To get inside Shonda Mason's home, step wide past the brown-and-white pit bull leashed to the front porch and into the living room where a muted "Sports Center" plays on one TV and old reruns of '80s cop shows on another.
To get inside her heart, sit down on her dark couch, and listen as Shonda -- standing before you -- turns her shaky and angry hand into a gun, her index finger as the barrel, and points it at her head to show you how they killed her son.
"They shot him eight times," she said. "Four in the head."
On the morning of March 19, Eric Mason Fluellen -- Shonda's firstborn -- was found dead on the side of 13th Avenue.
"I know who did it," Shonda said.
She is 37. She had eight children, now seven. Her son Eric, 18, was a member of a local gang.
In the bedroom where Eric slept, a homemade obituary hangs on the wall. Two ball caps -- the Knicks and a Hilfiger -- rest on the dresser top. In the corner, all his clothes are folded up.
"I don't let anybody wear them," she said.
Today is Mother's Day. For Shonda, like many moms across the city and nation, it's a reminder of what has been and what no longer will be.
"I lost my son," she said.
Long ago, the ancient god Moloch demanded a most gruesome and costly sacrifice: living children. References to Moloch are found in the Bible, literature, films, Milton's "Paradise Lost." The legend of the wicked god is bloodthirsty; firstborn children are thrown into the fire.
"Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Moloch,'' reads the book of Leviticus.
"Moloch whose fingers are ten armies! Moloch whose breast is a cannibal dynamo!" wrote the poet Allen Ginsberg in "Howl."
Shonda and her dead son represent the tragedy of street violence, where children, routinely, are found dead. Moloch, it seems, has made his way into the 21st century.
"My son is gone. My nephew is gone. Our young brothers and sisters are leaving before their parents," Shonda said. "How are you going to go before me? There is no tradition in this at all."
It's gotten to this untenable point: Eric's sister -- Ponshala, 16, holding her beautiful 1-year-old Brekhi -- was not surprised that Eric died, only that it came so early.
At age 18, instead of, say, 23.
Eric was living a life bound up in the good and bad, torn by the two-headed chariot within all of us that Socrates spoke of. Shonda knew he was on the streets, stealing and carrying a gun.
Eric had a record of assault charges, burglary, cocaine possession. Shonda said he'd already been shot once before.
She also says her son was intelligent and loved to go bowling and take his mom to the park. That he was gentle and her good friend.
"His baby's right here," she said.
Sleeping in the center of Shonda's bed is Eric's daughter, 1-year-old Lala.
"His joy right here," Shonda said. Moments later, she pulled up a cellphone picture of Eric at Lala's baby shower.
Shonda believes some of Eric's own crew did the shooting. After a recent lick [robbery], something went wrong.
"The whole thing was a set-up. They had him thinking he was going on another lick, when he was the lick," she said. "He had about $20,000 on him."
She wants the police to investigate further.
"Justice ain't been served," she said.
We've reached the deep end of the ocean. You may not know Shonda or live in her ZIP code, but the children in all our streets are under threat. Internet porn. Meth. Vast pollution. Pill parties. Nihilism, depression, a postmodern sadness.
"We're losing all our brothers and sisters," she said.
How do we mark our doors to keep out the gods of death? How do we reach a land where so many kids are not buried? How do we defeat Moloch?
Today, Shonda and her family will get together. Some food, drinks, all the good things about Mother's Day. Hopefully, someone will hug Shonda a little harder today. Hopefully, her other children will live long and fruitful lives.
"That's the message. God is putting it in your face. It is time for these people to wake up the generation," Shonda said.
Outside the pit bull stares, on guard against a growing darkness.
Contact David Cook at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook and Twitter at DavidCookTFP.
David Cook is the award-winning city columnist for the Times Free Press, working in the same building where he began his post-college career as a sportswriter for the Chattanooga Free Press. Cook, who graduated from Red Bank High, holds a master's degree in Peace and Justice Studies from Prescott College and an English degree from the University of Tennessee at Knoxville. For 12 years, he was a teacher at the middle, high school and university ...