Kassandra Reached the Origin of the Tarot

Chapter 38

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.

“I thought you didn’t want me to spin it. Now you do?” Kassandra tugged again, but her hand was stuck to the metal peg of the wheel.

Gabriel pointed to the Roman numeral one at the bottom of the wheel. “We seek Luke’s card, here. You must make the wheel land on exactly that spot.”

She examined the wheel. The numbers were in order like a clock but kept going from thirteen through to twenty-two.

“It’s only about half way.”

“You don’t understand. The wheel only spins clockwise and it must make a full revolution before stopping.”

At first Kassandra didn’t understand. The number one was right there at the bottom of the circle. Then it sunk in. A full revolution.

“You’re kidding me. You mean I have to spin it all the way to thirteen again, and then get it to stop exactly on number one?”

“That is why I wanted you to wait.”

“This is impossible. No way I can make it.” She stared at the wheel, working it out in her head. The spin had to be one and a half times around, almost exactly. If she missed, then it would land on any of the cards nearby.

“What does the green stand for?”

“It is not a card I illustrated, nor one of any Tarot deck.”

So she needed to avoid hitting the mystery spot. Kassandra sucked in a breath and gave the wheel a good push. Once it was in motion, her hand slipped off, no problem. The metal pegs struck the top arrow as the wheel raced past the first full spin making clickity clack sounds.

She hopped from one foot to the other. The wheel slowed as it passed ten. Seven. Five. It was going to make it. The wheel crawled past four on its way to three. Kassandra bounced up and down with glee.

Gabriel took a step back. “Do not wait for me.”

“Huh?” She turned to look at him.

“Each spin is for one person only.”

“What do you…?

Out of the corner of her eye, Kassandra saw the wheel passed Roman numeral one. It was going to stop at zero. The arrow struck the metal peg separating zero from the green section. Sweat prickled her skin. It finally clicked over, landing on the green section.

Kassandra glanced at Gabriel, but then a massive tree surged up between them. The platform rumbled as hundreds of trunks crashed upward, splintering the plywood floor. They shot up at super speed, reaching their full height in seconds. Trees sprouted all along the street as well. Several speared the float with the syringe, shredding the fiberglass construction. The crowd scattered as the asphalt crumbled and cracked apart.

After a moment, the trees halted their accelerated growth. She stood on the mangled viewing platform surrounded by massive trunks. Silence spun out. The street lamps were gone, but a dim light filtered through the newly sprung forest.

Kassandra scrambled around to the spot where Gabriel had stood, the plywood flooring wobbling unsteadily. Nothing. Only more of the fragmented platform. And of course, trees. The velvet chair was toppled, one leg falling through a crack in the floor. Auntie Jo had vanished. What was left of the street looked abandoned. Kassandra couldn’t see a trace of the buildings through the tightly packed tree trunks.

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet. Her nightingale swooped down and landed on a jutting branch. “Don’t go away. I need someone to stay with me.”

The scant light intensified. It felt like dawn. Somewhere in the distance she heard the clang of metal and a shout.

People.

Kassandra raced toward the sound, feet swishing through a mist hovering right at ground level. The nightingale zoomed ahead, zigzagging through the trees. Maybe she was out of the cards now and back in the real world. Forests grew all over the mountains around Arroyo Grove.

She ran into a meadow where a group of wagons formed a circle. Her shoulders sagged. These were just like the ones in the room of mirrors. So much for getting out of these cards. 

Kassandra approached the opening in the circle of wagons. A crowd of people milled about inside. Their outfits looked crazy, like stepping into a Renaissance fair. A few guys even had swords strapped to their belts. Then Kassandra smelled the food. Until now her stomach hadn’t made a peep. But the scent of roasting meat drew her through the crowd and up to a fire where a grizzled man fried sausage in a pan. The nightingale flapped down and balanced on a pole holding up a laundry line. The man glanced at Kassandra, face covered in soot, and offered up the blackened pan. A dozen sausages popped and sizzled inside. 

“Here you go…” He paused and stared at her jeans. “Lass?” The accent was some kind of old fashioned English.

Kassandra grabbed a sausage and nodded thanks. It felt like her fingers would burn away, but she bit into the meat anyway. Hot juice ran down her chin. It was so good. She don’t care. Kassandra kept gobbling until only a tiny nub remained. As she shoved the last bit into her mouth, a red ball bumped her Converse sneaker. It was stitched out of leather and about the size of a golf ball. Kassandra glanced around to see where it came from and then her body froze. 

Luke Rykell strolled through the crowd, a wicked grin plastered across his face.

Teeny Haunts: Mad Mary

When I was 12 or 13, my parents shipped me off to summer camp up in the San Diego mountains. I think they just wanted to get me out of their hair for a little while.

The whole experience. Dusty cabins with a trek through the dark just to go to the bathroom. Me not knowing a single person. Me, the quiet artistic type trapped in a situation designed to bring out the social.

I hated it.

Well, not all of it. You see the counselors (I assume it was them) had nailed up a pair of rusty manacles to a tree by the lake. And they told me the tale of how Mad Mary used to be chained up. Her hair and fingernails grew long. She munched on squirrels or birds. Anything that came too close. Until one day she got free.

I’ve been to this camp again. It’s run by the YMCA and is right outside of Julian. You see, as a sixth grade teacher, I busses whole groups of impressionable kids up into the mountains.

Yet the tree with manacles is gone. And not a single person up there recalled the tales of Mad Mary. Had I dreamt it all up. Not likely. The stories provided fertile soil for my budding imagination.

This is how the tale start. Next Teeny Haunts will continue the tale.

Stay Haunted…

Tim

The Death Card Sucks Kassandra into the Tarot Deck

Chapter 19

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

Kassandra’s lungs felt pressed flat, making it hard to breath. A stale smell, like a room sealed up for too long, lingered in the air. There was a light suspended above a workbench—the old garage up in Seattle. 

Dad stood on a wooden ladder, tossing the end of a yellow rope over one of the beams. But this was wrong. The ladder should’ve been kicked over, his feet swinging over bare concrete. 

He turned to look at Kassandra, his face grooved with worry lines. There was something not right about his eyes. The wooden ladder wobbled as he descended, each step creaking.  Dad said something, but it came out as a faint hiss, like steam escaping a radiator. Gooseflesh sprouted along every inch of Kassandra’s skin. Her heart beat so hard and fast, it felt like it might burst through the ribcage.

Dad shouted the same thing over and over. She heard the words as if traveling over miles of empty expanse. It took a moment to decipher it.

“Be careful.” 

Kassandra’s eyes snapped open. She was back in her room in Arroyo Grove. A layer of sweat drenched her shirt. Had she passed out? 

The Death card sat propped on the pillow, same as before. The illustration so resembling Dad was there too. She frowned. He’d told her to be careful. Careful of what? Kassandra glanced back at the card and saw Dad’s head swivel. The eyes even blinked. He mouthed the words again: Be careful. 

Kassandra stumbled out of bed, banging into a shelf and knocking books down. That did not just happen. Couldn’t have. She was still dreaming. 

Even so, when she approached the bed, Kassandra grabbed the card and shoved it in her pocket. She couldn’t see him move again. Enough was enough. 

Auntie Jo owned more books on the occult and the supernatural than most libraries. Still, none had any answers. Of course there was no chapter titled Kassandra’s Dad and How It Relates to Tarot. But these books only went on about how to do readings. Nothing about what it all meant. Feeling her jeans, the Death card poked out the top of one pocket. The rest of the deck sat in the purse at her feet.

The hall light flicked on. Kassandra stood, but her thighs throbbed from being in a crouched position for so long. Then she noticed her bare arms, the gloves left back in the room. She eyed the couch, contemplating hiding, but indecision kept her frozen.

Auntie Jo strolled out of the hall, dressed in a Tibetan robe. She frowned. “What’s wrong?” Her gaze landed on the scarred arms. Dashing over, Aunite Jo wrapped Kassandra up in a monstrous hug, rocking back and forth.

“Honey, honey, honey.”

“It’s okay. I just couldn’t sleep.”

Auntie Jo backed away.

“It’s these cards.” Kassandra nudged her purse. “I need to figure them out.”

“You know I did some research myself last night.”

Kassandra relaxed. Maybe Auntie Jo had more information than these books. 

“Most of the websites say cutting is a reaction to internal pain. It’s a way to make it physical.”

“What?” Kassandra’s mind was anywhere but cutting. “No, the cards.” She held up the book she’d been reading. “I had a nightmare about these stupid things.”

“It could be endorphins.” Auntie Jo had a serious look on her face. “They say adrenaline is released every time you…you know…cut.”

“This isn’t about me!” Kassandra slapped her arm. “Cutting has nothing to do with it.”

“Cutting what?” Mom appeared in the hall wearing a matching pair of pink sweats.

Kassandra’s stomach flipped as raw panic jolted through every nerve. She shoved her arms behind her back, concealing the hashmark of scars. 

“Uh, nothing mom.”

“Don’t you nothing me. Are you cutting classes?” Mom headed into the kitchen and started making coffee. “Is that why you left school early yesterday?”

“Yeah.” Why had she blurted that out? So stupid. “I met this guy.”

This snagged Mom’s attention. She pivoted, coffee carafe filled with water. “Really? What’s his name?”

“Luke.” 

Mom surveyed Kassandra as a prospect for dating. “You’ll have to tell me about this guy.” She yawned as the coffee machine wheezed to life. “But first you need to get ready for school. Come down to my room. I can do your makeup. Boys like that.”

“Thanks Mom, I will.” 

Mom shuffled down the hall, finally disappearing into her room. 

“Who’s Luke?” Auntie Jo knit her brow.

“Hard to explain.” Kassandra fished through the purse for the deck. “It all goes back to these.” She located the Magician card and pulled it out.

Auntie Jo stepped forward. “Isn’t that one of the cards from your reading?”

Kassandra nodded, passing it over. An empty silhouette lay at the center, surrounded by stained glass.

“What happened to the illustration?” Auntie Jo took the card.

“I think I triggered it or something.”

“When?”

“Yesterday.” An image sprang to mind: crouching down on the toilet seat in the girl’s bathroom, pricks of blood along one arm. “At school.”

Auntie Jo inspected the card again, running a finger along the missing picture. “This didn’t go totally blank like the others.” She was talking more to herself now, spinning toward the wall of books.

Kassandra wondered if she should ask for the card back. But why bother. The thing would zap to the deck soon enough. 

“Kassandra!” Mom blared from down the hall. “School.”

“I know!” Kassandra turned to Auntie Jo, who tugged a book off the shelf. “Just figure out what’s going on. I think the person from that card is out.”

Auntie Jo snapped her head up. “What do you mean?” 

“He’s the guy I met. Luke.”

Mom is Gaga Over Her New Crush

Chapter 18

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 blue Beetle pulled into the drive and Kassandra and Auntie Jo burst through the front door to escape the rain. The iPhone sat charging on the counter with no sign of Mom, probably holed up in her room. She was kind of like Bigfoot. There was proof she existed, but sightings were rare.

Auntie Jo kept Kassandra busy in the kitchen, cleaning up olive pits and tomato scraps, and wiping down the counter. The knife was off limits, even though Kassandra had chopped veggies hundreds of times before. Did Auntie Jo really think she’d pull down her gloves and get started right there? But there was no room to complain. At least Mom was still in the dark.

With dinner ready, Auntie Jo called everyone to the table. Kassandra cringed. Mom hardly ever joined in—usually opting for the room service option. Auntie Jo must’ve hoped for a family meal bonding experience, where everyone shared what they did that day. All smiles and giggles. Well Mom revoked her family card the day she dragged Kassandra to this crummy town. 

Mom waltzed in, phone in hand, and flopped into a chair. Not the least bit hungry, Kassandra curled one noodle around her fork and popped it into her mouth. Maybe she could chew this for the rest of dinner and not have to talk.

“The rain’s really coming down, wouldn’t you say?” Auntie Jo smiled, hooking the apron on the chair and sitting.

“Uh huh.” Mom positioned the phone next to the plate as if it were a new addition to the settings: spoon, fork, phone. If Kassandra tried the same thing, she’d find her phone locked up. Of course, she didn’t even have one to lock up. 

A new message popped up with a chirp. Mom inspected the screen and giggled. She was texting her boyfriend—Jim or Mat? Shouldn’t that be a Kassandra thing? She was the teenager here. But if Mom stayed distracted, then there was hope for surviving dinner. 

“How’s the pasta?” Auntie Jo smiled a little too wide. “I got the recipe from one of my clients.” 

Kassandra enthusiastically chewed the one noodle in response.

Mom nodded. Though she could’ve been responding to the text. Her gaze was glued to the tiny screen.

This wasn’t how dinners used to be. When Dad was around, Mom wouldn’t shut up. She’d go on and on about her day. Sometimes it really bored Kassandra, but now she missed it.

“Everything we’re eating is fresh.” Auntie Jo mixed the sauce into the pasta. “Since Kassandra left school early, we rolled by the Co-op.” 

Kassandra’s stomach twisted into new and interesting pretzel shapes and she shot Auntie Jo a look. Why had she let that slip? 

Mom surveyed the dinner table as if it were some new restaurant. “Why’d you leave school early?” She wasn’t angry yet, but a motherly tone infected her voice. “You should have called me.”

Kassandra nearly laughed. Like Mom cared. “It’s nothing. Just got sick is all.” 

“Oh. Must be this cold weather.” Mom forked an olive and popped it in her mouth. “You need to wear a jacket.”

Yeah, that was it. Because Kassandra didn’t know cold coming from Seattle. She liked Mom better when she didn’t pretend to care.

Mom twisted toward the phone, fingers making clicky noises as they tapped on the screen. 

A wave of tension crested inside Kassandra, peaking at the base of her skull. What was Mom typing? Wish you were here? No, probably the other way around. Something like: I’m stuck here with my stupid family. 

Normally Kassandra tuned Mom out, but tonight it felt like an insect burrowed just beneath the skin. Every time the phone clicked or binged, the bug dug an inch deeper. 

“Would you stop that?” Kassandra tossed her fork down. Mom whipped her head up. “It’s ridiculous. You’re too old to be all gaga over some guy. Give it a rest.”

Mom stiffened. “I don’t believe I asked your opinion.”

“Listen guys.” Auntie Jo flashed Kassandra a look. “I know no one’s feeling top notch tonight.”

Kassandra squeezed the fork until the metal dug into the skin. “It’s rude. We’re having dinner and all you can do is text.”

Mom slapped the table causing her silverware to clank against the bowl. “Why can’t I have anything for myself? I work hard…”

“Yeah right. And who bought you that new toy?” 

“Now Kassandra…” Auntie Jo tried to assume a parental tone.

Mom gave Kassandra a look that sizzled the air between them. Then the phone buzzed and Mom glanced down.

“Jesus, Mom. Did you just forget Dad?”

“Kassandra!” Auntie Jo half stood out of her seat.

“I’d sure like to get over him as quickly as you did. Can you give me your secret?”

“Go to your room!” Mom’s whole body trembled.

“Not a problem.” Kassandra shoved her chair out. “Dinner was great Jo. Save me some.”

“You’ll go now!” Mom jabbed a finger down the hall.

“What’s the point trying to talk to you? It’s not like we’re even a family anymore.” Kassandra marched down the hall and into her room. 

Leaning against the door, she sucked in a long breath. It did nothing to calm her. Kassandra’s body felt tense and jittery. The argument with Mom jabbing at her brain. 

She spied the purple Doc Martens in the corner and knelt by them, pulling out the sock. Red lines marked the places where blood had stained the fabric. She cradled the razor in her hands. Such a small thing. Yet it had caused so much trouble. The handle of curved metal was flecked orange with rust. Kassandra held the blade over her arm. No intention of actually cutting. Just a familiar action, long ingrained in her memory. The length of the razor seemed the perfect size for the scars peeking through her fishnet gloves. 

Kassandra looked at the door. Auntie Jo had been too gung-ho about dinner to search in here yet. But it was only a matter of time. Just as soon as Mom left red alert status.

“I need to stash this.”

Options around the room were limited. There was the bed, the massive trunk coated with dust, and the books lining the walls. Sweat beaded on her forehead. She should have thought of a place earlier. Everything looked so obvious. Kassandra glanced at the door, fingers rubbing the handle of the blade. Just a few minutes was all she needed.

Back to the book shelves again. Auntie Jo hardly touched them since Kassandra moved in. Though she’d probably tear the place apart during school tomorrow.

Dust caked most of the shelves, but some spots were disturbed where Auntie Jo had removed books recently. Kassandra kept scanning until finding a section blanketed in dust, and spied three books on poetry, nestled on the end of one shelf. Two were thick anthologies, but the third was a slim volume tucked into a cardboard slip case. Perfect. The case could hold the blade during inspection. Unless Auntie Jo decided to tackle the books page by page, the razor would be safe.

Kassandra gingerly lifted the book out without disturbing the dust and then slid it from the case. Flipping it open at random, Keats’ name appeared smack at the top of the page. Only the last two lines of the poem were there, but it was one Kassandra had read hundreds of times: Ode to a Nightingale.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

       Fled is that music:—Do I wake or sleep?

A trembling sensation spread into Kassandra’s arms and legs. Everything felt mixed up now, like a nightmare, except she was wide awake.  It all used to be so simple. Poems weren’t loaded with meaning. And she had been a normal girl. Back when Dad was alive.

Kassandra wedged the razor near the binding. Just before snapping the book shut, she noticed some red from the blade rubbed off on the page—a scrawl underlining the last line. She wiggled the book back into its slip case and positioned it on the shelf to match the dust footprint. 

Then the sock went straight into the purse. Kassandra couldn’t risk throwing it out here. She’d have to toss it at school. Her hand brushed the Tarot deck. In a moment, she had the deck out and found the Death card. Lying on the bed, Kassandra set the card on the pillow. It was good to see Dad, even if it was only a picture that looked like him. 

“I wish you were really here,” It felt weird saying this out loud. Kind of like she was speaking to a person and not some rectangle of paper. “When you were around, Mom was still Mom.”

Chin settled on the bed, she stared at the illustration, waiting for Dad’s head to move again. Drowsiness curled around Kassandra, willing her eyes to shut. If she was patient enough, Dad’s head would move. 

Her fingers tingled as if falling asleep. But then the tingling picked up in her toes too. She tried to shift positions, but couldn’t let go of the card. Her arms prickled as if someone had dragged a comb lightly along the skin. Sleep tugged at her eyelids. The world faded away and her mind switched off.

Just before Kassandra dissolved into slumber, something shifted on the card. The room darkened, but the illustration glowed. A bitter coppery taste filled her mouth. Then Dad turned his head to stare.

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.