The Tarot Cards Choose a New Owner

Epilogue

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

The bus screeched to a stop at the curb and the doors hissed open. Kassandra and Gabriel climbed on board. He had real boy clothes now. Auntie Jo had driven them by the Retro and Gabriel found some things that fit. They weren’t stylish—money was still tight—but at least he wasn’t wearing Mom jeans anymore.

Kassandra had ditched the Tarot-bought clothes. All of them into the trash. She was forced to pick up a pair of used jeans along with Gabriel. They were worn at the knees, but not ripped yet.

Scooting down the aisle, Kassandra tugged Gabriel along. “Okay. We have to go over your cover story.”

“Am I supposed to be your cousin?”

“Ew, no. That was Auntie Jo’s idea.”

Book Girl sat in the usual spot, her legs wedged against the seat in front with a paperback balanced on top. She glanced up, eyeing Gabriel a little too long.

Kassandra continued heading toward the back of the bus. “I’m pulling the plug on the whole cousin thing. I mean, what if I turn out to like you later?”

He scrunched up his face in confusion.

“Kiss. It means what if we end up kissing.”

“Oh.” Gabriel looked a bit embarrassed. “Courtship between cousins was not entirely uncommon in my day.”

“Well, these days it’s disgusting.”

The bus lurched forward. Kassandra managed to half sit, half fall into the seat, but Gabriel wasn’t so lucky. He stumbled to one knee before making it onto the seat.

“Sorry, I should have warned you about Driver Lady.” She pulled out the battered crocheted bag, searching for a pen and some paper. Next to the other purse, this thing was a cavern. “Let’s get some notes down so we both know your story.”

Something squirmed past her fingers and launched into the air. Gabriel snatched the slip of paper before it fluttered away.

“I should never have made this for you.”

“I like it.” Kassandra took the paper back. It was a drawing he’d made of the nightingale. She’d cut around the edges of the pencil sketch so it could move its wings. Even stuck back in the purse, the paper wings flapped back and forth, trying to fly. “You’ll have a heck of a time in Science class. Maybe let me do the drawings for cellular mitosis.”

“Do you still have them?” Gabriel eyed her purse.

He was asking about the cards. The way he did every five seconds.

“Don’t be so paranoid. Where are they going to go?”

But when Kassandra reached into the purse, they weren’t there. She started pulling things out, searching for the cards. The bus braked, throwing her forward.

“Where are they?” She stood and searched the seat, even stuffing one hand down the foam rip. Nothing. “They can’t disappear. They just don’t do that.”

Some of the kids twisted around to see what was going on. Kassandra had one final idea. She pushed past Gabriel and leaned down, scanning the floor under the seats.

“Sit down back there,” Driver Lady hollered, putting the bus back in gear. Kassandra balanced by bracing against the seats. Backpacks littered the floor. There was a forest of legs. Even if the cards were down there somewhere, she couldn’t see anything. Gabriel yanked her back into the seat.

“They’re gone.” Kassandra stared blankly forward.

She should be relieved. She’d wanted rid of those things since day one. But what about Luke? If someone let him out, he’d come straight for her. Just like Carol, the Clerk Lady at the Psychic Mind. Then another idea slipped into Kassandra’s mind. The first day she’d found the cards. Carol seemed so shocked. Maybe they’d vanished from her pocket.

Kassandra turned to Gabriel. “The cards. They’ve chosen someone new.”

Margaret

Margaret hiked her legs up, squashing it against the seat in front. What were these seats stuffed with—wood? It was impossible to get comfortable on one of these. She propped the book on one knee. With any luck, Ms. Sammers wouldn’t ride the brake all the way to school.

Cracking open the paperback, Margaret dug in. The hero, Billy, was shoved in a boxcar with plenty of other prisoners of war. The place seemed filthy and cramped. It reminded her of the bus ride.

After only a page, she swayed forward as the bus stopped to pick up more passengers. Great, here came the new girl. It looked like she traded boyfriend number one for a new model. Margaret watched them pass, poking her glasses up her nose. The first guy was cuter, though this one wasn’t half bad.

She tried to steer her mind back to the book and the boxcar rumbling through Germany, but the new girl kept chattering. The girl was way too perky today. Margaret liked her better before—all mopey and quiet. The bus lurched forward, sending the new girl on her ass. It served her right. If she hadn’t learned about how Ms. Sammers drove by now, she was hopeless.

Margaret snugged down in the seat, creasing the book open, but her heart wasn’t in it. The new girl would make an easy scapegoat, but truthfully, it wasn’t only her. Everyone on this bus wore Margaret down. They all went on and on, believing every word they said was vitally important when all it really amounted to was jabbering. These people didn’t know the first thing about life and how to live it. Margaret cracked her knuckles. She’d so like to educate them.

The bus jerked forward again and her face nearly mashed into her knee. The book tumbled to the floor. Mrs. Sammers was riding the brake again.

Margaret groped between the seats, but one hand brushed a stack of cards. She did a quick glance of the bus passengers and then scooped them up along with the book. The cards were oversized, meant for meaty hands and not her slender fingers.

A commotion erupted from the back of the bus. Twisting around, she saw the new girl was having a hissy fit. Enough with the drama already.

Margaret flipped over the top card and saw a stone pillar towering above an ocean. A single rose sprouted from the center of the rock. She tapped the person-shaped empty space right in the middle.

“It’s like someone forgot to finish the picture.”

The bottom read The Fool. “Now who on the bus fits this description?” She giggled. “Take your pick. Most of these folks tread water in the shallow end of the pool.”

Margaret flipped through the rest of the cards. The Emperor, Judgment, The Tower. This was clearly a Tarot deck. But the illustrations looked different from any deck she’d seen before. They had more life to them. Why were some of the cards blank, like The Fool? Had the artist skipped out before the end?

She paused at an illustration of a man wearing the most ridiculous red suit. The bottom said he was The Magician, but the guy looked more like a clown. Margaret was about to move on when the figure shifted. She blinked. It wasn’t her imagination. He really moved. One minute he was staring at the table. The next, he looked at her.

“Why do you look so familiar?” She tilted the card. “This some kind of hologram?” The image didn’t change this time.

The bus lurched, the wheels klunking into a pothole. Ms. Sammers was aiming to hit them all this morning. Margaret glanced back at the card. The man looked at the table again. Maybe it was only her imagination.

Margaret flipped the card back onto the pile and slid the Tarot deck into her backpack. She might as well keep them. They could be good for a laugh. The image of the Fool card popped into her head and she grinned. The blank spot was so begging to be penciled in. And Margaret knew plenty of candidates.

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.

Auntie Jo Breaks Free of the Tarot

Chapter 48

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older. If you want to read from the beginning, click over to chapter 1.

A gust of wind swept through the open doorway, chilling Kassandra’s skin. She shivered, staring down at the cards piled neatly at her feet. Why hadn’t they scattered? Luke dropped them on the carpet. But there they sat in a tidy stack, ready to be plucked up and used again.

The damned things would come to her sooner or later, so did she really have to pick them up? Kassandra tightened her hands into fists. Auntie Jo was trapped in there. Lindsay too. And who knew how many other innocent people. Leaning down, Kassandra reluctantly scooped the cards up. They felt heavy as if weighted down by all the trapped souls.

“What’s going on?” Mom eyed the splintered wood clinging to the hinges. Gabriel ran up from behind. The door wobbled as she stepped on it, and Mom was forced to throw out arms for balance.

Kassandra clutched the cards and stood.

“Where’s Joanna?” Mom glanced around, looking for someone to blame.

Auntie Jo! Kassandra’s fingers flew through the cards. She didn’t want to examine them too closely and risk triggering a random one. The Wheel of Fortune was buried nearly at the bottom of the deck. A blindfolded angel stood in the sea, holding a massive golden wheel. Auntie Jo sat in a purple chair at the top.

“Are you listening to me?”

Kassandra shut her eyes, blocking Mom out. An image of Auntie Jo sprang to mind. Rain thrummed on the roof of the blue Beetle. Kassandra’s left arm lay bare, the scars plainly visible. Auntie Jo had flipped out because she blamed herself for Ronald’s death and saw Kassandra heading toward self destruction too.

A thought snuck in. What if the cards only triggered when Luke was around? She squelched the idea. Kassandra had released Luke from the deck. She could do the same for Auntie Jo.

“You need to start talking young lady!”

Kassandra peeked at the card. No change. The illustration was still there.

Gabriel tugged Mom back by the arm. “Let go.” Mom wriggled, but he wouldn’t give. “Who are you?”

Kassandra swiveled away from both of them and dredged up every memory of Auntie Jo. Roasting cactus pads in the kitchen. Wedging Amazon-sized hips into the tiny Beetle. The seeing eye apron and ankh necklace. Even those times Kassandra rolled her eyes when Auntie Jo claimed to be the reincarnation of Nefertiti. Something had to click.

A muffled thud came from the doorway. Kassandra looked at the card and her heart sank. Same illustration.

“Kassandra!” Mom stood directly behind her.

“What!” Kassandra spun around. “Can’t you see I’m trying to fix things?”

Mom’s expression shifted. She hadn’t expected shouting. “Who is that guy and what did he do to our door?”

Gabriel gripped his foot with one hand. Mom must have nailed him with a heel.

“I can’t explain right now.” Kassandra glanced down at the Wheel of Fortune. “Just give me a second to concentrate.”

“No, you’ll talk to me right now.” Mom aimed a finger. “You show up at Sam’s house. No explanation. Then run out into the streets.” She reached forward and gripped Kassandra’s wrist. “And what about these? Tell me what happened to you.”

“Really?” Kassandra yanked away. “Six months, and you didn’t see?” She whacked her arm, the skin beneath the scars reddened. “A real mom would have noticed.”

Mom’s hands quivered, forming and reforming fists—full out red-alert mode. Kassandra braced for another slap, but it didn’t come. Instead Mom glanced at the carpet. “Dad was the strong one. He held everything together. When he left…It all fell on me. Now I need to be the strong one.”

Kassandra shook her head. “I need you to be Mom. That’s all.”

Tears dribbled down Mom’s cheeks. Wetness filled Kassandra’s eyes too. She drew Mom into a hug. They both shook, squeezing each other.

“I’m listening.” Mom broke the hug and stepped back. “Whatever you have to tell me.”

Kassandra didn’t know where to start. Mom had never actually listened before. Kassandra glanced at the card. A blank spot appeared in the center the wheel. It worked. She’d triggered it without even thinking. Auntie Jo stood in the hall. Kassandra rushed forward and gripped her in a fierce bear hug.

“I heard you the whole time, calling me.” Auntie Jo pulled away, eyes distant and detached. “But I couldn’t say a thing.”

“Joanna, maybe you can tell me what’s going on here?”

Auntie Jo scanned the room, finally stopping at the front door.

Kassandra said the first thing that popped into her head. “Home invasion.” They both turned to look at her. “It was Luke. He wanted to rip us off.” Mom’s face twisted into an expression of utter confusion. Was she buying it? “Look what he did to our door.”

Kassandra jumped when Auntie Jo ran a finger along the scars. “We need to deal with this.”

Mom stepped forward. “Did you know this was going on, Joanna?”

Auntie Jo glanced down, not wanting to meet Mom’s gaze. “I was going to tell you.”

Kassandra marched over to the table and knocked over the teacups, locating the razor hidden underneath. As she returned, Auntie Jo’s gaze darted to the blade.

“Yes, I lied. This is the last of it. I don’t need it anymore.” Kassandra placed it in Auntie Jo’s hand.

“It’s not as simple as all that.”

“I know.” Kassandra looked at the Tarot deck. The nicks and scratches along the cards reminded her of the scars. She ran a hand over one arm, feeling the ridges. Memories leapt through her head. Facing the lion. The hall of mirrors. The paper doll girl. “I don’t want to be that person again.”

Auntie Jo touched the razor’s metal grip, flecked with rust.

“Don’t worry, I won’t end up like Ronald.”

Anger flashed in Auntie Jo’s eyes, but then she nodded. “Alright.” She curled her fingers around the razor and pocketed it.

Mom gripped Kassandra’s arm again, twisting it so the scars faced up. “Kassandra, I’m here now. Tell me. What made you do this?” Her voice was edged with genuine concern.

Fear seeped through Kassandra, cold and bitter. She stared into Mom’s eyes. “Dad did.” Her whole body tensed. “I did. I don’t know anymore.”

Mom drew Kassandra close. “There isn’t a second that goes by where I don’t think of him.”

“Really?”

“Listen, I know I don’t seem like the greatest of mothers some of the time.”

“All the time.”

Irritation flickered across Mom face.

Why did Kassandra say that? Mom was opening up. She didn’t need a snarky response.

Then Mom cracked a smile. “Yeah, the last couple of months haven’t been my best.”

“You threw everything away. Everything of Dad’s”

Tears collected along Mom’s eyes. “I couldn’t look at it anymore. Everything felt too much like Douglas.” She whisked one finger, brushing away the tears. “You know it hurts just to say his name.”

Kassandra nodded. “I know.”

“He loved us both so much.” Tears dribbled down Mom’s cheeks. More than she could wipe away. There was a real person inside there.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t cry.” Mom swept the tears away. “I need to stay strong.”

Kassandra pulled her into a hug. “No. It’s all right. We both miss Dad.” The two squeezed each other. Mom clenched Kassandra’s shirt and shuddered. Then gradually the crying subsided.

Mom pulled away, wiping her face clean. “Now, would someone mind telling me who he is?” She pointed at Gabriel.

He was dressed in one of those flouncy shirts and leggings, the type of clothes that went out of style with Columbus. Kassandra bit her lip. How could she explain Gabriel?

He stepped forward. “I am Luke’s brother. I was brought here to help.” Mom surveyed him, taking in the crazy attire.

Luckily Gabriel hadn’t mentioned being locked up for centuries. But what was going to happen to him? He didn’t have a clue about the world today. And there was no one alive who even knew who Gabriel was. Kassandra was it.

“Mom, he needs a place to stay.”

“Absolutely not.” Mom jabbed a finger at the door lying on the carpet. “Look at this place. How do we know he isn’t going to end up like his brother and rob us?”

At least Mom bought the home invasion story, though at this point Kassandra wished she’d thought of something better. “This isn’t your house.” Kassandra turned to Auntie Jo. “He deserves our help. You know what it’s like in there.”

Auntie Jo fingered the silver ankh. “Luke’s brother.”

Kassandra leaned close and whispered, “He helped me escape.”

“Do you trust him?”

Kassandra nodded.

Auntie Jo stood up straight, rubbing her chin. “Well, he’s not staying in Kassandra’s room.” A smile played at her lips.

“Joanna, you can’t be serious.”

“We can work something up in the garage. Meantime he can sleep on the couch.”

Kassandra rushed over and grabbed Gabriel’s hand. “You’re staying.”

“Joanna, is this a good idea?”

Auntie Jo shrugged. “I took you two in, didn’t I? I think we can handle one more stray.”

Mom tugged on her ponytail, inspecting Gabriel again. Then she slowly shook her head. “The clothes have to go.”

This was one of the few times Kassandra totally agreed with Mom.

Auntie Jo stepped into the center of the room. “Lord, this place is a mess. It’s going to take a whole lot of fixing to get things up and running again.” She grinned, turning toward the kitchen. “But we can’t do a thing on an empty stomach.”

Kassandra Accepts the Unthinkable

Chapter 47

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.

The Tarot cards sat on the table, so close Kassandra could reach out and snatch them. In a moment they’d zap back on their own. That was the plan. She stared at the pattern on the back. The ink was worn in places from hours of hands fidgeting over them. She needed to look away for this to work, but how could she stop thinking about the cursed things?

Luke focused all his attention on Gabriel. He wasn’t even turned toward the table anymore. Kassandra couldn’t wait any more. She reached for the deck, fingers grazing the edge of the top card. A hand slammed down.

One corner of Luke’s mouth shot up in a wicked grin. “Clever.” He scooped the deck off the table and fanned the cards out in one hand.

Gabriel lunged forward, but Luke brandished The Hanged Man card. “Care for a return visit, brother?”

Gabriel halted, his whole body slumping at the sight of that single card.

“That’s right. My brother is so predictable. When you dig deep enough, you’ll find a coward lurking inside.” Luke held out a hand. “My card please.”

Kassandra still clutched The Magician.

An engine revved outside as Mom pulled into the driveway. Luke glanced out the door, clicking the edges of the cards with one fingernail. “Where should I send Mommy?”

“No!” Kassandra shouted.

He snapped his fingers. “The card.”

She glanced outside and then at Gabriel. “Stop her.” He nodded and dashed out.

“He will only buy you time.”

Kassandra chewed her lip. He was right. Eventually Luke would get to Mom.

“You’ve run away from your destiny long enough.” He slid the Hanged Man back into the deck. “For years I’ve chased these cards. Never have I come so close. Don’t you see? You were meant to bring the deck to me.”

“No. That not true.” A tingle inched along Kassandra’s skin, spreading goosebumps.

“You yearn for one thing, yet never attain it.” He stepped forward and she picked up the scent of oranges. “What do you most desire?”

Dad.

Luke patted the deck. “He’s here. Waiting for you.”

Kassandra stroked The Magician card. What if Luke really could save Dad? Shouldn’t she let him help? Her body tensed. It felt like standing at the edge of a cliff, ready to dive off. With both hands, she held the card out toward Luke. The illustration showed an empty hole chiseled from the stained glass—the silhouette of a man ready to be filled.

Luke grasped the card and tugged, but her fingers wouldn’t release. Kassandra’s heartbeat rocketed. The card was empty.

Luke pulled, but she yanked the card back.

“Give it to me!” A scowl erupted on his face.

“No. I’m going to put you back where you belong.”

Kassandra scanned the table for the razor. It worked to free Gabriel. Maybe those memories could trigger this card.

Luke plucked one of the cups and dropped it over the razor, hiding it from view, chuckling. “Face the truth. You put me in there and you kill your last hope of ever bringing Daddy back.”

She ran a finger along the edge of the card, feeling the nicks and dents. Such a flimsy thing. It reminded her of the paper doll girl. The illustration of Ezabell had seemed so real at first. But the eyes were totally flat. Soulless. Kassandra pictured Dad’s face. How the skin around his eyes wrinkled when smiling. The smell of sawdust. That’s who he was. She needed Dad all the way back. Or not at all. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Let me help you.” Luke reached out a hand.

Kassandra’s eyes opened. Luke’s face was calm—no sneering grin or arched eyebrow. He truly believed. She shivered, the card shaking in her grip.

“You know I will bring him back to you.” Luke held out his hand as if to hold hers. “I promise you.”

She shook her head, hiccupping as the sobbing took control. “Dad is dead.” Kassandra squeezed The Magician card, warping the paper. “We had our time together.”

An image filled Kassandra’s mind—dinner at the old house in Seattle. Her, Mom, and Dad. Everyone laughing. She couldn’t even remember why. Dad took Mom’s hand and kissed it, and then turned toward Kassandra, winking.

She smiled. Tears streamed down her face and splattered on the card. The stained glass sparkled.

Luke’s body stiffened, legs segmenting into triangles and rectangles of glass. Each panel mimicked the color of his clothes. The process sounded like a windowpane gradually cracking. He let out a wail of pain as the crystallizing panels of glass spread up his body. The last to go was his face. Cheeks, lips and nose transformed into geometric shapes of colored glass. Then his eyes flattened into two copper-colored irises ringed with lead. He became a frozen mosaic of multicolored glass, his face an expression of astonishment.

Luke had been so sure of himself. He never imagined he could fail.

Minute fissures crackled up the glass, zigzagging through Luke’s body. One by one, segments split and tumbled to the floor, shattering on impact. The crash of glass was almost continual—more and more shards piled up. They left behind an empty scaffolding of lead. Then this too crumbled to dust.

Kassandra leaned down, holding The Magician card out. It acted like a magnet and the shattered glass flew toward the paper. She almost dropped it, afraid one would slice into her fingers but the bits of glass miniaturized, darting into the illustration. One by one, the pieces filled in the empty silhouette—forming an image of Luke Rykell.

The last chunk of glass held his eyes. They seemed to plead with her. Kassandra knew what he wanted. More than anything. But it was a thing no one could have. Kassandra brought the card closer and the eyes jiggled a moment before being sucked up. The illustration was complete. Luke was gone.

Kassandra Clings to Her Last Hope

Chapter 44

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 wanted to be shocked, but it made perfect sense. She ran one finger along the rim of the brass cup. Luke always seemed to know just what to say and when to say it.

“My brother bragged about his new talent when he visited me. He recounted the many times he had played with young girls’ emotions, pushing them toward crisis.” Gabriel glanced at Kassandra and then stopped speaking.

“It’s all right.” She gave a weak smile. “I kind of figured that part out for myself. I just didn’t know he could actually read my every thought.”

“Luke cannot open your mind like a book and see what he likes. He can view only the page you are currently on.”

“So, what I’m thinking right when I stand in front of him?” 

Was there a way to turn it off? Shut the book so Luke couldn’t read anything? It would mean she’d have to think about nothing. Or something totally different.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel. “The paper doll down there…” She pointed to the room below. “That was you, right?”

He nodded, eyes taking a far off look. “I had no idea what my drawings could do. If I had known what Luke used them for…” A snarl of disgust slithered across Gabriel’s features.

“It’s the deck, isn’t it? It let Luke read minds and it caused your drawings to come to life.” Kassandra turned to the table with the cup and ball trick. “How does this game work?” She picked up the leather ball. “What does he do to make the ball vanish?”

Gabriel shrugged. “No one could best Luke at the game. It was his favorite and he never shared his secrets.”

“He’s cocky, that’s for sure.” She set the ball back on the table and rolled it back and forth between her fingers. An idea bubbled up. “If I can get him to forget about the cards, even for a moment, then they’ll zap back to me. I’ve seen it happen before.” The experiment with The Magician card flashed fresh in her mind. The minute Auntie Jo ignored it, the card zoomed back to her. Only this time, maybe the whole deck might return.

Kassandra lifted one of the brass cups—it felt surprisingly light—and plopped it over the ball, making it disappear. Gabriel watched. This trick was mesmerizing. It made people want to find the ball.

“If I dangle the final card in front of him, he’s sure to give me his full attention.”

“No, you cannot let him have the card! Luke fears The Magician card. It is his prison, as the Hanged Man was mine. You must lock Luke back in the Tarot deck.”

“No.” The answer can automatically from Kassandra’s lips. “The cards make him powerful. Without them, Luke’s just some six-hundred-year old guy.” 

“You deceive yourself. Luke will never abandon the Tarot deck. He has waited too long.” Gabriel’s eyebrows bunched together. “What has he promised you?”

Goosebumps sprouted along Kassandra’s skin. She shook her head and grabbed a brass cup off the table. Distracting Luke would make the cards come back to her. It had happened before with Lindsay. She forgot about the Fortitude card and it zapped back. Only, would the one Magician card be enough to pull back the whole deck?

Gabriel snatched the cup away and held it up. “Luke plays with your mind. He tells you what you crave to hear.”

Kassandra turned away. “I can get the cards back. I know I can.”

“No.” He hurled the brass cup across the room. It slapped into a pile of wood, sending the whole assortment crashing to the floor. Both birds startled, chirping their displeasure.

Gabriel stepped right up to her face, inches away. His frustration hummed in the air between them, yet he tenderly gripped Kassandra’s chin.

“What has he promised you?” 

The words came out as a whisper. “My dad.”

A look of puzzlement crossed Gabriel’s face.

“He’s… like Ezabell.”

The name acted like a slap, startling Gabriel.

“You have succumbed to the very same illness as Luke. My brother has clung to that false hope for centuries. If there were a solution to be found, he would have solved it by now.” Gabriel grabbed her. “He would not listen to reason. I pray you will. There is no return from death.”

Kassandra had seen Dad before. Here, in the cards. It meant there was still hope. 

“I tried to get Luke to understand this. I refused to illustrate the final card.” Gabriel let go and stepped back. “In return, he locked me in here.”

An idea appeared in her brain, like a fogged mirror suddenly wiped clean. “You.” She pointed at Gabriel, who looked truly baffled now. “Luke has to know you’re gone from your card. And he totally freaked when I said I’d talked to you.

“I do not know what you mean.”

“Luke’s afraid of you. That’s why he locked you in here.” Kassandra turned toward the table with the cups again. “If I could make you appear in the real world, it would really throw Luke off his game. Then I could get the cards back.”

“You are mistaken. Luke fears nothing, certainly not me.” Gabriel glanced at the surrounding stained glass walls. “I am also not in my card. I cannot return to the real world.”

“Yes you can. Luke almost pulled me out of the Fool card, so it must be possible. Plus this is the only card he doesn’t have. So Luke has no idea you’re in here.”

“Kassandra. Do not fall victim to the same illusion that has plagued my brother.”

She ignored him, scanning the room for a way out. Kassandra scooped the nightingale off the floor, palms tingling as it fidgeted.

Gabriel grabbed her arm. “Consider for a moment. You have a friend trapped in these cards.” 

She remembered Auntie Jo stuck in the chair, watching the endless parade of floats. But Kassandra needed the cards to free her. It was the only way. 

“This plan of yours.” Gabriel looked her in the eyes. “Is it the best idea for your friend? Or for you?”

A heaviness filled her chest. Was she abandoning Auntie Jo to save Dad? Maybe there was a way to save them both. Kassandra held the bird up. It cocked its head. Was she being selfish? It fluttered its wings, testing the damaged one.

“I don’t know what I want anymore.” She glanced at Gabriel.

“I understand the temptation of Luke’s offer.”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra caught movement out of the corner of an eye. The bird’s claws momentarily gripped her skin and released. Then it was in the air, shooting forward.

“Gabriel!”

The instant the bird touched her chest, Gabriel and the tower burned away. Everything became pure white light. Muscles spasmed, each one pulled in different directions. An ache spread through Kassandra’s bones almost like they were stretching. A blast of air pumped her lungs open to the bursting point.

Then she smacked, face first, onto an icky grey carpet. This was not Auntie Jo’s house. Someone she knew leaned over her.

“Hi Mom.”