Sealed With a Kiss
by H. Pueyo
Israel lay dying on the floor for several minutes. Drops of blood spilled from his wrists, staining the cuffs of his previously white shirt, while the calendar above his head fluttered with the wind, varying between March and April, 1968. This is the end, he thought, arms splayed, but he was wrong. Someone, either the most beautiful creature he had ever laid eyes on, or the angel of death herself, prodded him in the leg with a dainty bar shoe.
“Are you alive?”
Israel blinked, lightheaded; during the haze of his slipping consciousness, he thought to see a fluttering shadow behind her, an arm, a hand, fingers, head, a mouth. It was gone when the girl bent down to grab his legs and drag him across the floor, hitting his face against a chair while trying to get him to the door.
“Dead boy in classroom three!” Her sweet voice echoed through the corridors of their school. “Dead boy! Classroom three!”
Ten minutes later, the nurse would find out he was not dead. Not even close to it, in fact: The self-inflicted wounds were not deep enough to kill, nor done in the right direction. He had fainted at the sight of his own blood—weren’t you always hemophobic, Israel, my dear?—and was pale enough to look deceased in the point of view of a stranger. When questioned, he found himself unable to explain why he had done it; he believed it was because he had been rejected by his greatest love so far, or because he was naturally prone to fits of melancholy, but now he was too distracted by a new, enchanting sight. His savior was no longer there, but he mustered strength to ask her name:
“The transfer student?” asked the nurse. “Dalila Valença, I think that’s her name.”
• • •
Dalila walked through the corridor, hearing other people whisper behind her back. Have you heard? some of them said, hands covering mouths and muffled sounds of surprise. About the new girl? It could be anything from a long list of gossip that followed her in the last years: shocking conclusions about her very short haircut (it was fleas, some suggested, it was forcefully cut, it was burned—I heard she started a fire in her old school …), her track record (she got two of her last teachers fired, and might have killed another one—no, she did kill another one), her adoptive father (Félix Valença, the actor! one of the second-years said. Do you think I can get an autograph?).
This time, it was the fire again.
“Dalila!” A boy her age ran when he saw her, holding a book against his chest. Israel was tall and gaunt, with curly dark hair and large black eyes, looking like he was about to faint at all times. “Wait for me!”
“You’ll have to run faster,” said Dalila with a smile, hearing him pant. Israel had been glued to her since the first day, and he could be rather weak-willed, but she had a soft spot for him. “Greek’s about to start.”
There she goes, walking with Suicidal Israel, someone whispered. I guess they match.
They entered classroom five, and Dalila held the back of her mustard mini dress before sitting down. Israel pulled his desk closer to her and left the book next to his pencil case.
“I brought you a poem you might like,” he said in a low voice, glancing at the door sometimes to check if the teacher was already there. Israel lifted the book to show her the cover, Complete Poems of Cruz e Sousa, and pointed at the elegant portrait of a dark-skinned black man looking at the side.
Dalila leafed through the book. “My dad played him in the theater.”
“It’s probably silly of me.”
Israel stood up, puffing his chest before declaiming, one hand lifted in the air and a somber look in his face: “O flesh I have loved most bloodily. O lethal and painful voluptas … Essence of heliotropes and roses …”
A couple of girls laughed, and Israel lowered his head.
“It was fine,” Dalila said, pulling him back to sit down, and offered a little smile. Israel almost sighed in relief. “A little too dramatic for my taste, but fine.”
Professor Sabino Borges de Moura entered the classroom, and everyone stopped talking. His subject had almost been removed from the curriculum in 1964, after a failed coup d’etat that could have led to a reform in education, but he now held a position of great esteem among the staff of Lyceum Kubitschek. Besides Classical Greek, he also championed the studies of Latin and French in the school, subjects that were considered disposable before, and Dalila signed up for all of them.
“Look at him,” she whispered to Israel. “What a man.”
To her, Professor Sabino looked like a movie star with his wavy brown and gray hair brushed back, his horn-rimmed glasses, his tawny skin, his Roman nose. Let me remind you that he is forty-six, Israel wrote on the back of his notebook. Thirty years older than you. Dalila ignored him, and kept observing the teacher, who wrote the differences between nominative, genitive, dative, accusative and vocative on the chalkboard.
“I don’t care how old he is,” Dalila replied with a dreamy look in her face. “I’m gonna marry him one day.”
• • •
Sabino read the newspaper in front of the espresso machine while the other teachers talked. Government announces new scholarships and funding for artists and researchers, said one of the articles. Brazil remains one of the only democratic governments in Latin America—until when?, read another. Parliament members express concern that another military regime in the region might strengthen public support for a coup …
Most of the time, he found it most uninteresting to hear what his coworkers had to say, preferring the company of articles and books, but this time a name caught his attention:
“I’m concerned about Dalila Valença,” said the math teacher in one of the armchairs. “It was worrying enough when Félix Valença came to the school to discuss her transference, but after hearing the stories of her previous issues …”
The smell of coffee filled the air, and Sabino covered the bottom of his cup with two spoons of sugar.
“Issues?” asked the Geography teacher, a stout little woman who had just entered the room. “I know he said that she had to leave her previous institution, but I supposed it was for having a famous father.”
“Much worse,” he answered. “She has made a career out of seducing male teachers, it seems. The last one was arrested. After she exposes them, the father acts, and then it’s over for the men involved.”
“It was more than one?” the nurse joined in. Sabino listened attentively, his back still turned to them. “I found her quite helpful when Israel Sobel attempted suicide.”
“A friend of a friend told me that when they still lived in Rio de Janeiro, she had to move schools four times in only two years.”
“What did Félix Valença expect, working all the time? Children become rotten without strict discipline.” The geography teacher walked toward the espresso maker, and made a gleeful sound when she smelled the coffee. “What about you, Sabino? Aren’t you worried you might be her next victim?”
Sabino filled his cup with dark coffee, then prepared an Americano for her, knowing it was her favorite.
“Why would you say that?”
The woman grabbed her own mug and blew the steam away.
“You’re young and handsome, and she’s in all of your classes,” she said. “I would be terribly concerned.”
“Not at all.”
If there was any internal voice telling him that, perhaps, he should be concerned, Sabino chose to ignore it. He had developed a fondness for Dalila Valença for many reasons: She was genuinely interested in Greek, participated in all his classes, and she could be quite the sight in tiring days, with her lovely face and her tiny dresses. I could do some private lessons, she had said with a mischievous smile, and he had to refrain from accepting right away. I have always loved the Classics.
“You should come to my house tomorrow night,” said Dalila to Israel in a low voice. They were both sitting in front of the teacher’s table, and Sabino could hear their whispers while he corrected some tests. “My dad likes to throw those small gatherings twice a month, and all his friends from the theater come.”
“Me?” asked Israel, pretending to write the paper assigned to them. Sabino controlled himself not to roll eyes at this foolish attempt at coyness; the boy had been following her around like a dog since day one, but it was obvious she had no interest in him.
Dalila looked at Sabino with an almost smile, black eyes shining. “I get bored hearing them talk.”
“I would love to,” answered Israel. “But I don’t think my mom would allow me to go out at night.”
“Pity,” answered Dalila, still staring at Sabino. For a second, he saw a dark flash: Her face was distorted, cracking, melting, covered by a thick shadow, animal-like. Then, he saw her again: pixie cut, retroussé nose, droopy eyes and heart-shaped lips. They exchanged a glance, and Sabino smiled back. “I could have done with some company;”
• • •
Dalila yawned and poured herself a glass of orange juice. It was midnight and she had been kicked out of the living room—Adults want to talk about adult things, Dad claimed. You must go to sleep.—where the party continued as merrily as it had been when the guests first arrived. Half of them were gone by now, and only a group of six people remained, talking and drinking bottles of beer and red wine. It was always fun in the first couple of hours, where they sang and played the guitar, but after a while the conversations about politics, work and love affairs became redundant.
She was about to go to her bedroom, when she heard Dad saying her name:
“You’re being too loud!” reproached Félix in the same tone he used when he scolded her for not doing her bed. “I don’t want Dalila to hear any of this. You wouldn’t think that by simply talking to her, but she’s quite the impressionable young lady.”
“Dalila? But she’s so …”
“Spirited? Yes. Clever? Yes. Highly impressionable? Also yes.” Félix waved his hand dismissively. “Especially with this kind of subject.”
It was not the first time Félix made this kind of whispered disclaimer, telling his friends to watch their tongues or skip a subject whenever she was around. Dalila climbed one of the chairs to watch their shapes through the frosted glass of the awning window connecting the kitchen to the living room.
“See, I don’t usually talk about this, but I’m not being overprotective.” Félix looked around in case she was near, one hand holding a glass of wine. “Dalila was kidnapped, raped and left for dead when she was only seven. No one knew who her family was, so a local orphanage took her in. Odete, you must remember that I wanted a baby or a toddler, don’t you?”
One of the two drag queens on the sofa nodded, wiping a tear from her eye.
“My poor, poor little girl. Too complicated, they told me. Too strange. Well. She is a little complicated, and she is a little strange, but I think she is actually very sensible. All the trouble she causes in school is a reflection of that,” he concluded, and Dalila made a face. I’m not sensible, she thought with a hint of pain in her neck. “Not that any of those filthy teachers didn’t deserve it. Anyway, bless my daughter’s heart. What were you going to say?”
She thought that was the end of it, but the conversation continued in a way she did not expect. They began to discuss the news: attempts to seize power and install dictatorships in the entirety of Latin America, the failed coup of 1964, a secret CIA campaign to create a state of terror. No, that’s not possible, one of the actors said, and the others all reacted at the same time. You can’t be that naive, another argued. They’re after Chile and Argentina now, completed the other. And us, of course, what did you expect?
Tales of disappearances and assassinations plagued her thoughts, and it worsened when an actress added: They have schools for that. Schools where soldiers learn how to torture. And we’re the first ones they’ll go after. Artists, dissidents, minorities …
She could almost see the images they were describing, but all political prisoners looked like her father. Schools of torture, they said. People disappear one day and never come back.
“To make things worse,” said Odete, standing up and dusting her dress. She was considerably tipsy, but Dalila wouldn’t forget what she was about to say. “I heard from a trustworthy source that the military is trying to summon a demon. Goetia, they call it.”
“Bah.” Félix shook his head. “Don’t be superstitious.”
“It’s true, and if they do it, it’s the end for all of us. They don’t want just power,” she claimed. “They want to go back to April 1, 1964.”
• • •
Israel looked at the eight open books scattered across the table. There were volumes in Latin, Greek, Italian, and even a rare Hebrew translation of an 18th century grimoire with elaborate sigils and illustrations of each of the 72 demons. The last one had been left for him to translate to Portuguese, despite his attempts to explain that his fluency in the language was less than ideal. He knew it was partially his fault—he shouldn’t have told Dalila about the occultist bookshop downtown, and he shouldn’t have agreed to help her in the first place.
Now they were both the only living souls in the library after the librarian left for her coffee break.
“I don’t understand a word from most of these books,” Israel said, defeat apparent in his voice. “It’s hopeless, Dalila. We will never be able to summon anything.”
Dalila stopped drawing a sigil. “We will.”
“How? We have no idea what we’re doing. Besides, you did admit they were drunk when they said that …”
“I feel it! I do. I had horrible nightmares for three days. Prophetic nightmares. This might all be happening in another plane.”
Israel covered his face with his hands. The scars on his wrists had turned into two pink lines, and his fingers were stained with black ink.
“There’s nothing we can do,” he moaned. “If it’s true, we’re all doomed.”
Dalila’s foot touched his leg under the table and he lifted his eyes to see her. She had kicked one of her shoes away, and the only thing between their skins was the fabric of his pants and her magenta tights.
“Please, Israel,” Dalila said softly, rubbing his calf with her toe. “I don’t want my father to be tortured and die.”
With a herculean amount of self-control, he answered: “The things I do for you.”
“Yes! I knew I could count on you.” Dalila bent over the table to kiss his cheek with a loud smack. “I need to go now, so keep translating those books, okay?”
“Where are you going?”
“To my private lessons,” she said with a singsong voice, holding the Greek book before shoving it inside her purse. “I will convince Professor Sabino to help us.”
“He won’t take any of this seriously,” retorted Israel. He knew, in fact, that most people would not have either, but Dalila had been so keen on studying grimoires to avoid a tragedy that he started to believe in the story as well. “Batting eyelashes at him won’t make him believe in demons.”
Dalila picked her missing shoe from the floor, looking less than pleased.
“You’d be surprised. Professor Sabino has a lot of books like these in his office,” she said, tapping the leather cover. “Besides, he’s being quite helpful.”
“If he’s smart, he will notice what you’re doing.”
“But I’m not doing anything mean! He looked quite proud when I told him he’s not like the others …” Dalila smiled, and a chill ran down his spine. Like in the first day, the air in the room seemed denser, hotter, and her figure was fragmented and twisted. He blinked, and she was as beautiful as she had been before. “I like him a lot, you know.”
“He should be terrified of you, Dalila.” Israel gave a heavy sigh. “I know I am.”
“See you later, Israel.”
• • •
The room was dark and silent. She blinked in the darkness, but there wasn’t anything there, only herself, suspended in the middle of a room, a pole under her knees and her arms tied to the wood. With her head upside down, she began to feel the pressure: in her forehead, in her jaw, in her eyes, in her chest. Her legs were swollen, her fingers were stiff, and her arms were throbbing with cramps.
From the distance, she could hear the faint sound of water: one drop, two drops, three drops, four drops. I don’t want to die here, she thought, sweat dripping from her neck to her bare chest. It was the same feeling that she had when she was little: lying on the grass besides a road, naked, bruised and in pain. I don’t want to die here. The person—she couldn’t even remember his face—took the limp corpse of a dog that had been run over by a car and let it rot in the woods. But she was just left there, lower than a roadkill, lower than the rocks around the dog, lower than the trash that fell from a garbage can.
A rough growl echoed in the empty room. It was a large animal, and its cage was in front of her. Warm breath brushed against her cheeks, its fur bristled, and the shadows of thick fangs painted her neck.
She could feel the smell of meat and blood, and her eyes, now used to the darkness, saw even the dirt on its rosettes.
She wasn’t afraid.
The leopard stopped growling, and the ropes tying her to the pole turned into ash.
Dalila fell, and fell, and fell, and then she was back to her bed.
• • •
Sabino waited in the storage room of Lyceum Kubitschek. He stood in the middle of an Enochian circle, more specifically, in the middle of the triangle inside the circle. It had been difficult enough to draw the symbols and the seal, but the two teenagers had done it to almost perfection, with the exception of a line or two that were not flawlessly straight. Sighing, he cleaned the lenses of his glasses, and left them hanging from the collar of his white shirt.
Israel lit the candles around the circle, and glared at him with his creepy black eyes, looking more dead than alive in the dim-lit room.
“Don’t move,” the boy warned, and went back to his position after leaving a candle inside the triangle.
Usually, Sabino would never allow a student to talk to him like this. He took great pride in controlling his classes, and keeping their attention on the content being studied. This, however, was not a common situation, and it had started earlier in the day, when Dalila met him for their private lessons.
It has to be today, she had whispered, pressing her legs against his. Sabino looked at her thighs with the corner of his eye, barely covered by her dress. I offered enough help with the translations, he had proclaimed, hoping to maintain some authority. It’s time for you to let go of this nonsense, Dalila.
The words hurt her more than he had expected. She narrowed her eyes, and the corners of her lips went up in a cryptic smile.
I think you would rather have me on your side than against you, professor Sabino, Dalila had said against his ear. Imagine what others would think if they knew what I have against you …
And she did have plenty. In his foolishness, thinking the girl was as infatuated as she had claimed to be, he had written little love letters, and subjected himself to all of her whims; thanks to that, she had handwritten evidence of how much he wanted her and little bruises in her neck that could be read as violent by malicious eyes.
You will only need to recite the Latin invocation, she said happily while they went together to the storage room in the underground of the school. Dalila jumped like a joyful fairy, almost dancing in the empty corridor, laughing at his pain. When they arrived, the horrible boy was there, with an almost complete circle drawn on the floor. This is too dangerous, warned Sabino, but they paid him no mind.
Dalila finished the first prayer, and heat emanated from the chalk.
“It’s working,” murmured Israel.
The girl smiled. “Your turn, professor.”
“Flauros dux fortis: conspicitur forma leopardi and terribili. In humana specie vultum ostentat horrendum…” Sabino recited in Latin. The candles flickered, and the shadow of Dalila no longer looked human. “… Et si virtue numinis ipsi imperatum fuerit, exorcistae tentationem non permittit.”
The room was consumed by darkness, and Sabino’s body was no longer his. He gave a few tentative steps: to the right, to the left, up, and down, but he had little space inside the triangle. On the floor, his shadow turned into a leopard.
“Flauros,” said Dalila. “I want your answers and your help.”
“I know what you want.” Sabino’s neck went backward and forward. His bones cracked, his muscles tensed. “We have met before.”
They no longer needed to speak. The room went silent, except for their breathing, and his words were pierced into her brain. Your fears are true, he said. It might happen, he added. No, no, it will happen. It already has. Not here. Elsewhere.
Her eyes glittered, black, round, sincere. She was not afraid of him.
“What do you want in return?”
“Malice has invoked me,” he said, guttural voice scratching and peeling the human throat. The boy flinched behind her, but the girl remained still. “I feed on it. I want it. Let me protect you from it. Now and always.”
Dalila looked at the body: limbs bent unnaturally, waves of brown hair obscuring the eyes that had gone white, the heat of fire coming from within.
“Has anyone else made a deal with you?”
“They want to—they tried—I ate them.”
The girl stepped closer to the circle, and got to her tiptoes. She kissed his lips, and his shadow was blurred, the blackness of it becoming more of a man and less of an animal, and the deal was done.
Sabino collapsed on the floor.
• • •
Israel glanced at Dalila, watching her erase the last of her notes, and the school bell rang. She threw all her belongings inside her purse, and jumped out of the chair.
“I’ll eat if you’re this slow,” she warned, already walking. “I’m starving!”
Despite her words, she hummed happily as she went, hopping, and he hurried to close his pencil case. Around him, other students were leaving the class, and he only heard fragments of conversations: have you heard? They also did … I’m going to the theater on Sunday … Tomorrow, my mom … No, she wasn’t …
“Wait for me! Dalila, wait for me, please!”
Her laughter was musical, and she waved before disappearing from the door: “You’ll have to catch me …”
He planned to run after her like he always did, but a blazing hand touched his arm. Professor Sabino looked pale and thin, and his eyes had an inhuman flicker of flame.
“You should leave before she eats you up,” said Sabino, and his fingers burned the scar in his wrist. “If you don’t, she will keep dominating you for the rest of your life.”
Israel smiled, and his face looked like it was melting, bending, then moving back into place.
“Well, professor,” he said, before crossing the door. “I would certainly like that.”
Copyright © 2022 by H. Pueyo