The Tarot Cards Choose a New Owner

Epilogue

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

The bus screeched to a stop at the curb and the doors hissed open. Kassandra and Gabriel climbed on board. He had real boy clothes now. Auntie Jo had driven them by the Retro and Gabriel found some things that fit. They weren’t stylish—money was still tight—but at least he wasn’t wearing Mom jeans anymore.

Kassandra had ditched the Tarot-bought clothes. All of them into the trash. She was forced to pick up a pair of used jeans along with Gabriel. They were worn at the knees, but not ripped yet.

Scooting down the aisle, Kassandra tugged Gabriel along. “Okay. We have to go over your cover story.”

“Am I supposed to be your cousin?”

“Ew, no. That was Auntie Jo’s idea.”

Book Girl sat in the usual spot, her legs wedged against the seat in front with a paperback balanced on top. She glanced up, eyeing Gabriel a little too long.

Kassandra continued heading toward the back of the bus. “I’m pulling the plug on the whole cousin thing. I mean, what if I turn out to like you later?”

He scrunched up his face in confusion.

“Kiss. It means what if we end up kissing.”

“Oh.” Gabriel looked a bit embarrassed. “Courtship between cousins was not entirely uncommon in my day.”

“Well, these days it’s disgusting.”

The bus lurched forward. Kassandra managed to half sit, half fall into the seat, but Gabriel wasn’t so lucky. He stumbled to one knee before making it onto the seat.

“Sorry, I should have warned you about Driver Lady.” She pulled out the battered crocheted bag, searching for a pen and some paper. Next to the other purse, this thing was a cavern. “Let’s get some notes down so we both know your story.”

Something squirmed past her fingers and launched into the air. Gabriel snatched the slip of paper before it fluttered away.

“I should never have made this for you.”

“I like it.” Kassandra took the paper back. It was a drawing he’d made of the nightingale. She’d cut around the edges of the pencil sketch so it could move its wings. Even stuck back in the purse, the paper wings flapped back and forth, trying to fly. “You’ll have a heck of a time in Science class. Maybe let me do the drawings for cellular mitosis.”

“Do you still have them?” Gabriel eyed her purse.

He was asking about the cards. The way he did every five seconds.

“Don’t be so paranoid. Where are they going to go?”

But when Kassandra reached into the purse, they weren’t there. She started pulling things out, searching for the cards. The bus braked, throwing her forward.

“Where are they?” She stood and searched the seat, even stuffing one hand down the foam rip. Nothing. “They can’t disappear. They just don’t do that.”

Some of the kids twisted around to see what was going on. Kassandra had one final idea. She pushed past Gabriel and leaned down, scanning the floor under the seats.

“Sit down back there,” Driver Lady hollered, putting the bus back in gear. Kassandra balanced by bracing against the seats. Backpacks littered the floor. There was a forest of legs. Even if the cards were down there somewhere, she couldn’t see anything. Gabriel yanked her back into the seat.

“They’re gone.” Kassandra stared blankly forward.

She should be relieved. She’d wanted rid of those things since day one. But what about Luke? If someone let him out, he’d come straight for her. Just like Carol, the Clerk Lady at the Psychic Mind. Then another idea slipped into Kassandra’s mind. The first day she’d found the cards. Carol seemed so shocked. Maybe they’d vanished from her pocket.

Kassandra turned to Gabriel. “The cards. They’ve chosen someone new.”

Margaret

Margaret hiked her legs up, squashing it against the seat in front. What were these seats stuffed with—wood? It was impossible to get comfortable on one of these. She propped the book on one knee. With any luck, Ms. Sammers wouldn’t ride the brake all the way to school.

Cracking open the paperback, Margaret dug in. The hero, Billy, was shoved in a boxcar with plenty of other prisoners of war. The place seemed filthy and cramped. It reminded her of the bus ride.

After only a page, she swayed forward as the bus stopped to pick up more passengers. Great, here came the new girl. It looked like she traded boyfriend number one for a new model. Margaret watched them pass, poking her glasses up her nose. The first guy was cuter, though this one wasn’t half bad.

She tried to steer her mind back to the book and the boxcar rumbling through Germany, but the new girl kept chattering. The girl was way too perky today. Margaret liked her better before—all mopey and quiet. The bus lurched forward, sending the new girl on her ass. It served her right. If she hadn’t learned about how Ms. Sammers drove by now, she was hopeless.

Margaret snugged down in the seat, creasing the book open, but her heart wasn’t in it. The new girl would make an easy scapegoat, but truthfully, it wasn’t only her. Everyone on this bus wore Margaret down. They all went on and on, believing every word they said was vitally important when all it really amounted to was jabbering. These people didn’t know the first thing about life and how to live it. Margaret cracked her knuckles. She’d so like to educate them.

The bus jerked forward again and her face nearly mashed into her knee. The book tumbled to the floor. Mrs. Sammers was riding the brake again.

Margaret groped between the seats, but one hand brushed a stack of cards. She did a quick glance of the bus passengers and then scooped them up along with the book. The cards were oversized, meant for meaty hands and not her slender fingers.

A commotion erupted from the back of the bus. Twisting around, she saw the new girl was having a hissy fit. Enough with the drama already.

Margaret flipped over the top card and saw a stone pillar towering above an ocean. A single rose sprouted from the center of the rock. She tapped the person-shaped empty space right in the middle.

“It’s like someone forgot to finish the picture.”

The bottom read The Fool. “Now who on the bus fits this description?” She giggled. “Take your pick. Most of these folks tread water in the shallow end of the pool.”

Margaret flipped through the rest of the cards. The Emperor, Judgment, The Tower. This was clearly a Tarot deck. But the illustrations looked different from any deck she’d seen before. They had more life to them. Why were some of the cards blank, like The Fool? Had the artist skipped out before the end?

She paused at an illustration of a man wearing the most ridiculous red suit. The bottom said he was The Magician, but the guy looked more like a clown. Margaret was about to move on when the figure shifted. She blinked. It wasn’t her imagination. He really moved. One minute he was staring at the table. The next, he looked at her.

“Why do you look so familiar?” She tilted the card. “This some kind of hologram?” The image didn’t change this time.

The bus lurched, the wheels klunking into a pothole. Ms. Sammers was aiming to hit them all this morning. Margaret glanced back at the card. The man looked at the table again. Maybe it was only her imagination.

Margaret flipped the card back onto the pile and slid the Tarot deck into her backpack. She might as well keep them. They could be good for a laugh. The image of the Fool card popped into her head and she grinned. The blank spot was so begging to be penciled in. And Margaret knew plenty of candidates.

Kassandra Accepts the Unthinkable

Chapter 47

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 Tarot cards sat on the table, so close Kassandra could reach out and snatch them. In a moment they’d zap back on their own. That was the plan. She stared at the pattern on the back. The ink was worn in places from hours of hands fidgeting over them. She needed to look away for this to work, but how could she stop thinking about the cursed things?

Luke focused all his attention on Gabriel. He wasn’t even turned toward the table anymore. Kassandra couldn’t wait any more. She reached for the deck, fingers grazing the edge of the top card. A hand slammed down.

One corner of Luke’s mouth shot up in a wicked grin. “Clever.” He scooped the deck off the table and fanned the cards out in one hand.

Gabriel lunged forward, but Luke brandished The Hanged Man card. “Care for a return visit, brother?”

Gabriel halted, his whole body slumping at the sight of that single card.

“That’s right. My brother is so predictable. When you dig deep enough, you’ll find a coward lurking inside.” Luke held out a hand. “My card please.”

Kassandra still clutched The Magician.

An engine revved outside as Mom pulled into the driveway. Luke glanced out the door, clicking the edges of the cards with one fingernail. “Where should I send Mommy?”

“No!” Kassandra shouted.

He snapped his fingers. “The card.”

She glanced outside and then at Gabriel. “Stop her.” He nodded and dashed out.

“He will only buy you time.”

Kassandra chewed her lip. He was right. Eventually Luke would get to Mom.

“You’ve run away from your destiny long enough.” He slid the Hanged Man back into the deck. “For years I’ve chased these cards. Never have I come so close. Don’t you see? You were meant to bring the deck to me.”

“No. That not true.” A tingle inched along Kassandra’s skin, spreading goosebumps.

“You yearn for one thing, yet never attain it.” He stepped forward and she picked up the scent of oranges. “What do you most desire?”

Dad.

Luke patted the deck. “He’s here. Waiting for you.”

Kassandra stroked The Magician card. What if Luke really could save Dad? Shouldn’t she let him help? Her body tensed. It felt like standing at the edge of a cliff, ready to dive off. With both hands, she held the card out toward Luke. The illustration showed an empty hole chiseled from the stained glass—the silhouette of a man ready to be filled.

Luke grasped the card and tugged, but her fingers wouldn’t release. Kassandra’s heartbeat rocketed. The card was empty.

Luke pulled, but she yanked the card back.

“Give it to me!” A scowl erupted on his face.

“No. I’m going to put you back where you belong.”

Kassandra scanned the table for the razor. It worked to free Gabriel. Maybe those memories could trigger this card.

Luke plucked one of the cups and dropped it over the razor, hiding it from view, chuckling. “Face the truth. You put me in there and you kill your last hope of ever bringing Daddy back.”

She ran a finger along the edge of the card, feeling the nicks and dents. Such a flimsy thing. It reminded her of the paper doll girl. The illustration of Ezabell had seemed so real at first. But the eyes were totally flat. Soulless. Kassandra pictured Dad’s face. How the skin around his eyes wrinkled when smiling. The smell of sawdust. That’s who he was. She needed Dad all the way back. Or not at all. Tears trickled down her cheeks.

“Let me help you.” Luke reached out a hand.

Kassandra’s eyes opened. Luke’s face was calm—no sneering grin or arched eyebrow. He truly believed. She shivered, the card shaking in her grip.

“You know I will bring him back to you.” Luke held out his hand as if to hold hers. “I promise you.”

She shook her head, hiccupping as the sobbing took control. “Dad is dead.” Kassandra squeezed The Magician card, warping the paper. “We had our time together.”

An image filled Kassandra’s mind—dinner at the old house in Seattle. Her, Mom, and Dad. Everyone laughing. She couldn’t even remember why. Dad took Mom’s hand and kissed it, and then turned toward Kassandra, winking.

She smiled. Tears streamed down her face and splattered on the card. The stained glass sparkled.

Luke’s body stiffened, legs segmenting into triangles and rectangles of glass. Each panel mimicked the color of his clothes. The process sounded like a windowpane gradually cracking. He let out a wail of pain as the crystallizing panels of glass spread up his body. The last to go was his face. Cheeks, lips and nose transformed into geometric shapes of colored glass. Then his eyes flattened into two copper-colored irises ringed with lead. He became a frozen mosaic of multicolored glass, his face an expression of astonishment.

Luke had been so sure of himself. He never imagined he could fail.

Minute fissures crackled up the glass, zigzagging through Luke’s body. One by one, segments split and tumbled to the floor, shattering on impact. The crash of glass was almost continual—more and more shards piled up. They left behind an empty scaffolding of lead. Then this too crumbled to dust.

Kassandra leaned down, holding The Magician card out. It acted like a magnet and the shattered glass flew toward the paper. She almost dropped it, afraid one would slice into her fingers but the bits of glass miniaturized, darting into the illustration. One by one, the pieces filled in the empty silhouette—forming an image of Luke Rykell.

The last chunk of glass held his eyes. They seemed to plead with her. Kassandra knew what he wanted. More than anything. But it was a thing no one could have. Kassandra brought the card closer and the eyes jiggled a moment before being sucked up. The illustration was complete. Luke was gone.

Kassandra Risks the Final Card

Chapter 46

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 bright orange glow blanketed the sky. The evening air left a biting taste in Kassandra’s mouth. Each slap of sneakers on the sidewalk amplified into a miniature thunderclap. It all seemed so much more alive than in the Tarot deck.

Stumbling onto a familiar street, she jogged around the corner. Her stomach clenched up, demanding food. In the real world, she had to eat. Kassandra ignored the gnawing emptiness.

A bird chirped in a tree and she twirled, mind going to the nightingale. But it was just the sort of brown bird that flitted around any neighborhood. Kassandra ran a hand along her sternum. The nightingale was in her chest. Part of her again. She could almost feel it wiggling around.

Another few minutes and she turned onto her street. Kassandra stopped cold, spying the front door knocked to the ground. The splintered remains hung from the hinges. Luke had bashed it in and then he’d set loose the fire tornado from the Wheel of Fortune. Auntie Jo was stuck in the deck, watching parade over and over. She hadn’t asked for any of this.

Kassandra tiptoed up the path to the doorway. There was no sign of Luke. As she stepped over the fallen door, one shoe squished on the wet carpet. There was a red patch where Luke bled from the shotgun wound. A shudder went through her.

“Where are you?” The sound of Luke’s voice made Kassandra freeze. He hunched over at the couch, his back toward the door. All the Tarot cards lay scattered along the table.

She smiled. “I’m right here.”

Luke spun, eyes wide with shock. Then, his expression settled into its typical swagger. “You’re full of surprises.” He scooped together the deck and stood.

She stepped up to the couch. “I’m here to offer you the final card.”

He cocked an eyebrow. “Really?”

“But you have to win it.”

Luke stared at Kassandra. Was he scanning her thoughts right now? She tensed, fear coating her skin like sweat. He would figure out the plan. Kassandra shook off the doubt, concentrating on the snail tower and the ball rolling on the table.

“You truly think you can beat me.” Luke grinned.

He knew about the game from her thoughts.

“Grab three cups from the kitchen and we’ll find out.” Kassandra turned down the hall without waiting for a response. It felt nice to boss him around for a change.

She ducked into her room and headed straight for the collection of poems on the shelf. Reaching for the book, a shiver traveled along her arms. She had to use the razor. It was the only way to keep her mind busy. She slid the book from its sleeve and opened to the Keats page.

Was it a vision, or a waking dream?

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

The razor was stuck just below the last line. The image of the garage flickered through her mind—right after the funeral when Kassandra had taken this blade from of the box. Then she remembered the razor lined up with the cup, the match, and the washer. Both memories occupied the same space in her mind—reality overlaid with the world of Tarot.

Kassandra squeezed the blade in one hand until the corners poked into the skin. “I’m coming for you, Dad. Just hang in there.”

When she emerged from the hallway, Luke had cleared off the coffee table and set out three teacups from Auntie Jo’s collection. They were exactly the ones she’d pictured using. Her pulse quickened. He could read even the slightest image in her brain. Her thoughts touched on Gabriel, but Kassandra gave the razor a little squeeze. She summoned up the image of the flat blade with the rusty grip.

“The razor.” Luke raised an eyebrow. “That’s what you want to use?”

Kassandra smiled, revealing the razor. “Do you object?”

“No. Not at all.”

She sat down with the bookcase behind her while Luke lounged back onto the couch.

“Do you have the card?”

Kassandra wiggled The Magician out of one pocket, setting it face down on the table. “I’m thinking you can’t just take this card. I have to give it to you.”

He cocked his head to one side. “You’re quite observant.”

“Here’s the deal then. You win. You get the card.” She tapped it. “I win, the deck comes back to me.”

“Seventy-seven cards against one?”

“You need it, so that’s the deal.”

Luke ran one finger along an eyebrow. “Of course.” He placed the Tarot deck on the table, but drummed his fingers on the top.

Kassandra took a deep breath and stared at the three overturned teacups. Each one looked the same. It worked in her favor. But she should have practiced this game. Kassandra didn’t even know how to start.

“You don’t need to go through all this,” he said. She glanced up and met his copper-flecked gaze. “We both want the same thing.” Luke edged forward on the couch. “We can bring them back.”

The paper doll girl popped into Kassandra’s mind. “You mean playing house with a cutout doll?” His face froze.

She slipped the razor under the left cup.

Luke snapped his attention back to the table. Kassandra pictured the razor under the middle cup. He glanced between the left and center teacups. Next she imagined putting the razor under the right cup, and he flicked his gaze over there. Two could play at this game.

“You don’t know where it is, do you?”

He looked up. “It’s customary to show the object to the audience first.”

“The razor is right here.” Kassandra lifted the left cup for a moment and then set it down. “Unless I brought more than one.” She couldn’t help but smile. At this rate, Kassandra might beat him.

Luke stared at her, not blinking. “How much did Gabriel tell you?”

Just the mention of his name brought up an image of his face. Kassandra bit her lip to blot out the memory. She mixed up the cups, hoping it would scramble her thoughts.

“I know you freed him from his card.”

The skin along her arms and legs prickled. Did he already know? She held her hands above the cups clustered together on the table, poised to shift them again. What’s the use? He already knew everything.

“Are you done?” Luke absently sifted through the deck. He wasn’t even looking at the cups. So damn cocky. Kassandra want to smack him. As long as she knew where the razor was, he figured he could lift it out of her thoughts. He was counting on it.

She turned away and mixed up the cups without looking. Maybe Kassandra could jumble them so even she couldn’t tell where the razor was hidden. Then it really would be a game of chance. But every time Kassandra slid the cup with the razor in it, it clinked on the ceramic side. Why had she chosen something metal to hide? So stupid.

She pulled her hands away, leaving the cups in a crooked line. This was Luke’s game and he would always win.

“Do you need your razor back?” One corner of his mouth twitched up slightly.

Kassandra squeezed both hands into fists. He was spinning things back on her. She had to take the fight to him.

“Gabriel told me how you betrayed him. All for not going along with that Cloots guy.”

“I loved my brother.” Luke glanced away, removing his hand from the deck of cards. “You cannot understand because you have no siblings of your own. But there was love between us.”

“Until he didn’t do what you wanted.”

“No. He poisoned our relationship.” Luke held his finger up like a warning. “Only one card left. One. Then little brother decides to grow a conscience.” His eyes boiled with hate. “Donald Cloots used it to cancel the deal. I lost my best chance at bringing Ezabell back.”

“How did you get the final card? I mean, if Gabriel didn’t draw it…”

“Oh he did.” Luke winked, setting his hand back on the deck of cards. “After a time.”

Gabriel drew the last card? He hadn’t told her that. He’d made it seem like he was the victim in all this.

“I think I’ll choose this one.” Luke tapped the center cup.

Kassandra glanced down. She couldn’t remember where the razor was hiding. It might be the center.

“You sure?” She straightened up. “Because I know for a fact it’s under here.” She scooted the right cup forward, but didn’t feel the clink of the razor.

“You do catch on.” He smiled. “The center please.”

Kassandra reached for the cup and lifted it. The razor blade lay underneath. An empty pit opened up in her chest, sucking away what little hope was stored there. It was all useless. Everything she did was bound to fail.

“Don’t be upset. This was meant to happen.” Luke looked down at The Magician card. “You and I, we want the same thing.” He held out his hand. “Let me have the final card and we can begin.”

Isn’t this how she’d planned it? Make him think he’d won? Kassandra stared at the overturned card on the table. But Luke had won. He’d take the final card and then have the whole deck. How the heck could she possibly distract him? Kassandra lifted the card and caught a glimpse of Gabriel. She smiled.

A look of confusion flickered across Luke’s features. She flipped the card over, revealing the illustration. Luke stared at the figure, trying to make out what was wrong.

Kassandra fixed her attention on the razor on the table. A strong emotion. Something that bit into her and wouldn’t let go. She replayed the hundreds of times the blade pressed into her skin, cold and sharp. Now she needed the pain. Kassandra almost reached down and grabbed the razor, the urge was so real.

“Stop it,” Luke said, voice rising in panic. He jerked his head around, scanning the room. The figure faded from The Magician card, leaving an empty hole in the illustration. Gabriel Rykell stepped through the demolished front door.

“Hello, brother.”

Kassandra Face Plants on the Carpet

Chapter 45

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.

Mom’s eyes shot open. A middle aged Romeo gawked from the bathroom door, shirt half-unbuttoned and hair combed forward to cover a balding spot.

Kassandra pushed off a carpet reeking of smoke and Cheetos. Surging forward, she wrapped Mom up in a hug. “You’re safe.”

Mom tentatively returned the embrace. “How did you get here?” She pulled away and glanced down. “What happened to you?”

Kassandra checked out the state her wardrobe: a shirt shredded on one side by the lion and flecked with blood on the other, pants caked with mud and grime, and the once red Converse now stained black.

She looked away and spied the iPhone laying on the dresser. Mom had just set it down and would have forgotten it in a matter of seconds. Then the card stashed inside… Would it have zapped over to Luke?

Mom shook her head and eyebrows bunched in confusion. “Did you follow me here?” 

Comb Over Romeo’s face twisted into a mixture of surprise and annoyance. Obviously he had a different evening in mind. Something that didn’t involve a family reunion.

“I wasn’t following you. Please.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I could care less who you slum around with.”

Mom stiffened. “Kassandra Jean Troy. You will not speak to me that way.”

“How am I supposed to speak to you? You’re never around.” Why was she getting sucked into this? It was stupid. Kassandra leaned against the dresser. Stuffing one hand behind her, she groped until finding the phone. 

“Louise,” Comb Over said from the bathroom. “Maybe she should leave.”

“I’ll handle this, Sam. Give me a minute.” The man grimaced as if tasting sour milk. He stomped into the bathroom, closing the door.

Mom sighed. “You and I have to talk. I’ve put this off for too long.”

“Uh huh.” Kassandra edged toward the door.

Mom bit the corner of her lip. “I don’t know where to start with you. Am I that bad of a mother?” She stepped forward, brushing a blond hair out of Kassandra’s face. Mom’s gaze scanned down and then focused on the scars, naked to the world without the gloves to hide them.

“What’s this?” 

“I have to go.” Kassandra tried to move, but Mom clamped down on her wrist.

“Did you do this to yourself? How long has it been going on?” Mom’s jaw clenched, tears welling up. She let go and quickly wiped them away. “I should have kept an eye on you. I wasn’t looking. Too concerned with how to make a living. How to sell the damned house.” Mom waved her hands in spastic arcs as though batting invisible flies. 

Keeping the phone out of view, Kassandra peeled away the rubber protective case. It was empty, nothing but the slick surface of the iPhone. Her legs went weak. Did it already zap away? Panicked, she looked all around the room, finally seeing the card on the carpet. The Tarot deck was being sneaky. It wanted to ditch Kassandra. The cards knew they were close to being free. She squatted and grabbed The Magician. Gabriel now held the wand and stood in front of the table. He was even dressed in the goofy red outfit. It looked so weird to see him in the card. He resembled his brother too much.

“Is that a Tarot card?” Mom asked. Kassandra shoved the card behind her back, but Mom stepped closer. “What has Joanna been teaching you?”

Kassandra shook her head. It was way too much to even attempt to explain.

Mom reached onto the dresser and grabbed her purse. “We’re going. Right now.”

“You can’t.”

“I most certainly can.” Mom pulled keys out.

This was not happening. If Mom got anywhere near Luke, he’d suck her into the deck like Auntie Jo.

Kassandra snatched the keys and barreled into the hall. Mom shouted from behind, but Kassandra ignored it and hurtled around a corner, nearly colliding with the front door. Flinging it open, she dashed out to the driveway where Mom’s Nissan was parked. Kassandra considered the keys, but she didn’t know the first thing about driving. 

Mom appeared at the front door, screaming something. The Nissan sat bumper to bumper with Comb Over’s truck. Perfect. Mom wouldn’t be able to take his car either. Kassandra chucked the keys into the neighbor’s bushes and then sprinted down the street.

Her lungs huffed in and out. Thoughts about Mom and Dad and cutting all churned together. She had to clear her head. Focus on Luke. No, wait. Kassandra faltered, almost tripping. She should keep her mind mixed up. That way Luke wouldn’t how to read her thoughts. Kassandra began running again.

She was coming to save Dad. And Auntie Jo. Even Lindsay. Everyone Luke had ever imprisoned in the Tarot deck.