Destruction Rains Down on Kassandra’s Head

Chapter 26

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 stumbled into the coffee shop patio, breath sputtering out in gasps, creating puffs of mist in the morning air. She collapsed at one of the tables. A single image strobed through her mind—Lindsay crumbling to dust on the sidewalk. Kassandra couldn’t escape it. The memory dominated her thoughts. 

One of the customers stared, newspaper folded down. He looked accusingly, as if knowing what she’d done. Kassandra wiped her face and pushed away from the table, and spotted the Psychic Mind shop across the street. Even with the blinds twisted shut, she caught a glimpse of the lights inside. Clerk Lady was in there.

Kassandra dashed across the street and launched at the door, fists pounding. No response. But what did she expect? Clerk Lady hid in here the last time. She wouldn’t answer now. Kassandra slammed a hand against the glass anyway.

The front blinds bent up and a pair of eyes peered through.

“Open up. Please!”

The blinds snapped close and the lock clicked open. As soon as Kassandra stepped into the shop, Clerk Lady shut and bolted the door, flicking the lights off.

Kassandra exhaled. “Thanks.” 

“Don’t thank me.” Clerk Lady’s face was etched with worry. Stacked boxes sat in one darkened corner. With the lights off, they loomed like a wall.

“Something happened with the cards. Lindsay. She crumbled to dust. I think I killed her.”

“She’s not dead.” Clerk Lady hoisted the last of the books off a now empty shelf. A curl of hair slipped loose and dangled in her face.

“I saw it happen.” Kassandra’s fingernails dug into her palms. “Why did you give those cards to me?”

Clerk Lady dropped the load of books into an open box. “They chose you.”

“Just stop it with the choosing already. You dumped them on me. Plain and simple.”

Clerk Lady paused, still looking into the box full of books. “Your friend isn’t dead.”

Relief flooded through Kassandra. “But what happened to Lindsay? I saw her disappear.”

“She’s trapped in the cards. It’s why Luke wants them.”

“Well, mission accomplished. He’s got the deck now.”

“What!” Clerk Lady whirled around, eyes wide with fear. “Get out of here. You have to go.”

“No.” Kassandra planted her feet. “You let me walk away with those damned cards without giving me a clue about what they could do.”

Clerk Lady’s arms fell to her sides, all the energy drained. “I can’t. Not anymore.” She hurried back to a shelf and scooped up more books. One tumbled to floor, thunking on the carpet. She ignored it.

 “You’ve met Luke before, haven’t you?” 

Clerk Lady glanced up for an instant, and then she heaved the books into a waiting box.

“You pulled him out of the cards.”

The woman nodded and then dashed past.

Thoughts flew through Kassandra’s head. Clerk Lady had the deck first, but she couldn’t give it away. Of course not. The cards just kept zapping back, over and over. At least until the Tarot deck chose a new owner. 

Kassandra looked at the bookcase where she’d found the cards. Everything that day had been so bizarre. Something had called her name. Had the deck been calling her? 

Then there was Luke. It wouldn’t take long for him to figure out that some cards were missing.

“How do I put him back?”

Standing at the shelf, Clerk Lady stacked more books onto an arm. Her gaze locked on some distant spot in the store.

“Tell me!” Kassandra edged closer. 

“You can’t,” Clerk Lady said, mind still miles away.

Kassandra grabbed the woman’s shoulder. “You put him back. Why can’t I?”

Something shifted in Clerk Lady’s face. The muscles tensed and for a moment every worry line and wrinkle became etched in her skin. “You gave him the deck. It’s over.”

She tried to pull away, but Kassandra held firm. “No. I still have two cards. Death and The Magician.”

Clerk Lady blinked as though coming out of a trance. “You could… Maybe…” Kassandra let go. The woman set the books back on the shelf. “Show me the cards.”

Kassandra slipped out the Death card.

“Where’s the other?” 

“It’s at home with my aunt.”

“Why?” She stepped away, shaking her head. “Don’t let him get those cards.”

“What’s the point? He has practically the whole deck.”

“He needs all of them all to invoke The Tower.”

Kassandra held her hands up and shrugged.

Clerk Lady’s forehead pinched into a V. “You really don’t know anything about the Tarot, do you?”

“Yeah, well I didn’t ask for them.”

A look of guilt washed over the woman’s face. She stepped closer, gaze switching to the front of the store where morning light leaked between the blinds, leaving faint lines on the carpeted floor.

“The Tower symbolizes absolute destruction—the nuclear bomb of the Tarot deck. Once triggered, it will be the end of everything.”

“Don’t be so melodramatic, Carol.”

Kassandra’s gut tightened into a knot as Luke strolled out of the shadows from the rear of the store. How long had he been there?

“I’ve told you before.” He looked straight at Carol. “The Tower will only destroy the cards in the deck. Plain and simple.”

“You’ve forgotten about everyone you’ve trapped in there. Their souls will be obliterated.”

Luke shrugged. “Omelet, eggs.”

He turned toward Kassandra. “I have to ask you for the final cards. The set is incomplete.” One hand fanned the Tarot deck. “It wants to be whole.” 

Kassandra clasped the Death card to her chest.

“Besides, you know those cards are dangerous. Who knows who else you might hurt?”

“Stop lying to her.” Carol stepped toward Luke. “They’re only dangerous because you make them so. You tried the same trick on me, but you were the one triggering the cards.”

Was that true? Kassandra thought back. She had the Fortitude card out, the one with the lion, but Luke stood next to her and grabbed it when Lindsay came along. Did he trigger it? Then in the bus, he could have grabbed the nine of wands.

“Do you know what it means to be patient, Kassandra?” Luke ran one finger along the fanned out deck, fingernail clicking softly against the paper cards. “They say patience is a virtue. Well, at this point, I must be a saint.” The last word was edged with frustration. “Do you know how long I’ve waited for these? No, I don’t suppose you would. How long have you ever waited for anything? Six months maybe? A year?” He plucked a single card from the deck. “I’m through being patient.”

The card showed a guy lying under a crumbling temple, swords slicing through the ceiling. Kassandra shivered. She’d seen this one before. On the bus. 

Luke turned to face Carol. “I can’t have you mucking things up from the inside.” She took a step toward the door. “I’m sorry. I really am.”

Kassandra ransacked her brain. What had Luke said the card meant? Something to do with the temple falling down.

“You were never sorry for the people you destroyed.” Carol gripped the key. “You enjoyed it.” 

“But I never wanted anything to happen to you.”

“Until I got in your way.”

He glanced down. “True.” 

Kassandra looked at the card again. The swords piercing the ceiling. The cracks in the stone. Destruction. The card would tear the shop apart.

Carol turned the key and reached for the door handle. Just then, the image on the five of swords faded, leaving only the border and the title. The roof shuddered. Cracks crawled through the window glass like spiderwebs. One pane shattered—flinging wicked looking shards along the floor. Carol yanked on the handle, but the doorframe had warped. It wouldn’t budge. 

Luke strolled toward Kassandra. “I knew you’d scurry back here.” He slid the blank card back into the deck. The carpet behind him ripped apart, revealing a gaping fissure in the ground.

“You girls are all the same. You love the cards when they give you what you want. But you’re too squeamish to take on their full potential.”

Kassandra’s gaze flicked to the ceiling where wooden beams squealed and snapped. The far wall buckled and split open. A sheared electrical cable flopped onto one of the boxes, setting it aflame.

Luke advanced. “Give me the cards.”

Her fingers tightened around the Death card. It was always Luke. In the bus. And against Lindsay. He had manipulated Kassandra.

The flames surged higher, spreading along the row of boxes and grasping for the ceiling. The electrical cable flailed around, whacking into the wall and the windows.

“I didn’t lie about everything.” Luke smiled. Somehow he seemed more genuine than before. “We will bring Ezabell back. And maybe your father too.” Just the mention of Dad created a sinking vortex in Kassandra’s chest. 

“Don’t listen to him.” Carol struggled with the warped door. 

The loose electrical cable whipped to the side, connecting with the window frame. A metal strip ran long the front of the shop. Carol seized up and her teeth clenched. Her fingers curled around the door handle. Then came a pop of smoke and she was thrown to the floor, one hand charred black.

Luke inspected the body. “I’m so sorry, Carol.”

“No you’re not.” Kassandra felt the muscles in her neck bunch up. “You’d do the same to me if I didn’t have the other cards.”

“Is that what you believe?”

The ceiling groaned as something massive broke free. One of the window frames twisted into a geometric nightmare. The blinds tore loose and clattered to the floor. The window had burst through, forming a hole filled with jagged shards. Beyond it lay the sidewalk and safety.

Kassandra hurtled through the opening. The glass looked like teeth, ready to crunch down on her. One shoe caught on the frame and she tumbled forward, slamming onto the concrete outside. From behind, a hideous snap signaled the collapse of the ceiling.

People gathered on the sidewalk to gawk at the smoking building. Sirens blared in the distance. One man offered a hand, asking if Kassandra was all right. She jumped up and stared back at the shop. Smoke poured out the shattered windows, punctuated by jabs of fire. The roof sagged, squashing the building like a rotting pumpkin. 

Luke had heard her talking about The Magician card. He knew it was at home. Through the window, every flickering flame looked like his silhouette. Luke would find a way out of there and then he’d go after his next target: Auntie Jo. 

Kassandra sprinted down the sidewalk. Luke wasn’t going to hurt someone she loved. No way.

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.”