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 fire truck blared onto the scene and firefighters drenched the burning car with water. Meanwhile paramedics loaded the driver of the truck into a waiting ambulance.
A burst of flame billowed into the air just beyond the bus’s windshield. “Wow!” several kids said in unison, standing up to peer at the street.
A hollow feeling filled Kassandra’s chest. If the cards did this, then she needed to lock them up. But one look at the deck reminded her how pointless this idea was. They’d zap back, meaning she was stuck with them.
Soon a tow truck hauled the wrecks away, clearing the road. Driver Lady tromped down the aisle and corralled students back to their seats.
As the bus grumbled to life, Kassandra sorted the deck so the suits were in order, but found many of them already blank. How many had she used so far?
“Why do the illustrations vanish?”
“Because you can only use each card once. That’s the rub.”
“But not with your card.” Kassandra sifted through the stack of Major Arcana cards. “Everything’s there except you.” She frowned. The Magician card still wasn’t there.
“It’s missing,” Kassandra switched to the suit piles, hoping it had somehow gotten misplaced. “I don’t see how…” Her hand froze. Auntie Jo. She’d given the card to her. It should’ve zapped back, but somehow it didn’t.
“You gave it to someone, didn’t you?”
Kassandra nodded as the bus rolled into the school parking lot. Kids sprang up, tossing backpacks over shoulders.
“You’ll have to get it back from her,” Luke said, scooting out of the seat.
“What did you say?”
He shrugged. “The cards stay with people who possess them. Whoever you gave it to will have to give it back.”
He started down the aisle, but Kassandra stayed put. Luke had said “her.” Did he know she gave the card to Auntie Jo? How could he?
Luke turned halfway down the aisle. “You coming?”
Kassandra snapped her head up. “Yeah.” She tossed the deck into her purse and exited the bus. Kids swarmed the campus, switching classes between first and second period. So much for slipping in unnoticed.
People eyed them as they trekked the halls. At first she thought they were staring at her, but then Kassandra glanced at Luke. Maybe his coolness trumped her massive faults. He was equipped with the broad shoulders of an athlete, but without all the bulky muscle. Yeah, kids were ogling him. And then wondering why he hung out with her.
Kassandra clenched as they neared her locker. The sign would be there, dangling from the yellow noose. But as she rounded the corner, no crowd of kids hovered in the hall. The locker looked just as plain as all the others. She hurried over and twisted the combination into the lock.
“Hey Seattle.” Lindsay’s voice.
Kassandra’s spirit sank.
Lindsay strolled forward from the other end of the hall. Only one of her flock tagged along—Alexxa, the chunky one.
“Looks like you forgot your sign.” Lindsay pulled something from behind her back. “I made you a new one.” Another computer printout with a noose made of white string.
Luke snatched the sign away.
“Hey, give it back.”
“No one should have to look at that.”
Lindsay threw a pose, hands on hips, strawberry curls tossed back. “I’ll just put up another one.”
Kassandra stepped forward. “I don’t get you.”
Both Lindsay and Luke swiveled to stare, neither expecting Kassandra to butt in. She stepped up to Lindsay. “You’re a total fake.” A grin flew across Alexxa’s face. “I don’t think anyone wants to be your friend. They just stick around because you think you’re in charge.”
Lindsay’s hands slid off her hips.
“My advice…” Kassandra grabbed the textbooks and shut the locker door. “Leave me alone.” She clicked the lock into place and then strolled down the hall, Luke close behind.
Kassandra had actually stood up to Lindsay Barker. It was the kind of thing she always dreamed of saying, but usually the words never escaped her brain. Did the Tarot cards spur her new found confidence or was it Luke? She didn’t care. Kassandra would never go back to her old mute self again.
When lunch rolled around, she snatched an extra helping of what passed for tacos. Luke spotted some empty tables past the overhang. The sky might’ve been clear, but puddles covered the tables—a leftover from yesterday’s storm. They hunted for a dry one, finally settling on a table swamped in the middle but with the edges only dappled. He stretched out the corner of his T-shirt and wiped the surface clean. There were still tiny droplets of water on the bench though, and when Kassandra sat, the seat of her pants got wet. Perfect, now she’d need to stick her butt under the hand dryer in the bathroom.
Kassandra chomped into the hard taco shell. The meat felt refrigerated. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what’s up with your brother?”
“Would you like to be introduced?”
She nodded as bits of lettuce tumbled out of her mouth.
“Take out the Hanged Man card.”
Not more with the cards. “Can’t you just call him or something?”
“I am.” Luke grinned.
Kassandra glanced around the lunch arbor, but then stopped. Why should she care who saw? They were just cards. She set the deck on a napkin to keep it dry and located the Hanged Man. When Luke took the card, a broad smile crossed his face. He scooted around the table and slid next to Kassandra, holding the card so they could both view it. The illustration showed a guy hanging upside down by one foot.
“Let me introduce my brother, Gabriel Rykell.”
She glanced at Luke and then back at the card—just a picture of a man with long blond hair. Maybe he looked a little like Luke. Then the eyes blinked. Kassandra jerked away, nearly slipping off the bench. It moved. Just like Dad.
“He’s only allowed to animate when I hold the card. Not to worry.”
“Can he see me?”
“Oh yes.” Luke waved. “Hello Gabriel. Having a good time?”
The face on the card scowled. Then the figure glanced at Kassandra. Even though they were the size of pinpricks, his eyes seemed to plead with her.
“That’s enough fun for now.” Luke turned the card face down on the deck.
“You really are from the Tarot cards.”
“Just like I said.” He tapped the deck. “Time you learned to use these.”
“Yes, let’s start with the ace of cups.”
“Nuh uh. I don’t want a repeat of what happened on the bus.” The image of the burning car smoldered in her mind. Kassandra wouldn’t hurt anyone.
“If you don’t practice, you’ll just keep triggering cards accidentally. And this card is harmless. It’s just about food.”
Reluctantly she flipped through the stack of cups and snagged the ace. It showed a silver goblet with a fountain on top. The stem twisted, morphing into various fruits and vegetables. It looked like the cornucopia thing Mom dragged out every Thanksgiving.
“Now don’t think about what’s on the card.” Luke tapped his fingers together. “That avenue is a dead end. You need a strong emotion to activate it. Dredge up something you’re afraid of. Or maybe think of someone you love.”
“Can it be someone who bothers me?” She imagined Mom texting last night at the table. Getting no response, Kassandra glanced up. He was lost in thought.
“Yeah.” He blinked and then looked at her. “Any emotion will do.”
She gripped the card on both sides and closed her eyes, remembering dinner last night. How Mom spent the whole time texting the new boyfriend—probably some middle aged dude with a horseshoe ring of hair. Kassandra looked again. The illustration of the cup was still there.
“Why didn’t it work?”
Luke rubbed one eyebrow, thinking. “This might help.” He grabbed their lunch trays, marched over to the nearest trash can, and dumped the contents in.
“Hey. They charge for seconds, you know.”
“Call it motivation. Now channel your anger into the card.”
This time when Kassandra concentrated, her stomach issued a pang of complaint. It knew she’d have to survive another period before it could be fed. Her mind locked on dinner again, seeing an empty chair. Had Mom given up on their family? Or maybe it was only Kassandra she wanted to forget.
Clunk. A boy had plunked his tray right in front of Kassandra. She started getting up to let the kid sit.
“No.” Luke grabbed her arm. “You’ll want to see this.”
The boy wandered away, leaving the tray there. More kids dropped off trays. Some left their brown bags. Even the lunch lady trudged over with a mound of fresh tacos. In moments, a pyramid of food piled up on the table—cookies, chips, sodas, everything—most of it soggy from the swampy middle of the table.
“What is all this?” She whispered to Luke as the stream of kids walked past.
“It’s what you created using the card.”
The image of the cup had vanished, leaving only the border.
“What did the ace of cups mean?”