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.”

Death Plays Golf in the Garage

Chapter 8

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 metallic taste filled Kassandra’s mouth. Her hands reached into the soupy blackness for support. An amber light glowed a few yards ahead, illuminating a workbench. It was Dad’s battery charger. This meant she was in the garage of her old house in Seattle.

A creaking came from somewhere in the darkness, sounding like a squeaky door opening and closing. Kassandra toggled the light switch. Still black. Did she really think the lights would work? 

Creeping forward, the scrape of her sneakers on the concrete seemed to stretch into every corner of the room. The sharp smell of gasoline filled the garage. Dad always kept a can in here for the lawnmower.

The creaking grew louder, sounding like a wooden beam flexing under weight. Creeeak. Pause. Creeeak. Pause. 

Kassandra scurried to the workbench and gripped the wooden rim. Solid. It felt good to have something to hold on to. The instant she touched the cord for the shop light, the creaking stopped.

Each breath filled her head, the sound amplified in the sudden silence. Kassandra’s fingers tightened on the cord. Not alone. A chill squirmed up her spine. Someone else was in here.

One yank on the cord and the shop light flickered to life. A slimy coppery taste coated her tongue. It felt like someone stood inches away. Kassandra’s gut clenched. The garage had to be empty this time. No shoes dangling next to the ladder.

She stopped breathing, focusing on even the slightest sound. Nothing. Her eyes squeezed shut, Kassandra decided to turn on three. One. Heartbeat thundering. Two. A bead of sweat slithering down. Three. 

She spun around. 

The garage was deserted. Pools of black marked the spots where oil had dripped from Mom and Dad’s cars. A line of boxes sat shoved against the far wall, teetering and ready to collapse. A glance up showed the barren wooden rafters. What had made the creaking sound? 

Something seized her left leg—a chalk white hand punching up through the concrete, its fingers chilled like chunks of ice. The floor fractured as dozens more hands surged upward. Kassandra shrieked, trying to escape. Then it was there—a life-sized version of Death from the Tarot card. She jerked back, but the hands from the floor locked her foot in place. 

The skeleton grasped a seven-foot scythe with a curving blade on one end. The handle, built of human vertebrae, created a black stripped pattern where the bones fused together. The creature raised the weapon high as if to split her open. The blade glinted under the fluorescent bulb of the shop light. 

Kassandra’s gaze zeroed in on the weapon. The scythe swooped down, aimed at something on the ground. Three human heads lay on the concrete, the same image from the Tarot card. The skeleton whacked the point of the scythe through Dad’s skull. 

Kassandra screamed.

Bed sheets clung to her sweaty skin. The digital clock read 4:17 a.m.

On the pillow next to her lay the Tarot deck, stacked in a neat pile. She leapt off the bed, butt thumping on the floor. Those cards had been on the shelf last night. Kassandra knew it. The top card was askew. Her fingers trembled as they reached for it. Flipped the card over. The skeletal gaze of Death.

Her stomach lurched and she flung the card across the room. 

“Get a grip. It was just some crazy dream.”

Kassandra rolled away from the deck, but could still feel them. The Tarot cards were watching her.

Kassandra never touched the cards again, abandoning them on the mattress. Before leaving for school, she scoured the Internet, printing out anything pertaining to those creepy things. Yet when she shoved the papers into her purse, there was the Tarot deck again. 

Kassandra ignored them for the whole bus ride, but at school, she ditched the cards in a trash can. They’d come back, of course, like a bad rumor. Swerving through the halls, Kassandra held the purse open and stared in. If they were going to keep turning up, then she wanted to witness the weirdness first hand. So far it was only the usual junk jammed in her purse. Then she slammed into someone.

“Hey, watch it,” a lanky boy said, smoothing his untucked designer shirt. 

The girl next to him, a member of Lindsay’s clique, did a quick pan of Kassandra’s clothes and muttered, “Come on Marco. New girl’s obviously been dumpster diving.” She grabbed the boy’s hand and tugged him down the hall.

Kassandra glanced down—the same ripped jeans as yesterday and a mangy old T-shirt. A new outfit hadn’t even crossed her mind this morning. Everyone in the halls sported the latest and greatest. Distressed jeans. Flirty tops. Kicking shoes. It was the first week of school after all. Kassandra looked like someone who should be toting a cardboard sign and begging for spare change.

Head down, she turned toward her locker and twirled in the combination. The door stuck. Rust coated the hinges. A swift yank jarred it loose, spilling English Comp and Science books onto the floor.

So much for this day getting better. 

The culprit was the wire shelf left there by the previous owner. The weld had snapped on one side, making it wobbly. She couldn’t endure a book-alance every time the locker opened. Fishing through her purse brought up a lone paperclip. Three guesses what she’d planned to use it for. Kassandra unbent the wire until it was straight, and then wrapped it around the snapped weld, twisting to make a tight fit. She pushed down on the shelf. The paperclip wire stretched but held. Good enough.

Scooping up the fallen books, Kassandra spotted the Tarot cards hiding underneath. Her first thought was to leave them here. She sighed and grabbed them. Better to know where they were than have them pop up someplace strange.

In class, everyone claimed the same seats. The only empties were on either side of The Browless One. Book Girl, who’d been reading on the bus, was noticeably absent. Once again, Lindsay and the social elite inhabited their bubble of coolness. The dark haired girl from the hall lounged against the lanky boy-toy, Marco. 

Mrs. Beehive lectured on the difference between tone and mood and then told the class to partner up and analyze a short story in the textbook. Without the card system, everyone snapped up the nearest friend. Kassandra glanced at The Browless One, who ignored her and flipped open his textbook. After a quick survey of the class, Mrs. Beehive settled down to coffee slurping and paperwork.

Kassandra slid out the Internet pages, laying them over the open textbook. Most of the websites claimed some mysterious and mystical origin to the Tarot, like Egyptian gods and secret societies. Some mentioned the cards evolving into playing cards like Auntie Jo had said. One site proposed a link between the Tarot and something called the Dance of Death. As far as Kassandra could tell, this was some sort of walking play designed to teach people why they needed to have their souls saved. Mostly propaganda to get folks into church.

She nibbled on a thumbnail, trimming it down beaver style while scanning the page. “The plague of the Black Death brought the idea of dying to the forefront of every man’s mind. Death was seen not as a destroyer, but a messenger of God. The Dance of Death showed all members of society, from The Pope down to the beggar, being led to the underworld by dancing actors dressed as skeletons. A popular phrase of the Dance was ‘memento mori,’ meaning ‘remember you shall die.’”

Kassandra frowned. How did skeletons dance? They always seemed to live in cages or hang around on hooks. She dove into the purse and pulled out the deck. The first card showed the black, lifeless sockets of Death. A chill squiggled through her. 

“Hey, that looks cool.” Marco appeared by the desk. He reached for the card in her hand, but she jerked it away. 

“I just wanted to see it.” He scowled. “Don’t get all touchy.”

The dark haired girl sauntered up, a smirk smeared across her face.

“No gossiping,” Ms. Beehive announced from her desk.

The girl spun, instantly assuming doe-like eyes. “We wanted to discuss how the tone affects the main character.”

Beehive nodded and went back to her coffee.

The boy snatched the rest of the cards off the desk. “Can I look at these?” 

Kassandra was about to say no, but then hesitated. Didn’t she want to get rid of those cards?

“Hey, check it out Diana.” Marco shoved the card in the girl’s face. “There’s a couple of naked chicks riding a fish.” Diana frowned, glaring at Kassandra. 

The card showed two girls straddling an enormous fish. Yeah they were naked, but you couldn’t really see anything. Hair, elbows, and fins blocked all the naughty parts. One girl had her hands cupped over her face, crying.

Marco twisted the card out of view.

“What’s with these? They’re so freaky.” He squinted and shook the card. “Hey, what the heck? Are these some kind of trick cards?”

“What do you mean?” Diana pulled his hand over.

“It went blank.”Kassandra’s whole body tensed. Not again. She leaned forward to view the card again. Only the border and the title remained, everything else was white paper. A chill settled at the base of her spine. What had she done this time?

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.

Are Teachers Supposed to Torture You?

Chapter 5

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.

Kids zigzagged through Arroyo Grove High School, their shoes squeaking and clacking on the linoleum floor. Kassandra traversed through clouds of gossip like a plane surviving turbulence. Yanking open her purse, she glanced inside. Did the cards drop in there somehow? It might be possible. Yesterday she thought a stranger had morphed into her dad.

Up ahead, a freshman tripped, scattering a rainbow of highlighters and colored erasers everywhere. Kassandra cringed, remembering what it was like to be right out of middle school. 

Slipping into Honors English, she found the room packed except for a ring of empty seats circling a group of popular kids by the side—girls with manicured nails and tops in smack-you-in-face pinks and yellows. A couple of jocks and boys with way too much hair product dangled at the edge. 

Kassandra skipped the superficial police and searched for a seat at the back. Kids whispered as she walked down the aisle, most of it new girl gawking. In a town this dinky, she was the lead story. There was one open seat against the back wall and she snagged it. At least now everyone would have to swivel around to ogle her. Book Girl crouched over the same battered paperback, two seats down. In between sat a boy with his eyebrows shaved completely off. Kassandra mouthed the word, “Wow.”

Inside her purse, the gold patterned backs of the Tarot cards stared up, mocking any scrap of sanity remaining. What had Auntie Jo said at the store? The cards chose Kassandra. She stroked the deck. Don’t people choose the cards?

The teacher strolled into the room and Kassandra snapped the purse shut. No reason to goof off—at least not on the first day. The woman’s hair flew up in some sort of retro beehive. She launched into an unabridged life story complete with the names of pets and favorite vacation venues. The autobiography circled back to the first assignment and, after selecting an eager student in the first row to pass out note cards, Mrs. Beehive wrote on the whiteboard. The marker squeaked out immaculate cursive letters.

What Kind of Reader Are You?

1.   Who is your favorite author?
2.   What is the last book you read?
3.   Why did you like the book?

Favorite author? Kassandra couldn’t think of a single one. Her last book was The Crucible for the third time in English. Teachers loved that book for whatever reason. She scribbled at the top of the card:

John Keats

Ode to a Nightingale

Maybe Mrs. Beehive won’t know he was a poet. It was possible. Only one teacher at her old school even knew who the Romantics were. She set the pen down, but then scanned the board again. Groan. There was a why up there. Teachers always strangled the fun out of literature. Couldn’t she say it was a good read? Kassandra chewed on the end of her pen a moment before writing: 

It rhymes.

No, Keats didn’t write Hallmark greeting cards. He deserved better. She scratched out the rhyming bit and added:

I would like to fade away 

like the speaker in the poem.

There, done.

Kassandra glanced around the room. She’d probably taken the most time with the assignment. One guy texted under his desk, though he was obvious about it. Another pair of girls scribbled pictures on their binders. Mrs. Beehive witnessed nothing, arranging papers while taking sporadic slurps from a Starbucks mug.

A couple of girls from the social bubble in the corner giggled. Kassandra doubted they wrote anything at all on their cards. One in the center, a strawberry-blond, met Kassandra’s gaze. Most kids looked tuned out, but this girl’s stare was predatory. As if she were a big cat on the Savannah with everyone else as juicy gazelles. 

Mrs. Beehive stood. She wanted the students to partner up and share the information on the card. Kassandra glanced at The Browless One, wondering if she could feign sickness. But Mrs. Beehive had a system. She volunteered the same go-getter from the front row to collect the assignment from the left side of the classroom. The redhead and the rest of the clique dropped their cards into a plastic tub. 

Mrs. Beehive then sauntered to the other side of the class and announced, “Select one card to find your partner for today.” Kassandra let her shoulders relax. The Browless One would be some other kid’s problem. When the plastic tub came around, she pulled out a card.

Lindsay Barker
Favorite Author: Arthur Miller (The Crucible)
Last Book I Read: A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Why I liked it: I liked having a play inside a play

Okay, obviously this girl was lying. Of course she’d have The Crucible. Plus Shakespeare? Like she actually read him over summer break. Saw the movie, maybe.

The students stood and bustled about, trying to locate the owner of the card they picked. Kassandra tossed the crocheted bag over one shoulder and zeroed in on Go Getter Girl. The teacher’s pet was probably also the suck up who wrote the card. Go Getter Girl shook her head and pointed to the redhead and the clique of fashionistas. Kassandra felt her gut compress into a tight ball. The goal was to duck under the radar and now she was hooked up with the queen bee of Arroyo Grove High School.

Kassandra shuffled toward Lindsay. The girl ran fingers through her hair, settling the bangs so they grazed the top of her eyes. Then she glanced at Kassandra and a sour look spilled across her face like tasting something repellant. In an instant, a beaming grin flashed up to replace it.

“Hi, I’m Lindsay.”

“Yeah,” Kassandra said, placing the card on the table. “Got that.”

Why was she being so bitchy? This girl might be nice. Plus it’d be great to make one friend this semester. She sat down and dumped her purse on the floor next to a Coach hobo bag.

Lindsay clacked her nails on the desk. It looked like a craft store exploded across them—tiny plastic flowers and specks of glitter adorned every inch.

“So…” Lindsay said. 

Kassandra realized the girl was waiting for her name. “I’m Kassandra.” She passed over the index card. As Lindsay read, Kassandra scanned the class. The clique was scattered across the room. Maybe Mrs. Beehive knew what she was doing.

“You read Keats?” Lindsay asked.

Kassandra turned and couldn’t suppress a smile. A socialite who recognized the Romantics?

“I thought the same thing about the Shakespeare.”

“Don’t tell,” Lindsay smirked, leaning in. “But it was only the movie.”

Bingo. Kassandra gave herself a mental pat on the back.

Lindsay snapped the card on the table. “I read the Nightingale poem. Isn’t it all about dying and feeling sad about yourself?” She arched an eyebrow.

Ouch. Not a fan of Keats then. “I guess that’s one way of looking at it.”

Lindsay took in Kassandra’s ripped jeans. “You know, you shouldn’t wear pants like those. It’ll get you into the wrong crowds.” The smell of hairspray and body wash scented the air with cinnamon and apples. So different from Kassandra’s mom, who laid on perfume like it was bug repellant, always laced with an undercurrent of raw alcohol. 

“Listen. A friend of mine works downtown. He could hook you up with some amazing clothes.” Lindsay grinned, adding, “Cheap.”

Kassandra found herself nodding. A sparkle in the girl’s eye seemed to say, “Listen to me. I know what I’m talking about.” At her old school, Kassandra wouldn’t have given someone like this the slightest glance. But this wasn’t Seattle. The rules of high school were simple: Being alone made you a target.

“This class is a breeze.” Lindsay nodded toward the teacher. “I had her last year. The old bitty is ready to retire and hardly pays any attention to what you do. Just turn in a couple of good essays and you’re golden.” 

“Thanks.”

“So what’s your story? Just move into Arroyo?”

“I’m from Seattle. Arroyo’s where Mom grew up.” Kassandra hooked a blond strand over one ear. “The two of us are staying with a family friend.”

“Divorced huh?”

Kassandra shivered. If only it were so simple. 

Lindsay didn’t even pause. “Join the club. At least it means you can play the two off each other. I swear, the weeks they’re fighting is when I get the best gifts.” She nudged the Coach purse with one foot. The crocheted bag looked like a potato sack next to it.

“Okay class,” Mrs. Beehive announced, setting the coffee mug on the desk. “Please take your original seats.”

“Catch you around.” Lindsay flipped her bangs and smiled. 

“Yeah, thanks.” Kassandra grabbed her purse and hurried back to the corner desk.

Mrs. Beehive switched to the standard “I lecture, you take notes” teaching format. Kassandra spent the rest of period scribbling enough sentence diagrams to put even Merriam Webster in a coma. Some students kept up, but most were narcoleptic. Lindsay and her clique even had trouble pretending to look engaged.

Kassandra worked her purse under the desk and one hand slipped inside to grasp the Tarot deck. She slid out a card and sneaked a peek. It showed the skeleton with a scythe again. He danced over a sea of chopped off hands and arms. Arranged at the bottom were three severed heads. Such a pleasant image. But then the card was called Death. The heads portrayed a woman, a child, and a man. She blinked. It wasn’t just any man’s head. It was Dad’s face. 

It had to be some sort of trick. The way the fluorescents lit the card maybe. Yet the more Kassandra studied the picture, the more it looked like Dad’s cropped salt and pepper hair. The drawing even showed crow’s feet fanning out from his eyes. 

The coppery taste filled her mouth again.

Kassandra.

Who said that? She jerked around, scanning the room. Everyone had a glassy-eyed look as they stared at the board. The Browless One tilted back in his chair, mouth open. Book Girl ignored everything, zeroing in on the paperback. 

Kassandra flicked back to the card. Something looked different. She touched each head in turn: woman, child… Her stomach twisted into a knot. He wasn’t looking down like the other heads. Now Dad stared out of the card. Straight at Kassandra.