The idea—no, the prospect—of a young person just dying without an identifiable reason or cause did not sit very well with Shara, because she was a young person and most of her closest friends were young people and she did not like the idea of them or herself encountering the same fate as the ultimately unfortunate Jessica Wells. She knew that such thoughts were selfish, and that perhaps in this moment she shouldn’t have been grieving and ruminating over some fate which might befall her before she’s old and gray, but she couldn’t help herself. As it was, she did not know of anyone who had died up to this point, and while she saw Jessica everyday of the current school year, shared most of the same classes, and had seen her in the previous two years they had been at the school, she really didn’t know here all that well, and she really couldn’t call her a friend.

            As the moment of silence dragged on for what seemed like an eternity, instead of her thoughts being directed at Jessica in whatever contemplative, prayerful reflection that seemed to grip the rest of the students around her, she found herself lifting her head slightly, and allowing her eyes to scan all those around her that she could. She noticed that Jaimie Coffee’s seat was empty. Jaimie was Jessica’s biggest fan and supporter, and some of the more backstabbingly brutal (read: jealous) students would refer to her as Jessica’s flunky. Shara knew Jaimie well—used to, anyway—for once upon a time back in grade school before there was any hint of a Jessica Wells coming in to tear them asunder, they had been best friends. She could only imagine the pain that Jaimie was experiencing now that her new best friend had died so suddenly and so mysteriously.

            Then her eyes found Miss Lyne. She was a tall, stately young woman who seemed to have taken a liking to Jessica from the very first day of school, and whom many of the students found exciting and dynamic. They all seemed to crave her attention and went out of their way to impress her, almost as if she were someone they had a crush on. But Jessica was her pet, and in looking at her with her head down, and her gorgeous black hair draped over her shoulder and hanging down to her waist, her sadness was deep and she could not have hidden its true depth if she had wanted to. No tears spilled, but just her being was so overcome with grief that it was not possible to imagine that she was the same woman who inspired so much dynamic activity from her students.

            Today, as always, Miss Lyne was dressed in black. She always wore a knee-length black dress with a black belt that cinched her narrow waist, and she always wore black knee-high boots. She always wore a black velvety choker studded in a rainbow’s worth of colorful round stones that some of the students claimed in whisper tones but with forceful certainty were precious gems. While her predilection with black was not so much of a problem, nor seemed overly unusual, as they were always different dresses and different boots with subtly different shades of black and textures of material. What was highly unusual—some said weird—was the fact that she always wore black gloves. Not once had she not worn the gloves to class and never in all the time that she was in class did take them off.

            When asked why, she said, with a wink: ‘You have your style, I have my style.’

            Of course, the students’ style was imposed by the school, which required them to wear maroon polo shirts with the school crest on the left breast and black bottoms, either skirts, dresses, or slacks, with black shoes. So, in that regard, while she dressed pretty much the same every day, presumably of her own volition, they dressed pretty much the same every day as well, except by decree instead.

            All at once, the loud speaker crackled to life, startling the students from their meditation. Miss Lyne’s eyes rose and looked directly into Shara’s, who was caught staring. Miss Lyne simply nodded before Shara could turn, and scanned the faces of the students with a quick sweep of her bright green eyes.

The principal’s voice came through, sounding choked up by the gravity of the situation as well.

            “Thank you for your respect and your prayer. Counseling services will be available for any and all persons in the school who wish to make use of them. Students, speak to your advisors or any of the faculty. Faculty members may speak to the vice principal or myself. Thank you.”

            Miss Lyne waked slowly behind her desk and sat, clasping her gloved hands before her and somberly regarded her chapfallen students for a long moment before saying anything or moving a muscle other than those controlling the movement of her eyes. Before she said a word, she drew a breath. A deep, anguished on at that and sighed it out. A few loose papers on her desk stirred by the tempest that escaped from her lips.

            “Would anyone care to say something about Jessica or about how you are feeling?”

            She looked at the students, some of whom looked among themselves for that one brave soul who was willing to break what for the students was still a moment of silence. But no one said anything, even though it was more than apparent that they all had something to say or ask. For now, they simply did not know how to ask or exactly what to ask.

Shara was a shy girl and did not want to be the one who spoke first, but there was something that she just needed to know and there were not many ways to find out answers to things unless  one is willing to ask questions about them. So slowly, her hand went up. It was as if a twenty-pound weight were attached to her elbow, but she slowly raised her hand.

            Miss Lyne saw it instantly, and her eyes locked on Shara’s just before a small, pleased yet weary smile spread on her face.

            “Yes, Shara? You have something you wish to share with us?”

            All eyes darted toward Shara and the grinding of chair legs on the wooden floors resounded as students turned not only their heads but their chairs as well so that they could look at Shara and witness one of the rare events in school history: Shara Shaden was actually going to say something in class.

            It was almost as if the eyes of the students were some sort of heat vision, as she suddenly started to feel hot and felt perspiration weeping from her pores. It almost made her feel faint, but she gulped in some air, which only served to wick out the last remaining bit of moisture in her parched mouth. Her heart pounded and felt ready to explode.

            At last, before her resolve finally fully failed, she wondered in a low voice: “How is it possible that she just died?”

            Miss Lyne blinked her eyes quickly for a second, and some of the other students nodded and murmured, obviously having wondered the exact same thing.

            “I mean, she was a normal healthy girl,” Shara went on, her voice growing stronger, while her body started to tremble even more than the nervousness of posing a question had already caused her to. Now she was trembling with fear and dread and passion of a different sort altogether. “People don’t just die, Miss Lyne. I mean, do they really? Isn’t there always a cause or something that the medical people can find out that caused it?”

            The other students nodded, first at what Shara said, then at their own questions in the same vein that the had posed to themselves, and then toward each other as they all saw and acknowledged that they were all thinking the same things.

            Miss Lyne considered the question deeply, and even more deeply considered the needs of the children who so eagerly waited to have their questions answered as well as to have their fears assuaged. Wide eyed, frightened and totally unprepared for the horror of having a child their own ages die in the manner in which she did.

            She unclasped her hands, stood slowly and moved to the front of the desk in front of the children and leaned back against it. All eyes followed her every move and waited patiently for the words of the dynamic young woman to set their minds and their souls at ease. They knew beyond a doubt that she would deliver to them the words that would deliver their minds to a place of safety where they would not have to worry about ‘just dying’ and where death was known to be caused by something that could possibly be treated or avoided altogether with luck, healthy living, and a healthy dose of prayer.

            She had been looking down at the floor while she contemplated, and al lat once her eyes lifted, quickly, looking at each and every student who sat wide-eyed before her.

            “Miss Shaden is one hundred percent correct. There is always a cause of death. No one who has ever lived has died of nothing. Miss Wells died of something. What exactly, the doctors do not know yet. The exams they performed and the tests they have run have shown nothing, but that does not mean that she died of nothing. It simply means that they do not know.”

            “How could they not know?” someone else called out on the edge of a whimper, wondering for all what all were thinking.

            “Yeah, my dad’s a doctor and he said that…”“I saw on tv that death is….” “…heat attack…” “…strokes can …” “chemicals from the wars…”

            Miss Lyne clapped her hands together so that the suddenly agitated student would settle down. The sound of her hands caught them by surprise and when they looked, they saw that she had her gloves off. But only for a second, as she put them back on as soon as she had their attention.

            Shara had gotten a good look at them and she was shocked to see that they were normal hands. No disfigurements as some students suspected. No discolorations as others opined. They were normal, smooth hands with, not surprisingly, black nail polish. So the mystery of the hands was not a mystery at all. It was, simply, as she put it, ‘just her style.’



The Sacred Shards of Shara Shaden’s Secret Soul © 2008 Walter R. Milton