Chocolate for a Prophetess
When Elisa opens her eyes, her room is just beginning to fill with light.
Her mind is flushed with thoughts, intangible and obscure, but as she watches her room slowly saturate with sun, she can feel those anxieties start to slip away. Her head clears as she listens to the robins sing outside, as she watches her thin curtains catch sunbeams and radiate a bright blue. She realizes, with relief, that she has already forgotten what she dreamt that night.
After an amount of time she does not know—minutes? hours?—the door swings open. Several hushed voices bicker rather loudly outside her room. No one comes in.
“I’m awake, if you wanted to know,” Elisa calls out.
The voices stop, and 4 boys shuffle in sheepishly. One, Chester, holds a small package in his hand, clumsily wrapped with brown paper and topped with a red bow.
Chester pushes the package into her hands. He is less than a year older than her, yet lately it feels like he’s already an adult. Even as he sits at the foot of bed, he looks more like the distant memories of her father than the Chester she had played with as a kid.
But then he grins, and she is put at ease by his familiar smile. “Happy birthday Eli! We pooled our money and got you a surprise gift,” he says cheerily.
“Just one?” Elisa replies dryly, but already she can feel her face breaking into a smile. Impulsively, she tears apart the paper and holds up a small bar of dark chocolate.
Anthony, the oldest, peers over his thin glasses. “This took forever to find,” he says emphatically. “But we know how much you love this stuff.”
Barely able to see over the bed, the twins beam at her unabashedly. “Is today going to be a good day, Eli?” one asks. “Did you have a good dream about it?” the other adds.
Elisa feels her stomach drop but forces a laugh. “Of course I did,” she tells them. “And thanks, guys, honestly. I know dark chocolate is so scarce these days, and this is really amazing.”
Chester seems to notice her uneasiness and waves the twins away. “Mom already left for work, so Anthony and I thought we could spend the day at the park near her company,” he says. Behind him, Anthony lifts his arm to reveal a picnic basket.
She grins at both of them. “Please don’t tell me you’ve actually made food. Don’t take this the wrong way, Chester, but your mayonnaise sandwiches are disgusting.”
Chester acts offended. “Excuse you, but I don’t see the $50 we need to buy a single pack of ham,” he shoots back. “You’re going to eat those mayonnaise sandwiches whether you like it or not.”
“You two are so childish. Elisa, get dressed—we’re leaving in thirty minutes!” Anthony calls as he strides out of her room. Chester smirks and darts after him. Elisa smirks back, throwing the blankets off herself and starting to sit up.
But as she gets out of bed, she inexplicably feels her heart fill with foreboding and premonition to such a huge degree that it forces her to sit back down. Her mind spins, she sees spots when she closes her eyes, the bed rumbles beneath her fingers and all around her are flashes of bright light.
She opens her eyes again, shaken by the shadow of her latest dream. Push it out of your head, Elisa, she tells herself. Forget it, forget it, forget it. Think about your dark chocolate and mayonnaise sandwiches and cake.
Feeling a little better, she stands up, taking her jacket and the bar of dark chocolate with her as she goes.
The train ride to the park is hot and grueling. Elisa sits by the window and watches the lush trees go by, sweltering in the July sun. The train has long passed its lifespan, and while ripped seats and graffitied walls were tolerable, broken air conditioning was never fun to deal with. Across from her, Chester entertains the twins by playing I Spy. Anthony reads the morning newspaper next to her, accidentally dropping the front page at one point. As she picks it up, she reads all sorts of awful headlines like “Food Supplies At An All Time Low” and “What China’s Declaration of War Means” and “Draft Begins; 10,000 Americans to be Recruited.” She gives the page back to Anthony; he doesn’t blink.
“Aren’t you bothered by everything that happens nowadays?” she asks him. He looks up, impassive.
“The world is always bad if you want it to be, Eli,” Anthony says sternly, though not unkindly. “Although I agree everything happening these days is pretty bleak, things could always get worse.” He adjusts his glasses. “So I guess that’s why I don’t get too upset. I have faith in what the future will bring.”
“Easy for you to say,” Elisa mutters to herself, thinking about the dreams she has had lately.
Immediately, Anthony snaps his paper together and puts it in his lap. “What?” he says, looking at Elisa intensely.
Elisa is taken aback. “I just meant. . .well. . .”
“Eli, have you dreamt something?” he asks, his voice alarmed.
“No! I mean, I’m not sure. . .no. No,” she lies, trying to sound firm. “I, uh, just meant it’s hard for some of us to have the same faith in the world that you do, Anthony.”
He sighs and brings the newspaper up to his face again. “Ah. I’m sorry, Eli. I suppose your capabilities coupled with everything that has happened makes me a little more jittery than I care to admit.”
She nods solemnly, feeling relieved, and takes a big bite out of her chocolate. Shoot. She has really got to control herself, or this is going to be gone before she knows it.
The train slows to a stop at their destination, somewhere noticeably cleaner and busier than their hometown. The park is only a few minutes walk away from their station. It’s a lovely, clean park, one that’s stood the test of the past few precarious years. As Elisa looks around, she appreciates the lake, the big sloping hill with a huge willow tree, the small space-themed playground. Especially in the summer, where everything is green and lush, the park has a particularly lively ambience where you feel like you could just take off and run up and down hills for hours. She remembers taking the train here as a kid, before the twins were even born, playing hide and seek with Chester in the field while Anthony read his books nearby. She looks off into the field, her eyes glazed for an instant as she briefly marvels at how much has changed since then.
They eat a quick lunch under the willow tree. Surprisingly enough, it’s not mayonnaise sandwiches—Chester and Anthony had used up the last of their rations to make nice peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with lemonade with the remainder of the lemonade powder. After lunch, they find amusing ways to entertain themselves.
Elisa and the twins push boats made from napkins into the lake. They watch the delicate figures float towards the middle before they finally conform to the weight of the water and collapse into the lake. Then they try to catch frogs, but stop after a fruitless hour when Anthony tells them that they probably scared all of the frogs away long ago. She and Chester weave long braids with the branches of the willow tree, while Anthony reads them the nicest stories he can find in the newspaper. She hears about how cherry blossoms are blooming earlier than usual in Japan, how a lioness just gave birth to a cub in a London zoo, and feels a tiny bit better about the world. After, she lies on her back on the soft grass, putting her heads next to all of her brothers, and cups her hands around her eyes so all she can see is the clear sky. They lie there, for what seems like ages, watching the clouds drift across.
Finally, as the sun is setting, they find their mother walking past the park. Her small form seems overwhelmed with grocery bags and briefcases and purses.
“Mom, mom, hey!” Chester calls, waving his hand as they rush towards her.
“Kids!” she exclaims, looking startled. “I didn’t know you were going to the park. What a nice surprise. . .”
Elisa notices that her mother’s face looks especially creased, especially tired. She takes some of the bags from her. “Hey, mom.”
“Elisa! Happy birthday, honey,” she says warmly. She gestures to one of the bags Elisa has taken, which holds a small pastel-colored cake. “I got you the last chocolate cake in the bakery,” she told her proudly. Elisa beamed back.
Her mother turns her attention to Chester and Anthony. “Oh, boys, before anything, I actually need to tell you something. Elisa, go in and enjoy yourself with the twins. I promise we won’t be long.”
Elisa walks further into the park and watches as the twins scamper off into the kiddy playground, disappear into a filthy yellow tube. There’s no way she’s following them into there. Instead, she walks over to the nearby swing set, sits down on one of the swings. She nearly finishes the last of her dark chocolate, though she does save the last square and wraps it up carefully in the white paper that came with it.
She waits for quite a while. Finally, she notices Chester walking towards her.
“Hey,” she says.
He takes the swing next to her. “Hey,” he says back. He pauses. “Is everything alright, Eli? You’ve been unusually tame; you haven’t sassed me back all day.”
Elisa gives him a look. “It sounds like you’re asking for it,” she countered.
Chester laughs. “There we go,” he says, pushing off the ground lightly with his feet.
She laughs too. “What did mom want to talk to you guys about?” she asks as he sways past her. This time it is Chester who gets quiet. He stares ahead for a while, his face unreadable.
When he does speak, he doesn’t meet her eyes. “Oh, something about work. You wouldn’t care, Eli.”
She licks her lips awkwardly and doesn’t say anything. They are both silent for a while, hardly swinging. Somewhere in the distance, she can hear the twins yelling and giggling, her mom laughing with them. She can imagine Anthony there too, probably reading on a nearby bench.
The sun dips below Chester’s head and illuminates his dirty blond hair so that it is almost golden. He looks like a lion. In that moment, she feels herself hurt with grief and turmoil beyond what she can understand, a yearning sensation that pounds in her chest. She drags the soles of her feet on the ground, her whole body coming to a stop.
“Chester,” she says, louder than she would prefer. He looks at her, startled, and drags his feet to a stop too.
“What’s up, Eli?”
“I have something to tell you,” she continues slowly. “Promise me you won’t get too freaked out, but. . .I’ve been having weird dreams lately.”
He laughs. “Haven’t you always had weird dreams? Isn’t that your thing?”
She shakes her head. “I don’t—this isn’t like predicting the next American Idol, or–or knowing that mom would be pregnant with twins, or anything like that. These are different, Chester.”
He looks at her curiously. “Alright. So then what do you dream about?”
She takes a deep breath, recollecting her thoughts. These were the things she had tried so hard to lose, to forget. But now that she has stopped blocking them out, she finds them rushing back at an alarming speed.
“They’re bad,” she musters. “Not very clear, either. But it’s the same dream; it’s dark, probably at night, and I’m in somewhere really cramped. I don’t think I’m even myself in this dream, I feel a lot taller, more muscular. There are people all around me too, but I can’t see their faces, and overhead there’s something that sounds like fireworks. But it can’t be fireworks because people are yelling and screaming all around me and then sometimes I do see a face and it’s—”
“Eli! Hey, Eli,” Chester interrupts. “Slow down. Breathe. You’re talking too fast, I can’t keep up.”
She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes. She realizes just how hard she is gripping the swing chain, how heavily she is breathing. She opens her eyes.
“Chester. . .” she says, staring ahead. She doesn’t want to look at him.
“I think I’m in a battle. I think I’m in the body of a soldier and people are dying all around me.”
Chester doesn’t respond. She knows what he is thinking.
“I-it probably doesn’t mean anything. They’re probably not ‘special’ dreams,” she tells him. “Those are always super clear and straightforward. This is different; I can barely tell what’s going on.”
“Then it’s just a nightmare,” he says, looking relieved. “You’re not seeing the future, everyone has nightmares.”
“Maybe,” she says quietly. “But there’s one more thing, Chester.” She cannot stop herself now. “Sometimes I see you and Anthony in the dream with me.”
He exhales. Hard. She doesn’t want to, but she sneaks a glance at him. His head is downcast, his brow furrowed. Elisa feels her eyes well up with tears.
“That’s what I never understand. . .why do I see you there? Why are you always in this nightmare?”
“I. . .think I know why,” Chester grimly. His voice is pained, almost on the verge of breaking as he speaks his next words. “Eli, Anthony and I have been drafted into the war.”
“Oh” is all she manages to reply. She fears that anything more would push her over the edge.
“That’s what mom had to tell us. We didn’t want to ruin your day, but. . .after you told me about your dream. . .” He stops and runs a hand through his hair.
“There’s no point in denying it to you. Perhaps you’ve known, in a way, all along.”
She can’t stop the tears now; thick and hot, they run down her face. When she looks over to Chester, she can see he is crying too. She cannot believe Chester, her Chester, will soon be gone. And Anthony! The model child, who always had everything under control, who knew everything in the world and could handle any problem.
She looks off into the distance and tries to remember how it was when they were kids, oblivious and untroubled. She sees two children running in the field, long strands of wheat tangling their hair, their knees smudged with mud. On the outskirts of the meadow, another, bigger child reads a book, his small face obscured in a large pair of glasses, while a couple watches over from far away. In that moment, she wants to go back, more badly than anything. She wants to go back when her future was bright and hazy, when she didn’t have dreams that haunted her every day.
Chester interrupts her thoughts. “Mom’s calling us over,” he says somberly. “It’s probably time to go home.”
They stand up, and Elisa turns to him boldly, refusing to break eye contact.
“Promise me you’ll come home,” she says. “That you’ll stay safe when you’re away.”
He smiles sadly. “Of course,” he says, both of them knowing full well that he is promising something that can’t really be promised.
She sighs and presses the last square of the dark chocolate into his palm. Chester looks at her, surprised.
“Then you can have this,” she says firmly. “Seriously, I’ve had enough for today.”
He closes his fist, managing a chuckle.
They walk over to meet the rest of the family. Elisa’s mom takes one look at both Chester and Elisa’s red faces and knows what has happened. She hugs them tightly. Behind her, Anthony’s face is ashen, his expression dull. The twins look worried; Elisa doubts that her mom has told them everything, but they obviously can sense something bad has just happened.
“Come on, guys. Let’s head back,” her mom says as she releases them. “It’s been a pretty busy day.”
The train ride home is long and silent. Elisa watches the same trees with their familiar leafy branches whiz past her, yet in this dim light they look contorted and grotesque. She cannot bear to look at her older brothers the entire way, and as she steps into her house she tells her mom she’ll eat her cake tomorrow and heads straight to her room.
That night, she dreams again. It’s dark and crowded, and it sounds like fireworks are going off overhead. She turns to her right. Chester is crouching down next to her, his dirty blonde hair flattened by a helmet, his eyes trained on the gun in his hands. Behind him, Anthony talks rapidly into a walkie-talkie. She impulsively wants to tackle them, hug them, tell them it’s her, but she resists. She looks down at her own body, her uniform torn and battered. She knows it’s not the right time. Maybe it never will be.
Chester turns to get more ammunition and she manages to catch his eye. He furrows his brow. “Get down, soldier, it’s not safe to be that high,” he says.
She obeys and crouches down as well. “Promise me you’ll be safe,” she whispers to him, knowing full well she is in another body, another soul, another life.
Overhead, something explodes with enormous force, lighting up the air with brilliant white and yellow light that creates dark shadows in their little trench. They both duck down, covering their faces, coughing at the plumes of dust that have just erupted all around them.
Elisa looks up, her eyes narrowed both by dust and determination, and whispers to Chester again. “Please. Be safe. Your family is counting on you.”
He looks at her, puzzled, but then an impish smirk crosses his face.
“Of course I will,” he replies. “You don’t have to tell me. I already told someone I’m coming home.”
She manages to smile, her mind racing with the things she yearns to say. But already it’s too late; she feels herself being pulled from this world. There’s something tugging at the edges her mind, telling her it’s time to go. She opens her mouth, but before she can make out a single word—
In an instant, she senses herself get whisked away, her vision darkening, her body changing. She feels the bed underneath her fingers, notices the pillow beneath her head, and instinctively pulls the covers tighter over her body. Her mind is flushed with thoughts, intangible and obscure, just like any other morning. As she opens her eyes, though, she is filled with a determination that this would not be a dream she forgets.
Isabel Lee is fifteen years old and currently a junior at the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy. Other than writing, she likes to draw, engineer new inventions, and create worlds in virtual reality.