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 reached the front door of the house, ready to burst through. A dangerous thought crept into her brain. The Death card. It had slipped out somehow while she ran. It sat lost on the sidewalk.
Her fingers rushed for the pocket and brushed against the stiff paper. The card was still there. Safe.
She grabbed the handle and cracked open the door. A peek inside showed Mom’s iPhone charging on the counter. Kassandra cringed. Not Mom. Now there were two people to look after. A glance outside showed the Nissan parked in the drive. Somehow Kassandra had missed seeing it on the way up.
She stepped in and eased the door shut. Dishes clinked in the kitchen. It had to be Auntie Jo. Mom never cleaned up. As Kassandra entered the kitchen, Auntie Jo spun around and nearly dropped a plate.
“What are you doing here?”
“I’m in big trouble.”
“It’s Luke, isn’t it?” Auntie Jo set the dish on the rack. “I could smell danger on that boy.”
“Do you still have the card I gave you?”
“Right here.” She drew it out of her apron pocket. “You’re not thinking of giving it to him.”
“No.” Kassandra took the card. It showed the figure of The Magician outlined in a stained glass window. This was Luke’s card. His prison. The place he’d been desperate to escape from for years. Now he needed it back.
She glanced around the kitchen. “He has the rest of the cards.”
“I messed up, okay? Now I’ve got to keep these other two safe.”
Kassandra pulled the Death card out. “I kept this one.” As she examined it, Dad turned to look. “You probably can’t see him, can you?”
“See who?” Auntie Jo inspected the image. “It looks a little like…”
“Dad, I know.”
Auntie Jo jerked back and pointed. “Mercy, it just moved.”
“He’s in there.” Kassandra looked back at Dad. “I only wanted to get him out.”
Auntie Jo gave the card a skeptical look and then gripped Kassandra’s shoulder. “Honey, what happened to your dad is permanent. There is no coming back.”
Kassandra didn’t believe it. Not after what she’d seen. These cards could do anything.
She glanced toward the front door, shoving Death back into her pocket. “Listen, Luke’s on his way here. Right now.” Kassandra held up The Magician card. “I need to find something to do with this.” Scanning the room, her gaze landed on Mom’s phone. The size was about right. She thumbed one corner of the pink rubber shell away. The card would slide right behind there and Mom wouldn’t know it was there.
“What are you doing?”
“Mom never goes anywhere without this thing. It practically lives on her.” Kassandra peeled the other corner back and wiggled The Magician card in. The fit was snug. “As long as someone possesses a card, it won’t zap back.” She snapped the pink Juicy Couture shell into place. “If Mom stays out of the house, Luke won’t know where this card is.”
The only sign of the hidden card was a sliver peeking up into the hole for the camera. A sinking feeling filled Kassandra’s chest. What if Luke did find out? Then Mom would be in danger too. Maybe there was some other place to stash it.
She pulled the corner of the rubber shell away.
“Kassandra?” Mom stood in the hallway, wearing a blue polo with a name tag pinned to the front. “Why aren’t you at school?” She walked straight up to the counter. “And what happened to that nice boy?”
Luke was anything but a nice boy.
Kassandra said the first thing that came to her mind. “I ditched school.”
It took a moment to register but then Mom’s shock switched to cold fury. “We’re going to have a serious conversation about this.” She breathed hard, trying to keep it under control. “But right now, young lady, you’re getting your ass to school.”
Kassandra stared down at the carpet. No point arguing. Not this time. If she tried to explain then Mom would want to stay. And that couldn’t happen.
Mom snatched the phone out of Kassandra’s hands. “Jo, you’ll have to drive her. I’m going to be late as it is.”
“Sure.” Auntie Jo wiped her hands on a towel.
Mom wheeled around, a finger aimed at Kassandra’s face. “Don’t think I’m done with you, yet.” She leaned closer. “Is that clear?”
Kassandra clenched her hands, but nodded.
“Fine.” Mom pointed toward the driveway. “Now get in the car.”
Kassandra headed to the front door. Outside, she scanned the street for Luke. No sign yet, but he could be anywhere. She pulled open the passenger door to the Beetle, her knees bashing into the glovebox. Auntie Jo wouldn’t actually take her to school. Kassandra only needed to go through the motions.
Mom made a big deal of stomping out and unlocking the door to the Nissan. Starting up the car, she immediately slapped the phone to one ear. Probably complaining to her boyfriend about the rough treatment. At the end of the block, Kassandra spotted a figure, dressed in a white T shirt and blue jeans, marching down the sidewalk.
While the Nissan idled in the driveway, Mom protested on the phone loud enough for Kassandra to hear. Luke marched up the street, a scowl on his the face. Prickles of sweat sprang up along Kassandra’s skin.
“Go.” She glanced at the Nissan. “Please!”
Mom put the car in reverse and eased out of the drive, still complaining on the phone. Luke was halfway down the street when she finally gunned it, and screeched away.
Kassandra bolted into the house. “He’s coming.” She slammed the door and threw the deadbolt.
Auntie Jo held a plastic baggie filled with some kind of red powder. She stepped up to the front door and sprinkled some along the threshold.
“Brick dust. It keeps your enemies from entering.”
“Will it work?”
Auntie Jo shrugged and handed over the baggie. “Maybe.” She headed over to the couch and picked up a shotgun. “If not, this sure will.”
“Jesus, when did you get that?”
“Never you mind. Now go and sprinkle more brick dust on all the window sills.”
Auntie Jo grabbed a shell from the box and slotted it into the gun.
Kassandra peered out the front window. Luke rounded the driveway. The bag slipped and struck the floor, puffing up a cloud of red dust. “He’s here.” She rushed back to the couch.
A polite knock came at the front door—as though it might be some kid selling candy bars. “Hellooo?” Luke crooned from the other side. “Anybody home?”
Auntie Jo pumped the shotgun—click clack—and aimed the weapon at the door.
The handle jiggled. “Awfully rude to lock me out.”
“Stay behind me, honey.” Auntie Jo propped the gun against one shoulder. Seconds ticked by. In the quiet, Kassandra’s mind conjured up bizarre possibilities. Maybe he’d slide down the chimney like some demented Santa. A bead of sweat slithered along her spine. What was he doing out there?
Finally Kassandra heard a huff of air, like someone breathing out loudly. The clatter of hooves followed, ending in a crack as something heavy slammed the front door. The wood snapped inward, revealing a sliver of daylight and what looked like a horse. Luke had used one of the cards. The horse battered the door again, splintering the wood and knocking one hinge out of the wall. Then the massive stallion reared up, bringing its front hooves down on the wood.
The second hinge popped out. What was left of the door crashed down. The horse whinnied before trotting out into the driveway. Luke stepped up to the threshold.
“You locked the door? Really?”
He glanced down at the brick dust laid along the carpet. “I have to say, I’m not really familiar with this one.” Luke stepped over the red dust and into the house. “Is it supposed to do something?”
Auntie Jo fixed the barrel of the shotgun at Luke’s chest. “You stay away.”
“I’m afraid I can’t do that.”
“I’m warning you.”
Luke tossed up one of his grins. “How about this instead?” He pulled a single card out of the Tarot deck.
The shell exploded into Luke’s shoulder. He staggered back, crumpling against the wall. His eyes went glossy. Blood spurted from the wound, spattering everything around it. It mixed with the brick dust on the floor, creating a crimson stew.
Auntie Jo stepped closer, pumping the shotgun to discharge the empty shell.
“Don’t kill him!” Kassandra stepped forward. Why had she said that?
Luke smiled with red coated teeth. He looked up, not at Auntie Jo, but at Kassandra. Comprehension filled his eyes. “I’m going to remember this.”
“No you won’t.” Auntie Jo aimed the shotgun at his head.
“No!” Kassandra reached for the gun.
Luke thrust a single card forward and something in the illustration shifted. Auntie Jo’s eyes went wide.
Kassandra edged closer, trying to make out the picture. It showed an angel standing on a churning sea, a giant circular blank spot took up the center of the card. The Wheel of Fortune. The one Auntie Jo said stood for her.
Fire shot out, curling around Auntie Jo like a thousand tentacles. The flickers of orange and red flame morphed into a deep purple as the color faded from Auntie Jo’s apron.
It was sucking the life out of her, just like with Lindsay.