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.
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?”
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.”
“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.”