Kassandra Risks the Final Card

Chapter 46

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

A bright orange glow blanketed the sky. The evening air left a biting taste in Kassandra’s mouth. Each slap of sneakers on the sidewalk amplified into a miniature thunderclap. It all seemed so much more alive than in the Tarot deck.

Stumbling onto a familiar street, she jogged around the corner. Her stomach clenched up, demanding food. In the real world, she had to eat. Kassandra ignored the gnawing emptiness.

A bird chirped in a tree and she twirled, mind going to the nightingale. But it was just the sort of brown bird that flitted around any neighborhood. Kassandra ran a hand along her sternum. The nightingale was in her chest. Part of her again. She could almost feel it wiggling around.

Another few minutes and she turned onto her street. Kassandra stopped cold, spying the front door knocked to the ground. The splintered remains hung from the hinges. Luke had bashed it in and then he’d set loose the fire tornado from the Wheel of Fortune. Auntie Jo was stuck in the deck, watching parade over and over. She hadn’t asked for any of this.

Kassandra tiptoed up the path to the doorway. There was no sign of Luke. As she stepped over the fallen door, one shoe squished on the wet carpet. There was a red patch where Luke bled from the shotgun wound. A shudder went through her.

“Where are you?” The sound of Luke’s voice made Kassandra freeze. He hunched over at the couch, his back toward the door. All the Tarot cards lay scattered along the table.

She smiled. “I’m right here.”

Luke spun, eyes wide with shock. Then, his expression settled into its typical swagger. “You’re full of surprises.” He scooped together the deck and stood.

She stepped up to the couch. “I’m here to offer you the final card.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”

“But you have to win it.”

Luke stared at Kassandra. Was he scanning her thoughts right now? She tensed, fear coating her skin like sweat. He would figure out the plan. Kassandra shook off the doubt, concentrating on the snail tower and the ball rolling on the table.

“You truly think you can beat me.” Luke grinned.

He knew about the game from her thoughts.

“Grab three cups from the kitchen and we’ll find out.” Kassandra turned down the hall without waiting for a response. It felt nice to boss him around for a change.

She ducked into her room and headed straight for the collection of poems on the shelf. Reaching for the book, a shiver traveled along her arms. She had to use the razor. It was the only way to keep her mind busy. She slid the book from its sleeve and opened to the Keats page.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

The razor was stuck just below the last line. The image of the garage flickered through her mind—right after the funeral when Kassandra had taken this blade from of the box. Then she remembered the razor lined up with the cup, the match, and the washer. Both memories occupied the same space in her mind—reality overlaid with the world of Tarot.

Kassandra squeezed the blade in one hand until the corners poked into the skin. “I’m coming for you, Dad. Just hang in there.”

When she emerged from the hallway, Luke had cleared off the coffee table and set out three teacups from Auntie Jo’s collection. They were exactly the ones she’d pictured using. Her pulse quickened. He could read even the slightest image in her brain. Her thoughts touched on Gabriel, but Kassandra gave the razor a little squeeze. She summoned up the image of the flat blade with the rusty grip.

“The razor.” Luke raised an eyebrow. “That’s what you want to use?”

Kassandra smiled, revealing the razor. “Do you object?”

“No. Not at all.”

She sat down with the bookcase behind her while Luke lounged back onto the couch.

“Do you have the card?”

Kassandra wiggled The Magician out of one pocket, setting it face down on the table. “I’m thinking you can’t just take this card. I have to give it to you.”

He cocked his head to one side. “You’re quite observant.”

“Here’s the deal then. You win. You get the card.” She tapped it. “I win, the deck comes back to me.”

“Seventy-seven cards against one?”

“You need it, so that’s the deal.”

Luke ran one finger along an eyebrow. “Of course.” He placed the Tarot deck on the table, but drummed his fingers on the top.

Kassandra took a deep breath and stared at the three overturned teacups. Each one looked the same. It worked in her favor. But she should have practiced this game. Kassandra didn’t even know how to start.

“You don’t need to go through all this,” he said. She glanced up and met his copper-flecked gaze. “We both want the same thing.” Luke edged forward on the couch. “We can bring them back.”

The paper doll girl popped into Kassandra’s mind. “You mean playing house with a cutout doll?” His face froze.

She slipped the razor under the left cup.

Luke snapped his attention back to the table. Kassandra pictured the razor under the middle cup. He glanced between the left and center teacups. Next she imagined putting the razor under the right cup, and he flicked his gaze over there. Two could play at this game.

“You don’t know where it is, do you?”

He looked up. “It’s customary to show the object to the audience first.”

“The razor is right here.” Kassandra lifted the left cup for a moment and then set it down. “Unless I brought more than one.” She couldn’t help but smile. At this rate, Kassandra might beat him.

Luke stared at her, not blinking. “How much did Gabriel tell you?”

Just the mention of his name brought up an image of his face. Kassandra bit her lip to blot out the memory. She mixed up the cups, hoping it would scramble her thoughts.

“I know you freed him from his card.”

The skin along her arms and legs prickled. Did he already know? She held her hands above the cups clustered together on the table, poised to shift them again. What’s the use? He already knew everything.

“Are you done?” Luke absently sifted through the deck. He wasn’t even looking at the cups. So damn cocky. Kassandra want to smack him. As long as she knew where the razor was, he figured he could lift it out of her thoughts. He was counting on it.

She turned away and mixed up the cups without looking. Maybe Kassandra could jumble them so even she couldn’t tell where the razor was hidden. Then it really would be a game of chance. But every time Kassandra slid the cup with the razor in it, it clinked on the ceramic side. Why had she chosen something metal to hide? So stupid.

She pulled her hands away, leaving the cups in a crooked line. This was Luke’s game and he would always win.

“Do you need your razor back?” One corner of his mouth twitched up slightly.

Kassandra squeezed both hands into fists. He was spinning things back on her. She had to take the fight to him.

“Gabriel told me how you betrayed him. All for not going along with that Cloots guy.”

“I loved my brother.” Luke glanced away, removing his hand from the deck of cards. “You cannot understand because you have no siblings of your own. But there was love between us.”

“Until he didn’t do what you wanted.”

“No. He poisoned our relationship.” Luke held his finger up like a warning. “Only one card left. One. Then little brother decides to grow a conscience.” His eyes boiled with hate. “Donald Cloots used it to cancel the deal. I lost my best chance at bringing Ezabell back.”

“How did you get the final card? I mean, if Gabriel didn’t draw it…”

“Oh he did.” Luke winked, setting his hand back on the deck of cards. “After a time.”

Gabriel drew the last card? He hadn’t told her that. He’d made it seem like he was the victim in all this.

“I think I’ll choose this one.” Luke tapped the center cup.

Kassandra glanced down. She couldn’t remember where the razor was hiding. It might be the center.

“You sure?” She straightened up. “Because I know for a fact it’s under here.” She scooted the right cup forward, but didn’t feel the clink of the razor.

“You do catch on.” He smiled. “The center please.”

Kassandra reached for the cup and lifted it. The razor blade lay underneath. An empty pit opened up in her chest, sucking away what little hope was stored there. It was all useless. Everything she did was bound to fail.

“Don’t be upset. This was meant to happen.” Luke looked down at The Magician card. “You and I, we want the same thing.” He held out his hand. “Let me have the final card and we can begin.”

Isn’t this how she’d planned it? Make him think he’d won? Kassandra stared at the overturned card on the table. But Luke had won. He’d take the final card and then have the whole deck. How the heck could she possibly distract him? Kassandra lifted the card and caught a glimpse of Gabriel. She smiled.

A look of confusion flickered across Luke’s features. She flipped the card over, revealing the illustration. Luke stared at the figure, trying to make out what was wrong.

Kassandra fixed her attention on the razor on the table. A strong emotion. Something that bit into her and wouldn’t let go. She replayed the hundreds of times the blade pressed into her skin, cold and sharp. Now she needed the pain. Kassandra almost reached down and grabbed the razor, the urge was so real.

“Stop it,” Luke said, voice rising in panic. He jerked his head around, scanning the room. The figure faded from The Magician card, leaving an empty hole in the illustration. Gabriel Rykell stepped through the demolished front door.

“Hello, brother.”

Kassandra Face Plants on the Carpet

Chapter 45

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Mom’s eyes shot open. A middle aged Romeo gawked from the bathroom door, shirt half-unbuttoned and hair combed forward to cover a balding spot.

Kassandra pushed off a carpet reeking of smoke and Cheetos. Surging forward, she wrapped Mom up in a hug. “You’re safe.”

Mom tentatively returned the embrace. “How did you get here?” She pulled away and glanced down. “What happened to you?”

Kassandra checked out the state her wardrobe: a shirt shredded on one side by the lion and flecked with blood on the other, pants caked with mud and grime, and the once red Converse now stained black.

She looked away and spied the iPhone laying on the dresser. Mom had just set it down and would have forgotten it in a matter of seconds. Then the card stashed inside… Would it have zapped over to Luke?

Mom shook her head and eyebrows bunched in confusion. “Did you follow me here?” 

Comb Over Romeo’s face twisted into a mixture of surprise and annoyance. Obviously he had a different evening in mind. Something that didn’t involve a family reunion.

“I wasn’t following you. Please.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I could care less who you slum around with.”

Mom stiffened. “Kassandra Jean Troy. You will not speak to me that way.”

“How am I supposed to speak to you? You’re never around.” Why was she getting sucked into this? It was stupid. Kassandra leaned against the dresser. Stuffing one hand behind her, she groped until finding the phone. 

“Louise,” Comb Over said from the bathroom. “Maybe she should leave.”

“I’ll handle this, Sam. Give me a minute.” The man grimaced as if tasting sour milk. He stomped into the bathroom, closing the door.

Mom sighed. “You and I have to talk. I’ve put this off for too long.”

“Uh huh.” Kassandra edged toward the door.

Mom bit the corner of her lip. “I don’t know where to start with you. Am I that bad of a mother?” She stepped forward, brushing a blond hair out of Kassandra’s face. Mom’s gaze scanned down and then focused on the scars, naked to the world without the gloves to hide them.

“What’s this?” 

“I have to go.” Kassandra tried to move, but Mom clamped down on her wrist.

“Did you do this to yourself? How long has it been going on?” Mom’s jaw clenched, tears welling up. She let go and quickly wiped them away. “I should have kept an eye on you. I wasn’t looking. Too concerned with how to make a living. How to sell the damned house.” Mom waved her hands in spastic arcs as though batting invisible flies. 

Keeping the phone out of view, Kassandra peeled away the rubber protective case. It was empty, nothing but the slick surface of the iPhone. Her legs went weak. Did it already zap away? Panicked, she looked all around the room, finally seeing the card on the carpet. The Tarot deck was being sneaky. It wanted to ditch Kassandra. The cards knew they were close to being free. She squatted and grabbed The Magician. Gabriel now held the wand and stood in front of the table. He was even dressed in the goofy red outfit. It looked so weird to see him in the card. He resembled his brother too much.

“Is that a Tarot card?” Mom asked. Kassandra shoved the card behind her back, but Mom stepped closer. “What has Joanna been teaching you?”

Kassandra shook her head. It was way too much to even attempt to explain.

Mom reached onto the dresser and grabbed her purse. “We’re going. Right now.”

“You can’t.”

“I most certainly can.” Mom pulled keys out.

This was not happening. If Mom got anywhere near Luke, he’d suck her into the deck like Auntie Jo.

Kassandra snatched the keys and barreled into the hall. Mom shouted from behind, but Kassandra ignored it and hurtled around a corner, nearly colliding with the front door. Flinging it open, she dashed out to the driveway where Mom’s Nissan was parked. Kassandra considered the keys, but she didn’t know the first thing about driving. 

Mom appeared at the front door, screaming something. The Nissan sat bumper to bumper with Comb Over’s truck. Perfect. Mom wouldn’t be able to take his car either. Kassandra chucked the keys into the neighbor’s bushes and then sprinted down the street.

Her lungs huffed in and out. Thoughts about Mom and Dad and cutting all churned together. She had to clear her head. Focus on Luke. No, wait. Kassandra faltered, almost tripping. She should keep her mind mixed up. That way Luke wouldn’t how to read her thoughts. Kassandra began running again.

She was coming to save Dad. And Auntie Jo. Even Lindsay. Everyone Luke had ever imprisoned in the Tarot deck. 

Teeny Haunts: Porterville Gnome

Two seperate families, both owning the same property on the Tule River near Porterville, experienced this malevolent creature. A woman named Tammy moved onto an old farm with her children. Immediately she sensed a presence watching them from the old barn.

Returning home with groceries, Tammy heard a “very freaky, very evil-sounding chuckle”. The noise came from a three-foot humanoid figure about 50 yards away. She described it as wearing a red pointed hat, just like a gnome, only not at all cute and cuddly. It had sharp teeth with an ear-to-ear grin.

Tammy ran to her house and locked the door. Movement appeared outside the kitchen window, just the tip of the red hat. It wanted to get into the house. After a very long time, the tiny creature left. Yet for the remainder of her stint in that house, Tammy would hear creepy laughter coming from the barn.

Years later, a woman names Charlie moved onto the same property with her husband. They took a liking to a small pond on the property and decorated it with gnomes, toadstools, stocking the pond with koi fish. Only the old barn still emanated creepy vibes. The pair stayed away as much as possible.

In the still hours of the morning, they woke to the sound of “raspy, gurgling singing.” A tiny gnomish creature stood by the pond, again with the reddish hat.

The thing sensed them watching and snatched a koi from the pond, gobbling it up in one bite. Charlie’s husband threw open the window and threatened to call the police. The creature only grinned with it’s terrible pointy teeth, and gave the couple the bird before vanishing in the night. The only evidence of the encounter were small, childlike footprints around the pond.

The creature returned, night after night, eating more of the fish. Finally the couple took down all the decorations and got rid of the fish. This only served to aggravate the little creature, who ran around screaming in an unknown language.

Many years later, Charlie and Tammy met and compared their stories. They both had witnessed a tiny creature in a red hat. They attempted to visit the old farm, only the new owner didn’t want to speak to them. They did notice that the dilapidated barn had been torn down.

Was it possible that a red cap, a creature native to England, had ventured all the way out to California? Although neither of the woman’s stories detailed what would happen should the creature enter their house, I pulled from red cap mythology to fill in the missing pieces.

It makes me wonder what other nasties are lurking in the dark.

Tim Kane

Kassandra Clings to Her Last Hope

Chapter 44

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra wanted to be shocked, but it made perfect sense. She ran one finger along the rim of the brass cup. Luke always seemed to know just what to say and when to say it.

“My brother bragged about his new talent when he visited me. He recounted the many times he had played with young girls’ emotions, pushing them toward crisis.” Gabriel glanced at Kassandra and then stopped speaking.

“It’s all right.” She gave a weak smile. “I kind of figured that part out for myself. I just didn’t know he could actually read my every thought.”

“Luke cannot open your mind like a book and see what he likes. He can view only the page you are currently on.”

“So, what I’m thinking right when I stand in front of him?” 

Was there a way to turn it off? Shut the book so Luke couldn’t read anything? It would mean she’d have to think about nothing. Or something totally different.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel. “The paper doll down there…” She pointed to the room below. “That was you, right?”

He nodded, eyes taking a far off look. “I had no idea what my drawings could do. If I had known what Luke used them for…” A snarl of disgust slithered across Gabriel’s features.

“It’s the deck, isn’t it? It let Luke read minds and it caused your drawings to come to life.” Kassandra turned to the table with the cup and ball trick. “How does this game work?” She picked up the leather ball. “What does he do to make the ball vanish?”

Gabriel shrugged. “No one could best Luke at the game. It was his favorite and he never shared his secrets.”

“He’s cocky, that’s for sure.” She set the ball back on the table and rolled it back and forth between her fingers. An idea bubbled up. “If I can get him to forget about the cards, even for a moment, then they’ll zap back to me. I’ve seen it happen before.” The experiment with The Magician card flashed fresh in her mind. The minute Auntie Jo ignored it, the card zoomed back to her. Only this time, maybe the whole deck might return.

Kassandra lifted one of the brass cups—it felt surprisingly light—and plopped it over the ball, making it disappear. Gabriel watched. This trick was mesmerizing. It made people want to find the ball.

“If I dangle the final card in front of him, he’s sure to give me his full attention.”

“No, you cannot let him have the card! Luke fears The Magician card. It is his prison, as the Hanged Man was mine. You must lock Luke back in the Tarot deck.”

“No.” The answer can automatically from Kassandra’s lips. “The cards make him powerful. Without them, Luke’s just some six-hundred-year old guy.” 

“You deceive yourself. Luke will never abandon the Tarot deck. He has waited too long.” Gabriel’s eyebrows bunched together. “What has he promised you?”

Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. She shook her head and grabbed a brass cup off the table. Distracting Luke would make the cards come back to her. It had happened before with Lindsay. She forgot about the Fortitude card and it zapped back. Only, would the one Magician card be enough to pull back the whole deck?

Gabriel snatched the cup away and held it up. “Luke plays with your mind. He tells you what you crave to hear.”

Kassandra turned away. “I can get the cards back. I know I can.”

“No.” He hurled the brass cup across the room. It slapped into a pile of wood, sending the whole assortment crashing to the floor. Both birds startled, chirping their displeasure.

Gabriel stepped right up to her face, inches away. His frustration hummed in the air between them, yet he tenderly gripped Kassandra’s chin.

“What has he promised you?” 

The words came out as a whisper. “My dad.”

A look of puzzlement crossed Gabriel’s face.

“He’s… like Ezabell.”

The name acted like a slap, startling Gabriel.

“You have succumbed to the very same illness as Luke. My brother has clung to that false hope for centuries. If there were a solution to be found, he would have solved it by now.” Gabriel grabbed her. “He would not listen to reason. I pray you will. There is no return from death.”

Kassandra had seen Dad before. Here, in the cards. It meant there was still hope. 

“I tried to get Luke to understand this. I refused to illustrate the final card.” Gabriel let go and stepped back. “In return, he locked me in here.”

An idea appeared in her brain, like a fogged mirror suddenly wiped clean. “You.” She pointed at Gabriel, who looked truly baffled now. “Luke has to know you’re gone from your card. And he totally freaked when I said I’d talked to you.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Luke’s afraid of you. That’s why he locked you in here.” Kassandra turned toward the table with the cups again. “If I could make you appear in the real world, it would really throw Luke off his game. Then I could get the cards back.”

“You are mistaken. Luke fears nothing, certainly not me.” Gabriel glanced at the surrounding stained glass walls. “I am also not in my card. I cannot return to the real world.”

“Yes you can. Luke almost pulled me out of the Fool card, so it must be possible. Plus this is the only card he doesn’t have. So Luke has no idea you’re in here.”

“Kassandra. Do not fall victim to the same illusion that has plagued my brother.”

She ignored him, scanning the room for a way out. Kassandra scooped the nightingale off the floor, palms tingling as it fidgeted.

Gabriel grabbed her arm. “Consider for a moment. You have a friend trapped in these cards.” 

She remembered Auntie Jo stuck in the chair, watching the endless parade of floats. But Kassandra needed the cards to free her. It was the only way. 

“This plan of yours.” Gabriel looked her in the eyes. “Is it the best idea for your friend? Or for you?”

A heaviness filled her chest. Was she abandoning Auntie Jo to save Dad? Maybe there was a way to save them both. Kassandra held the bird up. It cocked its head. Was she being selfish? It fluttered its wings, testing the damaged one.

“I don’t know what I want anymore.” She glanced at Gabriel.

“I understand the temptation of Luke’s offer.”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra caught movement out of the corner of an eye. The bird’s claws momentarily gripped her skin and released. Then it was in the air, shooting forward.

“Gabriel!”

The instant the bird touched her chest, Gabriel and the tower burned away. Everything became pure white light. Muscles spasmed, each one pulled in different directions. An ache spread through Kassandra’s bones almost like they were stretching. A blast of air pumped her lungs open to the bursting point.

Then she smacked, face first, onto an icky grey carpet. This was not Auntie Jo’s house. Someone she knew leaned over her.

“Hi Mom.”

Kassandra Clings to the Glass Tower

Chapter 43

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

The front door squealed shut, the sound reverberating through the glass walls. Kassandra searched for a place to hide, but the options were limited. No way was she going to slip under the covers with paper doll girl.

Kassandra spied one more set of stairs leading up and scooped her nightingale off the floor. The prick of its claws against her palm created a tingling sensation. What would happen if she held it to her chest? The bird would probably leap inside like the one from the room full of cages. But what then?

Kassandra hurried up the stairs, her footsteps creating little clouds of dust. No one had climbed them in a long time. At the top, she emerged into an area only slightly larger than Mom’s room back home. This had to be the top of the tower. Even though the walls were composed of stained glass, it seemed darker. She ran one finger along the wall and pulled away a layer of soot. 

Squawking from the bird room echoed through the tower, the noise dampened only a little by the two floors of stained glass. A chill swept through Kassandra. It was Luke. He was chasing down the birds she’d set free. Corralling them back into their cages. 

The nightingale fluttered out of her hands. As it scuttled around the floor, the bird left tiny footprints in the layer of dust. Various bits of wood and stained glass lay stacked everywhere. The room swayed, boards squeaking as they shifted position, and she planted her feet to keep from teetering. After a moment, the floor swung back, tilting the other way. Bits of glass clinked together. It felt like a ship rocking back and forth over waves. Of course. The tower hitched a ride on the massive snail.

The door downstairs opened and she jumped. Luke was right below her. Any second, he would climb to this level.

She scanned the stacks of wood for a hiding place and spotted a thin ladder leading to a trap door in the ceiling. Several long planks blocked the way. Kassandra rushed over and began setting them aside.

Crash.

Her heart leapt. But she hadn’t made the sound. It came from downstairs. Then another crash along with glass shattering. Kassandra knelt down and wiped dust from a section of floor. Luke stomped around the room, flinging papers from the desk. 

The sound of wood scraping against glass alerted her and she jerked her head up. One of the boards had slipped, and was now sliding to the floor. Kassandra lunged for it, but too late. It thunked into a pile of scraps. The whole mess tumbled to the floor with a resounding smack, sending the nightingale shooting into the air. A glance down showed Luke running for the stairs. 

Kicking the last plank aside, Kassandra scrambled up the ladder and threw open the trap door. A blast of wind slapped her face. The sky outside was a perfect cloudless blue. She scrambled through the opening. The nightingale attempted to follow, but it was hampered by its crippled wing. It landed on the ladder, three rungs down.

Through the stained glass walls, she saw a distorted silhouette of Luke climbing steadily. 

“Come on,” Kassandra said in a sharp whisper. 

The bird launched off the rung and flapped up through the opening. She slammed the trap door shut, cutting off the room below.

Shards of broken glass and twisted bits of lead made up the parapet of the tower. Once it must have been gorgeous, but now the edges were hacked apart. This must have been where Luke salvaged all the chunks of glass.

The floor swayed with the motion of Monstro the Snail. Below, two massive eye stalks fixed forward as the creature continued its journey through the bleak landscape. The nightingale waddled around, pecking at the floor. The tower shifted to one side and it threw out its wings to hold its balance.

Kassandra scooted toward the edge for a peek down. The parapet would have provided a railing, but now the floor went straight to the edge. The tower tilted again. Thrown off balance, she grabbed for a twisted strip of lead molding. It snapped free and her feet flew off the side. Kassandra flung her arms out, clasping the remains of the parapet. The glass cracked, but it held. She dangled half over the edge. 

Her feet groped for a foothold along the slick wall. Kassandra wanted to haul herself up, but the more pressure she put on the thin sheet of glass, the more it fractured. A strip of lead ran along the edge, keeping her hands from being shredded.

A squeaking sound grabbed her attention. The trap door was opening. The nightingale scuttled to the side as the door fully opened. Kassandra tensed, preparing to face Luke. Instead Gabriel popped through the hole.

He rushed over, callused hands gripping her wrists with surprising strength, and heaved her up. Once on solid flooring again, she wrapped him up in a fierce hug.

“I thought you’d left me.”

“Never.” He squeezed her tighter. 

Kassandra picked up his musky wood scent again. “Don’t go again. This place sucks even more when you’re alone.”

“I know.”

She pulled away, realizing what a horrible thing she’d just said. This guy had been locked in the Tarot deck for centuries and Kassandra was complaining about a couple of hours. 

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean that.”

Gabriel squeezed her shoulders. “You have endured more of this cursed deck than most. You need not apologize.” The tower lurched to one side. “Let us go below.”

“Yeah.”

He let her climb first. Kassandra felt the whoosh of air as the nightingale dropped down. Then came a crescendo of chirping. Gabriel had brought up the other nightingale, setting the cage on a table with a sheet draped over it. Stepping off the ladder, she was drawn to this piece of furniture. Various objects bulged under the white sheet, creating odd shapes. 

Kassandra lifted the birdcage off and snagged a corner of the fabric. Pulling the sheet away released a cloud of dust right into her face. She stepped back, coughing and fanning the air. The dust cleared to reveal three brass cups and a small leather ball. They reminded her of the trick Luke had played with the bottle caps and the pea. The room swayed and the ball rolled on the table, leaving a little trail in the dust. Kassandra caught the ball before it plummeted off the side.

“Luke could have tossed these into the corner and torn up the table like the others.” She nodded toward the scraps of wood. “Why leave it?”

“This was Luke’s favorite trick. He loved fooling people into thinking the way he wanted.” 

Kassandra dropped the leather ball into a brass cup. It landed with a clunk and kicked up a puff of dust.

“This is just sleight of hand. No magic or wizardry.” Instantly she recalled what Auntie Jo had said about the original meaning of the card. “Luke is nothing more than a con man.”

“You’re wrong. The cards change you somehow. They amplify your natural talents.” 

“What? He’s an even better juggler now?”

Gabriel looked her straight in the eye. “Luke can read minds.”