Sadness Never Ends
has short fiction included in periodicals such as LatineLit, Penumbra Online and Horror Tree and in anthologies such as We Deserve to Exist, Enchanted Entrapments and There's More of Us Than You Know. He’s had original poetry published by Phantom Kangaroo, Straylight, and Raven’s Quoth Press and translation published by AzonaL and Red Fern Review. You can find some of his other works here: https://linktr.ee/bernardovillela.
There was a time when Gabriel kept in mind that he was a first-generation American in all he did. However, since his name wasn’t uncommon, and he didn’t “look Brazilian,” it was easy for him to stop considering it and thus assimilate into the cultural melting pot. Eventually, Gabriel strove to blend in, leaving the last of his household’s Brazilian heritage to naught but a few names pronounceable in Portuguese pronunciation: his wife, Laura, and his children, Daniel and Arthur.
Not only in his household did Gabriel’s home-country connection dwindle. As life went on, he went longer and longer without visiting his extended family in Brazil. After a few years, they began to joke about Gabriel becoming more of a gringo every day. When that was just him receiving a ribbing, he could brush off the comment without a hitch, but when he saw his children struggling to hold a phone conversation with their grandmother in Portuguese, the painful truth of it became too apparent. He realized that something had to change soon; Daniel was twelve and Arthur was ten—time was running out.
That is why Gabriel decided his family would spend this summer with his relatives in Salvador. At first, he felt confident that there was nothing better to fill his children’s cultural gaps. However, as they boarded their flight, an eerie uncertainty lingered at the back of his mind. He couldn’t quite picture it, like a memory from childhood which couldn’t quite access. Whatever it was, it made the flight seem three times longer than it should’ve been. Not even playing Tom Jobim nonstop in his earbuds sped it up.
When they arrived at the airport, seeing his aunts, uncles, and cousins after so long reopened that compartmentalized, nearly forgotten part of Gabriel. Now, with his entire family present, he could finally formally introduce Laura to his relatives and culture, translating as needed. He was sure it would bring them closer.
That first night in Salvador, Gabriel reflected on some of the Brazilian expats he’d dated before meeting his wife. Those relationships ended because a mutual heritage was all they had in common. When he met Laura, she’d just moved stateside from London. While they differed significantly in culture, the worldliness they shared was alluring and novel. It was wonderful, but it also led to Gabriel attributing some of his cultural lassitude to Laura. It was the subtext of many prior disagreements between them, but he realized now that was unfair of him. She was a convenient scapegoat for his own choices.
It was simply easier to blend in, and they did, what with his Caucasian children with American first names and the surname Vogel. Gabriel hadn’t taught them proper Portuguese, either. There was no way to blame his wife for that.
As regretful as Gabriel now found some of his past attitudes, he was happy to see his children’s proficiency with Portuguese improve exponentially during their stay. In fact, he came to a newfound appreciation for some time-honored traditions North Americans see it as their duty to forget. This occurred to him one night while most of the family was in the TV room. Gabriel watched a telenovela with his wife and cousins awaiting the start of a soccer game. He translated some for Laura but didn’t need to translate much; there was a universality to the big emotions on display. While Gabriel and his cousins got more transfixed on the television than they’d care to admit, he noticed his grandmother, Dona Lygia, a diminutive woman over one hundred years old, was just wrapping up a Brazilian folk story for the kids.
“In town, they heard music like no music you’ve never heard before nor would want to hear again. That’s why, my little ones, you should always obey your parents. Because if you go all over on your own, he’ll snatch you up and turn you into soap.”
The kids shuddered as one, and it struck Gabriel then how back home, it was unimaginable that a group of children could be gripped with rapt attention—let alone fear— by an old horror story. The culture was too jaded, too used to being locked onto a screen, as he and his wife and cousins were then. That thought underscored his eternal gratitude for his grandmother and her ability to speak stories to life. This is why they came here, he realized, so that his children could experience Brazil as he had.
Gabriel found himself wrapped in nostalgia’s warm embrace, revisiting memories even as he made new ones watching his boys become more comfortable in their ancestral home.
“Are you OK?” Laura asked, snapping Gabriel out of his reverie. He’d not fallen out of the present for this long since the flight. Shaking out the cobwebs, Gabriel saw they were seated at an outdoor café in the Pelourinho district of the city, nursing beers. Lunch had been a late and languid affair, and now that Gabriel looked up at the sky, he saw it was getting dark. It was winter in Brazil, so he’d not lost that much time, but to be safe, they should still wrangle the boys from their pick-up soccer game down the street. Gabriel wanted to get back to Dona Lygia’s house before dark.
While Laura settled the tab—she felt more confident in her Portuguese—Gabriel went to wrangle his boys and his nephew, Pedro, who Daniel and Arthur were getting along with really well.
When Gabriel reached the game, an errant kick sent the ball over to him. He kicked it back, and the boys thanked him. There were some twenty kids playing on the wide cobblestone streets, which allowed for plenty of foot traffic such that a soccer game with improvised goals wouldn’t disturb anyone. His sons were not among the group of players. He looked left and right thinking maybe they were elsewhere on the field.
“Hey guys, where are Daniel and Arthur?”
“The gringos? They left.”
Arthur spotted Pedro.
“Pedrinho, did you see them go?”
Another kid pointed to where he’d seen them go.
“Stay in the game,” Gabriel instructed Pedro as he ran off where they pointed. Reaching the nearest alleyway, he ducked in, looking around as if his sons—who were obviously not there—might be hidden under a rock. Sprinting now, he came back onto the main street. He repeated this process down a few more alleyways, calling out their names.
Back on the main thoroughfare, he ran into Laura. She joined her husband, and, hands clasped together, they continued their frantic search, praying the boys had not been snatched.
At last, atop the crest of the hill, clear as day, they saw their kids.
The boys turned to face them straight away, now used to how their names sounded in Portuguese. They sped downhill.
“Where were you going alone?”
Sprinting, they arrived breathless just in front of their parents. “We were just looking around and got distracted.”
“Did you tell anyone where you were going?”
“We told Pedro,” Daniel answered without making eye contact.
Gabriel was skeptical, and as soon as he got everyone home, he pulled Pedro aside and asked, “They didn’t tell you they were leaving, did they?”
Pedro just shook his head, too nervous to say anything else, so intense was his uncle’s voice.
That evening, the family dinner proved uncharacteristically quiet and awkward. After, the boys were remanded to their room. As Gabriel considered how to address his sons’ flagrant disobedience, he had to shoo them back upstairs quite a few times. They must’ve thought their infraction frivolous to be sneaking down, which upset him more. Gabriel’s cousins tried to calm him:
“Relax, you’re getting paranoid. No one wants to make trouble in the Pelourinho,” Caco, Pedro’s father, said halfheartedly.
“Do you think anywhere’s safe? In America sending your kids to school is a risk,” his cousin Brás added.
Gabriel couldn’t take that last comment lying down. He was used to not feeling American enough, or not Brazilian enough, but now he felt like he was being called both and overprotective
“This is not me being American or a gringo,” he said, making those words cut as he uttered them. His harsh tone quieted his relatives even if it hadn’t convinced them. “I’d be just as mad at home. They didn’t say they were leaving; they don’t live here; they had no idea where they were going.”
Dona Lygia sat forward, finishing off her dram of Campari.
“Gabriel’s right,” she said drawing the attention of everyone in the room without needing to raise her voice, just as she had for nearly a century. “I heard him, his instructions to his children were simple to follow.”
Laura dropped her head and said, “They don’t usually disobey like that.”
Gabriel translated, and Dona Lygia considered this for a long while. Everyone watched her, even Laura, sensing she was going to add one final word.
“Maybe they’re not fully to blame,” she pontificated as she stood. One of Gabriel’s older uncles then rose to help her walk.
“What do you mean, Grandma?” Gabriel asked.
“They’ve not been taught to believe in bedtime stories like your parents were, Gabriel.”
Laura pestered Gabriel to tell her what that meant. He could translate it easily but didn’t know what Lygia meant by it, so all he said was, “Later.”
While Gabriel’s first night back in Brazil had been long and restless, as he eased into his trip, he’d slept better with every passing night—until now. The stress of those interminable minutes looking for his sons combined with his grandmother’s cryptic admonishment prevented him from settling. Though, was it really that, or was there something else bothering him? It was like the same lingering fear that he felt when he boarded the plane had followed. Or maybe his cousins were right, and he really was getting paranoid. Whatever it was, while he was distracted by his rumination, sleep snuck up and waylaid him from behind.
The next day got off to a better start. He let the boys wake up on their own. He fell short of apologizing, but at least explained why what they did was so agitating, why he’d gotten so upset. There was a quiet understanding on their faces without too much response. It seemed there was something they wanted to tell their father, but they dared not open their mouths to say it.
By lunchtime, things seemed normal again. They finished early and asked if they could be excused.
“What for?” Gabriel inquired, sounding more accusatory than he wanted to, yesterday’s residual fear still fresh in his mind.
“Can we take a walk with Pedro?”
Gabriel sat with that question a moment, wanting the boys to stew. Looking at Laura he knew what she was thinking: We can’t punish them forever.
“You have to promise me you’ll stick together.”
The boys nodded.
“You have to say it.”
“Okay, then.” He gave them each a hug. They didn’t reciprocate. Gabriel understood that. Laura, who reinforced their rules with a lighter touch, hugged them as well then got kisses and was allowed to tousle their russet hair. Gabriel hoped one day his sons would understand that you never take a vacation from parenting.
The three of them went off. It was a meandering trip, but a relaxed one —a native cousin showing his foreign cousins around his hometown. They’d reached Salvador’s outskirts when Daniel spotted some woodlands. He slowed down, transfixed by them. Pedro, who was busy teaching Arthur Portuguese words he shouldn’t know, didn’t see how far ahead of his cousin they’d gotten.
Daniel entered the woods alone before Pedro or Arthur could see him go. Greenery popping up out of nowhere in a big city wasn’t something he was used to; in New York, trees were planned for and developed so that only weeds grew wild there. He marveled at the deep cool of the shade, the density of the canopy, and the depth of the underbrush as he wandered onto a natural trail.
The chirping of unfamiliar birds and the scent of tropical flowers soothed Daniel as he walked, filling him with a sense of levity until a bleating resounded in the distance. It was unlike anything he’d ever heard. That discordant sound only reminded him of how his great-grandmother described the Cabra-Cabriola’s music “Like no music you’ve ever heard before or would want to hear again.” He didn’t really think that could be it, though. That was a kid’s story, and this was reality. Jaw atremble, that’s how he tried convincing himself he was being paranoid.
Paranoid or not, he could not deny that he was hearing something. The continuing cacophony not only brayed but sang strange phrases. Daniel figured it was Portuguese he’d yet to learn. And maybe it was, but that thought was just as worrying. Who would be braying like that in the middle of the woods? Why?
Then came a rustling that sounded close, Daniel walked faster. His breathing shallowed, and he began involuntarily to imagine what was causing that terrible noise. He bartered in his mind, hoping to picture a small, harmless animal. A squirrel, he thought, or a rabbit, or a deer.But then the rustling grew louder, and his tactic failed.
Then, out of the undergrowth at his back came flame and smoke and some strange, terrible animal. Daniel bolted but lost his footing after only a few steps, slamming face-first into the hard-packed earth, stunned by pain, terror, and denial. As much as he wanted to disbelieve it, he couldn’t. The flames’ heat warmed the nape of his neck, and the acrid scent of smoke stung his nostrils.
Something akin to a goat clambered out in front of him. The sight might’ve been comedic had the creature not bared its teeth. They were pointed rather than flat. And while Goats’ rectangular pupils had always unnerved Daniel, these eyes were bigger, fiery, and sinister. Literal flames flared from its eyes and nostrils.
Hanging from its horn was a large burlap sack.
Daniel managed to stand and run again, but it was too late for that. He didn’t see the goat rear up. Nor did he see that on the underside of its forehooves were opposable thumbs stuck out at the perfect angle to swing the sack and snatch him up.
By the time Arthur noticed Daniel was missing, he and Pedro were about ready to turn around and head back home. Just then, an eerie melody echoed through the streets. Pedro turned around, his skin rippling with gooseflesh.
“Run!” Pedro shouted, true terror contorting his face.
Arthur noticed his brother wasn’t with them.
“Hopefully, he ran!”
Arthur caught his cousin’s panic.
The bleating song got louder, spurring the cousins to a full sprint.
Arriving at home, they crashed into the front gate, banging with their fists.
“Coming, calm down,” said Neide, the maid.
“Is Daniel home? Did he make it back?” asked Pedro between massive gasps.
“He’s not with you?” Neide asked, as Gabriel and other adults came out from the house.
“Didn’t you hear the song?” Pedro asked. Arthur looked up, expectant. He’d heard it but didn’t know what it meant. Likewise, the adults were all perplexed.
“I did,” Arthur said, finally putting things together. Then he asked his father in English, “Dad, was it a cab-cabriolet?”
It took Gabriel a second to understand.
“Cabra-Cabriola,” he uttered under his breath feeling his leg might give out under the weight of comprehension. Too late, his grandmother’s warning made perfect sense.
“I heard it, too. Thought I was going crazy,” Brás, admitted after a pause.
Gabriel told Laura to take the children inside, and he went to search for the beast with his cousin.
Inside the house, Laura insisted someone explain. Dona Lygia obliged, and Arthur reluctantly agreed to translate.
“You’re not going to like it,” he told his mother, averting his gaze.
“Just tell me!”
Arthur looked at his mother, eyes brimming with tears.
“The Cabra-Cabriola is a goat,” he said, his voice thick. He cleared his throat, then continued. “Fire shoots from his eyes, nose, and mouth. He carries a bag wherever he goes and snatches up misbehaving kids.”
“Hopefully, we find him before it turns him into soap,” Dona Lygia said.
Laura couldn’t believe that a demon goat was the actual culprit. She wished she could. The folksy explanation for what had happened to her son gave him a better chance of survival than he would have had with human traffickers. A better chance and a less terrible fate, she thought, allowing herself a moment’s hope, slim as it was.
After a while, everyone left the house, save for Dona Lygia and her eldest son. They formed a search party and retraced the boys’ path, catching up with Gabriel, who had long since called the police and given them the pertinent details.
When the group reached the woodland area, they stopped.
“This is probably where we lost him,” Pedro said.
On cue came a cacophonous, hateful bleating, leading them tentatively down the forest path. Gabriel felt his core temperature plunge. He’d heard this folk tale as a young child and compartmentalized it along with everything else from his past, but now what was locked away had broken free. He couldn’t help feeling that he was to blame, for doubting those stores of wisdom, for not sharing them with his children.
Unnatural blasts of heat from unseen sources had them flinching as they wandered that overgrown path. Though it seemed endless and impossibly dense, Gabriel knew it couldn’t be more than three square kilometers. All the while, with every footfall, they heard the gruesome goats’ ululating chorus, but anger, love, and desperation made them bold enough to peek through the brambles, shadows, and overgrowth; yet despite their best efforts, they found nothing.
Gabriel’s cousins and uncle told him they’d do a more extensive search come the following morning, convincing the desperate father to head back home and meet with the police. Begrudgingly, he agreed. About forty minutes later, he was speaking with a detective. They took down his information, got a picture from Laura, and due to fears of trafficking, organized a huge sweep of the area where he was last seen. Immediately, Daniel’s face was plastered across the news and social media.
Interminable seconds became endless minutes became infinite hours. Children’s screams echoed through Salvador that night; everyone in the house heard them; no one slept. The following day, no one would discuss what they’d heard. Perhaps they were all hoping that the police heard had them as well, though if they had, the authorities were just as clueless as they were.
Subsequent nights followed this pattern for the whole family. Arthur lay in the room he’d shared with his brother and stared at the ceiling. His cousin Pedro was there, at his side, looking thoughtlessly at the wall. He knew Arthur was awake but was also aware there was nothing he could say or do to better the situation. Meanwhile, Gabriel and his wife lay awake facing opposite sides of their quarters, each stuck in their own psychological hamster wheel.
Then, after nearly a week, the spell broke for no readily apparent reason. It began with Laura forcing herself out of bed.
“I’m going to shower,” was all she said.
“Okay,” Gabriel answered. He didn’t show her his face. He was still punishing himself—and was sure his wife blamed him too—for Daniel’s disappearance, though part of him was glad she got moving. This was a welcome development; she’d not bathed since that night. And as shattered as they were, they needed to try to live—not wait for their previous life to resume—but move onward. This was the first time in their marriage that they’d both hit such a low place at the same time, and they couldn’t lean on each other if they were both paralyzed.
Alone, Gabriel lay on his back and wondered about the genesis of folktales, if only to keep spinning the mental hamster wheel because that was something he had control over.
Arthur was used to not sleeping at this point, but on this night, when his mother decided to shower at long last, he was more scared than on previous nights. A cold sweat had broken out on his brow and his teeth were chattering. He felt he had to be next because they’d both roamed the streets and lied about it. He also wondered about the Cabra-Cabriola and how other people’s families told this story, not just his. How was it different in other households? Until now he’d always thought variations in stories about fantastical creatures, whether they be the Cabra-Cabriola or the boogeyman, proved they were just made up to scare kids. Now, after everything he’d been through, he got the feeling that the differences in people’s experiences actually legitimized the stories. The variations made them more real.
In the bathroom, Laura looked in the mirror as she waited for the water to warm up. Whether or not Daniel was ever found, she still had a son to raise and a husband to support. She had to lead by example. Authorities that forgot about Daniel, soon needed to be reminded. She’d be better able to think of what exactly to do next once she was showered.
Going over to the shower stall, she reached her hand out to test the water. When she stood under the jet, Laura saw a bar of soap resting in the niche that she’d not seen before. It was russet-colored. She picked it up and sniffed it. It smelled of Daniel’s hair.
Hearing his wife crying in the shower, Gabriel’s thoughts went from wistful to morose, leading him to wonder if what Tom Jobim said was true: Does really sadness never end?