Being crucified was nowhere near as painful as Sonny had always suspected it might be. True, whatever drugs his abductor had pumped into his veins were likely dulling the intensity of the experience somewhat, but watching the second stake being driven through his right hand, he felt no more than a peculiar ache as the bones split to make way for the iron.
He let his head fall to the left where he saw his other arm pinned outwards, a stake blasted through the palm until it protruded from the underside of the wood. His fingers had closed reflexively around the cold head of the stake like the legs of a dead, monstrous tarantula.
The hooded man stood from his work and backed away into the shadows. Sonny watched him go, inevitably drawn to the tattoos adorning his own naked body. But to call them tattoos, in the plural sense, would be a mistake because there was not an inch of natural skin to be seen, from ankle to neckline and from shoulder to wrist. Even his genitals – exposed and shrivelled and terrified as they were – had colours sewn into them, finalising the illusion; Sonny wore a single, impeccable suit of ink.
And he was a criminal for doing so.
The practice of tattooing (along with all other creative outlets) was outlawed some time around 2030. The illegalisation of the arts had, of course, driven its creators underground, in turn helping to breed a new, starving type of collector with limitless appetite for outlawed creations. A young child could now be traded on the black market for a collection of Shakespeare.
And there was yet another sub-niche of collectors, hungrier still, who sought the more extreme pieces for their homes.
As Sonny recalled the incalculable, burning, exquisitely painful hours spent under the needle over the course of his life as an outlaw artist – the backs of his knees, the shaft of his cock, the pits of his arms, the rings of his nipples – he now realised he’d fallen into the hands of the latter type. Now the fear started to fill him, like he was being force fed a gallon of it.
The shadows of the large, unfamiliar room were smashed up against the wallpaper, creating surreal angles and making a mockery of the rules of geometry. As he tried to lift his head he swooned, nearly vomiting at the sudden silvery stink of his own sweat and blood. This was some schizophrenic’s nightmare, wasn’t it? Not a real event, surely; not death come to meet him. Beyond Sonny’s feet, he saw thirteen enormous black forms.
Disciples, were they, come to watch with interest?
There was movement at his head now. The collector bent down and gently stroked Sonny’s lank hair from his eyes. He edged out a trembling hand and ran it along Sonny’s inner bicep, dirty fingernails brushing the intertwined leaves and roses.
Now he was shuffling down the length of him on his knees, his cold touch still on Sonny –
(Story. The last of us called our bodysuits our stories, and he’s reading mine now like a blind man reading braille)
Delirious, I’m delirious
– skin, running down his torso, fingers rifling over the black jaguar sneaking a look from its jungle home on Sonny’s abdomen. Down his inner thigh now and brushing over the weaving of roots there, coming to rest finally on the black viper coiled on his kneecap.
‘Remarkable,’ the collector whispered from his hood, ‘that such images were once created on the flesh.’
Sonny heard the whisper of a knife being drawn from cloth.
‘You are a piece of history.’ The accent was warped with both travel and heritage, untraceable. ‘By far the most beautiful of all. And what a story yours has to tell.’
The man stood and walked to the thirteen lumbering shapes. Sonny watched through slit eyes, gritted teeth; realised they were not hooded figures, but objects.
The collector began to pull at the shadows. Thirteen heavy covers were thrown to the floor, revealing thirteen large glass cabinets. The final one, on the far left, stood empty. Sonny knew what was propped in the others; even in the shadows he recognised the tiger on the abdomen of skin number four, matching the position of the jaguar on his own. Sonny himself had tattooed it on the man two decades ago, and he the jaguar on Sonny.
Brothers in arms once. Soon to be reunited.
The collector cocked his head. ‘There’s no need to cry. After all, you’ll be immortal. Imagine the pleasure you’ll bring when you join them as my thirteenth story.’
And then he was at Sonny’s nailed right hand, the knife beginning its work at the inked wrist, peeling the skin of his knuckles back like a clementine. All Sonny could do was laugh at the irony of the whole situation –
(back in the old days when they said thirteen was unlucky for some, they weren’t fucking about ha ha ha)
– and anyway, being skinned was nowhere near as painful as he’d always suspected it might be.
About The Author
Joe is a University of Portsmouth graduate. He is as an asset engineer by day whilst moonlighting as an aspiring author. He is thrilled to be published once more by Bandit Fiction (his first story appearing in Bandit Fiction Presents: Issue 5) and it provides encouragement at the end of an uninspired year to keep on writing. Joe is putting the finishing touches to a short story collection, which he hopes to finish writing by early 2020. The collection, featuring The Thirteenth Story, tells of a fictional town with its own strange – often nightmarish – folklore. The stories and characters interlink as the reader gradually discovers why the town is such a hotspot for weirdness. Fun fact: Joe is extensively tattooed much like the unfortunate character in the story. The collectors are yet to catch him.
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