The Tarot Cards Cause Lindsay to Melt into Colors

Chapter 25

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 breath came in spurts. “Don’t joke about a thing like that.”

“It’s true.” Luke pointed to the cards in her hand. “With those you can cheat death.”

She started down the sidewalk, one hand dropping into the purse to find the Tarot deck. Squeezing the cards, she pictured Dad trapped in the gloomy garage. Wetness formed in her eyes. This time, there was no need to brush the tears away. They weren’t stupid. These tears were fueled by hope.

 “Why are you telling me all this?”  

“It’s Ezabell,” he said, gaze flicking toward the sidewalk. “You, more than anyone, should know the pain of losing someone you love.”

“And you want to use these cards to bring her back?”

“No, you don’t understand. The deck only works for its owner. And that’s you.”

Kassandra rubbed a thumb along the gold patterned backs, marred with scratches. “So these can really bring my dad back?”

“Yes. I can show you how. But we’ll need the whole deck.”

She couldn’t fathom the idea. To actually have Dad back. Kassandra didn’t dare believe it. It would be too terrible if it failed. She stopped walking. What had Clerk Lady said? Luke was only after the deck.

“Can you tell me what to do?” 

“It’s very complex. Better if I show you.” Luke stared at her, his eyes impossible to read. 

“You said the cards only work for me. So…I need to hold on to them, right?”

“True.” His gaze wandered down the street to where another girl was walking their way. He turned back. “I’ll try to show you what I know, but it may be dangerous.”

“How?”

“With you, the cards can trigger at any time. A single strong emotion will set them off.” Luke pointed to the deck. “Let’s try something safe. You said some cards started off blank.”

She shuffled through the Major Arcana until finding a blank one. The background showed a golden tapestry. Cut into it was an outline of where a person should have been. A lion with a long curly mane squatted next to the blank spot. The bottom read Fortitude.

Kassandra held it up. “Why is only part of this gone? With the other cards, the whole thing goes blank.”

“There are people trapped in the deck, just like I was. When they’re freed, only part of the card goes blank.”

“You mean there’s some lion tamer walking around somewhere?”

Luke rolled his eyes. “That’s a bit literal, but I guess so.” He moved closer. “Let’s focus on this card. You need to dredge up some strong emotions.”

“What’s going to happen?”

“The card is blank. That makes it safe.” 

Kassandra inspected the card. The lion had its mouth open, baring bright white teeth. 

“Think about your father. How it felt to lose him.” Luke glanced down the street. “The pain is critical.”

She closed her eyes and pictured Dad’s face. When he smiled, wrinkles formed at the corners of his mouth. 

“This emotion has to be strong,” Luke said. “Remember how you felt when you saw the note on your locker door. The one about your dad.”

A tightness gripped Kassandra’s chest, like a hand squeezing her heart. “I don’t want to think about it.” She opened her eyes.

“You need emotional power.” Luke leaned close and she caught the scent of citrus again. He gripped the other side of the card. “This deck will bring your father back, but you have to open up to the pain.”

Her pulse resonated deep inside, slow and thick. She could picture the note clearly. The yellow twine twisted into a noose. No wait, it hadn’t been yellow. That was the rope Dad used. 

“Hey Seattle.”

Kassandra glanced up at the girl on the sidewalk. Perfect hair. Manicured nails. Pert green sweater. It was Lindsay. 

“Trying to drive another man to suicide?”

The tension in Kassandra’s chest exploded, scorching through her body. She let go of the card and stepped forward. “At least my dad still loved my mom. What’s the excuse with your parents?”

“Bitch.” Lindsay threw back a strawberry curl

“You practically define the word.”

She got right in Kassandra’s face. “You really don’t want to make any friends in this town, do you? Freak.”

Kassandra clenched a fist. Just once she’d like to smack the righteousness right out of this girl.

A low growl came from farther down the sidewalk and Lindsay spun around. A full grown lion emerged from behind a bush, cat eyes glinting in the sunlight. Goose pimples pricked Kassandra’s skin as the giant cat padded forward, now only a few feet away. 

She froze in panic, limbs transformed to solid stone. Her mind spun through all the wildlife documentaries she’d ever seen on television.

The lion surged forward, running in an oddly quiet gait. Lindsay held up one arm, desperate to protect herself. The claws sank deep, ripping into the skin and muscle as if shredding tissue. The giant cat forced Lindsay down on the sidewalk. 

Kassandra stumbled backward as blood gushed onto the pavement. 

“You need to watch this.” Luke gripped her shoulders with both hands.

“No. Let me go.” She spun, pushing away. 

Luke hooked an arm around and drew her close. Kassandra battered his chest, the bottled hysteria spewing out. She couldn’t look at it. Not with all the blood. 

“You must understand what you’ve unleashed.”

Kassandra squeezed her eyes shut. A weird sound—half sobbing, half gasping—came from Lindsay. Then gurgled words. The girl was saying something. Kassandra turned around.

The lion had retreated down the sidewalk, where it waited on its haunches. Lindsay lay sprawled on the concrete. Blood pulsed from one arm, but it wasn’t red. The liquid pooling along the curb looked green. Lindsay’s sweater was losing its green pigment, like a photograph slowly fading to black and white. Finally, when all the color leeched away, the blood took on the blue tint from her jeans, and they began to fade. 

A single thought, red hot and sharp, invaded Kassandra’s mind: The life was draining out of her.

Lindsay’s eyes pleaded. She attempted to speak, but only released a raspy wheeze. Kassandra tried to step forward, but Luke’s arms kept her rooted to one spot.

He leaned down next to her ear. “I told you there’d be dangers to keeping the cards.”

Kassandra held the deck up, still clutched in one hand. It was the card’s fault. They caused this. Not her.

Lindsay sobbed uncontrollably. Her clothes appeared dull and muted. A multicolored soup dribbled over the curb into the gutter. Now the blood pouring out of her arm took on a flesh color. Lindsay’s face sunk into various shades of ash. The skin looked like a burnt up lump of charcoal. 

Kassandra wrenched away. “Stop it. Stop this now.”

“I can’t.” 

“Do something.”

He looked over at Lindsay with a slight frown. “You must have really hated the girl.”

“No, that’s wrong.” Tears trickled down Kassandra’s face. “You said the card was safe.”

“It should have been. Only an intense emotion could trigger it.”

A crackling noise came from Lindsay, like burning paper. Only a ragged outline remained of the girl, like one of the sketches Kassandra had made in art class last year—lines and contours with no solid form. The blood on the sidewalk blistered and dried to a chalky dust.

Lindsay looked out with eyes no more than outlines. Kassandra stepped forward and touched the girl’s hand. The tangle of lines that formed the arm crumbled into dust, causing a chain reaction. Soon the entire figure collapsed to the sidewalk.

Kassandra smeared tears away. She’d killed Lindsay. Totally erased her.

“I can’t do this anymore.” Turning to face Luke, Kassandra held up the cards. “These things destroy everything around me.” She tossed them on the sidewalk. “Take them.”

Luke knelt down to collect the cards. The corners of his mouth twitched as though forcing back a grin. 

Flakes of ash drifted up the sidewalk and clung to Kassandra’s sneaker. She jerked her foot away, trying to dislodge them. “We need to get away from here.”

He cradled the cards in one hand. “I don’t think so.”

What was wrong with him? Lindsay had disintegrated. Right there, before them. Bits of her floated all over the street.

“I can’t stay here.”

“Then you should go.” Luke sifted through the deck, one card at a time, lips moving as if counting. 

Another flake of ash attached itself to her leg. Kassandra shook it loose and stumbled down the sidewalk. After a moment, she sprinted, her mind a stew of thoughts. Nothing made sense. Did she really hate Lindsay so much?

Reaching the corner, Kassandra looked back. Luke knelt on the sidewalk. He’d pulled one card out the deck and seemed to be scooping up the ash. The flakes vanished when they touched the card, almost as if they were being sucked up.Luke’s grin broadened until it cracked open into laughter.

The Tarot Cards Can Bring Dad Back

Chapter 24

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 dreamt about the garage again. The lights were off and she could just make out the workbench a few feet away. A stale smell lingered in the air, like the place has been locked up for too long. As she walked, one shoe slipped on a smudge of oil left from Dad’s truck. The place seemed so much more real than any dream she’d had before. 

When Kassandra reached for the cord of the shop light, a fluttering sound came from somewhere off to the left. It darted around the garage, first above and then behind. She snagged the cord and the shop light flickered to life, rocking back and forth and casting crazy shadows like a lightning storm.

Kassandra scanned the garage for the source of the sound. Turning, she bumped into something. Instantly, her mouth filled with the taste of metal, cold and slimy. A pair of shoes dangling right at eye level. She jumped back. 

Dad! 

Kassandra saw him from behind, his feet tilted at an odd angle. A yellow rope cut into the skin around the neck and then ran straight up to the rafters. The body rotated. Kassandra’s arms trembled, the muscles twitching out of control. She couldn’t do this again. His face came into view—the color of blue chalk. Kassandra tried to scream, but only a throaty hiccup emerged, cut short by her terror. She needed to run—just turn and bolt as far away as possible—but her limbs had gone numb, forcing Kassandra to witness everything. Dad’s tongue jutted out, dried spittle crusting the edges. She shook, heart hammering inside her chest.

A pair of hands gripped her shoulders. “Kassie, take it easy.” 

It was Dad’s voice. Kassandra opened her eyes. (When had she closed them?) Dad stood by the workbench, the same salt and pepper hair as always. The rope and the body were gone. But she couldn’t have imagined them?

He smiled, thin laugh lines wrinkled together around his mouth, and then pulled Kassandra into an embrace. His massive arms folded around her slender frame, scenting the air with the smell of fresh cut lumber.

“It’s really you.” Kassandra collapsed into him, finally safe. 

“I’m sorry I scared you.”

Scared her? Why would he say something like that?

He broke off the embrace, holding Kassandra by the shoulders. “I didn’t know you were here.”

She frowned. “How come I can hear you? Last time you couldn’t speak.”

“All I know is that you’re here. Really here.” He gave her shoulders a little squeeze. “Before, you were more like a ghost.”

Kassandra, a ghost? It sounded strange coming from him. She wanted to giggle, but held off. One slip would tumble her into a fit of crying. She needed to hold it together.

The fluttering sound still came from the rafters—like someone flipping through pages in a book. Something small zipped around up there, but the shop light kept swaying, making it difficult to see anything for sure.

“I don’t know why you’re here, but you can’t stay.” Dad placed a hand on her shoulder. “This place isn’t for you.”

“Where is here?”

He stared at the glob of oil staining the floor. “After the rope tightened, everything went dark. Then, I just sort of woke up in this place.”

“Why am I here? I was in my room…”

Puh-twee-too.

Kassandra glanced up. The swinging lamp spotlighted a tiny brown bird perched on one of the beams. Washed out feathers looked like driftwood worn smooth by the tide. The bird leapt into the air, its wings creating the fluttering sound as it flew. It landed on the workbench just a few feet away, fixing Kassandra with one black eye.

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

The bird’s song reminded her of a tiny jackhammer, filled with whistles and trills. It was a nightingale, just like from Keats’ poem. Where exactly had she stashed all those pages from the red spiral notebook?

“It shouldn’t be in here.” Dad frowned. “The birds always stay outside.”

Outside? Did he mean out in the old neighborhood?

Dad tapped on the garage door with a metallic thunk. “The flock gathers sometimes in the meadow.”

Kassandra had no idea what he was talking about. The bird hopped around on the workbench, attracting her attention. It pecked at a small cardboard box. The side read: 100 Single Edge Industrial Blades. Her gut tightened. It was the box. The one she’d swiped the razor blade from. 

Kassandra remembered coming home from school. The house had felt oddly quiet. She’d slipped into the kitchen to fix a PB and J. Afterward, she went into the garage. There was no reason to go in there. She might have sensed it even then.

The lights were out. As Kassandra made the walk over to the workbench, jelly oozed from the sandwich and dribbled along one pant leg. She knelt to brush it off and heard an awful creaking—the sound of wood under too much strain, ready to snap. 

Brushing the jeans only smeared the jelly. Kassandra stepped over to the workbench and grabbed the cord with jelly-coated fingers. The only thing on her mind was how badly it might stain her jeans.

Then she’d turned on the light. 

Kassandra examined the cord over the workbench now. Bits of crusted jelly still clung to the string. A tightness filled her chest. This was no dream real. It was real.

She swiveled on Dad. “Why’d you do it? Why’d you leave me?”

He frowned and rubbed the back of his neck. “I was in over my head with debt. It would have pulled the whole family down.” Dad avoided her eyes. “I thought I was helping.”

“Things just got worse. Mom changed.” Those stupid tears threatened to break out again, but she stuffed them down. “I miss you all the time.”

“I’m sorry.” 

Dad drew Kassandra into another hug. His body felt warm and most of all safe. Nothing could go wrong with him holding her.

“I’ll find a way to get you out of here.” She squeezed him. “I promise.”

Dad pulled away, gripping her face with both hands. His calluses pressed against Kassandra’s cheeks.

“There is no way out.” He spread his arms to indicate the garage. “This is all I have left. This, and now you.”

Wee-tee-tee-tee-tweet.

The nightingale launched into the air, shooting straight for Kassandra. She raised her hands to keep it away, but the tiny bird slipped through, diving for her chest.

Kassandra burst out of bed, rolled onto the floor, and cracked onto one of Auntie Jo’s bookcases. Her forehead throbbed. She rubbed at it with one hand and looked around. Light streamed through the window, but it was different—not afternoon light. The bed sheets were still pulled up and the Death card sat propped up on the pillow. 

“Kassandra!” It was Mom’s voice, close by. Outside in the hall. 

Kassandra snatched up the card just as Mom barreled through the door. Of course she doesn’t bother to knock.

“You’re up, good.” Mom inspected Kassandra for a moment. “You need to do something with your hair.” She breezed past, diving into the dusty trunk-closet. “Let’s see what we have.”

Kassandra shoved the Death card into one pocket as Mom pawed through the new clothes. “Wow, you actually have some decent things in here.”

“Hello, Mom.” Kassandra injected enough sarcasm to kill a buffalo. Mom ignored it, dumping more clothes onto the floor. She must’ve really be in her own world. Normally a response like that would’ve sent Mom into a frenzy. 

The light outside the window looked more like morning than afternoon. Kassandra blinked. Had she slept the whole night? It felt like only a few minutes.

“We have to get you presentable. There’s not much time.”

“Am I late for the bus?”

“You’re walking today.”

Kassandra frowned. Since when did Mom make that decision? Or even care?

Mom held up a blouse. An impulse buy. Not really Kassandra’s style. It figured Mom would choose it. Then she plucked out those eighty-dollar jeans. “This should do. Now get changed, quick.”

“What’s going on?” 

Mom’s eyes widened, barely able to contain the excitement. “There’s a boy named Luke and he wants to walk you to school.” She reached forward and caressed Kassandra’s cheek. For an instant it felt like the old Mom again. The one who actually talked with instead of at her. 

“Now hurry up before he changes his mind.” She headed out the door. 

Ouch. Did Mom think Kassandra was so pitiful?

She surveyed the blouse. A little on the revealing side, but that was Mom’s secret to recovery. Find another guy and everything turned out peachy. Well, Kassandra wouldn’t replace Dad so easily. 

After dressing, she had to submit to a Mom session of lipliner and mascara. Kassandra didn’t dislike make up. It’s just Mom wore it like a badge of honor—always perfect, never smudged. After multiple reminders of the time Kassandra finally escaped more face painting. As they tromped down the hall toward the living room, Mom adjusted Kassandra’s ponytail. 

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo leaned on the counter, sipping a cup of tea. She talked to Luke, whose back was to the hall.

“Well, here she is.” Mom flourished her arms as if presenting a prize mare at a horse show.

Luke spun around. He wore another white T-shirt and jeans. No wait. The spatter of brown had to be the coffee from yesterday. So he didn’t change his clothes. That seemed a bit grungy.

“Hi,” Luke said and hit her with his grin. “Sorry to barge in, but I thought I could walk you to school.”

“Oh, don’t worry.” Mom flashed a smile. “She’s excited to go.”

Kassandra winced. Maybe Mom should ask him out. She seemed eager enough. 

Luke gave an uncomfortable chuckle. “We should get going.” He started toward the door. 

As they left, Kassandra caught a glimpse of Auntie Jo, who gave a weird look. Was there something she needed to say? 

But Mom hustled the pair to the door. “Bye kids. Be careful walking to school.” 

“Yeah, Mom.” Kassandra power-walked around the curb, putting distance between her and super-mom.

“You have a sweet family.”

“Don’t get me started.” Kassandra glanced back. Once they were far enough away, she slowed to a reasonable pace.

“Your mother seems to really look out for you.”

“And then some.”

“What about your father? What’s he like?”

Kassandra stopped, recalling last night’s dream. The details still clung to her like Mom’s cigarette smoke, everything vivid in her mind—the oil stain on the floor, the smile on Dad’s face. It felt like traveling back in time. Back home to Seattle. 

“You don’t have to say it. I can already tell.” Luke turned to face her. “You have that look.”

“What do you mean?”

“The look of someone who’s lost everything.”

Kassandra stared into his eyes. They were distant and detached—the copper flecks in his irises seemed dulled in the morning light. He’d lost someone too. 

“He doesn’t have to stay gone, you know.” Luke looked her dead on. “We can bring your father back.”

Kassandra Won’t Let Go of Her Dad

Chapter 23

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.

Luke accompanied Kassandra on the long walk home. They didn’t speak and didn’t hold hands. At first she thought it was the thing with Clerk Lady, but the farther they traveled, the more Kassandra realized it was probably her. 

He had opened up and risked everything with a kiss. And how did Kassandra respond? A big old blank expression. Yeah, she really blew it.

They turned a corner, Auntie Jo’s blue Beetle visible a few houses down. If Kassandra didn’t say something now, she might never get the chance. 

“Hey, I’m sorry about before.”

He shook his head slightly. “I pushed too quickly. It’s been a long time since I met anyone like you.” There was this strange quality in his eyes. A kind of sorrow. “I’ll see you tomorrow.” He turned and walked back the way they’d come.

Kassandra wanted to shout something like they did in those movies. Make him come running back to her. But she couldn’t think of a single thing. Luke kept moving farther away, rounded the corner, and disappeared. She wouldn’t be seeing him tomorrow. Except maybe sitting next to Lindsay. 

Auntie Jo’s was the only car in the drive. Mom was out with Bill or Frank or whatever his name was. Or maybe at the part time job. The smell of cooking filled the entire house. Auntie Jo was going for the fabulous family dinner idea, part two. Maybe Kassandra could pretend to be sick. It wouldn’t be too hard considering how last night’s dinner went. 

Kassandra carefully closed the front door and snuck down the hall. Her backpack thunked on the bed. She needed to get cracking on homework. The assignments were piling up. 

The book of poetry sat tucked on the shelf—razor wedged between the pages. A grin popped onto Kassandra’s face. She hadn’t thought about cutting. Not once. Not since… Kassandra furrowed her brow. Not since Luke arrived. She didn’t care what Clerk Lady said. Kassandra felt better around him, the kind of person she always dreamed of being.

Taking the Tarot deck out, Kassandra searched for the Magician, but it was still missing. Where had it gone? She racked her brain. Auntie Jo! Kassandra had given the card to her. Luke said the cards stayed with people who held onto them. It might explain why the card wouldn’t zap back.

In the kitchen, Auntie Jo hummed while zipping from counter to stove, where a pot simmered, bubbling up fantastic smells. Maybe Kassandra wouldn’t skip dinner tonight. She’d just keep her mouth full of food to avoid speaking.

“I didn’t hear you come in.” Auntie Jo tasted the simmering concoction with a wooden spoon. 

“Do you still have the card I gave you?”

She nodded. “I dug into my library for you.”

Kassandra froze. What if she’d looked at the books in her bedroom? She couldn’t recall if the dust on the shelf had been disturbed. Glancing up, Kassandra saw Auntie Jo stirring the pot on autopilot. This meant safe. If she’d found the razor, she’d be all over Kassandra by now.

“Let me show you.” Auntie Jo headed into the living room where several books covered the coffee table. Multiple holes dotted the shelves along the wall. She pulled The Magician card from one pocket and pointed to the border. “See this pattern.” A gold ribbon wound around the edges of the illustration. “It’s unusual. I haven’t seen it in any other Tarot design. And look here.” She pointed to one of the corners. “What do you see?”

Kassandra peered at the border and noticed a tiny wine glass woven into the design. “Hey, there’s a cup.”

“There’s a symbol for each of the four suits hidden in the border.” She pointed to each corner in turn. “Cups, wands, coins, and swords.”

“But that’s not a sword.” Kassandra pointed to what looked like a shovel in one corner.

“It’s a spade, just like on a regular deck of cards. It also stands for a sword.” Auntie Jo set the card on the coffee table next to a gob of melted wax. “It’s good to see you showing an interest in the Tarot.” She lifted one of the books off the table, which wobbled from the shift in weight. “Cards like these can center you. They let you work through your problems.” Auntie Jo hummed a tune while flipping through the pages. “This is how most decks portray The Magician.” 

An illustration showed a man in robes holding up a candle burning on both ends. He looked a lot more like the wizard type than the figure in Kassandra’s deck.

“Now look here.” Auntie Jo grinned and turned a page to a woodcut illustration depicting a group of people surrounding a small round table. One guy performed a trick with three cups and a ball while the others watched. Kassandra zeroed in on the cup game, mind flashing with the image of Luke scooting around the bottle caps.

“The card was originally called the Thimblerigger or Juggler. The kind of person who performs street magic, sleight of hand… that sort of thing.”

Kassandra wanted to compare this picture to the one in The Magician card, but when she turned back to the table, it was gone. Lifting various crystals and the covers of books revealed nothing.

“Where’d you leave The Magician card?”

“Right on the table.” Auntie Jo turned around to look. “Why?”

“No, it can’t be…” Kassandra pulled out the Tarot deck and thumbed through. Third card down. She held up The Magician.

Auntie Jo scratched her chin. “Puzzling. The card was in my pocket the whole day. This is the first time I’ve set it down.”

“It makes sense. You put it on the table. You didn’t possess it anymore.” The same thing had happened with Lindsay taking the lion card. At lunch, after everyone passed it around, it fell on the ground and zapped back.

Auntie Jo took the card and inspected it. “Let’s try an experiment.” She propped the card up on a chunky crystal. “Okay, turn around and don’t look at it.”

“What’s this going to prove?”

“Hush up and turn around, girl.”

Kassandra spun to face away from the coffee table.

“Now I’m going to go check on dinner. You stay right there.” Auntie Jo trudged off to the kitchen.

Kassandra’s mind drifted back to the woodcut illustration. Luke had been able to make the pea appear under any bottle cap. Then there was the quarter he made dance along his knuckles. It all seemed like magic, but it was only sleight of hand.

“Who-wee, it worked.” Auntie Jo clapped her hands. “Take a look.”

Kassandra turned around. The card had disappeared again. 

“Go ahead, check the deck.”

The Tarot deck had been in Kassandra’s hands the whole time. She turned over the top card—The Magician. She hadn’t felt a thing. Kassandra snapped the edge of the card with her thumbnail. This was no sleight of hand. This was real magic. 

Auntie Jo walked over. “I don’t think it works if you’re looking at the card. So long as I stared at it, the card stayed put. But the minute I turned and stirred the pot, wham, back to the deck it went.”

“Out of sight, out of mind.” Kassandra passed the card back to Auntie Jo. 

“Why are you giving this to me?”

“Call it a continuation of your experiment.”

Auntie Jo slid the card into the apron pocket. Then she eyed Kassandra. “We haven’t had a chance to talk yet about what’s going on with you.” 

Kassandra nibbled on a fingernail. This was the reason she’d snuck into her room. “I’ve been feeling a whole lot better.” She grinned. “Haven’t even thought about…you know…for days.”

“It’s not so simple.”

“Yeah, I know I won’t wake up and it’ll all be gone. But I do feel better.”

“You’ve never dealt with what happened to your father.”

An icy chill crackled through Kassandra’s limbs, frosting her heart. Why was Auntie Jo getting on her about Dad? At least she remembered him. “I’m not the one who isn’t dealing. Look at Mom.”

Auntie Jo waggled the spoon. “You refused to talk to Dr. Sheldon. Mom did and recovered.”

“No. She just dumped everything from our old life, like Dad didn’t matter.”

“You’re wrong. I know how much Louise misses your father. Before you moved down, she’d call me almost every night. Mostly just to cry about him.”

“Well, if forgetting Dad ever existed is recovered, then I’m just fine where I am.”

“You’re not. Can’t you see? You have all this pain inside you and you use the cutting to get it out.”

Auntie Jo was actually turning on her. Kassandra’s neck tensed up. She wanted to scream and cry all at the same time. 

“You have to come to terms with your father’s death.”

“But he’s not dead! I’ve seen him.” Kassandra stomped down the hall. 

“Honey…”

“Leave me alone!”

Kassandra kicked the door shut and then fell on the bed. Tears gushed out, slithering down her cheeks like serpents. She hated crying. One hand jammed into her pocket and pulled out the Death card.

“See? I’m not crazy. You are alive in there.” As if in response, the illustration of Dad’s head turned. One tear trickled around her lips, tasting salty and sweet. 

“Dad, you hear me, right?” Kassandra mopped her face with the bed sheet. “I need your help. I need you back here, in the real world.” She propped the card up against the pillow. “Or some way for me to get to you.”

Laying her head on her hands, Kassandra stared at the card. 

“I just need you.”

Kassandra Receives a Cryptic Warning

Chapter 22

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 bus pulled to a halt in the school parking lot, brakes squealing. Kassandra’s stomach gurgled from the mound of junk food crammed in there. Then there was the upcoming ride—two hours stuck in a rolling heat trap, trundling around town dropping kids off.

Luke sidled up. “Let’s skip it.”

“Walk?” Kassandra didn’t know which way home was, but knew it was far.

“Well, not right away.” He shrugged. “I know you can’t be hungry, but I thought we might grab some coffee.”

After lunch she doubted she’d ever eat again. When Kassandra had left, food tumbled off the table, the mound was so high. The janitor must despise her.

Luke raised an eyebrow, waiting for an answer. 

Was he asking her out? Kassandra hooked a lock of hair over one ear. “Sure.”

“It’s done.” He grabbed her hand, zooming across the parking lot. 

They only had to travel a few blocks before running into Arroyo Grove’s diminutive shopping district, ending up at the coffee shop Kassandra had changed clothes in after the spending spree. She ordered some drinks using the last of the magic money and headed outside for a table. The courtyard sported massive wooden planters, each holding assorted roses, foxgloves, and poppies. It made the place feel like a miniature English garden. They snagged a table surrounded by sunflowers and magenta snapdragons.

“So I’ve been meaning to ask you…” Kassandra stirred the whipped cream into her mocha. “How’d you get…you know…stuck in a deck of cards?”

Luke plucked a quarter from the change left on tray and deftly rolled it over his knuckles. “It was over a girl.”

“Really?” Kassandra cocked an eyebrow.

“Long time ago.”

“How long is that, exactly?” She took a slurp of the mocha, coating her lips with whipped cream. Luke reached forward and brushed it off with a thumb.

“Six hundred years.”

Kassandra sprayed her drink all over the table, a few drops spattering Luke’s T-shirt. “I’m sorry.” She started dabbing at the fabric with a napkin. 

“It’s all right.” 

“I know, but I made a mess.” She switched to mopping up the table.

“It’s hard to take in all at once. I should have warned you.”

Luke removed the soaked napkins and tossed them in a nearby trash can. Speckles of brown stained the white T-shirt, but at least the table was clean. He slid back into his seat. Only a few other customers dotted the cafe. Still, when she spoke next, it was almost a whisper.

“So you’re really six hundred years old?” Kassandra scanned his face. He didn’t look much older than a typical high school student.

“That’s just when I was born. I’ve been trapped in the cards most of those years. I’m actually closer to twenty.”

“But how’d it happen? I mean, I can tell those cards aren’t normal.”

“They were designed by Gabriel, my brother.” Her mind flashed to the picture of the Hanged Man card. “He was jealous of my relationship with Ezabell, that’s the girl I told you about.” Luke sipped from his mug. His eyes had a far away look. “Gabriel created the cards as a sort of prison and trapped me there.”

Kassandra scrunched up her face. “But I saw him there too.”

“I told you, the cards have a mind of their own. They tricked Gabriel, and now he’s stuck there too.” Luke set the coffee cup on the table. “Do you know what the Hanged Man signifies in the Tarot deck?”

She shook her head.

“The betrayer.” A wicked smile spread across his face. “I find it poetic that the cards placed him there.” Luke saw Kassandra watching, and the smile vanished. “Ezabell died hundreds of years ago. Though sometimes I think I can sense her spirit in the cards.”

“You do?” Kassandra had dreamt of Dad these last few days. Almost like was nearer to her. Maybe Luke felt the same. She reached down and ran a thumb along the edge of the Death card, still secure in her front pocket. Kassandra didn’t trust putting it back with the deck. She wanted to be able to find it anytime.

“Ever since I found these cards, things are different.” She slurped some more mocha. “Or maybe it’s not them at all. Maybe it’s meeting you.” Luke listened to every word. Those eyes seemed to hold an entire world. “Today…standing up to Lindsay. I would’ve never said anything like that before.”

Luke leaned forward and gripped her chin with one hand. And then they were kissing. His soft lips pressed against hers. 

There should have been fireworks. This was the third time she’d kissed and Luke was most definitely the best looking of the bunch. But there was nothing. It felt like pretend kissing her hand. Why didn’t she feel anything? This guy was cute, plus he the only real friend she had in this town.

He pulled back, the corners of his mouth twisting into a frown.

Kassandra cringed. Was she so easy to read? She slapped on a happy smile and planned to say something about how great the kiss was.

“I should get you home.” Luke stood up.

“Uh, okay.”

“I’ll take care of these.” He set the mugs back on the tray, both still halfway full, and toted them inside the coffee house.

Kassandra fidgeted in her seat. Why had she been so weird back then? Luke probably laid himself bare and she sat there like a dead mackerel.

Something caught the corner of her eye. Kassandra turned and saw a woman staring through the line of sunflowers—Clerk Lady from the Psychic Mind shop, the one who’d sold Auntie Jo the cards.

Kassandra circled the planter. Lines of panic wormed their way across the woman’s forehead. 

“I need to talk to you.” Her gaze bounced between Kassandra and the coffee shop.

What was with this lady? She’d hustled Kassandra out of the shop, but now she wanted to chat? “I don’t know what’s going on with you, but these cards are really strange.”

“That’s what I wanted to tell you.” Clerk Lady fidgeted with a blouse sleeve. “You have to stay away from him.”

Him? Did she mean Luke? Kassandra turned and looked at the coffee shop. 

“Luke is playing with you. He only wants the cards.”

“Wait. How do you know his name?”

Clerk Lady backed away, gaze fixed on something. Kassandra spun and saw Luke exiting the coffee shop. When she turned back, Clerk Lady had dashed across the street to the Psychic Mind and was frantically working the lock on the front door.

She knew Luke’s name. And the Tarot cards, they used to belong to her. Maybe Clerk Lady summoned Luke out of the deck too. Then a thought occurred to Kassandra. When she found the cards, the illustration of The Magician had still been there. So if Clerk Lady did pull Luke out of the deck, then maybe she was the one who’d put him back.

“Who was that?” Luke asked, appearing at Kassandra’s side.

Across the street, the door to the shop swung shut. One corner of the blinds shifted. Clerk Lady was spying on them through the window.

“I don’t know.” It was a lie. Kassandra didn’t know why, but she couldn’t tell him the truth yet.

“Of course. I understand.”

The Tarot Cards Kassandra Trapped

Chapter 21

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 fire truck blared onto the scene and firefighters drenched the burning car with water. Meanwhile paramedics loaded the driver of the truck into a waiting ambulance. 

Bang. 

A burst of flame billowed into the air just beyond the bus’s windshield. “Wow!” several kids said in unison, standing up to peer at the street.

A hollow feeling filled Kassandra’s chest. If the cards did this, then she needed to lock them up. But one look at the deck reminded her how pointless this idea was. They’d zap back, meaning she was stuck with them.

Soon a tow truck hauled the wrecks away, clearing the road. Driver Lady tromped down the aisle and corralled students back to their seats.

As the bus grumbled to life, Kassandra sorted the deck so the suits were in order, but found many of them already blank. How many had she used so far? 

“Why do the illustrations vanish?”

“Because you can only use each card once. That’s the rub.”

“But not with your card.” Kassandra sifted through the stack of Major Arcana cards. “Everything’s there except you.” She frowned. The Magician card still wasn’t there.

“Something wrong?”

“It’s missing,” Kassandra switched to the suit piles, hoping it had somehow gotten misplaced. “I don’t see how…” Her hand froze. Auntie Jo. She’d given the card to her. It should’ve zapped back, but somehow it didn’t.

“You gave it to someone, didn’t you?”

Kassandra nodded as the bus rolled into the school parking lot. Kids sprang up, tossing backpacks over shoulders.

“You’ll have to get it back from her,” Luke said, scooting out of the seat.

“What did you say?” 

He shrugged. “The cards stay with people who possess them. Whoever you gave it to will have to give it back.” 

He started down the aisle, but Kassandra stayed put. Luke had said “her.” Did he know she gave the card to Auntie Jo? How could he?

Luke turned halfway down the aisle. “You coming?” 

Kassandra snapped her head up. “Yeah.” She tossed the deck into her purse and exited the bus. Kids swarmed the campus, switching classes between first and second period. So much for slipping in unnoticed. 

People eyed them as they trekked the halls. At first she thought they were staring at her, but then Kassandra glanced at Luke. Maybe his coolness trumped her massive faults. He was equipped with the broad shoulders of an athlete, but without all the bulky muscle. Yeah, kids were ogling him. And then wondering why he hung out with her. 

Kassandra clenched as they neared her locker. The sign would be there, dangling from the yellow noose. But as she rounded the corner, no crowd of kids hovered in the hall. The locker looked just as plain as all the others. She hurried over and twisted the combination into the lock.

“Hey Seattle.” Lindsay’s voice. 

Kassandra’s spirit sank. 

Lindsay strolled forward from the other end of the hall. Only one of her flock tagged along—Alexxa, the chunky one.

“Looks like you forgot your sign.” Lindsay pulled something from behind her back. “I made you a new one.” Another computer printout with a noose made of white string. 

Luke snatched the sign away.

“Hey, give it back.”

“No one should have to look at that.”

Lindsay threw a pose, hands on hips, strawberry curls tossed back. “I’ll just put up another one.”

Kassandra stepped forward. “I don’t get you.”

Both Lindsay and Luke swiveled to stare, neither expecting Kassandra to butt in. She stepped up to Lindsay. “You’re a total fake.” A grin flew across Alexxa’s face. “I don’t think anyone wants to be your friend. They just stick around because you think you’re in charge.”

Lindsay’s hands slid off her hips. 

“My advice…” Kassandra grabbed the textbooks and shut the locker door. “Leave me alone.” She clicked the lock into place and then strolled down the hall, Luke close behind.

Kassandra had actually stood up to Lindsay Barker. It was the kind of thing she always dreamed of saying, but usually the words never escaped her brain. Did the Tarot cards spur her new found confidence or was it Luke? She didn’t care. Kassandra would never go back to her old mute self again.

When lunch rolled around, she snatched an extra helping of what passed for tacos. Luke spotted some empty tables past the overhang. The sky might’ve been clear, but puddles covered the tables—a leftover from yesterday’s storm. They hunted for a dry one, finally settling on a table swamped in the middle but with the edges only dappled. He stretched out the corner of his T-shirt and wiped the surface clean. There were still tiny droplets of water on the bench though, and when Kassandra sat, the seat of her pants got wet. Perfect, now she’d need to stick her butt under the hand dryer in the bathroom.

Kassandra chomped into the hard taco shell. The meat felt refrigerated. “I’ve been meaning to ask you, what’s up with your brother?”

“Would you like to be introduced?”

She nodded as bits of lettuce tumbled out of her mouth.

“Take out the Hanged Man card.”

Not more with the cards. “Can’t you just call him or something?”

“I am.” Luke grinned.

Kassandra glanced around the lunch arbor, but then stopped. Why should she care who saw? They were just cards. She set the deck on a napkin to keep it dry and located the Hanged Man. When Luke took the card, a broad smile crossed his face. He scooted around the table and slid next to Kassandra, holding the card so they could both view it. The illustration showed a guy hanging upside down by one foot.

“Let me introduce my brother, Gabriel Rykell.”

She glanced at Luke and then back at the card—just a picture of a man with long blond hair. Maybe he looked a little like Luke. Then the eyes blinked. Kassandra jerked away, nearly slipping off the bench. It moved. Just like Dad.

“He’s only allowed to animate when I hold the card. Not to worry.”

“Can he see me?”

“Oh yes.” Luke waved. “Hello Gabriel. Having a good time?”

The face on the card scowled. Then the figure glanced at Kassandra. Even though they were the size of pinpricks, his eyes seemed to plead with her.

“That’s enough fun for now.” Luke turned the card face down on the deck. 

“You really are from the Tarot cards.”

“Just like I said.” He tapped the deck. “Time you learned to use these.”

“Now?” 

“Yes, let’s start with the ace of cups.”

“Nuh uh. I don’t want a repeat of what happened on the bus.” The image of the burning car smoldered in her mind. Kassandra wouldn’t hurt anyone.

“If you don’t practice, you’ll just keep triggering cards accidentally. And this card is harmless. It’s just about food.”

Reluctantly she flipped through the stack of cups and snagged the ace. It showed a silver goblet with a fountain on top. The stem twisted, morphing into various fruits and vegetables. It looked like the cornucopia thing Mom dragged out every Thanksgiving. 

“Now don’t think about what’s on the card.” Luke tapped his fingers together. “That avenue is a dead end. You need a strong emotion to activate it. Dredge up something you’re afraid of. Or maybe think of someone you love.”

“Can it be someone who bothers me?” She imagined Mom texting last night at the table. Getting no response, Kassandra glanced up. He was lost in thought.

“Luke?”

“Yeah.” He blinked and then looked at her. “Any emotion will do.”

She gripped the card on both sides and closed her eyes, remembering dinner last night. How Mom spent the whole time texting the new boyfriend—probably some middle aged dude with a horseshoe ring of hair. Kassandra looked again. The illustration of the cup was still there.

“Why didn’t it work?”

Luke rubbed one eyebrow, thinking. “This might help.” He grabbed their lunch trays, marched over to the nearest trash can, and dumped the contents in.

“Hey. They charge for seconds, you know.”

“Call it motivation. Now channel your anger into the card.”

This time when Kassandra concentrated, her stomach issued a pang of complaint. It knew she’d have to survive another period before it could be fed. Her mind locked on dinner again, seeing an empty chair. Had Mom given up on their family? Or maybe it was only Kassandra she wanted to forget.

Clunk. A boy had plunked his tray right in front of Kassandra. She started getting up to let the kid sit.

“No.” Luke grabbed her arm. “You’ll want to see this.”

The boy wandered away, leaving the tray there. More kids dropped off trays. Some left their brown bags. Even the lunch lady trudged over with a mound of fresh tacos. In moments, a pyramid of food piled up on the table—cookies, chips, sodas, everything—most of it soggy from the swampy middle of the table.

“What is all this?” She whispered to Luke as the stream of kids walked past.

“It’s what you created using the card.”

The image of the cup had vanished, leaving only the border.

“What did the ace of cups mean?”

“Feasting.”