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’s heartbeat stormed inside her head. She swiveled, tensing for a confrontation, but there was no one there. Just the bookcase. What was going on?
Something thunked to the floor and Kassandra nearly screamed. Whipping around, she saw a man reaching down to pick up a book. Just a glimpse of his face caused her throat to clench as if hands squeezed her windpipe. All Kassandra managed were short, raspy gasps.
She stumbled backward and fell to the floor, legs spayed at awkward angles. The crocheted purse flopped open. Coins rolled everywhere.
“Hey, you all right?” It was the man with the book, but not Dad anymore. How could she have ever thought…?
He held out a hand to help her up. “You have to watch your step.”
“Yeah.” She grabbed his hand. The grip was smooth and soft, not at all like Dad’s callused skin. After Kassandra stood, the man knelt to gather the coins, dropping them into the purse with a clank.
“There you go.” He handed over the bag, his expression fluttering a moment before settling on a polite smile.
This released him. The man grabbed the book and practically jogged for the register. Great, now she was scaring random strangers. Time to go.
Kassandra slid the Death card into the deck. The bookshelf where they came from was crammed with books on metaphysical geometry and ufology, but no other cards. This wasn’t the right section. It felt wrong to leave them here.
She marched toward the clerk, who was bent behind the counter unpacking a box.
“Hi,” Kassandra said.
Clerk Lady popped up and smiled, showing off a sweet round face that would be at home on a box of cookies.
“I found these…” Kassandra held up the cards, “…back there.”
The woman stared at the cards, her expression curdling. “You have the cards.”
“Yeah. I didn’t know where you keep the rest of them. Can I leave them with you?”
“They’re yours.” Clerk Lady scooted back from the counter, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll have to go. I’m closing up.” She darted toward Auntie Jo without waiting for a response.
The clock on the wall showed eleven. The place just opened. How could it be closing? This lady had some serious customer service issues.
Kassandra set the cards on the counter and traced one finger along the side, nicked and torn from multiple uses. The gold pattern on the back looked like a sky filled with stars, bringing back a distant memory of the Washington mountains. It’d been a rare night when the clouds had retreated. Dad stopped at some café after a drive to the forest. On the walk back to the car, Kassandra could see every speck of a star out there. So many, the constellations had become lost in the sequined glitter of starlight.
“Looks like they’re closing up for lunch,” Auntie Jo said, arriving at the counter.
“What?” Kassandra blinked, her mind still in the mountains.
Auntie Jo handed a twenty to the clerk, who rang up the book. “Oh, you found a Tarot deck? Marvelous.”
“Your change.” Clerk Lady shoved the wad of bills and coins across the counter.
“Did you want those?” Auntie Jo asked. Without waiting, she pushed forward the change and dove into her purse for more bills. “We’ll take the Tarot cards too.”
Clerk Lady stared at the money. She finally tugged a five from the pile.
“That’s all?” Auntie Jo smiled. “Such a deal.” She turned to Kassandra and flourished a hand over the cards. “Your first Tarot deck.”
“I know you’re into the supernatural stuff, but this really isn’t my thing.”
“Nonsense.” Auntie Jo scooped the cards up, holding them in both hands as if cradling a delicate flower. “They chose you. There’s a greater power at work.”
“Greater power” was an Auntie Jo saying. Except it was a big fat lie. When something went wrong, it was either blind luck or a personal screw up. Plain and simple.
Clerk Lady managed to shoo them to the front door.
Kassandra halted and turned around. “Hey, why the rush?”
The woman’s gaze flitted left and right as if the answer might come from somewhere on the street. “Family emergency. You’ll have to go.” With one final push, she shut the door and locked it.
“She was weird,” Kassandra said.
“Clearly ruled by Mars.” Auntie Jo wrestled into the driver’s seat and coaxed the engine to life.
Kassandra looked at the Tarot cards, now set between the seats. She reached over, but paused before touching them. A chirping sound caught her attention — another of the little brown birds that lingered around the town. The wind had died down and now it cocked its head, inspecting Kassandra. Something startled the bird and it leapt into the air and vanished.
Kassandra glanced at the shop and saw Clerk Lady peering through the blinds. The oddest expression crossed the woman’s face. Maybe fear?
The blinds flipped shut.