The Tarot Cards Keep Coming Back to Kassandra

Chapter 7

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.

Thick curtains blotted out the sunlight, transforming Auntie Jo’s living room into a cavern. Kassandra squinted at the books lining the shelves opposite the couch. It felt almost like night in the room. 

Auntie Jo leaned forward on the couch, staring at the two of coins card as if it might hold a secret message. One free hand tucked her afro under a blue scarf.

“And you’re sure it wasn’t already blank?”

Kassandra shifted on the couch, causing the cushions to creak. “It had a picture of some naked chick on it.” She pointed to the empty area. “Then poof. Gone.”

Auntie Jo set the card on a coffee table already cluttered with incense burners, candles, and crystals.

“I believe you. I’m only asking because it’s not the only blank card.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are six others.” Flipping through the deck, Auntie Jo tossed out card after card empty of illustrations. “The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, The Hermit, Fortitude and finally my card.”

“Your card?” Kassandra picked the last one off the coffee table. It read Wheel of Fortune. The illustration depicted an angel grasping an enormous golden circle while standing in the ocean. But then there were blank spots where someone had forgotten to paint. Only the outlines of four people—one on each side of the circle—were there. 

“There’s always one card in the deck that represents you. Typically girls would have a female card like The Popess, or one of the queens, but mine has always been the Wheel of Fortune because I deal in people’s fortunes. Or at least I used to.” She hooked a cup of tea with one meaty finger.

Kassandra wrapped both hands around her own cup and slurped. The concoction of herbal spices and grenadine shocked her tongue with sickening sweetness. Auntie Jo always changed the subject when the subject of New Orleans came up.  Her son had died in some sort of battle, but everyone was short on the facts. Kassandra guessed it was something in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Auntie Jo tapped the Wheel of Fortune card. “You have to understand—Tarot cards, runes, the I Ching—most of it is psychological. Pure hogwash.” She pinched the tiny tea cup between two fingers and sipped. “You read into it what you want.” 

This coming from a woman who thought she was Nefertiti in a previous life. 

“What can you tell me about these cards?” Kassandra scooted forward on the couch.

Auntie Jo set her cup on a glob of melted wax. “They’re hand made. Not off the Waite Rider illustrations either.” Half standing, she stretched across the coffee table to nab a book off the shelf. The couch shuddered when she flopped back down.

Kassandra stared at the blank two of coins and remembered Lindsay’s terrified expression. The truth about what really happened was too impossible to tell. But hadn’t she messed around with the cards right before the bizarre disintegrating clothes? Maybe this whole thing was her fault.

She pointed at the blank card. “Why did the picture disappear?” 

Auntie Jo reached for the silver ankh around her neck, rolling it back and forth. “I guess Arroyo Grove isn’t far enough away to avoid the jumbi.”

“What’s that?” A cramp jabbed Kassandra’s side, a result of staying in one position too long. 

Auntie Jo let the necklace drop back down. “Bad magic.”

“Well then which is it? Are the cards stuffed full of mumbo jumbo or are they just cards?”

“Let’s find out.” Auntie Jo collected the deck. “A few blank ones won’t ruin the whole batch. They still have their titles. We should be able to do a reading.”

“I thought you said the cards were bad.”

“No. The Tarot cards aren’t bad or good. It’s how you use them.” She shuffled the deck. “Now these cards chose you for a reason.”

Again with the choosing thing. Cards couldn’t think. They were only pieces of paper.

“Clear some space.” Auntie Jo waved her hands over the table. 

“Do we need to light incense or something?”

Auntie Jo stared, the only sound in the room the tap of the cards against the table.

“Just asking.” Kassandra grabbed a handful of crystals and candles, placing them on the carpet.

“This is a simple three card spread. Past, present, and future.” Auntie Jo set the cards in the clear spot on the table. “You need to shuffle the deck.”

“Nuh uh. I’m not touching those things.”

“You have to. It’s your reading. Holding the cards lets them attune to your thoughts.”

“Fine.” Kassandra snatched them up and shuffled. With seventy-two of them, they were hard to manage. A couple of times one wanted to shoot out.

Auntie Jo lit a stick of incense and soon the whole room filled with the scent of sandalwood. 

Kassandra set the cards back on the table. “Now what?”

Auntie Jo dealt the top card face up. It showed a guy wearing what looked like some kind of pajamas. He dangled upside down with a rope tied around one foot. The title read: The Hanged Man.

“Major arcana.” Auntie Jo tapped her chin. “Interesting.”

Kassandra shrugged. This was all new to her. 

“Most of the Tarot deck looks the same as regular playing cards.” Auntie Jo tugged on her necklace again. “Coins for clubs, cups for hearts, swords for spades, and wands for diamonds.” She touched the card lying on the table. “But there are twenty-two extra cards, called the major arcana. They have illustrations of things like Death, The Devil, and this one, The Hanged Man.”

Kassandra climbed off the couch and knelt by the table for a closer look. The drawing had all sorts of random pictures added to it—a sheep bleeding from the neck, grapevines twining up two poles, some tongs and nails.

“What’s with the sheep and the bunches of grapes?”

“All symbols of sacrifice.” Auntie Jo pointed. “See? The grapes ooze juice just like blood.”

Kassandra wrinkled her nose. “So the lamb’s dead then?” 

Auntie Jo nodded. “A sacrifice.”

“What does it all mean?”

“It’s your past. I think you know what it means.”

A shiver scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. She would not think about Dad right now. Grasping the teacup with both hands, she let the heat warm her palms. 

“Is that my whole reading?”

Auntie Jo plucked another card off the top and flipped it: The Magician. This showed a guy in a red medieval shirt with puffy sleeves and a ginormous hat.

“Another major arcana.”

Kassandra looked up from the cards. “Is that special or something?”

“Just highly unlikely.”

Kassandra examined this illustration. A massive stained glass window dominated the background. The man stood at a table with various objects strewn about—a cup, three coins and a dagger. He also held some sort of stick.

“Hey, aren’t those all the symbols on the cards? Like coins and cups and what not?”

“Very observant.”

“So what’s The Magician mean? Does it have something to do with the weird stuff that’s been happening?” Auntie Jo eyed her, one eyebrow shooting up. “I mean with the illustration vanishing and all. Sounds like a Vegas trick to me.” Kassandra took a sip of tea so she wouldn’t have to say anymore.

Auntie Jo shook her head. “It means you’re going to fall in love.”

Kassandra shrieked and tea sloshed out her nose. “You know I’m not paying for this. You can cut the crap.”

Auntie Jo passed over the book on Tarot. “Here, read for yourself.” 

Kassandra flipped to the description for The Magician. 

It stated that the focus of this card was on new beginnings, manifesting your desires, and new romance. “Okaaaay. So this is supposed to be happening now? ’Cause it’s news to me.”

“It represents the near future.”

“You mean like tomorrow?”

“The timing is not exact.” Auntie Jo pulled a third card from the deck. “Let’s see your future.” Flipping the card revealed the dancing skeleton again.

Kassandra jumped. “This is messed up.”

Auntie Jo scrunched her face, mumbling, “Three major arcana. Together.”

“Does this mean I’m going to die?”

“No, no. Calm down honey.” Auntie Jo fiddled with the ankh again. “Death isn’t literal. It means a change. A new life.”

Kassandra’s heart amped up for a major drum solo. She didn’t buy it. This card had popped up all day long. And here it was again.

“Okay.” Auntie Jo leaned over to the bookshelf, her fingers brushing the titles. “Let me just check something.”

Kassandra stared into the flat circles of the skeleton’s eyes. Somehow they seemed to gaze back. Even though the skull had no lips, it appeared to be grinning. Then there were the trio of severed heads below it, with one looking exactly like Dad.

“Screw this.” She snatched up the cards and started for the kitchen.

“Wait.” Auntie Jo sprang off the couch.

Kassandra shoved the screen door open, flipped up the lid of the trash can, and dumped all the cards in. 

“What are you doing?” Auntie Jo’s face was worked up as if Kassandra had just tossed out a wad of cash.

“I don’t want anything to do with these damned things.” She marched down the hall, stopping at her door. Throwing those cards out felt good. Like she finally did something right for once. 

The sound of the trash cans clunking together carried down the hall. Auntie Jo was dumpster diving for the Tarot cards. Kassandra pushed open the bedroom door, her gaze falling on the bed. 

“JO!”

All she could do was stand there, staring.

The kitchen door slammed. Then Auntie Jo jogged up the hall, wheezing the whole way. “What is it honey?” she managed to get out, clutching the door frame for support. Then she saw them. The Tarot cards sat in a neat pile on top of the covers.

Auntie Jo clutched her necklace. “Holy shit.”

Lindsay’s Clothes Dissolve in Front of the Whole School

Chapter 6

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.

The bell ended the class’s collective misery. Kassandra hustled into the hall, shoving the Death card into one pocket. She knew better than to go waving around a picture of a dancing skeleton and severed heads. 

Stepping into the nearest bathroom, one foot skated a few inches on the glossy linoleum. No danger of falling, just her pulse shooting into the stratosphere. A yellow sign warned about the slippery floor. Maybe they could have put it closer to the entrance. 

As Kassandra tiptoed to a stall and latched the door, the crisp scent of bleach and urine assaulted her nose. Fishing out the Death card, she stared at Dad’s head, willing it to move. Nothing changed. It stayed put, just like the illustrations in every textbook she’d ever read. Maybe she’d seen it wrong before. The eyes must have always looked forward. She rubbed her temple.

The door to the bathroom banged open, letting in the bustle of hallway traffic. Then the sound of shoes skidding on the slick floor.

“Whoa! What retard decided to wax the floors on the first day?” Kassandra recognized the voice. There was a clacking sound as a group of girls shuffled toward the sink.

“The janitor probably wants to see you break your neck,” a different girl said.

Kassandra peeked through the crack in the stall door and caught a flash of red hair: Lindsay surrounded by members of her flock. 

“Oh my God, who was the charity case you were partnered with?” The first girl flicked out a tube of lipstick.

“At least you didn’t smell her.” Lindsay adjusted her bangs. “Like burnt cigarettes.”

Slinking onto the toilet, Kassandra hauled both legs up on the seat. Now they couldn’t see her.

“And those jeans.” Lindsay took the lipstick from the other girl. “They must have been from Goodwill.”

Kassandra traced her fingers along the holes at the knees, still sticky from the tumble on the bus floor.

“She’s all into death, too. Went on about this poem, Ode to a Nightingale, which is totally depressing. I read it once.”

The first girl nodded. “So Emo.” 

Kassandra’ s stomach hitched up. What was with Lindsay? Had everything in class been an act? Kassandra wanted to shout in the girl’s face, but bursting from a toilet and screaming would do nothing for a high school reputation. Except label Kassandra as a loony.

Lindsay turned to face the first girl. “Diana, how do I look?” 

“Hot.” 

The girls trotted carefully across the slick linoleum and out of the bathroom. 

Nothing was different here. This school was just as shallow and two-faced as Seattle. Tears rose up, stinging and hot. Her hands dove into the purse. There had to be something. The house key? Nope. Too dull.  Needle. Kassandra snorted. Why would she have that in her purse? Wait. Maybe if there was a paperclip at the bottom somewhere.

At home, things would be simple. Reach into the purple Doc Martens and retrieve the rolled up sock with the straight razor hidden inside. She glanced down. Although the netting of the fishnet gloves almost completely covered her arm, the white scars underneath always seemed to glow. There was no way for Kassandra to escape them. 

Something sharp poked her thumb. Groping around, she located the pushpin left over from art class last year, and pulled it out. Along with it came the gold patterned deck, scattering all over the floor. One card faced up, half buried under the pile.

Tugging it free, Kassandra saw an image of two gold coins and a half naked woman—legs tastefully crossed and curled hair covering the breasts. A heap of clothes lay on the ground. Then the illustration faded. The girl. The coins. Everything. Only the border remained and the words at the bottom: two of coins.

What the heck! This was no trick of her imagination. Flipping the card over showed the same gold star pattern. Then turning it back… Still blank. 

Kassandra stuffed everything back in her purse and exited the bathroom. The hall outside was desolate. The bell must have rung already, but being tardy took second place to vanishing pictures. Maybe Dad’s head didn’t move. But the illustration fading away was no joke.

Kassandra rounded the corner and heard cackling erupt from one of the classrooms. The door flew open and Lindsay stood there, eyes wide with shock. Something looked odd about the girl’s clothes. One of the shirt sleeves had vanished and patches dotted her jeans as through gobbled up by giant denim-eating moths.

Lindsay turned and glared at Kassandra as students crowded the door to gawk. The teacher tried to maintain control, but even he couldn’t avoid ogling.

Lindsay stormed past, clipping Kassandra’s shoulder in the process. Something drifted to the floor. It looked like a pink napkin or a scarf. Leaning down, she saw the other shirt sleeve. The fabric on the ground began to unravel like a mob of wriggling worms. In moments, nothing remained but pink thread.

Kassandra flipped through the Tarot deck until finding the two of coins. It was still blank, but the illustration had shown a woman losing her clothes. Did the cards do something to Lindsay? 

A glance down the hall showed scraps of denim and more pink thread trailing along the linoleum.

Or maybe Kassandra had triggered something.

Are Teachers Supposed to Torture You?

Chapter 5

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.

Kids zigzagged through Arroyo Grove High School, their shoes squeaking and clacking on the linoleum floor. Kassandra traversed through clouds of gossip like a plane surviving turbulence. Yanking open her purse, she glanced inside. Did the cards drop in there somehow? It might be possible. Yesterday she thought a stranger had morphed into her dad.

Up ahead, a freshman tripped, scattering a rainbow of highlighters and colored erasers everywhere. Kassandra cringed, remembering what it was like to be right out of middle school. 

Slipping into Honors English, she found the room packed except for a ring of empty seats circling a group of popular kids by the side—girls with manicured nails and tops in smack-you-in-face pinks and yellows. A couple of jocks and boys with way too much hair product dangled at the edge. 

Kassandra skipped the superficial police and searched for a seat at the back. Kids whispered as she walked down the aisle, most of it new girl gawking. In a town this dinky, she was the lead story. There was one open seat against the back wall and she snagged it. At least now everyone would have to swivel around to ogle her. Book Girl crouched over the same battered paperback, two seats down. In between sat a boy with his eyebrows shaved completely off. Kassandra mouthed the word, “Wow.”

Inside her purse, the gold patterned backs of the Tarot cards stared up, mocking any scrap of sanity remaining. What had Auntie Jo said at the store? The cards chose Kassandra. She stroked the deck. Don’t people choose the cards?

The teacher strolled into the room and Kassandra snapped the purse shut. No reason to goof off—at least not on the first day. The woman’s hair flew up in some sort of retro beehive. She launched into an unabridged life story complete with the names of pets and favorite vacation venues. The autobiography circled back to the first assignment and, after selecting an eager student in the first row to pass out note cards, Mrs. Beehive wrote on the whiteboard. The marker squeaked out immaculate cursive letters.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

1.   Who is your favorite author?
2.   What is the last book you read?
3.   Why did you like the book?

Favorite author? Kassandra couldn’t think of a single one. Her last book was The Crucible for the third time in English. Teachers loved that book for whatever reason. She scribbled at the top of the card:

John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale

Maybe Mrs. Beehive won’t know he was a poet. It was possible. Only one teacher at her old school even knew who the Romantics were. She set the pen down, but then scanned the board again. Groan. There was a why up there. Teachers always strangled the fun out of literature. Couldn’t she say it was a good read? Kassandra chewed on the end of her pen a moment before writing: 

It rhymes.

No, Keats didn’t write Hallmark greeting cards. He deserved better. She scratched out the rhyming bit and added:

I would like to fade away 

like the speaker in the poem.

There, done.

Kassandra glanced around the room. She’d probably taken the most time with the assignment. One guy texted under his desk, though he was obvious about it. Another pair of girls scribbled pictures on their binders. Mrs. Beehive witnessed nothing, arranging papers while taking sporadic slurps from a Starbucks mug.

A couple of girls from the social bubble in the corner giggled. Kassandra doubted they wrote anything at all on their cards. One in the center, a strawberry-blond, met Kassandra’s gaze. Most kids looked tuned out, but this girl’s stare was predatory. As if she were a big cat on the Savannah with everyone else as juicy gazelles. 

Mrs. Beehive stood. She wanted the students to partner up and share the information on the card. Kassandra glanced at The Browless One, wondering if she could feign sickness. But Mrs. Beehive had a system. She volunteered the same go-getter from the front row to collect the assignment from the left side of the classroom. The redhead and the rest of the clique dropped their cards into a plastic tub. 

Mrs. Beehive then sauntered to the other side of the class and announced, “Select one card to find your partner for today.” Kassandra let her shoulders relax. The Browless One would be some other kid’s problem. When the plastic tub came around, she pulled out a card.

Lindsay Barker
Favorite Author: Arthur Miller (The Crucible)
Last Book I Read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Why I liked it: I liked having a play inside a play

Okay, obviously this girl was lying. Of course she’d have The Crucible. Plus Shakespeare? Like she actually read him over summer break. Saw the movie, maybe.

The students stood and bustled about, trying to locate the owner of the card they picked. Kassandra tossed the crocheted bag over one shoulder and zeroed in on Go Getter Girl. The teacher’s pet was probably also the suck up who wrote the card. Go Getter Girl shook her head and pointed to the redhead and the clique of fashionistas. Kassandra felt her gut compress into a tight ball. The goal was to duck under the radar and now she was hooked up with the queen bee of Arroyo Grove High School.

Kassandra shuffled toward Lindsay. The girl ran fingers through her hair, settling the bangs so they grazed the top of her eyes. Then she glanced at Kassandra and a sour look spilled across her face like tasting something repellant. In an instant, a beaming grin flashed up to replace it.

“Hi, I’m Lindsay.”

“Yeah,” Kassandra said, placing the card on the table. “Got that.”

Why was she being so bitchy? This girl might be nice. Plus it’d be great to make one friend this semester. She sat down and dumped her purse on the floor next to a Coach hobo bag.

Lindsay clacked her nails on the desk. It looked like a craft store exploded across them—tiny plastic flowers and specks of glitter adorned every inch.

“So…” Lindsay said. 

Kassandra realized the girl was waiting for her name. “I’m Kassandra.” She passed over the index card. As Lindsay read, Kassandra scanned the class. The clique was scattered across the room. Maybe Mrs. Beehive knew what she was doing.

“You read Keats?” Lindsay asked.

Kassandra turned and couldn’t suppress a smile. A socialite who recognized the Romantics?

“I thought the same thing about the Shakespeare.”

“Don’t tell,” Lindsay smirked, leaning in. “But it was only the movie.”

Bingo. Kassandra gave herself a mental pat on the back.

Lindsay snapped the card on the table. “I read the Nightingale poem. Isn’t it all about dying and feeling sad about yourself?” She arched an eyebrow.

Ouch. Not a fan of Keats then. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

Lindsay took in Kassandra’s ripped jeans. “You know, you shouldn’t wear pants like those. It’ll get you into the wrong crowds.” The smell of hairspray and body wash scented the air with cinnamon and apples. So different from Kassandra’s mom, who laid on perfume like it was bug repellant, always laced with an undercurrent of raw alcohol. 

“Listen. A friend of mine works downtown. He could hook you up with some amazing clothes.” Lindsay grinned, adding, “Cheap.”

Kassandra found herself nodding. A sparkle in the girl’s eye seemed to say, “Listen to me. I know what I’m talking about.” At her old school, Kassandra wouldn’t have given someone like this the slightest glance. But this wasn’t Seattle. The rules of high school were simple: Being alone made you a target.

“This class is a breeze.” Lindsay nodded toward the teacher. “I had her last year. The old bitty is ready to retire and hardly pays any attention to what you do. Just turn in a couple of good essays and you’re golden.” 

“Thanks.”

“So what’s your story? Just move into Arroyo?”

“I’m from Seattle. Arroyo’s where Mom grew up.” Kassandra hooked a blond strand over one ear. “The two of us are staying with a family friend.”

“Divorced huh?”

Kassandra shivered. If only it were so simple. 

Lindsay didn’t even pause. “Join the club. At least it means you can play the two off each other. I swear, the weeks they’re fighting is when I get the best gifts.” She nudged the Coach purse with one foot. The crocheted bag looked like a potato sack next to it.

“Okay class,” Mrs. Beehive announced, setting the coffee mug on the desk. “Please take your original seats.”

“Catch you around.” Lindsay flipped her bangs and smiled. 

“Yeah, thanks.” Kassandra grabbed her purse and hurried back to the corner desk.

Mrs. Beehive switched to the standard “I lecture, you take notes” teaching format. Kassandra spent the rest of period scribbling enough sentence diagrams to put even Merriam Webster in a coma. Some students kept up, but most were narcoleptic. Lindsay and her clique even had trouble pretending to look engaged.

Kassandra worked her purse under the desk and one hand slipped inside to grasp the Tarot deck. She slid out a card and sneaked a peek. It showed the skeleton with a scythe again. He danced over a sea of chopped off hands and arms. Arranged at the bottom were three severed heads. Such a pleasant image. But then the card was called Death. The heads portrayed a woman, a child, and a man. She blinked. It wasn’t just any man’s head. It was Dad’s face. 

It had to be some sort of trick. The way the fluorescents lit the card maybe. Yet the more Kassandra studied the picture, the more it looked like Dad’s cropped salt and pepper hair. The drawing even showed crow’s feet fanning out from his eyes. 

The coppery taste filled her mouth again.

Kassandra.

Who said that? She jerked around, scanning the room. Everyone had a glassy-eyed look as they stared at the board. The Browless One tilted back in his chair, mouth open. Book Girl ignored everything, zeroing in on the paperback. 

Kassandra flicked back to the card. Something looked different. She touched each head in turn: woman, child… Her stomach twisted into a knot. He wasn’t looking down like the other heads. Now Dad stared out of the card. Straight at Kassandra. 

The First Day of School Always Sucks When You’re Crazy

Chapter 4

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.

Outside, the street was abandoned. Mostly retired folks lived in this neighborhood. No kids. Kassandra strolled to the corner where the bus was supposed to pick up. The morning mist rolled in from the ocean, chilling her knees through the holes in the jeans. 

Arroyo Grove High School was the only show in town, which meant a couple hundred kids who’d all known each other since kindergarten. Yeah, this was going to be a killer junior year. She might as well be a freshman again.

Kassandra checked the watch clipped to the purse: 7:22. The bus was supposed to pick up at 7:20. Had it already come? Walking was out of the question. She didn’t even know which direction to go. A breeze picked up and Kassandra hugged herself to keep warm. 

An engine gunned in the distance as a yellow bus chugged down the road. At least it wasn’t a short bus. Now, her mission was simple—avoid awkwardness at all costs. No tripping and don’t getting trapped in the back. 

The bus hissed to a stop and the doors cranked open. A heavyset woman with a short haircut sat behind the wheel. The bus was about three-quarters full—mostly single kids taking up a whole seat. The only open spots were near the back. 

Kassandra trudged down the aisle. A few riders flicked gazes up, though most seemed to be in an early morning daze.

The bus lurched forward as Driver Lady stepped on the gas. Kassandra’s arms flew out to grab the seats, but too late. She stumbled to the floor, purse sailing down the aisle. A slew of giggles erupted. One boy shouted out, “Nice one.”

As Kassandra stood, her jeans pulled away from a sticky goop splattered across the floor. This morning was going so well.

Someone slapped her arm. It was a brunette girl with square rimmed glasses. “The driver always does that. You have to pick a spot in a hurry.”

“Thanks.” Kassandra clenched the seat tops as the bus swung around a turn. The girl looked harmless. Kassandra could probably scoot into the same seat. But the escaped purse was still sliding along the floor in the back.

“I need to grab my purse.”

The girl shrugged, propped a knee against the seat and dove into a paperback book, folded nearly in half.

Kassandra teetered along the aisle and located the crocheted bag under the last seat. She debated trekking back to Book Girl, but that risked another fall and giggles from the bus riders. Maybe the girl was just being polite. She was busy reading and probably didn’t want some stranger butting in.

Driver Lady’s gaze flashed in the rear view mirror. “Sit down back there,” she barked.

Kassandra plopped onto the nearest seat. A giant rip covered most of the vinyl. Someone had gouged out chunks of yellow foam, leaving a deep crevice. A hint of silver metal peeked through.

Kassandra reviewed the scorecard so far—tripped and stuck in the back. At least she was consistently lame. Yanking the spiral out of her purse, she pressed it flat. White creases from the constant folding and unfolding spread like roots along the red cover.

The spiral stored all the snippets of poetry she loved, mostly lines from Romantics like Keats, Byron or Wordsworth. Scribbled notes and mind dumps inhabited the margins. On one page, she discovered part of Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget

What thou among the leaves hast never known

What a joy it’d be to fade away. Just toss the past and move on. Mom took the idea to extremes. If something reminded her of Dad, she sold it, gave it away, or trashed it. Kassandra chuckled. The only thing Mom couldn’t toss out was her. At least not legally.

The bus swerved into the school parking lot. Kassandra placed a hand on the window to keep from sliding into the foam pit. Everyone grabbed their backpacks and jackets. She jammed the notebook into the purse, but spotted a flash of gold peeking from behind some wadded up tissues. She reached for the mystery object.The Tarot cards from the psychic shop. Except they were on the table in the kitchen. Kassandra had seen them. Something unraveled in her brain and one thought floated to the surface—I must be going crazy

The Secret Hides in the Boot

Chapter 3

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.

The goal of the first day at school was to dress hip enough to not get picked on, but not so over the top to put you on the radar. 

Kassandra cracked open the dusty trunk that served as a closet and inspected the prospects with a sigh. This would’ve been so much easier with some real choices. Sure, there were plenty of shirts and accessories for the top half. But from the waist down, she was screwed. The prospects were limited: the jeans with the holes in the knees, but she’d worn those yesterday; a pair of old black jeans, now a size too small; and two shorts. Kassandra eyed a pair of the shorts. Everyone would gawk at her white thighs. Not a great first day impression. Besides, the shorts were a Mom purchase. Once upon a time, she had some kicking Capris, but Mom tossed them because they were one of Dad’s gifts.

Resigned, Kassandra chose the jeans with the ripped out knees. Better to have some holes than to pop a seam with the black constrictor pants. She snatched a not-too-girly top, slipped on the fingerless fishnet gloves and laced up the red Converse chucks from the secondhand store. They didn’t match the outfit, but they were paid for, so on they went.

The front door to the house swung shut and moments later Mom breezed past the room, blouse wrinkled and riding up in the back. Kassandra glanced at the clock, nearly seven in the morning. So Mom was using the house as hotel now—checking in and checking out.

Kassandra scooped up the crocheted purse. She needed to make a run for it before Mom figured out something to blame her for. 

“Kassandra!” Mom hollered from down the hall.

Too late.

Mom stormed into the room. A few strands of dyed black hair escaped her ponytail and dangled over her forehead like stalactites. One hand clutched the empty nail polish bottle. 

So she could spot something in all that mess.

“I found this in the trash.” Mom shook the bottle accusingly. “Were you in my room again?”

Kassandra clenched her jaw. “It’s not your room, you know.” The words came out like bullets. “Our house is still up in Seattle. At least until it sells.”

Dark blotches ringed Mom’s eyes and the corners of her mouth turned into a frown, yet not a smudge marred the immaculately drawn lipstick. 

“Okay. I can’t do this right now.” Mom waved a dismissive hand and headed back to the hall. 

Kassandra stepped forward. “So who were you shacked up with this time?”  

Mom spun around. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

“You’re so right.” Kassandra’s neck muscles tightened until they felt like guitar strings. “I guess I don’t deserve to know.”

A vein in Mom’s forehead quivered. Condition red. Hands clenched into fists. Then she took a deep breath and smoothed the creases in her blouse.

“His name is Sam.” 

Kassandra heard a distant shout, deep in her brain. Let this go, it said. This was just Mom’s way of dealing. But the guitar strings quivered—everything pulled too tight.

“Does this one even know your name, or does he call you babe?”

Mom slapped Kassandra hard enough to whip her head to the side. 

“This is why I don’t come home at night.” Mom had one finger pointed like a laser.

Kassandra’s cheek burned but she refused to rub it. “Go off with your stupid boyfriend. He’s not going to replace Dad.”

Mom glared, but then faltered, wrinkles grooving her forehead. The roots of her black hair showed tufts of grey intertwined with the natural auburn.

Her shoulders sagged. “No one will replace Dad. But it’s not about him anymore.” Mom trundled down the hall and shut the door to her room. 

Something wet struck Kassandra’s hand. She mopped up the tears but who was she fooling? Crying was pathetic. A sign of complete weakness. Kassandra whacked one of the packing boxes, over and over, the same thought replaying in her head—I’m so stupid. Finally a cardboard flap tore off and sailed to the corner of the room. It landed near her pair of purple Doc Marten boots.

Auntie Jo glanced in before continuing on to Mom’s room. The argument echoed down the hall.

“I’ve had enough of that girl. It’s always the same.”

“Maybe if you spent more time…” Auntie Jo said.

“I can’t be around her. I just can’t.”

Kassandra edged closer to her door, pulse beating erratic and hot.

“I should have left her in Seattle. Then we’d all be better off.”

Kassandra filled her lungs to bursting, not daring to exhale. Breathing would make this real. And it wasn’t. She wanted everything all at once, to march in there and scream, to crawl into a corner and whimper, to run as fast and as far away as possible.

“I’ll shower at the gym.” Mom stomped down the hall, shooting past without a single glance. The keys jingled and then the front door slammed.

Auntie Jo came in, wrapping her arms around Kassandra. “I’m so sorry, darling.”

Kassandra shivered. Everything felt numb, like watching the world from somewhere outside her body. 

Auntie Jo gave her a little squeeze. “I know you may not feel like it, but breakfast will do you a world of good.”

“Sure.” Kassandra managed a nod before Auntie Jo disappeared down the hallway.

The room fell into silence. It hurt for Kassandra to breathe, like a fist pressing against her chest. She rubbed a raised section of flesh under the fishnet glove. Kassandra needed to get things under control. 

What she needed was shoved in the toe of the Doc Martens. Kassandra pulled out the sock and unrolled it. Lines of red streaked the inside of the fabric. She picked up the razor blade, flecks of rust dotting the grip. It used to be one of Dad’s box cutters. 

One nudge, and the fishnet glove slithered down her left arm. Scars crisscrossed the pale skin—tiny stripes of white. Kassandra brought the blade down but a reflection flashed along the metal. She turned the razor flat to inspect the side and saw something in the shiny surface—chestnut brown. Then the image moved.

Dropping the razor, she scooted away. A coppery tang filled her mouth. In a moment, the metallic taste vanished.

The blade seemed normal now. It lay on the floor next to the lump of sock. The same kind Dad used a thousand times to scrape gunk off the windows. Kassandra crawled closer. Nothing reflected in the metal. She could hardly make out her own silhouette.

“Honey?” Auntie Jo called. Not at the door yet, but close. Coming down the hall.

For a second Kassandra’s mind felt heavy and sluggish. She imagined the floor splitting and the earth swallowing everything: the razor, the boot, the blood. Then reality snapped back. No one could see this. Everything went into the boot—the blade and the sock—no time for fancy wrapping.

Auntie Jo reached the door and scanned the room, a frown forming on her lips. “Are you okay?”

Kassandra glanced down at her left arm, still bare and displaying the patchwork of scars. She jerked her arms behind and tugged the glove up.

“Totally.”

Auntie Jo gave a weak smile. “I’ve got toast and bacon waiting.” She spun around. “Thy feast awaits you.” 

Kassandra paused at the door and gave the purple Doc Marten’s one last look. 

Had she really seen anything or was it just more loopiness on her part? The color burned into her brain—chestnut—so familiar. Goose pimples sprouted along her skin.

Those were Dad’s eyes. But that wasn’t possible. Not ever.