Kassandra Battles a Lion with Razor Blades for Fur

Chapter 35

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.

This time Kassandra didn’t fall through the darkness. It felt more like stepping into a pool of black water. She held her breath and submerged into a cold, wet night. Around her, nothing. Not even a hint of the door she’d come through. 

Her lungs strained, clamping on to the tiny bit of air. She needed to find the surface. Right now. One direction held a slightly lighter shade of black. Kassandra paddled toward it. The water lightened and beyond, sunlight filtered through interlacing branches. She broke the surface and sucked in breath after breath, so glad to have air around again.

After swimming to the shore, Kassandra found herself in the middle of a forest. Trees lined the bank in both directions—a mix of evergreen pine and those other types that lost their leaves in the winter. Clumps of grass and shrubs clogged nearly every open space except directly around the pond.

The nightingale splashed out of the water, waddling onto the muddy beach. It held its wings outward, the feathers scraggly and soaked. The bird looked pissed.

Kassandra jerked her head toward the pond. Where was Gabriel? He’d stepped through the door first, but he wasn’t here. She sat up as water dribbled from her shirt and pants, the fabric forming an icy blanket. Was he still swimming down there, lost in the blackness?

Kassandra glanced along the shore. Dim light passed through the trunks and branches, a strange twilight, neither morning nor evening. Maybe Gabriel arrived here first and wandered off. But where would he go?

The bird shuffled around in circles, every so often flapping its wings as though trying to take off, but its feathers were too wet.

The hairs along Kassandra’s neck prickled. Something stalked those woods, just out of sight. Even the nightingale paused and cocked its head toward the trees. She grabbed a broken branch poking out from the water and held it up like a club. Her fingers slid along the slimy muck coating the wood. 

A twig snapped and Kassandra focused on the location. A few feet in, the forest dissolved into shadow, leaving patches of blackness between the slender trunks. Her mind filled these in with all sorts of strange silhouettes. She stepped toward the tree line, holding the branch like a baseball bat. The nightingale hopped alongside.

“Lindsay?” 

A guttural snarl rumbled back. The muddy branch quivered and Kassandra stumbled backward. A massive shadowy thing shouldered through the trees.

Ditching the club, she hauled ass toward an opening in the trees to the left. The creature pounced, missing her by inches. It pursued, crunching twigs underfoot. Kassandra risked a glance and saw a shimmer, almost like rippling water in sunlight. 

A branch speared her ribs, leaving a scrawl of blood beneath the torn shirt. She shot forward, but the forest closed in from all sides. Tightly packed trees banged her shoulders and twigs clawed at her face. Roots snagged Kassandra’s shoes, making her almost trip, but she didn’t dare stop. It felt like the forest wanted to stop her. Finally the trees gave way to a small meadow filled with knee high grass.

Kassandra spun around. Nothing moved. She held her breath, listening. Had she lost it? Her lungs raged, craving fresh oxygen, but hearing was more important. No sound except the grass swishing back and forth. 

Twee-ta-ta-ta-ta-weet.

Kassandra whipped in the direction of the sound. It was only the stupid nightingale. The bird perched on the branch of a tree. It flapped its wings, now mostly dry. 

A bone-rattling growl came from behind. She spun, facing the line of trees at the far end of the meadow. How had it circled around her? This time the silhouette was easy to pick out. An enormous creature on all fours bulldozed through the trees. The thing had once been a lion. Its golden fur now glinted with thousands of razor blades embedded into its skin. Pins jutted out from its snout, forming whiskers.

Kassandra’s arms itched. She scratched at the skin, but the pricking sensation seemed to run beneath the crisscrossing scars. Her fingers dug deeper, trying to reach the source of the irritation, but she couldn’t reach it. The pain was underneath. 

The lion padded closer, yellowed grass pushed to either side.

“Stop it!” she screamed, as much at herself as the lion. 

The lion walked within arm’s reach, its head nearly to her shoulders. The mane bristled with a mixture of real hair and wicked razor blades. It seemed to be waiting.

Kassandra continued to claw at her arm, a fingernail ripping open the skin. She needed to stop, but her hand wouldn’t listen. It operated on full autopilot. Finally she dove down and bit her wrist, yanking the hand away from the bloody arm. 

The lion bared its teeth and let out a roar. The force nearly knocked Kassandra over. Instead of claws, thin curved knives slid out. The creature lifted one paw and swiped. She held up the mangled left arm—a feeble attempt to block the blow. The knife-claws slashed her skin.

Her shoulder thumped as more blood flowed out of the wound. A chill swept over her, burrowing down into the bones. This was what dying felt like. Kassandra collapsed to her knees.

Her imagination pinwheeled through images until settling on Dad’s funeral. His polished coffin sat on a table at the front of the church. She stepped toward it and peered inside. The worry lines around his eyes were finally relaxed. But the face was so still. Kassandra wanted to grab his shoulders and shout: wake up. He would open his eyes if I only she wished hard enough. That thought cycled through her brain over and over, refusing to be silenced. There was only one way to switch it off.

Cutting.

Kassandra stroked the polished wood of the coffin. The scent of cedar filled her nose. Dad’s chest didn’t move. The laugh lines curled around the corners of his mouth as if etched there. No hint remained of the mischievous grin he’d always sported. Dad would never smile again.

He was really gone.

She opened her eyes and the lion loomed inches away. The skin along her left arm was tinged blue.

“He’s dead!” Kassandra shouted at the lion. It stared back—two pinpricks of black against amber irises. “Is that what you want to hear?”

She blinked, the world going blurry, and slumped to the ground. Dirt flew up into her eyes and mouth. Everything became dark as the lion leaned its head forward. This was it. The creature would finish her.

Something wet and sticky slid along Kassandra’s arm. She looked, not trusting her senses. The lion licked the wounded arm, and where it cleared away the blood, the skin was healed. Only the lines of scar tissue remained.

She was alive. The lion hadn’t killed her. But why?

Kassandra’s breath came out raspy, but steady. She reached up and felt the lion’s mane. The razor blades had vanished and her hand passed through coarse hair. Grabbing hold, she pulled herself up. 

The lion was different now. It had changed when she shouted at it. Kassandra glanced at her arm, still covered in white scars. This was a test. It all had to do with her Dad. The lion only attacked when she denied the truth. 

The lion led her into the forest. She staggered, leaning against the scratchy mane for support. This time a trail wound back to the pond. The nightingale followed, fluttering from branch to branch. At the water’s edge, the lion knelt down, depositing her on the muddy beach. It nudged, but Kassandra didn’t need encouragement. She drank until her lungs protested and then rolled onto the bank, gasping. 

Kassandra didn’t ever want to move again. Her body felt like a pillow emptied of stuffing. Sleep clouded her eyes and she let it come.

Sometime later she awoke, face crusted with sand. The lion was gone. A scan of the shore revealed a line of paw prints leading back into the forest. 

Puh-twee-too. The nightingale sat on a nearby branch.

“Morning,” she said spitting up some sand. Her voice sounded as if someone had poured gravel down her throat. Now she knew what smoking felt like. Everything ached. Kassandra inspected her left arm. The skin appeared normal again, no sign of the damage done yesterday. If it even was yesterday. Murky light filtered through the trees, the same dim twilight as before.

Shouldn’t she be hungry? Starving in fact? But Kassandra didn’t have the slightest desire to eat. Maybe people didn’t have to in this place. It would explain how Gabriel survived for years strung up in his prison.

She looked over to the pond. Her throat was still sore and the water looked cool and inviting. Scooting to the edge, Kassandra peered in. A door lay at the bottom of the water, as if someone ripped it off a house and let it sink down. It sure hadn’t been there before.

The door swung open and a cascade of tiny bubbles emerged. When the pond cleared, it revealed a room with marble floors. She hoped it didn’t lead back to the Hanged Man card. Although if it meant finding Gabriel, Kassandra was all right with that. She stood, but her leg muscles spasmed with cramps, and she twirled each foot to loosen them up. 

The nightingale flapped its wings.

“I don’t think you’re going to like this very much. But I guess you have to stick with me.” 

Kassandra sucked in a deep breath and then dove. The water was icy but perfectly clear. She swam down and grabbed hold of the doorframe, rooted in the sandy bottom and pulled herself through. The dim light illuminated a round room with a marble floor. Paintings covered the walls this time, not mirrors. She glanced up through the door, which was now on the ceiling. Beyond it, the surface of the pond rippled in the scant sunlight.

Now what?

As if in answer, the door began to swing shut. Her chest seized and a bubble of air escaped her mouth. Kassandra paddled upward. The door thudded closed just as her fingers reached the knob. With the light cut off, the room went completely black. Kassandra twisted and pushed. She’d come too far to drown in some crazy lake bottom room. The door held fast, refusing to budge.

Kassandra gripped the knob, not for escape, but to simply hold onto something solid. Her lungs tightened. In a matter of moments she’d need to take a breath. She was trapped in a swirling watery darkness. 

Love, Death, Betrayal and Giant Snails

As a kid I experimented with Tarot cards. I think many of us did. That sort of rampant curiosity that comes with being a teen. The occult didn’t escape my attention. The mysterious Tarot cards, so iconic as a tool of prophecy, drew me in.

snail

Years later, this dabbling turned into downright research for my first published novel—Tarot: The Magician. I didn’t just want a story about evil Tarot cards. That felt too simplistic. Something the Syfy channel would whip up as their movie of the week. Instead, I delved into the history of the cards and how they started as the Dance of Death (see my article on it here).

Three of the Major Arcana cards particularly influenced me: The Magician, Death, and the Hanged Man. These not only became themes for the novel, but characters as well.

The Magician Becomes Love

The title of the novel revolves around a man named Luke Rykell (you can read some of his history here). He helped create the cursed deck. His reward: being trapped inside. But he was no magician.

The history of the card dates back to more of a con-artist or street hustler. One name for the original Magician card is Thimblerigger. Those were the sorts of fellas who tricked people with the three card monty. Their sleight of hand seemed like magic, thus the name of magician.

Here the "Magician" is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

Here the “Magician” is shown with his most famous trick: the cups and ball.

For most of the history of the tarot, the Magician was simply a street performer and con man. In fact the card’s name was the Juggler or the Trickster. This all changed when the occultist Éliphas Lévi redesigned this card. He depicted the Magician holding one of the card suits (usually a wand) with the others lying on the table (these items replaced the cups and ball trick). Later, Paul Christian (a devotee of Lévi) renamed The Juggler as The Magus, and the change was complete.

How does this relate to love? For most, the Magician represents skill, creativity, and free will. Yet when this card pops up with a romance question, the meaning shifts. It indicates that the time for a new romance is at hand. The moment is now.

Death is the Ultimate Change

Most folks are frightened when the Death card appears in a Tarot reading. They shouldn’t be. The Death card represents change—clearing out the old to make way for the new. Think about a forest fire. As destructive as this process is, it burns away brush that is clogging out new growth. Only with this destruction can the forest revitalize itself. Even after the Black Plague that scoured Europe, the survivors were stronger for it. New evidence suggests that the disease targeted weaker and more frail people, leaving a stronger populace in its wake.

Visconti-Sforza_tarot_deck._Death

In the story of Tarot: The Magician, there is a death in our heroine’s past. Right now, this loss weighs on her, and prevents her from moving on with her life. She needs to deal with it, and clear it away in order to grow.

The Hanged Man has Betrayed You

The man hanging my one foot represents a traitor (the original Italian name was Il Traditore, the Traitor). May believe this represent Judas Iscariot, and the fifteenth century Rosenwald deck shows the figure clutching a small bag in each hand. This might be the thirty pieces of silver.

mshangedman_med

Another argument suggests that this figure is Muzio Attendolo, who had been given a high position by the the Pope and then chose to speak out against him. The offended Pope ordered pictured painted of Muzio Attendolo upside-down and suspended from one foot. This type of art was called shame painting. The Pope displayed these paintings all over Rome.

In both cases, the men hanging upside down were traitors. And that’s the meaning used in Tarot: The Magician. The brother to Luke Rykell is Gabriel and he was tasked with illustrating the cursed deck of cards. Only when he reached the final illustration, he balked—not ready to doom his soul to eternal torment. His betrayal led to the entrapment of Luke inside the Tarot cards themselves.

What Does a Giant Snail Have to Do with All This?

The fact that Luke lives in a tower attached to a snail is not a mistake. While researching the aspects of the magician card, I wanted to hone in on the idea of the will and the mind (both traits associated with the Magician card). This led me to the spiral of the snail’s shell, and how it winds in on itself. This is a common symbol for expanded consciousness. In sacred geometry, the spiral follows the Golden Ratio.

spirala

So the home for Luke was both a way to expand his magical powers of intellect, but also a prison that spiraled in forever. It also wasn’t lost on me that in Christian symbolism, the snail stands for sloth. Although Luke is far from lazy, he does linger in his card for hundreds of years and this plays on his mind.

There are many stories attached to the Tarot cards. The symbolism is rich and goes back centuries. The more you dig up on the Tarot, the more they will amaze you.

Tim Kane

Should Vampires Sparkle?

Sadly, the answer is yes. Despite your attitude toward Twilight and its ilk of bloodsuckers, this trend toward the romantic vampire was inevitable.

In the 1980’s vampire films were at an all time low. A comedy, Love at First Bite with George Hamilton, out grossed the serious remake of Dracula with Frank Langella.

Love-at-first-bite

Love at First Bite, released April 1979, grossed $44 million.

MSDDRAC EC020

Dracula, released July 1979, only grossed $20 million.

Vampires might be able to rise from the dead, but there was no saving poor box office results. The failure of Frank Langella’s Dracula signaled the end of the serious vampire movie. After all, how could these supernatural creatures compete with Jason Voorhees or Freddy Kruger? By all intents, the vampire film, and genre, should have never survived into the 80s.

In 1985, two more vampire films were released. One film was another comedy: Once Bitten with Jim Carrey. The second was Fright Night. The box office results showed that a serious vampire movie could compete again.

ONCE BITTEN

Once Bitten, released November 1985, only grossed $10 million.

frightnight1985_11

Fright Night, released August 1985, pulled in $25 million.

The secret to Fright Night’s success was a genre pastiche. It successfully mashed up the vampire film with the more popular teen horror flicks. Instead of a dated historic timeline, the movie existed in present day. Instead of stuffy older adults fighting the vampire, teens had to cope with the monster.

Fright Night competed will with other horror films of the time. Look a that some 1985 box office grosses: Return of the Living Dead ($14 million); Friday the 13th part V ($22 million), Nightmare on Elms Street 2 ($30 million).

The success of Fright Night led to nearly all future vampire films having a genre pastiche element. More teen films arrives (Lost Boys , 1987), along with vampire westerns (Near Dark, 1987 and From Dusk Till Dawn, 1996) and plenty of action movies mashed up with vampires (Blade, 1998 and Underworld, 2003).

So what, you ask, has this got to do with the sparkling vampires of Twilight?

It was inevitable that the romance genre would be combined with vampires. A long history of a vampire longing for a lost love existed. The 1960s television soap opera, Dark Shadows, was the first to have a romantic vampire with Barnabas. Several other movies carried this theme along, notably Blacula (1972) and Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992).

In 1991, The Vampire Diaries series featured Elena Gilbert, a human girl, who is only moved to passion by Stefan Salvatore, a vampire. These novels jump stared a whole industry of paranormal romance. The meshing of two popular genres: the supernatural and romance. It was only a matter of time before these popular books exploded onto the screen. The small screen for Vampire Diaries. And a four part movie series for Twilight.

draft_lens12020081module109503401photo_1278602143twilight-edward-sparkle-v

Vampires have so melded with romance, I doubt the two will separate. However, this doesn’t mean that different genre pastiches don’t await us in the future. Would people want to see vampire political thrillers (a bit like the Kindred)? Or supernatural detectives (like the X-Files)? The genre of vampires will not dies. It simply resurrects in different forms.

To read more about how vampires have changed through the years, check out my book: The Changing Vampire of Film and Television.

changevamp

Thanks,

Tim Kane