Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing

Everyone wants to lower our carbon footprint and stop climate change. So imagine when scientists come up with a novel solution — a fungus that gobbles up carbon from the air. It could be the savior of the planet. The only problem, this fungus likes to eat carbon wherever it exists. It’s particularly fond of the carbon locked in living cells.

This story tracks a teen girl who is left at home to care for her younger brother and baby. It plays off the tale of the Three Little Pigs with the carbon-gobbling fungus taking the role of the wolf. Can she keep her family safe with dwindling food and the fungus chewing up the house around her?

This story appears in the new anthology by Write Hive titled “Navigating Ruins.” You can find it on Amazon, both in Kindle and print.

Tim Kane

Breathing Space

Long ago I read Jack London’s “To Build a Fire” and was captivated by the tale of a man’s struggle to survive in the frigid cold of the Yukon. A fire is all that would save him, yet could he build it before freezing?

This inspired me to write about the rigors of space travel. I wondered, could I put a person in a similar situation? In this case, Cate has been blown away from her ship and must travel back before a solar flare cooks her inside her suit. The only problem, which of those tiny specks represents her ship? With only a limited amount of fuel for her maneuvering jets, she must pick correctly or perish.

In this tale, I also wanted to explore just how far a person would go to save themselves. In movies you often see people sacrifice themselves for others. But would you really do that? Pressed up against the real concept of death, how many of use would risk our lives for someone else?

The story appears in the 45th issue of Dark Moon Digest. You can find it at Amazon, both kindle and paperback.

Tim Kane

Teeny Haunts: Sand Pit Lady

There is something about this myth that unnerves me. I think it’s the sound of the woman digging in the sand. I can imagine the quiet of the park. Realizing that you’re all alone. And then the crunch of the sand. First the footsteps and then her fingers, clawing through it. Creepy.

This legend traces back to the north of Kyushu, Japan, during the early 1980s. Accounts began to spread across the internet in the early 2010s.

Some Japanese accounts mention maru and eksu (two symbols used to grade a yes/no test). The symbol O shows a correct answer (maru) and the symbol X shows an incorrect answer (eksu). Early posts say that if you go to the maru side of the woman, you will survive, while if you go to the eksu side, you may perish.

In another account, the Sandpit Woman stands and starts walking. You instinctively follow her, but here you have a choice. If you pass the woman, she will chase you in a lap around the park. Don’t look back at her, whatever you do. If you finish the lap, you are free.

If not, then you are buried alive.

Something to ponder the next time you sit for a spell at a park. If you find yourself alone, get up and leave.

Tim Kane

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 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.”