At first the Swap Meat is enough. In a long hall, fluorescent lights dangled from steel cables like inverted operating tables, breath rises in small clouds. A thin swamp of blood on the floor; the iron and copper smell of protein vibrating in the air. Serial killers pile their collections of ears, neatly severed thighs, hands sliced off at the wrist, into Hefty bags. Trade them for a necklace of fingers, a wreath of hair wound around a shinbone.
But killers are greedy: they want all of you. And some know that after death, the soul rises from the mouth, coalesces into a brilliant ball, drifts skyward. The most accomplished can catch a soul in Tupperware or a Zip-Lock baggie. They tote their collections through a small back door at the end of the hall, to the Swap Soul. They line the back room with their prizes, admire the shivering veins of light they cast on the walls. My heart knocking against my throat like a bird in a chimney, I follow a killer through the door, my butterfly knife tucked into the back pocket of my jeans like a promise I cannot keep.
One man holds up a soft white soul in a honey jar. Printed in near blue across the lid: Female. Brunette. 22. He is handsome and innocuous, hair neatly brown, white button-down untucked, one crooked eye-tooth the only indication of something askew. “This is the best soul I have. It's pure. It could be yours." He sets the jar in my hands. It pulses in my palms, warm as a baby's skull, and I see her:
She walks down the street, brown hair lifting in the breeze. The soles of her cowboy boots are peeling, her glass earrings cast blue shadows on her cheeks. It is the first warm day of the year and the air is full of water, the sunlight is the color of lemons in a children's book. The wind lays its palm against her cheek like it loves her.