Kassandra Sees Every Fault Reflected in the Mirrors

Chapter 31

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 thick blackness churned around Kassandra, her feet dangling into the open void. No way to tell if she was falling or staying still. Nausea crept up her throat. She squirmed and reached out, searching for something solid. Her feet struck the ground and the darkness drained away, like water leaving a bath tub.

Kassandra stood in a hallway with mirrors on every wall with hundreds of reflections glancing back. What was this place? The world’s longest dressing room? Stepping forward, her Converse sneakers squeaked on the marble floor. The nightingale flapped down the length of the hall. At least she wasn’t totally alone.

Another mirror covered the wall behind her. Kassandra touched the surface—slick and solid. Her fingers quivered. No way back to Dad. He was still trapped. The far end of the corridor terminated in yet another mirror. At least she’d get plenty of time to stare at herself.

Kassandra started walking. Better check everything out before going into full panic mode. There had to be some way out of this room. Slender marble columns punctuated the spaces between the mirrors. The nightingale perched on one of the metal candelabras lighting the hall.

Kassandra glanced at a mirror and stopped. It didn’t reflect the corridor. Instead, it showed Mom’s room, complete with clothes cluttering up the carpet. A reflected version of her stood right next to the dresser, groping through all those bottles of nail polish.

Kassandra remembered this. She’d needed some cash and tried to nab some from Mom. 

One of the bottles tumbled to the floor and red polish oozed out. She stepped away from the mirror as the reflected Kassandra started yanking tissues out and dabbing at the stain.

This was freaky, like watching some whacked out personal movie. She’d really done a number on the carpet with the nail polish. Weird, watching it made it seem so much worse than when it actually happened.

The next mirror showed her room—bed in the center surrounded by Auntie Jo’s bookshelves. Mom was there, the empty nail polish bottle clutched in one hand. Kassandra’s cheek was flushed red from Mom’s slap. The mirror was silent, but Kassandra knew she’d just said something snarky. Mom’s shoulders sagged, all the energy drained. 

Mom trudged into the hall and the mirror followed, all the way to her room. A huge red blotch still stained the carpet. She stood right inside the door, eyes looking straight ahead as tears trickled down. Finally her hands came up to cover her face.  

Kassandra cringed. Mom never cried. She always came off as such a hard ass. 

Auntie Jo appeared at the door and Mom wiped her face. It’s the same move Kassandra had done when someone caught her crying. 

She backed away from the mirror. This is getting pretty strange. Moving on now.

Kassandra tried to avoid the next mirror, but a single glance stopped her cold. It showed a public bathroom with a bank of stalls on one side and sinks on the other. At first it looked foreign, but then a scruffy version of Kassandra crashed through the door. This was the school’s restroom. 

The reflected Kassandra staggered into a stall and slammed the door, but it bounced back open. She snarled and slapped it closed, fingers trembling as they fumbled at the lock. Then she pawed through the purse for the push pin. 

Kassandra tensed, wishing she could reach in to stop herself. 

The version of her in the mirror held out one arm, crisscrossed with white scars, the pin hovering above the skin. Finally it pressed down and blood beaded on the surface. Tears streamed across her reflected cheeks. Her nose clogged up with snot, creating a bubble with each breath.

Kassandra stumbled away from the mirror. She couldn’t watch any more of this. A glance down the corridor made her heart sink. Not even halfway through. What the heck was this place? 

The next mirror depicted her room back in Seattle. The door opened and a version of Kassandra entered wearing the dark blue dress from Dad’s funeral. 

A powerful flood of memories washed over her.

Dad had been laid out in a mahogany coffin so polished it seemed to glow. Kassandra could hardly look at him. His body was too still. More like a photograph than a man. Her mind slipped into an icy paralysis and nothing seemed to thaw it out. Not Mom screaming at the car doors that weren’t unlocking. Or even when Mom broke down crying at an intersection as cars honked and whizzed by. Kassandra was anesthetized, all emotions immobilized in rock hard ice. She needed to feel something to break free. Even if it meant pain. And the box of razors had been there on the workbench. Ready and waiting. 

Kassandra stared at the girl in the mirror. The room showed a very different version of her. A massive Waterhouse print, with Circe pouring a bowl of water, hung over the bed. A stained glass circle nestled in the window, casting kaleidoscope colors against the pale yellow walls. Miniature fairy houses and bottles adorned every conceivable nook.

Kassandra still had everything stowed away in boxes. Even though she’d been at Auntie Jo’s for weeks, she hadn’t unpacked them. It wasn’t who she was anymore.

The reflected girl sat cross-legged on the floor in a bra and underwear, the razor held over one arm. No scars yet. The bare skin looked too smooth. She glanced once at the locked door and then pressed the blade down. A half smile played at her mouth, oddly peaceful. 

Kassandra knew the feeling—total oblivion. Like nothing in the world could touch her. 

When the reflected girl lifted the razor away, a thin red slash marred the skin. But she wouldn’t cry. 

Kassandra could almost pick the girl’s thoughts out of the air. Crying was stupid. It couldn’t bring Dad back, so why bother.

Real tears trickled down Kassandra’s face as she backed away from the mirror. There was no point hiding them now. 

The reflected girl moved the razor to a fresh section of skin.

“No, don’t.” Kassandra reached out to the mirror. “Please.” The muscles on her arm tensed, feeling the phantom pain. She turned, not able to watch, and charged down the corridor. Mirrors flicked by, each showing another cutting scene. Some were close up, with just a view of the scars. Others focused on the face with that scary relaxed look. She finally collapsed at the end of the hall, eyes clotted with tears. 

“Why are they showing this to me? Make them stop.”

Kassandra yanked off the fishnet gloves and tossed them on the floor. More scars crisscrossed the left arm, mostly because she was right handed. She’d switched arms only when most of the available real estate had been used up on the left. The scars formed little bumps of flesh, zigzagging along the skin, her body’s attempt at healing. If only it were so simple. She couldn’t scab over a wound on the inside.

The tears dwindled to a trickle. Kassandra took a deep breath and steadied herself. She had to find a way out. Dad counted on her to help Mom.

Scooting away from the last mirror, Kassandra inspected it. This one acted the way a mirror should, the reflection shifting when she moved. Grease and muck coated her jeans from kneeling in the garage and her shirt was soaked in the front from crying. The skin looked puffy around the eyes and her cheeks were flushed red. She was a total wreck. A hiccup of laughter burst out. At least there were plenty of mirrors around.

Kassandra giggled, but it was a crazy nonsense laughter and it worried her. Was she losing it? After a moment, she reeled it in. 

“I have to stay in control.”

The nightingale caught up, landing on the marble floor. It pecked at the discarded gloves. 

“Help yourself. You can have them.”

Kassandra glanced back at the mirror and noticed something odd. She was reflected, and so was the nightingale, but not the hallway. Instead the mirror showed a door directly behind her. Maybe this was the way out. She didn’t dare look back. It would ruin the illusion. Reaching for the door knob, her fingers clunked into the glass, meeting her reflected hand. 

“Swift move. Now what?”

In the mirror, the door was behind Kassandra. Maybe if she reached backward… The round door knob brushed against her fingers. She gripped it and saw the mirror-image doing the same. The door swung open. But now what? Kassandra couldn’t walk forward because then she’d smack into the mirror. And if she turned around, there’d be just an empty corridor.

Kassandra took a step backward, away from the mirror, and the reflected image shuffled through the door. From the edges of her vision she still saw those mirrors. Only by focusing on the mirror in front of her, did she see herself pass through the door. The Converse squeaked as they slipped on something. The marble floor was damp.

She spun around and came face to face with a man, hanging upside down, a thick rope looped around one foot. Instantly, another image superimposed itself—a yellow rope strung up on the garage rafters. Dad’s body dangling right side up. But then it vanished. Only the man hanging from his foot remained.

Kassandra recognized him. This was Gabriel Rykell, Luke’s brother. She must be in the Hanged Man card. 

Kassandra Solves the Riddle of the Tarot Cards

Chapter 30

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 scanned the garage, searching for other exits. Something not obvious. The door to the living room. The garage door. They kept catching her attention. Almost mocking her. Maybe Dad was right. There was no way out.

Then her gaze slid along the workbench and latched onto the box of razors. Every muscle tensed. It was the box. The one where she found her razor. Kassandra imagined plucking a new blade out and sliding off her glove. Exactly what she needed right now. 

Dad wasn’t looking. He stood by the garage door, running a hand over the recent dent. Kassandra edged over to the workbench, but when she reached for the box, the nightingale hopped over. It pecked at the cardboard lid and then cocked its head sideways. She slid the box away from the bird.

“What do you have there?” 

A quiver shot through Kassandra. Dad couldn’t see her with this. She jerked her hands away, abandoning the box. 

“Nothing.” 

Dad came up to the workbench. Tugging at the fishnet gloves, her gaze lingered on the razors. She prayed he wouldn’t notice them.  

The nightingale provided the distraction. It waddled down the workbench and tapped at a cylindrical tube of long matches Dad had used to light the barbecue. Why was it pecking things? Was the bird hungry or something?

Ta-ta-ta-ta-wee-weet.

The nightingale hopped up and down. It clicked its beak against the plastic organizer attached to wall. This had multiple bins, each filled with screws, bolts, nails, whatever. When Kassandra snapped it open, the bird dipped its head into one of the compartments. It emerged with a metal washer, dropping it on the workbench with a clink.

“What? You can’t eat any of those things.” Just her luck. She got stuck with the world’s dumbest bird. Kassandra grabbed the matches and the washer and set them next to the box of razors. 

“Do those mean something to you?” 

“No. It’s just a bunch of random junk.”

Clunk. The bird knocked over a coffee cup. Pencils, sharpies and a pair of scissors spilled out onto the workbench. 

Kassandra balled her hands into fists. “If you going to make a mess…” She headed over to clean the stuff up, but then the bird pecked at the cup. Recognition flickered in her brain. Taking the cup, Kassandra set it by the other objects—matches, washer, box of blades—forming a rough line. They seemed familiar, but what was the connection?

The nightingale nudged the washer out of line, scooting it forward. Then it hopped over to the other side and pecked at the box. Kassandra opened it up and saw the stack of razors inside. A twinge of doubt settled inside her chest. She brushed it aside and took one out. The nightingale snatched the razor blade in its beak. It scuttled forward and dropped it. Now the four items formed a crude square. Kassandra tilted her head. Where had she seen this before? A shiver rushed through her. Auntie Jo.

“These are all symbols for the suits in a Tarot deck.” 

“A what?”

She grabbed his arm and pointed at the washer. “This represents coins and the coffee cup is for cups, obviously. That would make the razor blade a sword.” Kassandra pulled a long match from the cardboard tube. “So this would be a staff.”

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet.

She smiled. The nightingale agreed. The four items looked just like the symbols Auntie Jo had pointed out on the border of the cards. Kassandra snatched them all up. “Get me one of those sharpies.” 

As Dad headed over to the mess of pens and pencils, she found a clean spot on the garage floor. “I’m going to draw a big Tarot card.”

Kassandra grabbed the pen from Dad and held it over the concrete, but hesitated. The sharpie wasn’t one of the symbols. Maybe she shouldn’t use it. Setting the pen to the side, she inspected the four items, finally selecting the razor blade.

Puh-twee-too. The bird hopped up and down on the workbench. Razor blade was a winner.

Dad knelt down next to her. Their knees touched, sparking a memory. She’d been ten and the bike chain had popped off. Dad worked with her for almost an hour to hook it back on, offering advice the whole time. By the end, grease coated her fingers, but the chain had been fixed. Kassandra glanced over at him. No advice this time. It was all on her. The only way to save him was to figure this out. 

She placed the razor’s edge against the floor and scratched a thin line, the blade skittering along the concrete. Kassandra looked at her arm, the white scars only barely visible through the fishnet fabric. 

Repositioning the blade, she started another line. Her fingers shook. This was only concrete, she reminded herself. Not skin. Yet the sensation of cutting grew stronger through the third and fourth lines. Bits of white dust coated the blade. But it might as well have been blood. She needed the razor. Just this once. It would get her back in control. 

Tears welled up, threatening to gush.

Dad leaned closer. “Kassie?”

“Nothing.” She wrapped her fingers around the razor, hiding it from view.

“Something’s wrong.”

“Yeah, we’re stuck in our old garage with a creepy meadow outside.”

Concern washed over Dad’s face. Kassandra ignored it and grabbed the cup, setting it in the lower right corner, just the way it had appeared in the border of the Tarot card. Dad watched as she set out the washer and finally the match.

“What happened to the razor?”

Kassandra shrugged but didn’t say anything. 

“You just had it.” He searched around. 

“I must have put it down someplace.” She clenched her fist until the blade pressed into the palm.

He frowned. “Show me your hand.”

A tremor traveled through her arms. She couldn’t keep it hidden anymore. This was Dad. She curled her fingers back, revealing the razor.

“Why did you hide it?”

“It’s just…” Kassandra fiddled with the elastic band of the glove. The metal blade rested against the black fishnet of her palm. Why should she give it up? It was hers. 

“Let me see your arms.” 

Kassandra froze in place. The scars peeked out from beneath the fabric. Instead of being white the way they usually were, the raised flesh appeared yellow. Nooses. Each one like the rope he used. 

Dad tugged one glove down, revealing bare skin. “Oh, Kassie, what happened to you?”

“Don’t look at me like that!” She jerked back. “You’re the one who left me all alone.”

“Honey… I’m sorry.” He kept staring.

The dam broke and tears flooded out. Kassandra slapped at her cheeks, trying to wipe them away, but they kept coming. 

“It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not. I’m so screwed up now.”

Dad moved forward. At first she shoved him away, but he surrounded her with those massive arms. Kassandra surrendered and let his warmth press against her.

“I don’t want to live without you anymore.”

He released her. “Give me the razor.”

With her glove slid off, it felt like she was in her room again. Alone. 

“Give it to me,” he said, invoking his Dad voice. 

Kassandra handed over the razor, but eyed the box on the counter. She could always snake another when he wasn’t looking. Kassandra glanced away, tensing her shoulders. No, she couldn’t keep thinking this way. This had to stop.

He held up the razor. “This only makes more pain. For you and everyone around you.” Dad glanced at the rest of her, searching for more evidence of cutting.

An ache jabbed at Kassandra’s chest. “So killing yourself is okay, but not my cutting?”

“That’s not what I said…”

“No. I get it. My scars make you uncomfortable. What about me?” She jammed a finger at the rafters. “I had to find you like that. Every time I even see a piece of yellow rope, it makes me want to gag.” Kassandra thrust out her arms. “Look at these. They’re ugly and gross. It’s how I feel on the inside.”

Dad looked away and seemed to shrink. “What I did to your mother and you… It was so selfish. I know that now.” He lowered his head. “I wanted the pain to go away. I didn’t even consider what it would do to you. How it would make you suffer.”

He turned back. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry won’t fix anything.” 

Dad glanced at the scars again and winced. Kassandra tugged the glove back into place. She didn’t want his pity. 

“Kassie…” Dad started.

The ache in her heart grew. But she found she couldn’t look at him. Not now. 

Kassandra turned instead to the floor with the scratched out rectangle. Sweat beaded along her forehead and neck. She was the only one who could fix this. The match, washer, and cup were all in place. Only one corner was empty. 

“Give me the razor.” She reached her hand out. 

Dad’s hand twitched back.

“I need it to finish the design.”

He hesitated, but then passed the blade over. 

Kassandra set it on the final corner. A thin crack split the concrete directly below the razor. The floor rumbled. Fractures appeared in the concrete, each fanning out from the four items.

They both scrambled away as the floor shuddered, causing the razor to hop. From somewhere below, stone ground against stone. The cracks united, forming a rectangle along the scratched out lines. A slab of concrete swung inward on rusted hinges. The washer, match, cup and razor all dropped into the hole. The instant they disappeared, the shaking stopped. 

Kassandra’s breathing rushed in to fill the silence. Edging closer to the rectangular door, she peered in. “This is it. The way out.”

Dad eyed the black void in the floor. “You need to get back home. Help your mom.”

“I know. We’ll both save her.” She dusted off her jeans. “Come on.”

“I’m not going.”

“You need to come.” Kassandra stared at him. “It’s what the Tarot cards are for. They’re meant to save you.”

Dad glanced toward the rafters. A yellow rope dangled down, the end forming a noose. Had it appeared because he looked for it?

“This is where I belong.” 

She grabbed his hand. “You need to be at home, with me and Mom.”

He pulled away, eyes glinting with something fierce. “You have to get to Mom. Protect her from that man.” Dad glanced at the garage door. “Promise me.”

“I will.” Kassandra nodded quickly. “But we can do it together.”

“I have to stay.”

She stiffened. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Dad needed to return with her. Change everything back to the way it was. A shiver rippled through Kassandra. “I’ll come back for you.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want you to.” Pain edged his voice. “There are some choices you just can’t undo.”

Kassandra rushed forward. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. Why couldn’t she stay here forever? Things would be so much simpler.

Finally, Dad broke the hug and stepped away. “Go.”

She turned toward the hole. There wasn’t a trace of anything in there—only blackness. Maybe it led out. Or maybe it went deeper into the Tarot cards.

Kassandra turned toward Dad. “I will come back.” Before he could respond, she took a deep breath and jumped in. 

Kassandra Joins her Dad in Death and There is No Escape

Chapter 29

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.

“Kassie?”

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.”

“Why?” 

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.”

Flames Engulf Auntie Jo

Chapter 28

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.

Flames slithered up Auntie Jo’s arms, setting the clothes ablaze. The fire burned different colors as it siphoned little bits of her away. 

Luke clasped one hand over the wound, blood drizzling down his shoulder. With the free hand, he fumbled through the deck, finally pulling out a card. Slapping it on the shoulder, blood gushed around the card, drenching the paper. But then everything reversed. The blood flowed back into the wound. When Luke removed the card, it was blank, the skin below the torn shirt healed. 

Kassandra seized Auntie Jo’s shoulder, but the searing heat forced her to jump back. The blouse turned to a dull gray ash, drained of color. Bits of it flaked to the floor. 

“Get away!” Auntie Jo screamed as the blaze charred her skin.

“No!” The flames pulsed with pure heat, keeping Kassandra at a distance. 

Luke stood up beside the shattered front door. “This didn’t have to happen.” The Wheel of Fortune card lay on the carpet, a miniature tornado of flame spinning out of it. Auntie Jo slumped to one knee as the fire enveloped her entire body. Kassandra couldn’t look away. If she blinked, Auntie Jo would disappear forever.

Luke stepped forward. “Please, give me the cards.” 

Kassandra felt tension build up inside, ready to burst.

He extended one hand. “I need your help.”

She pulled out the Death card. Was this what he wanted? Screw him. He could get it full force. She spun the card so the illustration faced Luke. Auntie Jo’s voice came to her, raspy and choked with ash. Kassandra squeezed her eyes shut. She had to focus on Auntie Jo’s pain. Use it to trigger the card.

Luke chuckled. She opened her eyes and saw the bastard grinning. 

Almost nothing remained of Auntie Jo, only a wispy charcoal outline. 

“Just stop this. Stop it now.” Kassandra jabbed the Death card forward as if it were a knife.

His smile faded and a look of concern settled across his features. “I’m sorry Kassandra, but you don’t understand. Death can’t capture a soul like the other cards. It holds all the world’s souls.” Luke pointed to the card. “How do you think you found your daddy? The Tarot deck showed him to you because it knew that’s who you wanted to see.”

Kassandra’s legs felt weak. Her thoughts spun back to the day in the Psychic Mind. All the cards had spilled onto the floor, yet only Death had landed face up. She looked down at the card with the picture of Dad, a perfect image. Was this another one of Luke’s tricks? Or were the cards messing with her head? She didn’t know anymore.

“Give them to me, Kassandra. Then all this can stop.”

The flames sputtered and died. Only a husk of Auntie Jo remained. 

Kassandra couldn’t stop the tears from coming. “Why are you doing this?” The card bent in her grip. 

“Tell me, what would you sacrifice to have your father back?”

She turned the card over and stared at it. Dad’s face was there, like always. Kassandra imagined his arms around her. Squeezing. That was where she wanted to be. Safe.

The room began to darken. 

Luke’s face pinched in a look of confusion. The murkiness swelled out, until the sofa and walls became only vague outlines. The card still appeared vivid and real—the only thing left with color.

Kassandra’s muscles quivered as though contracting all at once. Something pressed down from all sides, forcing her to gasp for breath. The sharp taste of copper bit into her tongue, like sucking on a mouthful of pennies. The room vanished. Luke. Auntie Jo. Everything. Only the card, glowing bright, existed. Then it too faded as blackness enveloped Kassandra.

Luke Attacks Using the Tarot Cards

Chapter 27

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. 

“That’s one.” 

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.”

“What!” 

“I messed up, okay? Now I’ve got to keep these other two safe.”

“Two?”

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.

“What’s that?”

“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. 

Craaack!

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.

BLAM!

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.