Kassandra Clings to Her Last Hope

Chapter 44

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 wanted to be shocked, but it made perfect sense. She ran one finger along the rim of the brass cup. Luke always seemed to know just what to say and when to say it.

“My brother bragged about his new talent when he visited me. He recounted the many times he had played with young girls’ emotions, pushing them toward crisis.” Gabriel glanced at Kassandra and then stopped speaking.

“It’s all right.” She gave a weak smile. “I kind of figured that part out for myself. I just didn’t know he could actually read my every thought.”

“Luke cannot open your mind like a book and see what he likes. He can view only the page you are currently on.”

“So, what I’m thinking right when I stand in front of him?” 

Was there a way to turn it off? Shut the book so Luke couldn’t read anything? It would mean she’d have to think about nothing. Or something totally different.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel. “The paper doll down there…” She pointed to the room below. “That was you, right?”

He nodded, eyes taking a far off look. “I had no idea what my drawings could do. If I had known what Luke used them for…” A snarl of disgust slithered across Gabriel’s features.

“It’s the deck, isn’t it? It let Luke read minds and it caused your drawings to come to life.” Kassandra turned to the table with the cup and ball trick. “How does this game work?” She picked up the leather ball. “What does he do to make the ball vanish?”

Gabriel shrugged. “No one could best Luke at the game. It was his favorite and he never shared his secrets.”

“He’s cocky, that’s for sure.” She set the ball back on the table and rolled it back and forth between her fingers. An idea bubbled up. “If I can get him to forget about the cards, even for a moment, then they’ll zap back to me. I’ve seen it happen before.” The experiment with The Magician card flashed fresh in her mind. The minute Auntie Jo ignored it, the card zoomed back to her. Only this time, maybe the whole deck might return.

Kassandra lifted one of the brass cups—it felt surprisingly light—and plopped it over the ball, making it disappear. Gabriel watched. This trick was mesmerizing. It made people want to find the ball.

“If I dangle the final card in front of him, he’s sure to give me his full attention.”

“No, you cannot let him have the card! Luke fears The Magician card. It is his prison, as the Hanged Man was mine. You must lock Luke back in the Tarot deck.”

“No.” The answer can automatically from Kassandra’s lips. “The cards make him powerful. Without them, Luke’s just some six-hundred-year old guy.” 

“You deceive yourself. Luke will never abandon the Tarot deck. He has waited too long.” Gabriel’s eyebrows bunched together. “What has he promised you?”

Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. She shook her head and grabbed a brass cup off the table. Distracting Luke would make the cards come back to her. It had happened before with Lindsay. She forgot about the Fortitude card and it zapped back. Only, would the one Magician card be enough to pull back the whole deck?

Gabriel snatched the cup away and held it up. “Luke plays with your mind. He tells you what you crave to hear.”

Kassandra turned away. “I can get the cards back. I know I can.”

“No.” He hurled the brass cup across the room. It slapped into a pile of wood, sending the whole assortment crashing to the floor. Both birds startled, chirping their displeasure.

Gabriel stepped right up to her face, inches away. His frustration hummed in the air between them, yet he tenderly gripped Kassandra’s chin.

“What has he promised you?” 

The words came out as a whisper. “My dad.”

A look of puzzlement crossed Gabriel’s face.

“He’s… like Ezabell.”

The name acted like a slap, startling Gabriel.

“You have succumbed to the very same illness as Luke. My brother has clung to that false hope for centuries. If there were a solution to be found, he would have solved it by now.” Gabriel grabbed her. “He would not listen to reason. I pray you will. There is no return from death.”

Kassandra had seen Dad before. Here, in the cards. It meant there was still hope. 

“I tried to get Luke to understand this. I refused to illustrate the final card.” Gabriel let go and stepped back. “In return, he locked me in here.”

An idea appeared in her brain, like a fogged mirror suddenly wiped clean. “You.” She pointed at Gabriel, who looked truly baffled now. “Luke has to know you’re gone from your card. And he totally freaked when I said I’d talked to you.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Luke’s afraid of you. That’s why he locked you in here.” Kassandra turned toward the table with the cups again. “If I could make you appear in the real world, it would really throw Luke off his game. Then I could get the cards back.”

“You are mistaken. Luke fears nothing, certainly not me.” Gabriel glanced at the surrounding stained glass walls. “I am also not in my card. I cannot return to the real world.”

“Yes you can. Luke almost pulled me out of the Fool card, so it must be possible. Plus this is the only card he doesn’t have. So Luke has no idea you’re in here.”

“Kassandra. Do not fall victim to the same illusion that has plagued my brother.”

She ignored him, scanning the room for a way out. Kassandra scooped the nightingale off the floor, palms tingling as it fidgeted.

Gabriel grabbed her arm. “Consider for a moment. You have a friend trapped in these cards.” 

She remembered Auntie Jo stuck in the chair, watching the endless parade of floats. But Kassandra needed the cards to free her. It was the only way. 

“This plan of yours.” Gabriel looked her in the eyes. “Is it the best idea for your friend? Or for you?”

A heaviness filled her chest. Was she abandoning Auntie Jo to save Dad? Maybe there was a way to save them both. Kassandra held the bird up. It cocked its head. Was she being selfish? It fluttered its wings, testing the damaged one.

“I don’t know what I want anymore.” She glanced at Gabriel.

“I understand the temptation of Luke’s offer.”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra caught movement out of the corner of an eye. The bird’s claws momentarily gripped her skin and released. Then it was in the air, shooting forward.

“Gabriel!”

The instant the bird touched her chest, Gabriel and the tower burned away. Everything became pure white light. Muscles spasmed, each one pulled in different directions. An ache spread through Kassandra’s bones almost like they were stretching. A blast of air pumped her lungs open to the bursting point.

Then she smacked, face first, onto an icky grey carpet. This was not Auntie Jo’s house. Someone she knew leaned over her.

“Hi Mom.”

Kassandra Reached the Origin of the Tarot

Chapter 38

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.

“I thought you didn’t want me to spin it. Now you do?” Kassandra tugged again, but her hand was stuck to the metal peg of the wheel.

Gabriel pointed to the Roman numeral one at the bottom of the wheel. “We seek Luke’s card, here. You must make the wheel land on exactly that spot.”

She examined the wheel. The numbers were in order like a clock but kept going from thirteen through to twenty-two.

“It’s only about half way.”

“You don’t understand. The wheel only spins clockwise and it must make a full revolution before stopping.”

At first Kassandra didn’t understand. The number one was right there at the bottom of the circle. Then it sunk in. A full revolution.

“You’re kidding me. You mean I have to spin it all the way to thirteen again, and then get it to stop exactly on number one?”

“That is why I wanted you to wait.”

“This is impossible. No way I can make it.” She stared at the wheel, working it out in her head. The spin had to be one and a half times around, almost exactly. If she missed, then it would land on any of the cards nearby.

“What does the green stand for?”

“It is not a card I illustrated, nor one of any Tarot deck.”

So she needed to avoid hitting the mystery spot. Kassandra sucked in a breath and gave the wheel a good push. Once it was in motion, her hand slipped off, no problem. The metal pegs struck the top arrow as the wheel raced past the first full spin making clickity clack sounds.

She hopped from one foot to the other. The wheel slowed as it passed ten. Seven. Five. It was going to make it. The wheel crawled past four on its way to three. Kassandra bounced up and down with glee.

Gabriel took a step back. “Do not wait for me.”

“Huh?” She turned to look at him.

“Each spin is for one person only.”

“What do you…?

Out of the corner of her eye, Kassandra saw the wheel passed Roman numeral one. It was going to stop at zero. The arrow struck the metal peg separating zero from the green section. Sweat prickled her skin. It finally clicked over, landing on the green section.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel, but then a massive tree surged up between them. The platform rumbled as hundreds of trunks crashed upward, splintering the plywood floor. They shot up at super speed, reaching their full height in seconds. Trees sprouted all along the street as well. Several speared the float with the syringe, shredding the fiberglass construction. The crowd scattered as the asphalt crumbled and cracked apart.

After a moment, the trees halted their accelerated growth. She stood on the mangled viewing platform surrounded by massive trunks. Silence spun out. The street lamps were gone, but a dim light filtered through the newly sprung forest.

Kassandra scrambled around to the spot where Gabriel had stood, the plywood flooring wobbling unsteadily. Nothing. Only more of the fragmented platform. And of course, trees. The velvet chair was toppled, one leg falling through a crack in the floor. Auntie Jo had vanished. What was left of the street looked abandoned. Kassandra couldn’t see a trace of the buildings through the tightly packed tree trunks.

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet. Her nightingale swooped down and landed on a jutting branch. “Don’t go away. I need someone to stay with me.”

The scant light intensified. It felt like dawn. Somewhere in the distance she heard the clang of metal and a shout.

People.

Kassandra raced toward the sound, feet swishing through a mist hovering right at ground level. The nightingale zoomed ahead, zigzagging through the trees. Maybe she was out of the cards now and back in the real world. Forests grew all over the mountains around Arroyo Grove.

She ran into a meadow where a group of wagons formed a circle. Her shoulders sagged. These were just like the ones in the room of mirrors. So much for getting out of these cards. 

Kassandra approached the opening in the circle of wagons. A crowd of people milled about inside. Their outfits looked crazy, like stepping into a Renaissance fair. A few guys even had swords strapped to their belts. Then Kassandra smelled the food. Until now her stomach hadn’t made a peep. But the scent of roasting meat drew her through the crowd and up to a fire where a grizzled man fried sausage in a pan. The nightingale flapped down and balanced on a pole holding up a laundry line. The man glanced at Kassandra, face covered in soot, and offered up the blackened pan. A dozen sausages popped and sizzled inside. 

“Here you go…” He paused and stared at her jeans. “Lass?” The accent was some kind of old fashioned English.

Kassandra grabbed a sausage and nodded thanks. It felt like her fingers would burn away, but she bit into the meat anyway. Hot juice ran down her chin. It was so good. She don’t care. Kassandra kept gobbling until only a tiny nub remained. As she shoved the last bit into her mouth, a red ball bumped her Converse sneaker. It was stitched out of leather and about the size of a golf ball. Kassandra glanced around to see where it came from and then her body froze. 

Luke Rykell strolled through the crowd, a wicked grin plastered across his face.

How Do You Define Yourself As A Writer?

Hi, I’m a creative and imaginative dreamer? Really? Sounds like you’re a bum to me.

Why can’t we get away with introducing ourselves via our talents? So often we define ourselves with jobs (teacher) and relationships (father of a wonderful daughter). Think about it, we even describe kids by their age or station. My daughter is 4 and a half, about to enter Kindergarten. Not a word about her personality at all.

As writers, we particularly suffer from this. I know that I do. I’ve published a non-fiction book and multiple short stories, yet why do I often feel like I’m not a “real” writer yet. Why? Because I don’t have that elusive “novel” published. It’s frustrating because I know I am a writer. I write. Every day. But it’s those accolades that we yearn for.

Perhaps we should all loosen up a bit. Let’s be what what we do. I write. Ergo, I’m a writer.

Nuff said.

Tim Kane

How Teachers Have Killed Generations of Writers

First off let me admit that I am a teacher. I teach every subject: from math to reading. Yet, I’m also a writer. These shouldn’t be mutually exclusive, yet somehow they are.

Let me explain. I hated creative writing in school. From my third grade book project, where I got a C because of my atrocious spelling, up through high school and some off the wall assignments, my writing accomplishments were few and far between.

What repulsed me so about creative writing was The Prompt—that teacher generated idea that completely sucks the life out of any creativity students have.

Need some examples? Takes some of these:

  • Imagine you’re a snowflake.
  • What would a day as a squirrel be like?
  • Write about your most memorable day.
  • Write about one of your challenges.

And the list goes on. I mean, really? That’s the best the teacher could think up? Though the truth is somewhat sadder. Most of these ideas have been generated years ago and simply persist, like viruses, ready to infect the creative writing spirit in new hosts.

Let’s explore these narrative nuggets, shall we?

Imagine you’re a snowflake.
Sure. I fall. It’s cold. I land. I melt. Story over. Maybe, if I’m really creative, I’ll land on some kid’s sticky tongue and melt.

What would a day as a squirrel be like?
I don’t know. Boring? I collect some nuts. Climb a tree. Twitch my nose. A whole lot of nothing.

The problem with these two prompts is that most kids will write pretty much what I have. Then the teacher will glance at it and ask for more. Then the kid will sit in his or her desk and look busy for the next twenty minutes, frustrated that no more ideas come. Hey, at least these prompts give you a few sentences to jot down. Let’s look at the next two.

Write about your most memorable day.
Write about one of your challenges.
Even one of these is enough to cripple even the brightest student. I’ve seen it before. The kid sits there, for twenty or thirty minutes, wondering what to write about. Even starting is hard because first you must pick your “memorable” event. Or decide what has “challenged” you. These are the sorts of prompts colleges dream up as submission guidelines. That’s fine. Colleges are meant to challenge you. But a sixth grader could use more help.

Eleven years of this sort of torture might have obliterated my writing spirits, had it not been for one teacher. In my senior year at high school, I lucked into a new course by Susan Vreeland called “Writer’s Workshop”. Her writing prompts were entirely different.

She’d show us a photo of a barn and then ask us to describe it in 100 words or less. However, we couldn’t use the words: barn, red, paint, or hay.

Although there was some head scratching at first, these seemingly strict limitations actually freed me. I had the picture to start with, so I wasn’t stuck dreaming up what to write about. Yet with the word limitations, I couldn’t phone it in by describing the red barn with peeling paint and stacks of hay.

I recall that students came up with all sorts of stories. One guy had a murder in the bard. Another talked about the animals inside. I can’t even recall what I wrote. All I knew was the words flowed.

So is there a solution? Yes, as a teacher, I want to give my students some guidance—a direction—to write. Then I want to step back and let them create. I don’t want a prompt so arbitrary and restrictive that it makes it impossible for anyone to write.

Yes, there are certainly those kids who can and will write about their memorable day as a squirrel. I’ll let those kids go for it. For the rest of us, let’s try something that will kindle our imaginations rather than douse the fire.

Tim Kane