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 gasped for breath, straining on the pedals. She wasn’t out of shape, but with the shopping bags slung over each handlebar, the bike wobbled like a staggering drunk. The sun had set and the street lamps were flickering to life. Cold air cut through the cotton hoodie, biting into her skin.
On the next turn, the bike threatened to veer straight into a tree. She slammed on the brakes and hopped off, letting the bike collapse in the street. One bag spilled shirts onto the asphalt. Come on! This day had been going great. It couldn’t crap out on her now.
Kassandra loaded the clothes back into the bag as a car swung around the bend. She hefted the bike up and wheeled it out of the street. The car edged closer and once she reached the sidewalk, it zoomed down the street. Kassandra walked the bike the last few blocks. The lights were on and Mom’s car sat in the driveway next to Auntie Jo’s. The gang was all here.
She guided the bike into the garage through the side door and ditched the shopping bags behind a tower of moving boxes. Hauling them through the house would be like setting off an alarm. Right now, her throat screamed for a drink.
Kassandra slipped into the house and noticed an iPhone plugged into a charger. A pink Juicy Couture case with a pair of terriers next to a coat of arms adorned the phone. So not Auntie Jo’s style. Must be Mom’s. Kassandra knew she had wrangled some kind of J-O-B, but did Mom have that kind of cash? An imaginary bell dinged. It had to be the new hunka hunka man friend. Now, he was buying her toys.
The smell of frying onions led Kassandra into the kitchen, but no one was there. The only activity came from a hissing pan and a bubbling pot of water. She tugged open the fridge and rummaged around until finding an old fast food cup from last week. The soda was watered down, but still loaded with sugar and caffeine.
“You’re late,” Auntie Jo said.
Kassandra spun around, nearly splattering the drink on the floor.
Decked out in a seeing eye apron, Auntie Jo delved into the pot with a pair of tongs and came up with an oval-shaped green disc.
“Is that cactus?” Kassandra asked.
“Yup, for the cactus gumbo. I got the recipe off the Internet.” Auntie Jo pulled out two more cactus pads and set to work chopping them up and tossing the pieces in with the onions. “Don’t change the subject.” She wiped one hand on the apron and then scanned the outfit. “Are those the clothes you wore this morning?”
Kassandra’s heart sunk. Busted.
Mom fluttered in, new iPhone in hand. “Hi Kass.” She stared at the screen but then did a double take. “Hey you look great today. You’ll have no trouble catching the boys’ attention dressed like that.”
Kassandra cringed. Skank bait wasn’t the intended look. Still, she flashed Mom a smile. At least someone in the house wouldn’t complain about the two bags stashed in the garage.
Mom opened the cupboard and snagged a box of cereal and then turned to Auntie Jo. “Listen, I know you cooked, but I’m just going to snack in my room.” She popped a handful of corn flakes into her mouth. “Thanks.” Mom trotted down the hall.
Once she was out of earshot, Auntie Jo swiveled around. “Okay, what’s going on with the clothes?”
“I can explain.”
“You better.” The onions and cactus hissed in the hot pan. Auntie Jo pushed them around with the tongs.
Kassandra’s mind ran along possible reasons for sudden wealth—from finding the money in the gutter to getting an advance on a new job. They all sounded completely lame.
“I triggered one of the Tarot cards. Then the money sort of appeared in my bag.”
“What!” She swiveled around and stared at Kassandra. “And I suppose spending it was all right, then?”
“Why shouldn’t I?”
Auntie Jo shook her head. “You can’t expect to have riches handed to you.” She poured a can of crushed tomatoes in with the onions and cactus. The pan crackled along the edges. “When I headed out to New Orleans, I was just as young and stupid as you are now.”
One raised eyebrow was enough to hush Kassandra up.
“I thought nothing could ever hurt me. I used magic to get what I wanted and then I had to face the consequences.” She punctuated her words with the tongs. “And they were bad.”
Kassandra ran one hand along the smooth denim of the jeans. What was so wrong about a few pairs of pants and some shirts? Yeah, she’d spent way too much, but Kassandra needed new clothes. No way was she going another day looking like a panhandler.
Auntie Jo set the tongs on the counter. “If you accept what these cards give you, then they’ll have power over you.”
“You’re wrong. So far they’ve only helped me.”
Auntie Jo wrinkled her forehead. “Is this the first time the cards have done something?”
Kassandra took a slurp of the watered down soda. “Remember the card I showed you? The one that went blank?”
“Yeah?” The eyebrow shot up again.
“Well, a couple of minutes later this girl…her clothing just sort of vanished.”
Auntie Jo stared.
Kassandra twisted the fabric of the fishnet gloves between her fingers. Why didn’t Auntie Jo freak out like Mom? So much easier to deal with. “And then today, this boy grabbed the deck off my desk and wouldn’t give it back. Another card went blank and something happened to him. Like he stopped caring about everything.”
Auntie Jo threw her hands up in the air. “You need to stop using those cards before anything worse happens.”
“You mean worse than getting some cash?” Kassandra set the cup on the counter. “Or worse than having some bullies at school get what they deserve?”
“You’re acting like an addict. You’ve had your first taste, and now you want more.”
“No. You don’t get what it’s like for me.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I didn’t ask to move to this crappy little town and have no friends.”
Auntie Jo shot a hand out. “Give them to me.”
“Why? They’ll just come back again.”
“I’m not taking them away. I just want to look at them.”
Kassandra pulled the cards out, but hesitated, running a thumb along the gold patterned backs. The cards chose her.
“Today,” Auntie Jo said. Kassandra blinked and passed them over.
“Which card brought you the money?”
“Seven of coins.”
Auntie Jo took out the card and then wrinkled her forehead. “It’s blank.”
“When the card gets activated or whatever, the whole picture disappears.”
“There are a lot of blank cards in here.”
“I only triggered three. The one with the two coins on it, then the four cups card, and then that one.”
Auntie Jo fiddled with her silver ankh necklace. “So far you’ve only activated suit cards. I’m concerned about what a major arcana will do.”
“What are those again.”
Auntie Jo pulled a card out and laid it on the counter. The picture showed a lanky guy in a bright red suit standing in front of a stained glass window. The bottom read: The Magician. “The major arcana are more potent than the suit cards.”
Kassandra peered at the card. Did the guy in the illustration just move? The Magician’s hands hovered above a table filled with some coins, a knife, a cup and a wand. But she could have sworn he’d been holding the wand before.
“Maybe I need someone else to trigger these cards.”
“What do you mean?”
“I tried to make the seven of coins work, but nothing happened. Not until…” Kassandra looked at the tile floor. No getting around it. She’d have to tell it. “There’s this girl at school. I ran into her in the halls. She took my purse and dumped all the cards on the floor. When I picked them up, the seven of coins was blank.”
A glance back and the Magician was holding the wand again.
“Why do you keep looking at the card?”
“I don’t know.” Except she did know. Kassandra had seen this guy somewhere before.
“Hold on,” Auntie Jo said, leaning over the card. “This card came up in your reading yesterday.”
A cold chill scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. “Why would you choose the same card again? Do you think we triggered it or something?” She gazed at the illustration, expecting it to vanish any moment.
Auntie Jo spun around and opened a cabinet door. “Let’s not stand here staring at it all night.” She pulled out a plastic zip bag. “Put the cards in here.”
Kassandra reached for the deck, but then hesitated. Was the Magician guy looking at her?
Auntie Jo sighed and flipped the top card over, hiding the illustration. “There. Now put them in.”
Kassandra shoved the deck into the bag and sealed it.
“We know the cards can’t leave you. But you don’t have to keep using them.” Auntie Jo pointed to the baggie. “Don’t look at them or touch them from now on.”
Kassandra nodded, but her thoughts still lingered on The Magician. What if she already activated him? Would the card be blank the next time? All Kassandra wanted to do was yank those cards out and flip over The Magician. Just to check.
The card had been in Auntie Jo’s reading, representing the near future. Which meant soon. What did the card stand for? Love? Kassandra suppressed the urge to chuckle, but the desire wasn’t as strong as the first time. Maybe soon was about to be now. Was she ready for this?