Marguerite Espinoza took her last breath as the sun slipped behind the Salt Mountains outside the expansive windows of her third floor bedchamber. Alvardo nearly missed the moment, eavesdropping to the gathered family’s whispered conversations. He had falsely predicted her passing four times in the past three days, but the passing was unmistakable. As Maestro Eusebio had said many times, “When the moment comes, you will know.” And he did.
The color from her eyes drained, leaving only pale white marbles that matched Alvardo’s own. Before the vessel could expel its final breath, Alvardo covered her lips with his own and inhaled sharply and deeply. There was no emotion in the act. It was a fact of his training, something that he must do.
The aching emptiness within his vessel filled with the sloshing of the elderly woman’s soul. The alma struggled against the barrier of his lips, then changed tactic and coursed to the back of his throat. Alvardo shakily retrieved the filter plugs from the pocket of his robes and lodged one firmly in each nostril. This is fear, he understood. The emotion had been described to him by the maestro.
But he also remembered this emotion, dimly, from a time that had been locked away deeply in some part of him. With the alma filling the crevasses within, memories awakened from his life before becoming the soulless custodio.
Fear was what he had felt scraping at his insides when he was just a boy and Maestro Eusebio had come to measure and examine him. To take him away from his parents, to separate him from his natural-born soul, then sell it off to some needy merchant family. Oh, yes. He remembered fear.
To be absolutely certain of the soul’s safety, to allay his new fear, he slipped the oil-soaked cloth mask from around his neck and over his mouth. He needed this job to go well, and he would not take risks. Feeling the soul struggle and send out waves of feeling, he knew that he never wanted to be empty again. He could not truly avoid it, of course, but if he was successful here, it would be a small step towards earning the money to buy back his own soul.
Rated R for violence.