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.”
“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.
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.”
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.