Only one person in the world knew what I had done, and I intended to keep it that way.

Oh, but what a silly, careless way to start a story. For one, it’s so vague—not much excitement. Will you keep reading in spite of it?...

To tell the truth, I don’t intend to keep it that way; I’m not OK with her knowing that I killed her goat. If she knows, after all, she’ll be able to provide some sort of Karmic witness, so that when I go to Heaven and God Almighty asks me about the goat as I’m standing before his golden throne—I can’t tell him: there was no goat. I haven’t killed anything. You’ve no proof, God.

Let me explain: I’m in an awful smelling cab, heading toward her house to kill her. I’ve got a crowbar in my hand and my skull is prickling with goat-sounds that—No, no. That’s not nearly far enough back, is it? Let’s see, we’ll start at the grocery store and work from there.

Ok. Grocery store. That was yesterday: Petey’s, down the street from my apartment. I was walking through the produce section—well, it was more of an amble, really. I was born an amblin’ man. So I was ambling through the produce looking for a nice tomato. (You know, it’s hard to find a good tomato. You see one that’s nice and plump, shiny, then pick it up and notice a bruise on its hind side from the careless thumb of some horticidal prick who figured he could hide what he’d done by turning it over.) Anyway, my hand was balled around a winner when this sickly man hobbled by and coughed all over it.

What’s one to do? I was angry, for sure; the tomato’s juice and seeds were spewing over my whitened fingernails. I turned to pitch it at my assailant’s head—then stopped. His ill-timed cough smacked of something… something about its smell. Yesyes! It was definitely the smell, but we’ll get back to that.

What’s important now is that you understand this: I was thirteen and ambling (yes, ambling again) down the old dirt road to my house. The sun was nasty, one of those white kinds that makes your scalp itch. And as averse as I was to the heat, I was a smuggish sort of happy: for there, pinched tightly between my thumb and forefinger, shaking but an inch before my sweaty nose, was a Mesmer Card.

Don’t laugh at me! All boys have their hobbies, whether it’s flying kites or sticking boogers in girls’ hair. Mine just happened to be the Headpeeper series of collecting cards. And this Mesmer Card was a smoking deal.

“Hey, Kip. I’ll give you this Holographic Freud for your Mesmer.”

“Don’t be like that. You know Mesmer trumps Freud—holographic or not. No deal. No way.”

“This one’s special, though.”

He quirked an eyebrow: “How so?”

“Well, look.” I brandished the card. The sun in his backyard glinted on Freud’s aluminum suit. “See where his cigar should be?”

“Yeah, it’s not there.”

“Exactly. It’s a misprint. Ever hear about those dollar bills that are half-printed? Those are worth millions.” I’ll tell you this, but shh: half an hour earlier I had rubbed out Freud’s cigar with an eraser, then filled in its absence with a dab of my sister’s awful metallic nail polish. It was sloppy at best, but Kip was a moron.

“Why would you want to trade it for a Mesmer, then? He’s rare, but not that rare…” he said, his bulging, avaricious eyes belying his concern.

“I guess I just like Mesmer better. So you sure you don’t want this?” I held the card close to his face at a jaunty angle.

And there I was an hour later, greedily reading the back of my Mesmer card as I walked home.

Franz Anton Mesmer ‘discovered’ animal magnetism in 1774. He would make his patients close their eyes and tell them to imagine the liquid tide he was sending through their bodies with a series of erratic hand-movements. His subjects would often—

My toe jabbed into a wayward rock, which sent the card fluttering like a dainty butterfly over a splintery white-washed fence to the side of the road. It appeared to have landed in a copse of weeds that circumvented a tilted doghouse. A flank of wood nailed questionably to its façade read “Katrine” in yellow paint. I was quick to clear the fence and retrieve my elusive treasure.

A bony sort of crunchiness underfoot, however, had warned that beast Katrine I was coming. It emerged from its wooden house and I saw, of all things, it was a goat! A mangy she-goat named Katrine. I laughed. And even now I deign to think that she knew I was laughing at her, because she replied by spitting out a goaty Myee-ah, then stepping one foot closer.

The card was between us amid a dry, yellow tangle of weeds. I looked Katrine in her eyes and she looked back at me, absently chewing at something deep in her mouth. It was then that I made my mistake: my eyes momentarily broke from our trance: flicked to the card and back. And that was all she needed. As quick as Death, and just as casual, Katrine dipped down her head and gobbled up the card. She then twitched her little beard twice in my direction and, bored of the situation, trotted back to her slanty shack.

How I surprised myself when I leaped for her throat! And oh, how empty and awful I felt upon Katrine’s final bloody gurgle of a bleat: Bii-ihah-uh—grg.

I shook her to make sure the deed was done and then, as if led by some other instinct, I looked up to the window of the house whose guard-goat I’d just wrung.

And it was there—there, I tell you!—there whence the smell came. That smell I mentioned, yes? The one at the grocery store—the sneeze and the tomato? Have I lost you altogether, reader? No, no… of course not. You remember perfectly the smell of ginger and cough syrup. It’s a clinical smell, somewhat sickly—something you’d expect to find floating in the hallways of a hospital or madhouse. But you would inevitably be disappointed when you found it wasn’t there. Hospitals smell like bleach and clicking, if you can indeed smell clicking as I can.

But where has my mind gone? Oh yes, ginger and cough syrup. I looked up at the house and beheld an open window. In its frame was the old lady of the house. To say ‘old lady,’ though, implies a complete form; it would be more accurate to say that I beheld a pair of cavernous nostrils bored deep into her warship of a nose, with a mouth below, full of twisted teeth that erupted with laughter the second I laid eyes on them. That laughter was heavy with the smell I’ve shared with you today.

That awful laughter. It was the so-mad madness in her voice that used to shake me from sleep for many years. And it wasn’t the fear of punishment that haunted me. It was the guilt—why hadn’t she told anyone? I used to think that she wanted me to see her there, watching me; that in itself was punishment enough. I was driven mad! It took me a decade to forget, and oh was it necessary to forget, because it’s the only sort of time-travel that we as people possess. Forget it, pretend it never happened. I did! And have slept well until that fateful yesterday when I once again smelled her laugh on my tomato at the grocery store.

Speak of the devil, My cab has just pulled in front of her house. It looks the same in the dark as it did so many years ago when it was sunny. I begin to sing—call it an urge, I guess—as I walk past her fence, the crowbar swinging from the arm by my hips.

No one to talk with
All by myself
No one to walk with
But I’m happy on the shelf

I pass by Katrine’s shabby goat-house.

Ain’t misbehavin’
I’m savin’ my love for youuuuu…

A new stanza: what a perfect time to arrive at her door! I breathe in and then knock with my free hand, continuing to hum the song:

Hm-hmm hm-hm-hmmm
(I know for certain)

Hm-hmm Doo-doo
(The one I love)

Dodoo doodooo-hmm—Oh! A twist of the latch and the door cracks open. That monstrous nose emerges from the dark beneath the door-chain and exhales at me. Pluh. Otherwise, she’s silent.

“Hi. Uh, I… you don’t remember me, probably—hopefully—but uh… you had a goat once—”

The nostrils flared and: “I’ve never owned a goat.”

A beat of silence.

“Oh, nevermind then. I must have been mistaken—there was no goat.”

Nope. No goat. Never was.
No goat at all….