Not many people think about death much, preferring to avoid such thoughts of finality, but then again, not many people were raised by a dead dog. I'm not sure if my companion I call Shiva was always a spirit, or if she somehow walked among the living at some point in her years. She was never too clear on that detail, no matter how many times I questioned her on it.
That topic, like many others would simply make her stop talking and stare at me with those moonlit ethereal eyes until I took the hint and changed the subject. She wasn't the best mother a girl could have, but she was a damn site better then my birth one, and kept me from turning out worse than a lot of other sinless kids I saw scraping out a living (if you could call it that) in the Barrens of Seattle in 2057.
She first came to me when I turned seven years old, on the
dot to hear her tell it. It was one of those typical morose
That September morning was worse for me then most, especially after my drunken whore of a mother got disturbed by my childishly clumsy attempt to scavenge breakfast from the rattling fridge in the roach infested hole that passed for an apartment. I was nursing several fresh bruises and painful gash across my forearm; a bloody lesson to stay clear of a belt when it's buckle edge is whipping towards you.
My tears mingled with the icy stabs of rain that found their way under the fire escape of the trash strewn alley to lash across my face, turning the trickles of blood from my forearm into pink rivulets that disappeared under the sleeve of my stained dress. I remember being confused as much as hurt, and feeling pretty sure that wasn't the usual kind of present kids got on their birthdays, if the Trideo commercials and sitcoms were to be believed any way.
That was when I first saw Shiva, her ghostly form blending with the Seattle downpour to make her nothing more then a faint mirage among the trash strewn streets until she was standing in front of me, her gaze burning holes in my wall of misery until I had little choice but to acknowledge her presence, which I did with a tearful sob and attempt to pat her on the head, the words “nice puppy” coming to the edge of my lips.
It wasn’t until my hand passed through her muzzle, and I noticed the rain too was unimpeded by her presence that I stopped crying long enough to recoil in fear and press myself deeper into the shadows and trash surrounding me. I knew calling out to my mother (if she even heard me) would only result in another flailing with her boyfriend-of-the-hours’ belt, or worse.
For her part I remember Shiva only leaned forward, her snout coming to rest mere inches from my bleeding nose, a single question formed by her in my mind, or perhaps spoken out loud by the ghostly canine. “What’s wrong?” The question served to silence my sobs, as much by the complexity of it as by the fact I couldn’t recall anyone ever asking me that before. I stammered, my mind churning with all the aches, pains, and secret hurts only I knew about, before a cold gust of wind made up my mind for me.
“I’m cold.” I told her, shivering despite myself, the wet concrete under me fighting a winning battle with my skin for which surface my tattered rain soaked dress would rather cling to. For her part Shiva only tilted her head to the side, one ear perking up more then the other and seemed to ponder my predicament momentarily before sliding her ghostly silhouette along side me, the touch of her astral form making my skin crawl and the cold feel ever more intense. As I opened my mouth to protest everything changed, and she became suddenly very real, very warm and furry, a source of dry comfort in this world of rain I could bury my face in and feel some small measure of relief.
Her bulk and thick fur surrounded me, and kept the worst of
I awoke to the darkness of another night in
I reached out and wrapped my arms around Shiva’s furry neck in thanks, her breath warm in the darkness as she transfixed me with one brightly glowing eye. I look around the alley with hesitation, realizing I’d never been outside this late before, and fearing the painful reprisal I knew was sure to come when my mother discovered I’d been out after dark.
The rain must have passed sometime during the evening, the hem of my dress hanging in soggy folds around my thighs, the alley faintly alive with the soft patter of dripping water, and the scuttle of roaches, rats, and other less savory things in the gloom. Shiva interrupted my thoughts with one of her own, the words unfolding in my mind like a flower blooming on a spring morning. “What now?”
Another question that boggled my childhood mind with possibilities, a part of me longing to see what lay beyond the streetlamp at the end of the alley another part of me fearing what would happen if I did. My stomach made up my mind for me, a sharp growl like that of a wounded animal and stab of pain reminding me I hadn’t eaten since the night before.
“Hungry, gotta go inside and get something to eat.” I stood on wobbly legs and hesitated, a tangled lock of dirty hair worming its way into my vision over my left eye, silently reminding me how furious my mother would be at the sate of my clothes and self. “But I’m scared, mommy will be mad I’m all wet and dirty..” I let my voice trail off, half way between a plea to talk me out of it, and call for reassurance.
“I’ll protect you.” Her words blossomed in my thoughts and gave me a strange sense of courage, that maybe things would be different this time. “Okay-“ I hesitated, unsure of what to call this ghost dog that sat before me, a dozen half remembered names running across my lips before I settled on my favorite name of all. “Okay Shiva.” Shiva, the name of my favorite Saturday morning trideo cartoon heroine. She was a wiz mage, strong, brave, always protected the down trodden and fought for justice along side the other superheroes of the Legends of Magic.
For her part Shiva only Chuffed at me, seeming bemused at my choice of name but accepting it without reservation. I remember pausing for a second, almost wanting to call her by a different name, but afraid it would change her, make her cruel and short tempered if I called her by the name I feared and wanted to belong to something good and loving, the name “Mother.”
My sneakers squished wetly against my thin socks as I quietly made my way from under the fire escape and through the back door into the apartment hallway, Shiva passing alongside me, her body becoming less corporeal and appearing more as faint mist with every passing moment. The door to our apartment opened with difficulty under my tiny hands, as I pressed my shoulder against it pushing with all my strength to force it from the warped wooden frame and allow me entry.
It gave way suddenly, sending me sprawling across the carpet and banging loudly against the wall like the crack of a gunshot. I froze, terrified at the attention the noise was sure to bring. I didn’t have to wait long, moments later the door to mothers bedroom opened like a cavernous abyss to hell, and she staggered out, a thin nightgown barely wrapped around her midsection as she towered over me.
I looked up pleading as she glared down with smoldering anger, the reek of stale booze and cheap perfume making me want to vomit, the lack of anything in my stomach all that prevented me from retching across her poorly painted toenails. “And just where have you been today you little bitch?!” She spat the words at me, full of anger and bile, swaying unsteadily on her feet, with drunkenness or rage I couldn’t tell.
I cringed, knowing what was to come, and any answer I tried to give would only worsen the beating. With a cry of frustration my mother grabbed the first thing that her hand fell upon and hurled it at me, the empty coffee cup shattering across the floor inches from my face, spraying me with bits of clay and the odor of stale soykaf.
“Don’ think being quiet will save you this time.” She hissed, walking over to roughly shove the apartment door shut, fumbling with the deadbolt for a moment before giving up and turning back to me, time I used to crawl into the corner and curl myself into a ball, whispering to Shiva to protect me. “What was that? Speak up you little whore!” A picture from the end table this time, of some lady she claimed was my grandmother, or aunt, I couldn’t recall which- smashed against the wall next to me, the shatter proof frame bouncing wildly as it caught the glimmer of the bare overhead bulb.
She paused tilting her head to the side as she got a better look at my curled up form, pressed into the corner like a whipped dog. “That it? You been whoring around? Work’n the streets’sh to cut in on my biz?” The drunken words slurred from her mouth, the absurdity of them lost on us both as I only shook my head back and forth in a vain attempt to placate her, and managed a weak “No.”
“Then where’s your panties you little slut? Huh? Took them off for some John for twenty nuyen I bet!” Another object flew from her grasp, a plastic tv dinner tray, the cold half eaten potatoes and soy chicken hitting me wetly across the face, making me cry out more in shock than pain. My regular lack of undergarments solely the result of her not buying me any never seemed to cross her alcohol fueled mind, the booze train of thoughts hurling full steam ahead to some crazed finality.
“You wanna take biz from me you little whore? Then yoush can take care of my latest John, see how you like his Orc meat stuffed all up inside you!” She crossed the living room in two quick strides, and was on top of me before I could even formulate a question about what Orc meat even was, and if this meant I was getting supper after all.
Her hand closed across my wrist like a vice, and she squeezed the cut from the belt buckle as she ripped me to my feet, a string of curses, and ugly sounding phrases of what I was in for when she got me to the bedroom an endless stream of filth from her stained lips. “Shiva Help!” I uttered the cry in both fear and pain as I was dragged across the floor, my mothers face a mask of anger, hatred, and drug induced insanity.
Like an apparition condensing out of fog Shiva’s form coalesced into being beside me, my mother unaware of the spectral canines arrival as her back hand careened into my face like a hammer, the impact splitting my lips and filling my mouth with blood for the second time that day. I let out a wail as she pulled her hand back for another strike, my eyes half closed and braced against the onslaught I knew was coming.
With a blur of motion Shiva lunged forward, her teeth sinking into my mothers wrist with a crunching of bone and flesh that reminded me of the time months ago one of her boyfriends-of-the-hour had stomped on the head of my kitten as it gnawed at his boot strings. With a twist of her head and a moist ripping sound Shiva held my mothers hand in her mouth, the tattered flesh jetting blood across both me and the carpet, thick strands of it pasting my wet hair more securely to my scalp.
Free of her torturous grasp I fell to the carpet, my bladder unleashing a stream of warmth between my legs I barely registered. My mother froze, staring at the squirting stump where her hand had been in shock and horror, the sudden silence all the more deafening. Shiva let her hand drop to the carpet with a soft plop, a cold fire burning in her eyes as she transfixed my mother in a predatory gaze that made her freeze in horror. She leaped then, almost in slow motion, her bared fangs latching on my mothers throat as she powered her to the floor with a heavy thud, the crunch of teeth on cartilage thunderous in the now quiet apartment.
It was the first time Shiva killed to protect me, but it wouldn’t be the last.
“Wha- the fucks this?” The deep voice came from my mothers bedroom door way, an Orc in too-tight boxers and a sweat stained gray T-shirt bearing the words Lone Star Patrol stood there, an Ares Predator grasped tightly in his right hand as he took in the scene of carnage before him, mental gears grinding against each other in an effort to interpret the sensory overload.
Little girl, severed hand, dead hooker, giant blood covered fragging wolf gnawing the head from its body. His eyes seemed to tick between each one, marking them off on some invisible checklist in his head. He raised the handgun more by instinct than thought, pumping several rounds into Shiva’s body and more into the air around her, a few impacting noisily into the drywall of the apartment and one careering wildly off the metal trideo frame to buzz past my ear like an angry hornet.
I stared in shock as Shiva seemed to die in front of me, convulsing on top of my mother and disappearing in a wash of astral mist. The Orc stared at Shivas’ vanishing shape as well, his jaw going slack with shock as he eyed his pistol with new found awe and respect. I only just started crying again when Shiva rematerialized as an astral ghost in front of me and let out a snarl of warning directed at the Orc, her teeth bared in spectral fury.
The Orc for his part did a bug eyed double take at Shiva and tried to turn and run while retreating, succeeding only at tripping over his own feet, and falling into the darkness of the bedroom with a cry of surprise and sickening crunch as his body connected with something solid.
I sat there in shock as Shiva’s ghostly formed turned to transfix me with a piercing gaze, another thought congealing in my mind. “You’re safe now.” I only nodded; wiping blood and mashed potato from my bruised and puffy face, the shock of what transpired melting my mind into soft putty, the smell of blood, excrement, and death filling the room like a tangible cloud.
The groan of the barely conscious cop in my mothers bedroom shook me from my stupor, Shiva’s thoughts lodging in my mind much more readily now, like they almost belonged. “You must eat.” I nodded, standing up and tying in vain to smooth my dress out across my legs, remembering again why I’d originally come home. In the corner, covered by a thin strand of blood, lay the half eaten soy chicken breast, the film of grease where it slid down the wall marking its resting spot.
With a smile I grabbed the slimy soy chicken, wiping the blood onto the carpet before gnawing into it frantically. I knew I was supposed to feel sad over the death of my mother, but I didn’t I just felt numb, and for the first time I could recall, unafraid of her. Shiva’s thoughts interposed themselves with mine again, this time holding a sense of urgency. “We must go, soon.”
I nodded to her, resisting the urge to scrape the mashed potatoes off the floor and eat them as well, the thick helping of blood coating them like gravy making me reconsider. The door out of the apartment seemed to open much easier this time, as I crept out and steeled myself against the unknown wonders lurking beyond the street lamp at the end of the alley, knowing Shiva would be by my side to keep me safe, no matter what lay beyond the pool of yellow illumination...