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 metallic taste filled Kassandra’s mouth. Her hands reached into the soupy blackness for support. An amber light glowed a few yards ahead, illuminating a workbench. It was Dad’s battery charger. This meant she was in the garage of her old house in Seattle.
A creaking came from somewhere in the darkness, sounding like a squeaky door opening and closing. Kassandra toggled the light switch. Still black. Did she really think the lights would work?
Creeping forward, the scrape of her sneakers on the concrete seemed to stretch into every corner of the room. The sharp smell of gasoline filled the garage. Dad always kept a can in here for the lawnmower.
The creaking grew louder, sounding like a wooden beam flexing under weight. Creeeak. Pause. Creeeak. Pause.
Kassandra scurried to the workbench and gripped the wooden rim. Solid. It felt good to have something to hold on to. The instant she touched the cord for the shop light, the creaking stopped.
Each breath filled her head, the sound amplified in the sudden silence. Kassandra’s fingers tightened on the cord. Not alone. A chill squirmed up her spine. Someone else was in here.
One yank on the cord and the shop light flickered to life. A slimy coppery taste coated her tongue. It felt like someone stood inches away. Kassandra’s gut clenched. The garage had to be empty this time. No shoes dangling next to the ladder.
She stopped breathing, focusing on even the slightest sound. Nothing. Her eyes squeezed shut, Kassandra decided to turn on three. One. Heartbeat thundering. Two. A bead of sweat slithering down. Three.
She spun around.
The garage was deserted. Pools of black marked the spots where oil had dripped from Mom and Dad’s cars. A line of boxes sat shoved against the far wall, teetering and ready to collapse. A glance up showed the barren wooden rafters. What had made the creaking sound?
Something seized her left leg—a chalk white hand punching up through the concrete, its fingers chilled like chunks of ice. The floor fractured as dozens more hands surged upward. Kassandra shrieked, trying to escape. Then it was there—a life-sized version of Death from the Tarot card. She jerked back, but the hands from the floor locked her foot in place.
The skeleton grasped a seven-foot scythe with a curving blade on one end. The handle, built of human vertebrae, created a black stripped pattern where the bones fused together. The creature raised the weapon high as if to split her open. The blade glinted under the fluorescent bulb of the shop light.
Kassandra’s gaze zeroed in on the weapon. The scythe swooped down, aimed at something on the ground. Three human heads lay on the concrete, the same image from the Tarot card. The skeleton whacked the point of the scythe through Dad’s skull.
Bed sheets clung to her sweaty skin. The digital clock read 4:17 a.m.
On the pillow next to her lay the Tarot deck, stacked in a neat pile. She leapt off the bed, butt thumping on the floor. Those cards had been on the shelf last night. Kassandra knew it. The top card was askew. Her fingers trembled as they reached for it. Flipped the card over. The skeletal gaze of Death.
Her stomach lurched and she flung the card across the room.
“Get a grip. It was just some crazy dream.”
Kassandra rolled away from the deck, but could still feel them. The Tarot cards were watching her.
Kassandra never touched the cards again, abandoning them on the mattress. Before leaving for school, she scoured the Internet, printing out anything pertaining to those creepy things. Yet when she shoved the papers into her purse, there was the Tarot deck again.
Kassandra ignored them for the whole bus ride, but at school, she ditched the cards in a trash can. They’d come back, of course, like a bad rumor. Swerving through the halls, Kassandra held the purse open and stared in. If they were going to keep turning up, then she wanted to witness the weirdness first hand. So far it was only the usual junk jammed in her purse. Then she slammed into someone.
“Hey, watch it,” a lanky boy said, smoothing his untucked designer shirt.
The girl next to him, a member of Lindsay’s clique, did a quick pan of Kassandra’s clothes and muttered, “Come on Marco. New girl’s obviously been dumpster diving.” She grabbed the boy’s hand and tugged him down the hall.
Kassandra glanced down—the same ripped jeans as yesterday and a mangy old T-shirt. A new outfit hadn’t even crossed her mind this morning. Everyone in the halls sported the latest and greatest. Distressed jeans. Flirty tops. Kicking shoes. It was the first week of school after all. Kassandra looked like someone who should be toting a cardboard sign and begging for spare change.
Head down, she turned toward her locker and twirled in the combination. The door stuck. Rust coated the hinges. A swift yank jarred it loose, spilling English Comp and Science books onto the floor.
So much for this day getting better.
The culprit was the wire shelf left there by the previous owner. The weld had snapped on one side, making it wobbly. She couldn’t endure a book-alance every time the locker opened. Fishing through her purse brought up a lone paperclip. Three guesses what she’d planned to use it for. Kassandra unbent the wire until it was straight, and then wrapped it around the snapped weld, twisting to make a tight fit. She pushed down on the shelf. The paperclip wire stretched but held. Good enough.
Scooping up the fallen books, Kassandra spotted the Tarot cards hiding underneath. Her first thought was to leave them here. She sighed and grabbed them. Better to know where they were than have them pop up someplace strange.
In class, everyone claimed the same seats. The only empties were on either side of The Browless One. Book Girl, who’d been reading on the bus, was noticeably absent. Once again, Lindsay and the social elite inhabited their bubble of coolness. The dark haired girl from the hall lounged against the lanky boy-toy, Marco.
Mrs. Beehive lectured on the difference between tone and mood and then told the class to partner up and analyze a short story in the textbook. Without the card system, everyone snapped up the nearest friend. Kassandra glanced at The Browless One, who ignored her and flipped open his textbook. After a quick survey of the class, Mrs. Beehive settled down to coffee slurping and paperwork.
Kassandra slid out the Internet pages, laying them over the open textbook. Most of the websites claimed some mysterious and mystical origin to the Tarot, like Egyptian gods and secret societies. Some mentioned the cards evolving into playing cards like Auntie Jo had said. One site proposed a link between the Tarot and something called the Dance of Death. As far as Kassandra could tell, this was some sort of walking play designed to teach people why they needed to have their souls saved. Mostly propaganda to get folks into church.
She nibbled on a thumbnail, trimming it down beaver style while scanning the page. “The plague of the Black Death brought the idea of dying to the forefront of every man’s mind. Death was seen not as a destroyer, but a messenger of God. The Dance of Death showed all members of society, from The Pope down to the beggar, being led to the underworld by dancing actors dressed as skeletons. A popular phrase of the Dance was ‘memento mori,’ meaning ‘remember you shall die.’”
Kassandra frowned. How did skeletons dance? They always seemed to live in cages or hang around on hooks. She dove into the purse and pulled out the deck. The first card showed the black, lifeless sockets of Death. A chill squiggled through her.
“Hey, that looks cool.” Marco appeared by the desk. He reached for the card in her hand, but she jerked it away.
“I just wanted to see it.” He scowled. “Don’t get all touchy.”
The dark haired girl sauntered up, a smirk smeared across her face.
“No gossiping,” Ms. Beehive announced from her desk.
The girl spun, instantly assuming doe-like eyes. “We wanted to discuss how the tone affects the main character.”
Beehive nodded and went back to her coffee.
The boy snatched the rest of the cards off the desk. “Can I look at these?”
Kassandra was about to say no, but then hesitated. Didn’t she want to get rid of those cards?
“Hey, check it out Diana.” Marco shoved the card in the girl’s face. “There’s a couple of naked chicks riding a fish.” Diana frowned, glaring at Kassandra.
The card showed two girls straddling an enormous fish. Yeah they were naked, but you couldn’t really see anything. Hair, elbows, and fins blocked all the naughty parts. One girl had her hands cupped over her face, crying.
Marco twisted the card out of view.
“What’s with these? They’re so freaky.” He squinted and shook the card. “Hey, what the heck? Are these some kind of trick cards?”
“What do you mean?” Diana pulled his hand over.
“It went blank.”Kassandra’s whole body tensed. Not again. She leaned forward to view the card again. Only the border and the title remained, everything else was white paper. A chill settled at the base of her spine. What had she done this time?