DEATH BY CHOCOLATE

It’s sweet and tasty – you have been waiting for it – well it has finally arrived!

Now I have to suppress the need to be self-conscious and critique my work up to the point where I will tear it to shreds…

Death by Chocolate is the new fantasy story of your summer.

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?

Death by Chocolate is a romantic urban fantasy adventure by Johanna K. Pitcairn, serialized and published right here at Curiosity Quills, every Monday.

***

Chapter 1 – Boxed In

Hi. My name’s Julie, and I’m seventeen years old. Three days ago, I ran away from home. It wasn’t my first time and I’ll spare you most of the details. Anyway, since then, my life kinda turned upside down, to say the least.

I drove east, far away from the myriad of problems that filled up my existence. I didn’t really think of where I’d go and what I’d do once I left, but I didn’t care. I felt stuck in a world where I didn’t belong, and I wanted out.

My journey started on the road to Las Vegas. Despite being too young to gamble, I stayed in a cheap motel room until I’d figure out where to go next. I didn’t plan my escape very wisely. I didn’t even bring enough cash and as soon as the word was out, my parents blocked my checking account. Not enough cash, by the way, meant exactly seventy-five dollars and some spare change bulking up my wallet. Stopping by a pawn shop to sell my Cartier watch and make extra money was an option, but I decided against it. I liked my watch. And who knew, maybe I was going to need it in exchange for something much more important than a few gallons of gas.

I ate lots of junk food, but after a while I simply had enough of curly fries and onion rings, so I began stealing. Petty theft didn’t work out great, I realized. Drenched and hungry on one pouring afternoon, I ran into this old Gypsy woman outside a D­ollar Store. I considered begging to buy a bag of chips. Pa-the-tic. The Gypsy came over and told me she worked as a psychic. Picture my reaction. I rolled my eyes and told her to find another victim, but she insisted I wouldn’t have to pay for anything, and she’d get me food! She really wanted to read my future.

What the heck? I let her.

We walked for a little while down this really sketchy neighborhood. Inhabited houses needed repair. Condemned buildings sheltered squatters. No tree grew anywhere, and even grass looked filthy among the sidewalk cracks. I watched rusty cars slowly drive by along the one way street. I’d freak if one of them stopped. I was sure people carried guns around, and it was a bit early to die of a stray bullet. Now the thought of the Gypsy turning into a homicidal maniac also crossed my mind, but I didn’t muster the courage to run away on an empty stomach. What can I say? She was my only option left, besides returning to my parents with my tail neatly tucked between my legs, and that idea didn’t sound very appealing.

As a black Mercedes SUV cruised down the asphalt, I questioned my authority issues again. Maybe I should have gone home after all. I thought of a drug dealer surveying his block, or rich kids in search for drugs. Either way, I don’t do drugs.

I sighed.

“I’ll make you a nice dinner.” The Gypsy winked at me with her lazy eye, and smiled with her toothless mouth. Working as a psychic apparently didn’t pay well.

The woman seemed nice enough to care about me, on the contrary of many who had crossed my path these past few days. I couldn’t let her down now. We were so close to her place. I sucked it up.

I smiled in return but didn’t say much. We kept walking in silence until we finally reached an okay looking three-story house. Not bad. However, my hopes went downhill at the sight of her apartment.

The dust ruled supreme. Papers covered the top of the kitchen counter and the living room table. The place wasn’t well-furnished, and the walls badly needed a fresh coat of paint. A freaking dump. I also smelled incense and sneezed. I hated incense. It always made me feel like I was in a temple, or worse, a funeral home. I wasn’t too keen on hanging out with religious people.

Yep, I should have gone. First impressions never lie. Plus, I had lost my appetite.

“Sit down.”

Guess not. Okay, in five minutes, I’d go. I found a clear spot on the couch and waited. She disappeared into the kitchen, and then came back with two cups of hot coffee.

Aw, that was nice of her.

While I sipped my coffee, she moved the papers off the living room table.

“Come here.” She pointed at the nearest chair, and as I obeyed, proceeded to grab a set of Tarot cards and shuffle the deck. Five minutes. I’d only stay five minutes.

“Pick one.” She put the cards face down on the table, and I placed my index finger on one.

“Another one.”

Yeah. Then, rinse and repeat until she had five cards in front of her. She put away the rest and turned the first card up.

“You always start from left to right. Oh, I see….” Weird cards with weird designs all over them? I saw them, too.

But a cat bit her tongue as she flipped the cards one by one very slowly. I was ready to pass out when she snatched my free hand and ran her fingers on the lines of my palm. Gee woman, warn me next time, will you?

“You have a great future ahead of you,” she said.

I almost choked. Wow, I expected everything, but this?

“Okay,” I replied. And just like that, all my problems would go away…

“But… before you reach greatness, you’ll have to go on a journey. A very dangerous journey,” she added and stared at me with her lazy eye. I had to fight the urge to roll on the floor laughing.

“That journey will test your faith,” she continued.

“Uh, I’m not religious,” I put in and checked my watch. Hey, my time was up.

She must have sensed I was ready to stand, because she squeezed my hand hard.

“It has nothing to do with God. It has everything to do with you.” Her tone sounded too ridiculous to be taken seriously but I decided to play along. She was entertaining.

“What do you mean?”

“I see someone else,” she whispered.

I moved to the edge of my seat. “Who?”

“A boy,” she said with a glorious smile across her face.

I scowled. “Is it Mark?” Mark dumped me on Valentine’s Day,..

“He’ll follow you on your journey,” she replied.

I threw her an angry glance. You didn’t answer me, lady!

“Be careful.” She pressed my hand against hers and looked me straight in the eye.

I grew more and more annoyed. “Okay.”

“I have something else for you. It will help you find the truth.” She walked to a cabinet. I heard her rummage for something. Lovely, what else would she pull from her magic hat this time? After minutes that felt like hours, she came back with a red heart shaped box wrapped with a bow.

“For you.” She handed me the box.

“What is it?”

“Open.”

I untied the bow and pulled the lid. Chocolates? How long did she keep them in her cupboard? Years?

“Eat one now,” she ordered.

“I’m not hungry.” I stood but she pushed me back down and removed the lid.

“Eat.”

I watched the expression on her face and instantly knew she wasn’t joking. Honestly, I could knock out the rest of her teeth, if I tried hard enough. I even mentally prepared myself to land a jab right in her chin, if she pulled a knife from her back pocket. But she wore a dress, so would she even have a back pocket? I took a deep breath.

Me hitting her would cause even more problems than I already created. Was she worth the trouble? Her eyes were boring into my brain.

Fine! I’d eat the stupid thing, then go!

She stood next to me while I chewed. Well… after consideration, that tasted good, and bitter was my favorite!

I finished and glanced at her. “Ok, I’m gonna go. Thanks for the reading,” I said, but before I could hear her answer, the tiredness dropped me like a rock.

I woke up in the middle of a meadow, and didn’t recognize where I was.

What the…? Where was the Gypsy’s apartment? The old witch poisoned me, and I was dead! I knew it! Talk about a lucky day! I started pounding the ground with my fists. This had become ridiculous. My life had turned into a freaking soap opera.

I didn’t stop hitting the earth until my hands hurt. Anger coursed through my body so hard, I was shaking like a leaf. Tears streamed down my face. I cursed and screamed. Would anyone hear me? At that point, it didn’t matter. As I looked around, I saw trees on the horizon. A forest? No clue.

Where could I go? The air felt somewhat chilly. My jacket was in the car. Okay… now where was my car? Oh yeah, if I was dead, I didn’t need a car anymore. How on earth…? Something was moving in the woods. That something was coming in my direction. I squinted. That something was actually someone and that someone looked like a boy.

Okay… He ran toward me, fast. The boy opened his mouth and said something, but I didn’t understand a word. The closer he got, the more I took in the sight of him. His dark hair glistened against his olive skin. His shirtless body was tall and strong, and his muscles flexed as he ran faster, closer.

The boy yelled something. It sounded like “un”.

For a moment I forgot all about my frustration. Instead, I quickly rearranged my hair, smiled, and waved. “Hey!”

Maybe I wasn’t dead, after all, and I was just dreaming. Well, excuse me, ladies and gentlemen, but the boy in my dream looked stunning!

He reached me, and I stared into the most beautiful pair of green eyes… Squirm. Did I really squirm?

To my astonishment, he leapt like a jaguar and grabbed my arm in the process. “Run!” he yelled and pulled me off the ground like I weighed nothing.

Why did he say such a thing? I didn’t find the time to question his action because the look on his face was enough to convince me.

So, I ran too.

We went fast. Really fast. Everything around me became a gigantic blur, just like catching a glimpse of a speeding car on the left lane on the freeway.

We were literally flying through trees and bushes. The boy held my left hand while my right hand held the box of chocolates. I couldn’t let go of it, even if I wanted to. Maybe my fingers were glued to it or something. Mostly, I couldn’t wrap my head around what just happened! First, I woke up in a place I didn’t recognize. Second, my encounter with another human being started with the word “run”. Third, I had no clue how or why I was able to sprint as though I didn’t feel my legs. I’ve never been good at running. Ever.

I stared ahead and all I saw was a warp of green, brown and white flash around me. The boy didn’t slow down or stop but strangely enough, my heartbeat remained calm and steady. I wasn’t panting. I wasn’t tired. No air hit me in the face as if I stood behind an invisible shield, and was transported from one place to the next like on a train or an airplane. My run felt effortless.

My mind, on the other hand, was all over the place. So I focused. On the movements of the muscles in the boy’s back. Mark didn’t have a thing on him. Tall and slender, my ex hated exercising, but a two-packs-a-day habit does do wonders for metabolism… not to mention a bucketful of other stuff that makes me angry just thinking about it. Don’t get me wrong. Mark’s a smart guy, but did he have some serious issues! How did I fall for him? I’m not sure anymore. His smile, his glance, everything about him cried for my attention, and love never gives a warning.

Okay, the scenery was gorgeous. The aforementioned muscles rocked. Why was I still thinking about Mark?

When we finally stopped running like torpedoes, the low murmur of waves hitting the shore brought me back to a place dear to my childhood. Sand stretched for miles on a deserted beach that strangely reminded me of Oceanside, California, where I used to live until I was fourteen.

“Where are we?” The water formed a perfect mirror that reflected the brightest sunlight.

“We gotta go!” The boy pulled on my hand but I didn’t move an inch.

“I’m thirsty.”

“Really?” The boy puffed. “There’s water here.” He pointed ahead of him.

“Oh yeah?” I puffed right back, “where do you think I’m from?” and held his stare until he looked down.

He shrugged. “I don’t know. Where do you come from?” He tilted his head just enough to glance at me, and I caught a mocking spark in his eyes.

“What’s that supposed to mean?” I slowly started to feel uncomfortable. “Where are we?”

“If we stay here, we’re going to get killed.”

“That’s hilarious. And who’s going to kill us?”

“You don’t want to know.”

His somber gaze ratcheted up my uneasiness. “What’s your name?” I barely managed before my legs wobbled under me.

He quickly grabbed my waist to keep me steady. My vision blurred.

“What’s happening to me….” I slurred.

“We need to find shelter, and then we talk. Deal?” He sounded genuinely concerned.

I closed my eyes.

“You’re shivering.”

Oh, who were you, my beautiful stranger? Were you sent to guide me to the holy gates of heaven on my last day?

The weight of my body dragged me to the ground to a crescendo of pain filling my head.

“I’ll take care of you,” I heard him whisper in my ear before my whole world turned black.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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