We were somewhere near Wabash and Lake the first time I encountered Death.
It was nighttime, and he had taken the form of a dead dog lying in the gutter underneath the flickering yellow light of a busted streetlamp. His face was smashed in and his coat too matted with stagnant sewer water and blood; he was about the size of a German Sheppard or a Golden Retriever or a Lab of some kind, but we couldn’t tell.
I wanted to walk towards it. There was something grotesquely hypnotic about the way it showed in the inconsistent strobing of that streetlight. There were a few flies and moths still bumping against the covering of the lamp, but most of them flew down to hover in the stench of the carcass below.
When I went to take a step in its direction, I felt Alex grab my wrist with both hands.
"What is it?" he whispered at me. My brother was five years old then. I was eight.
"It’s a dead dog…" I made to step forward again.
"Louis, don’t!" he whined. I shook him off my arm and glared at him. I was a little meaner back then…
I had made it to the middle of the street - it was very late and very dark save for the one lamp on the other side of the road, and there was no traffic of any kind anywhere; this was our third attempt to run away from home - then the sound of a train passing somewhere crashed through the silence and made me jump.
"I hate this damn stupid city," I whispered to myself. It was the first time I ever cursed and it felt dirty. Alex was whimpering in fear a couple of yards behind me.
The train seemed to go on for ever, and its eerie mechanical noises - metal screeching against metal - seemed to match up with the ominous flickering streetlight. And as I stood there, perfectly still in the middle of the road, I stared at the corpse of that dog, and I could feel it’s busted, gory, dead eyes staring right on back. It was awful: when the light flickered on I was horrified. When the light flickered off I was terrified. All I could hear was the sound of that train passing by. That god damned train.
And then it stopped. And then the light stayed on for a while and I could hear the electrical buzzing of it struggling to do so. It lit up the dog in the gutter and I could see the thing that I will never ever forget.
There was a gaping hole in his stomach. It was rotten and the color of blood-tinted tar, and inside of that dark, fleshy cave, there was a pair of terrible yellow glowing eyes looking right at me.
I didn’t move. I didn’t dare make a sound.
"Louis…?" Alex cried as softly as he could manage.
And then they were gone. The eyes. They blinked and flickered out of sight.
There was a white moth - beautiful - fluttering in the cone of yellow light being cast by the streetlight above Death. I watched it zig-zag through the air, down to the body, and land on whatever snout was left on the dog’s face. It lingered there for what might have been minutes, and then it gracefully flew away as the dead animal’s mouth slipped open to release a fluid-slicked rat into the world. I never asked Alex if he saw that part of it all. I pray he didn’t.
I turned to my little brother as the lamp flickered once more for good measure. “Come on. Let’s go home.”
He grabbed my hand and nuzzled his wet face into my sleeve.
I’m still not sure how seeing all of that affected my development to this day. I really don’t. Nor do I care.