Gabriel Succumbed to the Sin of Vanity

Chapter 34

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.

Gabriel’s mouth tightened into a straight line as he touched his wounded cheek.

“Help me stop Luke.” Kassandra looked him straight in the eye. “Can you do that?”

“I want to help you.” He looked toward one of the mirrors, body slumping under the pressure of those images.

She grabbed his face. “Focus on me. Ignore the mirrors. They’ll show you everything you’ve done wrong.” Kassandra leaned close, pressing their foreheads against each other. “Close your eyes. Shut it all out.”

Gabriel did what she said. Except now he was back to square one—surrounded by these horrible mirrors and trapped in the middle. The room was still in control.

“Think. The mirrors only show your mistakes.” Kassandra glanced at the reflections. “What’s something you did right?”

“I can think of nothing.”

“No, I won’t accept that.” She scanned the room, settling on the easel. “Listen, you said you only drew the cards, right? Luke was the one who did the nasty part. He filled them with people’s souls, not you.”

Gabriel nodded.

“So what did you really do wrong?”

“Vanity. That was my bargin with Donald Cloots.”

She glanced at the mirror holding Mr. Creeps, still draped with the black cloth. Her skin prickled. Could he see her through the sheet? 

“I wanted my work to live forever. Now it is my curse.”

“Yes, but we have a chance to stop it. To stop Luke. Isn’t it worth trying?”

Gabriel opened his eyes and looked straight at Kassandra. “Pain and misery have surrounded me for these many years. Yet you…” He ran his fingers along her cheek. “You are filled with so much hope.”

Kassandra looked down. Of all the ways to describe her, hope would never be the word she used.

“Perhaps, I can atone for my misdeeds a little by helping you.” He leaned closer and she picked up the musky wood scent again. “Thank you.”

Kassandra smiled. Not something she’d done a lot of lately. 

“You say Luke has all the cards?” Gabriel flexed his right arm, testing it. 

“Except The Magician.”

“And you hid it?”

“Yeah, more or less.” Kassandra could picture the card wedged behind Mom’s phone.

“If we hope to defeat Luke, we must travel to his card to discover his secrets.” Gabriel picked up a sliver of mirror from the ground. He pulled off a shirt button and used the mirror to slice the thread. 

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet.

The nightingale chirped from its perch on one of the candelabras. The bird had done the same thing when she was gathering the supplies on the workbench. It acted like the world’s smallest cheerleader.

“We shall need a portal for our escape.” Gabriel set the mirror and button on the ground and used the rope from his ankles to create a thick knot. Then he spat into his hand. 

Kassandra made a face. He wasn’t going to make her shake his hand, was he? Some sort of friendship bond?

“Bring the mirror, the rope, and the button.” Gabriel scooted to a clear section of marble floor and squatted down. She gathered the items and brought them over. 

“Are you going to make one of those door things?” 

“Yes. The portal opens a passageway between cards.”

He dipped a finger in his hand, and then drew a watery spit line on the floor. After the first line, Gabriel had to spit again for more liquid.

“Okay, I get that the mirror represents swords and the button is coins.” Kassandra knelt down on the floor. “I’m guessing you knotted the rope to make it like a club for the wands suit. But how does spit equal a cup?”

“I cup my hand to hold it.” He dipped his finger again and completed the rectangle drawn on the floor. “In addition, each suit relates to one of the four elements. Water is the element for cups, air for swords, earth for coins, and fire for wands.”

Kassandra flashed back to the items the bird set out on the workbench. The match looked sort of wand-shaped. But it could also light on fire. Maybe it was the fire part that really made it represent the wand suit. 

The nightingale fluttered down and landed next to the rectangle.

“Each card is hitched to another in a series, like a caravan of wagons.” Gabriel waved in the direction of the mirrors. “You can see them there.”

Scanning the mirrors, Kassandra found the one with Ezabell. Behind her ran a line of covered wagons, strung together like a train.

Gabriel’s fingers brushed hers as he took the knotted rope, placing it in the upper right-hand corner of the rectangle. “We must reach Luke’s castle in The Magician card, yet ten cards stand between us and our goal.” He placed the mirror shard and button on opposite corners. “The Wheel of Fortune might prove useful to alter our course.”

“That’s Auntie Jo’s card. Luke used the card on her. Is she’s trapped in there?”

“Most likely, but…”

“We need to save her.”

Gabriel paused, thinking a moment. “You cannot rescue your aunt from inside the Tarot deck.”

“Now wait a minute, I cut you down. Why can’t I do the same for Auntie Jo?”

“If I glance away from the floor at those mirrors, I will become lost again in a world of my sins.” He glanced up at her once. “Your aunt will be overwhelmed by the illusion of the Tarot deck. She will not leave except by force.”

“Then I’ll force her.”

Gabriel gave a half smile.

So what if he thought Kassandra was nuts. She wasn’t about to give up on Auntie Jo. Not if there was even the slightest chance of saving her.

“So how come Luke said you betrayed him? It seems like you were both screwed by this Cloots guy.”

“I did betray my brother, though it was only to save his soul.” Gabriel rubbed his elbow where an old scar ran along the skin. “Once I learned of how he empowered each card, I refused to draw the last illustration, the Tower. Without a complete deck, there could be no deal with Cloots, and therefore no chance to save Ezabell.”

Kassandra looked at the mirror where Luke held the scraps of paper showing the creepy tower. He screamed, shaking the torn illustrations. She’d never seen him so angry.

“Luke would often visit here.” Gabriel pointed to the knocked over easel. “He made me illustrate Ezabell.”

“Why would you do anything for him?”

“So I could see her again. Not in death, but how she was in life. Luke would cover the mirrors and I drew from memory.” Gabriel took a long breath, letting it out slowly. “It was a serene moment in a sea of tumult.”

Kassandra glanced at the rectangle. Only three corners held items: the button, the knotted rope, and the mirror. “Wait. Isn’t there something missing?”

“I am the last symbol.” He cupped his hand again and rested it on the lower right corner. The floor rumbled. Then the marble inside the rectangle crumbled and fell away to darkness. 

Kassandra trembled. Going into the blackness last time felt like swimming through tar.

“First we must traverse the card of Fortitude.” Gabriel stood slowly, teetering a little. “Be wary of what you see. Although I designed each card, I have never been inside any but this one. I do not know what we shall encounter.”

Kassandra strained to remember the illustration from Fortitude. It was the card Lindsay had taken in the hall at school. And the one Luke used against her. Did people end up being trapped by the cards they chose? Auntie Jo said the Wheel of Fortune was her card.

Kassandra stared at the black rectangle in front of her. There was a lion loose in there. But also Lindsay. She swallowed. Which one scared her more? 

Gabriel Wallows in Misery

Chapter 33

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!” This time it was Gabriel’s voice, but he sounded so distant, like shouting down a long tunnel.

She staggered back, turning away from the mirror. Her skin felt feverish and clammy. 

“Cover up the mirror.” Gabriel pointed to the fallen easel where a black cloth lay in a heap.

Kassandra staggered over and bundled up the fabric, the smell of rotting milk was everywhere. Something clenched inside. She was going to hurl. Staring only at the floor, Kassandra calmed her breathing until gradually her stomach muscles relaxed. Inch by inch, she moved closer to the mirror.

“I was there.” A whisper in her ear. Mr. Creepy was talking to her. “I saw the noose tighten around Daddy’s neck.”

She gagged, spiting up a thin line of drool. 

“I live inside your blood.” Hot rancid breath on her face. Even staring at the floor, she couldn’t avoid it. “With every cut, I bubble to the surface.”

“Kassandra.” Gabriel’s voice was clam and cut through everything. “Cover it up.”

She squeezed the fabric. Then a throbbing started in both arms. The tiny white scars seemed to pulse like a heartbeat.

“Do it now!” Gabriel shouted.

“Only Mommy is left.” The sour air slithered along her skin like a reptilian tongue. “I shall guide Luke to her.”

“No.” Kassandra hauled the black cloth up, hooking it over the mirror. Then she collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. The foul stink vanished and she sucked in clean air.

“Who…was… that?”

“Donald Cloots. He is a true devil.”

“You mean like The Devil? As in from Hell?”

“Not the master of the realm, but one of its servants. When we met him, he was but a shade, a hint of his true form. We built the Tarot deck to give him power in the form of souls.”

“So when the Tower falls, does he get out?”

Gabriel nodded. “Yes, he intends to break free of the Tarot deck.” 

Kassandra shivered. If that creep escaped, the world would be done for. She lifted the bottom of the cloth only a little to reveal the cracked section of the mirror. One kick and shards scattered along the floor. Leaning down, Kassandra chose a large triangular sliver, but then caught sight of Mr. Creep’s feet. There was something odd about his shoes. Too short. Her pulse kicked up a notch. Those weren’t shoes. They were hooves. The dirt he stood on steamed, as if his feet scalded the ground. 

She dropped the flap of cloth, hiding Mr. Creeps, and gingerly picked up the shard of glass. Then Kassandra hightailed it back to Gabriel. Standing on tiptoes, she reached the rope securing his ankle. Several gouges marred the thick fiber as if someone had tried to tear at it. Kassandra pressed the glass shard down and began slicing.

“So why is the Donald guy here? I mean, I get the other mirrors. They’re your memories. But he seems different.”

“Donald Cloots is not a memory. He lives within the cards. His will drives the Tarot.”

Kassandra thought back to the accident in front of the bus. Then Lindsay’s dissolving clothes. Each time she used one of the cards, Cloots decided the outcome. Even Luke had said the cards needed to be tricked.

“Donald Cloots came to my brother and I the night Ezabell died. The plague took everyone but us. Only God knows why we survived.” Gabriel’s face scrunched up in pain, tears clinging to the corners of his eyes.

“You cared for her, didn’t you?” She paused cutting the rope. “That’s why she’s in the mirror. A mistake you wanted to undo.” 

“Ezabell is so close. I yearn to touch her once more.” Gabriel closed his eyes, turning his head in the direction of Ezabell. The girl in the mirror fell again, a rerun of the dying scene. Gabriel sobbed. Even without seeing it, the image of her death took control.

Kassandra had to make him think of something else. “So what did this Donald guy offer to make you create the Tarot deck?”

Gabriel blinked, tears still in his eyes. “To each of us he would grant our heart’s desire.”

Kassandra stopped sawing the rope. Her heart’s desire. If that were a wish, she’d have no trouble choosing. But, how far was Kassandra willing to go to get Dad back?

“Luke desired nothing more than to bring back his Ezabell. He believed she might return from death’s firm grip. Yet it is a devil’s promise.”

The rope snapped. She jumped back, but Gabriel didn’t drop. His body twirled under the now slender rope.

“This is going to be a nasty fall.” 

“Hand me the shard.” He held out a hand.

Kassandra passed it over. Gabriel bent at the waist, pulling himself up, and used the shard to saw at the remaining rope. After a moment he straightened to catch his breath. Gabriel huffed in and out several times, building up for another attempt. He surged forward, hacking at the rope as if holding an axe. Blood trickled from his cut hand.

Kassandra glanced away. It was stupid. She, of all people, should be used to looking at blood. 

Gabriel’s shoes clunked on the floor, sending the nightingale darting into the air. He stood, but wobbled as if suddenly seasick.

“You all right?” 

Gabriel leaned forward and Kassandra grabbed him. He had a musky scent, like some kind of wet wood. “The blood rushes away from my head.” Gabriel held the bleeding hand over his eyes and then swayed again, finally slumping to the ground.

“I am sorry. My legs cannot hold me yet.”

“Let’s take care of your hand first.”

Kassandra reached for the shard of glass, now broken into smaller pieces on the floor. Her fingers trembled—remembering the razor. She shut the memories out. No time for that now. Kassandra picked it up and jabbed the glass through her shirt, ripping off a strip of fabric. 

“Let me see your hand.” Gabriel’s palm was covered with rough callouses. It reminded her of Dad’s hands. She laid the strip of cloth over the gash. The fabric soaked up the blood, instantly red. She wasn’t sure how to do this. In the movies, it always looked so easy. Kassandra wrapped the strip a couple of times around, but then stared at the dangling end. What to do with it? She settled on pulling it tight and tucking the loose fabric into the wrap. It was the best nurse Kassandra could do.

“There, done.” 

Gabriel wasn’t looking. His gaze zeroed in on a mirror showing a version of him bent over a small wooden desk with a bottle of ink, scribbling something with a quill pen. The reflected Gabriel backed away to examine the work, revealing a line sketch of a rope stretching down from a wooden beam. The Hanged Man. So Gabriel drew the card he’d been stuck in all these years. It was like he built his own prison. No wonder he couldn’t look away. 

Kassandra grabbed his shoulder and gave it a little shake. “Gabriel.”

“I created all of this.” His trembling hands reached up to cover his eyes. “I am responsible.”

“You must go on. I am tied to this room and can never leave.”

Kassandra slapped Gabriel across the face. 

The Cracked Mirror Shows The Devil

Chapter 32

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 stood in a circular room ringed by even more mirrors. The one right behind showed the reflected door, but it was swinging shut. The nightingale flittered through just before it closed.

The rest of the mirrors displayed scenes like the ones in the hall, but Kassandra didn’t recognize any of them. One showed a series of wagons hitched together in a grass field. They looked old fashioned as if straight from the pioneer days. People milled about, but they were all dressed in bizarre clothes, like rejects from a Renaissance fair. Then a young girl collapsed onto the grass in the foreground, face ashen as blood dribbled out her mouth. 

Kassandra glanced at the man hanging upside down. His eyes were squeezed shut. Mirrors ran all around the room, but he didn’t look at a single one. The mirrors only reflected events from the past. Hurtful things best forgotten.

Cracks ran through the base of a mirror on the far side of the room, almost as if someone had kicked it. The only thing visible was an old man wearing more of those medieval clothes. White bushy eyebrows exploded from his face, almost obscuring the squinty eyes. He had a squished up mouth old people got when they lost all their teeth. 

Kassandra glanced at another mirror and Luke Rykell stared back. Raw panic bubbled up her throat. She stumbled backward, attempting to escape. One shoulder struck an easel propped against the wall and it clattered to the ground. 

“Are you real or imagined?” That wasn’t Luke speaking.

Kassandra twirled and saw Gabriel had opened his eyes. A glance back at the mirror showed Luke yelling. At least it looked like he was. There was no sound. Instead he held up some scraps of paper, crumpling them in his fist. 

Luke wasn’t really here. Only another reflection of the past.

She turned to Gabriel, not sure how to start. “Uh hi. I’m Kassandra.”

The nightingale fluttered to the slick marble, pecking at the floor. He eyed it suspiciously. “The bird. Where did it come from?”

Kassandra shrugged. “Just along for the ride, I guess.”

“No.” Gabriel shook his head. “It is part of you. Protect it.”

A twinge flitted through her chest. This guy was a little on the wacky side. “Sure, I will.” She scanned the mirrors. Every one showed a different scene, but there was no way out of this room except the mirror door she’d come through.

“Look, I’m kind of stuck here.” Kassandra glanced up at the rope. “Not as bad as you are though.”

“I see you have endured your own torture,” he said eyeing the scars along her arms. 

The gloves. Kassandra had ditched them in the hallway. She thrust her arms behind her back. “You’re Gabriel Rykell, right?”

“You know my name? Are you some conjurment sent by my brother to torment me?” He waved a hand at the mirrors, yet refused to look at them. “I have enough here to make my soul weep for centuries.”

“Look, I don’t know what your deal is. All I want is a way to stop Luke.”

“Cut my bonds and I shall help you,” Gabriel said, staring back. The image was strange because he was upside down, causing his long hair to dangle nearly to the floor. 

“Yeah right? Cut loose some crazy dangling guy?” She hooked a blonde curl behind her ear. “How do I know I can trust you? I mean you did betray your brother, right? It’s how you ended up in this place.” 

Gabriel looked at the ceiling where the rope attached to a metal ring. “This is my prison.”

“Yeah, I kind of figured that part.”

“I am condemned to be surrounded by my sins for eternity.” Tears ran along his forehead, trickling down his hair. 

“Look, I get it. The mirrors show all your mistakes. But crying isn’t going to solve anything.” Why was she being such a bitch? She couldn’t stand being in the hall of mirrors for five minutes. What would it be like to stay there for years? 

“I need your help, okay. Luke’s got…” Kassandra glanced away. “He has all the cards except for The Magician. He plans to fill them up and then do something with the Tower.”

“The Tower.” Gabriel blinked away the tears. “There is no hope. We shall all die.”

“Whoa. Wait a minute there Mr. Emo. What do you mean die?”

He sighed. “My soul was locked in here to give this card power. Luke must capture more souls, one for each card of the Major Arcana.” 

A shiver passes through her. There were souls stuck in here? 

Gabriel rotated slightly as he spoke. “Once every card is filled, the Tower will fall.”

“And…?” Kassandra was sick of all these people assuming she knew the first thing about the Tarot. 

“The Tower is ruination. The deck shall be destroyed and all the souls along with it.”

“Why would he want that?”

“It was Luke’s end of the bargain. Should he fill the cards with souls, he would get Ezabell back. You can view her there.” Gabriel pointed toward one of the mirrors, but refused to look himself. 

Kassandra turned toward the mirror showing the young girl lying on the grass. Blood ran from the nose and mouth, matting her long black hair. The girl was still alive, but gasping.

“How did she die?”

“The plague.” Another tear wound along his forehead toward the ground.

Kassandra chewed on a fingernail. Watching the girl die, over and over, would do a real number to anybody.

“I’m going to cut you down.” She looked around for something to sever the rope.

“Thank you.”

“Save it. Just…how do I get out of here.”

“The Tarot deck serves as a prison of the most fiendish design. Each card gains power by locking up a soul. This place, the mirrors, they have grown strong because of my continual presence.”

“There has to be a way to escape.” Kassandra examined the easel. A bottle of ink lay on the floor along with several quill pens. None of those would cut rope. She scanned the room and the cracked mirror caught her eye. “I created a door out of the Death card that lead me here.”

“Yes, there is a path through the cards. While illustrating, I linked the deck using the suits.”

She knelt in front of the mirror. Several long shards looked good to use, but they needed to be knocked loose.

“Stay away from there!” Gabriel shot a hand out.

Instinctively she glanced up and locked eyes with Old Man Creepy. His eyebrows crawled along his forehead, twitching as if alive. A black tower loomed in the distance. Clouds flashed in the sky as a bolt of lightning struck the top, dislodging a stone. 

Mr. Creepy’s mouth widened into a smile filled with yellowed teeth. The scent of sour milk filled the air. Her gut squinched up. When he spoke, she could feel his hot breath.

“Welcome Kassandra Troy.”

Luke Rykell and the Cursed Tarot Deck

How can you trace the origin of evil? Sometimes it begins with good intentions or a desire to staunch a great sorrow. The Rykell Tarot cards began this way: with actions of love, death, and betrayal. The full story of how this single deck of Tarot cards managed to survive more than 600 years is mystery. Only islands of certainty exist.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

The earliest photo of the Rykell Tarot taken circa 1860.

We know that Luke John Rykell was born in England around 1400. He went on to become a tregetour, or a juggler and magician, for the royal court in London. John Lydgate, a monk and poet, wrote about Luke Rykell performing for Henry V. Lydgate spoke of Rykell’s keen ability at sleight of hand, earning him the honor of an audience with the king.

Maister John Rykell, sometime tregitour
Of noble Henry kinge of Englonde,
And of France the mighty conqueror;
For all the sleightes, and turnyng of thyne honde,
Thou must come nere this dance, I understonde;
Nought may avail all thy conclusions,
For Dethe shortly, nother on see nor land,
Is not desceyved by no illusions.To this summons the sorrowful juggler replies:–

Death was not deceived by Luke’s parlor tricks and made itself known through the Black plague. The disease whipped through Luke’s troop of performers, killing everyone except Luke and his brother. In the wake of this disaster, the cursed Tarot cards were born.

It is rumored that Luke Rykell, distraught over the death of his only love (an unnamed girl performer in his troop), struck a deal with the Devil.

Luke travelled to Scotland to a plot of land called Clootie’s Croft. This land was left untilled as a gift to the devil. There he agreed to create the Tarot cards with a spirit known as Donald Cloots. The spirit is trapped in the cards and feeds on the souls of the people who use the deck.

The first documented appearance of the cards doesn’t happen again until over 400 years later. Eleanore Bishop came across the cards while traveling in Europe. She brought the deck back to the Philadelphia.

The only photo that survives is one showing her standing next to a chair. The empty seat represents her husband, who vanished mysteriously.

IMG_0244

Rumors swirled around his disappearance. Some say he travelled south to fight in the Civil War and was killed in battle. However her husband, Eugene Bishop, was not a fighting man. At the age of sixty-two, the most he could offer the war effort was his bankroll.

Most people assumed that Eleanore disposed of her husband in order to gain access to his fortune. Although this seems plausible, it doesn’t explain why she gave nearly all her time and resources into a church run charity. Was it guilt over possible involvement in her husband’s death?

One detail that evades us is the photo itself. The fingerprints on the front show that someone held the picture a short time after it was taken. (The tintype photos used the wet process of collodion emulsion, which was sensitive to the touch.) Therefore, it must have been held by someone who witnessed the sitting for the photograph. These prints match those found at a crime scene in 1942, eighty years after the photo was taken.

Moreover, several other fingerprints, from the 1960s and 1980s, both match the original prints on the photograph. Could these all belong to the same person? Perhaps Luke Rykell has kept himself alive through the cursed tarot cards.

We do know that shortly after Eugene Bishop’s death, there is no further mention of the Tarot cards. On her death bed, in 1888, a witness remembered and wrote down Eleanore Bishop’s final words.

“My only crime came not from my soul, but the luck of the draw.”

Tim Kane