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.

Destruction Rains Down on Kassandra’s Head

Chapter 26

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 stumbled into the coffee shop patio, breath sputtering out in gasps, creating puffs of mist in the morning air. She collapsed at one of the tables. A single image strobed through her mind—Lindsay crumbling to dust on the sidewalk. Kassandra couldn’t escape it. The memory dominated her thoughts. 

One of the customers stared, newspaper folded down. He looked accusingly, as if knowing what she’d done. Kassandra wiped her face and pushed away from the table, and spotted the Psychic Mind shop across the street. Even with the blinds twisted shut, she caught a glimpse of the lights inside. Clerk Lady was in there.

Kassandra dashed across the street and launched at the door, fists pounding. No response. But what did she expect? Clerk Lady hid in here the last time. She wouldn’t answer now. Kassandra slammed a hand against the glass anyway.

The front blinds bent up and a pair of eyes peered through.

“Open up. Please!”

The blinds snapped close and the lock clicked open. As soon as Kassandra stepped into the shop, Clerk Lady shut and bolted the door, flicking the lights off.

Kassandra exhaled. “Thanks.” 

“Don’t thank me.” Clerk Lady’s face was etched with worry. Stacked boxes sat in one darkened corner. With the lights off, they loomed like a wall.

“Something happened with the cards. Lindsay. She crumbled to dust. I think I killed her.”

“She’s not dead.” Clerk Lady hoisted the last of the books off a now empty shelf. A curl of hair slipped loose and dangled in her face.

“I saw it happen.” Kassandra’s fingernails dug into her palms. “Why did you give those cards to me?”

Clerk Lady dropped the load of books into an open box. “They chose you.”

“Just stop it with the choosing already. You dumped them on me. Plain and simple.”

Clerk Lady paused, still looking into the box full of books. “Your friend isn’t dead.”

Relief flooded through Kassandra. “But what happened to Lindsay? I saw her disappear.”

“She’s trapped in the cards. It’s why Luke wants them.”

“Well, mission accomplished. He’s got the deck now.”

“What!” Clerk Lady whirled around, eyes wide with fear. “Get out of here. You have to go.”

“No.” Kassandra planted her feet. “You let me walk away with those damned cards without giving me a clue about what they could do.”

Clerk Lady’s arms fell to her sides, all the energy drained. “I can’t. Not anymore.” She hurried back to a shelf and scooped up more books. One tumbled to floor, thunking on the carpet. She ignored it.

 “You’ve met Luke before, haven’t you?” 

Clerk Lady glanced up for an instant, and then she heaved the books into a waiting box.

“You pulled him out of the cards.”

The woman nodded and then dashed past.

Thoughts flew through Kassandra’s head. Clerk Lady had the deck first, but she couldn’t give it away. Of course not. The cards just kept zapping back, over and over. At least until the Tarot deck chose a new owner. 

Kassandra looked at the bookcase where she’d found the cards. Everything that day had been so bizarre. Something had called her name. Had the deck been calling her? 

Then there was Luke. It wouldn’t take long for him to figure out that some cards were missing.

“How do I put him back?”

Standing at the shelf, Clerk Lady stacked more books onto an arm. Her gaze locked on some distant spot in the store.

“Tell me!” Kassandra edged closer. 

“You can’t,” Clerk Lady said, mind still miles away.

Kassandra grabbed the woman’s shoulder. “You put him back. Why can’t I?”

Something shifted in Clerk Lady’s face. The muscles tensed and for a moment every worry line and wrinkle became etched in her skin. “You gave him the deck. It’s over.”

She tried to pull away, but Kassandra held firm. “No. I still have two cards. Death and The Magician.”

Clerk Lady blinked as though coming out of a trance. “You could… Maybe…” Kassandra let go. The woman set the books back on the shelf. “Show me the cards.”

Kassandra slipped out the Death card.

“Where’s the other?” 

“It’s at home with my aunt.”

“Why?” She stepped away, shaking her head. “Don’t let him get those cards.”

“What’s the point? He has practically the whole deck.”

“He needs all of them all to invoke The Tower.”

Kassandra held her hands up and shrugged.

Clerk Lady’s forehead pinched into a V. “You really don’t know anything about the Tarot, do you?”

“Yeah, well I didn’t ask for them.”

A look of guilt washed over the woman’s face. She stepped closer, gaze switching to the front of the store where morning light leaked between the blinds, leaving faint lines on the carpeted floor.

“The Tower symbolizes absolute destruction—the nuclear bomb of the Tarot deck. Once triggered, it will be the end of everything.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Carol.”

Kassandra’s gut tightened into a knot as Luke strolled out of the shadows from the rear of the store. How long had he been there?

“I’ve told you before.” He looked straight at Carol. “The Tower will only destroy the cards in the deck. Plain and simple.”

“You’ve forgotten about everyone you’ve trapped in there. Their souls will be obliterated.”

Luke shrugged. “Omelet, eggs.”

He turned toward Kassandra. “I have to ask you for the final cards. The set is incomplete.” One hand fanned the Tarot deck. “It wants to be whole.” 

Kassandra clasped the Death card to her chest.

“Besides, you know those cards are dangerous. Who knows who else you might hurt?”

“Stop lying to her.” Carol stepped toward Luke. “They’re only dangerous because you make them so. You tried the same trick on me, but you were the one triggering the cards.”

Was that true? Kassandra thought back. She had the Fortitude card out, the one with the lion, but Luke stood next to her and grabbed it when Lindsay came along. Did he trigger it? Then in the bus, he could have grabbed the nine of wands.

“Do you know what it means to be patient, Kassandra?” Luke ran one finger along the fanned out deck, fingernail clicking softly against the paper cards. “They say patience is a virtue. Well, at this point, I must be a saint.” The last word was edged with frustration. “Do you know how long I’ve waited for these? No, I don’t suppose you would. How long have you ever waited for anything? Six months maybe? A year?” He plucked a single card from the deck. “I’m through being patient.”

The card showed a guy lying under a crumbling temple, swords slicing through the ceiling. Kassandra shivered. She’d seen this one before. On the bus. 

Luke turned to face Carol. “I can’t have you mucking things up from the inside.” She took a step toward the door. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

Kassandra ransacked her brain. What had Luke said the card meant? Something to do with the temple falling down.

“You were never sorry for the people you destroyed.” Carol gripped the key. “You enjoyed it.” 

“But I never wanted anything to happen to you.”

“Until I got in your way.”

He glanced down. “True.” 

Kassandra looked at the card again. The swords piercing the ceiling. The cracks in the stone. Destruction. The card would tear the shop apart.

Carol turned the key and reached for the door handle. Just then, the image on the five of swords faded, leaving only the border and the title. The roof shuddered. Cracks crawled through the window glass like spiderwebs. One pane shattered—flinging wicked looking shards along the floor. Carol yanked on the handle, but the doorframe had warped. It wouldn’t budge. 

Luke strolled toward Kassandra. “I knew you’d scurry back here.” He slid the blank card back into the deck. The carpet behind him ripped apart, revealing a gaping fissure in the ground.

“You girls are all the same. You love the cards when they give you what you want. But you’re too squeamish to take on their full potential.”

Kassandra’s gaze flicked to the ceiling where wooden beams squealed and snapped. The far wall buckled and split open. A sheared electrical cable flopped onto one of the boxes, setting it aflame.

Luke advanced. “Give me the cards.”

Her fingers tightened around the Death card. It was always Luke. In the bus. And against Lindsay. He had manipulated Kassandra.

The flames surged higher, spreading along the row of boxes and grasping for the ceiling. The electrical cable flailed around, whacking into the wall and the windows.

“I didn’t lie about everything.” Luke smiled. Somehow he seemed more genuine than before. “We will bring Ezabell back. And maybe your father too.” Just the mention of Dad created a sinking vortex in Kassandra’s chest. 

“Don’t listen to him.” Carol struggled with the warped door. 

The loose electrical cable whipped to the side, connecting with the window frame. A metal strip ran long the front of the shop. Carol seized up and her teeth clenched. Her fingers curled around the door handle. Then came a pop of smoke and she was thrown to the floor, one hand charred black.

Luke inspected the body. “I’m so sorry, Carol.”

“No you’re not.” Kassandra felt the muscles in her neck bunch up. “You’d do the same to me if I didn’t have the other cards.”

“Is that what you believe?”

The ceiling groaned as something massive broke free. One of the window frames twisted into a geometric nightmare. The blinds tore loose and clattered to the floor. The window had burst through, forming a hole filled with jagged shards. Beyond it lay the sidewalk and safety.

Kassandra hurtled through the opening. The glass looked like teeth, ready to crunch down on her. One shoe caught on the frame and she tumbled forward, slamming onto the concrete outside. From behind, a hideous snap signaled the collapse of the ceiling.

People gathered on the sidewalk to gawk at the smoking building. Sirens blared in the distance. One man offered a hand, asking if Kassandra was all right. She jumped up and stared back at the shop. Smoke poured out the shattered windows, punctuated by jabs of fire. The roof sagged, squashing the building like a rotting pumpkin. 

Luke had heard her talking about The Magician card. He knew it was at home. Through the window, every flickering flame looked like his silhouette. Luke would find a way out of there and then he’d go after his next target: Auntie Jo. 

Kassandra sprinted down the sidewalk. Luke wasn’t going to hurt someone she loved. No way.

The Tarot Cards Cause Lindsay to Melt into Colors

Chapter 25

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 breath came in spurts. “Don’t joke about a thing like that.”

“It’s true.” Luke pointed to the cards in her hand. “With those you can cheat death.”

She started down the sidewalk, one hand dropping into the purse to find the Tarot deck. Squeezing the cards, she pictured Dad trapped in the gloomy garage. Wetness formed in her eyes. This time, there was no need to brush the tears away. They weren’t stupid. These tears were fueled by hope.

 “Why are you telling me all this?”  

“It’s Ezabell,” he said, gaze flicking toward the sidewalk. “You, more than anyone, should know the pain of losing someone you love.”

“And you want to use these cards to bring her back?”

“No, you don’t understand. The deck only works for its owner. And that’s you.”

Kassandra rubbed a thumb along the gold patterned backs, marred with scratches. “So these can really bring my dad back?”

“Yes. I can show you how. But we’ll need the whole deck.”

She couldn’t fathom the idea. To actually have Dad back. Kassandra didn’t dare believe it. It would be too terrible if it failed. She stopped walking. What had Clerk Lady said? Luke was only after the deck.

“Can you tell me what to do?” 

“It’s very complex. Better if I show you.” Luke stared at her, his eyes impossible to read. 

“You said the cards only work for me. So…I need to hold on to them, right?”

“True.” His gaze wandered down the street to where another girl was walking their way. He turned back. “I’ll try to show you what I know, but it may be dangerous.”

“How?”

“With you, the cards can trigger at any time. A single strong emotion will set them off.” Luke pointed to the deck. “Let’s try something safe. You said some cards started off blank.”

She shuffled through the Major Arcana until finding a blank one. The background showed a golden tapestry. Cut into it was an outline of where a person should have been. A lion with a long curly mane squatted next to the blank spot. The bottom read Fortitude.

Kassandra held it up. “Why is only part of this gone? With the other cards, the whole thing goes blank.”

“There are people trapped in the deck, just like I was. When they’re freed, only part of the card goes blank.”

“You mean there’s some lion tamer walking around somewhere?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “That’s a bit literal, but I guess so.” He moved closer. “Let’s focus on this card. You need to dredge up some strong emotions.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“The card is blank. That makes it safe.” 

Kassandra inspected the card. The lion had its mouth open, baring bright white teeth. 

“Think about your father. How it felt to lose him.” Luke glanced down the street. “The pain is critical.”

She closed her eyes and pictured Dad’s face. When he smiled, wrinkles formed at the corners of his mouth. 

“This emotion has to be strong,” Luke said. “Remember how you felt when you saw the note on your locker door. The one about your dad.”

A tightness gripped Kassandra’s chest, like a hand squeezing her heart. “I don’t want to think about it.” She opened her eyes.

“You need emotional power.” Luke leaned close and she caught the scent of citrus again. He gripped the other side of the card. “This deck will bring your father back, but you have to open up to the pain.”

Her pulse resonated deep inside, slow and thick. She could picture the note clearly. The yellow twine twisted into a noose. No wait, it hadn’t been yellow. That was the rope Dad used. 

“Hey Seattle.”

Kassandra glanced up at the girl on the sidewalk. Perfect hair. Manicured nails. Pert green sweater. It was Lindsay. 

“Trying to drive another man to suicide?”

The tension in Kassandra’s chest exploded, scorching through her body. She let go of the card and stepped forward. “At least my dad still loved my mom. What’s the excuse with your parents?”

“Bitch.” Lindsay threw back a strawberry curl

“You practically define the word.”

She got right in Kassandra’s face. “You really don’t want to make any friends in this town, do you? Freak.”

Kassandra clenched a fist. Just once she’d like to smack the righteousness right out of this girl.

A low growl came from farther down the sidewalk and Lindsay spun around. A full grown lion emerged from behind a bush, cat eyes glinting in the sunlight. Goose pimples pricked Kassandra’s skin as the giant cat padded forward, now only a few feet away. 

She froze in panic, limbs transformed to solid stone. Her mind spun through all the wildlife documentaries she’d ever seen on television.

The lion surged forward, running in an oddly quiet gait. Lindsay held up one arm, desperate to protect herself. The claws sank deep, ripping into the skin and muscle as if shredding tissue. The giant cat forced Lindsay down on the sidewalk. 

Kassandra stumbled backward as blood gushed onto the pavement. 

“You need to watch this.” Luke gripped her shoulders with both hands.

“No. Let me go.” She spun, pushing away. 

Luke hooked an arm around and drew her close. Kassandra battered his chest, the bottled hysteria spewing out. She couldn’t look at it. Not with all the blood. 

“You must understand what you’ve unleashed.”

Kassandra squeezed her eyes shut. A weird sound—half sobbing, half gasping—came from Lindsay. Then gurgled words. The girl was saying something. Kassandra turned around.

The lion had retreated down the sidewalk, where it waited on its haunches. Lindsay lay sprawled on the concrete. Blood pulsed from one arm, but it wasn’t red. The liquid pooling along the curb looked green. Lindsay’s sweater was losing its green pigment, like a photograph slowly fading to black and white. Finally, when all the color leeched away, the blood took on the blue tint from her jeans, and they began to fade. 

A single thought, red hot and sharp, invaded Kassandra’s mind: The life was draining out of her.

Lindsay’s eyes pleaded. She attempted to speak, but only released a raspy wheeze. Kassandra tried to step forward, but Luke’s arms kept her rooted to one spot.

He leaned down next to her ear. “I told you there’d be dangers to keeping the cards.”

Kassandra held the deck up, still clutched in one hand. It was the card’s fault. They caused this. Not her.

Lindsay sobbed uncontrollably. Her clothes appeared dull and muted. A multicolored soup dribbled over the curb into the gutter. Now the blood pouring out of her arm took on a flesh color. Lindsay’s face sunk into various shades of ash. The skin looked like a burnt up lump of charcoal. 

Kassandra wrenched away. “Stop it. Stop this now.”

“I can’t.” 

“Do something.”

He looked over at Lindsay with a slight frown. “You must have really hated the girl.”

“No, that’s wrong.” Tears trickled down Kassandra’s face. “You said the card was safe.”

“It should have been. Only an intense emotion could trigger it.”

A crackling noise came from Lindsay, like burning paper. Only a ragged outline remained of the girl, like one of the sketches Kassandra had made in art class last year—lines and contours with no solid form. The blood on the sidewalk blistered and dried to a chalky dust.

Lindsay looked out with eyes no more than outlines. Kassandra stepped forward and touched the girl’s hand. The tangle of lines that formed the arm crumbled into dust, causing a chain reaction. Soon the entire figure collapsed to the sidewalk.

Kassandra smeared tears away. She’d killed Lindsay. Totally erased her.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Turning to face Luke, Kassandra held up the cards. “These things destroy everything around me.” She tossed them on the sidewalk. “Take them.”

Luke knelt down to collect the cards. The corners of his mouth twitched as though forcing back a grin. 

Flakes of ash drifted up the sidewalk and clung to Kassandra’s sneaker. She jerked her foot away, trying to dislodge them. “We need to get away from here.”

He cradled the cards in one hand. “I don’t think so.”

What was wrong with him? Lindsay had disintegrated. Right there, before them. Bits of her floated all over the street.

“I can’t stay here.”

“Then you should go.” Luke sifted through the deck, one card at a time, lips moving as if counting. 

Another flake of ash attached itself to her leg. Kassandra shook it loose and stumbled down the sidewalk. After a moment, she sprinted, her mind a stew of thoughts. Nothing made sense. Did she really hate Lindsay so much?

Reaching the corner, Kassandra looked back. Luke knelt on the sidewalk. He’d pulled one card out the deck and seemed to be scooping up the ash. The flakes vanished when they touched the card, almost as if they were being sucked up.Luke’s grin broadened until it cracked open into laughter.

The Tarot Cards Can Bring Dad Back

Chapter 24

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 dreamt about the garage again. The lights were off and she could just make out the workbench a few feet away. A stale smell lingered in the air, like the place has been locked up for too long. As she walked, one shoe slipped on a smudge of oil left from Dad’s truck. The place seemed so much more real than any dream she’d had before. 

When Kassandra reached for the cord of the shop light, a fluttering sound came from somewhere off to the left. It darted around the garage, first above and then behind. She snagged the cord and the shop light flickered to life, rocking back and forth and casting crazy shadows like a lightning storm.

Kassandra scanned the garage for the source of the sound. Turning, she bumped into something. Instantly, her mouth filled with the taste of metal, cold and slimy. A pair of shoes dangling right at eye level. She jumped back. 

Dad! 

Kassandra saw him from behind, his feet tilted at an odd angle. A yellow rope cut into the skin around the neck and then ran straight up to the rafters. The body rotated. Kassandra’s arms trembled, the muscles twitching out of control. She couldn’t do this again. His face came into view—the color of blue chalk. Kassandra tried to scream, but only a throaty hiccup emerged, cut short by her terror. She needed to run—just turn and bolt as far away as possible—but her limbs had gone numb, forcing Kassandra to witness everything. Dad’s tongue jutted out, dried spittle crusting the edges. She shook, heart hammering inside her chest.

A pair of hands gripped her shoulders. “Kassie, take it easy.” 

It was Dad’s voice. Kassandra opened her eyes. (When had she closed them?) Dad stood by the workbench, the same salt and pepper hair as always. The rope and the body were gone. But she couldn’t have imagined them?

He smiled, thin laugh lines wrinkled together around his mouth, and then pulled Kassandra into an embrace. His massive arms folded around her slender frame, scenting the air with the smell of fresh cut lumber.

“It’s really you.” Kassandra collapsed into him, finally safe. 

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

Scared her? Why would he say something like that?

He broke off the embrace, holding Kassandra by the shoulders. “I didn’t know you were here.”

She frowned. “How come I can hear you? Last time you couldn’t speak.”

“All I know is that you’re here. Really here.” He gave her shoulders a little squeeze. “Before, you were more like a ghost.”

Kassandra, a ghost? It sounded strange coming from him. She wanted to giggle, but held off. One slip would tumble her into a fit of crying. She needed to hold it together.

The fluttering sound still came from the rafters—like someone flipping through pages in a book. Something small zipped around up there, but the shop light kept swaying, making it difficult to see anything for sure.

“I don’t know why you’re here, but you can’t stay.” Dad placed a hand on her shoulder. “This place isn’t for you.”

“Where is here?”

He stared at the glob of oil staining the floor. “After the rope tightened, everything went dark. Then, I just sort of woke up in this place.”

“Why am I here? I was in my room…”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra glanced up. The swinging lamp spotlighted a tiny brown bird perched on one of the beams. Washed out feathers looked like driftwood worn smooth by the tide. The bird leapt into the air, its wings creating the fluttering sound as it flew. It landed on the workbench just a few feet away, fixing Kassandra with one black eye.

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

The bird’s song reminded her of a tiny jackhammer, filled with whistles and trills. It was a nightingale, just like from Keats’ poem. Where exactly had she stashed all those pages from the red spiral notebook?

“It shouldn’t be in here.” Dad frowned. “The birds always stay outside.”

Outside? Did he mean out in the old neighborhood?

Dad tapped on the garage door with a metallic thunk. “The flock gathers sometimes in the meadow.”

Kassandra had no idea what he was talking about. The bird hopped around on the workbench, attracting her attention. It pecked at a small cardboard box. The side read: 100 Single Edge Industrial Blades. Her gut tightened. It was the box. The one she’d swiped the razor blade from. 

Kassandra remembered coming home from school. The house had felt oddly quiet. She’d slipped into the kitchen to fix a PB and J. Afterward, she went into the garage. There was no reason to go in there. She might have sensed it even then.

The lights were out. As Kassandra made the walk over to the workbench, jelly oozed from the sandwich and dribbled along one pant leg. She knelt to brush it off and heard an awful creaking—the sound of wood under too much strain, ready to snap. 

Brushing the jeans only smeared the jelly. Kassandra stepped over to the workbench and grabbed the cord with jelly-coated fingers. The only thing on her mind was how badly it might stain her jeans.

Then she’d turned on the light. 

Kassandra examined the cord over the workbench now. Bits of crusted jelly still clung to the string. A tightness filled her chest. This was no dream real. It was real.

She swiveled on Dad. “Why’d you do it? Why’d you leave me?”

He frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “I was in over my head with debt. It would have pulled the whole family down.” Dad avoided her eyes. “I thought I was helping.”

“Things just got worse. Mom changed.” Those stupid tears threatened to break out again, but she stuffed them down. “I miss you all the time.”

“I’m sorry.” 

Dad drew Kassandra into another hug. His body felt warm and most of all safe. Nothing could go wrong with him holding her.

“I’ll find a way to get you out of here.” She squeezed him. “I promise.”

Dad pulled away, gripping her face with both hands. His calluses pressed against Kassandra’s cheeks.

“There is no way out.” He spread his arms to indicate the garage. “This is all I have left. This, and now you.”

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet.

The nightingale launched into the air, shooting straight for Kassandra. She raised her hands to keep it away, but the tiny bird slipped through, diving for her chest.

Kassandra burst out of bed, rolled onto the floor, and cracked onto one of Auntie Jo’s bookcases. Her forehead throbbed. She rubbed at it with one hand and looked around. Light streamed through the window, but it was different—not afternoon light. The bed sheets were still pulled up and the Death card sat propped up on the pillow. 

“Kassandra!” It was Mom’s voice, close by. Outside in the hall. 

Kassandra snatched up the card just as Mom barreled through the door. Of course she doesn’t bother to knock.

“You’re up, good.” Mom inspected Kassandra for a moment. “You need to do something with your hair.” She breezed past, diving into the dusty trunk-closet. “Let’s see what we have.”

Kassandra shoved the Death card into one pocket as Mom pawed through the new clothes. “Wow, you actually have some decent things in here.”

“Hello, Mom.” Kassandra injected enough sarcasm to kill a buffalo. Mom ignored it, dumping more clothes onto the floor. She must’ve really be in her own world. Normally a response like that would’ve sent Mom into a frenzy. 

The light outside the window looked more like morning than afternoon. Kassandra blinked. Had she slept the whole night? It felt like only a few minutes.

“We have to get you presentable. There’s not much time.”

“Am I late for the bus?”

“You’re walking today.”

Kassandra frowned. Since when did Mom make that decision? Or even care?

Mom held up a blouse. An impulse buy. Not really Kassandra’s style. It figured Mom would choose it. Then she plucked out those eighty-dollar jeans. “This should do. Now get changed, quick.”

“What’s going on?” 

Mom’s eyes widened, barely able to contain the excitement. “There’s a boy named Luke and he wants to walk you to school.” She reached forward and caressed Kassandra’s cheek. For an instant it felt like the old Mom again. The one who actually talked with instead of at her. 

“Now hurry up before he changes his mind.” She headed out the door. 

Ouch. Did Mom think Kassandra was so pitiful?

She surveyed the blouse. A little on the revealing side, but that was Mom’s secret to recovery. Find another guy and everything turned out peachy. Well, Kassandra wouldn’t replace Dad so easily. 

After dressing, she had to submit to a Mom session of lipliner and mascara. Kassandra didn’t dislike make up. It’s just Mom wore it like a badge of honor—always perfect, never smudged. After multiple reminders of the time Kassandra finally escaped more face painting. As they tromped down the hall toward the living room, Mom adjusted Kassandra’s ponytail. 

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo leaned on the counter, sipping a cup of tea. She talked to Luke, whose back was to the hall.

“Well, here she is.” Mom flourished her arms as if presenting a prize mare at a horse show.

Luke spun around. He wore another white T-shirt and jeans. No wait. The spatter of brown had to be the coffee from yesterday. So he didn’t change his clothes. That seemed a bit grungy.

“Hi,” Luke said and hit her with his grin. “Sorry to barge in, but I thought I could walk you to school.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Mom flashed a smile. “She’s excited to go.”

Kassandra winced. Maybe Mom should ask him out. She seemed eager enough. 

Luke gave an uncomfortable chuckle. “We should get going.” He started toward the door. 

As they left, Kassandra caught a glimpse of Auntie Jo, who gave a weird look. Was there something she needed to say? 

But Mom hustled the pair to the door. “Bye kids. Be careful walking to school.” 

“Yeah, Mom.” Kassandra power-walked around the curb, putting distance between her and super-mom.

“You have a sweet family.”

“Don’t get me started.” Kassandra glanced back. Once they were far enough away, she slowed to a reasonable pace.

“Your mother seems to really look out for you.”

“And then some.”

“What about your father? What’s he like?”

Kassandra stopped, recalling last night’s dream. The details still clung to her like Mom’s cigarette smoke, everything vivid in her mind—the oil stain on the floor, the smile on Dad’s face. It felt like traveling back in time. Back home to Seattle. 

“You don’t have to say it. I can already tell.” Luke turned to face her. “You have that look.”

“What do you mean?”

“The look of someone who’s lost everything.”

Kassandra stared into his eyes. They were distant and detached—the copper flecks in his irises seemed dulled in the morning light. He’d lost someone too. 

“He doesn’t have to stay gone, you know.” Luke looked her dead on. “We can bring your father back.”

Kassandra Won’t Let Go of Her Dad

Chapter 23

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.

Luke accompanied Kassandra on the long walk home. They didn’t speak and didn’t hold hands. At first she thought it was the thing with Clerk Lady, but the farther they traveled, the more Kassandra realized it was probably her. 

He had opened up and risked everything with a kiss. And how did Kassandra respond? A big old blank expression. Yeah, she really blew it.

They turned a corner, Auntie Jo’s blue Beetle visible a few houses down. If Kassandra didn’t say something now, she might never get the chance. 

“Hey, I’m sorry about before.”

He shook his head slightly. “I pushed too quickly. It’s been a long time since I met anyone like you.” There was this strange quality in his eyes. A kind of sorrow. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and walked back the way they’d come.

Kassandra wanted to shout something like they did in those movies. Make him come running back to her. But she couldn’t think of a single thing. Luke kept moving farther away, rounded the corner, and disappeared. She wouldn’t be seeing him tomorrow. Except maybe sitting next to Lindsay. 

Auntie Jo’s was the only car in the drive. Mom was out with Bill or Frank or whatever his name was. Or maybe at the part time job. The smell of cooking filled the entire house. Auntie Jo was going for the fabulous family dinner idea, part two. Maybe Kassandra could pretend to be sick. It wouldn’t be too hard considering how last night’s dinner went. 

Kassandra carefully closed the front door and snuck down the hall. Her backpack thunked on the bed. She needed to get cracking on homework. The assignments were piling up. 

The book of poetry sat tucked on the shelf—razor wedged between the pages. A grin popped onto Kassandra’s face. She hadn’t thought about cutting. Not once. Not since… Kassandra furrowed her brow. Not since Luke arrived. She didn’t care what Clerk Lady said. Kassandra felt better around him, the kind of person she always dreamed of being.

Taking the Tarot deck out, Kassandra searched for the Magician, but it was still missing. Where had it gone? She racked her brain. Auntie Jo! Kassandra had given the card to her. Luke said the cards stayed with people who held onto them. It might explain why the card wouldn’t zap back.

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo hummed while zipping from counter to stove, where a pot simmered, bubbling up fantastic smells. Maybe Kassandra wouldn’t skip dinner tonight. She’d just keep her mouth full of food to avoid speaking.

“I didn’t hear you come in.” Auntie Jo tasted the simmering concoction with a wooden spoon. 

“Do you still have the card I gave you?”

She nodded. “I dug into my library for you.”

Kassandra froze. What if she’d looked at the books in her bedroom? She couldn’t recall if the dust on the shelf had been disturbed. Glancing up, Kassandra saw Auntie Jo stirring the pot on autopilot. This meant safe. If she’d found the razor, she’d be all over Kassandra by now.

“Let me show you.” Auntie Jo headed into the living room where several books covered the coffee table. Multiple holes dotted the shelves along the wall. She pulled The Magician card from one pocket and pointed to the border. “See this pattern.” A gold ribbon wound around the edges of the illustration. “It’s unusual. I haven’t seen it in any other Tarot design. And look here.” She pointed to one of the corners. “What do you see?”

Kassandra peered at the border and noticed a tiny wine glass woven into the design. “Hey, there’s a cup.”

“There’s a symbol for each of the four suits hidden in the border.” She pointed to each corner in turn. “Cups, wands, coins, and swords.”

“But that’s not a sword.” Kassandra pointed to what looked like a shovel in one corner.

“It’s a spade, just like on a regular deck of cards. It also stands for a sword.” Auntie Jo set the card on the coffee table next to a gob of melted wax. “It’s good to see you showing an interest in the Tarot.” She lifted one of the books off the table, which wobbled from the shift in weight. “Cards like these can center you. They let you work through your problems.” Auntie Jo hummed a tune while flipping through the pages. “This is how most decks portray The Magician.” 

An illustration showed a man in robes holding up a candle burning on both ends. He looked a lot more like the wizard type than the figure in Kassandra’s deck.

“Now look here.” Auntie Jo grinned and turned a page to a woodcut illustration depicting a group of people surrounding a small round table. One guy performed a trick with three cups and a ball while the others watched. Kassandra zeroed in on the cup game, mind flashing with the image of Luke scooting around the bottle caps.

“The card was originally called the Thimblerigger or Juggler. The kind of person who performs street magic, sleight of hand… that sort of thing.”

Kassandra wanted to compare this picture to the one in The Magician card, but when she turned back to the table, it was gone. Lifting various crystals and the covers of books revealed nothing.

“Where’d you leave The Magician card?”

“Right on the table.” Auntie Jo turned around to look. “Why?”

“No, it can’t be…” Kassandra pulled out the Tarot deck and thumbed through. Third card down. She held up The Magician.

Auntie Jo scratched her chin. “Puzzling. The card was in my pocket the whole day. This is the first time I’ve set it down.”

“It makes sense. You put it on the table. You didn’t possess it anymore.” The same thing had happened with Lindsay taking the lion card. At lunch, after everyone passed it around, it fell on the ground and zapped back.

Auntie Jo took the card and inspected it. “Let’s try an experiment.” She propped the card up on a chunky crystal. “Okay, turn around and don’t look at it.”

“What’s this going to prove?”

“Hush up and turn around, girl.”

Kassandra spun to face away from the coffee table.

“Now I’m going to go check on dinner. You stay right there.” Auntie Jo trudged off to the kitchen.

Kassandra’s mind drifted back to the woodcut illustration. Luke had been able to make the pea appear under any bottle cap. Then there was the quarter he made dance along his knuckles. It all seemed like magic, but it was only sleight of hand.

“Who-wee, it worked.” Auntie Jo clapped her hands. “Take a look.”

Kassandra turned around. The card had disappeared again. 

“Go ahead, check the deck.”

The Tarot deck had been in Kassandra’s hands the whole time. She turned over the top card—The Magician. She hadn’t felt a thing. Kassandra snapped the edge of the card with her thumbnail. This was no sleight of hand. This was real magic. 

Auntie Jo walked over. “I don’t think it works if you’re looking at the card. So long as I stared at it, the card stayed put. But the minute I turned and stirred the pot, wham, back to the deck it went.”

“Out of sight, out of mind.” Kassandra passed the card back to Auntie Jo. 

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“Call it a continuation of your experiment.”

Auntie Jo slid the card into the apron pocket. Then she eyed Kassandra. “We haven’t had a chance to talk yet about what’s going on with you.” 

Kassandra nibbled on a fingernail. This was the reason she’d snuck into her room. “I’ve been feeling a whole lot better.” She grinned. “Haven’t even thought about…you know…for days.”

“It’s not so simple.”

“Yeah, I know I won’t wake up and it’ll all be gone. But I do feel better.”

“You’ve never dealt with what happened to your father.”

An icy chill crackled through Kassandra’s limbs, frosting her heart. Why was Auntie Jo getting on her about Dad? At least she remembered him. “I’m not the one who isn’t dealing. Look at Mom.”

Auntie Jo waggled the spoon. “You refused to talk to Dr. Sheldon. Mom did and recovered.”

“No. She just dumped everything from our old life, like Dad didn’t matter.”

“You’re wrong. I know how much Louise misses your father. Before you moved down, she’d call me almost every night. Mostly just to cry about him.”

“Well, if forgetting Dad ever existed is recovered, then I’m just fine where I am.”

“You’re not. Can’t you see? You have all this pain inside you and you use the cutting to get it out.”

Auntie Jo was actually turning on her. Kassandra’s neck tensed up. She wanted to scream and cry all at the same time. 

“You have to come to terms with your father’s death.”

“But he’s not dead! I’ve seen him.” Kassandra stomped down the hall. 

“Honey…”

“Leave me alone!”

Kassandra kicked the door shut and then fell on the bed. Tears gushed out, slithering down her cheeks like serpents. She hated crying. One hand jammed into her pocket and pulled out the Death card.

“See? I’m not crazy. You are alive in there.” As if in response, the illustration of Dad’s head turned. One tear trickled around her lips, tasting salty and sweet. 

“Dad, you hear me, right?” Kassandra mopped her face with the bed sheet. “I need your help. I need you back here, in the real world.” She propped the card up against the pillow. “Or some way for me to get to you.”

Laying her head on her hands, Kassandra stared at the card. 

“I just need you.”