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Paulo da Silva is Portuguese, was raised in South Africa, lives in Germany, and is often found loitering near second-hand bookstores in the UK. He is a software developer by profession. You can say hi to him at authorpaulo.blogspot.com.

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."
"He will sell you. That's what he does."
"I've been sold by men since I was sixteen. Why should death be any different?"
I shook my head. "Wouldn't you prefer to go to heaven or hell, or to reincarnate--whatever souls do?"
"Heaven has no place for me. Hell is too hot. And I don't wish to live again."
Dad taught me a lesson in the form of a red slap that night. Dead souls were no good, he said. No market for them. What we needed was live souls, fresh, still attached. Those are what brought in the prime cash.
I'm fifteen-and-a-half. Gabi writhes her body under strobe lights. Everaldo gives me a Sagres. "I don't drink."
"Porra! Stop being such a pussy." He thrusts the beer against my chest.
Gabi licks her lips on the dance floor. Her black hair flicks around like snakes, turning red and green from the lights. A man approaches her, thrusts his tongue into her mouth. Her hand curls around his butt. She bites his tongue, looks at me. Smiles.
I turn away, bring the bottle to my lips. Down it.
"Dariozinho," Gabi says in the car. "Are you a man yet?"
I look out the window at the traffic.
Gabi puts a hand on my thigh, rubs. I don't push it away, but I should. She leans closer.
She smells of cigarettes and booze... and strawberries. I'm an idiot for wanting her. She licks my neck. "Are you, Dariozinho?"
I let her kiss me. I let her do more than that.
Most nights, I talked to Adalia in her vial. She soothed me.
I wanted to set her free, but she said she didn't want to see my dad hurt me.
"I don't care if he hurts me."
"But I do."
Nobody wanted to buy Adalia's soul.
"Dead souls are no good."
"Too depressing."
"We need live ones."
Dad clenched his fists and glowered at me.
Gabi takes another guy the next night, older. I get angry, get into a fight, get a blue eye. "Oh, Dariozinho, don't be such a baby," she says to me on the sidewalk. "It's not like we're in love or anything." She sucks on a beer, drags in a Marlboro.
She sits next to me, rubs a luscious hand through my hair. "You're so cute, Dario. Wanna smoke some haxixe?"
I don't, but I do it anyway.
Next night, Gabi meets another guy.
I drink, party, smoke more haxixe.
I try to forget Gabi, souls, Dad--all of it.
Something tugs at my soul. "Ah," a voice says in my head, "it's getting looser."
Dad says he threw Adalia's soul into the Rio Tejo, says it's worthless, a piece of crap. I charge out the house, to the train, to the Metro, on the bus, get out at the docks, run to the river. "Adalia! Adalia!!"
But she doesn't answer.
I sit under the 25 de Abril suspension bridge, weep. Buy a beer at one of the marina-facing bars. Get drunk. Get high.
Something tugs at my soul.
It almost snaps.
I'm twenty-one, hooked on heroin, sitting under a sodium lamp. A statuesque woman approaches, heels clacking on the shining cobblestones. She leans down, holds out a vial. Ethereal fingers curl around my heart.
The world spins as I fly through the air--I see the bridge, water, mountains. "That'll teach you to steal my Adalia's soul from me!"
The river rushes against the vial I'm in, pushes me toward the Atlantic.
"Dario?" a voice says. "Dario, is that you?"
"You came to me."
"I ruined my life, Adalia."
"So did I."
"What do we do now?"
"Heaven? Hell? Reincarnate?" she says.
I feel myself smile.
We soar, both of us, free, unattached. Soulmates, kindred spirits. Looking for new life in a city which took it away.
The End
This story was first published on Friday, October 28th, 2016

Author Comments

I wrote this story when I was in a dark place, thinking of life and how it can eat away at a person. The tale is a spinoff of a much larger piece I was working on which has a wildly different plot but contains similar elements (also set in Lisbon, also related to souls but not to "soulmongering"). I'm out of that dark place now, but the story remains.

- Paulo da Silva
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