gossip if someone saw us together? And Kara? She’d never forgive me…
But I followed him. Feeling the warmth of his palm in my hand, I loved every second of it. The quarterback liked the nerdy chick with glasses and a horrible temper. At six foot three, he was much taller than my five foot five, but I liked to think of him as my protector and guardian angel.
Gosh… What had I done for the affection of a boy? I cringed. Evan gently massaged my shoulders. The muscles in my back ached everywhere he applied pressure. My head began to hurt too as more ugly memories flooded my brain.
I refused to go to the party and used packing for the move as pretext.
Dan texted me all evening long to keep me updated. Kara got really drunk and ultimately threw herself at him in the house. Her infatuation over him had become obsessive, so he and I had devised a plan to scare her off. He’d frighten her enough, she’d never want to stand in his vicinity ever again. Him pretending to be interested in her was just a ploy.
When things started getting hot and heavy, he offered to drive her back home. In his car.
I never thought the accident would happen, and couldn’t believe he actually slapped the crap out of her like she showed me in the dream. The whole girl-beater thing was a lie… presumably.
Dan called me right after the incident.
“She’s not breathing,” he said and I heard panic in his voice.
“Calm down,” I ordered.
“I have to take her back! And I can’t bring her like this… Oh gosh!”
“I’m going to go to jail.”
“Ok… Deep breath. We’re going to figure this out. Together. Dan, snap out of the funk you’re in. Right now! I need you to focus. Are you with me?”
Even if only fourteen, I took my mother’s sedan in the middle of the night and drove all the way to this empty lot where he had totaled his car, away from any busy area.
Less than an hour later, I found him sitting by the wreckage. How he survived the crash was a mystery to me. With all his cuts and injuries, he looked nothing like the powerful and strategic quarterback who robbed every girl’s heart on the football field.
I ached to see him so weak. But we had to make things right. Kara’s alarming condition would destroy our lives… What would she say when she woke up? If she woke up… Would she say Dan punched her simply because he didn’t want her? How far would she go to ruin his reputation out of spite? Everyone at school knew how infatuated she was with him. No one had a clue about him and me. No one.
A big streak of dry blood marked the entire right side of Kara’s face. I retched when I pulled her out of the car and her head wobbled like a doll. Gosh. I had no clue whether she was breathing. I put my ear by her nose and tried to feel air coming out. Nothing.
I caught Dan crying. His entire body was trembling. I did my best not to cry too, even if tears welled in my eyes.
No way Dan and I should sacrifice our future because of a stupid accident.
“We have to hide her somewhere, and make it look like someone abducted her and killed her.”
Dan stared at me and didn’t say a thing.
“Come on!” I shouted. “Help me here!”
“I… drove her back home. Everybody knows that. What am I gonna say?”
“You pulled over on the side of the road because you wanted to make out. Someone saw you and threatened you with a gun to steal the car. You begged them to let you and Kara go. They insisted on taking the car with her inside. You tried to fight them but they knocked you out cold and left you there.”
I had to think fast of a plausible story that’d keep the cops at bay. After burning the car down, no evidence could trace her disappearance back to Dan. Not for a while at least.
Yep I was that crazy. And that much in love.
He shrugged. “I don’t know about this.”
I grabbed him by the shoulders and shook him hard. “Do you want to jeopardize everything?”
He moved back into the upright position and kicked the passenger door like a mad man.
“I can’t believe this!!”
I hugged him. “We have to be strong.”
He pushed me back. “How can you be like this? She’s your best friend! We never wanted her dead. We just wanted to scare her off! Now look at what we’re doing!”
He was right. But did I listen? Of course not.
“You want to lose your scholarship? Flip burgers for the rest of your life? Or clean rest area restrooms?” I scowled. “You were driving her and this accident happened. You’re hurt but will be fine. She needs to go.”
The heartless villains of all the movies I had been watching since my childhood suddenly found a strong resonance in me. It felt so easy to be bad. With the right amount of precaution, no one would know what truly happened to her.
After we finished with everything, I drove Dan to a grocery store parking lot deserted at night, and located only a few miles from the area where the accident had occurred. I stayed with him until dawn, and then waited for the store to open. He walked inside and surely enough, someone from the staff took him to the nearest police precinct.
He declared his car stolen, and Kara missing. I felt confident after the work we did, cops would find the car first, and Kara last.
And by the time she was found, I’d already be in L.A.
I expected to read resentment in Evan’s eyes, but all I saw was a spark of light, shining like a star at the end of a very long and dark tunnel.
“Is there hope?” I asked, my voice trembling.
He smiled. “Only if you’re willing to believe there’s hope.”
I remained silent. I was a criminal. Dan had become the reason for my loss of control, and my stupidity caused him to fail everything after that dreadful night. He barely managed to graduate high school, and started college but dropped out within a few months during his freshman year. After getting caught by an undercover cop, he got incarcerated for dealing recreational illegal substances to underage adults at a rave party. All the dreams of playing football and ending up in the NFL draft vanished as quickly as his addiction to hard drugs became stronger and stronger. His past haunted him constantly. And I watched him destroy his life from afar while I continued my own journey to hell in L.A.
After we split up, he begged me to stop visiting him because he couldn’t stand my presence anymore. Karma awaited me at every corner, and I never got spared. Anger management issues led me to commit petty crimes. I did community service because I started fights for no good reason. Violence had become my only outlet.
Dan never forgave himself for leaving Kara behind. Our relationship didn’t recover from her passing. What seemed like a good idea had become the worst scenario ever. Everything turned into agony because of my foolishness, and now? I had to finally pay the price.
Evan patted my shoulder as if my subconscious really could help me feel better. And I still didn’t know why he looked so familiar.
“Here… You’ve been prepared for this. You’ll do great,” he said softly in my ear.
But as I searched the sea of heads chanting my name, I got welcomed by an inferno instead. The world as I knew it needed to be rebuilt from its ashes. With a long and sharp spear?
“Be quick!” Evan shouted as a dark shadow suddenly emerged from the flames. I blinked. The animal standing before me looked exactly like the gargoyle that circled the top of the pyramid when the stranger and I entered the edifice for the first time. The pair of red eyes was staring at me, sign the beast would attack at any given moment.
I heard a loud growl behind me. Feeling the weight of the spear in my hand, I watched a growing number of similar devilish creatures slowly circle me. Beads of sweat merged into streams on each side of my face. I was panting.
The gargoyles surrounded me like an angry mob ready to strike. I didn’t see flames anymore, only them. Hundreds of them. Growling in unison. Sending waves of fear through my limbs. They kept staring at me, moving closer, inch by inch, until all I could smell was the sulfurous scent of their skin.
Not really sure why, I dropped the spear. Too late to catch it! The weapon vanished into dust as soon as it touched the ground. What now? I couldn’t fight the army of gargoyles with my bare hands. The monsters would reduce me to bone and marrow in a matter of seconds.
I closed my eyes and started mumbling the first few words of a prayer. Funny how the thought of dying made me feel religious again.
“Dear Lord, if you still believe I can be saved despite the horrible deeds I’ve done against so many people, please, I beg you, give me a sign.”
The growl intensified. Expecting to be devoured alive, I spread my arms and screamed in surrender.
But nothing happened. When I reopened my eyes, the beasts and the fire had disappeared.
I kneeled to the ground and started crying. So many tears fell they formed a puddle of mud before me. Pressing my hands into the puddle, I grabbed some of the mud and rubbed my hands together. The dirt felt good against my skin. I was finally ready to make amends.
An ice-cold breeze suddenly blew the hair of my neck. Looking straight ahead, I realized I had been transported to a snow-covered field. I was still wearing my ridiculous jewelry and my lightweight tunic, none of which kept me warm. The breeze pierced through to me like nothing.
There in the whiteness stood the silhouette of a young woman. She raised her hand and waved at me. I didn’t move. I knew this wave.
She wanted me to come to her.
I started walking in her direction. Despite the freezing cold, I didn’t stall.
I couldn’t run away from the truth.
When I finally got near her, she looked exactly like a corpse brought back to life. A brain-eater. A bloodthirsty hound ready to rip my heart from my chest…
“Your imagination has always been out of control…” Evan’s voice in my ear startled me.
He was strolling by my side – still shirtless like the first time we met – smiling and looking as happy as a clam. And I still didn’t know who he was supposed to remind me of.
“What are you doing here?” I swallowed hard and glanced back at Kara. She hadn’t said a word yet. “W-What does she want from m-me?” My teeth clattered hard.
Evan patted my shoulder. “Just to talk, Julie, she was your friend after all.”
True. And she died because of me.
Staring at Kara’s hollow glowing purple eye sockets, I lost the last bit of courage left in me. For the first time, I couldn’t think of anything to say to her. For the first time, I was ready to listen.
She suddenly clasped her hand around my fingers and clawed at my skin like a cat. Her sharp nails cut the flesh. A burning sensation spread throughout my hand. I tried to pull it out, but she held onto me so tight, she almost ripped my index off.
I cringed. She pressed her nails like daggers, as a sneer ran across her face from ear to ear, and she started laughing, her laughter echoing like a shrill all around me. High pitched and loud, her voice was an evil scream coming from a place filled with darkness and pain. Droplets of blood trickled down my palm and stained the ground.
“I have been waiting for this moment for so long.”
My tongue felt like lead inside my mouth. I could only grunt.
“And you don’t even know what to say to me now, do you?” Her hollow eyes lit up with a brighter glow. Extending her other hand, she touched my cheek, scratching the skin even as deeply as she moved closer to my lips. She finally pressed her index finger against my mouth and I almost tasted the acrid smell of her rotting flesh. I wanted to throw up but she held me still, and pushed her finger harder until I could feel the pressure up to my teeth.
“But do you really have anything to say to me?” Mesmerized by her stare, I slowly shook my head. “I didn’t think so.” She slapped me hard and my head snapped back. “Liar!” She shrieked again. “Do you love me?” More tears streamed down my face and I nodded. She slapped me again. “DO YOU LOVE ME?” I felt the burn of her hand. “Do you think you’ll ever be forgiven for what you did? DO YOU?” Her violent slaps didn’t overcome the raging ache in my heart. I wished she beat me up unconscious.
Her purple eyes glowed harder as she kept talking. Hypnotized, I wanted to drown myself in them, and forget all about the past. But she made sure I felt everything, and the pain inside my chest grew stronger with every breath I took.
“You will beg me to spare your life,” she scowled, “while you never offered me that choice, did you? F.Y.I. I really want you to die…”
The Kara I knew would never be so evil to me. But again, I had been disloyal to her, and deserved my just punishment, whatever it may be.
“But…” she continued, “it would be too easy to let you go and not give you a second chance. So here’s the deal: do you remember what the Gypsy gave you?”
She presented me the familiar box of chocolates and opened the lid.
“You can stay here for eternity or can redeem your way back and change for the better. Remember, whatever chocolate you’ll eat, you’ll have to make the final decision. Whatever power you wish to get, you’ll work hard to be able to use it. If you decide to fight for your salvation, you’ll get what you were looking for.” She paused and dug her nails through my hand to make me cringe. “And you know what you’re looking for, right?” she said very softly.
I nodded slightly.
“Good. So which chocolate do you want?”
TO BE CONTINUED…