Teeny Haunts: Elevator to Another World

As a kid, I always dreamed of journeying to another dimension — the tagline of Twilight Zone Fresh in my head.

You unlock this door with the key of imagination. Beyond it is another dimension: a dimension of sound, a dimension of sight, a dimension of mind. You’re moving into a land of both shadow and substance, of things and ideas. You’ve just crossed over into… the Twilight Zone.

Twilight Zone Introduction

The myth of the Elevator to Another World feels like it belongs smack dab in the middle of Rod Serling’s fictive playground. Despite seeming like it has been with us for years, the legend developed only in this century.

Lucia Peters, from The Encyclopedia of the Impossible, traced the story back to a malfunction with a Japanese elevator. In 2006, an elevator began to ascend with the doors still open (much like the incident in the Resident Evil film). A sixteen-year old high school student was killed in the incident. Investigation into the death showed that a certain brand of elevator had led to a string of deaths.

Elevator Scene from Resident Evil, 2002

The action of the evaluator lifting on its own accord parallels the ritual of the Elevator to Another World. And, though the faulty elevators were replaced, people were understandably nervous about riding on them. Thus the dangerous myth of our extra-dimensional elevator was born. It’s a coping mechanism for the fear swirling around a series of actual accidents.

Yet the element of the lady who enters on the fifth floor doesn’t seem to fit entirely into the Japanese accident. For this, we can look to another source. A short story by William Sleator in 1993, called simply “The Elevator” introduces the idea of a disturbing lady entering the elevator car when you ride alone. The protagonist is a young boy who already has anxieties about riding the old, dilapidated elevator. In this instance, the creepy lady (dressed in green) enters on the fourteenth floor (not the fifth). Yet the other elements of the story and the idea that the lady might trap you are all present in the tale. Perhaps it had an influence on the myth.

But that’s all it is, right? Just a tall tale.

Or is it? The idea that when you try this experiment, you might not return allows the ritual to have no real evidence to back it up. After all, the folks who’ve tried it might have succeeded and just jaunted off to another world.

So the next time you’re in an elevator, maybe you might play the elevator game and see where it takes you. Just beware of the lady from the 5th floor.

Tim Kane

Kassandra Solves the Riddle of the Tarot Cards

Chapter 30

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 scanned the garage, searching for other exits. Something not obvious. The door to the living room. The garage door. They kept catching her attention. Almost mocking her. Maybe Dad was right. There was no way out.

Then her gaze slid along the workbench and latched onto the box of razors. Every muscle tensed. It was the box. The one where she found her razor. Kassandra imagined plucking a new blade out and sliding off her glove. Exactly what she needed right now. 

Dad wasn’t looking. He stood by the garage door, running a hand over the recent dent. Kassandra edged over to the workbench, but when she reached for the box, the nightingale hopped over. It pecked at the cardboard lid and then cocked its head sideways. She slid the box away from the bird.

“What do you have there?” 

A quiver shot through Kassandra. Dad couldn’t see her with this. She jerked her hands away, abandoning the box. 

“Nothing.” 

Dad came up to the workbench. Tugging at the fishnet gloves, her gaze lingered on the razors. She prayed he wouldn’t notice them.  

The nightingale provided the distraction. It waddled down the workbench and tapped at a cylindrical tube of long matches Dad had used to light the barbecue. Why was it pecking things? Was the bird hungry or something?

Ta-ta-ta-ta-wee-weet.

The nightingale hopped up and down. It clicked its beak against the plastic organizer attached to wall. This had multiple bins, each filled with screws, bolts, nails, whatever. When Kassandra snapped it open, the bird dipped its head into one of the compartments. It emerged with a metal washer, dropping it on the workbench with a clink.

“What? You can’t eat any of those things.” Just her luck. She got stuck with the world’s dumbest bird. Kassandra grabbed the matches and the washer and set them next to the box of razors. 

“Do those mean something to you?” 

“No. It’s just a bunch of random junk.”

Clunk. The bird knocked over a coffee cup. Pencils, sharpies and a pair of scissors spilled out onto the workbench. 

Kassandra balled her hands into fists. “If you going to make a mess…” She headed over to clean the stuff up, but then the bird pecked at the cup. Recognition flickered in her brain. Taking the cup, Kassandra set it by the other objects—matches, washer, box of blades—forming a rough line. They seemed familiar, but what was the connection?

The nightingale nudged the washer out of line, scooting it forward. Then it hopped over to the other side and pecked at the box. Kassandra opened it up and saw the stack of razors inside. A twinge of doubt settled inside her chest. She brushed it aside and took one out. The nightingale snatched the razor blade in its beak. It scuttled forward and dropped it. Now the four items formed a crude square. Kassandra tilted her head. Where had she seen this before? A shiver rushed through her. Auntie Jo.

“These are all symbols for the suits in a Tarot deck.” 

“A what?”

She grabbed his arm and pointed at the washer. “This represents coins and the coffee cup is for cups, obviously. That would make the razor blade a sword.” Kassandra pulled a long match from the cardboard tube. “So this would be a staff.”

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

She smiled. The nightingale agreed. The four items looked just like the symbols Auntie Jo had pointed out on the border of the cards. Kassandra snatched them all up. “Get me one of those sharpies.” 

As Dad headed over to the mess of pens and pencils, she found a clean spot on the garage floor. “I’m going to draw a big Tarot card.”

Kassandra grabbed the pen from Dad and held it over the concrete, but hesitated. The sharpie wasn’t one of the symbols. Maybe she shouldn’t use it. Setting the pen to the side, she inspected the four items, finally selecting the razor blade.

Puh-twee-too. The bird hopped up and down on the workbench. Razor blade was a winner.

Dad knelt down next to her. Their knees touched, sparking a memory. She’d been ten and the bike chain had popped off. Dad worked with her for almost an hour to hook it back on, offering advice the whole time. By the end, grease coated her fingers, but the chain had been fixed. Kassandra glanced over at him. No advice this time. It was all on her. The only way to save him was to figure this out. 

She placed the razor’s edge against the floor and scratched a thin line, the blade skittering along the concrete. Kassandra looked at her arm, the white scars only barely visible through the fishnet fabric. 

Repositioning the blade, she started another line. Her fingers shook. This was only concrete, she reminded herself. Not skin. Yet the sensation of cutting grew stronger through the third and fourth lines. Bits of white dust coated the blade. But it might as well have been blood. She needed the razor. Just this once. It would get her back in control. 

Tears welled up, threatening to gush.

Dad leaned closer. “Kassie?”

“Nothing.” She wrapped her fingers around the razor, hiding it from view.

“Something’s wrong.”

“Yeah, we’re stuck in our old garage with a creepy meadow outside.”

Concern washed over Dad’s face. Kassandra ignored it and grabbed the cup, setting it in the lower right corner, just the way it had appeared in the border of the Tarot card. Dad watched as she set out the washer and finally the match.

“What happened to the razor?”

Kassandra shrugged but didn’t say anything. 

“You just had it.” He searched around. 

“I must have put it down someplace.” She clenched her fist until the blade pressed into the palm.

He frowned. “Show me your hand.”

A tremor traveled through her arms. She couldn’t keep it hidden anymore. This was Dad. She curled her fingers back, revealing the razor.

“Why did you hide it?”

“It’s just…” Kassandra fiddled with the elastic band of the glove. The metal blade rested against the black fishnet of her palm. Why should she give it up? It was hers. 

“Let me see your arms.” 

Kassandra froze in place. The scars peeked out from beneath the fabric. Instead of being white the way they usually were, the raised flesh appeared yellow. Nooses. Each one like the rope he used. 

Dad tugged one glove down, revealing bare skin. “Oh, Kassie, what happened to you?”

“Don’t look at me like that!” She jerked back. “You’re the one who left me all alone.”

“Honey… I’m sorry.” He kept staring.

The dam broke and tears flooded out. Kassandra slapped at her cheeks, trying to wipe them away, but they kept coming. 

“It’s all right.”

“No, it’s not. I’m so screwed up now.”

Dad moved forward. At first she shoved him away, but he surrounded her with those massive arms. Kassandra surrendered and let his warmth press against her.

“I don’t want to live without you anymore.”

He released her. “Give me the razor.”

With her glove slid off, it felt like she was in her room again. Alone. 

“Give it to me,” he said, invoking his Dad voice. 

Kassandra handed over the razor, but eyed the box on the counter. She could always snake another when he wasn’t looking. Kassandra glanced away, tensing her shoulders. No, she couldn’t keep thinking this way. This had to stop.

He held up the razor. “This only makes more pain. For you and everyone around you.” Dad glanced at the rest of her, searching for more evidence of cutting.

An ache jabbed at Kassandra’s chest. “So killing yourself is okay, but not my cutting?”

“That’s not what I said…”

“No. I get it. My scars make you uncomfortable. What about me?” She jammed a finger at the rafters. “I had to find you like that. Every time I even see a piece of yellow rope, it makes me want to gag.” Kassandra thrust out her arms. “Look at these. They’re ugly and gross. It’s how I feel on the inside.”

Dad looked away and seemed to shrink. “What I did to your mother and you… It was so selfish. I know that now.” He lowered his head. “I wanted the pain to go away. I didn’t even consider what it would do to you. How it would make you suffer.”

He turned back. “I’m sorry.”

“Sorry won’t fix anything.” 

Dad glanced at the scars again and winced. Kassandra tugged the glove back into place. She didn’t want his pity. 

“Kassie…” Dad started.

The ache in her heart grew. But she found she couldn’t look at him. Not now. 

Kassandra turned instead to the floor with the scratched out rectangle. Sweat beaded along her forehead and neck. She was the only one who could fix this. The match, washer, and cup were all in place. Only one corner was empty. 

“Give me the razor.” She reached her hand out. 

Dad’s hand twitched back.

“I need it to finish the design.”

He hesitated, but then passed the blade over. 

Kassandra set it on the final corner. A thin crack split the concrete directly below the razor. The floor rumbled. Fractures appeared in the concrete, each fanning out from the four items.

They both scrambled away as the floor shuddered, causing the razor to hop. From somewhere below, stone ground against stone. The cracks united, forming a rectangle along the scratched out lines. A slab of concrete swung inward on rusted hinges. The washer, match, cup and razor all dropped into the hole. The instant they disappeared, the shaking stopped. 

Kassandra’s breathing rushed in to fill the silence. Edging closer to the rectangular door, she peered in. “This is it. The way out.”

Dad eyed the black void in the floor. “You need to get back home. Help your mom.”

“I know. We’ll both save her.” She dusted off her jeans. “Come on.”

“I’m not going.”

“You need to come.” Kassandra stared at him. “It’s what the Tarot cards are for. They’re meant to save you.”

Dad glanced toward the rafters. A yellow rope dangled down, the end forming a noose. Had it appeared because he looked for it?

“This is where I belong.” 

She grabbed his hand. “You need to be at home, with me and Mom.”

He pulled away, eyes glinting with something fierce. “You have to get to Mom. Protect her from that man.” Dad glanced at the garage door. “Promise me.”

“I will.” Kassandra nodded quickly. “But we can do it together.”

“I have to stay.”

She stiffened. This wasn’t how it was supposed to happen. Dad needed to return with her. Change everything back to the way it was. A shiver rippled through Kassandra. “I’ll come back for you.”

He shook his head. “I don’t want you to.” Pain edged his voice. “There are some choices you just can’t undo.”

Kassandra rushed forward. He wrapped his arms around her and squeezed. Why couldn’t she stay here forever? Things would be so much simpler.

Finally, Dad broke the hug and stepped away. “Go.”

She turned toward the hole. There wasn’t a trace of anything in there—only blackness. Maybe it led out. Or maybe it went deeper into the Tarot cards.

Kassandra turned toward Dad. “I will come back.” Before he could respond, she took a deep breath and jumped in. 

Kassandra Joins her Dad in Death and There is No Escape

Chapter 29

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 face pressed against a cold concrete floor. Her hand slipped on a greasy oil stain, smearing the palm black. This was the garage in Seattle.

“Kassie?”

Her heart skipped. Dad! Kassandra wrapped her arms around him and squeezed until there was no energy left. The scent of sawdust and sweat—Dad’s smell—it was everywhere. 

Finally releasing the bear hug of death, the familiar fluttering sound caught her attention. The workbench light shone on the neatly arranged tools but shadows cloaked the corners of the garage. Something darted between the rafters. The nightingale. 

“I’m inside the card.” Kassandra trembled. “But how?” 

She stared at her hands. Empty. The card had been there only moments before. It must still be in the real world. Luke had it now. The one stashed in Mom’s phone was the only one left.

Dad laid a hand on her shoulder and she jumped. “What’s wrong?”

She willed her breathing to slow down. “I’m okay.”

“You shouldn’t have come back.”

A fist clenched tight in Kassandra’s chest. “What? Don’t you want me here?”

“This is not a good place. It’s not meant for someone like you.”

Something snapped. Anger bubbled to the surface. “You’re so right. What was I thinking? I should have let Luke take all the cards.”

Dad took a step back. “I don’t know what’s been going on with you or who this Luke guy is.” He walked over to the far end of the garage. “I do know this. You were wrong to come here.” Pressing a button caused the massive garage door to grumble to life, lifting off the ground. Pale afternoon light slanted in. Strange shadowy patterns, like zebra stripes, crisscrossed the concrete. As the door lifted higher, Kassandra saw their source. Instead of the driveway they’d had in Seattle, a meadow of tall grass extended right up to the edge of the garage. She stepped toward the opening.

“No!” Dad rushed forward and gripped her arm. “You don’t want to go out there.”

“Why?” 

The meadow extended for miles in every direction. The sky exploded with the oranges and reds of a setting sun. Kassandra shrugged off Dad and moved to where the concrete ended. A breeze ruffled her hair. She wanted to walk out there. Let the grass swish against her knees.

A black blob appeared along the horizon, darkening the sky. It looked like a storm cloud, except the edges coiled and twisted as things shifted. The wind changed, bringing the distant cry of birds.

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet. The nightingale in the garage hopped along the rafter above them.

Holes appeared in the cloud as tiny birds broke away from the mass. The sound of chirping and flapping grew louder. Dad hooked her arm and yanked Kassandra farther into the garage.

“What’s out there?”

“The end.” Dad stared out into the meadow. “You go out there and you’ll never come back.”

Something spooked the birds. They scattered as a giant face filled the sky. Kassandra jumped back, pulse shifting into overdrive. One gigantic eye peered through the garage door. The nightingale leapt from the rafters, zooming around the garage.

Then the eye retreated and Kassandra could see the whole head. It was Luke. Except giant-sized. 

“So this is where you’re hiding.” His voice sounded normal as if standing right in the room. “No one’s done that before.”

Then it clicked. Luke was staring into the Death card. The same way Kassandra had looked at Dad.

Luke waved his giant fingers. “How you doing in there? Cozy?”

“Sure, we’re just super.” She stared up at his face.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you some space. Now that I have Death, it’s only a matter of time before I figure out where you squirreled away the last one.”

Kassandra’s mind flashed to Mom and the phone. Luke didn’t know she had it. “What if you can’t find it?”

“I can wait.” He grinned. “It must be with a person and I don’t think you have many friends left.”

Kassandra pictured him holing up in Auntie Jo’s living room. Then the door opened and Mom stepped in. She’d have no clue what was waiting for her. Kassandra felt a pang of guilt. She shouldn’t have done this to Mom.

“Soon it won’t matter which card you scamper off to. They’ll all fall down. One by one.” He backed away, face becoming fuzzy and indistinct until vanishing into the orange sky. Only the meadow and a few scattered birds remained.

The garage door lurched as it descended. Dad stood at the button. “I’m guessing that’s the Luke guy, right? So where’s this final card?”

Kassandra blinked. She’d forgotten how quick Dad could be sometimes. “I hid it on Mom, but she doesn’t know it’s there.”

His eyebrows scrunched together, creating creases along his brow. “What will Luke do when he finds her?”

Kassandra’s mind flashed to Auntie Jo and the flames. Only now Auntie Jo swapped places and it was Mom who burned.

“Kassie, what’s going to happen?”

“He’ll send her here, into the Tarot deck.”

“No!” Dad slammed a fist against the garage door. The metal reverberated. “Louise can’t come here. Absolutely not.”

“Dad?” Kassandra reached out, but hesitated. 

He spun around, face now stone cold. “You have no idea what this place is.” Dad ran a hand along the garage door. “It’s my prison cell. I can never leave.”

He was wrong. If there was a way in, there had to be a way out. She scanned the garage, settling on the door leading into the house. “I’m getting you out!”

“Kassie.” Dad made a grab, but she slipped away, rushing toward the door. The handle turned easily. Not even locked. The door swung open to reveal only bare boards and drywall, like looking straight into the wall. If this was her old garage, then the living room had to be through here. Kassandra headed over to the workbench. The nightingale flew down to perch on one corner. It cocked its head and watched as she snagged a hammer off its peg.

“It won’t work.” Dad came up by her side. “I’ve tried every way to escape this place.”

“Well, it can’t hurt.”

Back at the door, she swung the hammer into the drywall. White dust exploded, coating her jeans. Kassandra yanked the hammer out and swung again. It excavated a chunk of drywall.

“You have to stop.”

“And leave you here?” She wiped at her lips, now slick with sweat. “Nuh uh.”

The next swing made a soft shunk sound as the hammer entered the drywall. Kassandra pulled it out and switched to the clawed end. She hacked in, gouging out massive chunks of the powdery stuff.  Sweat slid down her face. There has to be a way to punch through this.

With each successive blow, the clawed end dove deeper. But the drywall kept going. This stuff was supposed to be only a few inches thick, at most. It was ridiculous. Kassandra stepped back and examined the results—a white pit deep enough to stick her head in. 

“What’s wrong? Why can’t I get through?” She leaned over, lungs working to catch up with her muscles.

“There’s nowhere to go.”

“There has to be.” 

Kassandra stood up, readying herself for another blow. Dad kicked the door shut.

“What the heck are you doing?” 

He grabbed the handle and opened the door again. 

An involuntary shiver scampered along her skin. The hole was gone. Instead there stood the same solid white drywall. White powder speckled the concrete, the only evidence of her work.

She leaned against the wall, letting the hammer droop. “But there has to be a way out. There just has to.”

Dad shook his head. “This is death. There is no escape.”

Teeny Haunts: The Crows

I have always been attracted to birds, crows especially. Many of them flock around my house and in the mornings, I can see the crows “commenting” on the kids trudging to school. It’s like they are a bunch of gossiping people.

I am always polite to crows. I read about a study where scientists donned face masks (the plastic Halloween type) and one scientist was mean to the birds while the other was neutral. Well the crows didn’t the like mean one much, dive-bombing him constantly.

Here’s the catch. The scientists came back every year or so with the masks. Thirty years later, the crows still didn’t like the “mean-naked” figure. Despite the fact that the original crows who experienced this were long gone. So the crows have taught their children to recognize and attack people they don’t like.

Message: be nice to crows.

Happy haunting.

Tim Kane

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.”