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.
Silver streams of water trickled from the blue Beetle. Kassandra stood on the curb in front of Arroyo Grove High School, rain pelting her bare head.
Auntie Jo leaned out the driver’s side window. “Remember what I told you. Don’t take the cards out of your purse.”
“Yeah, got it.” A droplet slid down Kassandra’s neck. She’d hoped, in spite of things, to show off the new clothes, but now they were soaked.
“I’m going to see if there’s something I can dig up to block or bind them.” Auntie Jo gunned the motor. “They’re still in the baggie?”
Kassandra reached into the purse and felt the slick plastic of the baggie. The seal had popped open and the corner of one card nosed out. No need to worry Auntie Jo. She nodded and said, “Yup, they’re in there.”
“Good.” Auntie Jo threw the Volkswagen into gear. Somewhere under the hood, metal ground against metal. “I’ll pick you up after school.” She cranked the window up and then looked at the dashboard. Kissing two fingers, Auntie Jo touched the photo of Ronald.
Kassandra jogged toward the main building, fending off the rain with one hand. It was a futile effort. The new zip-up hoodie and jeans were drenched. As she cruised down the halls, sneakers squeaking, kids pointed and chuckled. Nearly everyone was checking her out. One girl even snapped a photo.
Maybe everyone was used to seeing her as a bag lady. Not today. Wet or not, these clothes were killer. Kassandra fluffed up her damp hair. Farther down the hall, Lindsay and the fashionistas lounged by a bank of lockers. Kassandra picked up the pace, adding a smidgeon of swish to her stride, daring them to look.
Lindsay squished her perfect eyebrows together, taking in the new outfit. Then Diana leaned over and whispered something. Lindsay broke into giggles and pointed. The rest of the group followed suit, tittering away.
Kassandra hustled down the hall and glanced at her clothes. Was something wrong? Had she spattered milk across her pants or what?
“Don’t forget to check your locker,” Alexxa called.
Kassandra pulled at the fishnet gloves. What did they do? Her mind ran through the possibilities. Everything from an egg splattered door to them somehow getting the combination and jacking all the books.
Sprinting around the corner, Kassandra saw a clump of students huddled around her locker. They shuffled back, revealing something strung through the vents in the door. It was a noose made out of white string with a slip of paper taped to the end.
Kassandra’s pulse slowed to a creep. She couldn’t go any closer, yet her feet inched forward on their own. A computer printout dangled from the noose—showing writing along with a color picture. It took a moment to figure it out. Then her heart hiccupped. The photo showed a man hanging from a noose. A dead man. But it wasn’t him. Wrong shirt.
The words underneath read:
Kassandra Troy wants to die
just like her daddy.
Fat tears struck her arms. She couldn’t breathe.
How did they find out?
She turned and tore through the halls. Her rational mind took charge just long enough to recognize the bathroom door. Kassandra barreled through and dove into a stall.
A kick knocked the door closed, but then it bounced back open. She screamed and slammed it shut, twisting the lock so hard it hurt. This couldn’t happen again. They left the house, the town, everything behind.
Kassandra collapsed on the toilet seat. “Daddy.”
Her chest heaved in and out. A thought crystallized: Don’t let it overwhelm you. Take control.
A wave of sobbing struck again. One hand responded by sliding into the new purse, feeling for the pushpin at the bottom. It closed around the Tarot deck instead. She yanked the baggie out and hurled it forward.
“Get away from me!”
The baggie hit the stall door and ripped open. Cards spilled onto the floor. Kassandra attacked the purse, finally locating the pushpin in one corner. Yanking down one of the fishnet gloves revealed streaks of white along her arm. The scars rose up like little highways crisscrossing her skin.
Kassandra hadn’t thought of them as suicide attempts. She didn’t want to die. Cutting was more of a release. No one knew about the razor hidden in the Doc Martens. Not Auntie Jo. Certainly not Mom. But Kassandra wasn’t at home. All she had was this lousy pushpin. The tip hovered over her skin. Her fingers held it with the skill of an experienced surgeon.
This was wrong. She was a freak. But only the pain helped. She pressed down. A tiny dot of red bubbled up, screaming louder than she ever could. Everything Kassandra couldn’t control.
She moved the pin up and started again.
A chill surged along through Kassandra as her breathing trickled to a scant inhale. Get a grip. Shove those stupid tears back inside where they belong.
It was done. Five pricks of red dotted her arm. She let the stillness spin out from the inside. The pin went back in the purse. A paper towel would blot up the blood. With the glove pulled up, no one would ever notice. She stood, ready to twist open the stall door, but found herself staring down.
What happened to the cards? They should’ve scattered all over. Kassandra inspected the whole stall, finally spotting the deck stacked just below the toilet. A single card stuck out from the neat pile. She reached for it and hesitated, knowing the card would be something bad. The gold pattern on the back looked scarred, the same as her arm.
Kassandra grasped the card. Flipped it. The Magician.
The figure looked like a clown with those puffy red sleeves. He had thin chicken legs, turned at a weird angle. It was ridiculous. Then the color faded from his outfit. It went from red to pink to light grey. Finally gone. He was gone. Everything else on the card remained. The table. The cup and three coins. The stained glass window. Only the figure of the man vanished.
The hairs along Kassandra’s neck prickled. She triggered it.