“Don’t look in the mirror before three days or you’ll see the devil”.
She saw just her own face stained with dried brown blood, her ratty hair and sunken eyes with dark circles. Looking frightful as the devil himself, she thought. She took a hot shower, got rid of the cakey brown goop, the strong scent of lavender and the laurel leaves still clinging to her body. Her hair still had a leftover hint of rue, but the scent of the deodorant somehow masked it. She lay down on the couch, turned on the TV and picked a movie.
Her grandmother was the one who told her about the ritual procedure that would drive off that strange force supposedly living in her house. “Go to this address and they will help you send it away, whatever it is”. Then she, who couldn’t be less of a believer, did. Because she had stopped believing in electricians as well.
She kept waiting for the TV to turn itself off, for the living room lamp to blink or for the electronics to burn out. Nothing happened. Two hours went by and absolutely nothing happened. Her cats no longer ran amok her and didn’t curl up in silence next to her either. That was fine, some days they behaved like that.
She thought about her image in the mirror. If she got a pair of goat horns, she could very well be the devil herself after all. Goats. She thought of what she’d learned about their lives in Biology class. It felt like that was in another life. Goats, both male and female, have horns and beard – they could all be demons. That’s fair. She thought about the goat whose blood had run through her head in the previous night. Everything happened under the supervision of an old gentleman with dark skin and white beard who kept an austere countenance as everyone watched the animal gurgling red. There was a strange sacred aura, a feeling of deep cleansing, bare feet against the earth. Everything was red and white there. She wondered whether the goat had any clue about what was about to happen as it calmly strolled toward the sacrificial room. No doubt about it. Demons know. They always know. She’d learned that on the church’s Sunday school. She’d also learned, years prior, that meddling with those things was a sin. But many of the things she did could have been sins anyway, and she’d been giving up trying to find a way out of that for a while now. She was just scared, like anybody would be, of the things happening in her house. But that also wasn’t the first house where she’d come across such problems.
Hours passed, evening fell. She missed something. Now it was just herself and silence, there was nothing else to worry about. Not even the bang from exploding lamps that used to send her into alert mode. There was only quietness and the remembrance of the fresh smell of the goat’s blood as it ran through her entire head. The debt she had with those entities that she couldn’t understand had already been paid, it seems. Her grandmother would say that the “service” had worked. No short-circuiting or pets wreaking havoc. She started to sigh with relief but stopped short. It isn’t that she’d stopped feeling things happening, but it all had the looks of the calm and the hot winds just before a storm. Perhaps she was just being cautious. “I told you not to look in the mirror”, her grandmother’s voice echoed in her mind. It was too late now, grandma. The following days were strange. She’d wake up with the smell of the blood fresh in her memory. It was as if a dream managed to crawl up into the reality of waking up in the morning for a few minutes. Far from being grossed out, each day she felt more like the memory of that smell became part of her day-to-day life. Actually part of herself. On the third day, she got hungry, as if she had the munchies, and devoured her food like an animal. She had beef for every meal and the more she ate, the more eager she felt. One day, as she was scarfing down the rarest piece of beef she could ever recall seeing, the doorbell rang and the noise echoed so loudly in her head that it felt like a summoning from hell. She imagined the old black man laughing at her, a quick and random memory. She answered – there was no one at the door. She got back and resumed eating. The ongoing sound of the TV turned on without interruptions felt strange and unsettling. It felt like sometimes she missed the abnormal activity around the rooms of the house. She missed the TV turning itself on and off, turning the volume up and down when she least expected it. The cats would only eat and sleep. They wouldn’t come close to her, not even when she called them. But she called them out of habit, as she didn’t really want their company. Days went by in a frenzy of blood – goat – smells – lunch – blood – sleeping – beef – smells – blood. The phone wasn’t ringing, emails weren’t coming, and she’d also forgotten about those things. She was always very hungry. She didn’t go to the butcher’s anymore. They did home deliveries, and the last batch had been so huge it was lasting five days. She’d get inebriated with the smell of dried blood as she unfroze the chunks of red meat, boned the large sections and retrieved the marrow so she could suckle on it as she watched TV late in the evening.
One day she got up from the couch and lost her grip in a small fury over not finding the remote control. She looked in all directions and then gazed at the TV angrily. All of a sudden, it turned itself off. She asked herself whether the host of strange activities would resume. Over the next few days she wanted to feel the goat blood running through her face, her hair, her eyes, her chest, everywhere, once again. She didn’t want to go back to that place, though. The memory of the austere countenance of the old man who slaughtered the goat was gradually turning into a laugh that made her shiver. She hadn’t seen the old man laughing once, yet her mind was sending her that image. It was as if she could see his red teeth stained with blood, projecting from amidst the white beard as his eyes squinted with derision. She called the butcher’s and ordered the freshest and largest piece they had: a live animal. The owner hesitated, overcharged, backed down. At that moment anger burst within her and turned into a flare of rage. A lamp burned out that day; not at her home but at the butcher’s office. She wasn’t there to witness it, but she knew. Demons always know.
The doorbell rang. There was a goat at the door. A cord tied to the animal’s neck and the other end to the door handle. No one was there to collect the money. There was only the goat, shining with an aura of innocence. She smiled. She took the goat inside, left it in the bathroom with immaculate white tiles. In the garage, she sharpened some kitchen knife.
She ran back to the bathroom. The cold white fluorescent light in the house hurt her eyes, making everything whiter and whiter with the excessive lighting. It felt like she could see through the walls because of all the light. Besides, all she could feel was the cold floor touching the soles of her shoes. She blinked. She was in the bathroom. She looked at the goat. “So you are the devil.”
She advanced swiftly, with a deftness made easier by the lighting that allowed her to see every detail. She struck the first blow to the chest, amidst the soft white fur. All of a sudden, red sullied the immaculate white. Not a whimper, yelp or yowl. Blood ran hot. It tasted like warm serum mixed with sweet wine and sweat. It was good. She covered her face, her hands, her arms, her neck. She painted herself bright red. She laid down embracing the trembling goat and rolled in the carpet of blood that took over the white in the bathroom. She licked the innards as she tore the flesh from the animal’s belly with her hands. She took the goat with her arms and legs, wrapping the animal as if they were one. She embraced its heat and felt her own pulse accelerating as the animal’s gave out. The lights at the house were blinking. All of a sudden, the tips of her fingers touched something hard and impenetrable. No fur or flesh. The goat’s horns. She smiled knowingly. She’d have her horns then. She soiled the entire corridor with bloody footprints, took a cutlass from the kitchen, went back to the bathroom and went for the already immobile goat. She unleashed several blows against the bone until she cleaved the animal’s head horizontally, fashioning a pot of brains with a lid made of horns on top. She contemplated everything for a moment and then got up from the bloodied floor. She put on her horned crown and closed her eyes so she could feel the remaining warm blood covering her eyelids. She walked carefully, so as not to trip, toward the mirror. She opened her eyes and smiled.
The devil beheld her and smiled back.
The original text was written in Portuguese. This translation to English was made by Maíra Galvão.
The image used on this page was taken by Mikael Kahl.