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!” This time it was Gabriel’s voice, but he sounded so distant, like shouting down a long tunnel.
She staggered back, turning away from the mirror. Her skin felt feverish and clammy.
“Cover up the mirror.” Gabriel pointed to the fallen easel where a black cloth lay in a heap.
Kassandra staggered over and bundled up the fabric, the smell of rotting milk was everywhere. Something clenched inside. She was going to hurl. Staring only at the floor, Kassandra calmed her breathing until gradually her stomach muscles relaxed. Inch by inch, she moved closer to the mirror.
“I was there.” A whisper in her ear. Mr. Creepy was talking to her. “I saw the noose tighten around Daddy’s neck.”
She gagged, spiting up a thin line of drool.
“I live inside your blood.” Hot rancid breath on her face. Even staring at the floor, she couldn’t avoid it. “With every cut, I bubble to the surface.”
“Kassandra.” Gabriel’s voice was clam and cut through everything. “Cover it up.”
She squeezed the fabric. Then a throbbing started in both arms. The tiny white scars seemed to pulse like a heartbeat.
“Do it now!” Gabriel shouted.
“Only Mommy is left.” The sour air slithered along her skin like a reptilian tongue. “I shall guide Luke to her.”
“No.” Kassandra hauled the black cloth up, hooking it over the mirror. Then she collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. The foul stink vanished and she sucked in clean air.
“Donald Cloots. He is a true devil.”
“You mean like The Devil? As in from Hell?”
“Not the master of the realm, but one of its servants. When we met him, he was but a shade, a hint of his true form. We built the Tarot deck to give him power in the form of souls.”
“So when the Tower falls, does he get out?”
Gabriel nodded. “Yes, he intends to break free of the Tarot deck.”
Kassandra shivered. If that creep escaped, the world would be done for. She lifted the bottom of the cloth only a little to reveal the cracked section of the mirror. One kick and shards scattered along the floor. Leaning down, Kassandra chose a large triangular sliver, but then caught sight of Mr. Creep’s feet. There was something odd about his shoes. Too short. Her pulse kicked up a notch. Those weren’t shoes. They were hooves. The dirt he stood on steamed, as if his feet scalded the ground.
She dropped the flap of cloth, hiding Mr. Creeps, and gingerly picked up the shard of glass. Then Kassandra hightailed it back to Gabriel. Standing on tiptoes, she reached the rope securing his ankle. Several gouges marred the thick fiber as if someone had tried to tear at it. Kassandra pressed the glass shard down and began slicing.
“So why is the Donald guy here? I mean, I get the other mirrors. They’re your memories. But he seems different.”
“Donald Cloots is not a memory. He lives within the cards. His will drives the Tarot.”
Kassandra thought back to the accident in front of the bus. Then Lindsay’s dissolving clothes. Each time she used one of the cards, Cloots decided the outcome. Even Luke had said the cards needed to be tricked.
“Donald Cloots came to my brother and I the night Ezabell died. The plague took everyone but us. Only God knows why we survived.” Gabriel’s face scrunched up in pain, tears clinging to the corners of his eyes.
“You cared for her, didn’t you?” She paused cutting the rope. “That’s why she’s in the mirror. A mistake you wanted to undo.”
“Ezabell is so close. I yearn to touch her once more.” Gabriel closed his eyes, turning his head in the direction of Ezabell. The girl in the mirror fell again, a rerun of the dying scene. Gabriel sobbed. Even without seeing it, the image of her death took control.
Kassandra had to make him think of something else. “So what did this Donald guy offer to make you create the Tarot deck?”
Gabriel blinked, tears still in his eyes. “To each of us he would grant our heart’s desire.”
Kassandra stopped sawing the rope. Her heart’s desire. If that were a wish, she’d have no trouble choosing. But, how far was Kassandra willing to go to get Dad back?
“Luke desired nothing more than to bring back his Ezabell. He believed she might return from death’s firm grip. Yet it is a devil’s promise.”
The rope snapped. She jumped back, but Gabriel didn’t drop. His body twirled under the now slender rope.
“This is going to be a nasty fall.”
“Hand me the shard.” He held out a hand.
Kassandra passed it over. Gabriel bent at the waist, pulling himself up, and used the shard to saw at the remaining rope. After a moment he straightened to catch his breath. Gabriel huffed in and out several times, building up for another attempt. He surged forward, hacking at the rope as if holding an axe. Blood trickled from his cut hand.
Kassandra glanced away. It was stupid. She, of all people, should be used to looking at blood.
Gabriel’s shoes clunked on the floor, sending the nightingale darting into the air. He stood, but wobbled as if suddenly seasick.
“You all right?”
Gabriel leaned forward and Kassandra grabbed him. He had a musky scent, like some kind of wet wood. “The blood rushes away from my head.” Gabriel held the bleeding hand over his eyes and then swayed again, finally slumping to the ground.
“I am sorry. My legs cannot hold me yet.”
“Let’s take care of your hand first.”
Kassandra reached for the shard of glass, now broken into smaller pieces on the floor. Her fingers trembled—remembering the razor. She shut the memories out. No time for that now. Kassandra picked it up and jabbed the glass through her shirt, ripping off a strip of fabric.
“Let me see your hand.” Gabriel’s palm was covered with rough callouses. It reminded her of Dad’s hands. She laid the strip of cloth over the gash. The fabric soaked up the blood, instantly red. She wasn’t sure how to do this. In the movies, it always looked so easy. Kassandra wrapped the strip a couple of times around, but then stared at the dangling end. What to do with it? She settled on pulling it tight and tucking the loose fabric into the wrap. It was the best nurse Kassandra could do.
Gabriel wasn’t looking. His gaze zeroed in on a mirror showing a version of him bent over a small wooden desk with a bottle of ink, scribbling something with a quill pen. The reflected Gabriel backed away to examine the work, revealing a line sketch of a rope stretching down from a wooden beam. The Hanged Man. So Gabriel drew the card he’d been stuck in all these years. It was like he built his own prison. No wonder he couldn’t look away.
Kassandra grabbed his shoulder and gave it a little shake. “Gabriel.”
“I created all of this.” His trembling hands reached up to cover his eyes. “I am responsible.”
“You must go on. I am tied to this room and can never leave.”
Kassandra slapped Gabriel across the face.