2017 minus 20: Permanent Marker

Posted: 12 December 2016 in 2017 minus, elephantwords, fiction
Tags: , ,

Some more fiction for you… As I’ve mentioned previously:

Elephant Words was a fiction site to which I contributed stories, on and off, for several years. The idea behind the site was simple, based on the old tale of several blind people describing an elephant based only on touch; one described the animal as a long snake, another that it was hard and bony, still another that it was like a tree trunk. Every week, one of the participants would put up an image, and over the following week, people would write a story inspired upon the image alone.

Occasionally, a story didn’t need the image to contextualise the tale, but I always tried to use it to the point that if the image wasn’t there, I’d have had to change something about the story.

Here’s another one of them; an image, and the story it inspired me to write.


The restraints were the first thing he noticed when consciousness returned; thick leather pressed into his forehead and he wondered whether it would leave a mark. The thought seemed puzzlingly amusing, but his body was lethargic and he couldn’t have laughed even had he wanted to.

A groan started somewhere deep in his chest but barely made it out of his throat as a long sigh as his eyelids flickered and his vision, blurry at first, focused upon the lilac glove in front of his face.

“I wouldn’t bother,” a strong confident voice said, not unkindly. “Really,” the voice continued, “you’ve got enough drugs in you to stop any strong attempt, and any weaker effort will just make it worse. Trust me, I know.” And that was when the view in front of him snapped into focus, and for the first time he was genuinely scared.

“Ah, you’re waking up properly,” the voice said, seemingly pleased. The man in the chair looked at the tattooist. He knew what was about to happen and he tried to make his limbs work, but they resisted every entreaty from his brain; the signals just wouldn’t get through. The tattooist moved his facial muscles and with sudden insight, the man realised the figure holding the tattoo needle was smiling; it was an odd smile, as if the person making it had once been told how to smile and was attempting to exactly follow the instructions.

There was no further noise for a moment, and then the needle buzzed twice. The tattooist looked away, and there was a sharp short nod of the head and an equally short sharp exhalation, as if confirmation had been sought and obtained. “Just a bit of business to get out of the way first,” the man with the needle said, then pressed a button and the needle buzzed again, louder now as it approached the restrained man.

“You have been found guilty of…” another look away, then back, “well, no need for the full list; suffice to say that you have been a naughty boy, haven’t you?” He didn’t wait for an answer; he knew none would be forthcoming. “And your sentence? Harsh, but that’s the law for you, I’m afraid,” he sighed, as if reluctant to continue.

There was a quick movement of the hand and the needle buzzed; the man felt the briefest pressure on his cheek and then the tattooist leaned back.

Was that it, the man in the chair wondered. Was that what all the fuss was about? His eyes widened and the tattooist laughed. “Oh, no…” he continued, “that was just me signing my work. Always nice to get it out of the way, at the start; it’s messier afterwards. The drugs you’ve been given will stop you protesting, but will, of course, intensify the pain. All part of the sentence, I’m afraid.”

The man tried to struggle, but his limbs remained as still as if he was consciously remaining as still as possible.

“Now, you’re to be tattooed inside your eyes and your mouth, your Adam’s apple and soles of your feet, as per your sentence. Solid areas of ink, as coarse as possible.”

There was a sharp exclamation as the tattooist put down the needle, and then shook his head. “I’m terribly sorry,” he said, “I always forget this part.” Then he lifted a bottle of single malt scotch and drank it down in nine large swallows. Then he placed the bottle down, lifted another full bottle, and the man saw the amber liquid swallowed. “I’m supposed to be dead drunk,” the tattooist said, then he burped twice, and shakily lifted the needle. “That’s better.” Another belch.

“Open wide,” he said. And smiled again.

And then lilac glove and needle both grew large in the restrained man’s vision as the tattooist leaned forward and commenced work, humming quietly to himself as he administered the latest sentence passed under The Restorative Justice Act 2037.

© Lee Barnett

See you tomorrow, with something else. 

This post is part of a series of blog entries, counting down to 1st January 2017. You can see other posts in the run by clicking here.

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