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’s face pressed against a cold concrete floor. Her hand slipped on a greasy oil stain, smearing the palm black. This was the garage in Seattle.
Her heart skipped. Dad! Kassandra wrapped her arms around him and squeezed until there was no energy left. The scent of sawdust and sweat—Dad’s smell—it was everywhere.
Finally releasing the bear hug of death, the familiar fluttering sound caught her attention. The workbench light shone on the neatly arranged tools but shadows cloaked the corners of the garage. Something darted between the rafters. The nightingale.
“I’m inside the card.” Kassandra trembled. “But how?”
She stared at her hands. Empty. The card had been there only moments before. It must still be in the real world. Luke had it now. The one stashed in Mom’s phone was the only one left.
Dad laid a hand on her shoulder and she jumped. “What’s wrong?”
She willed her breathing to slow down. “I’m okay.”
“You shouldn’t have come back.”
A fist clenched tight in Kassandra’s chest. “What? Don’t you want me here?”
“This is not a good place. It’s not meant for someone like you.”
Something snapped. Anger bubbled to the surface. “You’re so right. What was I thinking? I should have let Luke take all the cards.”
Dad took a step back. “I don’t know what’s been going on with you or who this Luke guy is.” He walked over to the far end of the garage. “I do know this. You were wrong to come here.” Pressing a button caused the massive garage door to grumble to life, lifting off the ground. Pale afternoon light slanted in. Strange shadowy patterns, like zebra stripes, crisscrossed the concrete. As the door lifted higher, Kassandra saw their source. Instead of the driveway they’d had in Seattle, a meadow of tall grass extended right up to the edge of the garage. She stepped toward the opening.
“No!” Dad rushed forward and gripped her arm. “You don’t want to go out there.”
The meadow extended for miles in every direction. The sky exploded with the oranges and reds of a setting sun. Kassandra shrugged off Dad and moved to where the concrete ended. A breeze ruffled her hair. She wanted to walk out there. Let the grass swish against her knees.
A black blob appeared along the horizon, darkening the sky. It looked like a storm cloud, except the edges coiled and twisted as things shifted. The wind changed, bringing the distant cry of birds.
Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet. The nightingale in the garage hopped along the rafter above them.
Holes appeared in the cloud as tiny birds broke away from the mass. The sound of chirping and flapping grew louder. Dad hooked her arm and yanked Kassandra farther into the garage.
“What’s out there?”
“The end.” Dad stared out into the meadow. “You go out there and you’ll never come back.”
Something spooked the birds. They scattered as a giant face filled the sky. Kassandra jumped back, pulse shifting into overdrive. One gigantic eye peered through the garage door. The nightingale leapt from the rafters, zooming around the garage.
Then the eye retreated and Kassandra could see the whole head. It was Luke. Except giant-sized.
“So this is where you’re hiding.” His voice sounded normal as if standing right in the room. “No one’s done that before.”
Then it clicked. Luke was staring into the Death card. The same way Kassandra had looked at Dad.
Luke waved his giant fingers. “How you doing in there? Cozy?”
“Sure, we’re just super.” She stared up at his face.
“Don’t worry, I’ll give you some space. Now that I have Death, it’s only a matter of time before I figure out where you squirreled away the last one.”
Kassandra’s mind flashed to Mom and the phone. Luke didn’t know she had it. “What if you can’t find it?”
“I can wait.” He grinned. “It must be with a person and I don’t think you have many friends left.”
Kassandra pictured him holing up in Auntie Jo’s living room. Then the door opened and Mom stepped in. She’d have no clue what was waiting for her. Kassandra felt a pang of guilt. She shouldn’t have done this to Mom.
“Soon it won’t matter which card you scamper off to. They’ll all fall down. One by one.” He backed away, face becoming fuzzy and indistinct until vanishing into the orange sky. Only the meadow and a few scattered birds remained.
The garage door lurched as it descended. Dad stood at the button. “I’m guessing that’s the Luke guy, right? So where’s this final card?”
Kassandra blinked. She’d forgotten how quick Dad could be sometimes. “I hid it on Mom, but she doesn’t know it’s there.”
His eyebrows scrunched together, creating creases along his brow. “What will Luke do when he finds her?”
Kassandra’s mind flashed to Auntie Jo and the flames. Only now Auntie Jo swapped places and it was Mom who burned.
“Kassie, what’s going to happen?”
“He’ll send her here, into the Tarot deck.”
“No!” Dad slammed a fist against the garage door. The metal reverberated. “Louise can’t come here. Absolutely not.”
“Dad?” Kassandra reached out, but hesitated.
He spun around, face now stone cold. “You have no idea what this place is.” Dad ran a hand along the garage door. “It’s my prison cell. I can never leave.”
He was wrong. If there was a way in, there had to be a way out. She scanned the garage, settling on the door leading into the house. “I’m getting you out!”
“Kassie.” Dad made a grab, but she slipped away, rushing toward the door. The handle turned easily. Not even locked. The door swung open to reveal only bare boards and drywall, like looking straight into the wall. If this was her old garage, then the living room had to be through here. Kassandra headed over to the workbench. The nightingale flew down to perch on one corner. It cocked its head and watched as she snagged a hammer off its peg.
“It won’t work.” Dad came up by her side. “I’ve tried every way to escape this place.”
“Well, it can’t hurt.”
Back at the door, she swung the hammer into the drywall. White dust exploded, coating her jeans. Kassandra yanked the hammer out and swung again. It excavated a chunk of drywall.
“You have to stop.”
“And leave you here?” She wiped at her lips, now slick with sweat. “Nuh uh.”
The next swing made a soft shunk sound as the hammer entered the drywall. Kassandra pulled it out and switched to the clawed end. She hacked in, gouging out massive chunks of the powdery stuff. Sweat slid down her face. There has to be a way to punch through this.
With each successive blow, the clawed end dove deeper. But the drywall kept going. This stuff was supposed to be only a few inches thick, at most. It was ridiculous. Kassandra stepped back and examined the results—a white pit deep enough to stick her head in.
“What’s wrong? Why can’t I get through?” She leaned over, lungs working to catch up with her muscles.
“There’s nowhere to go.”
“There has to be.”
Kassandra stood up, readying herself for another blow. Dad kicked the door shut.
“What the heck are you doing?”
He grabbed the handle and opened the door again.
An involuntary shiver scampered along her skin. The hole was gone. Instead there stood the same solid white drywall. White powder speckled the concrete, the only evidence of her work.
She leaned against the wall, letting the hammer droop. “But there has to be a way out. There just has to.”
Dad shook his head. “This is death. There is no escape.”