The Exterminating Angel
The author wishes to acknowledge the following people, in no particular order of importance, for their continuous support in his literary endeavors:
Inês Morais, Vitor Gonçalves (Coolbooks), América Silva, Sérgio Agostinho (a.k.a. Sérgio Aranha), Humberto Estaca, Paulo Coutinho, André Carapinha, Catarina Louro, Ana Paula Amaral, Filipe Cruz (EnoughRecords Netlabel), Cristina Gaspar (Books, Less Beer & A Baby), Nuno Vieira de Almeida (Coolbooks), Carla Melo, Diego Gusmão, Paulo Lameira, Sandra Faria, Nuno Domingues, Rafaela Melo, Marco Alves (Maldoror), Carla Fernandes, Catarina Janeiro, Humberto Duarte, Pedro Colaço Pinto (Coolbooks), Cristina Gentil Ferreira, Paula Fernandes, Cláudia Amendoeira Costa, Susana Bronze, Alexandre Carrilho, Ana Maria Costa, Helena de Macedo, Renan Fernandes, Lara Brisante, Ilca Maria, Jorge Paulino, Ana Sofia Paulino, Miguel Martins (Pix), Nuno Clement e Mariana (and all the Clement family), Célia Castro, Rita Inzaghi, Adelina Lopes, Gustavo Luís Guedes.
“I want to peel the skin from your face,
before the real you lays to waste.”
Layne Thomas Staley
"I had just turned nine when the war brought us devastation and death, turning our comfortable upper-middle-class family life upside down. We ran from the tanks and artillery fire, me, my father, my mother, and Kyra, my younger sister. We left the city on a truck used to evacuate patients from the psychiatric hospital, near our home, which had been destroyed by the intense airstrikes by the enemy Air Force. We traveled with a few of our belongings, some money, some family jewels, and nothing more besides the clothes we were wearing. We walked for days on, sometimes with refugee groups who, like us, were fleeing from the bombs, congregating spontaneously like animals seeking the safety of the herd.
"My mother – Kirsten was her name – asked me and Kyra to beg for food and warm clothes. As we marched through home gardens and farms, we gathered fruits and vegetables; my father, Keenan Ackerman, a famous lawyer in our hometown, had to steal chickens and rabbits for our sustenance. When we began crossing the Pyrenees, we were surprised by a strong snowstorm. We sought refuge in a cave, in which we remained while the storm lasted. My father made a campfire at the entrance of the cave, keeping his back turned outwards to stop the wind and the snow from putting out the fire. Starving and exhausted, especially me and my sister, we waited for the storm to calm down.
"We spent one night and part of a day in the shelter, and when the little food we had ran out, my father went to search for more. Perhaps, by digging the snow, he could find wild berries — he argued against my mother’s protests —, or maybe some animal had perished in the storm and could provide us with nourishment, at least until we could continue to travel. In the cave, while we waited for my father, my mother tried to comfort us by singing, making up games and stories to keep us distracted from the hunger and cold. Kyra was five and would only stop crying when she was asleep. Although older than her and presenting myself as strong and hopeful, I wanted to cry too. I was afraid, hungry, cold, and I wanted to be in my bedroom, in my bed. I wanted to wake up from that nightmare and find myself in the safety of my home, running to tell my mother what a weird dream I had just had and hear her laughing at it but scolding me for my fertile imagination.
"The day went by, and my father still hadn’t come back. I stood at the entrance of the cave, expecting to see him show up at any moment. Kyra clung to my mother, whimpering, sounding like a broken record. My mother decided to go seek my father – maybe he needed help to carry the food he had been able to find. She made me promise that I would take care of Kyra and that we would remain in the cave until they got back. I wrapped my sister in my arms to keep us warm and to make her feel safe. Quickly after, we fell asleep. We woke up a few hours later with a noise coming from outside of the cave. Thinking it might be our parents, we jumped to our feet, but it was a gray wolf growling at us. Kyra got scared and started to scream like a crazy banshee, chasing away the animal much more effectively than I could have done. My mother came back a few hours later without my father but with meat — lots of meat! We cooked it on the campfire and ate until we nearly burst. The flames danced on the walls of the cave like witches at the solstice, as our hands trembled with weakness. Kyra asked about our father, and my mother replied she hadn’t been able to find him but that we’d go look for him at dawn. We cuddled up into each other, and we slept a wonderful and reinvigorating sleep.
"I was the first one to wake up. Outside of the cave, the snow was reflecting the radiant and warming Sun. I felt strengthened as if I had been born again. I ran in every direction, exploring the surroundings of the cave like a restless and curious colt. I approached the edge of a small grove nearby. I heard my mother crying out to me and I waved at her, jumping and smiling expansively, oblivious to the distressed tone that overshadowed the voice that said my name. The further I advanced, the more desperate my mother’s cries became. Little by little, I realized there was something in the grove my mother didn’t want me to see. I didn’t know what that could be, but suddenly I was terrified. Nearby a tree, I saw clothes, clothes of a man I thought I recognized. They were my father’s clothes. If his clothes were on the ground, wouldn’t he be cold? That’s when I saw him, naked and disfigured as if he had been torn by a clumsy butcher’s apprentice. I recalled the banquet on the night before – a banquet provided by my mother after she had gone to look for my father. I remembered seeing her lighting up the campfire with my father’s golden lighter. There were missing parts of his body, making him look like one of Kyra’s dolls, and I understood, Detective Baiser, at that moment I understood… I fell on my knees, and I expelled the contents of my stomach at once…
"My mother told me later that, when she found him, my father was at the bottom of a ravine with both his legs broken and in a state of hypothermia. She tried to drag him back into the cave so that he wouldn’t stay there, like that, as if there were no one in the world who cared for him. She wanted to give him a decent funeral, but she was exhausted. Then, she thought of me and Kyra, the shock that would be for us to run into our father’s corpse. No, she wouldn’t expose us to that. She decided, right there, at that moment, to do whatever it was necessary to keep herself and her daughters alive. It was all for love, do you understand, Detective Baiser?"
Karla Engel didn’t feel pain anymore.
The stitches had dissolved and fallen out, and, as Dr. Kruger had recommended her, one week after she had been discharged from the hospital, she removed the compress from her right eye. At first, it felt strange, but she eventually got used to her new look. Her right eye, due to the stroke she had suffered, went from light blue to dark brown, which, combined with her shortsightedness, gave a unique look to her face.
During the first days of her recovery at home, she barely ate. She slept several hours a day, either in the bedroom or in the living room. She kept the windows and the blinds closed, looking for darkness and silence. She liked to pretend she was alone in the world, safe from external aggression. She walked naked around the house and began noticing that she was losing too much weight, as if she were disappearing. She set out a regular diet in which she ate little but several times a day and began a regime of physical exercises. The exercises were not too intense in the beginning, but as she felt more in shape, she pushed herself harder and harder.
Marko Baiser and Lucas Kraft, detectives of the Criminal Police, arrived at the crime scene around six in the morning.
The corpse had been found an hour earlier. There wasn’t much to see. The body and its respective head were on their way to the Institute of Legal Medicine. The neighbors had been interrogated. No one saw anything, no one heard anything. They were honest, hardworking people who went to sleep early. As for the deceased, they didn't have a single complaint against him. He lived alone, was a reserved, discreet person, and kept to himself.
"Where was the body found?" Baiser asked the sergeant.
"Here," said the sergeant, pointing to the exact location.
"And the head over there." Baiser flexed his legs, crouching down and watching everything carefully.
"The corpse," the sergeant continued, "had a deep cut in the abdominal area. That’s why his entrails
were found scattered on the floor. His hands were stained with blood, presumably his own."
"What do you think, Baiser?" Kraft asked.
Knowing Baiser as he did, he was certain his partner was already in the process of elaborating a theory about what had happened.
"Maybe the victim knew the killer, let him in. The killer gutted him. He gave him time to contemplate his own entrails. He decapitated him. Maybe with a cleaver or an ax."
"There was no evidence of robbery," the sergeant said. "Maybe it was a drug deal that went wrong, gambling debts..."
"I don’t think so," replied Baiser, dryly. "A body floating on the Arion River with a bullet in the head... In that case, maybe. Gutting followed by decapitation suggests, let’s say, a not so petty motivation."