Transactions of the Flesh

With the release of The Skin Collection in just a couple days (2/28/17) I thought I’d share the first chapter again to whet your appetite. The trade paperback and Kindle versions will both be available, and you can pre-order the kindle version now if you click right here!

Howard Russo is a collector of human remains. What began as mere fascination became a hobby which fed off the man’s fragile will until it developed into a desperate craving that could never be fulfilled, no matter how many ghastly trophies lined his walls. Forty years later, very few know of Howard’s whereabouts, but some of those with this valuable information are ones to be feared, which is why the old man currently remains in hiding from the prying eyes of the world. Even still, his unhealthy desires persevere, and the skins of countless men and women continue to keep him warm on the darkest, coldest of nights.

The business of collecting and selling human remains is perhaps one of the oldest of trades, and if one were to look back to the days before Christ he may see the human scalps hanging from the bridle rein of a Scythian soldier. With the victim’s skull scraped clean, the soldier would then prepare the scalp by rubbing it between his hands, softening it for use as a napkin. The soldier was revered by the number of these napkins on display, either blowing gently in the breeze, or sewn together to create a cloak which he would wear with great pride.

And if one were to glance into the flesh markets of the 1930s he’d find the Shuar Indians selling shrunken heads freely to Euro-Americans in exchange for guns and other goods. These heads were believed to contain the soul, and the victim would be decapitated, often while still alive, taking a section of skin from the chest and back with it. Human greed can be a sordid thing, and the result was an increase in head hunting before the traffic of human heads was outlawed by the governments of Ecuador and Peru. But one like Howard Russo can still acquire authentic human heads if they know where to look.

Even today, human organs are collected and sold on the black market. People are murdered, their head and limbs removed and the torso harvested of fat to be sold to cosmetic companies. Any desire could be purchased for the right price, and in the dark, struggling sections of the world, this squalid merchandise could be bought for far less. Howard’s associates knew exactly what he wanted and where it could be acquired; their silence procured for a nominal fee in contrast to the goods they obtained.

Howard Russo is a collector of human remains and his collection grows more each day. Most were antiques, but some were ordered fresh. It is important for the piece to be obtained while the victim is still alive if at all possible, as this is how it retains its worth and power. Though Howard had no belief in God, heaven, or hell, he felt there was something special in these stolen lives, in these bits and pieces said to contain a small fraction of the life that once wore them.

All those trapped souls, all that power passed back and forth over the centuries for material things could not go unnoticed—and Howard Russo had attracted the unwanted attention of very dangerous eyes, eyes that can see beyond the simplistic limitations and boundaries of most. There are surreptitious organizations greater than any in recorded history that monitored these transactions of the flesh, and in small enough quantities they’re typically met without opposition. But Howard had amassed too many souls of too many individuals who were far too powerful.

As a result, red flags have been raised, blurring the lines of jurisdiction, drawing the attention of these dangerous eyes and allowing them to display authority in thresholds they’d otherwise never be permitted to cross. Their bony knuckles grew closer to rapping on Howard’s door week by week, day by day, and hour by hour.

And so the old man pulled a veil across the world and hid among his atrocities in the hopes that one day his pursuers would grow weary of their search, because their boredom was his only hope, as their fervent breath would surely never cease before his own.

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