The priest seemed to have aged a decade.

“Two years?”

“She deserved twenty. She remained in that cage until she grew too big to fit in it and she merely broke the crate from the inside.”

“But—” The priest stole another quick look at the young girl. She had brought a plate of soup for the witch and patiently held it by her side waiting for the woman to finish. “How did she—?”

“She could still perform some ordinary chores, sticking her limbs out through the bars and walking on all fours, like a spider,” the witch responded, between slurps. “She didn’t become totally useless. She could still mop the floor with a rag, or feed the chickens. Not that her industry would bring her forgiveness, but at least it guaranteed that she wouldn’t be left to starve in a house that may have been evil, but still praised diligence and condemned inaction.”

The priest placed a hand to his throat. It hurt to swallow.

“Needless to say,” the woman continued, “after the incident with the wafer, the contract between my daughter and the sixty-something demons from Hell was rendered invalid. The next day, I received a letter informing us that she had been banned for life from all ensuing infernal meetings and asking us not to attend any ball until further notice. Two months later, at the next one we were allowed to attend, a Bailiff sent by the prisoner of Rome stripped me of all my hard-earned medals. Rosa and Victoria were forced to return their familiars, the toad and the swarm of flies, and the three of us were lowered in rank to legionarii.”

“What does that mean?”

“We lost all of our privileges. I was devastated. I had lost most of my teeth repaying favors to my familiar. It had been worthwhile, I thought; I was among the Little Master’s Favorites. But now he wouldn’t look at me. He wouldn’t visit. He had stopped loving me. How could I not be angry?”

The priest opened his mouth to reply but could think of nothing.

“Rosa and Victoria were so young,” the witch continued, “they took the whole thing with humor.

‘Maybe if you finished your chores in time, and if you found a nice dress…’ they teased their sister.

‘—and shoes to go with that cage.’

‘—and if Mami ever forgives you…’

‘—which she may, or may never do…’

‘—you could come to the infernal dance with us this Friday.’

“For all the disdain and cruelty in their tone, however, they never forgot to fill with fresh water the bowl that their sister shared with the dog, and every so often, they came back from the ball with souvenirs or leftovers.

‘This is a piece of rag shat by the Devil.’

‘And this,’ Rosa opened her reticule, ‘is a poisoned acorn, to kill one of your enemies.’”

“What did you tell your husband?” the priest asked, after a short silence.

“That old sot? He was never sober enough to care. ‘Why is she inside a crate?’ he asked, once, intrigued at her efforts to carry a bucket, crawling on one hand and two feet. He did not wait for a response, however. He wasn’t so curious as to pay attention to what I had to say about the matter, and he cared little about his children. I should have known better. He was busy, having breakfast with the men in my family every morning, going to Santa Monica to consult with our parish priest for advice, taking the train every couple weeks to the city, revising paperwork and meeting with lawyers to talk about property limits. What business did he have in hand? I wondered, but I didn’t dare to ask, for fear of receiving a black eye.

“A few months later, he announced what he and my siblings had been brewing. They had decided to sell the rest of our land, the land we had inherited from my parents, and that they had inherited from my grandparents, to the man that built the casino in Ocean Park—Mr. Abbot Kinney… I couldn’t say no. My parents had already lost most of it to the bankers. All of my relatives wanted to sell. This is the Twentieth Century, they said. You cannot stop progress. Had I only known. Altogether we received nine thousand, three hundred and sixty-five dollars from the transaction—I remember the exact amount—of which one seventh belonged to us. That was just about as much money as my husband could have made in five years, Father, had he had a steady job in the city.

“We lost the house, and we were forced to sell all the animals, but, as part of the transaction, we received a small lot and blueprints to build this one, the like of which ‘white folk live in,’ the drunk bastard explained me—a home with a beautiful garden, an extra room for the girls, a slate roof, and wood paneling. For the first time in my life I felt proud of him. So proud, that I forgot to spit in his coffee.”

The witch made a pause to swallow.

“Well, that’s a good ending,” the priest ventured.

The woman glared at him. She hadn’t finished.

“The next day, we went to Santa Monica and took the train to Los Angeles to have lunch with Victoria’s godparents and go out shopping.”

“With the werewolf?” the priest asked.

“Yes. He and his wife, Magnolia, live in a small apartment on the top floor of a Victorian house in Bunker Hill. The last time we had met was at their wedding, a few years before. I’ve always considered Harris my relative. He’s always been kind to me, but that shrew, Magnolia—She felt terribly uncomfortable receiving me and my daughters at her place. She did not know what to think of the little ape inside the crate. She kept recommending that I let her out. That stupid, barren woman. It was one thing to marry a poor man and have his impoverished friends attend their wedding, but to have them visit her dainty home? She had the nerve to ask me if I wanted her to inspect the girl’s heads for lice.

“‘My daughters have no lice,’ I told her. They did, Father, but I refused to let her touch them. What for? So she and her rich friends could laugh about me?

“After lunch, the two men went out for a drink. We hired a cart and Magnolia took us to the shops on Broadway. I must admit I was impressed, Father. Broadway is such an elegant thoroughfare, don’t you think? Have you been to Los Angeles? Of course you have. I hadn’t been there since I was a child. It’s changed so much! All those tall buildings—banks and theaters and those beautiful boutiques, none of the tacky, ramshackle businesses you see on Third Street in Santa Monica. And we had money. For the first time in my life we had money. Lots of money.

“We bought a new suit and a tie for my husband. That bastard. We bought new shoes and a couple of new dresses for Rosa and Victoria, and a new frock for myself, of red silk, a hat with an ostrich feather, a bottle of perfume, and fifteen yards of Parisian fabric to make curtains. Did you see my curtains on your way in, Father? They were expensive. The man I bought the fabric from said it came from Paris. We also bought furniture: a second bed, a chest of drawers, and a couch. Even this little chimp got something: She waited patiently inside her crate in the back of the cart, fascinated by the height of the buildings and the gleaming store-front windows, grinning at the people stopping by, who took her for an exotic monkey, while we were inside the boutiques trying on garments. I let her smell my perfume—didn’t I? And Magnolia gave her a toffee.

“The bills that day were for almost a hundred and fifty-six dollars. A hundred and fifty-six dollars. I bet that shrew Magnolia felt embarrassed for having thought of her husband’s friends as poor people. Her family is well-off, but I bet she had never spent that much on herself in one day.

“We left the old house and for the next couple months, we slept under a canvas tarp, until the new house was finished. The rain ruined most of the furniture. I didn’t care; we were too excited about having a new house. This place isn’t a mansion, as you can see, but it is quite comfortable, much better than the old house. The view from the porch is lovely. Rosa and Victoria like to sit there, to wave at the gondolas full of tourists. I thought that, at last, I had found happiness. No hay mal que por bien no venga, I kept repeating to myself. Yes, I had lost all my titles, but I was happy those first weeks in the new house. My home had doubled in size, my husband hadn’t beat me once, not since we had gotten the money, and my daughters were growing healthy—at least the two elder were. For the first time in my life, I didn’t feel angry, or jealous, nor did I wish that I had died at birth as I had for as long as I could remember.

“Yet, I almost died when, a couple of months later, I learned that what used to be our land was going to be re-parceled and sold as individual residential lots for six hundred dollars. Six hundred dollars! If only that stupid ass had sold at a decent price. A few days later, we woke up to the voices of a hundred men digging a trench almost a mile long in our front yard, and we saw the full scope of what Mr. Kinney had in mind: not just a casino, but a completely new resort town, bigger than the one in Ocean Park. One full of arcaded palaces and a grid of water canals in the style of the city of Venice, in Italy.

“You know the rest. In less than one year, an entire city grew around us. They built the pier, the canals, and all of these houses. They transformed the old path to the beach into a business street lined with boutiques and restaurants. Mr. Kinney’s estate lies where we used to keep our pigs. They expanded the small pool of water in front of our old house into the lagoon.”

“But you still had the money,” the priest interrupted.

The witch shook her head. “It took my husband even less time to drink it. It came to the women in this family to find ways to provide for the family. Victoria found a job at a grab joint on the boardwalk, selling herring. Rosa found a job selling tickets at a freak show theatre, where the youngest, thanks to her learned ability to fit into small spaces, became the main attraction. ‘Come one, come all,’ Rosa hollered from the entrance. ‘Come see the spider woman! Cursed by her parents for being rebellious, she lives in a cage and feeds off flies and mosquitoes.’

“As for me, I got myself a cart of tamales. If there is room in your heart, Father, to feel pity for a woman that sold her soul to the Devil and lost, feel sorry for me, waking up before dawn to prepare the dough, wheeling my cart through the boardwalk, singing the virtues of my cooking. I always longed to live in a nice place, and, indeed, this new town is a delight to the senses: the tall buildings, the towers with onion-shaped domes and turrets painted in bright colors; the flowers and palm trees—I had never seen palm trees before! Lights, music bands, and gondolas. But you’ll understand that it was painful for me to see others getting rich for what had belonged to my family for generations, and remain dirt poor as always.

“My heart filled up with hatred. I cast spells trying to destroy the pier and the new city, not once but several times—with a blaze, with a squall, even poisoning the hearts of the Board of Trustees when the new city tried to unincorporate from the municipality, but I failed each and every time. I had lost the Little Master’s favor. The blaze was put out before it could cause great damage. The pier resisted the waves, and eventually the people chose to disincorporate and change the name of their city officially to Venice. Everything I tried against that man was useless.”

“What man?” the priest asked.

“Mr. Abbot Kinney,” the witch responded. “He is revered like a God by the residents of this city. He transformed this worthless marshy land into a paradise. But this was our land. The land of my parents. I wanted his ruin, to see him down on his knees begging for forgiveness… All the attempts to cause woe and despair had taken an adverse effect on my health. And every time I had to give a payment in flesh to my familiar. He’s got most of my teeth. He wants more blood now than before. He wants to suck me dry, Father. It is as if he doesn’t want me to last a day longer.

“Last week was my latest attempt to destroy Mr. Kinney. For years I thought that the most precious thing to him was this city. Then I realized that the most precious thing to a man is his family—If I wanted to hurt him, I had to hurt his children. I thought of a powerful curse. One that would last for generations. One that would make cripples or imbeciles of all his descendants.

“My familiar asked for a full pint of blood in exchange for the recipe. I complied happily. It had to be done on the eve of the anniversary of his firstborn, he said. And I had to perform the incantation over the grave of one of my own descendants. The remains of my firstborn lay in the bottom of Mr. Kinney’s swim lagoon, across from his estate, across from where our old house used to be.

“I couldn’t row myself to the center of the lagoon, so I asked my youngest daughter to take me. I would have asked Rosa or Victoria, but the two had been invited to the opening of the Dance Pavilion at Mr. Fraser’s million dollar pier in Ocean Park, and I had no heart to say no. Mr. Fraser is Kinney’s competitor, I thought. And they were so excited! What’s the worse that could happen?”

“That was the night of the fire,” the priest said.

The witch nodded. “We waited until it got dark before we got into the boat. My daughter rowed in silence. She never has much to say and since the night she was expelled from the Little Master’s ball I don’t have much to say to her, either. We reached the center of the lagoon and I started the incantation… I’ll spare you with details, Father, I know you find this kind of things offensive. I said the words I had to say and started mixing the ingredients in a small cauldron that I had brought with me. My daughter waited with her eyes closed and her hands against her ears; she is forbidden to learn any magic. The last ingredient was dust from a bezoar stone. I put the stone into a mortar and tried to crush it with the pestle. The stone was too hard, however, and in my second attempt if flew off the mortar and into the water.

‘The bezoar!’ I yelled.

“My daughter opened her eyes and saw me reaching over the boat trying to catch the stone.

‘Go get it,’ I said.

“She hesitated, but I must have had a horrible expression in my face because before I could ask her a second time, she jumped into the water. The lagoon isn’t very deep. If you’re a good swimmer you can easily reach the bottom. But it was dark and the water was murky. She couldn’t find anything. Every time she came out she had a different object in her hand. None was the bezoar. By then I was desperate. I was cursing and crying. And with this damn cough that doesn’t go away my throat was on fire. I had given my familiar my blood, and I felt so weak. Then I remembered that Victoria had another bezoar.

‘She keeps it in her jewelry box,’ I told my daughter. ‘It is bigger than the one I had, and it is white; it looks like a seashell.’

“I thought at first that her hesitation was because the water was too cold. Her teeth were chattering. But then she confessed that Victoria had asked her to use the stone to make buttons for her gloves a month before. And that she was wearing those gloves that night at the pavilion.

‘Go then to the pavilion, you stupid swine!’ I yelled. ‘And get me those gloves!’

“I tried to hit her with the pestle, I was so mad, but she was already swimming towards the shore.

“By the time she reached the Pavilion the dance had already started. She tried to get in through the front door, but of course, dressed in her old rags, wet, full of mud, and without an invitation, they wouldn’t let her in. And she’s so stupid. She’s not only as ugly as a pig, Father, but so incredibly stupid, she lost precious time wandering around waiting to see if any of her sisters or her acquaintances came out, while I had to wait in the cold on that boat, the sleeves of my sweater soaking wet, wishing life had given me a tumor instead of such a stupid ass for a daughter. Who in his right mind would have come out of that Palace when the party had just started? Did you get to see it, Father, Mr. Fraser’s pier, before the fire destroyed it? The facade was all iron and glass, and it had turrets at both ends like an Indian palace. My two little kittens were inside, all dolled up, confident that their beauty and natural refinement would call the attention of a fine gentleman and they would be asked to dance. Alas, as beautiful as Rosa and Victoria are, they couldn’t compete with most of the women there, boasting their silks and ostrich feathers. Not for the best suitors. Not with their plain cotton dresses and their mended stockings. They had no pearls. No other adornment on their heads than their old satin ribbons. The two of them were sitting on a row of chairs set against the wall, shooing away the occasional poor man that approached them, waiting for a couple of rich gentlemen with kind hearts to notice their beauty.

‘Do you think we’ll get to dance tonight, Rosa?’

‘I don’t know. Keep on smiling.’

‘I am thirsty. I wish I could have some punch.’

‘We don’t have any money.’

“At the Sabbath you don’t have to wait for any man, Father. You stand up and dance. You don’t have to be chosen. You feel like shaking your feet, you stand up and begin dancing. Same with having a drink. You’re thirsty, you go on and demand it. You don’t need any money… After almost an hour roaming outside the building, my ugly daughter figured out a way to break into the Pavilion through the kitchen. They must have thought she was there to pick up the garbage. Then, she slipped into the main hall and wandered around, avoiding the staff, looking for my daughters. At last she saw Victoria and then Rosa. What an unpleasant surprise it must have been to my kittens to see their horrible little sister approach them. I completely understood their reaction. They stood up and walked away. But she followed them. She followed them through the room, until they couldn’t avoid her anymore.

‘What are you doing here?’

“She reach for Victoria’s gloves, but Rosa pulled her by one arm and forced her to hide under a small table.

‘What are you doing here?’ they asked.

“That swine said that she needed Victoria’s gloves.

‘My gloves? Are you crazy?’

‘Shut up,’ Rosa interrupted. ‘O’Leary just saw us,’ 

“Indeed, their sworn enemy Patricia O’Leary, who had also managed to get invited to the ball, had just seen my girls arguing with their little sister, and what else would a snake like that girl do but to start gossiping? She thinks she is better than my kittens because we are poor, but her father is just an electric car driver. And her friend, I’ve seen that girl, Eloise Triggs, she sells postcards in the Pier. A scrawny bird with eyes popping out of her head. She looks like she’s full of parasites… God didn’t give any brains to this stupid retarded chimp I conceived from a dog. She should not have gone out to the hall. She should have asked somebody in the kitchens to pass a note to her sisters and explain the predicament I was in. Or she should have been more discreet, gotten in without calling too much attention, say what she needed to say and leave fast with the gloves—don’t you think, Father?

“Victoria’s eyes filled up with tears. She had such high hopes for that dance, she had dreamed she met her future husband by the ice sculptures, and their insensitive sister was ruining it all. I know that, Father, because when I asked the two of them for their help taking me to the middle of the lagoon that morning they got all sad and started crying, explaining how long they had been dreaming to go the ball and the extremes to which they had gone to get an invitation.

‘I had to sleep with a mechanic!’ Victoria said.

“My poor Piesdepato was so upset that she left her two sisters. O’Leary and her friend were still talking. If anyone found out she was related to the hideous creature that had broken into the ball they would kick her out too, she thought.

“My youngest daughter tried to get out from under the table and follow her, but Rosa forced her to stay down. God gave her a mouth. Why didn’t she explain to Rosa what she was doing there and where I was? Then Rosa would have known how to help her. She’s so stupid. She hunches down and scurries out of one’s view without saying a word, trying to make herself invisible. Victoria had crossed the hall trying to get away of them and Rosa kept walking around the table, kicking her sister to keep her from coming out. She noticed that O’Leary and her friend were now pointing at them, laughing. The tablecloth wasn’t long enough. They could see the toad I was given for a daughter squatted beneath, and they mocked Rosa’s desperate attempts to hide her. Rosa did what anyone else would have done in her place; you cannot blame her: She pulled the tablecloth lower. Unfortunately, there was this big oil lamp with a paper screen on that table. The lamp fell over and the screen caught fire. Rosa tried to put the fire out, she used her own shawl, but the shawl also caught fire, and upon smelling the smoke and seeing her sister step on her shawl, the chimp hiding underneath came out from under the table, turning it over. The lamp fell to the floor and broke, spilling combustible fluid over the floor. The fire extended to another table. Rosa didn’t know what to do. She ran away before anyone could blame her. People started to panic. The waiters rushed to put out the fire, but with everyone trying to get out of the hall at the same time, they couldn’t reach the table before the fire extended to the curtains. Everyone started to run at the same time.”

“The whole pier burnt down,” interrupted the priest.

“If she was going to burn down a pier she should have burned the one of Mr. Kinney’s, Father, not the one of his competitor! I could see the light and the smoke from where I was. I didn’t know what was happening. I was too weak to row myself back and I was still hoping my daughter would come back with the bezoar. And it had gotten so cold, Father. I was left alone, all night, drifting in the middle of the lagoon. It wasn’t until the sun came out that she came back for me. My throat had gotten so sore, I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t tell her how much pain I was in. I couldn’t even swallow. I had developed a fever… I wished I could have made it to Halloween, Father. I had a small list of evil deeds I’d committed. I thought the Devil would be so happy. But now I am afraid. I realize that the end is near and that I must repay my debt with The Little Master.

“An eternity in hell is not worth his gifts, I realize now. I caused so much pain throughout the years and what did I accomplish? Nothing. I’m old, I’m sick, I’m about to die and I have nothing else but this house to leave to my daughters. My enemies are still alive. Can I still be forgiven? I am terribly afraid, Father. I will spend all eternity burning in hell unless I obtain God’s pardon. I want to die in contrition. Please, Father, give me your absolution before it is too late, before he comes to get me!”

The priest tried but couldn’t utter one word. He needed a glass of water, something, a candy to help him pass the bitter lump that had formed in his throat. He turned to the young girl. Tears were rolling down her cheeks. Still he couldn’t force himself to enunciate one word. He reached for the cross in his rosary, more for self-protection against the witch than to give her absolution.

“There he is!” the witch yelled suddenly, pointing towards the window.

Her scream made the priest scream as well. He pulled his feet up and covered his face with his Bible. A black buck, the witch’s old familiar, had appeared outside the window, standing tall on two feet, like a man, his forelegs reclined on the sill, happier than he had ever been, ready to take the mother’s soul to the abyss.

The witch raised herself on her bed, pulling strength out of nowhere. “Hurry up, Father. Give me your absolution!”

But the priest couldn’t move a muscle. He was paralyzed. Frozen in terror.

The goat showed his teeth in a horrendous grin. They no longer were the flat choppers of caprine cattle, but the sharp, long teeth of a canine—a wolf’s denture! And his eyes no longer bore the doleful complacency of a servant, but the murdering shine of a beast craving for human blood.

“He’s coming for me!” cried the witch.

Rosa and Victoria screamed too, as if it was they who the goat intended to take, and ran to hide under the dining table. The third was more sapient. She climbed over her mother’s bed and pulled the curtains closed.

That was of little help, however, for now the goat appeared under the mother’s bed. He showed his teeth again, stuck his tongue out like a wretched child, and winked to the terrified priest.

“He’s going to take me!”

The young girl fetched one of the mother’s slippers and hit the goat repeatedly on his head until it retreated under the bed.

But now a pair of long hairy arms appeared from the other side of the bed and reached to the mother’s shoulders.

“Father—!”

One hand slowly pulled the sheets off the woman’s body, while the other caressed her face gently.

The young girl threw herself over and bit one of the hands.

The goat’s head appeared now behind the headboard. The girl pushed the bars with all her strength to squeeze the monster against the wall. But now a second head and a second pair of arms appeared by the footboard and grabbed the witch by her ankles. The girl pulled back, trying to stop these new menaces. The head behind the baseboard bit her shoulder. The mother clasped both hands to the bars. Now there were three different pairs of hairy arms pulling her from every direction.

“Father, please! Give me your absolution!”

“I—I—I…” was the only thing that the terrified priest could utter.

The young girl kept fighting the goat, but the fiend was far too strong. He grabbed the girl by her neck and flung her against the wall. Then, pushing the bed over on its side, he came from underneath, grabbed the witch by one leg and pulled her body towards the entrance.

“¡Mami!” cried the two elder daughters when they saw the beast come out of the bedroom.

The demon had only one head now, but still three pairs of arms and four hands clung to the woman’s body.

“D-d… D… do you… do y-you be-be-believe—?” asked the clergyman from within the witch’s bedroom.

“Yes!” cried the witch.

The goat had reached the main door. He turned the knob with his mouth and pushed the door open.

“I believe in God and in the Holy Trinity,” the witch yelled, her hands clenched to the doorway. The goat pulled harder. “I believe in Jesus Christ. I believe in the Holy Spirit. I believe in the purity of Mary—I repent! Hurry up, Father, give me your absolution!”

The goat stepped out through the doorway. The city lights dimmed, turning the moonless night even darker. A black whirlpool had formed in the middle of the canal and from the bottom of it came a mixture of black fumes and sparks, revealing an entrance to a subterranean forge.

The goat gave a stronger pull, yanking the woman free of the door frame. Just then, the young girl, who still refused to surrender, caught her mother’s arm with one hand as she held to the door molding with the other.

¡Mamá!” Victoria cried from under the table. “Please don’t leave us!”

“Pull harder!” Rosa yelled to her little sister. “Don’t let her go!’

The goat was the one that pulled harder, though. The young girl felt her fingers slip from the door, one by one. She locked her feet to the doorway and grabbed for whatever thing she could reach, which unfortunately happened to be the witch’s finest piece of drapery.

“No!” cried Victoria. “Mamá’s curtains from Paris!”

“My very expensive curtains from Paris,” the witch raised her head. “You’re going to ruin them!”

The curtains started to rip.

“Let go!” cried the mother.

But the girl held on.

Truth be told, the fabric wasn’t exactly from Paris; but it had been just as expensive as if truly imported from France, and touted as legitimately French by the clerk who had sold them to the mother.

The priest found the strength to step out of the witch’s room and pull himself to the entrance. “Do you repent of your sins?”

“Yes!” cried the witch. “I repent with all my heart, Father—Let go of my curtains, you stupid child!”

“Do you renounce Satan and accept our Lord Jesus Christ as your savior?” the priest continued.

“Yes! I do repent, I accept Jesus with all my heart!”

“God, the Father of all mercies…” started the priest.

“I’M GOING TO KILL YOU!” the witch hollered to her daughter.

“… through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins…”

“MY CURTAINS FROM PARIS…!”

The witch bit her daughter’s hand, but no matter how fierce she sounded, or how much her teeth hurt, the young girl refused to let her go.

“You’re running Mami’s curtains!” Rosa kicked the young girl.

Victoria joined the fight too, giving her little sister a couple of knocks on her head.

The goat kept pulling. Eventually, the pressure was too much and the curtains tore. The young girl fell to the floor and hit her jaw, chopping off the tip of her tongue in the process. The pain was too much. She let her mother’s hand go.

“MY CURTAINS!”

The cry was like the barking of the Trojan queen, threatening the Greeks for her enslavement and the death of her children.

“A CURSE ON YOU!” the witch continued as the goat dragged her across the yard towards the crack in the middle of the canal. “A CURSE ON YOU AND ALL YOUR DESCENDANTS! YOU’RE NOT MY DAUGHTER, YOU’RE A BEAST! The plague on you! May you age unloved and alone, and may you rot in hell, forever! Father, don’t forget the oil!” the witch howled, remembering she hadn’t yet obtained her absolution.

The whirlpool grew to the shape of a beast’s muzzle. A few demons poked their heads up out of the hole and gestured obscenely at the priest.

“Through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace.” The priest reached for the vial of consecrated oil inside his jacket. “I absolve you from your sins in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.”

And just before the goat gave one last pull to jump inside the infernal mouth with his bounty, the priest splashed a few drops of consecrated oil on the penitent woman’s head. The moment the oil touched her skin, the demon let go. He looked back, terrified by the power vested in the Father, and jumped alone into the canal. The waters closed behind him. Just as fast as the mouth disappeared, the little demons left behind vanished in clouds of dust and sparkles.

Rosa and Victoria ran to the moribund woman.

“My beautiful daughters,” the woman said, in a much calmer voice. “My two angels. My kittens. I thank the Lord for letting me say goodbye to you. Victoria, let me kiss your hand. Let me see your beautiful eyes. You were always my favorite… I die now, in peace.”

And she perished.

Passio Domini nostri Jesu Christi, merita Beatae Mariae Virginis et omnium sanctorum, quidquid boni feceris vel mali sustinueris sint tibi in remissionem peccatorum, augmentum gratiae et praemium vitae aeternae. Amen,” the priest concluded.

All of a sudden, the clouds above opened up revealing a starry firmament. Everything acquired a flushed tonality and a soft breeze caressed the faces of the two girls as the ghost of their mother raised from her dead body straight to heaven.

“I’ll be watching you, my daughters,” the spirit murmured.

She looked as young and pure as she must have looked on the day of her marriage. She had obtained God’s forgiveness.

“We repent too, Father,” cried the two sisters. “We don’t want to burn in hell. Give us your blessing!”