by Paulo da Silva
A statuesque woman steps into my dad's workshop. "I need a soul," she says.
Dad's face brightens up. "What kind? Lost? Astray? Depraved? We have them all."
"No. None of that. I want your son's soul."
Dad's expression doesn't change.
Ethereal fingers tickle my heart, curling like hooks. There is a tug--
The woman's lips bend into a grin. "Sturdy," she says. "Give it time. Life will loosen it."
My father started soulmongering when I was four. He said it was because of the recession--there was no work in Portugal.
He brought me into the business when I was eleven, told me I had to make my way because nothing comes free.
I asked him if what he was doing was morally right.
Dad socked me on the cheekbone and my head cracked against the wall. He said right and wrong have nothing to do with survival.
I'm fifteen, a year after the tall woman came by. Everaldo pulls out a cigarette, pops it in his mouth with ease. He extends the pack to me, offers me one. His sister Gabi sits next to him, seventeen and gorgeous, puffing like a dragon, throwing glances at me that have me trembling.
I grab a smoke.
"See?" Everaldo says to her. "I told you he liked you."
My job was to hunt the cobblestoned alleyways of Lisbon's downtown for stray souls. The first one I took was from a black-haired girl with a needle in her arm, barely in her twenties. Her body leaned against a chipped wall, eyes wide, mouth parted, lips golden from the sodium lamps. The sweet stink of recent death hung in the air.
"My name is--was--Adalia," her soul said.
"Hi Adalia. I'm Dario."
She jumped into the open vial in my hand. "My mother is a bruxa. A witch. It is better to be dead."
I hesitated before corking the vial. "Adalia... My... father... He--"
"I know," she interrupted. "He has a dark soul. But I want to come with you anyway, because your own soul feels warm."