She would give herself over to the mountain—the hungry, earthen temple that needed human sacrifices to stand. Some were seized with a blanket of snow and given the favor of a decent burial. Manmade, preemptive strikes to avert such disasters were never enough. Others lay vulnerable to the elements and animals after falling from trails or while rock climbing.

She would give herself over—a voluntary sacrifice—not virgin, and not unspotted. Perhaps in doing so, the mountain would need one less victim. Perhaps it was her destiny.

She opened the car window. The pined, fresh breath of the canyon invigorated her, and she hoped wipe clean the act. The trees breathed in her sorrow, and the quivering leaves performed a macabre butoh. She never appreciated trees more than she did now. They took in humans’ carbon dioxide and God knew what else, absorbed and purified it, and then gave oxygen in return, a perfect symbiotic relationship, and she wondered if it was the trees that ultimately forgave us, saving us from ourselves.

Her exit was really all part of the plan. It was simply an acceleration of what was eventually to be. “Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

She inserted Dan Fogelberg’s, The Innocent Age, a favorite album of hers since the 80s. “Lion’s Share” began to play:

Grand slam, your moment’s at hand, the day holds a costly bargain
Lost lamb asking the lion’s share
Homespun, a prodigal son, comes begging a humble pardon
But no one rises to hear his prayer . . .

. . . Living in the shadows of the things that might have been
Torn between the blessing and the curse
You may stop the hunger but you’ll never slake the thirst
For the nectar you remember but you’ll never taste again . . .

A memory on the edges of her mind awakened. Tired of jousting with an invisible opponent, she called forth the forces of darkness to face her directly. Only 20 at the time, she could barely function the rest of the day when “they” appeared, and she could not look another living creature in the eye because it was too painful to feel the essence of another’s lively being.

She remembered trying to go to work where a lovely woman with a high and gentle voice, never asking her what was wrong, never demanding to know why she would not look at anyone, gently coaxed her out of herself. Did the hosts of hell rise to the challenge? Was it her own mind calling forth her demons or simply the power of suggestion? She did not know.

She had drunk the milk of human kindness. At times, it came straight from a goddess’s breast. Strange, fortuitous coincidences flowed one after the other. The bartender at the beer hall, who when he saw she was the most novice of drinkers, spoke kindly to her and called her a cab. The mechanic who waved her away when she went to pay for repairs. When merchants, feeling her sadness, gave her free items: warm bread, mascara, a cup of coffee, a decorative barrette, and other intermittent gifts.

She needed fortitude, so she changed the track to “Empty Cages”:

Waiting in the wings your courage sings before you falter
It’s just another way to say what’s there but never shows
It’s just another day to lay your sins before the altar
And where it’s going to end this time around nobody knows.

Every time it seems that you have gained an understanding
Those devils at your heels reach up and try to tip the scales
Waking from a dream it seems it’s all been done without you
And every vain attempt to make you stay is destined to fail . . .

Turning right into the sanctuary, her heart began to pound, and her breathing grew labored. She reached for her inhaler and then laughed to herself. There was no longer a need for inhalers.

She walked to the stunning picnic area with an adjacent trail winding around the mountain. The cascading water seemed almost a happy welcome. As she knelt on one knee, she looked at the surrounding trees. Suddenly, she made her way to the stream. Moving water was supposed to kill depression, and in the past this very spot had.

The pistol split the thin air crackling and echoing between the rocks sending a rabbit scattering to the brush.

Sona Schmidt-Harris has had poetry published in “Abbey” and “The Ravens’ Perch.” Pleased to be an English Major with a Creative Writing Emphasis, she is also a journalist, travel writer, novelist, and children’s book author. She believes that short stories are like poetry in that every word matters.