Kassandra Sees Every Fault Reflected in the Mirrors

Chapter 31

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A powerful flood of memories washed over her.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I have to stay in control.”

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

“Help yourself. You can have them.”

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

“Swift move. Now what?”

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

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

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

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

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.”

The Death Card Sucks Kassandra into the Tarot Deck

Chapter 19

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 lungs felt pressed flat, making it hard to breath. A stale smell, like a room sealed up for too long, lingered in the air. There was a light suspended above a workbench—the old garage up in Seattle. 

Dad stood on a wooden ladder, tossing the end of a yellow rope over one of the beams. But this was wrong. The ladder should’ve been kicked over, his feet swinging over bare concrete. 

He turned to look at Kassandra, his face grooved with worry lines. There was something not right about his eyes. The wooden ladder wobbled as he descended, each step creaking.  Dad said something, but it came out as a faint hiss, like steam escaping a radiator. Gooseflesh sprouted along every inch of Kassandra’s skin. Her heart beat so hard and fast, it felt like it might burst through the ribcage.

Dad shouted the same thing over and over. She heard the words as if traveling over miles of empty expanse. It took a moment to decipher it.

“Be careful.” 

Kassandra’s eyes snapped open. She was back in her room in Arroyo Grove. A layer of sweat drenched her shirt. Had she passed out? 

The Death card sat propped on the pillow, same as before. The illustration so resembling Dad was there too. She frowned. He’d told her to be careful. Careful of what? Kassandra glanced back at the card and saw Dad’s head swivel. The eyes even blinked. He mouthed the words again: Be careful. 

Kassandra stumbled out of bed, banging into a shelf and knocking books down. That did not just happen. Couldn’t have. She was still dreaming. 

Even so, when she approached the bed, Kassandra grabbed the card and shoved it in her pocket. She couldn’t see him move again. Enough was enough. 

Auntie Jo owned more books on the occult and the supernatural than most libraries. Still, none had any answers. Of course there was no chapter titled Kassandra’s Dad and How It Relates to Tarot. But these books only went on about how to do readings. Nothing about what it all meant. Feeling her jeans, the Death card poked out the top of one pocket. The rest of the deck sat in the purse at her feet.

The hall light flicked on. Kassandra stood, but her thighs throbbed from being in a crouched position for so long. Then she noticed her bare arms, the gloves left back in the room. She eyed the couch, contemplating hiding, but indecision kept her frozen.

Auntie Jo strolled out of the hall, dressed in a Tibetan robe. She frowned. “What’s wrong?” Her gaze landed on the scarred arms. Dashing over, Aunite Jo wrapped Kassandra up in a monstrous hug, rocking back and forth.

“Honey, honey, honey.”

“It’s okay. I just couldn’t sleep.”

Auntie Jo backed away.

“It’s these cards.” Kassandra nudged her purse. “I need to figure them out.”

“You know I did some research myself last night.”

Kassandra relaxed. Maybe Auntie Jo had more information than these books. 

“Most of the websites say cutting is a reaction to internal pain. It’s a way to make it physical.”

“What?” Kassandra’s mind was anywhere but cutting. “No, the cards.” She held up the book she’d been reading. “I had a nightmare about these stupid things.”

“It could be endorphins.” Auntie Jo had a serious look on her face. “They say adrenaline is released every time you…you know…cut.”

“This isn’t about me!” Kassandra slapped her arm. “Cutting has nothing to do with it.”

“Cutting what?” Mom appeared in the hall wearing a matching pair of pink sweats.

Kassandra’s stomach flipped as raw panic jolted through every nerve. She shoved her arms behind her back, concealing the hashmark of scars. 

“Uh, nothing mom.”

“Don’t you nothing me. Are you cutting classes?” Mom headed into the kitchen and started making coffee. “Is that why you left school early yesterday?”

“Yeah.” Why had she blurted that out? So stupid. “I met this guy.”

This snagged Mom’s attention. She pivoted, coffee carafe filled with water. “Really? What’s his name?”

“Luke.” 

Mom surveyed Kassandra as a prospect for dating. “You’ll have to tell me about this guy.” She yawned as the coffee machine wheezed to life. “But first you need to get ready for school. Come down to my room. I can do your makeup. Boys like that.”

“Thanks Mom, I will.” 

Mom shuffled down the hall, finally disappearing into her room. 

“Who’s Luke?” Auntie Jo knit her brow.

“Hard to explain.” Kassandra fished through the purse for the deck. “It all goes back to these.” She located the Magician card and pulled it out.

Auntie Jo stepped forward. “Isn’t that one of the cards from your reading?”

Kassandra nodded, passing it over. An empty silhouette lay at the center, surrounded by stained glass.

“What happened to the illustration?” Auntie Jo took the card.

“I think I triggered it or something.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.” An image sprang to mind: crouching down on the toilet seat in the girl’s bathroom, pricks of blood along one arm. “At school.”

Auntie Jo inspected the card again, running a finger along the missing picture. “This didn’t go totally blank like the others.” She was talking more to herself now, spinning toward the wall of books.

Kassandra wondered if she should ask for the card back. But why bother. The thing would zap to the deck soon enough. 

“Kassandra!” Mom blared from down the hall. “School.”

“I know!” Kassandra turned to Auntie Jo, who tugged a book off the shelf. “Just figure out what’s going on. I think the person from that card is out.”

Auntie Jo snapped her head up. “What do you mean?” 

“He’s the guy I met. Luke.”

Mom is Gaga Over Her New Crush

Chapter 18

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 blue Beetle pulled into the drive and Kassandra and Auntie Jo burst through the front door to escape the rain. The iPhone sat charging on the counter with no sign of Mom, probably holed up in her room. She was kind of like Bigfoot. There was proof she existed, but sightings were rare.

Auntie Jo kept Kassandra busy in the kitchen, cleaning up olive pits and tomato scraps, and wiping down the counter. The knife was off limits, even though Kassandra had chopped veggies hundreds of times before. Did Auntie Jo really think she’d pull down her gloves and get started right there? But there was no room to complain. At least Mom was still in the dark.

With dinner ready, Auntie Jo called everyone to the table. Kassandra cringed. Mom hardly ever joined in—usually opting for the room service option. Auntie Jo must’ve hoped for a family meal bonding experience, where everyone shared what they did that day. All smiles and giggles. Well Mom revoked her family card the day she dragged Kassandra to this crummy town. 

Mom waltzed in, phone in hand, and flopped into a chair. Not the least bit hungry, Kassandra curled one noodle around her fork and popped it into her mouth. Maybe she could chew this for the rest of dinner and not have to talk.

“The rain’s really coming down, wouldn’t you say?” Auntie Jo smiled, hooking the apron on the chair and sitting.

“Uh huh.” Mom positioned the phone next to the plate as if it were a new addition to the settings: spoon, fork, phone. If Kassandra tried the same thing, she’d find her phone locked up. Of course, she didn’t even have one to lock up. 

A new message popped up with a chirp. Mom inspected the screen and giggled. She was texting her boyfriend—Jim or Mat? Shouldn’t that be a Kassandra thing? She was the teenager here. But if Mom stayed distracted, then there was hope for surviving dinner. 

“How’s the pasta?” Auntie Jo smiled a little too wide. “I got the recipe from one of my clients.” 

Kassandra enthusiastically chewed the one noodle in response.

Mom nodded. Though she could’ve been responding to the text. Her gaze was glued to the tiny screen.

This wasn’t how dinners used to be. When Dad was around, Mom wouldn’t shut up. She’d go on and on about her day. Sometimes it really bored Kassandra, but now she missed it.

“Everything we’re eating is fresh.” Auntie Jo mixed the sauce into the pasta. “Since Kassandra left school early, we rolled by the Co-op.” 

Kassandra’s stomach twisted into new and interesting pretzel shapes and she shot Auntie Jo a look. Why had she let that slip? 

Mom surveyed the dinner table as if it were some new restaurant. “Why’d you leave school early?” She wasn’t angry yet, but a motherly tone infected her voice. “You should have called me.”

Kassandra nearly laughed. Like Mom cared. “It’s nothing. Just got sick is all.” 

“Oh. Must be this cold weather.” Mom forked an olive and popped it in her mouth. “You need to wear a jacket.”

Yeah, that was it. Because Kassandra didn’t know cold coming from Seattle. She liked Mom better when she didn’t pretend to care.

Mom twisted toward the phone, fingers making clicky noises as they tapped on the screen. 

A wave of tension crested inside Kassandra, peaking at the base of her skull. What was Mom typing? Wish you were here? No, probably the other way around. Something like: I’m stuck here with my stupid family. 

Normally Kassandra tuned Mom out, but tonight it felt like an insect burrowed just beneath the skin. Every time the phone clicked or binged, the bug dug an inch deeper. 

“Would you stop that?” Kassandra tossed her fork down. Mom whipped her head up. “It’s ridiculous. You’re too old to be all gaga over some guy. Give it a rest.”

Mom stiffened. “I don’t believe I asked your opinion.”

“Listen guys.” Auntie Jo flashed Kassandra a look. “I know no one’s feeling top notch tonight.”

Kassandra squeezed the fork until the metal dug into the skin. “It’s rude. We’re having dinner and all you can do is text.”

Mom slapped the table causing her silverware to clank against the bowl. “Why can’t I have anything for myself? I work hard…”

“Yeah right. And who bought you that new toy?” 

“Now Kassandra…” Auntie Jo tried to assume a parental tone.

Mom gave Kassandra a look that sizzled the air between them. Then the phone buzzed and Mom glanced down.

“Jesus, Mom. Did you just forget Dad?”

“Kassandra!” Auntie Jo half stood out of her seat.

“I’d sure like to get over him as quickly as you did. Can you give me your secret?”

“Go to your room!” Mom’s whole body trembled.

“Not a problem.” Kassandra shoved her chair out. “Dinner was great Jo. Save me some.”

“You’ll go now!” Mom jabbed a finger down the hall.

“What’s the point trying to talk to you? It’s not like we’re even a family anymore.” Kassandra marched down the hall and into her room. 

Leaning against the door, she sucked in a long breath. It did nothing to calm her. Kassandra’s body felt tense and jittery. The argument with Mom jabbing at her brain. 

She spied the purple Doc Martens in the corner and knelt by them, pulling out the sock. Red lines marked the places where blood had stained the fabric. She cradled the razor in her hands. Such a small thing. Yet it had caused so much trouble. The handle of curved metal was flecked orange with rust. Kassandra held the blade over her arm. No intention of actually cutting. Just a familiar action, long ingrained in her memory. The length of the razor seemed the perfect size for the scars peeking through her fishnet gloves. 

Kassandra looked at the door. Auntie Jo had been too gung-ho about dinner to search in here yet. But it was only a matter of time. Just as soon as Mom left red alert status.

“I need to stash this.”

Options around the room were limited. There was the bed, the massive trunk coated with dust, and the books lining the walls. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She should have thought of a place earlier. Everything looked so obvious. Kassandra glanced at the door, fingers rubbing the handle of the blade. Just a few minutes was all she needed.

Back to the book shelves again. Auntie Jo hardly touched them since Kassandra moved in. Though she’d probably tear the place apart during school tomorrow.

Dust caked most of the shelves, but some spots were disturbed where Auntie Jo had removed books recently. Kassandra kept scanning until finding a section blanketed in dust, and spied three books on poetry, nestled on the end of one shelf. Two were thick anthologies, but the third was a slim volume tucked into a cardboard slip case. Perfect. The case could hold the blade during inspection. Unless Auntie Jo decided to tackle the books page by page, the razor would be safe.

Kassandra gingerly lifted the book out without disturbing the dust and then slid it from the case. Flipping it open at random, Keats’ name appeared smack at the top of the page. Only the last two lines of the poem were there, but it was one Kassandra had read hundreds of times: Ode to a Nightingale.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

       Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

A trembling sensation spread into Kassandra’s arms and legs. Everything felt mixed up now, like a nightmare, except she was wide awake.  It all used to be so simple. Poems weren’t loaded with meaning. And she had been a normal girl. Back when Dad was alive.

Kassandra wedged the razor near the binding. Just before snapping the book shut, she noticed some red from the blade rubbed off on the page—a scrawl underlining the last line. She wiggled the book back into its slip case and positioned it on the shelf to match the dust footprint. 

Then the sock went straight into the purse. Kassandra couldn’t risk throwing it out here. She’d have to toss it at school. Her hand brushed the Tarot deck. In a moment, she had the deck out and found the Death card. Lying on the bed, Kassandra set the card on the pillow. It was good to see Dad, even if it was only a picture that looked like him. 

“I wish you were really here,” It felt weird saying this out loud. Kind of like she was speaking to a person and not some rectangle of paper. “When you were around, Mom was still Mom.”

Chin settled on the bed, she stared at the illustration, waiting for Dad’s head to move again. Drowsiness curled around Kassandra, willing her eyes to shut. If she was patient enough, Dad’s head would move. 

Her fingers tingled as if falling asleep. But then the tingling picked up in her toes too. She tried to shift positions, but couldn’t let go of the card. Her arms prickled as if someone had dragged a comb lightly along the skin. Sleep tugged at her eyelids. The world faded away and her mind switched off.

Just before Kassandra dissolved into slumber, something shifted on the card. The room darkened, but the illustration glowed. A bitter coppery taste filled her mouth. Then Dad turned his head to stare.