Picture Album
A Clam for Maggie
Death's Midwife
Miracle Muskie
Tater Babe Trio - Episode One
Tater Babe Trio - Episode 2


A Short Story

By Ruth A. Souther

            Who decides on the sacrifice of human life?  Is it some angry god or war-like goddess in control of earth who snips the frail grasp and sends a spark spinning into oblivion?  Or is it the condi­tion we've fallen into, when one of our own is cut down with murderous intent, and those responsible walk the street? There is no balance, there is no justice, there is no…

            Lyla Rhys stared at the computer screen, at the meaningless words mocking the dull ache in her temples. Sacrifice? Honor be­longed to sacrifice. Kim's death wasn't a sacrifice; it was crimi­nal. It was a theft of such proportion there was no way to describe the pain. A young woman whose life was ended with violence, forever marring those who loved her.

            How did anyone offer comfort under those circumstances? Especially to Tiana.

            Anger didn't seem right. Outrage, guilt, the gamut of emotions, all present, yet all wrong. To blame god, goddess, society, or even fate, was to shirk responsibility.

            Lyla had already erased the screen more than once over gushing sentimentality, a weeping, rambling dialogue that created more anguish than release. She'd writ­ten many articles on many topics, but none with such personal investment. What if there were no words sufficient to close the wound, or even make sense of the bloodletting?

            She sat huddled in her chair, the computer screen blurring before her, the edges lost in the viewfinder of memories.

            The frantic phone call from Tiana played out once again.

            A voice, broken, barely able to squeeze out syllables, whis­pered, "Something awful has happened."

            The voice was tiny, child-like, bewildered, as if the world had just caved in and she was all alone with no shelter, or even the thought of warmth.  Still, Lyla knew who was on the other end.

"Ti? What's wrong, Ti?"

            "Kim's dead."

            Kim's dead. Two words that altered reality. Nothing could ever be the same again. Small, daily things changed to slowly paint life over into something new, but this, this was a bucket of red thrown in the middle of the canvas. The crimson stain would never fade.

            Lyla watched Tiana go from a vibrant, energetic woman, to a wraith hovering near the earthly realm, just waiting to be released. A bitter smile twisted Lyla's lips into a grimace; tears burned in her eyes. She would lose them both - Kim to an assassin's bullet, Tiana to grief.

            Whoever pulled that trigger and left Kim lying in the front seat of her car in a lonely alley would also be accountable for Tiana's pass­ing.

            How could she be so certain this would be Tiana's fate?

            "The thread binding us to life is so fragile, can it be torn asunder by sheer will?" Lyla typed and the words in her mind ap­peared on the screen.

Many would say yes, an equal number of others would emphatically say no. Many cling to their faith and claim whatever will be is the work of their deity. I have heard it stated that a human has no say in matters of life and death.

            I say yes. I see it happening now, as a young woman I know grieves herself to death over the loss of her lover.  Both mur­dered. In this day, when love is given a bad rap, when divorce is on the rise, and spouse abuse soars on the wings of hate, when humankind backpedals on the rights other generations have fought to preserve, I have been privy to a love so deep between two people, it transcends the boundaries of this world.

            There are some who read this who will think this kind of love is re­served for only traditional couples, and all others dis­count­ed. Yet my young friend is dying slowly, inch by inch, knowing the last moments of her lover were of horrendous fright and pain. To picture in her mind what happened in that car before the bullet entered Kim’s head is too much for her to bear.  Who did this? Stranger? Acquaintance? Someone filled with evil and prejudice, or a brain numbed by drugs? Who?

            My friend wanders through the days and nights with these thoughts echoing in her mind. And I see her deteriorating. I see her dying."

            Lyla saved the words, and then wearily shut down the comput­er.  Everything she wrote sounded preachy, smacking of her own feelings. There was nothing debatable about a good journalist writing from her own point of view. It was the intimacy of her own anguish on paper, and the frustration attached at trying to make it sound like someone else's that was wearing her down.

            Maybe this article would not get written. What was it supposed to be about, anyway? Lyla stood and stretched, knowing she had to make a decision. Would the piece be about Kim's murder, or about stopping Tiana's inward spiral of self-destruction? Where was the difference between the two? If a person believes in fate, there would be no stopping either one. Or would there? Was Tiana's decision to wither away unconscious?  Should her friends and family insist she get help? Or was it a conscious act?  Willing the end of self.

            Morally speaking, did Tiana have the right to die if she wanted?

            Lyla lived by a code of honor, believing in it, always, and not questioning the right or wrong of it. The code was simple:  All things are connected: move a pebble and a mountain may fall. If the mountain falls, it becomes a plateau. Is a plateau any less beautiful than the mountain?

            Pushing the chair aside, Lyla stumbled the few steps to her bed.  She fell across it, face down, asleep within moments. Hours, minutes, maybe seconds later, she was startled awake by the phone ringing. Lyla blinked, eyes unable to focus with the light. She felt lethargic, unable to move, waiting for the machine to answer.

            "Lyla..." a small voice whispered.

            Lyla scrambled for the receiver. "Ti?" 

            "Lyla?" Tiana's voice was a mere whimper. “She didn’t deserve to die like that.”

            “I know, baby, I know. Kim was in the wrong place at the wrong time.”

            “But why? Why was she there?”        

            “I don’t know. We’ll never know. Honey, it’s late, you should try to get some sleep.”

            “I can’t, I can’t close my eyes without thinking about what happened to her…I can’t see anything else…just that…how scared she had to have been, and how…how much it hurt…”

            “It happened so fast, I don’t think she felt pain. I don’t think she felt anything, just…just surprise…” Lyla knew she was babbling but could not stop. “Her face was peaceful, you know? We saw her, remember, we saw her right after…”

            “I’ll never forget how she looked in that place…cold…she hated to be cold…”

            Tiana sighed, a bubbling, wet sound that made Lyla’s heart jump. “Ti, are you okay?”

            “I…I will be…” Again, that rattling exhale.

            “Tiana,” Lyla choked. “What have you done?”

            “Only what…I had to…”

            "I'm coming...hold on...please...please..." Throwing the phone down, Lyla snatched at some piece of material that passed for a jacket, and her purse.

            She didn't bother to lock the door of her home, but heard it slam as she ran toward the car. With quivering fingers, keys fall­ing at least once, she managed to get the car started and steered toward Tiana's apartment. Leanne tried to force the fear away, repeating over and over the mantra, “She’s fine, she’s fine. Everything is fine.”

Even so, she knew what she would find.

            Blood.  The smell of it hit her as she pushed open the door. The place was wrecked. Furniture turned over, drapes pulled down from the windows, blinds dangling by one end. Broken glass and silverware all over the kitchen. Lyla moved through the rooms as if in a nightmare, afraid to see what was around the next corner. The door to the bathroom was partially open. Lyla leaned against it, letting it swing back on its own.

"Oh, god..." The moan she heard was her own.  Blood splattered the white tile floor, the stool, and the sink. A red-stained towel lay in a soggy heap next to the phone, now beeping frantical­ly as it lay off the hook. Tiana sprawled in the water, her wrists float­ing, turned upward, the ugly gashes still oozing what was left of her life.

            Without thinking, Lyla hung up the phone. She could not take her gaze from Tiana’s pale face as she knelt beside the tub, oblivious to the pool of red-tinged water. Lyla sank her arms up to the elbows in the water, and drew the limp body of her friend to her. Tiana's head lolled back, bumping the edge of the porcelain. Her eyelids fluttered, and through the swollen cracks, Tiana saw her. The barest shadow of a smile tugged at her lips. The faintest whisper formed, and then escaped to reach Lyla's ears.


            "I know..." Lyla took a deep, ragged breath as Tiana's head dropped to the side, her cheek resting against Lyla's heart.

            Tears streamed from Lyla's eyes, fell, and mingled with the blood and water. 

Salt upon salt, a blessing for the good earth.

            Their killer goes free, undetected, undaunted. Perhaps to strike again at unsuspecting women who do no more than love each other. When the roots die, so does the flower. So it was with Tiana and Kim. One half the sustainer, the support and strength to which all buds must return. The other half the beauty, the blossom, the seeker of oxygen and sunlight. Equal. As much a part of each other as they were themselves.

            Gone, now. Maybe to be reborn. Maybe not. All depends on how a person looks at life.  Me?  I see flowers everywhere.

            Lyla hit the print button, and sat back, a sad smile on her face.


This story won first place in a city-wide competition called ‘On My Own Time’ in Springfield, Il in 1993.

Ruth Souther, Author of the Immortal Journey series