I’m pretty big into Ink (yeah, I said ‘Ink’–deal with it) and have more than a few custom pieces. Even back in the day I would never dream of starting with a full sleeve as Dean MacAllister reminds… – Jim

The Flesh Trade

The Melbourne Royal Exhibition Building was humming on a crisp autumn morning.

Day 2 of the annual Rites of Passage Festival had begun and moments after the doors opened the hall was full of people stalking the aisles between the booths. Nordic heavy metal boomed over the speakers, but before long it was drowned out by a large buzzing cacophony, as hundreds of tattoo guns were put to use simultaneously.

Ferret walked through the foyer doors, a large grin across his face. He had always wanted to attend this event, but his unreliable mates pulled out at the last minute every time. They bailed on him again that very morning, but he’d decided to go anyway. To Ferret, getting some ink was the ideal way to show everybody that he was changing, maturing. That he wasn’t same kid they all thought they knew, but a man.

He walked up to the booth and paid the admission. The girl there smiled at him, her face full of piercings, and attached his fluorescent green wrist band.

“Have a great time today!” she said.

“Cheers. Will do,” he replied. Ferret showed the wrist band to a security guard, who nodded, letting him past into the main building.

His heart pounded with excitement. He chose an aisle and began browsing. Every booth he passed seemed busy. Half-naked customers sat on chairs or lay on massage tables, as the artists outlined their stencils. The variety amazed him, from tribal patterns to Yakuza koi-fish, classic sailor icons to photo-realistic images. Artists from around the globe displayed their flags and pictures of previous works. From Korea to Brazil, Mexico to South Africa, every corner of the world seemed to be represented. The one thing Ferret struggled to find, however, was an empty booth. After some time searching, he spotted a bored-looking woman at a table and nervously approached her.

“Are you free to do a sleeve?”

She looked up at him and sighed.

“Did you make a booking?” she asked, her jaw working some gum.

“I didn’t realise you needed to,” he said, embarrassed.

“So let me get this straight; you just turned up here today expecting a world-class artist to have at least six hours spare to do a piece on you and you didn’t think you needed to book ahead?”

Ferret’s heart sank. He grimaced.

“I guess I didn’t really think this through.”

“Ya think? Good luck with that kid.”

He moved on, shoulders slumped. Each aisle seemed the same, booths occupied by customers that had booked in advance. One or two artists were available for walk-ins, but they were only doing small tattoos; Asian symbols, butterflies and things of that kind. The more booths he passed, the more desperate he became. The more time that passed, the less likely that he would get his ink done.

Ferret walked down the last aisle and noticed that the booths began to evolve. He saw UV tattoos highlighted with black lights. Scarification. Subdermal Implants. The artists were no longer piercing tongues, but splitting them. No longer tattooing arms, but eyeballs.

Then he found it.

A red tent with a sign: Walk-ins Welcome!

He entered and was greeted by a large, tattooed, bearded man.

“Do you do sleeves?” Ferret asked.

“Sleeving? Absolutely! Sit down,” the man said, motioning to a black barber’s chair.

Ferret obeyed. The tent was dimly lit and smelled like disinfectant. There weren’t any photos displayed for him to choose from.

“I just want to get my left arm done. I’m not really sure about style or anything.”

“Leave it to me. Just take off your shirt. That’s it. Do you want it from the shoulder down to the wrist? Yeah? Not a problem. Now I’ve just got to jab you with this. Excellent.”

“Is that for the pain?”

The bearded man laughed.

“There’s no point doing this if it’s painless, is there? No, that’s to prevent infection. You have some cash?”

“Yeah, I brought around a grand.”

“Hmm, that’s a little light, but we can work something out later. Okay. I just have to strap your legs in like this. Good. Now I have to strap your wrists too. And this goes around your chest. Don’t want you moving around during this, do we?”

“Uh, I guess not.”

“Alright, now I’m just going to pop in this ball-gag, like so. Can’t have you making too much noise. We’ll get complaints. I’ll just bring over my tools.”

The man wheeled over a small table. On top of the table was a tray, displaying a wide arrange of scalpels and tweezers. He put on some black nitrile gloves and picked each one up, spraying them with alcohol. Ferret started breathing hard, his eyes opened wide with terror.

A tall, pale, lanky man limped into the tent. He looked at Ferret with surprise. Ferret yelled at him for help, but the gag silenced him.

“What’s this then?” he asked.

“Trevor! Just in time. This little guy is a champion! Not a single piercing or tattoo on him and he wants to jump straight into sleeving. Can you believe it?”

“Serious? Can I watch?”

“Sure, but sit over there. I’m about to start.”

The bearded artist picked up a scalpel and held it to the light. Ferret shook his head and let out a muffled scream.

“Relax young man. I’m a professional.”

He slid a bucket under the armrest with his foot. Holding the scalpel like a pen, he carefully pressed it into Ferret’s shoulder, running it carefully along to the armpit.

Ferret tried to struggle, but was tied down tight. Tears and sweat ran down his face. Blood ran down his arm into the bucket.

“OK. I think we’re ready. I’ll try to do this as quickly as possible, like a band-aid. One. Two. Three!”

The man grabbed Ferret’s skin with two pairs of tweezers and began to peel.

Dean MacAllister is a mammal that lives in Melbourne, Australia. He is a seasoned world traveller, scuba diver and avid lover of writing and reading fiction. He has been previously published in multiple magazines and writing competitions worldwide, including EWR, WWC, Weirdbook and his first novel ‘The Misadventures of a Reluctant Traveller’ is now available on Amazon. For more of his works make sure you check out Deanmacallister.com

About the Author

Real skull. Don't ask. You wouldn't believe it if I told you.

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