How to Vanquish the Demon Raktabīja ~ fiction by Emily Hoover

You’re on Instagram again, late at night, scrolling past a sponsored post for an Atlantic article about thanking one’s partner. You’re split at the seams after cooking for your boyfriend and his friends yesterday during the soccer game. He didn’t even ask you beforehand, just assumed you’d whip something up. LA Galaxy won. You smiled thinly while loading the second sheet pan of nachos into the oven.

Your eyes settle on an influencer. You’re disinterested in the overpriced cork yoga mat she’s selling but engrossed by the tattoo on her back: a blue-skinned deity dancing atop another blue-skinned deity’s chest wearing a skirt of severed arms and a necklace of decapitated heads, sticking out her tongue. The caption reads: “In stillness and combat, I am Kali Ma.” You are moved by this balance of calmness and strength—not the influencer’s appropriative caption, but in the deity.

Google Kali—Sanskrit for She Who is Death—known as the Hindu Doomsday Goddess and Goddess of Time and Fertility, a contradiction that makes you smile. She is an incarnation of Parvati, who is married to Shiva, the Destroyer God. You like that he’s also known as the Transformer because, in your experience, destruction results in something stronger.

Read everything from Wikipedia entries to a blog about evoking Kali and Shiva to demolish patriarchal relationships. Study the image of Kali fucking Shiva in a reverse cowgirl position, laced with the necklace of heads, until you drift off, wishing you’d shopped for skull necklaces on Etsy.

Push yourself out of bed after the second alarm. The spin class starts at 6am, and it’s already 5:38. Stumble out the door with half-tied cross trainers—the hallway quiet save for the chirp of the smoke detector in your neighbor’s apartment.  Don’t forget to take a selfie for your followers.

Peel an orange in the elevator. Toss the skin into the trashcan by the side-exit door. Scoot by the man diving in the dumpster. When you get into the parking garage adjacent to your building, don’t be on your phone.

Instead, have your eyes on three men. They look to be in their early twenties. One of the men has blond hair; another wears a neon pink shirt and straight leg joggers. The third? Unremarkable in dark clothing. You’ve lived here for two years and haven’t seen them, but the leasing office has IKEA’d the place, attracting young professionals.

Use the fob to unlock your car. Place the gym bag containing your wallet in the passenger seat, your phone in the cupholder.

Start the car. When you feel your driver-side door opening, don’t turn away. Commit his blond hair and deep-set eyes to memory as he says, Give me your car once, twice, with the same calmness. Once he places the heels of his hands on your bare shoulders, don’t let him pin you. Unleash the scream: saliva spraying your face, tongue wet on your chin, until he releases your shoulders. Strike his shin with your non-dominant foot. Hear only the pat-pat of his sneakers as he runs away.

After the goosebumps appear, after you slam the door, after you wonder if he’ll be back with his friends and a gun, after you dream up doomsday scenarios (What if they rape me? What if they kill me? What if they abduct me?), catch one of the men near your passenger side door. Watch the man with the neon shirt back away as the locking sound cuts the air. Throw the car in reverse. Peer over your shoulder as all three men surround the rear. Watch them scatter like pollen in the wind as you press the gas and back out of your parking spot, speeding out of the garage. In a fog you still can’t fully remember, end up at the gym because it’s almost 6am, and it’s the only place you can think of that’s safe.

Later, when the detective says, Most people freeze; you may never understand what made you keep your head and also fight back, remember: as Parvati battled the demon Raktabīja for disenfranchising the gods, she birthed Kali from her forehead. Each time Parvati tried to slay Raktabīja, as his blood approached the ground, a clone of him appeared, surrounding her. So Parvati, desperate and fatigued, created an incarnation that would lap up the blood before it reached the ground. One that would fucking end him. Everyone’s an influencer. In this reality, you are that incarnation. You are what remains after everything collapses.

Emily Hoover is the author of the novella in stories, Snitch (Wordrunner eChapbooks, 2021), and the zine of micropoetry, Portrait of My Mother Living with Mental Illness (Rinky Dink Press, 2022). Her poetry, fiction, and reviews have been published by The Citron Review, FIVE:2:ONE, Bending Genres, Limp Wrist Magazine, BULL, Necessary Fiction, The Los Angeles Review, Ploughshares blog, The Rupture, and others, and her fiction has been nominated for Best of the ‘Net. She lives in Las Vegas.

Show Emily some love via PayPal at Emilyhoover90(at)gmail(dot)com.