1.

the strip mall looked as tattered as the neighborhood surrounding it, another bleak brick building with no merit. each neon sign was faded or cheap, and only four of the five stores remained operational. the fifth was still inhabited, but the occupants weren't human; their chattering made jackson wary. he'd seen rats before, big vicious ones that ate garbage and killed cats that tried to do likewise. he distanced himself, walking in the parking lot instead of along the path. he had only one interest.

tattoos&piercings, staring dimly at him, the ampersand, p, and o's missing in the night. he inhaled shakily and stepped inside. a dank smell rushed his nose, and the absence of parental consent forms on the counter caught his eye. a friend had told him they wouldn't ask for his age; they were pigs, greedy and gluttonous.

one man was there at that late hour, a hitter painted to look like a cigarette poised between his thick fingers. he lounged on an old sofa stuffed in the corner, feet kicked up and tight shirt hardly covering his torso. he was fifty, perhaps, and jackson couldn't stop staring at the graying hair that covered his arms and abdomen and chin. his head was bald. "excuse me?"

the tattoo artist glanced up, and jackson wished he could physically grasp the man's words; his voice was husky, derisive. "you lookin for somethin, son?"

jackson nodded, and the man laughed. "tats or holes?"

"a tattoo. maybe a lip piercing." he pulled a sheet of crumpled paper from his pocket. the arabic writing made the man snicker.

"i guess we can get you that," he drawled, gazing over the design. "you ain' old enough, for this."

"i'm not," he admitted. "i'll pay extra."

"you'll pay extra," the man parroted, touching jackson's shoulder. his eyes were so pale they looked unnatural, and jackson was chilled, when he met his gaze. "i'm william. remember that."


2.

his skin felt raw beneath its plastic covering. the excess blood and ink had been wiped away, and he'd already been told twice not to touch it anymore. the carpet was irritating him, though; he couldn't get comfortable, sprawled nude on william's living room floor. the tattoo was monetarily free.

jackson closed his eyes when he felt a hand on his side and bile rose in his throat. he wanted to curl closer to the touch, but felt cheap and feverish. he opened his eyes and murmured, "why did you get a dragon?"

the elaborate design spanned william's back and chest, faded with age and stretched with fat. his pubic hair was black, same as the mythical beast, contrasting the pale smattering of fuzz on his thighs. "dunno. liked it, then. why did you get scribbles?"

"arabic," jackson corrected, sitting up.

william didn't answer, watching jackson's ass as he strode into the bathroom, slamming the door shut. he was never happier, sobbing under the warm spray.


3.

jackson met william three more times, carnal and sordidly addictive. it was only on the fourth occasion when he arrived on william's doorstep the man realized, "i don't know your name."

"i know yours," jackson said, stepping around william to pull his shoes off. he tilted his head when he felt lips on his neck. "and you've done good enough without mine."

"i want to know it," william insisted, peeling away jackson's clothes, eating like a swine in the soft layers beneath. jackson closed his eyes tight and tried to breathe. it wasn't the same; it wasn't impersonal. "you're such a beautiful guy. you have to have a beautiful name.".

jackson shuddered. "i don't want to tell you."

"i'm serious. stop playing around." william smiled, but the dragon crept to life, crawling up its master's arms and caressing jackson heatedly. its scales bit into his skin, vicious, seeking unity. it wanted him, wanted to consume him whole, hoard him like an ancient gemstone-

he was suffocated. "you want to know something about me?"

william nodded, grinning stupid and wide. he looked ugly, when he wasn't fucking him.

"i'm thirteen," jackson stated, picked up things, and walked out the door in the ensuing silence.