Kassandra Faces the Music

Chapter 12

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 gasped for breath, straining on the pedals. She wasn’t out of shape, but with the shopping bags slung over each handlebar, the bike wobbled like a staggering drunk. The sun had set and the street lamps were flickering to life. Cold air cut through the cotton hoodie, biting into her skin. 

On the next turn, the bike threatened to veer straight into a tree. She slammed on the brakes and hopped off, letting the bike collapse in the street. One bag spilled shirts onto the asphalt. Come on! This day had been going great. It couldn’t crap out on her now.

Kassandra loaded the clothes back into the bag as a car swung around the bend. She hefted the bike up and wheeled it out of the street. The car edged closer and once she reached the sidewalk, it zoomed down the street. Kassandra walked the bike the last few blocks. The lights were on and Mom’s car sat in the driveway next to Auntie Jo’s. The gang was all here.

She guided the bike into the garage through the side door and ditched the shopping bags behind a tower of moving boxes. Hauling them through the house would be like setting off an alarm. Right now, her throat screamed for a drink.

Kassandra slipped into the house and noticed an iPhone plugged into a charger. A pink Juicy Couture case with a pair of terriers next to a coat of arms adorned the phone. So not Auntie Jo’s style. Must be Mom’s. Kassandra knew she had wrangled some kind of J-O-B, but did Mom have that kind of cash? An imaginary bell dinged. It had to be the new hunka hunka man friend. Now, he was buying her toys.

The smell of frying onions led Kassandra into the kitchen, but no one was there. The only activity came from a hissing pan and a bubbling pot of water. She tugged open the fridge and rummaged around until finding an old fast food cup from last week. The soda was watered down, but still loaded with sugar and caffeine.

“You’re late,” Auntie Jo said. 

Kassandra spun around, nearly splattering the drink on the floor. 

Decked out in a seeing eye apron, Auntie Jo delved into the pot with a pair of tongs and came up with an oval-shaped green disc.

“Is that cactus?” Kassandra asked. 

“Yup, for the cactus gumbo. I got the recipe off the Internet.” Auntie Jo pulled out two more cactus pads and set to work chopping them up and tossing the pieces in with the onions. “Don’t change the subject.” She wiped one hand on the apron and then scanned the outfit. “Are those the clothes you wore this morning?”

Kassandra’s heart sunk. Busted. 

Mom fluttered in, new iPhone in hand. “Hi Kass.” She stared at the screen but then did a double take. “Hey you look great today. You’ll have no trouble catching the boys’ attention dressed like that.”

Kassandra cringed. Skank bait wasn’t the intended look. Still, she flashed Mom a smile. At least someone in the house wouldn’t complain about the two bags stashed in the garage.

Mom opened the cupboard and snagged a box of cereal and then turned to Auntie Jo. “Listen, I know you cooked, but I’m just going to snack in my room.” She popped a handful of corn flakes into her mouth. “Thanks.” Mom trotted down the hall.

Once she was out of earshot, Auntie Jo swiveled around. “Okay, what’s going on with the clothes?”

“I can explain.”

“You better.” The onions and cactus hissed in the hot pan. Auntie Jo pushed them around with the tongs. 

Kassandra’s mind ran along possible reasons for sudden wealth—from finding the money in the gutter to getting an advance on a new job. They all sounded completely lame.

“I triggered one of the Tarot cards. Then the money sort of appeared in my bag.”

“What!” She swiveled around and stared at Kassandra. “And I suppose spending it was all right, then?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” 

Auntie Jo shook her head. “You can’t expect to have riches handed to you.” She poured a can of crushed tomatoes in with the onions and cactus. The pan crackled along the edges. “When I headed out to New Orleans, I was just as young and stupid as you are now.”

“Hey!”

One raised eyebrow was enough to hush Kassandra up.

“I thought nothing could ever hurt me. I used magic to get what I wanted and then I had to face the consequences.” She punctuated her words with the tongs. “And they were bad.”

Kassandra ran one hand along the smooth denim of the jeans. What was so wrong about a few pairs of pants and some shirts? Yeah, she’d spent way too much, but Kassandra needed new clothes. No way was she going another day looking like a panhandler.

Auntie Jo set the tongs on the counter. “If you accept what these cards give you, then they’ll have power over you.”

“You’re wrong. So far they’ve only helped me.”

Auntie Jo wrinkled her forehead. “Is this the first time the cards have done something?”

Kassandra took a slurp of the watered down soda. “Remember the card I showed you? The one that went blank?”

“Yeah?” The eyebrow shot up again.

“Well, a couple of minutes later this girl…her clothing just sort of vanished.”

Auntie Jo stared. 

Kassandra twisted the fabric of the fishnet gloves between her fingers. Why didn’t Auntie Jo freak out like Mom? So much easier to deal with. “And then today, this boy grabbed the deck off my desk and wouldn’t give it back. Another card went blank and something happened to him. Like he stopped caring about everything.”

Auntie Jo threw her hands up in the air. “You need to stop using those cards before anything worse happens.”

“You mean worse than getting some cash?” Kassandra set the cup on the counter. “Or worse than having some bullies at school get what they deserve?”

“You’re acting like an addict. You’ve had your first taste, and now you want more.”

“No. You don’t get what it’s like for me.” The muscles in Kassandra’s neck bunched up. “I didn’t ask to move to this crappy little town and have no friends.”

Auntie Jo shot a hand out. “Give them to me.”

“Why? They’ll just come back again.”

“I’m not taking them away. I just want to look at them.”

Kassandra pulled the cards out, but hesitated, running a thumb along the gold patterned backs. The cards chose her. 

“Today,” Auntie Jo said. Kassandra blinked and passed them over.

“Which card brought you the money?”

“Seven of coins.”

Auntie Jo took out the card and then wrinkled her forehead. “It’s blank.”

“When the card gets activated or whatever, the whole picture disappears.”

“There are a lot of blank cards in here.”

“I only triggered three. The one with the two coins on it, then the four cups card, and then that one.”

Auntie Jo fiddled with her silver ankh necklace. “So far you’ve only activated suit cards. I’m concerned about what a major arcana will do.”

“What are those again.”

Auntie Jo pulled a card out and laid it on the counter. The picture showed a lanky guy in a bright red suit standing in front of a stained glass window. The bottom read: The Magician. “The major arcana are more potent than the suit cards.” 

Kassandra peered at the card. Did the guy in the illustration just move? The Magician’s hands hovered above a table filled with some coins, a knife, a cup and a wand. But she could have sworn he’d been holding the wand before.

“Maybe I need someone else to trigger these cards.”

“What do you mean?” 

“I tried to make the seven of coins work, but nothing happened. Not until…” Kassandra looked at the tile floor. No getting around it. She’d have to tell it. “There’s this girl at school. I ran into her in the halls. She took my purse and dumped all the cards on the floor. When I picked them up, the seven of coins was blank.”

A glance back and the Magician was holding the wand again.

“Why do you keep looking at the card?” 

“I don’t know.” Except she did know. Kassandra had seen this guy somewhere before.

“Hold on,” Auntie Jo said, leaning over the card. “This card came up in your reading yesterday.”

A cold chill scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. “Why would you choose the same card again? Do you think we triggered it or something?” She gazed at the illustration, expecting it to vanish any moment.

Auntie Jo spun around and opened a cabinet door. “Let’s not stand here staring at it all night.” She pulled out a plastic zip bag. “Put the cards in here.”

Kassandra reached for the deck, but then hesitated. Was the Magician guy looking at her? 

Auntie Jo sighed and flipped the top card over, hiding the illustration. “There. Now put them in.”

Kassandra shoved the deck into the bag and sealed it.

“We know the cards can’t leave you. But you don’t have to keep using them.” Auntie Jo pointed to the baggie. “Don’t look at them or touch them from now on.”

Kassandra nodded, but her thoughts still lingered on The Magician. What if she already activated him? Would the card be blank the next time? All Kassandra wanted to do was yank those cards out and flip over The Magician. Just to check. 

The card had been in Auntie Jo’s reading, representing the near future. Which meant soon. What did the card stand for? Love? Kassandra suppressed the urge to chuckle, but the desire wasn’t as strong as the first time. Maybe soon was about to be now. Was she ready for this?

Kassandra Buys Herself a New Life

Chapter 11

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 kept one hand jammed in the purse the whole bus ride home, silently counting to seven-hundred, in increments of twenty, over and over. At the stop, she speed-walked down the block. An extra car sat parked in the drive next to the blue Beetle. Probably a client hoping to hear how she was Marie Antoinette in a former life. Kassandra still didn’t see why people paid Auntie Jo for made up nonsense. 

Slipping into the garage, she wrangled her bike from between two stacks of moving boxes, still unopened after months. Before anyone could notice, Kassandra hopped on and pedaled away. Wind gusted down the street, tossing a McDonald’s wrapper along the curb. Arroyo Grove didn’t have a shopping district. More like a two block area with some retail stores and a strip mall. They only had one Starbucks.

Riiip!

The hem of her jeans caught in the gears. The bike veered toward someone’s front yard. Squeezing the brakes stopped the bike short, catapulting Kassandra into a bush. Leaves poked everywhere. Perfect. A spider was probably crawling on her somewhere. 

She wrestled free of the bush but almost fell flat on the sidewalk, one pant leg still tethered to the gears. Pulling away, the last of the hem tore off. Now one side of the pants was higher than the other. It looked like she was leaning.

The fabric had wrapped itself around the chain and gears and she had to crank the wheel a few times to pull it out. In moments black grease coated her fingertips. Kassandra wiped them on the jeans. What did it matter now? The pants were beyond ruined.

After reaching Arroyo Grove’s downtown, she hit the first store on the block, a boutique selling designer jeans with those pre-faded sections. The clerk flicked an annoyed look, focusing on the shredded jeans and second hand shirt. 

Kassandra grabbed the first pair on the rack and headed toward the register. The size was wrong. Way too small. She swapped them for a pair the right size, but her mouth dropped open at the price. Nearly eighty dollars. She could buy a pair at the thrift store for fifteen. And with those, the faded sections would be authentic.

Still, Kassandra handed the clerk four twenties. The girl held one to the light. Shoot, the watermark. Those twenties definitely wouldn’t have the ghostly picture of Mr. Jackson. Any minute now the girl would confiscate the whole wad. Maybe even call the police.

The cash register rang as the girl made change. The money was real. Real enough anyway.

Kassandra asked for a changing room. The clerk raised an eyebrow, but then pointed at the back. With the curtain closed, the old tattered jeans came off. Kassandra inspected the new eighty-dollar pants. She should have tried them on before buying. What if they didn’t fit?

She wiggled into the pants and found they hugged her hips perfectly. A glance in the mirror showed no bulges or lumpy seams. Snatching up the Swiss cheese jeans, she headed out.

“Hey.” the clerk said.

Kassandra’s heart kicked up its tempo. The clerk discovered something wrong with the money. Had to be it.

The girl smiled. “Those jeans look killer on you.”

“Uh, thanks.”

Outside, Kassandra spied a garbage can. Bunching up the grungy jeans, she shoved them in. “Adios. Even Goodwill wouldn’t want you.”

Once they were out of sight, Kassandra felt different, as if recovering from a long and nasty flu. Running her fingers along the fabric of the new pants, they felt like they’d been worn forever.

She used to love shopping. Dad would just hand over twenty or forty dollars and say: “Go buy something fun.” Ducking into a store, Kassandra would emerge with a new skirt or top. Dad never complained. He waited outside, no matter how long it took. When she asked what he thought of the new clothes, he’d always say the same thing: “If you love it, then so do I.”

Mom considered of all those clothes gifts. One day everything was gone. Donated or dumped in the trash. Who knew? The clothes reminded Mom of Dad and no amount of screaming would bring them back. Only a couple of items survived, all bought with summer job money.

She stared at the stores lining the block. It was time to build a new Kassandra. Every clothing shop seemed to have just the thing. Perfect pinstriped skinny jeans. A zipper hoodie, cut to fit her curves. Even a new pair of Converse Chucks without any scuff marks along the rubber edging. By the end, she toted two enormous bags loaded with enough clothes to put together a dozen outfits. All new. No one else had worn those clothes. Ever. 

Kassandra slipped into the bathroom at the local coffee shop and suited up in a cami top, the zipper hoodie, and the new Chucks. She felt a bit like her old Seattle self. 

The sky had darkened to a deep blue, the wisps of clouds highlighted with an orange glow. She was tempted to linger and watch the sunset, but Auntie Jo would chew her out if she wasn’t home before dark. As it was, Auntie Jo was going to wonder where the new outfits came from. Should Kassandra admit to cash appearing in her bag? Speaking off… 

She plunged into the new red and black tartan purse. The crocheted bag held the old T-shirt and secondhand shoes. The new purse was teeny in comparison and barely held the Tarot cards and the rest of the mad money. Eighteen dollars and some change.

Jeez-us. Kassandra had burned through nearly seven-hundred dollars in a couple of hours. How was that even possible? She shook the Tarot cards. “Anymore money in there?” Of course nothing happened. 

She pawed through the shopping bags, trying to tally up the purchases. There had to be a mistake somewhere. Maybe an overcharge. Except Kassandra hadn’t even glanced at the prices. I was all buy, buy, buy. She cringed, neck muscles tightening. Auntie Jo was going to kill her.

Maybe a gift? Bribery always works, right? The Psychic Mind bookstore was across the street. A breeze picked up, dragging the briny scent of rotting seaweed from the beach.

Dropping the bags on the sidewalk, Kassandra caught her refection in the glass of the shop and smiled. She zipped up the hoodie and twisted to the side to admire her butt. There was nothing Lindsay could say about this.

Reaching for the door, Kassandra found it locked. A glance at the window showed a sign reading CLOSED. What sort of hours did they keep? She rattled the door, but it wasn’t going to open. The hours on the window read: 10 am – 8 pm. But it was only six. What was the deal with this place? She jerked on the door handle again. 

With nothing for Auntie Jo, Kassandra faced the long trek home. How could she hide all these clothes? Impossible. Plus her old jeans were gone, which meant waltzing in all decked out. Auntie Jo would fire up the stove and grill her, wanting to know where the money came from. 

Too bad it wasn’t just Mom. She flitted around like Kassandra was a ghost. Which usually got on her nerves, but now she’d pay for it. 

The Cursed Tarot Deck Claims Another Student

Chapter 9

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 snatched the cards away, but Marco didn’t react. Not even a snide remark. He simply stood there, staring into space. 

“All right people.” Mrs. Beehive clapped her hands. “Back to your desks.”

Diana grabbed his hand, tugging him away. He shuffled along. 

Kassandra shoved the deck into her purse, but left the blank card out. The title at the bottom read: four of cups. 

Mrs. Beehive asked for examples of tone and mood from the story. Kassandra pretended to take notes but her gaze was fixed on Marco. Diana did the same. He seemed to be the only one of the three even remotely interested in what Mrs. Beehive had to say, staring at the board as if it offered salvation. 

Diana whispered something in his ear. He shrugged, prompting a scowl from her. “Marco,” she said loud enough to reach Kassandra. No response. His eyelids hung at half-mast.

Mrs. Beehive’s face scrunched up, eyeing Diana. The girl flashed another “I’m innocent” smile, though this time it looked forced. 

It was the cards. They did something to him. Kassandra glanced around the room. Lindsay scrutinized her, perfectly formed eyebrows bunching together.

Once Mrs. Beehive turned back to the board, Diana spun on Marco. “Are you even listening to me?” He blinked, but still stared forward. 

By this time, most of the class had tuned into the Diana and Marco show.

“Talk to me!” She shoved and he slid off the chair, slumping to the floor. Chuckles rippled through the room. One boy whipped out a camera phone. 

Even Mrs. Beehive couldn’t ignore this. “Marco Hernandez. Please take your seat.” He scrambled back to the desk. 

Diana stood and leaned into Marco’s face, her whole body quivering. “What is wrong with you!” Her voice crescendoed, leaving whisper mode and venturing into class disrupting volume. 

Mrs. Beehive frowned, hands on hips. “Diana Davis, please escort yourself to the office.”

Diana gripped Marco by the hair, twisted his head, and planted a big sloppy kiss. When she pulled away, he tilted to face the whiteboard. Diana swiveled and glared at Kassandra. The class turned to look. “He was fine before messing around with you and those cards. You did something to him.”

“The office, Miss Davis!” Mrs. Beehive said. “Before I call security.”

Diana marched into the hall. 

The moment she vanished, the chatter began. Camera Phone Guy typed away, sending the picture across the mobile teen network. 

Kassandra slunk lower in her seat, avoiding Lindsay’s gaze. Marco was the one who grabbed the cards. Maybe the deck was just being defensive.

“Pretty cool,” someone said.

She glanced over and saw The Browless One looking her way through a mop of tangled hair. At least one person supported her. 

When class ended, Kassandra headed toward the door. Students scooted away from her, creating a path. Marco remained fixed at the desk, the same dopey look on his face. 

Kassandra needed to figure these cards out. Right now. She located the library and rushed inside. Rows of shoulder-high shelves loaded with books crammed the space. The room was deserted except for the librarian stamping books. Kassandra spied a bank of computers against the far wall and made a bee line. She nearly jumped at seeing Book Girl hiding between two shelves, the same book propped on her knees. 

The girl glanced up and put a finger to her lips. 

Kassandra paused mid-step and turned toward the librarian, still working through one of the stacks of books. When she looked back, Book Girl was reading again. How the heck did she make Honors English anyway if she skipped classes?

Kassandra picked the nearest computer terminal and clicked open the Internet, searching for “Two of coins Tarot Card”—the one that spurred Lindsay’s wardrobe malfunction. The computer spewed up pages of links. The first one gave a list of meanings: Embarrassment, obstacles, obstruction, emotion, confusion, difficulty, hindrance, unrest.

The first word, embarrassment, caught her attention. Nothing could be worse than appearing naked in high school. The site also listed a picture of the card. It showed a juggler holding two oversized coins in his hands. Nothing like the one in Kassandra’s deck.

She ran a search for the four of cups. Marco’s card.: Ennui, Displeasure, Discontent, Dissatisfaction, Boredom.

Well, Marco certainly looked out of it, which was a type of boredom. Although his was the industrial-size variety. Again the picture on the website didn’t match the picture she’d seen on the card. What if these Tarot cards were some special deck nobody knew about? 

The bell rang. Time to hustle.

Before closing out the web browser, Kassandra scanned the site one last time. Not all the cards were bad news. Many of them talked about success or money. She could sure use a little good luck.

She noted the seven of coins because the website said it represented money and riches. Locating the card, she slapped it on the counter. The illustration showed five guys gambling at a green table. Seven ginormous coins hovered around them. 

Thunk. 

The librarian dumped a stack of books onto a cart. Kassandra glanced at the clock. Two minutes late to her next class. She shut her eyes and concentrated. Money. New jeans. A nice writing journal. A peek showed the five guys still whooping it up at the green table.

Perfect. So the cards did their freaky mojo at the worst possible time, but when Kassandra really need something…zip. 

She stuffed the deck back in the purse and raced through the deserted halls. Rounding a corner, Lindsay Barker strolled down the hall, flanked by two other girls. Kassandra must’ve looked like an injured gazelle because Lindsay smirked, pinning her with a gaze that said, “I’m ready to rip open your throat.”

The Tarot Cards Keep Coming Back to Kassandra

Chapter 7

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.

Thick curtains blotted out the sunlight, transforming Auntie Jo’s living room into a cavern. Kassandra squinted at the books lining the shelves opposite the couch. It felt almost like night in the room. 

Auntie Jo leaned forward on the couch, staring at the two of coins card as if it might hold a secret message. One free hand tucked her afro under a blue scarf.

“And you’re sure it wasn’t already blank?”

Kassandra shifted on the couch, causing the cushions to creak. “It had a picture of some naked chick on it.” She pointed to the empty area. “Then poof. Gone.”

Auntie Jo set the card on a coffee table already cluttered with incense burners, candles, and crystals.

“I believe you. I’m only asking because it’s not the only blank card.”

“What do you mean?”

“There are six others.” Flipping through the deck, Auntie Jo tossed out card after card empty of illustrations. “The Fool, The Lovers, Justice, The Hermit, Fortitude and finally my card.”

“Your card?” Kassandra picked the last one off the coffee table. It read Wheel of Fortune. The illustration depicted an angel grasping an enormous golden circle while standing in the ocean. But then there were blank spots where someone had forgotten to paint. Only the outlines of four people—one on each side of the circle—were there. 

“There’s always one card in the deck that represents you. Typically girls would have a female card like The Popess, or one of the queens, but mine has always been the Wheel of Fortune because I deal in people’s fortunes. Or at least I used to.” She hooked a cup of tea with one meaty finger.

Kassandra wrapped both hands around her own cup and slurped. The concoction of herbal spices and grenadine shocked her tongue with sickening sweetness. Auntie Jo always changed the subject when the subject of New Orleans came up.  Her son had died in some sort of battle, but everyone was short on the facts. Kassandra guessed it was something in Iraq or Afghanistan. 

Auntie Jo tapped the Wheel of Fortune card. “You have to understand—Tarot cards, runes, the I Ching—most of it is psychological. Pure hogwash.” She pinched the tiny tea cup between two fingers and sipped. “You read into it what you want.” 

This coming from a woman who thought she was Nefertiti in a previous life. 

“What can you tell me about these cards?” Kassandra scooted forward on the couch.

Auntie Jo set her cup on a glob of melted wax. “They’re hand made. Not off the Waite Rider illustrations either.” Half standing, she stretched across the coffee table to nab a book off the shelf. The couch shuddered when she flopped back down.

Kassandra stared at the blank two of coins and remembered Lindsay’s terrified expression. The truth about what really happened was too impossible to tell. But hadn’t she messed around with the cards right before the bizarre disintegrating clothes? Maybe this whole thing was her fault.

She pointed at the blank card. “Why did the picture disappear?” 

Auntie Jo reached for the silver ankh around her neck, rolling it back and forth. “I guess Arroyo Grove isn’t far enough away to avoid the jumbi.”

“What’s that?” A cramp jabbed Kassandra’s side, a result of staying in one position too long. 

Auntie Jo let the necklace drop back down. “Bad magic.”

“Well then which is it? Are the cards stuffed full of mumbo jumbo or are they just cards?”

“Let’s find out.” Auntie Jo collected the deck. “A few blank ones won’t ruin the whole batch. They still have their titles. We should be able to do a reading.”

“I thought you said the cards were bad.”

“No. The Tarot cards aren’t bad or good. It’s how you use them.” She shuffled the deck. “Now these cards chose you for a reason.”

Again with the choosing thing. Cards couldn’t think. They were only pieces of paper.

“Clear some space.” Auntie Jo waved her hands over the table. 

“Do we need to light incense or something?”

Auntie Jo stared, the only sound in the room the tap of the cards against the table.

“Just asking.” Kassandra grabbed a handful of crystals and candles, placing them on the carpet.

“This is a simple three card spread. Past, present, and future.” Auntie Jo set the cards in the clear spot on the table. “You need to shuffle the deck.”

“Nuh uh. I’m not touching those things.”

“You have to. It’s your reading. Holding the cards lets them attune to your thoughts.”

“Fine.” Kassandra snatched them up and shuffled. With seventy-two of them, they were hard to manage. A couple of times one wanted to shoot out.

Auntie Jo lit a stick of incense and soon the whole room filled with the scent of sandalwood. 

Kassandra set the cards back on the table. “Now what?”

Auntie Jo dealt the top card face up. It showed a guy wearing what looked like some kind of pajamas. He dangled upside down with a rope tied around one foot. The title read: The Hanged Man.

“Major arcana.” Auntie Jo tapped her chin. “Interesting.”

Kassandra shrugged. This was all new to her. 

“Most of the Tarot deck looks the same as regular playing cards.” Auntie Jo tugged on her necklace again. “Coins for clubs, cups for hearts, swords for spades, and wands for diamonds.” She touched the card lying on the table. “But there are twenty-two extra cards, called the major arcana. They have illustrations of things like Death, The Devil, and this one, The Hanged Man.”

Kassandra climbed off the couch and knelt by the table for a closer look. The drawing had all sorts of random pictures added to it—a sheep bleeding from the neck, grapevines twining up two poles, some tongs and nails.

“What’s with the sheep and the bunches of grapes?”

“All symbols of sacrifice.” Auntie Jo pointed. “See? The grapes ooze juice just like blood.”

Kassandra wrinkled her nose. “So the lamb’s dead then?” 

Auntie Jo nodded. “A sacrifice.”

“What does it all mean?”

“It’s your past. I think you know what it means.”

A shiver scrambled up Kassandra’s spine. She would not think about Dad right now. Grasping the teacup with both hands, she let the heat warm her palms. 

“Is that my whole reading?”

Auntie Jo plucked another card off the top and flipped it: The Magician. This showed a guy in a red medieval shirt with puffy sleeves and a ginormous hat.

“Another major arcana.”

Kassandra looked up from the cards. “Is that special or something?”

“Just highly unlikely.”

Kassandra examined this illustration. A massive stained glass window dominated the background. The man stood at a table with various objects strewn about—a cup, three coins and a dagger. He also held some sort of stick.

“Hey, aren’t those all the symbols on the cards? Like coins and cups and what not?”

“Very observant.”

“So what’s The Magician mean? Does it have something to do with the weird stuff that’s been happening?” Auntie Jo eyed her, one eyebrow shooting up. “I mean with the illustration vanishing and all. Sounds like a Vegas trick to me.” Kassandra took a sip of tea so she wouldn’t have to say anymore.

Auntie Jo shook her head. “It means you’re going to fall in love.”

Kassandra shrieked and tea sloshed out her nose. “You know I’m not paying for this. You can cut the crap.”

Auntie Jo passed over the book on Tarot. “Here, read for yourself.” 

Kassandra flipped to the description for The Magician. 

It stated that the focus of this card was on new beginnings, manifesting your desires, and new romance. “Okaaaay. So this is supposed to be happening now? ’Cause it’s news to me.”

“It represents the near future.”

“You mean like tomorrow?”

“The timing is not exact.” Auntie Jo pulled a third card from the deck. “Let’s see your future.” Flipping the card revealed the dancing skeleton again.

Kassandra jumped. “This is messed up.”

Auntie Jo scrunched her face, mumbling, “Three major arcana. Together.”

“Does this mean I’m going to die?”

“No, no. Calm down honey.” Auntie Jo fiddled with the ankh again. “Death isn’t literal. It means a change. A new life.”

Kassandra’s heart amped up for a major drum solo. She didn’t buy it. This card had popped up all day long. And here it was again.

“Okay.” Auntie Jo leaned over to the bookshelf, her fingers brushing the titles. “Let me just check something.”

Kassandra stared into the flat circles of the skeleton’s eyes. Somehow they seemed to gaze back. Even though the skull had no lips, it appeared to be grinning. Then there were the trio of severed heads below it, with one looking exactly like Dad.

“Screw this.” She snatched up the cards and started for the kitchen.

“Wait.” Auntie Jo sprang off the couch.

Kassandra shoved the screen door open, flipped up the lid of the trash can, and dumped all the cards in. 

“What are you doing?” Auntie Jo’s face was worked up as if Kassandra had just tossed out a wad of cash.

“I don’t want anything to do with these damned things.” She marched down the hall, stopping at her door. Throwing those cards out felt good. Like she finally did something right for once. 

The sound of the trash cans clunking together carried down the hall. Auntie Jo was dumpster diving for the Tarot cards. Kassandra pushed open the bedroom door, her gaze falling on the bed. 

“JO!”

All she could do was stand there, staring.

The kitchen door slammed. Then Auntie Jo jogged up the hall, wheezing the whole way. “What is it honey?” she managed to get out, clutching the door frame for support. Then she saw them. The Tarot cards sat in a neat pile on top of the covers.

Auntie Jo clutched her necklace. “Holy shit.”

Lindsay’s Clothes Dissolve in Front of the Whole School

Chapter 6

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 bell ended the class’s collective misery. Kassandra hustled into the hall, shoving the Death card into one pocket. She knew better than to go waving around a picture of a dancing skeleton and severed heads. 

Stepping into the nearest bathroom, one foot skated a few inches on the glossy linoleum. No danger of falling, just her pulse shooting into the stratosphere. A yellow sign warned about the slippery floor. Maybe they could have put it closer to the entrance. 

As Kassandra tiptoed to a stall and latched the door, the crisp scent of bleach and urine assaulted her nose. Fishing out the Death card, she stared at Dad’s head, willing it to move. Nothing changed. It stayed put, just like the illustrations in every textbook she’d ever read. Maybe she’d seen it wrong before. The eyes must have always looked forward. She rubbed her temple.

The door to the bathroom banged open, letting in the bustle of hallway traffic. Then the sound of shoes skidding on the slick floor.

“Whoa! What retard decided to wax the floors on the first day?” Kassandra recognized the voice. There was a clacking sound as a group of girls shuffled toward the sink.

“The janitor probably wants to see you break your neck,” a different girl said.

Kassandra peeked through the crack in the stall door and caught a flash of red hair: Lindsay surrounded by members of her flock. 

“Oh my God, who was the charity case you were partnered with?” The first girl flicked out a tube of lipstick.

“At least you didn’t smell her.” Lindsay adjusted her bangs. “Like burnt cigarettes.”

Slinking onto the toilet, Kassandra hauled both legs up on the seat. Now they couldn’t see her.

“And those jeans.” Lindsay took the lipstick from the other girl. “They must have been from Goodwill.”

Kassandra traced her fingers along the holes at the knees, still sticky from the tumble on the bus floor.

“She’s all into death, too. Went on about this poem, Ode to a Nightingale, which is totally depressing. I read it once.”

The first girl nodded. “So Emo.” 

Kassandra’ s stomach hitched up. What was with Lindsay? Had everything in class been an act? Kassandra wanted to shout in the girl’s face, but bursting from a toilet and screaming would do nothing for a high school reputation. Except label Kassandra as a loony.

Lindsay turned to face the first girl. “Diana, how do I look?” 

“Hot.” 

The girls trotted carefully across the slick linoleum and out of the bathroom. 

Nothing was different here. This school was just as shallow and two-faced as Seattle. Tears rose up, stinging and hot. Her hands dove into the purse. There had to be something. The house key? Nope. Too dull.  Needle. Kassandra snorted. Why would she have that in her purse? Wait. Maybe if there was a paperclip at the bottom somewhere.

At home, things would be simple. Reach into the purple Doc Martens and retrieve the rolled up sock with the straight razor hidden inside. She glanced down. Although the netting of the fishnet gloves almost completely covered her arm, the white scars underneath always seemed to glow. There was no way for Kassandra to escape them. 

Something sharp poked her thumb. Groping around, she located the pushpin left over from art class last year, and pulled it out. Along with it came the gold patterned deck, scattering all over the floor. One card faced up, half buried under the pile.

Tugging it free, Kassandra saw an image of two gold coins and a half naked woman—legs tastefully crossed and curled hair covering the breasts. A heap of clothes lay on the ground. Then the illustration faded. The girl. The coins. Everything. Only the border remained and the words at the bottom: two of coins.

What the heck! This was no trick of her imagination. Flipping the card over showed the same gold star pattern. Then turning it back… Still blank. 

Kassandra stuffed everything back in her purse and exited the bathroom. The hall outside was desolate. The bell must have rung already, but being tardy took second place to vanishing pictures. Maybe Dad’s head didn’t move. But the illustration fading away was no joke.

Kassandra rounded the corner and heard cackling erupt from one of the classrooms. The door flew open and Lindsay stood there, eyes wide with shock. Something looked odd about the girl’s clothes. One of the shirt sleeves had vanished and patches dotted her jeans as through gobbled up by giant denim-eating moths.

Lindsay turned and glared at Kassandra as students crowded the door to gawk. The teacher tried to maintain control, but even he couldn’t avoid ogling.

Lindsay stormed past, clipping Kassandra’s shoulder in the process. Something drifted to the floor. It looked like a pink napkin or a scarf. Leaning down, she saw the other shirt sleeve. The fabric on the ground began to unravel like a mob of wriggling worms. In moments, nothing remained but pink thread.

Kassandra flipped through the Tarot deck until finding the two of coins. It was still blank, but the illustration had shown a woman losing her clothes. Did the cards do something to Lindsay? 

A glance down the hall showed scraps of denim and more pink thread trailing along the linoleum.

Or maybe Kassandra had triggered something.