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.”

Death Plays Golf in the Garage

Chapter 8

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 metallic taste filled Kassandra’s mouth. Her hands reached into the soupy blackness for support. An amber light glowed a few yards ahead, illuminating a workbench. It was Dad’s battery charger. This meant she was in the garage of her old house in Seattle.

A creaking came from somewhere in the darkness, sounding like a squeaky door opening and closing. Kassandra toggled the light switch. Still black. Did she really think the lights would work? 

Creeping forward, the scrape of her sneakers on the concrete seemed to stretch into every corner of the room. The sharp smell of gasoline filled the garage. Dad always kept a can in here for the lawnmower.

The creaking grew louder, sounding like a wooden beam flexing under weight. Creeeak. Pause. Creeeak. Pause. 

Kassandra scurried to the workbench and gripped the wooden rim. Solid. It felt good to have something to hold on to. The instant she touched the cord for the shop light, the creaking stopped.

Each breath filled her head, the sound amplified in the sudden silence. Kassandra’s fingers tightened on the cord. Not alone. A chill squirmed up her spine. Someone else was in here.

One yank on the cord and the shop light flickered to life. A slimy coppery taste coated her tongue. It felt like someone stood inches away. Kassandra’s gut clenched. The garage had to be empty this time. No shoes dangling next to the ladder.

She stopped breathing, focusing on even the slightest sound. Nothing. Her eyes squeezed shut, Kassandra decided to turn on three. One. Heartbeat thundering. Two. A bead of sweat slithering down. Three. 

She spun around. 

The garage was deserted. Pools of black marked the spots where oil had dripped from Mom and Dad’s cars. A line of boxes sat shoved against the far wall, teetering and ready to collapse. A glance up showed the barren wooden rafters. What had made the creaking sound? 

Something seized her left leg—a chalk white hand punching up through the concrete, its fingers chilled like chunks of ice. The floor fractured as dozens more hands surged upward. Kassandra shrieked, trying to escape. Then it was there—a life-sized version of Death from the Tarot card. She jerked back, but the hands from the floor locked her foot in place. 

The skeleton grasped a seven-foot scythe with a curving blade on one end. The handle, built of human vertebrae, created a black stripped pattern where the bones fused together. The creature raised the weapon high as if to split her open. The blade glinted under the fluorescent bulb of the shop light. 

Kassandra’s gaze zeroed in on the weapon. The scythe swooped down, aimed at something on the ground. Three human heads lay on the concrete, the same image from the Tarot card. The skeleton whacked the point of the scythe through Dad’s skull. 

Kassandra screamed.

Bed sheets clung to her sweaty skin. The digital clock read 4:17 a.m.

On the pillow next to her lay the Tarot deck, stacked in a neat pile. She leapt off the bed, butt thumping on the floor. Those cards had been on the shelf last night. Kassandra knew it. The top card was askew. Her fingers trembled as they reached for it. Flipped the card over. The skeletal gaze of Death.

Her stomach lurched and she flung the card across the room. 

“Get a grip. It was just some crazy dream.”

Kassandra rolled away from the deck, but could still feel them. The Tarot cards were watching her.

Kassandra never touched the cards again, abandoning them on the mattress. Before leaving for school, she scoured the Internet, printing out anything pertaining to those creepy things. Yet when she shoved the papers into her purse, there was the Tarot deck again. 

Kassandra ignored them for the whole bus ride, but at school, she ditched the cards in a trash can. They’d come back, of course, like a bad rumor. Swerving through the halls, Kassandra held the purse open and stared in. If they were going to keep turning up, then she wanted to witness the weirdness first hand. So far it was only the usual junk jammed in her purse. Then she slammed into someone.

“Hey, watch it,” a lanky boy said, smoothing his untucked designer shirt. 

The girl next to him, a member of Lindsay’s clique, did a quick pan of Kassandra’s clothes and muttered, “Come on Marco. New girl’s obviously been dumpster diving.” She grabbed the boy’s hand and tugged him down the hall.

Kassandra glanced down—the same ripped jeans as yesterday and a mangy old T-shirt. A new outfit hadn’t even crossed her mind this morning. Everyone in the halls sported the latest and greatest. Distressed jeans. Flirty tops. Kicking shoes. It was the first week of school after all. Kassandra looked like someone who should be toting a cardboard sign and begging for spare change.

Head down, she turned toward her locker and twirled in the combination. The door stuck. Rust coated the hinges. A swift yank jarred it loose, spilling English Comp and Science books onto the floor.

So much for this day getting better. 

The culprit was the wire shelf left there by the previous owner. The weld had snapped on one side, making it wobbly. She couldn’t endure a book-alance every time the locker opened. Fishing through her purse brought up a lone paperclip. Three guesses what she’d planned to use it for. Kassandra unbent the wire until it was straight, and then wrapped it around the snapped weld, twisting to make a tight fit. She pushed down on the shelf. The paperclip wire stretched but held. Good enough.

Scooping up the fallen books, Kassandra spotted the Tarot cards hiding underneath. Her first thought was to leave them here. She sighed and grabbed them. Better to know where they were than have them pop up someplace strange.

In class, everyone claimed the same seats. The only empties were on either side of The Browless One. Book Girl, who’d been reading on the bus, was noticeably absent. Once again, Lindsay and the social elite inhabited their bubble of coolness. The dark haired girl from the hall lounged against the lanky boy-toy, Marco. 

Mrs. Beehive lectured on the difference between tone and mood and then told the class to partner up and analyze a short story in the textbook. Without the card system, everyone snapped up the nearest friend. Kassandra glanced at The Browless One, who ignored her and flipped open his textbook. After a quick survey of the class, Mrs. Beehive settled down to coffee slurping and paperwork.

Kassandra slid out the Internet pages, laying them over the open textbook. Most of the websites claimed some mysterious and mystical origin to the Tarot, like Egyptian gods and secret societies. Some mentioned the cards evolving into playing cards like Auntie Jo had said. One site proposed a link between the Tarot and something called the Dance of Death. As far as Kassandra could tell, this was some sort of walking play designed to teach people why they needed to have their souls saved. Mostly propaganda to get folks into church.

She nibbled on a thumbnail, trimming it down beaver style while scanning the page. “The plague of the Black Death brought the idea of dying to the forefront of every man’s mind. Death was seen not as a destroyer, but a messenger of God. The Dance of Death showed all members of society, from The Pope down to the beggar, being led to the underworld by dancing actors dressed as skeletons. A popular phrase of the Dance was ‘memento mori,’ meaning ‘remember you shall die.’”

Kassandra frowned. How did skeletons dance? They always seemed to live in cages or hang around on hooks. She dove into the purse and pulled out the deck. The first card showed the black, lifeless sockets of Death. A chill squiggled through her. 

“Hey, that looks cool.” Marco appeared by the desk. He reached for the card in her hand, but she jerked it away. 

“I just wanted to see it.” He scowled. “Don’t get all touchy.”

The dark haired girl sauntered up, a smirk smeared across her face.

“No gossiping,” Ms. Beehive announced from her desk.

The girl spun, instantly assuming doe-like eyes. “We wanted to discuss how the tone affects the main character.”

Beehive nodded and went back to her coffee.

The boy snatched the rest of the cards off the desk. “Can I look at these?” 

Kassandra was about to say no, but then hesitated. Didn’t she want to get rid of those cards?

“Hey, check it out Diana.” Marco shoved the card in the girl’s face. “There’s a couple of naked chicks riding a fish.” Diana frowned, glaring at Kassandra. 

The card showed two girls straddling an enormous fish. Yeah they were naked, but you couldn’t really see anything. Hair, elbows, and fins blocked all the naughty parts. One girl had her hands cupped over her face, crying.

Marco twisted the card out of view.

“What’s with these? They’re so freaky.” He squinted and shook the card. “Hey, what the heck? Are these some kind of trick cards?”

“What do you mean?” Diana pulled his hand over.

“It went blank.”Kassandra’s whole body tensed. Not again. She leaned forward to view the card again. Only the border and the title remained, everything else was white paper. A chill settled at the base of her spine. What had she done this time?

The Tarot Cards Choose Kassandra

Chapter 2

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 heartbeat stormed inside her head. She swiveled, tensing for a confrontation, but there was no one there. Just the bookcase. What was going on? 

Something thunked to the floor and Kassandra nearly screamed. Whipping around, she saw a man reaching down to pick up a book. Just a glimpse of his face caused her throat to clench as if hands squeezed her windpipe. All Kassandra managed were short, raspy gasps. 

“Dad?”

She stumbled backward and fell to the floor, legs spayed at awkward angles. The crocheted purse flopped open. Coins rolled everywhere.

“Hey, you all right?”  It was the man with the book, but not Dad anymore. How could she have ever thought…? 

He held out a hand to help her up. “You have to watch your step.”

“Yeah.” She grabbed his hand. The grip was smooth and soft, not at all like Dad’s callused skin. After Kassandra stood, the man knelt to gather the coins, dropping them into the purse with a clank. 

“There you go.” He handed over the bag, his expression fluttering a moment before settling on a polite smile.

“Thanks.”

This released him. The man grabbed the book and practically jogged for the register. Great, now she was scaring random strangers. Time to go.

Kassandra slid the Death card into the deck. The bookshelf where they came from was crammed with books on metaphysical geometry and ufology, but no other cards. This wasn’t the right section. It felt wrong to leave them here. 

She marched toward the clerk, who was bent behind the counter unpacking a box.

“Hi,” Kassandra said.

Clerk Lady popped up and smiled, showing off a sweet round face that would be at home on a box of cookies. 

“I found these…” Kassandra held up the cards, “…back there.”

The woman stared at the cards, her expression curdling. “You have the cards.”

“Yeah. I didn’t know where you keep the rest of them. Can I leave them with you?”

“They’re yours.” Clerk Lady scooted back from the counter, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll have to go. I’m closing up.” She darted toward Auntie Jo without waiting for a response. 

The clock on the wall showed eleven. The place just opened. How could it be closing? This lady had some serious customer service issues.

Kassandra set the cards on the counter and traced one finger along the side, nicked and torn from multiple uses. The gold pattern on the back looked like a sky filled with stars, bringing back a distant memory of the Washington mountains. It’d been a rare night when the clouds had retreated. Dad stopped at some café after a drive to the forest. On the walk back to the car, Kassandra could see every speck of a star out there. So many, the constellations had become lost in the sequined glitter of starlight.

“Looks like they’re closing up for lunch,” Auntie Jo said, arriving at the counter.

“What?” Kassandra blinked, her mind still in the mountains. 

Auntie Jo handed a twenty to the clerk, who rang up the book. “Oh, you found a Tarot deck? Marvelous.”

“Your change.” Clerk Lady shoved the wad of bills and coins across the counter. 

“Did you want those?” Auntie Jo asked. Without waiting, she pushed forward the change and dove into her purse for more bills. “We’ll take the Tarot cards too.”

Clerk Lady stared at the money. She finally tugged a five from the pile. 

“That’s all?” Auntie Jo smiled. “Such a deal.” She turned to Kassandra and flourished a hand over the cards. “Your first Tarot deck.”

“I know you’re into the supernatural stuff, but this really isn’t my thing.”

“Nonsense.” Auntie Jo scooped the cards up, holding them in both hands as if cradling a delicate flower. “They chose you. There’s a greater power at work.”

“Greater power” was an Auntie Jo saying. Except it was a big fat lie. When something went wrong, it was either blind luck or a personal screw up. Plain and simple. 

Clerk Lady managed to shoo them to the front door. 

Kassandra halted and turned around. “Hey, why the rush?”

The woman’s gaze flitted left and right as if the answer might come from somewhere on the street. “Family emergency. You’ll have to go.” With one final push, she shut the door and locked it.

“She was weird,” Kassandra said. 

“Clearly ruled by Mars.” Auntie Jo wrestled into the driver’s seat and coaxed the engine to life. 

Kassandra looked at the Tarot cards, now set between the seats. She reached over, but paused before touching them. A chirping sound caught her attention — another of the little brown birds that lingered around the town. The wind had died down and now it cocked its head, inspecting Kassandra. Something startled the bird and it leapt into the air and vanished. 

Kassandra glanced at the shop and saw Clerk Lady peering through the blinds. The oddest expression crossed the woman’s face. Maybe fear? 

The blinds flipped shut.