The Tarot Cards Choose Kassandra

Chapter 2

Want to read from the beginning? Click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra’s heartbeat stormed inside her head. She swiveled, tensing for a confrontation, but there was no one there. Just the bookcase. What was going on? 

Something thunked to the floor and Kassandra nearly screamed. Whipping around, she saw a man reaching down to pick up a book. Just a glimpse of his face caused her throat to clench as if hands squeezed her windpipe. All Kassandra managed were short, raspy gasps. 

“Dad?”

She stumbled backward and fell to the floor, legs spayed at awkward angles. The crocheted purse flopped open. Coins rolled everywhere.

“Hey, you all right?”  It was the man with the book, but not Dad anymore. How could she have ever thought…? 

He held out a hand to help her up. “You have to watch your step.”

“Yeah.” She grabbed his hand. The grip was smooth and soft, not at all like Dad’s callused skin. After Kassandra stood, the man knelt to gather the coins, dropping them into the purse with a clank. 

“There you go.” He handed over the bag, his expression fluttering a moment before settling on a polite smile.

“Thanks.”

This released him. The man grabbed the book and practically jogged for the register. Great, now she was scaring random strangers. Time to go.

Kassandra slid the Death card into the deck. The bookshelf where they came from was crammed with books on metaphysical geometry and ufology, but no other cards. This wasn’t the right section. It felt wrong to leave them here. 

She marched toward the clerk, who was bent behind the counter unpacking a box.

“Hi,” Kassandra said.

Clerk Lady popped up and smiled, showing off a sweet round face that would be at home on a box of cookies. 

“I found these…” Kassandra held up the cards, “…back there.”

The woman stared at the cards, her expression curdling. “You have the cards.”

“Yeah. I didn’t know where you keep the rest of them. Can I leave them with you?”

“They’re yours.” Clerk Lady scooted back from the counter, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll have to go. I’m closing up.” She darted toward Auntie Jo without waiting for a response. 

The clock on the wall showed eleven. The place just opened. How could it be closing? This lady had some serious customer service issues.

Kassandra set the cards on the counter and traced one finger along the side, nicked and torn from multiple uses. The gold pattern on the back looked like a sky filled with stars, bringing back a distant memory of the Washington mountains. It’d been a rare night when the clouds had retreated. Dad stopped at some café after a drive to the forest. On the walk back to the car, Kassandra could see every speck of a star out there. So many, the constellations had become lost in the sequined glitter of starlight.

“Looks like they’re closing up for lunch,” Auntie Jo said, arriving at the counter.

“What?” Kassandra blinked, her mind still in the mountains. 

Auntie Jo handed a twenty to the clerk, who rang up the book. “Oh, you found a Tarot deck? Marvelous.”

“Your change.” Clerk Lady shoved the wad of bills and coins across the counter. 

“Did you want those?” Auntie Jo asked. Without waiting, she pushed forward the change and dove into her purse for more bills. “We’ll take the Tarot cards too.”

Clerk Lady stared at the money. She finally tugged a five from the pile. 

“That’s all?” Auntie Jo smiled. “Such a deal.” She turned to Kassandra and flourished a hand over the cards. “Your first Tarot deck.”

“I know you’re into the supernatural stuff, but this really isn’t my thing.”

“Nonsense.” Auntie Jo scooped the cards up, holding them in both hands as if cradling a delicate flower. “They chose you. There’s a greater power at work.”

“Greater power” was an Auntie Jo saying. Except it was a big fat lie. When something went wrong, it was either blind luck or a personal screw up. Plain and simple. 

Clerk Lady managed to shoo them to the front door. 

Kassandra halted and turned around. “Hey, why the rush?”

The woman’s gaze flitted left and right as if the answer might come from somewhere on the street. “Family emergency. You’ll have to go.” With one final push, she shut the door and locked it.

“She was weird,” Kassandra said. 

“Clearly ruled by Mars.” Auntie Jo wrestled into the driver’s seat and coaxed the engine to life. 

Kassandra looked at the Tarot cards, now set between the seats. She reached over, but paused before touching them. A chirping sound caught her attention — another of the little brown birds that lingered around the town. The wind had died down and now it cocked its head, inspecting Kassandra. Something startled the bird and it leapt into the air and vanished. 

Kassandra glanced at the shop and saw Clerk Lady peering through the blinds. The oddest expression crossed the woman’s face. Maybe fear? 

The blinds flipped shut.

Kassandra Discovers the Cursed Tarot Deck

Chapter 1

People never talked about him dying. Instead they got all weepy and switched subjects. As if avoiding the topic would somehow make everything smiles and sunshine. It didn’t. When someone disappeared, it’s like unraveling a sweater. Cut one strand, and the whole thing fell apart. 

Kassandra caught a glimpse of her tangled hair in the mirror of Mom’s dresser. She looked frayed and disconnected—a lump of useless yarn who once was a girl.

Shaking her head, she scrounged through the cluttered bottles of nail polish, searching for a wadded up bill. Mom had to be good for a ten or twenty. No way was she going to borrow from Auntie Jo. Not again. Just a couple of new killer tops would make her grungy jeans work. School started tomorrow and Kassandra dreaded it. Kids never talked to the new girl. Especially the one with a lousy wardrobe.

The dresser reeked of cigarette smoke. At least if she found some money, it’d be one less dollar Mom could spend on cancer sticks. Kassandra’s fingers brushed a scrap of paper. Snatching it, her fishnet glove snagged on a bottle, sending the nail polish tumbling to the carpet with a clunk. The top popped off and red liquid oozed onto the café au lait carpet.

She scrunched her face. So not how she planned it. Kassandra eyed the crinkled paper in one hand. A lousy receipt. 

Morning light shimmered off the puddle, already soaking into the carpet. Kassandra looped a blond curl over one ear and, yanking a handful of tissues from the box, dropped to the floor. Her bare knees brushed the carpet, the holes in her jeans from actual wear and tear and not fashionable rips. She so needed a new pair. 

“Kassandra?” Auntie Jo’s voice glided down the hallway. “You coming, sugar?” 

Kassandra’s heart kicked into high gear. She was supposed to be getting ready in her own room, not rummaging through Mom’s. “Sure, in a sec.”

The sticky bottle of nail polish went in the trash. Mom wouldn’t miss it. She had enough shades to create her own color chart at Home Depot. Kassandra dabbed at the spill with a wadded up tissue and then sat back to inspect the stain. The red blob was a stop sign smeared onto the carpet. Kassandra dumped a bottle of nail polish remover on the spot, sending up a wave of bitter fumes. The splotch, now pink, still drenched the carpet. She dragged over the throw rug by the bed and tossed it across the stain. Good enough.

Kassandra dashed down a hall lined with photos of unknown relatives and flew through her door just as Auntie Jo rounded the corner. The woman wore an Egyptian shawl draped over a wide body. Her skin was a rich brown with copper undertones. A purple scarf reigned in her tightly curled afro. 

“The morning is young and thy chariot shan’t wait forever.” Auntie Jo waved one arm as if she were some kind of royalty. 

It was another one of her past life kicks. This week must be the Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra. Auntie Jo was crazed for all things supernatural.

“I need to grab something.” Kassandra pointed a thumb over her shoulder. 

“Very well, I shall adjourn to the veranda.” Auntie Jo whipped a corner of the shawl over one hefty shoulder. Not actually anyone’s aunt, she and Mom met in Kindergarten and had been friends forever.

Kassandra’s room used to be Auntie Jo’s den. Shelves lined the walls, each jammed with books on the occult and literature. This stranded the bed in the center. Cardboard boxes, reminders of her life in Seattle, acted as a nightstand and a small table. An oversized trunk served as a combination dust trap and makeshift closet.

She plucked a chipped tea kettle off a shelf and shook it. It made a hefty chuh-chink sound. Still filled with change. Stuffing a hand inside, Kassandra felt around until the corner of a bill teased her fingertips. Only a five. Not going to cut it. Since Mom had trashed Kassandra’s whole wardrobe back in Seattle, she needed a new everything.

Upending the kettle, she watched a waterfall of silver and copper pour into her beat up crocheted purse. Kassandra stopped midway and tested the bag. It felt like an iron had been dropped in there. The purse sagged in the center where all the coins collected. Welcome to bag lady chic.

Auntie Jo waited outside by the “chariot”—a ’73 blue Beetle. Kassandra tried to slip in, but her knees banged the glove box. The passenger seat was permanently ratcheted forward.  Once she managed to sit, a spring poked her butt. At least Kassandra was teeny. Auntie Jo, built Amazon tall, sported the weight of about three or four warrior maidens. She had to shoehorn herself in. 

Once inside, she eyed a picture stuck to the dash with yellow tape. Sun bleached and creased, the photo showed a young black man with a broad smile—her son Ronald. Auntie Jo kissed two fingers and touched the picture. Kassandra knew he’d died, but no one wanted to fill her in on the details. 

Auntie Jo cranked the ignition. “Oh blessed mother, let us find the gear.” Ka-Chunnng! She rammed the stick shift down and the chassis vibrated. The car bucked but finally dropped into first.

“Amen.” She backed the car down the driveway.

The Beetle traveled for a grand total of four minutes. Arroyo Grove was just a blip on the California coast. Kassandra shimmied out of the car in what passed for a downtown. A salty gust blasted a curl of hair right into her eyes. In Seattle, everything had been stillness and clouds. But Arroyo Grove sat right on the Pacific Ocean. Kassandra could hear the crash of the waves, even a mile in from the beach. 

Pulling the hair away, she trailed Auntie Jo. The trees along the sidewalk swayed, buffeted by the sea breeze. A tiny brown bird hopped from branch to branch, chirping at the wind. 

Kassandra escaped into the Psychic Mind bookstore. Smells competed for attention—scented candles, patchouli oil, cedar boxes. She browsed, biding time until they could swing by The Retro, the only place in Arroyo Grove with a decent collection of secondhand clothing.

Meandering through the book section, her fingers brushed titles like Teen Witch—nah, she wasn’t the broom type—A Handbook of Runic Magic—that was way too Germanand The Tantric Sex Guide—sadly, she had no one to get tantric with. A book of romantic poetry caught her eye. The table of contents contained mostly dribble, one step above Hallmark, but the second page listed a Keats poem. She yanked out her spiral notebook. Transcribing wasn’t stealing. Not technically. Besides, it was Keats. If he ever had a copyright, it expired a century ago.

She tossed her purse over one shoulder, but the weight of the coins swung it back. Thwack. It knocked into the bookcase, sending a display of oversized cards tumbling to the floor.

Kassandra knelt to gather up the mess of Tarot cards. She’d seen Auntie Jo use them all the time to predict the future for her clients. The whole deck lay face down, except for one card. She plucked it from the pile. The illustration showed a skeleton dancing with a scythe, one word printed on the bottom: Death. 

A coppery taste filled her mouth as if she were sucking on a penny. Hot breath tickled the hairs on the back of her neck. 

Then a voice whispered in her ear.

Kassandra.

Read Chapter 2

Swain Story Outline: Getting the Story Started

Here we are with part two of the Swain outline. Again, if you haven’t picked up this book, do so. It’s life changing as a writer. The outline here won’t make much sense unless you’ve read Swains chapter on outlining a story. In this section, we’ll discuss how to start off a story and the various ways you can open a story. That dreaded first sentence or first scene. They’re always rough. But Swain has some ideas to get you started.

If you missed the first segment, you can click back here.

Remember, everything is about The Big Picture, Desire vs. Danger. The Focal Character needs to struggle for a goal, even at the start.

 

  • Get the Story Started (The Beginning)
    • Where to open?
        1. Start with trouble
          1. Existing Situation
            1. This is the normal world (the state of affairs your focal character functions in)
          2. Enter Change
            1. Some new element makes the normal state of affairs different
            2. Something good can upset the normal world just as much as something bad
          3. Affected Character
            1. The affected character will most likely be the focal character
          4. Consequences
            1. The change must trigger continuing consequences (a chain reaction)
            2. The focal character must respond to the change, brining unanticipated results
            3. The consequence must be intolerable to the focal character (anything he/she finds too upsetting to ignore)
    • Where to start
          1. Start the story as close to the change as possible.

  • How to open
    • Uniqueness
          1. Call attention to the unique situation and make the reader wonder
            1. Examples
              1. She was the only artificial woman in the world. 
              2. He couldn’t sleep that night. 
              3. It was a different sort of town. 
              4. “It’s this week or never,” Susan said.
    • The Unanticipated 
          1. Something unanticipated to intrigue readers
            1. Examples
              1. The beautiful woman who has insectile eyes
              2. The book in Grandma’s parlor with ways to commit murder
              3. The hero starts by claiming that he/she is an idiot
    • Deviation from Routine 
          1. The focal character does something different on this day. Make your reader wonder why.
            1. Examples
              1. Instead of getting off the elevator at the normal floor, he/she gets off two floors higher and walks back down. 
              2. Instead of entering the house through the front door, the focal character goes around to the back
    • A Change About to Take Place
          1. Show an unusual event that anticipates change to come. The reader will wonder why.
            1. Examples
              1. The focal character’s lawyer calls
              2. A girl winks at a boy while sitting next to her boyfriend
              3. The sound of galloping hoofbeats coming closer and closer.
    • Inordinate Attention to the Commonplace
        1. Describe a common object with tremendous, painstaking detail. The reader will read on to find out why.
          1. A doorknob
          2. A grandmother’s gnarled hands
          3. The shabbiness of a run down house
          4. A little girl peering out from behind her bubble gum

 

The examples for different types of opening are great. For me, it’s like a pool of ideas to dive into.

Write on.

Tim Kane

Away in a Manger: A Christmas Tale of Terror

There is a place, so dominated by nativity scenes, that the you often feel like the tiny figurines are watching you. I am tormented by this idea. Irrational fear or no, it haunts me.

My best friend’s house, the one I visited all throughout childhood, is just such a place. Every other month of the year, it’s a typical suburban home. But come December, the nativities creep out. Figurines, pillows, throw blankets, ornaments, you name it. One year we counted over 100 in just one room. So you can imagine what this did to my fertile imagination. Yes, that’s right, straight to horror.

I wondered what would happen if they came to life one night. Would these ceramic figurines be benevolent, or out for blood? What followed was a delve into Christmas terror. And I wasn’t alone in my horrific machinations. The folks at Grinning Skull Press also share a penchant for the creepy at Xmas. I’m happy to say that “Away in a Manger” appears in the 2019 edition of Deathleham. The proceeds of this publication go to charity, so please download or purchase a copy to support the Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation.

And my apologies to the wonderful family, so bedecked with nativities. You should know better than to feed my imagination.

Tim Kane

Swain Story Outline: The Killer Elevator Pitch

I’ve known about Dwight Swain’s work for forever. How could I not? Everywhere I turn I bump into the Goal, Conflict, Disaster model or Motivation-Reaction Units. The man knows how to explain good fiction. But when I hunkered down to finally read his book (Techniques of the Selling Writer) I was amazing no one has touted his outstanding story outline technique. All I ever see for story structure out there is the Joseph Campbell Hero’s Journey. Which is great in it’s own right. But more often than not, I write a story that doesn’t quite fit the Hero Journey model and then I’m left stranded.

So what I offer to present here is a multi-post look at how to outline your story (novel, short story, screenplay, whatever) using Swain’s sixth chapter, Beginning, Middle, and End. Note, this certainly doesn’t replace the reading the book. You really should pick it up. The way Swain delves into just why certain techniques work and don’t work is worth the purchase.

So here we go…

Swain must have been very aware of Hollywood as he wrote, because he starts with a technique to create the killer elevator pitch. You know, you have a minute while riding the elevator up and you want to pitch your book. Boom. Swain has it down to two sentences. A lot of this feeds off his Goal, Conflict, Disaster technique.

My goal here is to create an outline where I could plug in the detail of whatever story I’m working on and get the notes and ideas of Swain without having to dig back through the book each time. That being said, I’ll often use shorthand and reference ideas he puts forth in the chapter. So yeah, reading the book will help you a ton.

The Big Picture: Desire vs. Danger — The Focal Character’s attempt  to attain or (retain) something.

  1. Line Up the Story Elements
    1. Focal Character
      1. How does he/she fights back against the threatening danger?
    2. Situation
      1. What forces trouble the focal character?
    3. Objective
      1. What is the focal character’s goal or desire?
      2. Whether he/she succeeds or fails, the focal character must strive for this goal
    4. Opponent
      1. What or Who stands in the way of your focal character’s objective?
    5. Disaster
      1. What utterly awful thing will threaten your focal character at the climax?
    6. TWO SENTENCE essential story
      1. Sentence 1: A statement of character, situation, and objective.
        1. When humans grow to twelve-foot height, John Storm tries to find out why.
      2. Sentence 2: A question with the opponent and disaster.
        1. But can he defeat the traitor in high places who want to kill him in order to make the change appear to be the result of an extraterrestrial plot?
      3. Your reader reads for emotion, with no great desire to think.

The 5 steps he outlines are essential to writing your two-sentence elevator pitch. I gave one of his examples, but he goes on for several pages with more. I just wanted one as an example to guide me when I write.

I hope this helps.

Write on.

Tim Kane