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.
Thick curtains blotted out the sunlight, transforming Auntie Jo’s living room into a cavern. Kassandra squinted at the books lining the shelves opposite the couch. It felt almost like night in the room.
Auntie Jo leaned forward on the couch, staring at the two of coins card as if it might hold a secret message. One free hand tucked her afro under a blue scarf.
“And you’re sure it wasn’t already blank?”
Kassandra shifted on the couch, causing the cushions to creak. “It had a picture of some naked chick on it.” She pointed to the empty area. “Then poof. Gone.”
Auntie Jo set the card on a coffee table already cluttered with incense burners, candles, and crystals.
“I believe you. I’m only asking because it’s not the only blank card.”
“What do you mean?”
“There are six others.” Flipping through the deck, Auntie Jo tossed out card after card empty of illustrations. “The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, The Hermit, Fortitude and finally my card.”
“Your card?” Kassandra picked the last one off the coffee table. It read Wheel of Fortune. The illustration depicted an angel grasping an enormous golden circle while standing in the ocean. But then there were blank spots where someone had forgotten to paint. Only the outlines of four people—one on each side of the circle—were there.
“There’s always one card in the deck that represents you. Typically girls would have a female card like The Popess, or one of the queens, but mine has always been the Wheel of Fortune because I deal in people’s fortunes. Or at least I used to.” She hooked a cup of tea with one meaty finger.
Kassandra wrapped both hands around her own cup and slurped. The concoction of herbal spices and grenadine shocked her tongue with sickening sweetness. Auntie Jo always changed the subject when the subject of New Orleans came up. Her son had died in some sort of battle, but everyone was short on the facts. Kassandra guessed it was something in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Auntie Jo tapped the Wheel of Fortune card. “You have to understand—Tarot cards, runes, the I Ching—most of it is psychological. Pure hogwash.” She pinched the tiny tea cup between two fingers and sipped. “You read into it what you want.”
This coming from a woman who thought she was Nefertiti in a previous life.
“What can you tell me about these cards?” Kassandra scooted forward on the couch.
Auntie Jo set her cup on a glob of melted wax. “They’re hand made. Not off the Waite Rider illustrations either.” Half standing, she stretched across the coffee table to nab a book off the shelf. The couch shuddered when she flopped back down.
Kassandra stared at the blank two of coins and remembered Lindsay’s terrified expression. The truth about what really happened was too impossible to tell. But hadn’t she messed around with the cards right before the bizarre disintegrating clothes? Maybe this whole thing was her fault.
She pointed at the blank card. “Why did the picture disappear?”
Auntie Jo reached for the silver ankh around her neck, rolling it back and forth. “I guess Arroyo Grove isn’t far enough away to avoid the jumbi.”
“What’s that?” A cramp jabbed Kassandra’s side, a result of staying in one position too long.
Auntie Jo let the necklace drop back down. “Bad magic.”
“Well then which is it? Are the cards stuffed full of mumbo jumbo or are they just cards?”
“Let’s find out.” Auntie Jo collected the deck. “A few blank ones won’t ruin the whole batch. They still have their titles. We should be able to do a reading.”
“I thought you said the cards were bad.”
“No. The Tarot cards aren’t bad or good. It’s how you use them.” She shuffled the deck. “Now these cards chose you for a reason.”
Again with the choosing thing. Cards couldn’t think. They were only pieces of paper.
“Clear some space.” Auntie Jo waved her hands over the table.
“Do we need to light incense or something?”
Auntie Jo stared, the only sound in the room the tap of the cards against the table.
“Just asking.” Kassandra grabbed a handful of crystals and candles, placing them on the carpet.
“This is a simple three card spread. Past, present, and future.” Auntie Jo set the cards in the clear spot on the table. “You need to shuffle the deck.”
“Nuh uh. I’m not touching those things.”
“You have to. It’s your reading. Holding the cards lets them attune to your thoughts.”
“Fine.” Kassandra snatched them up and shuffled. With seventy-two of them, they were hard to manage. A couple of times one wanted to shoot out.
Auntie Jo lit a stick of incense and soon the whole room filled with the scent of sandalwood.
Kassandra set the cards back on the table. “Now what?”
Auntie Jo dealt the top card face up. It showed a guy wearing what looked like some kind of pajamas. He dangled upside down with a rope tied around one foot. The title read: The Hanged Man.
“Major arcana.” Auntie Jo tapped her chin. “Interesting.”
Kassandra shrugged. This was all new to her.
“Most of the Tarot deck looks the same as regular playing cards.” Auntie Jo tugged on her necklace again. “Coins for clubs, cups for hearts, swords for spades, and wands for diamonds.” She touched the card lying on the table. “But there are twenty-two extra cards, called the major arcana. They have illustrations of things like Death, The Devil, and this one, The Hanged Man.”
Kassandra climbed off the couch and knelt by the table for a closer look. The drawing had all sorts of random pictures added to it—a sheep bleeding from the neck, grapevines twining up two poles, some tongs and nails.
“What’s with the sheep and the bunches of grapes?”
“All symbols of sacrifice.” Auntie Jo pointed. “See? The grapes ooze juice just like blood.”
Kassandra wrinkled her nose. “So the lamb’s dead then?”
Auntie Jo nodded. “A sacrifice.”
“What does it all mean?”
“It’s your past. I think you know what it means.”
A shiver scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. She would not think about Dad right now. Grasping the teacup with both hands, she let the heat warm her palms.
“Is that my whole reading?”
Auntie Jo plucked another card off the top and flipped it: The Magician. This showed a guy in a red medieval shirt with puffy sleeves and a ginormous hat.
“Another major arcana.”
Kassandra looked up from the cards. “Is that special or something?”
“Just highly unlikely.”
Kassandra examined this illustration. A massive stained glass window dominated the background. The man stood at a table with various objects strewn about—a cup, three coins and a dagger. He also held some sort of stick.
“Hey, aren’t those all the symbols on the cards? Like coins and cups and what not?”
“So what’s The Magician mean? Does it have something to do with the weird stuff that’s been happening?” Auntie Jo eyed her, one eyebrow shooting up. “I mean with the illustration vanishing and all. Sounds like a Vegas trick to me.” Kassandra took a sip of tea so she wouldn’t have to say anymore.
Auntie Jo shook her head. “It means you’re going to fall in love.”
Kassandra shrieked and tea sloshed out her nose. “You know I’m not paying for this. You can cut the crap.”
Auntie Jo passed over the book on Tarot. “Here, read for yourself.”
Kassandra flipped to the description for The Magician.
It stated that the focus of this card was on new beginnings, manifesting your desires, and new romance. “Okaaaay. So this is supposed to be happening now? ’Cause it’s news to me.”
“It represents the near future.”
“You mean like tomorrow?”
“The timing is not exact.” Auntie Jo pulled a third card from the deck. “Let’s see your future.” Flipping the card revealed the dancing skeleton again.
Kassandra jumped. “This is messed up.”
Auntie Jo scrunched her face, mumbling, “Three major arcana. Together.”
“Does this mean I’m going to die?”
“No, no. Calm down honey.” Auntie Jo fiddled with the ankh again. “Death isn’t literal. It means a change. A new life.”
Kassandra’s heart amped up for a major drum solo. She didn’t buy it. This card had popped up all day long. And here it was again.
“Okay.” Auntie Jo leaned over to the bookshelf, her fingers brushing the titles. “Let me just check something.”
Kassandra stared into the flat circles of the skeleton’s eyes. Somehow they seemed to gaze back. Even though the skull had no lips, it appeared to be grinning. Then there were the trio of severed heads below it, with one looking exactly like Dad.
“Screw this.” She snatched up the cards and started for the kitchen.
“Wait.” Auntie Jo sprang off the couch.
Kassandra shoved the screen door open, flipped up the lid of the trash can, and dumped all the cards in.
“What are you doing?” Auntie Jo’s face was worked up as if Kassandra had just tossed out a wad of cash.
“I don’t want anything to do with these damned things.” She marched down the hall, stopping at her door. Throwing those cards out felt good. Like she finally did something right for once.
The sound of the trash cans clunking together carried down the hall. Auntie Jo was dumpster diving for the Tarot cards. Kassandra pushed open the bedroom door, her gaze falling on the bed.
All she could do was stand there, staring.
The kitchen door slammed. Then Auntie Jo jogged up the hall, wheezing the whole way. “What is it honey?” she managed to get out, clutching the door frame for support. Then she saw them. The Tarot cards sat in a neat pile on top of the covers.
Auntie Jo clutched her necklace. “Holy shit.”