The Tarot Cards Choose Kassandra

Chapter 2

Want to read from the beginning? Click over to chapter 1.

Kassandra’s heartbeat stormed inside her head. She swiveled, tensing for a confrontation, but there was no one there. Just the bookcase. What was going on? 

Something thunked to the floor and Kassandra nearly screamed. Whipping around, she saw a man reaching down to pick up a book. Just a glimpse of his face caused her throat to clench as if hands squeezed her windpipe. All Kassandra managed were short, raspy gasps. 

“Dad?”

She stumbled backward and fell to the floor, legs spayed at awkward angles. The crocheted purse flopped open. Coins rolled everywhere.

“Hey, you all right?”  It was the man with the book, but not Dad anymore. How could she have ever thought…? 

He held out a hand to help her up. “You have to watch your step.”

“Yeah.” She grabbed his hand. The grip was smooth and soft, not at all like Dad’s callused skin. After Kassandra stood, the man knelt to gather the coins, dropping them into the purse with a clank. 

“There you go.” He handed over the bag, his expression fluttering a moment before settling on a polite smile.

“Thanks.”

This released him. The man grabbed the book and practically jogged for the register. Great, now she was scaring random strangers. Time to go.

Kassandra slid the Death card into the deck. The bookshelf where they came from was crammed with books on metaphysical geometry and ufology, but no other cards. This wasn’t the right section. It felt wrong to leave them here. 

She marched toward the clerk, who was bent behind the counter unpacking a box.

“Hi,” Kassandra said.

Clerk Lady popped up and smiled, showing off a sweet round face that would be at home on a box of cookies. 

“I found these…” Kassandra held up the cards, “…back there.”

The woman stared at the cards, her expression curdling. “You have the cards.”

“Yeah. I didn’t know where you keep the rest of them. Can I leave them with you?”

“They’re yours.” Clerk Lady scooted back from the counter, a smile playing at the corners of her mouth. “You’ll have to go. I’m closing up.” She darted toward Auntie Jo without waiting for a response. 

The clock on the wall showed eleven. The place just opened. How could it be closing? This lady had some serious customer service issues.

Kassandra set the cards on the counter and traced one finger along the side, nicked and torn from multiple uses. The gold pattern on the back looked like a sky filled with stars, bringing back a distant memory of the Washington mountains. It’d been a rare night when the clouds had retreated. Dad stopped at some café after a drive to the forest. On the walk back to the car, Kassandra could see every speck of a star out there. So many, the constellations had become lost in the sequined glitter of starlight.

“Looks like they’re closing up for lunch,” Auntie Jo said, arriving at the counter.

“What?” Kassandra blinked, her mind still in the mountains. 

Auntie Jo handed a twenty to the clerk, who rang up the book. “Oh, you found a Tarot deck? Marvelous.”

“Your change.” Clerk Lady shoved the wad of bills and coins across the counter. 

“Did you want those?” Auntie Jo asked. Without waiting, she pushed forward the change and dove into her purse for more bills. “We’ll take the Tarot cards too.”

Clerk Lady stared at the money. She finally tugged a five from the pile. 

“That’s all?” Auntie Jo smiled. “Such a deal.” She turned to Kassandra and flourished a hand over the cards. “Your first Tarot deck.”

“I know you’re into the supernatural stuff, but this really isn’t my thing.”

“Nonsense.” Auntie Jo scooped the cards up, holding them in both hands as if cradling a delicate flower. “They chose you. There’s a greater power at work.”

“Greater power” was an Auntie Jo saying. Except it was a big fat lie. When something went wrong, it was either blind luck or a personal screw up. Plain and simple. 

Clerk Lady managed to shoo them to the front door. 

Kassandra halted and turned around. “Hey, why the rush?”

The woman’s gaze flitted left and right as if the answer might come from somewhere on the street. “Family emergency. You’ll have to go.” With one final push, she shut the door and locked it.

“She was weird,” Kassandra said. 

“Clearly ruled by Mars.” Auntie Jo wrestled into the driver’s seat and coaxed the engine to life. 

Kassandra looked at the Tarot cards, now set between the seats. She reached over, but paused before touching them. A chirping sound caught her attention — another of the little brown birds that lingered around the town. The wind had died down and now it cocked its head, inspecting Kassandra. Something startled the bird and it leapt into the air and vanished. 

Kassandra glanced at the shop and saw Clerk Lady peering through the blinds. The oddest expression crossed the woman’s face. Maybe fear? 

The blinds flipped shut.

Kassandra Discovers the Cursed Tarot Deck

Chapter 1

People never talked about him dying. Instead they got all weepy and switched subjects. As if avoiding the topic would somehow make everything smiles and sunshine. It didn’t. When someone disappeared, it’s like unraveling a sweater. Cut one strand, and the whole thing fell apart. 

Kassandra caught a glimpse of her tangled hair in the mirror of Mom’s dresser. She looked frayed and disconnected—a lump of useless yarn who once was a girl.

Shaking her head, she scrounged through the cluttered bottles of nail polish, searching for a wadded up bill. Mom had to be good for a ten or twenty. No way was she going to borrow from Auntie Jo. Not again. Just a couple of new killer tops would make her grungy jeans work. School started tomorrow and Kassandra dreaded it. Kids never talked to the new girl. Especially the one with a lousy wardrobe.

The dresser reeked of cigarette smoke. At least if she found some money, it’d be one less dollar Mom could spend on cancer sticks. Kassandra’s fingers brushed a scrap of paper. Snatching it, her fishnet glove snagged on a bottle, sending the nail polish tumbling to the carpet with a clunk. The top popped off and red liquid oozed onto the café au lait carpet.

She scrunched her face. So not how she planned it. Kassandra eyed the crinkled paper in one hand. A lousy receipt. 

Morning light shimmered off the puddle, already soaking into the carpet. Kassandra looped a blond curl over one ear and, yanking a handful of tissues from the box, dropped to the floor. Her bare knees brushed the carpet, the holes in her jeans from actual wear and tear and not fashionable rips. She so needed a new pair. 

“Kassandra?” Auntie Jo’s voice glided down the hallway. “You coming, sugar?” 

Kassandra’s heart kicked into high gear. She was supposed to be getting ready in her own room, not rummaging through Mom’s. “Sure, in a sec.”

The sticky bottle of nail polish went in the trash. Mom wouldn’t miss it. She had enough shades to create her own color chart at Home Depot. Kassandra dabbed at the spill with a wadded up tissue and then sat back to inspect the stain. The red blob was a stop sign smeared onto the carpet. Kassandra dumped a bottle of nail polish remover on the spot, sending up a wave of bitter fumes. The splotch, now pink, still drenched the carpet. She dragged over the throw rug by the bed and tossed it across the stain. Good enough.

Kassandra dashed down a hall lined with photos of unknown relatives and flew through her door just as Auntie Jo rounded the corner. The woman wore an Egyptian shawl draped over a wide body. Her skin was a rich brown with copper undertones. A purple scarf reigned in her tightly curled afro. 

“The morning is young and thy chariot shan’t wait forever.” Auntie Jo waved one arm as if she were some kind of royalty. 

It was another one of her past life kicks. This week must be the Queen of Sheba or Cleopatra. Auntie Jo was crazed for all things supernatural.

“I need to grab something.” Kassandra pointed a thumb over her shoulder. 

“Very well, I shall adjourn to the veranda.” Auntie Jo whipped a corner of the shawl over one hefty shoulder. Not actually anyone’s aunt, she and Mom met in Kindergarten and had been friends forever.

Kassandra’s room used to be Auntie Jo’s den. Shelves lined the walls, each jammed with books on the occult and literature. This stranded the bed in the center. Cardboard boxes, reminders of her life in Seattle, acted as a nightstand and a small table. An oversized trunk served as a combination dust trap and makeshift closet.

She plucked a chipped tea kettle off a shelf and shook it. It made a hefty chuh-chink sound. Still filled with change. Stuffing a hand inside, Kassandra felt around until the corner of a bill teased her fingertips. Only a five. Not going to cut it. Since Mom had trashed Kassandra’s whole wardrobe back in Seattle, she needed a new everything.

Upending the kettle, she watched a waterfall of silver and copper pour into her beat up crocheted purse. Kassandra stopped midway and tested the bag. It felt like an iron had been dropped in there. The purse sagged in the center where all the coins collected. Welcome to bag lady chic.

Auntie Jo waited outside by the “chariot”—a ’73 blue Beetle. Kassandra tried to slip in, but her knees banged the glove box. The passenger seat was permanently ratcheted forward.  Once she managed to sit, a spring poked her butt. At least Kassandra was teeny. Auntie Jo, built Amazon tall, sported the weight of about three or four warrior maidens. She had to shoehorn herself in. 

Once inside, she eyed a picture stuck to the dash with yellow tape. Sun bleached and creased, the photo showed a young black man with a broad smile—her son Ronald. Auntie Jo kissed two fingers and touched the picture. Kassandra knew he’d died, but no one wanted to fill her in on the details. 

Auntie Jo cranked the ignition. “Oh blessed mother, let us find the gear.” Ka-Chunnng! She rammed the stick shift down and the chassis vibrated. The car bucked but finally dropped into first.

“Amen.” She backed the car down the driveway.

The Beetle traveled for a grand total of four minutes. Arroyo Grove was just a blip on the California coast. Kassandra shimmied out of the car in what passed for a downtown. A salty gust blasted a curl of hair right into her eyes. In Seattle, everything had been stillness and clouds. But Arroyo Grove sat right on the Pacific Ocean. Kassandra could hear the crash of the waves, even a mile in from the beach. 

Pulling the hair away, she trailed Auntie Jo. The trees along the sidewalk swayed, buffeted by the sea breeze. A tiny brown bird hopped from branch to branch, chirping at the wind. 

Kassandra escaped into the Psychic Mind bookstore. Smells competed for attention—scented candles, patchouli oil, cedar boxes. She browsed, biding time until they could swing by The Retro, the only place in Arroyo Grove with a decent collection of secondhand clothing.

Meandering through the book section, her fingers brushed titles like Teen Witch—nah, she wasn’t the broom type—A Handbook of Runic Magic—that was way too Germanand The Tantric Sex Guide—sadly, she had no one to get tantric with. A book of romantic poetry caught her eye. The table of contents contained mostly dribble, one step above Hallmark, but the second page listed a Keats poem. She yanked out her spiral notebook. Transcribing wasn’t stealing. Not technically. Besides, it was Keats. If he ever had a copyright, it expired a century ago.

She tossed her purse over one shoulder, but the weight of the coins swung it back. Thwack. It knocked into the bookcase, sending a display of oversized cards tumbling to the floor.

Kassandra knelt to gather up the mess of Tarot cards. She’d seen Auntie Jo use them all the time to predict the future for her clients. The whole deck lay face down, except for one card. She plucked it from the pile. The illustration showed a skeleton dancing with a scythe, one word printed on the bottom: Death. 

A coppery taste filled her mouth as if she were sucking on a penny. Hot breath tickled the hairs on the back of her neck. 

Then a voice whispered in her ear.

Kassandra.

Read Chapter 2

I Abandoned My Baby to Die

Okay, so I’m not really taking about a flesh and blood baby here. But if you’re a writer, you will understand. I had to abandon a novel I was working on for nearly three years. I dropped it cold. One day, revising a chapter. The next. Gone.

sisyphus

I felt strange. A piece of writing, especially something of novel length, does feel like a child. You give birth to it, and watch it grow. In the case of this novel, I’d started it time and time again over the course of two years. Then, using the NaNoWriMo month of November, I plowed through and completed a whole draft.

It was awful.

That wasn’t the way I was used to writing. I like chapters to come off polished and clean, not all ragged and error filled. Yes, I did have 50,000 words. But that was not a story.

That was one year ago. I took up the job of revising it and found that I was starting from scratch again. A few of the plot ideas from the writing marathon remained, but mostly, I had to trash it all and start over, yet again.

Dragging my butt over to the keyboard became harder and harder. I found plenty of excuses. Yet I still wrote. I’m not a quitter. It just felt like rolling a rock uphill. Every time I sat down, I’d only made inches of progress. (Just call me Sisyphus).

Then I had an opportunity to revise a former novel. My agent wanted to know if there were any changed before going for a second round with publishers. The difference in my writing was ridiculous. I yearned to write. I pushed myself to crazy limits to totally revamp and revise that writing.

That’s when I realized that the unfinished novel had to go. The passion wasn’t there anymore.

And so I left it, like the Spartans do with their babies, to fend for itself. Parts of the old writing will live on in my imagination. I know I’ll cannibalize scenes and ideas. That’s what writers do. But I will never take up that novel again.

I think I was too in love with the idea and the world of that novel and not in love with the characters. That’s a danger for me. Characters and story need to come first.

The current novel, started the same day the old one was abandoned, and it is going swimmingly.

Tim Kane

How Do You Define Yourself As A Writer?

Hi, I’m a creative and imaginative dreamer? Really? Sounds like you’re a bum to me.

Why can’t we get away with introducing ourselves via our talents? So often we define ourselves with jobs (teacher) and relationships (father of a wonderful daughter). Think about it, we even describe kids by their age or station. My daughter is 4 and a half, about to enter Kindergarten. Not a word about her personality at all.

As writers, we particularly suffer from this. I know that I do. I’ve published a non-fiction book and multiple short stories, yet why do I often feel like I’m not a “real” writer yet. Why? Because I don’t have that elusive “novel” published. It’s frustrating because I know I am a writer. I write. Every day. But it’s those accolades that we yearn for.

Perhaps we should all loosen up a bit. Let’s be what what we do. I write. Ergo, I’m a writer.

Nuff said.

Tim Kane