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 slinked down the bus aisle as kids’ gazes dissected the girl with the dead daddy. Someone whispered “Suicide” loud enough for her to hear. She winced. The gossip wasn’t going to vanish overnight. This was high school, after all. The story about the new girl with the suicidal Daddy would blossom until even the teachers figured things out. Then Kassandra would have to face the counselors.
If only Luke were here.
Book Girl sat with legs propped against the seat. When Kassandra shuffled by, the girl snapped her head up and smirked. Kassandra continued down the aisle, plopping onto the seat with the ripped cushion before the bus kicked into gear. She stared out the window, avoiding the other kids’ stares. Dinky clouds dotted an otherwise turquoise sky. Yesterday’s storm had left town. Perfect weather for a miserable day.
She pulled out the Tarot cards and flicked through the deck, searching for Death. It wasn’t there. Kassandra patted down her jeans and felt the edge of the card nose out the front pocket and relaxed. She’d shoved it there after the nightmare. Setting the rest of the cards on her lap, she tugged Death out. Why did this card hang out in her pocket while the others zapped back to the deck? Did the rest of the cards want to kick Death out of the club for being such a freak?
Kassandra had blown Auntie Jo off this morning, but there might have been some truth to what she’d said. There was a truck load of drama jostling around her brain these days. New in town and starting school. Plus, she’d be known as Suicide Girl for the next two years. Maybe Kassandra was reading things into the cards. Total endorphin overload.
Driver Lady hit the brakes and everyone in the bus swayed forward.
Kassandra scrutinized the heads illustrated at the bottom of the Death card. True, one looked a little like Dad. But it wasn’t moving. Just a picture. She could add going nuts to her list of defects this week.
“You look glum. Someone run over your cat?” Luke Rykell stood in the aisle. Without even thinking, Kassandra slapped a hand over the cards.
“It’s a joke. Supposed to make you smile.”
She tossed up one of the toothy grins reserved for Mom.
“Sit down back there!” Driver Lady hollered.
Luke slid onto the seat. Kassandra detected the orange scented cologne again. The smell seemed to be infused into his clothes.
She glanced down at the Tarot deck, still clutched in both hands. If Kassandra could slip one peek at the Magician card, she’d know for sure…What? That Luke somehow popped out? Didn’t she just tell herself this was all in her head?
Luke wore pretty much same outfit as yesterday—white T and blue jeans. Guys could get away with not changing clothes.
“Hey, isn’t that a Tarot deck?” He pointed at the cards.
Her fingers squeezed the deck.
He cocked a grin. “Now are those the garden variety type or are they the special kind of cards?”
Kassandra’s blood froze, thoughts spinning with the memory of Lindsay and the disappearing wardrobe. Hold on, he hadn’t mentioned any of that. It was only her brain making up stuff again.
“What do you mean, special?”
“Special like…” Luke rubbed his chin. “Like causing someone’s clothes to melt away.”
How did he know? Her hands slipped away, revealing the gold patterned backs of the Tarot cards.
“Ah, you do have them. I thought so.” Kassandra caught a gleam when Luke stared at the cards.
“How do you know all this?”
“You already have that answer.”
Kassandra’s head buzzed with questions. How could she possibly know anything?
“Who do you think I am?”
The image of the guy from the Magician card sprang to mind—all decked out in a flouncy red suit. “It’s kind of stupid.” She shrugged. “Probably something I made up.”
Kassandra glanced around. The rumble of the bus drowned out the chatter of the other kids, so no one could hear them. “The Magician from the Tarot deck.”
“What if I said you were right?”
If he was really from the deck… Kassandra looked down at the pile of cards. She needed to find The Magician. Just to see it.
“That deck,” Luke pointed at the cards, “has been my home for a very long time.”
“How?” It was all she could get out. Kassandra wanted to know how Luke knew what she was thinking. But also, how he came from a deck of cards.
“Let’s take one thing at a time. You needed help, and that’s why I’m here. To teach you how to use the cards.”
“But what are you?” She meant to say who, but it came out as what.
“Don’t be afraid.” Luke took her hand and squeezed. A tingle skittered up Kassandra’s arm. “See, I’m just as solid as you. Just as human. And I’m not going to bite.” He winked. “Unless you like that sort of thing.”
He was flirting. She pushed a strand of hair back. Not the time. Too many questions right now. “So, how do you get into a deck of cards?”
“Before I was trapped inside, I was normal, everyday, Luke Rykell.” He leaned back. “Now, I’m somewhat different.”
Kassandra looked into his eyes. Bits of copper flashed in the morning sun. “Trapped, huh? So you’re a genie?”
Luke shook his head. “I can’t grant wishes. Sorry. But I have learned a little about how the deck works.” He scooted closer. “Other people have brought me out, like you, and I’ve seen how they used the cards.”
She ran her finger along the cards. So he’d been pulled out of the Tarot deck more than once. Did he return on his own or was he forced back inside?
Luke tapped on the cards. “They never seem to work when you want them to, do they?”
“Tell me about it. And then, when I want to be left alone, they up and do something really weird.”
“Frustrating, isn’t it. You can’t tell the cards what to do. But you can trick them.”
She frowned. He talked like the deck was alive or something.
“The cards want to be used.” Luke ran a finger along his eyebrow. “They’re just not…predictable.”
“So you’re saying I can’t make the cards do what I want.”
“It’s like solving a riddle. The power is hidden in the symbols.”
“Translate for me.”
“Pick a card.”
She turned the deck over and revealed the five of swords.
“What do you see?” He edged closer to her.
The illustration depicted a man lying under a tiny Greek-looking temple, sucking on a hookah pipe, totally oblivious to the columns falling apart. Any second now, the whole place would crash down.
“It looks like the guy is going to get smooshed. But he doesn’t care.”
“Not bad. The crumbling building is a symbol for destruction.”
Kassandra needed to read some of those books in Auntie Jo’s library. She knew nothing about what each card meant. She shifted to the next card just as the bus lurched around a turn. Kassandra smacked into Luke.
He turned to her. “You okay?”
Oh yeah. The one time in her life she didn’t mind riding the bus.
“I’m good.” Kassandra was now squished shoulder to shoulder with Luke.
Head cocked, he looked at the next card in the deck. “Very interesting.”
The new card showed men lying next to these massive logs. The bottom read: nine of wands.
“Is there something wrong with this one too?”
“Do you really want to get to school on time?”
Tension crackled through Kassandra, picturing yesterday morning. People had stared as if she were some zoo animal on display. “I’m in no rush.”
“Then let’s create a little delay.” He pointed to the card.
“What are you going to do?”
“It’s your deck. The cards listen to you.”
Auntie Jo had paid for them, so they should’ve been hers. But that wasn’t true. They felt like they belonged to Kassandra. They chose her.
“Look at the illustration.” Luke tapped the picture. “See the nine fellows there. They’re supposed to be working, but they’re almost asleep.”
She examined the card. A couple of men tilted bottles to their mouths. It looked like the end of an all night party. “So if I use this card, it means we’re going to lie around all day.”
“That’s the literal meaning. You have to think in symbols.” Luke griped her hand, his thumb on the card. “Imagine something preventing us from getting to school on time. The bus breaking down or a string of red lights.”
Kassandra tried, but could only fixate on the kids staring in the halls, everyone whispering about Dad. Then there was the note, the one with the printout of a suicide victim.
A wicked smile spread along Luke’s face as he placed a hand forward to grip the seat in front. Tires screeched from somewhere up ahead. The bus jerked to a halt and Kassandra sailed into the padded seat in front of her. The cards scattered along the floor.
Kassandra’s face felt raw. “What happened?”
“Go see.” Luke nodded toward the front of the bus.
Other students sprang out of their seats, crowding around Driver Lady, who shooed them back while trying to talk on the radio. Kassandra only caught glimpses of the street. Black smoke billowed up as flames clawed the morning air.
“There.” Luke smirked. “You got what you wanted. We won’t be at school anytime soon.”
She stood, neck craned, just able to view a compact car with its hood scrunched up like a wad of paper. Fire blanketed the engine. A truck lay next to it, knocked on its side with the wheels still spinning. The driver crawled out of the cab, red blood coating his face.
“I didn’t ask for this.”
“Are you sure? You wanted to stay away from school. Maybe you don’t mind if a few people get hurt along the way.”
Did she want to avoid school so badly? Kassandra chewed on a fingernail. She certainly wasn’t ready to begin her stint at Arroyo Grove High School as Suicide Girl.
The bus shuddered and a puff of inky smoke exploded into the air from the car wreck.
“No.” she shook her head. “I wouldn’t ever wish for this.”
“You’d be surprised what you’d do when you really want something.”
Kassandra glanced down and found the deck of cards seated on the edge of the ripped vinyl. They came back. Of course they did. She picked up the nine of wands. The illustration of the men and the logs was gone. Only the title and the border remained. The same thing had happened each time before. Except in the library. There, she’d practically pounded the card into the desk and got nothing. “How do I make the cards work when I want them to?”
Luke raised an eyebrow. “That’s the question, isn’t it?”
Kids pulled out their phones. Some snapped pictures while others called or texted about the accident. Sirens wailed in the distance.
“You can’t think the cards into action.” Luke hefted his tattered backpack over one shoulder. “They run on emotion. Love, hate, or fear. The stronger the better.”
Kassandra tried to picture when the seven of coins had gone blank. It was in the hallway when Lindsay had cornered her. She’d been afraid, but also pissed off. Did Kassandra set the cards off without even thinking about it?
“What about you? What were you thinking about just then? I saw you smile.”
The edges of Luke’s mouth curled up, giving just a hint of a smirk again. “I thought about my brother.”