“Arachnophobic?” Mundo asked with laughter. The burly, bearded, bald man shook his head. “You can’t possibly be arachnophobic,” he said. He set the un-used tattoo machine aside in a plastic tray atop a rolling cart. Mundo’s tattoo shop was empty except for Mundo, the tattooist, and Tanner, the customer. He was a scrawny, sickly teenager that did not get enough sun or attention. He wore blue jeans that made his legs look like pencils and a black t-shirt. Bright sunlight and pedestrian shadows poured through the shop windows. There isn’t much demand for tattoos at 9 in the morning. The boy nodded.
“They terrify me. All those legs and eyes,” he shuddered. “Blech. Thank god I’ve never seen one in real life, I’d completely freak.” Mundo laughed harder.
“You’ve never seen one? NEVER?“
“Only in movies and shows. Even then, as soon as I see a spider I shut my eyes and change the channel.”
“But.. never never?”
“Not a one,” Tanner said. “I’d remember that sort of terror.”
“Well, you’re going to be an interesting Master of Spiders, that’s for sure.” Mundo said. He leaned forward to grab the machine from its tray but Tanner interrupted him.
“How’d I get picked for it anyway?” Mundo leaned back. If the boy wasn’t ready for the tattoo yet, he didn’t mind talking to him.
“You didn’t, your soul did.” Tanner tilted his head at Mundo.
“But… I am my soul… right?” Mundo grinned and to Tanner’s surprise, he shook his head.
“Your soul is you,” Mundo said. “But, you are not your soul.” Tanner narrowed his eyes.
“Now you’re just making things up,” he said. Mundo chuckled.
“Nah, listen. This body…,” he gestured at the pale bundle of sticks sitting in front of him. “…is kind of like a car with a built-in A.I. It has its own wants, needs, and…” he smiled. “…fears. Your soul is what drives that car around. You ever put off doing something you know you should do?” he asked.
“A few too many times,” Tanner nodded.
“Your soul, your mind knows it should do the things but it’s not easy to convince your body, is it?”
“Yeah…,” Tanner agreed.
“You’re the combination of your soul and that particular body. In this case, your body is,” he chuckled again. “arachnophobic. But your soul is Unique Soul #33, La Araña. The spider. Once I put your number on your skin it’s like giving your soul a direct line of communication to your body.”
“And then what?” Tanner asked.
“Then you’re officially the Master of Spiders and you do whatever the council wants you to do.”
“So the tattoo will cure my arachnophobia too?”
“Ehhh,” Mundo shrugged. “Might. Might not. Some habits and fears run deep. But, it hasn’t been a problem so far.”
“What do you mean? Have there been other arachnophobic Masters?” Mundo shook his head.
“I meant it hasn’t been a problem for you. You’ve never seen a spider, right?”
“Because you didn’t want to. They probably made themselves scarce when you came around.” Tanner glanced around the shop to make sure it was still empty. Then he leaned closer to Mundo and dropped his voice.
“I don’t want to do this. They’ll probably make me prove myself somehow. I don’t think I can handle it,” Tanner took a deep breath and stared into Mundo’s hazel eyes. “Will you help me escape?” Mundo pointed at the rolling cart.
“Once you get your tattoo you probably won’t need help.” Tanner shook his head.
“I don’t want the tattoo, I don’t want to see any spiders. Do you know anywhere I can go to hide from the council?”
“Are you sure?” Mundo asked after a silent moment. “Spiders aside, working for the council is a pretty cushy job.”
“Not for me. I’d rather do anything else.”
“I know a way,” Mundo nodded. “It’s almost a guaranteed death sentence.”
“Death is better.”
“If that’s what you think,” Mundo sighed. “Then I probably can’t convince you otherwise.” He nodded at the boy again and stood from his stool. “Mundo walked into a room at the back and was gone for about five minutes. While he was gone Tanner made a disgusted face at the tattoo he was supposed to get. The design looked like a black widow spider with a red ’33’ on its abdomen instead of its usual hourglass. It unsettled him enough to be alone with it that he gingerly reached over and flipped it face down on the cart. Light, clicking heels startled him. He whipped around and saw Mundo coming out of the back. He was stuffing a roll of money in his pocket and following a short, plump, pale woman in a black suit. Her dark black hair washed down over her shoulders and seemed to disappear into the suit. Mundo stood over a foot taller than her.
“Tanner, this is Melody,” Mundo said. The woman nodded politely at him. “She’ll give you a ride to somewhere safe,” he stopped there for a moment, then added, “-ish.”
“No spiders, right?” Tanner asked. Melody nodded curtly.
“There is one spider, but don’t worry,” she was quick to reassure him when worry flashed over his face. “We know where it is at all times.”
“What.. like a pet?”
“Yes,” she nodded with a cool, empty smile. “Something like a pet.”