The Secret Hides in the Boot

Chapter 3

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 goal of the first day at school was to dress hip enough to not get picked on, but not so over the top to put you on the radar. 

Kassandra cracked open the dusty trunk that served as a closet and inspected the prospects with a sigh. This would’ve been so much easier with some real choices. Sure, there were plenty of shirts and accessories for the top half. But from the waist down, she was screwed. The prospects were limited: the jeans with the holes in the knees, but she’d worn those yesterday; a pair of old black jeans, now a size too small; and two shorts. Kassandra eyed a pair of the shorts. Everyone would gawk at her white thighs. Not a great first day impression. Besides, the shorts were a Mom purchase. Once upon a time, she had some kicking Capris, but Mom tossed them because they were one of Dad’s gifts.

Resigned, Kassandra chose the jeans with the ripped out knees. Better to have some holes than to pop a seam with the black constrictor pants. She snatched a not-too-girly top, slipped on the fingerless fishnet gloves and laced up the red Converse chucks from the secondhand store. They didn’t match the outfit, but they were paid for, so on they went.

The front door to the house swung shut and moments later Mom breezed past the room, blouse wrinkled and riding up in the back. Kassandra glanced at the clock, nearly seven in the morning. So Mom was using the house as hotel now—checking in and checking out.

Kassandra scooped up the crocheted purse. She needed to make a run for it before Mom figured out something to blame her for. 

“Kassandra!” Mom hollered from down the hall.

Too late.

Mom stormed into the room. A few strands of dyed black hair escaped her ponytail and dangled over her forehead like stalactites. One hand clutched the empty nail polish bottle. 

So she could spot something in all that mess.

“I found this in the trash.” Mom shook the bottle accusingly. “Were you in my room again?”

Kassandra clenched her jaw. “It’s not your room, you know.” The words came out like bullets. “Our house is still up in Seattle. At least until it sells.”

Dark blotches ringed Mom’s eyes and the corners of her mouth turned into a frown, yet not a smudge marred the immaculately drawn lipstick. 

“Okay. I can’t do this right now.” Mom waved a dismissive hand and headed back to the hall. 

Kassandra stepped forward. “So who were you shacked up with this time?”  

Mom spun around. “You don’t get to talk to me like that.”

“You’re so right.” Kassandra’s neck muscles tightened until they felt like guitar strings. “I guess I don’t deserve to know.”

A vein in Mom’s forehead quivered. Condition red. Hands clenched into fists. Then she took a deep breath and smoothed the creases in her blouse.

“His name is Sam.” 

Kassandra heard a distant shout, deep in her brain. Let this go, it said. This was just Mom’s way of dealing. But the guitar strings quivered—everything pulled too tight.

“Does this one even know your name, or does he call you babe?”

Mom slapped Kassandra hard enough to whip her head to the side. 

“This is why I don’t come home at night.” Mom had one finger pointed like a laser.

Kassandra’s cheek burned but she refused to rub it. “Go off with your stupid boyfriend. He’s not going to replace Dad.”

Mom glared, but then faltered, wrinkles grooving her forehead. The roots of her black hair showed tufts of grey intertwined with the natural auburn.

Her shoulders sagged. “No one will replace Dad. But it’s not about him anymore.” Mom trundled down the hall and shut the door to her room. 

Something wet struck Kassandra’s hand. She mopped up the tears but who was she fooling? Crying was pathetic. A sign of complete weakness. Kassandra whacked one of the packing boxes, over and over, the same thought replaying in her head—I’m so stupid. Finally a cardboard flap tore off and sailed to the corner of the room. It landed near her pair of purple Doc Marten boots.

Auntie Jo glanced in before continuing on to Mom’s room. The argument echoed down the hall.

“I’ve had enough of that girl. It’s always the same.”

“Maybe if you spent more time…” Auntie Jo said.

“I can’t be around her. I just can’t.”

Kassandra edged closer to her door, pulse beating erratic and hot.

“I should have left her in Seattle. Then we’d all be better off.”

Kassandra filled her lungs to bursting, not daring to exhale. Breathing would make this real. And it wasn’t. She wanted everything all at once, to march in there and scream, to crawl into a corner and whimper, to run as fast and as far away as possible.

“I’ll shower at the gym.” Mom stomped down the hall, shooting past without a single glance. The keys jingled and then the front door slammed.

Auntie Jo came in, wrapping her arms around Kassandra. “I’m so sorry, darling.”

Kassandra shivered. Everything felt numb, like watching the world from somewhere outside her body. 

Auntie Jo gave her a little squeeze. “I know you may not feel like it, but breakfast will do you a world of good.”

“Sure.” Kassandra managed a nod before Auntie Jo disappeared down the hallway.

The room fell into silence. It hurt for Kassandra to breathe, like a fist pressing against her chest. She rubbed a raised section of flesh under the fishnet glove. Kassandra needed to get things under control. 

What she needed was shoved in the toe of the Doc Martens. Kassandra pulled out the sock and unrolled it. Lines of red streaked the inside of the fabric. She picked up the razor blade, flecks of rust dotting the grip. It used to be one of Dad’s box cutters. 

One nudge, and the fishnet glove slithered down her left arm. Scars crisscrossed the pale skin—tiny stripes of white. Kassandra brought the blade down but a reflection flashed along the metal. She turned the razor flat to inspect the side and saw something in the shiny surface—chestnut brown. Then the image moved.

Dropping the razor, she scooted away. A coppery tang filled her mouth. In a moment, the metallic taste vanished.

The blade seemed normal now. It lay on the floor next to the lump of sock. The same kind Dad used a thousand times to scrape gunk off the windows. Kassandra crawled closer. Nothing reflected in the metal. She could hardly make out her own silhouette.

“Honey?” Auntie Jo called. Not at the door yet, but close. Coming down the hall.

For a second Kassandra’s mind felt heavy and sluggish. She imagined the floor splitting and the earth swallowing everything: the razor, the boot, the blood. Then reality snapped back. No one could see this. Everything went into the boot—the blade and the sock—no time for fancy wrapping.

Auntie Jo reached the door and scanned the room, a frown forming on her lips. “Are you okay?”

Kassandra glanced down at her left arm, still bare and displaying the patchwork of scars. She jerked her arms behind and tugged the glove up.

“Totally.”

Auntie Jo gave a weak smile. “I’ve got toast and bacon waiting.” She spun around. “Thy feast awaits you.” 

Kassandra paused at the door and gave the purple Doc Marten’s one last look. 

Had she really seen anything or was it just more loopiness on her part? The color burned into her brain—chestnut—so familiar. Goose pimples sprouted along her skin.

Those were Dad’s eyes. But that wasn’t possible. Not ever.

The Tarot Cards Choose Kassandra

Chapter 2

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 heartbeat stormed inside her head. She swiveled, tensing for a confrontation, but there was no one there. Just the bookcase. What was going on? 

Something thunked to the floor and Kassandra nearly screamed. Whipping around, she saw a man reaching down to pick up a book. Just a glimpse of his face caused her throat to clench as if hands squeezed her windpipe. All Kassandra managed were short, raspy gasps. 

“Dad?”

She stumbled backward and fell to the floor, legs spayed at awkward angles. The crocheted purse flopped open. Coins rolled everywhere.

“Hey, you all right?”  It was the man with the book, but not Dad anymore. How could she have ever thought…? 

He held out a hand to help her up. “You have to watch your step.”

“Yeah.” She grabbed his hand. The grip was smooth and soft, not at all like Dad’s callused skin. After Kassandra stood, the man knelt to gather the coins, dropping them into the purse with a clank. 

“There you go.” He handed over the bag, his expression fluttering a moment before settling on a polite smile.

“Thanks.”

This released him. The man grabbed the book and practically jogged for the register. Great, now she was scaring random strangers. Time to go.

Kassandra slid the Death card into the deck. The bookshelf where they came from was crammed with books on metaphysical geometry and ufology, but no other cards. This wasn’t the right section. It felt wrong to leave them here. 

She marched toward the clerk, who was bent behind the counter unpacking a box.

“Hi,” Kassandra said.

Clerk Lady popped up and smiled, showing off a sweet round face that would be at home on a box of cookies. 

“I found these…” Kassandra held up the cards, “…back there.”

The woman stared at the cards, her expression curdling. “You have the cards.”

“Yeah. I didn’t know where you keep the rest of them. Can I leave them with you?”

“They’re yours.” Clerk Lady scooted back from the counter, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll have to go. I’m closing up.” She darted toward Auntie Jo without waiting for a response. 

The clock on the wall showed eleven. The place just opened. How could it be closing? This lady had some serious customer service issues.

Kassandra set the cards on the counter and traced one finger along the side, nicked and torn from multiple uses. The gold pattern on the back looked like a sky filled with stars, bringing back a distant memory of the Washington mountains. It’d been a rare night when the clouds had retreated. Dad stopped at some café after a drive to the forest. On the walk back to the car, Kassandra could see every speck of a star out there. So many, the constellations had become lost in the sequined glitter of starlight.

“Looks like they’re closing up for lunch,” Auntie Jo said, arriving at the counter.

“What?” Kassandra blinked, her mind still in the mountains. 

Auntie Jo handed a twenty to the clerk, who rang up the book. “Oh, you found a Tarot deck? Marvelous.”

“Your change.” Clerk Lady shoved the wad of bills and coins across the counter. 

“Did you want those?” Auntie Jo asked. Without waiting, she pushed forward the change and dove into her purse for more bills. “We’ll take the Tarot cards too.”

Clerk Lady stared at the money. She finally tugged a five from the pile. 

“That’s all?” Auntie Jo smiled. “Such a deal.” She turned to Kassandra and flourished a hand over the cards. “Your first Tarot deck.”

“I know you’re into the supernatural stuff, but this really isn’t my thing.”

“Nonsense.” Auntie Jo scooped the cards up, holding them in both hands as if cradling a delicate flower. “They chose you. There’s a greater power at work.”

“Greater power” was an Auntie Jo saying. Except it was a big fat lie. When something went wrong, it was either blind luck or a personal screw up. Plain and simple. 

Clerk Lady managed to shoo them to the front door. 

Kassandra halted and turned around. “Hey, why the rush?”

The woman’s gaze flitted left and right as if the answer might come from somewhere on the street. “Family emergency. You’ll have to go.” With one final push, she shut the door and locked it.

“She was weird,” Kassandra said. 

“Clearly ruled by Mars.” Auntie Jo wrestled into the driver’s seat and coaxed the engine to life. 

Kassandra looked at the Tarot cards, now set between the seats. She reached over, but paused before touching them. A chirping sound caught her attention — another of the little brown birds that lingered around the town. The wind had died down and now it cocked its head, inspecting Kassandra. Something startled the bird and it leapt into the air and vanished. 

Kassandra glanced at the shop and saw Clerk Lady peering through the blinds. The oddest expression crossed the woman’s face. Maybe fear? 

The blinds flipped shut.

Kassandra Discovers the Cursed Tarot Deck

Chapter 1

This is a Young Adult story tackling issues of self-harm and suicide. It is intended for teen readers or older.

People never talked about him dying. Instead they got all weepy and switched subjects. As if avoiding the topic would somehow make everything smiles and sunshine. It didn’t. When someone disappeared, it’s like unraveling a sweater. Cut one strand, and the whole thing fell apart. 

Kassandra caught a glimpse of her tangled hair in the mirror of Mom’s dresser. She looked frayed and disconnected—a lump of useless yarn who once was a girl.

Shaking her head, she scrounged through the cluttered bottles of nail polish, searching for a wadded up bill. Mom had to be good for a ten or twenty. No way was she going to borrow from Auntie Jo. Not again. Just a couple of new killer tops would make her grungy jeans work. School started tomorrow and Kassandra dreaded it. Kids never talked to the new girl. Especially the one with a lousy wardrobe.

The dresser reeked of cigarette smoke. At least if she found some money, it’d be one less dollar Mom could spend on cancer sticks. Kassandra’s fingers brushed a scrap of paper. Snatching it, her fishnet glove snagged on a bottle, sending the nail polish tumbling to the carpet with a clunk. The top popped off and red liquid oozed onto the café au lait carpet.

She scrunched her face. So not how she planned it. Kassandra eyed the crinkled paper in one hand. A lousy receipt. 

Morning light shimmered off the puddle, already soaking into the carpet. Kassandra looped a blond curl over one ear and, yanking a handful of tissues from the box, dropped to the floor. Her bare knees brushed the carpet, the holes in her jeans from actual wear and tear and not fashionable rips. She so needed a new pair. 

“Kassandra?” Auntie Jo’s voice glided down the hallway. “You coming, sugar?” 

Kassandra’s heart kicked into high gear. She was supposed to be getting ready in her own room, not rummaging through Mom’s. “Sure, in a sec.”

The sticky bottle of nail polish went in the trash. Mom wouldn’t miss it. She had enough shades to create her own color chart at Home Depot. Kassandra dabbed at the spill with a wadded up tissue and then sat back to inspect the stain. The red blob was a stop sign smeared onto the carpet. Kassandra dumped a bottle of nail polish remover on the spot, sending up a wave of bitter fumes. The splotch, now pink, still drenched the carpet. She dragged over the throw rug by the bed and tossed it across the stain. Good enough.

Kassandra dashed down a hall lined with photos of unknown relatives and flew through her door just as Auntie Jo rounded the corner. The woman wore an Egyptian shawl draped over a wide body. Her skin was a rich brown with copper undertones. A purple scarf reigned in her tightly curled afro. 

“The morning is young and thy chariot shan’t wait forever.” Auntie Jo waved one arm as if she were some kind of royalty. 

It was another one of her past life kicks. This week must be the Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra. Auntie Jo was crazed for all things supernatural.

“I need to grab something.” Kassandra pointed a thumb over her shoulder. 

“Very well, I shall adjourn to the veranda.” Auntie Jo whipped a corner of the shawl over one hefty shoulder. Not actually anyone’s aunt, she and Mom met in Kindergarten and had been friends forever.

Kassandra’s room used to be Auntie Jo’s den. Shelves lined the walls, each jammed with books on the occult and literature. This stranded the bed in the center. Cardboard boxes, reminders of her life in Seattle, acted as a nightstand and a small table. An oversized trunk served as a combination dust trap and makeshift closet.

She plucked a chipped tea kettle off a shelf and shook it. It made a hefty chuh-chink sound. Still filled with change. Stuffing a hand inside, Kassandra felt around until the corner of a bill teased her fingertips. Only a five. Not going to cut it. Since Mom had trashed Kassandra’s whole wardrobe back in Seattle, she needed a new everything.

Upending the kettle, she watched a waterfall of silver and copper pour into her beat up crocheted purse. Kassandra stopped midway and tested the bag. It felt like an iron had been dropped in there. The purse sagged in the center where all the coins collected. Welcome to bag lady chic.

Auntie Jo waited outside by the “chariot”—a ’73 blue Beetle. Kassandra tried to slip in, but her knees banged the glove box. The passenger seat was permanently ratcheted forward.  Once she managed to sit, a spring poked her butt. At least Kassandra was teeny. Auntie Jo, built Amazon tall, sported the weight of about three or four warrior maidens. She had to shoehorn herself in. 

Once inside, she eyed a picture stuck to the dash with yellow tape. Sun bleached and creased, the photo showed a young black man with a broad smile—her son Ronald. Auntie Jo kissed two fingers and touched the picture. Kassandra knew he’d died, but no one wanted to fill her in on the details. 

Auntie Jo cranked the ignition. “Oh blessed mother, let us find the gear.” Ka-Chunnng! She rammed the stick shift down and the chassis vibrated. The car bucked but finally dropped into first.

“Amen.” She backed the car down the driveway.

The Beetle traveled for a grand total of four minutes. Arroyo Grove was just a blip on the California coast. Kassandra shimmied out of the car in what passed for a downtown. A salty gust blasted a curl of hair right into her eyes. In Seattle, everything had been stillness and clouds. But Arroyo Grove sat right on the Pacific Ocean. Kassandra could hear the crash of the waves, even a mile in from the beach. 

Pulling the hair away, she trailed Auntie Jo. The trees along the sidewalk swayed, buffeted by the sea breeze. A tiny brown bird hopped from branch to branch, chirping at the wind. 

Kassandra escaped into the Psychic Mind bookstore. Smells competed for attention—scented candles, patchouli oil, cedar boxes. She browsed, biding time until they could swing by The Retro, the only place in Arroyo Grove with a decent collection of secondhand clothing.

Meandering through the book section, her fingers brushed titles like Teen Witch—nah, she wasn’t the broom type—A Handbook of Runic Magic—that was way too Germanand The Tantric Sex Guide—sadly, she had no one to get tantric with. A book of romantic poetry caught her eye. The table of contents contained mostly dribble, one step above Hallmark, but the second page listed a Keats poem. She yanked out her spiral notebook. Transcribing wasn’t stealing. Not technically. Besides, it was Keats. If he ever had a copyright, it expired a century ago.

She tossed her purse over one shoulder, but the weight of the coins swung it back. Thwack. It knocked into the bookcase, sending a display of oversized cards tumbling to the floor.

Kassandra knelt to gather up the mess of Tarot cards. She’d seen Auntie Jo use them all the time to predict the future for her clients. The whole deck lay face down, except for one card. She plucked it from the pile. The illustration showed a skeleton dancing with a scythe, one word printed on the bottom: Death. 

A coppery taste filled her mouth as if she were sucking on a penny. Hot breath tickled the hairs on the back of her neck. 

Then a voice whispered in her ear.

Kassandra.

Read Chapter 2

Scare Yourself Silly in Just Two Sentences

I’ve read plenty of horror stories in my day. Most have to warm up to the scare. The following is a collection of micro-fiction each only two sentences long. That’s right, two sentences. This whole micro-horror movement started with a post on Reddit. Now it’s exploded into a new art form.

Barbara Steele from La Maschera del Demonio

Barbara Steele from La Maschera del Demonio

These stories were found at the Thought Catalog

I begin tucking him into bed and he tells me, “Daddy check for monsters under my bed.” I look underneath for his amusement and see him, another him, under the bed, staring back at me quivering and whispering, “Daddy there’s somebody on my bed.”

posted by justanothermuffledvo

I always thought my cat had a staring problem, she always seemed fixated on my face. Until one day, when I realized that she was always looking just behind me.
posted by hangukbrian
She wondered why she was casting two shadows. Afterall, there was only a single lightbulb.
posted by pgan91
They delivered the mannequins in bubble wrap. From the main room I begin to hear popping.
posted by Mikeysrventyfive
My daughter won’t stop crying and screaming in the middle of the night. I visit her grave and ask her to stop, but it doesn’t help.
posted by Skuppy
After working a hard day I came home to see my girlfriend cradling our child. I didn’t know which was more frightening, seeing my dead girlfriend and stillborn child, or knowing that someone broke into my apartment to place them there.
posted by cobaltcollapse
The longer I wore it the more it grew on me. She had such pretty skin.
posted by blaqkmagick
These micro-horror stories came from a site called Two Sentence Stories
The tiny creatures came through the rift from another universe. They look funny, with only four limbs and single head, but they taste great.
posted by Alex Sivier
The water of the lake was smooth,blue,glassy and warm as it reflected the green mountains surrounding it.Billy hung from his Grandfather’s vice like grip over the edge of the boat,the familiar but stern voice echoing in his head “Sink or Swim little buddy.”
posted by Saberblue
Donna was quite pleased with how dinner turned out. Her guests had eaten the evidence.
posted by Les W
Gloved hands tightened around his windpipe and red darkness flooded his vision. Then came the whisper, warm against his ear, “there was no need to give my stories only one star.”
posted by Graham Land

Tim Kane

Looking In the Mirror Could Summon Evil Fish

Who knew vanity could have such a backlash. I’ve always felt mirrors held another world (very Through the Looking Glass of me). As a kid I pressed my face up to the glass, wondering if I could push through.

Su Blackwell’s Book-cut Sculptures (Alice: Through the Looking Glass)

Su Blackwell’s Book-cut Sculptures (Alice: Through the Looking Glass)

Then I chanced upon the Fish anthology, which offered a chance to realize these dreams (even if in flash fiction form). The goal of the book is creating a dream-like world where surreal and literary collide. No genre limitations, just a single theme: Fish. That’s a slippery topic.

fish cover_FINAL sm (1)

My story concerns a gentleman who’s a little too obsessed with his own reflection, even to the point of ignoring his lovely wife. His reflections morphs, becoming fish-like. It’s intentions are not so pleasant. THe glass cracks and as the fish creature attempts to burst through.

I was inspired by a myth read in Imaginary Beings by Borges concerning how fish plan to take over the world, through mirrors. Check out this excerpt from the myth.

“Both kingdoms, the specular and the human, lived in harmony; you could come and go through mirrors. One night the mirror people invaded the earth. Their power was great, but at the end of bloody warfare the magic arts of the Yellow Emperor prevailed. He repulsed the invaders, imprisoned them in their mirrors, and forced on them the task of repeating, as though in a kind of dream, all the actions of men. He stripped them of their power and of their forms and reduced them to mere slavish reflections. Nonetheless, a day will come when the magic spell will be shaken off. The first to awaken will be the Fish.”

Want to read more? Check out the digital version. (Amazon Kindle version) But wait, this astounding anthology is also available in print version (also Amazon).

Tim Kane