Kassandra Visits the Death Card One Final Time

Chapter 49

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.

“We need another fork.” Gabriel arranged the silverware on the table. He was dressed in one of Kassandra’s oversized T-shirts and a pair of Mom’s jeans. They didn’t have any real clothes for him—not in a house of girls.

“Got it.” Kassandra hustled into the kitchen.

The scent of cactus gumbo filled the room. Auntie Jo stirred the pot on the stove.

“You sure it’s going to taste good?” Kassandra frowned as she peered at the brown sauce.

“Trust me child, your stomach won’t be large enough.”

“I’ll take that on faith.” Kassandra took the fork back to the dinner table, placing it at the fourth setting.

Mom swept in, munching on a carrot while typing one-handed on the phone. Maybe texting Comb Over.

Kassandra didn’t know and didn’t care. “We’re eating in fifteen. No phones allowed.”

Mom flashed a look and then retreated to the counter to finish the text message. Kassandra shrugged. As long as Mom stowed the phone before dinner.

“Gabe, come over here.” Auntie Jo backed away from the stove. “I’m in need of some of those muscles.” He headed into the kitchen to help wrestle the massive pot off the burners.

With everyone occupied, Kassandra slipped down the hall, sneakers padding softly on the carpet. She shut the door and plopped on the bed. The Tarot deck only barely fit in the front jean pocket, but she managed to wriggle it out. The same card sat at the top—Fortitude.

“Where did you go?” Kassandra stroked the empty space next to the lion.

Maybe Lindsay had escaped and was wandering the deck. At least Kassandra hoped so. The alternative was a lot more bloody. She wanted to examine every card, to spot Lindsay in one of them, but there wasn’t enough time right now.

The next card lay face down for a reason. Kassandra took a quick peek. Luke was dressed in the red monkey suit, stuck in his stained glass castle. His illustration somehow looked sullen. She flipped him back over. There was nothing he could say worth listening to.

The third card was Death, still showing Dad’s face at the bottom. “I may not be able to bring you back, but at least I can visit.”

Kassandra closed her eyes and summoned up an image the garage. She wanted to focus on something positive, like all those times Dad worked with the table saw or just puttered around. But that wouldn’t be enough. Instead, she focused on the ladder tipped on its side. The yellow rope stretched taut. His feet above the concrete, the laces of one shoe dangling. There was a twinge at her gut. Then a flutter, like wings beating. The air grew colder. Kassandra felt something mash her chest flat. A spike of pain jabbed at her with each breath.

Then, all at once, the pressure vanished. She was back. The nightingale flapped over to the workbench. Dad stood at the open garage door, staring out at the grassy meadow. Sunlight streamed in, coloring the concrete floor golden.

“Dad?”

He turned and smiled. She ran over and hugged him.

“I waited for you.” Dad gave a final squeeze before letting go. He glanced over a the meadow. “It’s time.”

“No.” Kassandra grabbed his arm, but he shook his head.

“I need to do this.” He gripped the side of her face, one calloused finger rubbing her cheek. “As long as I’m stuck here, you will be too.”

“I risked too much to get you back. Can’t you just enjoy that we’re together?”

“I am.” He wiped a tear from Kassandra’s face. “I made the choice to leave you and Louise. Now I have to see it through.”

The tears gushed down Kassandra’s face. She seized his hand, squeezing hard enough to crush bone. “This isn’t fair.”

“I love you.” Dad somehow managed to pull free. Or maybe Kassandra had let go. She couldn’t tell.

He stepped into the meadow and a burst of warm air washed into the garage. The wind picked up, sending dried leaves spiraling into the air.

Kassandra edged closer, yearning to rush after him.

Part of Dad’s shirt peeled away, transforming into a leaf and fluttering into the meadow. Gradually the color of his skin darkened, turning brown and brittle. Then piece by piece, he was blown away, his body splitting into hundreds of leaves, until only a small brown bird remained.

“Don’t fly away. I still need you.”

The horizon darkened, stained by a massive flock. Their squawks and chirps emanated from across the meadow. Dad’s nightingale hovered for a moment, looking back. Kassandra reached out with one hand, her fingers quivering.

“I won’t ever forget you.”

The bird darted away, flying toward the flock.

Kassandra stood at the edge of the grass, her breath raspy and uneven. Dad’s nightingale shrunk to a black speck among the thousands of other birds.

Finally, she marched to the workbench. The box of razors sat in the same spot as always. Kassandra snatched them up and returned to the meadow. The box felt so small now, like a kid’s toy. She hurled it in. The box flew a long arc and then disappeared in the tall grass.

“Goodbye.”

Kassandra backed up and pressed the button. The garage door shuddered, squealing as it lowered. She kept watching until the last of the sunlight vanished and the door thumped into the concrete. Only her own nightingale remained, staring from the workbench.

The Plague Infects the Tarot Cards

Chapter 39

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 stood on the grass, the scent of oranges and cloves strong in the air. Kassandra stared at him. Somehow he entered the cards. Came to get her.

“Prithee, kind lady. Might I have back my ball?” She gave the barest of nods and he scooped the leather ball from her hand. “Thank ye.”

He swiveled and slipped into the crowd. Kassandra blinked. What just happened? Luke was dressed like everyone else, wearing a red outfit with oversized puffy sleeves. A wicker basket, strapped to his belt, contained assorted orange peels and various herbs—the source of the orangey smell. This wasn’t the Luke she knew. He’d been time warped six-hundred years.

She hopped up and followed. People in the crowd glared at her jeans and Converse sneakers. Kassandra avoided eye contact, glancing down at her shadow. By now the sun had risen enough to shine over the wagons.

She located Luke standing on a stump, juggling the balls. A teen girl sat in the grass at his feet with long dark hair, braided at the back—Ezabell. Kassandra recognized the girl from the mirrors in the Hanged Man card. Luke bounced one of the balls off Ezabell’s head. She smiled and plucked them out of the grass. 

The nightingale swooped by, landing on the roof of one of the wagons, which had one side folded down to make a stage. Kassandra scanned the rest of the circle. All the carts were like this one, with movable platforms. One stage showed a man dressed in a skeleton outfit wielding a scythe while another depicted someone in a lion costume clawing at a girl who hammed it up. Each wagon represented a Major Arcana card from the Tarot deck. She inspected them more closely, searching for The Magician. Maybe she could use the wagon as a way to enter the card. 

Someone in the crowd knocked into her shoulder. “Pray pardon.” It was Gabriel, but now he bustled away in the crowd.

“Gabriel!” She caught up to him.

He turned, but bunched his eyebrows together in annoyance. “I did say pardon. Now let me pass.” He gave a little bow and then slunk off.

He didn’t know who she was. Kassandra glanced back at Luke, who giggled while deliberately sending the balls flying all over. No one was the same here. Sweat beaded along her forehead. She wiped it away and noticed the sun directly overhead. How could it be noon already? It was morning only a little while ago. 

Kassandra hurried after Gabriel, who stopped by a cart where the stage had been folded up. Leaning against one of the wheels, he took out a small leather book and sliver of charcoal and started to sketch.

She tried to see what he was looking at, but couldn’t make it out through the mass of people. Finally she hopped up and caught a glimpse of the juggling balls looping above people’s heads. He was spying on Luke and Ezabell.

As Gabriel whipped the charcoal around on the paper, the shadows inched across the grass by his feet. The sun was already slipping into late afternoon. Kassandra wished she had her watch from her purse. It seemed like an entire day might last less than an hour.

Gabriel snapped the book shut and walked off, a scowl twisting along his mouth. After he passed by, Kassandra stepped forward and glanced at the tree stump. Luke held Ezabell’s face and the two kissed. 

The sky shifted colors, filling with oranges, and violets. People raised the stages and latched them to the sides of the wagons. The cooking fire at the center of the ring glowed brighter in the dim light of dusk. A scream cut through the night air as an older woman fainted to the grass. A young girl knelt down, pressing her head against the woman’s chest and weeping.

Kassandra walked toward them, but a hand gripped her shoulder. She turned to see a man’s face drained of color. Blood leaked from his nose and mouth and a thick purple boil protruded from his neck. She struggled backward but the man’s grip was tight. He tried to say something, but only a dry cough came out. His fingers squeezed her shoulder before he crumpled to the ground.

Kassandra shuffled back, putting distance between her and the man. He clutched at his stomach and coughed, spattering the grass with blood. She scooted away as a cold sweat slicked her skin. All across the clearing, more people collapsed. One boy coughed hard enough to vomit. Those not affected were wailing and sobbing.

Gabriel and Luke crouched next to Ezabell, who had collapsed on the grass. Tears streamed down their faces. Luke held Ezabell’s head up, stroking one cheek, but the skin was chalk white. This was just like the scene Kassandra had seen in the mirror, a memory. All of it happened before.

With the sun gone, only twinkling stars and the cook’s fire gave any illumination. The temperature dipped and goosebumps erupted on her arms and legs. Even her teeth chattered. She wrapped her arms around herself. 

Kassandra stepped around the bodies, now littering the ground. Some squirmed in pain, while others lay eerily still. All had bulging purple boils on their necks and armpits, signs of the Black Plague. The one she’d always read about in books. But why was everyone getting sick at the same time? She glanced up and saw the Rykell brothers still tending to Ezabell. They weren’t affected?

Kassandra maneuvered around a person in the grass, but paused. She knew him. It was the old man who’d cooked her sausages. He stared up at the stars, tongue hanging out. She knelt down, reaching forward to shut the man’s eyes. She hesitated, noticing the blood leaking from his nose and mouth. Touching him might infect her too.

Kassandra edged away as something squirmed in her gut. She bent over and hacked up a long gob of saliva. A jackhammer throbbing took up residence in her brain. She was overreacting to the sick people. That was all. Kassandra looked around. No one moved. Everyone lay silent. 

“It should have been you.” Luke clutched Ezabell to his chest. He glared at his brother. “Why do you live?”

Luke glanced across the circle of wagons, distracted by something. Kassandra turned to follow his gaze and saw a man in a black cloak. He stood amid the bodies, unaffected by the sickness, his face hidden under a wide-brimmed hat.

A shudder passed through Kassandra and she slumped to the grass. Her skin shivered as if doused in ice water. She’d caught it. The Plague (or whatever it was) had found her too. She coughed again and this time dark blood spattered the ground. The sight of it only made her want to hurl again.

Luke walked directly in front of her, his shoes swishing the grass. At the far end of the circle, the mystery man lifted his hat and the firelight caught his face. Bristly white eyebrows exploded along his brow. Wrinkles crisscrossed the skin like a roadmap. Kassandra looked down and instead of feet, the man sported hooves. It was Donald Cloots, the creep from the room of mirrors.

He turned when Luke reached him and they both walked out of the circle together, disappearing into the night. Kassandra tried to swing back to look at Gabriel, but something felt weird about her neck. She searched along the skin and discovered one of those boils, like a gigantic pimple. But that couldn’t happen. Not to her. The Black Plague was something from her history book. 

Kassandra hunched over on all fours, panting. She was infected. What was going to happen to her?

The sky lightened to a pale blue, shaking off the stars. Someone moved off to the right. Kassandra managed a glance and saw the old man standing up. He wiped the blood off his face with the back of a hand and then shuffled toward the fire. 

Other people stirred. Each one seemed fine now. The color returning to their faces. All signs of those purple boils had vanished. Even their clothes appeared clean and new again. Everything was backtracking to when she arrived.

Then why did Kassandra still feel like crap? Bile inched up her throat. She held it back, dreading to see what might come up.

People unlatched the stages from the carts and folded them down. Everyone seemed wide wake, but Kassandra felt drowsy. If she could curl up and sleep, then everything would be great.

No. Lying down meant death. Kassandra pushed herself up. Her arms shook, but held. She needed to find a way out of this place. People bustled all around, blocking any view of the wagons. All she saw were legs. The smell of roasting sausages almost made her retch. The taste of grease from her previous meal was still strong. Her stomach did a somersault. 

The nightingale landed on the grass only inches away and hopped toward the right. Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra turned that direction and spotted a wooden pole jammed into the ground. She reached over, muscles searing with fire, and grabbed it. The bird chirped, hopping around. She pulled herself up, inch by inch, body quivering under the strain until another clench seized her gut. Now she was high enough to see the stages. One performer dangled on the edge of a platform, wearing a feathered hat and whirling a long staff. Maybe this was The Magician. She coughed, speckling her sleeve with red. 

The old man tending the fire glared at her, his lips curling into a scowl. “The witch has it.” He poked a gnarled finger toward Kassandra. “She has the plague.” People turned to stare.

Kassandra took one step away and everything spun. The thudding in her head felt like firecrackers going off. The crowd pulled back, creating a space. The wagon lay just ahead. She staggered forward and nearly tripped, finally smacking into one of the wheels.

The world blurred and Kassandra blinked, forcing her eyes to work. Applause erupted as the performer with the feathered hat seemed to float in midair. She couldn’t be seeing that right.

The man took one step off the stage and hovered a moment before swinging back onto the platform. He had to be keeping his balance somehow. But with the way her brain was working, it really did look like magic. 

She stumbled over to a set of stairs leading up to the stage.

Twah-twah-twah-too-weet. Her nightingale wouldn’t shut up. It kept chattering and chirping nonstop.

She concentrated on moving, one hand in front of the other, and crawled onto the platform. The people stopped laughing and applauding. Even the guy in the feathered hat leapt off and backed away. Kassandra coughed again, and this time pain jabbed her gut, like something ripped open. Each breath hacked up more blood and saliva. 

This was it. She was going to die.

Blue curtains hid the rear of the wagon. Kassandra reached for them, but then noticed the skin on her fingers had turned black. Needles stabbed the joints, but she forced her hand to grip the fabric. Almost there. 

The nightingale fluttered onto the stage. It hopped up and down, chirping and making a fuss. She jerked the curtain to the side and crawled into the dark beyond.

The bird pecked at Kassandra’s hand. She tried to shoo it away and caught sight of Luke Rykell. He was juggling again, but not at the stump. This time he stood on the platform of the cart next to this one. 

A cold shiver slid through her bones as she remembered Auntie Jo’s words. The original name for The Magician card was the juggler.

Kassandra had picked the wrong wagon.

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.”