The road was littered with shards of metal and broken glass — and things that looked like they’d been born, not made. Men and women … or parts of them.
“They fight again,” Shiva said.
“They fight always.” Kali took in the rubble, drank deeply of the scent of smoke and death.
“We do not force it.”
“We do not stop it, either.” She held up her hand as he drew breath, tired of the exchange. “It is what it is. We are what we are.”
Shiva nodded and let it go. He always let it go: he lived for the destruction–and others died from it.
Kali saw a small child sitting by the road and crossed, not paying attention to what she stepped on. It didn’t matter; the jagged shards couldn’t hurt her. She was the goddess of destruction: rubble was her domain.
The child looked up at her. He was no beauty — tears streaking through a dirt-stained face, snot running from his nose. But his sadness reached out to her, his pain ate at her.
The boy lifted his arms, and she picked him up. Holding him securely with two of her hands, she wiped his face with a third, while, with her fourth, she stroked his hair, comforting him.
“You fall for a child every time.” Shiva smiled at her, his face softening into a white flower — the multi-petaled lotus that only a very few knew heralded destruction.
The boy nestled against her, his small hands tangling hair that was already matted and wild. He lived because Kali wished it. Something must survive or there was no point to the destruction.
In the distance, there were other survivors. It was her dominion; she made the rules. And not everyone would perish.
Shiva pointed to a place even farther in the distance. “Look.”
A gray cloud covered the land, like ash from a volcano. Shitala was hard at work, roaming across the countryside, spreading her pestilence.
“What we do not kill, she will,” Shiva said, disgusted as ever at the lingering death their sister-goddess wrought. She always followed them, disease crowding close behind war.
The boy looked back, saw Shitala, and hid his face in Kali’s hair, whimpering.
“My sister shall not have you,” she murmured.
He did not appear to believe her.
“Put him down so we can go,” Shiva said.
“You go. I have things to do first.”
He did not argue, simply folded himself like a flower keeping night at bay and disappeared.
“What is your name?” Kali asked the boy.
“Jival.” His voice was small, tentative. As if he was no longer sure who he was.
“Jival.” It was a good name. A fitting name. Full of life — and he was. He’d survived her and Shiva; he’d survive almost anything.
But only if she found him a home.
The gray haze was getting closer; she could just make out Shitala, pale body barely distinguishable from the white donkey she rode on. Even across the distance, Kali could see Shitala’s eyes dilate when she noticed Jival.
“Not yours,” Kali said and felt herself expanding. She was growing, black skin stretching as she reminded Shitala that there was death and then there was Kali.
Shitala shook her head — they’d danced these steps many times — and turned back to those Kali would not object to her taking.
“Ma-ma,” Jival whispered, little hands running around Kali’s neck, his lips on her cheek. The touch of him was sweet, so she let go of the land and floated, a great black cloud over the landscape, until she heard the sound of a woman crying and followed it.
The woman lay like a baby would inside his mother, curled weeping in front of Kali’s shrine. Next to her were blood-stained rags, and Kali knew that they were covered with a child that would never be born.
“Ma-ma,” Jival said again, as Kali shrank to a less imposing size and knelt down, touching the woman on the back.
“He is yours, daughter.”
The woman looked over her shoulder, then struggled to her knees. “Kali-ma,” she said, dipping her head until it touched the ground, dust shaking from her hair as she repeated the movement.
Kali handed her the child. “His name is Jival. He is precious to me.”
Jival reached out for Kali, but she shook her head. He started to cry, and the woman held him close.
“What is your name?” Kali asked.
“Suraiya,” the woman said, as her hands rushed over the boy, her eyes full of wonder. She looked up at Kali, and smiled, and her smile made her beautiful. “I will protect him always.”
“Love him, too.” Kali smiled and leaned down to give the woman a kiss on the forehead. Her lips touched dust and sweat and finally skin, her kiss imparting a blessing, a hope for the future.
Letting herself dissolve, she thought of Shiva and found herself immediately by his side. He stood on a mountain, watching as two armies prepared to clash. His smile was wide, his hands clasped tightly as if to contain himself.
Kali felt her blood start to boil. Her wilder nature called, and she laughed and grabbed Shiva and kissed him, as they launched into a spinning dance, their feet weaving a pattern of chaos. And then they let each other go, and ran down the hill as the armies of man unleashed carnage. She manifested swords for each hand, ready to give in to the sacred violence.
But as she passed the first group of fallen soldiers, she saw that one of the men was barely more than a boy, and decided that he would live despite his wounds. She caught his eye and smiled — the gentle smile she knew Shiva hated–and the man seemed to relax in the promise of her warmth.
He would be saved. In her path, destruction would reign, but there must always be a spark of life to carry on.
It was her way.
[Gerri Leen is celebrating the release of her first book, Life Without Crows, a collection of short stories published by Hadley Rille Books. She has over fifty stories and poems published in such places as: She Nailed a Stake Through His Head, Sword and Sorceress XXIII, Return to Luna, Sniplits, Triangulation: Dark Glass, Footprints, Sails & Sorcery, Paper Crow and The Scribing Ibis. Gerri lives in Northern Virginia and originally hails from Seattle. Visit http://www.gerrileen.com to see what else she’s been up to. ]