Unexpected Inking

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Tattooed sailor aboard the USS New Jersey, December 1944

Last week I looked up the etymology of the word “tattoo” and learned that it comes from the Polynesian word tatu or tatau, meaning “to write,” and later “puncture” or “mark made on skin.” The word came to English in the mid-to-late 1700s via the writings of the British explorer Captain James Cook, who made some of the first detailed maps of the Pacific and the islands therein.

Aesthetic scarring and pigmentation was already common among Maori people in New Zealand, as well as in cultures indigenous to Tahiti and Samoa, when Western explorers first encountered them. Sailors would get tattoos as “souvenirs,” often with specific shapes symbolizing the different locations they had visited, ranks, memberships, and other significant life events. For example, an anchor tattoo first symbolized a sailor who had crossed the Atlantic, while a dragon represented service in Asia.

This Week’s Writing Prompt: You are showering one morning when you notice a tattoo on your body that you’re quite sure you don’t remember getting. What is it, how did you get it, and what does it mean?







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173 thoughts on “Unexpected Inking

  1. ddragonwarden

    I went to a tavern around the corner from the bath house after getting the prices and ordered their “cheapest alcoholic beverage.” The dwarf behind the bar smiled and gave me a wet mug of something from under the bar, “two of those for a copper.” I handed him the copper and he smiled grimly. “What is it has you drinking this swill then?”
    “My mentor wants me to take a daily hot bath but I don’t have the funds.” I said. Then I took a swig from the mug. The liquid burned like high proof stuff. I gasped and looked at the bartender. “What is this?”
    “The slop barrel.” He replied amiably.
    “What?”
    “Is where we dump the unfinished drinks patrons order. Sell the slop for two mugs for a copper. Waste not, want not.” He answered grinning proudly.
    “Waste not, want not.” I agreed taking a smaller swig.
    “You one of the new class?”
    “I am.”
    “I a magus.” He announced proudly then shrugged adding “Nobody want a barkeep for a mentor.”
    “If I hadn’t already promised myself to the veterinarian then I would be happy to take you on as my mentor.” I said earnestly.
    “You a good kid. I got a customer. You drink. I be back.” The dwarf said and hurried off to take care of a couple sitting at a table.
    I finished my first mug and the second, I think. All I know for sure is the next morning I woke up with the dwarf standing over me asking loudly “What time you got to be to your mentor?”
    I stood up. Wobbled a little. Then made my way out into the too bright sunlight. I shielded my eyes and carefully made my way to the bath house. “Hot bath.” I said to the man behind the counter.
    “Not a problem.” He said wrinkling his nose at me. He showed me into a private room and uncorked a decanter of endless water. “Soap?” he inquired as steaming hot water filled the washtub. I felt my pockets and came out with the soap my mentor had given me. I also came out with a handful of coppers. I started counting out six as the attendant continued to fill the tub when I noticed a rune on the back of my hands, just to the outside of my pointer finger. It looked like an H but the center bar was tilted towards my thumb and there was a short, steep diagonal line off the vertical line by my thumb too.
    I ran back to the tavern, telling the attendant at the desk to hold my bath along the way. “What are these?” I demanded of the bartender, showing him the backs of my hands.
    “Answer to you issue. The tattooer was here last night. She took a shine to you. She like redheads. I told her about the daily bath thing and she said she could fix that. She said send you her way after you done with mentor today. She explain it all.”

  2. abufas

    I stood motionless in the shower of my hotel room, letting the scalding water flow over my head and back, trying to wash away the feeling of last night’s whisky. It wasn’t working. My head throbbing, I kept going through the yesterday’s events, and the fight I had with my father. It shouldn’t have been that way, it was supposed to be a solemn event.

    I had come in to town for the weekend to attend Grandpa John’s funeral. He was the best grandfather one could ever hope to have. Always there. A model of what a man is supposed to be, strong yet loving and compassionate. A rock.

    Some of my earliest memories are sitting on his lap listening to him tell stories of adventure. Grandpa was a sailor. In his youngest years, he traveled the world as a merchant seaman. Later, when the world went to shit, he fought in the war, the big one. He’d been all over the world, and he had the salt and ink to prove it. My eyes were always drawn to these tattoos when he’d tell me his amazing stories.

    As an old man, the ink was faded and a bit blurry, but they weren’t always. He had a lot of photos in his albums from those days. Posing in is crackerjacks, his dixie-cup askew, he looked like the star of some Hollywood movie, but he was the real deal. Other were much grittier, snapshots of a sailor’s daily life before life at sea was as comfortable as today. Men laboring on deck, shirts off in the hot equatorial sun. In these old snapshots you could see grandpa’s tattoos in their former glory, especially the dragon that worked its way up and devoured his left arm.

    He was a good man, and I missed him. That was his life, it made him what he was, and it was good. That is what made me hate my father as I sat there washing away the night.

    At the funeral service, I sat in the back as I usually do, mortality is not a topic I’m all that comfortable with. I resisted getting in the line to pay my respects for the longest time, but in a lull when the crowds died down I decided to give it a try. As I walked forward, the lump in the back of my throat made it difficult to breathe. I wasn’t sure that I would make it through without breaking down.

    That is until I spied the familiar old photographs on the table to the side. Grandpa’s friends had set up a memorial of sorts with various items from his life. A way of honoring him. Among them were those old familiar photographs. Except they didn’t look right. They were the same photos, but in a way cleansed. Missing was the ever-familiar tattoo.

    What the hell was going on? Did they feel they needed to clean Grandpa up a bit for the fine sensibilities of the churchgoing crowd? It made no sense, but it made me furious. I left the line and angrily set off towards my father. What angered me more as I approached him was the knowing grin he had on his face. The sonofabitch was proud of what he did.

    I lashed out, “Why the hell did you alter the photos? Are you ashamed of him?”

    “Keep your voice down,” he whispered. “I didn’t do anything to those pictures.”

    He began unbuttoning his cuff as if to escalate, but I didn’t give him the chance. Those years of fight training he’d paid for came back to bite him in the ass as he flew backwards on the floor. I’d had enough, and stormed out of the hall. The rest of the evening was a blur, resulting in the splitting headache I was now fruitlessly trying to soothe.

    I eventually gave up, turning off the water and stepping out onto the damp floor. The room was a thick fog as I grabbed a towel to dry off. I turned on the fan, and the steam slowly began to clear. As my figure became visible in the mirror, my arm seemed odd. There was what looked like a dark spot. Wondering what the hell I had done last night, I raised it to investigate.

    The shock of what I saw made my heart skip a beat. There on my arm was Grandpa’s dragon tattoo. Not the faded version that I had seen with my own eyes countless times, this one looked as if it was brand new, the colors more vivid than I could have imagined looking at the faded black and white photographs. I stood silent, my head spinning, from the hangover and compounded by the shock, as the rest of the steam cleared. After a couple minutes, I came somewhat to my senses, and walked out of the bathroom to begin getting dressed. I jerked to a stop as I again saw my father, sitting quietly in the side chair, the bruise clearly visible on his cheek.

    “I’m sure you have a lot of questions now,” he said. “Try not to knock me on my ass again, I have something to show you.”

    As he raised his sleeve I saw the tattoo on his arm too, clearer than my memory of Grandpa’s, albeit not as new as mine. “You see, Billy? I didn’t take the tattoo off of Grandpa’s pictures. YOU did. The moment he died, he passed it on to you. So much so that any trace of his ever having it was gone.”

    He looked me intently in the eye. “You see, we are not a normal family. We have secrets. Big secrets. And an unusual role to play in things.”

    I opened my mouth as if to speak, but couldn’t for words. I just sank onto the bed and stared dumbly.
    He stood up and walked calmly over, placing his hand on my shoulder. “I know you’re in shock right now. I’ve been in the exact same place as you,” He said. “Get some breakfast, and come over to Grandpa John’s house. We’ll talk more there.”

    I looked up to tell him that I couldn’t. He seemed to read my mind, and before I could form the words he interrupted. “Your flight has already been canceled. Let’s just call it mechanical difficulties,” he said with a knowing grin.

    “Don’t take too long with breakfast,” he said as he made for the door. “There are some who will try to take advantage of the situation. You have a lot of questions and a lot to learn, and we don’t have a surplus of time to get you up to speed.”

    I sat there, staring in shock, as the door clicked shut.

  3. Kriti

    UNEXPECTED INKING

    Tired of the Hussle and pussle of life,I took my towel and went inside to take the shower.The day went usual and I was as still wondering when will I get to experience a change in my life.

    With every drop of water that touched me,I was healing myself.Closing my eyes and pretending that I am at the different corner.The corner that I can change whenever I want to.

    “How long will you take?It’s already 9” my mom yelled at me.Closed the tap and took a glance in the mirror.
    “Hey,what’s that?”I murmured surprisingly.

    Some Roman numerals in a dark black ink were imprinted on my arms.”What does that mean,how it came?”I said.

    “C’mon now.How long will you take?”my mom started shouting.

    Dined and went to sleep.

    It’s 8.Started my day again thinking of the same old things that I have to follow.Wait,let me see my mark in the arms.
    Holy shit,they became dark like they can never be implinged by anyone.
    I thought their maybe some supernatural activity going on.How did they come?
    Told my mom and she was so shocked that she told me to be early today as we were going to visit some family priest to see the mark.
    “This is a sign of God.This child was born to bring peace on Earth.These numerals signifies the places of the alphabet meaning “HARMONY”.
    But how will I?I mean I am just a urban guy who goes to his office and coes back home,sitting in front of the black box the whole day.I am just simple and way to normal to take up anything.
    Why I?

    “Everyone has gone talent.The people who utilise it makes themselves different from others.”He said.

    I took some time and decided to prepare for the civil service exam.After passing if which,u get the power of governance.People come to you for your help regarding various issues.
    I worked hard and harder, day and night thinking that God must have thought something before giving this mark.

    The day came and I cleared the exam.I repeat.
    I cleared the exam.The old urban guy who had the same old day and who expected nothing from himself cleared.

    My mom was surprised and told this mark has done miracles to our lives.

    I got the named chair and moved forward with aim of solving problems of people and bringing leave in their minds and souls.

  4. Clevergrrl

    I wrapped my dripping hair in a towel and stepped out of the shower to have more room to dry off. As I shook out the bath towel, my eye caught on a mark on the inside of my left wrist. Odd, I thought, did I bruise myself? The mark was faint, but not really a normal bruise color or shape – instead it was heart shaped and pale pink. Well, fine, I thought, I even bruise weird. I finished drying off and started getting ready for work.

    On the way to work I always drive past the intersection where Mark died. It’s been a year, and I drive by it nearly every day, but I still feel the tears sting my eyelids and my throat catch. I’ve considered moving to get away from the memories wrapped up in the house and to avoid seeing the intersection, but so far I haven’t been able to bring myself to do it.

    As I drove through the intersection my wrist suddenly started tingling, enough to drag my attention away from my sadness. The tingling didn’t hurt, it just felt pleasantly warm. I looked at my weird bruise and saw that it had gotten darker and more distinct. It was definitely a heart shape and turning redder.

    Traffic moved on, so I stopped looking at it and drove on to work. When I was finally sitting at my desk, I had a chance to look it over more carefully. It was red, and getting redder. It was also very sharply defined, not irregular or uneven like a bruise would be. I could also see very faint dark lines appearing in the center and to either side of it. It wasn’t tingling anymore, but I was starting to feel oddly like it belonged there, like it was supposed to be on my wrist. Strange. The phone on my desk rang, startling me out of my scrutiny. Shaking off the strange feeling, I answered the phone and got started on a very busy work day. I was always glad to be busy, since it kept my mind occupied and away from stray thoughts of Mark.

    I didn’t think about the heart shape until I was on my way home and was again passing through that intersection. My wrist tingled, stronger this time, as I drove through. It was too dark and traffic too busy for me to look, so I had to wait until I was home.

    Inside, I pulled off my coat, threw it on the chair and turned on the living room lamp. Putting my wrist directly under the shade to see better, I stared at it with startled disbelief: there, on my wrist, was a heart tattoo. It was about 2 inches long, and had grown darker and redder. The heart now had an arrow drawn through it, and inside the heart was written “M + S” in Mark’s distinct scrawl. I felt my own heart stutter, and a sob caught in my throat. My eyes blurring, I hurried across the room to the bookshelves, and dropped to my knees so I could get to the lower right shelf that held our photo albums and yearbooks. Dashing my hand across my eyes so that I could see, I found the yearbook for our senior year. Trembling, I opened it to the inside cover and found the same image that was now on my wrist. Mark had drawn it one evening while we studied for finals, carefully filling in the heart with a red marker.

    I sat back on the floor, leaning up against the bookshelves for support, gently cradling the yearbook and letting the tears run down my face. I think that Mark misses me, too.

  5. AzaleaS

    I step into my shower just before going to my day job, I turn the water to the hottest temperature it possibly could be, normally this would relax me but today a pain in my side jolted my nerves as the water stabbed at my skin. Taking a closer look, the tattoo on my lower rib cage is of a two-headed snake, embellished with colorful scales trailing down its slender body; the snakes mouth are extended almost in a striking position. Grey clouds surround them as if they’re a mystical deity, the bold outline of black ink ties it all together making it pop somehow.

    I think to my self when did I ever get something so aggressive on my body, for the most part I hated snakes and this tattoo did not scream my style. I regain focus on the hot water and turn it to lukewarm releasing some of the tension off of the sensitive area. I trail my index finger along the dark lines being extra careful to not scrape any skin. For the life of me I could not recall getting this tattoo, I’ve been working non-stop for a week and haven’t even hung out with friends to even go to a tattoo parlor.

    The thought of me doing something so reckless made my spine shudder, was my body doing something unconsciously while I was “asleep”, am I one of those people who suddenly has selective memories, or my life skips ahead while my mind and body stay behind a couple of hours or so?

    I shake off all my weird theories and head out of the shower… In my tall bedroom mirror, I get a closer look at the tattoo, the sunlight doesn’t do the colors any justice, it really was flamboyant artwork. I hear my cellphone ring on my bed, it was Louise a friend from college. She called to ask if we had gone partying or did any festivities a couple nights before. The question sent the hairs on the back of my neck straight up… She confirmed the question I was going to ask, stating that she had a vibrant tattoo on her lower rib-cage as well. Just as I was going to confirm my same circumstances I hear my door bell ring. I’m a little on edge as I approach the door but suddenly realize I purchased a few items online and the post office would be bringing them.

    I open the door, happily greeted by an olive skin delivery man with the sky-blue post office uniform, He pulls out a clipboard and document for me to sign, as I click the pen to let out its nib… I feel a prick in my finger, I notice blood trickling from my thumb onto the document and a painful shock wave flows through my body. I feel my body go limp as the man in the uniform reaches for what looks like a garbage bag, he puts it over my face and soon I’m shrouded in darkness.

    1. Kerry Charlton

      This is a chilling response, to say the least. I liked your description of the tattoo, made me feel uncomfortable. The flow was nice and the ending a perfect place to stop. All kinds of questions as to why? And why also, the friend?.

  6. cosi van tutte

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    I lower my arms and check out my bare legs.

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    My neck hurts.

    My waist hurts.

    I have a bad feeling about this.

    I step in front of the bathroom mirror.

    Second verse same as the first.

    The words spiral around my neck and waist.

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

    I put my clothes back on and march into my workroom.

    I pull the flamethrower off the wall and make sure it’s still loaded.

    It is.

    I smile and sling the weapon over my shoulder.

    “You think you had the last laugh, Brittany MacKenzie. You are so wrong.”

    I leave my workroom and stride purposefully to the front door.

    “You are so dead.”

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Cosi, I know stubborn.will power when.i read it
        You.left this exactly where you should have, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks
        Nice writing

    1. writer_sk

      Cosi~ my son, hubby and Brother in law all quote that part of Princess Bride.

      Such a creative use for the prompt and your masterful way with dialogue shines through.

    1. Moirai-TQ

      Expanded version Part 1 – I changed the four letter word.

      It was the year 2157.

      Every night before bed, he pushed his left hand through the ID stream. He wasn’t told why or what would happen, but that he must do it. He thought about not doing it, until he heard the screams one morning. That was enough for him. He was never much of a ruler-follower when he was younger.

      The morning sun was dimmed, as it struggled to push its way through the fog. He forced his eyes opened and looked around. He sat up, put his feet on the cold floor, stood up, and walked into the bathroom. He stood over the toilet bowl for his morning stop. He thought about if he needed to sit for awhile and decided that he could wait. He flushed before he stepped into the shower.

      Standing under the shower head, he faced the faucet and turned on the hot water. He loved hot showers. He stood for several minutes letting the hot water run over his whole body. He pushed the button for the soaped up washcloth. He started on his face, neck, and upper body before turning around to rinse the soap off. Next were his right arm and then his left. When the cloth rubbed his left wrist, he felt pain. Looking down, he saw a tattoo. Of a date. A date he didn’t recognize.

      After he finished, he towel dried himself and walked into his room. He pulled his clean clothes on and sat on his bed. He noticed the flashing red light over by the speaker unit. He walked over to the desk and pushed the button.

      “Yes,” said the disembodied voice. “The date was her birthday. The next date tattoo will be when you killed her.”

      With that, prisoner 2156-9521402 pushed the speaker button.

      “Oh, crap.”

      Prisoner 2156-9521402 had all day to think about his crime.

      For the hundredth time, he looked at his wrist. November 7, 2140. She was 15 when he killed her.

      “She deserved what she got. She wasn’t very nice. She laughed at me.” These thoughts ran through his head all day long. He couldn’t banish them.

      The 10 pm bell rang. All prisoners were required to be in bed at that time. Prisoner 2156-9521402 lay in his bed, unable to go to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he would go back in time to when he killed her. It never bothered him before, why is it now? Why? His eyes flew open, as he felt himself start to fall asleep. He wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t.

      She was on the bed, cowering, pleading. His smirk was ugly. It scared her even more.

      “You’re afraid, now. Not so tough, now.”

      “I’m sorry,” she stuttered. “Please let me go. I won’t bother you anymore. I won’t tell anyone. Please.”

      Her pleading voice irritated him even more. “SHUT UP, you stupid little bitch!”

      She burst out crying. His face got redder. He was more agitated. He started pacing. He needed to keep moving.

  7. Moirai-TQ

    Expanded version Part 1

    It was the year 2157.

    Every night before bed, he pushed his left hand through the ID stream. He wasn’t told why or what would happen, but that he must do it. He thought about not doing it, until he heard the screams one morning. That was enough for him. He was never much of a ruler-follower when he was younger.

    The morning sun was dimmed, as it struggled to push its way through the fog. He forced his eyes opened and looked around. He sat up, put his feet on the cold floor, stood up, and walked into the bathroom. He stood over the toilet bowl for his morning stop. He thought about if he needed to sit for awhile and decided that he could wait. He flushed before he stepped into the shower.

    Standing under the shower head, he faced the faucet and turned on the hot water. He loved hot showers. He stood for several minutes letting the hot water run over his whole body. He pushed the button for the soaped up washcloth. He started on his face, neck, and upper body before turning around to rinse the soap off. Next were his right arm and then his left. When the cloth rubbed his left wrist, he felt pain. Looking down, he saw a tattoo. Of a date. A date he didn’t recognize.

    After he finished, he towel dried himself and walked into his room. He pulled his clean clothes on and sat on his bed. He noticed the flashing red light over by the speaker unit. He walked over to the desk and pushed the button.

    “Yes,” said the disembodied voice. “The date was her birthday. The next date tattoo will be when you killed her.”

    With that, prisoner 2156-9521402 pushed the speaker button.

    “Oh, fuck.”

    Prisoner 2156-9521402 had all day to think about his crime.

    For the hundredth time, he looked at his wrist. November 7, 2140. She was 15 when he killed her.

    “She deserved what she got. She wasn’t very nice. She laughed at me.” These thoughts ran through his head all day long. He couldn’t banish them.

    The 10 pm bell rang. All prisoners were required to be in bed at that time. Prisoner 2156-9521402 lay in his bed, unable to go to sleep. Every time he closed his eyes, he would go back in time to when he killed her. It never bothered him before, why is it now? Why? His eyes flew open, as he felt himself start to fall asleep. He wouldn’t give in. He wouldn’t.

    She was on the bed, cowering, pleading. His smirk was ugly. It scared her even more.

    “You’re afraid, now. Not so tough, now.”

    “I’m sorry,” she stuttered. “Please let me go. I won’t bother you anymore. I won’t tell anyone. Please.”

    Her pleading voice irritated him even more. “SHUT UP, you stupid little bitch!”

    She burst out crying. His face got redder. He was more agitated. He started pacing. He needed to keep moving.

  8. Moirai-TQ

    Part 2

    He wasn’t ready to kill her, yet. He wanted her to suffer. Suffer like he did when she and her friends teased him, laughed at him, pointed at him. He couldn’t help it if he wasn’t as perfect as they were. Even his parents agreed with those girls. They blamed him for being born deformed. They gave him away when he was four years old. He remembers being beat at the new home, a belt, a long thin stick. Then they started ignoring him; that was even worse. No one would talk to him. His meals were carelessly tossed in front of him, the food sliding off of his plate. When this happened, the woman would dump his whole plate of food on the table and make him eat it like a dog.

    He hated going to that dark place. Tonight it ruled his world. He could stop the visions, but not the emotions.

    He stopped pacing. Shook his head. Faced the girl. He noticed that she had wet the bed. He liked that she was that scared. He grinned. It wasn’t a smile, but a smug look on his face. His ugly face became even uglier. There was no going back. She was going to die and he made sure she knew it.

    He ripped her shirt. Her pale skin was mottled red, breathing was ragged. He ripped the torn piece into strips. He grabbed her arm and pulled her to the edge of the bed.

    “Sit up,” he said.

    He yanked the narrow strip of cloth tautly and used it to gag the girl. He pushed her roughly back onto the bed.

    He awoke screaming. Panting. Sweating.

    Even though it was too early, he got up and took a shower. As he was washing, he felt a familiar pain on his chest. He looked down. He screamed! There on his chest was her face! Her face as she died! Staring up at him! Upside down so that he could always see her face as it was on the bed. Life-sized! Realistic! Almost like a photograph! He fainted in the shower.

    He woke up several hours later, shivering on the shower floor. The water had shut off. His head throbbed where he hit the shower wall. He touched his head. No blood, just a painful lump. He stood up and took a hot shower again. No more pains.

    He got dressed. Again, the flashing red light on the speaker unit. He walked to the desk. Arms hanging at his sides. Head and eyes down. He took a deep breath and held it. Brought his left hand to the button. Paused because he didn’t want to hear what the voice had to say. His heart was racing. Finger still poised over the button. He released his breath and pushed the button.

    “That didn’t take long. Normally this step is several days or weeks after the first tattoo.”

    “Are there going to be anymore?” he asked.

    “Other than the date you killed her, that depends upon you.”

  9. Moirai-TQ

    Part 3
    The cold metallic click told him that the conversation had ended.

    Prisoner 2156-9521402 sat in his cell. By noon, he had drunk at least 10 cups of coffee. No way was he going to go to sleep tonight. He didn’t ever want to sleep again. He’d prefer to go crazy, than sleep. With all that caffeine running in his system, he was bordering on fidgeting to death. He had to move. He jogged in place for 30 minutes. His heart was racing at a deathly pace. Dinner time had him eating so fast that his stomach hurt.

    The 10 pm bell rang. He lay in his bed. He still felt some effects from the caffeine. At least his blood wasn’t bouncing in his veins anymore. He tried holding his bloodshot eyes open. Midnight came and went. He was still awake. Barely. He couldn’t stay awake. He succumbed.

    The dream picked up where the last one ended.

    She could breath just fine. She could make grunts and groans, but no discernible speech. He ripped her shirt more. He ripped that into strips. Pulling each one taut, he braided them into a jersey rope. He was very methodical and tense. He took a deep breath. He was ready. He viciously grabbed her arm and yanked her to the edge of the bed again. He sat behind her; one foot on the floor and the other one wrapped around her waist and lap. He wrapped the garrote around her neck; crossed it behind her neck and yanked the ends tightly toward each other. She couldn’t struggle very much because he was holding her down. She shot her hands up to try to hit him and pull the braid from around her neck. Her breathing came in short and raspy bursts. Then she stopped. Her body went limp. She was dead.

    She landed prostate on the floor when he stood up. Her eyes were red and wide open in the death stare. He stood and stared at her, unsure of how he felt. He thought he’d be happy that she was dead. Or at least relieved. He pulled the blanket from her bed over the girl. He climbed out of her bedroom window and ran down the street.

    The next day, the brutal murder was all over the news. He was sitting in a coffee shop when it was broadcast on the screen. The grieving parents were there in each other’s arms. He got up and walked closer to the screen. Those people looked familiar to him. When their names appeared on the screen, he realized that he had killed his sister. He didn’t know her, as she was born after he was given up to that horrible torture chamber of a home. An evil and ugly smirk pulled at his mouth.

    ++++++++

    Prisoner 2156-9521402 looked like he had aged far beyond his 22 years. His eyes were constantly red-rimmed. His sunken cheeks added to the haunted look. He’d been like this for several months, ever since the tattoo of her face appeared on his chest.

    One morning, during his shower, he felt the pain on his left wrist again. Today must be the anniversary of when I killed her. He looked at the date: June 8, 2155. He didn’t know when he did it. He only knew he had done it.

    1. writer_sk

      Moirai

      So disturbing.

      I liked how you created sympathy for MC by showing how he was abused as a child. I thought the twist of it being his biological sister was well done.

  10. Bushkill

    Ink

    The steamy jets of water pounded into my head and shoulders, washing the last vestiges of the weekend away with the early stages of sleep deprivation. I sloshed the water across my face and down my arms, pausing at the ring around my left wrist.

    Curious, I scrubbed harder and then brought my arm closer for inspection. A neat, double helix wrapped itself around my wrist in an iridescent blue ink. It wouldn’t move, it wasn’t painted, my mind spun and the water drummed against my body as a cold sweat rose to the surface of my skin.

    Shivering, I exited the shower and dressed for work, choosing a long-sleeved shirt to hide my stain. It would generate questions, questions I couldn’t answer and asked myself already. I slouched through work, blaming the weekend for my lackluster performance, silently hoping for the end of the day and a bit more research into the strange tattoo.

    On Tuesday morning, there was one on the right wrist, too, a pair of matching badges.

    Or cuffs.

    Work on Tuesday went less well then Monday and my boss threatened to call HR if he didn’t see some progress in my mental and physical state. Long sleeves in July didn’t go over very well.

    On Wednesday morning, I had a collar of double helix blue weaving around my neck in such a way that it looked stitched into my skin, at times hidden underneath. Powerfully represented work, if I only knew the artist.

    On Thursday, the inky bands around my wrists started swelling and turning into three-dimensional cuffs. They chaffed and hurt like seven scenes from Dante’s Inferno. By the end of the day, my collar had started to do the same thing. It rose from my skin, its links more lifelike –more textured – casting a pall over my surreal experience.

    On Friday I didn’t wake at all. My conscience slipped into an ether world, chained in a long line of chained souls. I trudged forward, cobalt blue chain link cuffs around my wrists glittering with the presence of some arcane pact. The chains linked to each other and to the collar. The collar dragged at me and kept me focused, moving forward with scant other action. The weaving nature of the living metal sliding beneath my skin and torturously tugging on my soul kept me compliant.

    My fellow man metered out in front of me and behind. All of us chained in like fashion; all of us moving forward to some Other’s bidding. From overhead, a deafening screech tore the sky apart. Roiling black clouds split under a blast blue-white lightning and a beast from legend winged through the gap, maw open and tiny lightening storms raging among its arm length teeth.
    It settled on a small rise near me and sent another blast of lightening skyward. Its skin shimmered blue and its scales fell in intricate, double helix patterns, armoring its girth. I heard its voice in my mind.

    “SLAVES!”

    1. Kerry Charlton

      I lost the first response to you, somewhere lurking around the web site. Your detail on the tattoos and how they turned real was excellent. A grand opening should you decide to expand it.

      1. Bushkill

        Part 2 (sir, I submit)

        My clothes hung from me like rags on a line. My ethereal form had less mass than my former corporeal one. I stood on the left side of the tethering chain, a compatriot in misery opposite me on the right, head bent and resigned as I.

        The dragon’s voice roared out again in my head and I shuddered in fear. I wanted to look at it. I wanted to admire its majesty and fierceness. I wanted to wake up in my bed and shake off this nightmare.

        Instead, my feet shambled forward in the blood-mud of those who passed before me. My own feet, cracked and bleeding, showed signs of shingles and hurt with all the pain of a thousand ingrown nails. They bled, too, contributing to the quagmire through which we chained souls meandered.

        A sound like a thousand waves crashing on a single beach punctuated the twilight world. The blue dragon on my right answered the challenge, sending a ballista bolt of lightning over the heads of those in front of me. The crackle of the energy made my hair stand on end and the force of the blast drove a quake into my knees. It forced those in front of me to crash into the ground in terror.

        Clouds ripped apart and the very sky exploded in fire. Balefire rained from the heavens, scorching what it touched into blackened ash. It killed everything in its path: trees, plants, and my fellow soul-slaves notwithstanding.

        Behind the fire trumpeted a red behemoth akin to my blue-scaled master, but larger.

        So very much larger.

        My master bent low, leaning forward and sweeping his serpentine neck up to launch a tumultuous blast of lightning that seared holes through the wings and tail of his assailant. He then launched into an attack, buffeting us with the ferocious wind of his beating wings.

        He must have caught the red by surprise for the other drake reared back and began a loud shriek of its own even as it devoured air for another wave of fire. In front of me, the chain flashed brilliant blue and the captured souls withered, feeding the growing energy of the chain.

        Our master pulled the energy to him, throwing up a shield that swallowed the fire of his enemy. Then blue and red dragons rolled and tore at each other, the chain of damned forgotten. In front of me, dead souls left gaping holes in our line of servants.

        I tested my tether and felt it cold to the touch. I tried to wrestle my hand free but the snap of a miniature lightning storm raced around the cuff blistering me and driving me into the mud, ripping a scream from my tortured being. I looked up in pain and saw blue irises in a pearl white sea staring back. The intelligence embedded in the creature staggered me and I collapsed into the mire, each breath a battle.

        1. writer_sk

          Wow, the continuation was equally powerful. I like how there was no happy ending. If you do more would like a glimpse into his earthly life;like whether he’s being punished or what his line of work was on earth.

          So well done. Your imagery was gripping.

    2. writer_sk

      Bushkill

      This was amazing. The unfolding of horror was so real.

      I thought the progression of the tattoos from being just a ring to a solid metal device was so strong . The first sentence was really well written. Interesting prose and a dark ending. The foreshadowing where MC questions whether the tattoos are “cuffs” was perfectly done.

      1. Bushkill

        Thanks for your thoughts and kind words. Some of these prompts are tough, this one came to me in a flash. Did you catch that the dragon’s scales and the chain links are the same? My MC is bound by his soul and there is no escape. People don’t really go missing from our world. They are captured and tethered in an eons long conflict for supremacy in another.

        Bloodmud … What else would you call the mud formed from open sores and bleeding wounds of those that trod that ground before you? I t tried to keep the meaning of the word my own without overstepping Ms.Rowling.

        1. writer_sk

          Remarkable. thanks for the info. I hadn’t caught the scales reference – on second read I saw it. I have only read one Harry Potter so I didn’t know. Great word though.

  11. Moirai-TQ

    It was the year 2157.

    Every night before bed, he pushed his left hand through the ID stream. He wasn’t told why or what would happen, but that he must do it. He thought about not doing it, until he heard the screams one morning. That was enough for him. He was never much of a ruler-follower when he was younger.

    The morning sun was dimmed, as it struggled to push its way through the fog. He forced his eyes opened and looked around. He sat up, put his feet on the cold floor, stood up, and walked into the bathroom. He stood over the toilet bowl for his morning stop. He thought about if he needed to sit for awhile and decided that he could wait. He flushed before he stepped into the shower. Standing under the shower head, he faced the faucet and turned on the hot water. He loved hot showers.

    He stood for several minutes letting the hot water run over his whole body. He pushed the button for the soaped up washcloth. He started on his face, neck, and upper body before turning around to rinse the soap off. Next were his right arm and then his left. When the cloth rubbed his left wrist, he felt pain. Looking down, he saw a tattoo. Of a date. A date he didn’t recognize.

    After he finished, he towel dried himself and walked into his room. He pulled his clean clothes on and sat on his bed. He noticed the flashing red light over by the speaker unit. He walked over to the desk and pushed the button.

    “Yes,” said the disembodied voice. “The date was her birthday. The next tattoo will be the date you killed her.”

    With that, prisoner 2156-9521402 pushed the speaker button.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Off to a great start if you wished to continue. Maybe bring in the dead wife to interact or girl friend or casual meeting. So many ways you can take this, rev up the engine.

          1. Moirai-TQ

            The story is there. It has proven to be more difficult to get it out. Dark. I’m trying not to be too cliche. I’ve had to turn on 1960s music to keep my thoughts from going to dark.

  12. Kerry Charlton

    A SIG

    Bill Johnson, a pragmatic soul if there ever was one, lived on the correct side of town, watched his ’P’s and ’Q’s, was married for a second time to the girl of his dreams and on a cold winter’s evening had settled cozily in bed for the night. His wife Rosalie spooned beside him and all was quiet until around four in the morning when he yelled ouch, sat straight up in bed and tried to reach behind his left shoulder to explore the pain he felt.

    “What’s wrong Bill?” the sleepy redhead asked.

    “The back of my shoulder blade is on fire, can you look at it?“

    “It should be, when did you get a tattoo?”

    “For God’s sake Rose, don’t kid me, I hate tattoos.”

    “Well you sure as hell have one and it’s three inches tall.”

    “Are you sure darlin’ don’t kid me. What does it look like?’

    “I haven’t seen it in a long time, but I think it’s a white cross and it looks exactly like your fraternity pin from college.”

    “Damn it Rose, don’t fool with me, what is it?”

    “Well its has a chain on each side connecting the side cross with the top cross. Does that help?”

    ‘Oh Lord,’ he thought, ‘she may be right, how many years have I dumped the letters from my fraternity in the waste basket unopened because I knew they asked for money for all sorts of things. Maybe someone’s playing a joke.’

    “Bill, did you pin your first wife with your fraternity pin while in college.”

    “That‘s ancient history darlin‘.”

    ‘I wish .I had pinned her to one of Patton’s tanks.’

    “Bill, there‘s a pair of crossed keys at the top of the cross. What do they mean?”

    ‘I can‘t answer her, it would violate the fraternity code, think, think‘

    “The keys, uh, uh, they represent, uh, oh yeah, the keys to the kingdom.”

    “That’s a book dummy. There’s an eagle on the left part of the cross, tell the truth.”

    “That‘s easy, one of the founders owned Eagle Milk Company and wanted free advertising.”

    “What do you take me for, an idiot? There’s a scroll on the right side, what about that?”

    “That represents the Dead Sea Scrolls.”

    “You must be pulling my leg, On the bottom, there‘s a pair of clasped hands and seven stars, now lie about that.”

    “That easy, the hands advertise Ivory soap, we get royalties and the stars are the seven stars of the Apocalypse and just don‘t ask any more, my shoulder’s killing me.“

    “I’m sorry Bill, would a roll in the hay help?”

    “Definitely, but why must you always be on top?”

    “Oh quit complaining, lay back and enjoy it.?

    {Two weeks later]

    While opening his mail, Bill noticed a letter from his fraternity. This time he opened it and a personal handwritten note spilled out,

    ‘Try sending a check this time to our national scholarship fund. With each check, the tattoo will fade a little.’

    He looked at the signature and smiled,

    ‘A Sig’

    .

    : .

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you Jennifer, public TV is already twisting my wrist after a donation.wr made last year
        What a mistake, a letter each.month or so
        Makes you feel like dirt when you ignore them.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        We all get ours eventually whether we know it or not
        You can’t hide from IRS any more. Pretty soon. We’ll have numbers on.our wrist.and a chip in.our ear lobe.
        The line with Patton, just.popped out. Thank you.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Thank you, memories came flooding back at my fraternity in college. Sadly today it’s not the same We were full of all kinds of pranks. Our pledge class threw our president, Paul Marcus into the student lake when he got engaged
        We forgot about the iron braces he wore from polio and he sank straight to the bottom. We pulled him.out quickly
        The next week they pulled a twelve foot alligator out of that lake
        Go figure, how I miss those days.

        1. writer_sk

          Oh cool. It sounds like a blast. Right, good thing ya pulled him out. I think the fraternity brothers of today are mostly good it’s just we hear of the terrible ones on the news and it breaks your heart.

          College age people are my favorite to write about.

  13. Denise

    My car was totaled. How did I manage to survive? A question I pondered as the steam surrounded my bruised body and the hot water gently pummeled my aching bones. I slowly turned my body through the warm, misty haze and exposed each swollen area to the comfort of the water’s flow. I lifted my leg to give its turn for healing that’s when I saw it–on my ankle. Was it residue from the pavement? Did its tar adhere to me as I propelled from my car? Did Highway 9 rip through my pants to slow me down from sliding into the oncoming traffic?

    I studied my ankle as I securely placed that leg outside the tub. In my dripping stance, I caught my ankles reflection in the mirror. With a soft bath towel, I patted the area. It wasn’t tar. It wasn’t a black and blue. It was a tattoo. I don’t have tattoos. How did I get this? I would never willingly let anyone tattoo me. If that’s the case, who would do this to an unconscious person?

    I put on my robe and sat on my bed. I had to think. I dropped my head to my hands and forced myself to remember. Okay, I remember it was dark, men picking me up off the cold, hard pavement and placing me on a stretcher. I remember seeing my mangled car and wondered if I was just as mangled. I felt their firm hands gently hold me as the ambulance rapidly drove through the bumpy streets en route to the hospital. After that, I only remember getting in the cab the next day and coming home.

    I grabbed the magnifying glass. The tattoo was small. I examined my unique artwork. It was the letter “D.” As sore and tired as I was, I had to find out who did this to me and why. I haphazardly dressed and looked for my keys–keys to what? I had no more car. I searched my phone for Uber. I had to get back to the hospital. Thoughts raced through my mind. Did they do this to cover up a wound that would cause a scar? Is it some fading ink that identifies patients? I gently rubbed it. It hurt. Fading ink wouldn’t hurt. This was permanent, and I knew it. The sound of the blaring horn broke my chain of questions.

    When I arrived at the hospital, I spoke to the woman who sat behind the admissions desk. I explained my situation to her. She occasionally smiled as I spoke, nodded her head and raised her painted eyebrows. She thought I was nuts. I banged my hands on the desk in frustration demanding to talk to the doctor who took care of me. She gave me a quirky smile and picked up her phone. She softly spoke to someone. With a jut of her head, she directed me to room to the side of the desk. I took a seat in the small room and waited. After a few minutes, a man entered wearing pale green surgical clothes and sat beside me.

    “I’m Leslie Venutre. Are you the doctor who took care of me last night?”
    “Yes, I am, Leslie.”
    “Can you explain this?” I said as I removed my sneaker and tore off my sock. I thrust my sore ankle in the air. He smiled and swayed his head.
    “Why are you smiling? This isn’t funny. This is my body, and somebody decided to etch something on it–without my permission permanently.”
    “I didn’t think you’d mind–once you knew.”
    “Knew what?”
    “I don’t expect you to remember me–it was a long time ago. I hoped my artwork would bring you’d back.”
    “Well, you’ve succeeded doing that.”
    “I wanted to leave my mark so you would never forget me.”
    “Forget you? I don’t even know you?”
    “Yes, you do. Only you don’t remember me.”
    “Who the heck are you?”
    “I’m your dad. The “D” is for dad.”

    And the rest is permanently etched in my heart.

  14. Jennifer Park

    5. The Mark

    [Suddenly had free time! Comes after “4. The Bully”, under “A Not-So-Christmas Story”]

    Scrub and scrub as she might, Barbara could not wash off the ink blot that had mysteriously appeared on her wrist. The long sleeve of the uniform would cover it up, but she did not like the idea of it at all. Blue ink. Who uses blue ink? Who uses ink?

    Barbara had not seen any ink, in fact, since Subambassador Min futilely tried to teach her handwriting, an ancient lost art of sorts. Calligraphic art, yes, beautiful, moving, rich with symbolism, blah, blah, blah, but writing with ink just for writing?

    It was time to go to breakfast, so she gave up.

    “Privyet, Barbarella!” Mikhail greeted as soon as she darted out her door. Was he using the ancient greeting because the antiquities were on Barbara’s mind?

    “Hello. You’re late.”

    He kept pace with her. “So are you.”

    Barbara squirmed. With her skin being scrubbed raw, the ink blot was throbbing, and felt several centimeters thick. She just kept on rushing ahead.

    “You OK?”

    Barbara did not answer.

    “You seem… Ach!” Mikhail tripped on his own foot and fell to the ground.

    Barbara, against her better judgment, stopped, and reached out to help him up.

    “Thanks!” He reached for her hand.

    Then almost fell back. Barbara had withdrawn her hand. Mikhail’s wrist also had a blue ink blot on it.

    He got himself up anyway. “Thanks. I’m OK… but you don’t look OK. Are you OK?”

    Barbara ignored him.

    ==========

    At lights out, Barbara did not return to her room. She hid outside, in the bushes, the same bushes where Carol had hidden in order to ambush—pun intended—Chevy.

    Four hours was a long time to wait crouching on the ground. Just as she was beginning to doubt her intuition, out came three shadows from her dorm section door, pushing another shadow ahead of them.

    Mikhail.

    Four other clumps of shadows appeared behind them, one of them without a quarry.

    Barbara silently followed them, once they exited the courtyard through a small door. The door opened into a long hallway with many doors.

    She could not hear the murmuring chants that were coming out through one of the doors, until someone started to declare, “Those who carry the mark of shame must face the consequences of their Deviancy!”

    A murmured cheer.

    “The price of Deviancy is…”

    The declaration was interrupted by Barbara bursting through the door.

    “Ah! There you are! The last of the Deviants!”

    “I am not a deviant!” boomed Barbara into the dimly-lit room full of hooded students.

    She proudly held up her wrist, and ripped off the gauze.

    There was a patch of blood, where she had cut and peeled off the skin.

    “I claim my rights. I demand that you set them free.”

    Blood dripped off from her wrist onto her shirtsleeve.

    The hazers were turning white from shock. They let go of their victims, who hobbled away, still bound and gagged.

    Barbara followed them out, wrist still held high, grinning.

    Cowards.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        This is one tough MC. If I were in a fox hole under enemy fire I would want her with me. Peeling off one’s own skin is a desperate act, not everyone could handle it.

  15. Guitarrista

    Hot water stung as it poured over Andrew’s shoulders. It woke his body in waves, first his arms, then his back, and his legs. He ran a wash rag over his skin which calmed the chill bumps. Then, as the soapy lather slid over one hip he noticed black lines. Had he been bruised? Heck, Julie got rowdy at parties but she’d never convinced him to get close enough to anyone for him to be injured. Andrew wiped away the soap to see a tattoo. Bright, black ink made an unfamiliar design with diamond fragments on his skin. It seemed to be missing part of itself and had a Demoniac name under it. Andrew rubbed water from his eyes and turned off the shower-head. Not only had his friend convinced him to go to a social gathering, but get a tattoo, and the ink wasn’t earthly.
    “Juliana!” Andrew yelled.
    The man caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. The shower made his gold mess of curls manageable but hadn’t done anything for the bags under his eyes. They looked hollow like the rest of his lean body. Andrew barely got a towel around his hips before Julie busted into the bathroom.
    “What?” she asked around a spoon, cereal bowl balanced in the crook of her arm.
    Andrew tugged the terry cloth down for her to see what he could only describe as a partial crest. “Tell me Tempest is the name of the tattoo artist.”
    “Oh, no, honey.” Julie laughed. She waved her spoon at his him where it curved in. “Tempest is the incubus you met last night.”
    Andrew rubbed his temple. He vaguely remembered meeting a sickeningly handsome man who wouldn’t stop talking to him. A man who wouldn’t keep his hands off him. The same man who drove him home when Julie left, wait, Julie wasn’t the one who left. “B-but” Andrew stammered “but an incubus?”
    “Mhm, the imposible match, that’s why he got so mad at you. I thought I’d die when he asked if you were sure you weren’t a woman.” Julie continued. She chuckled to herself but stopped when she met Andrew’s eyes again. “What?”
    All Andrew wanted was to finish culinary school, open a bakery, and move out of this crappy apartment. He wanted to forget his parents cross the codes of every realm to raise him and get away from the Other community. This just sucked him further in. The man pushed his way around Julie and the warm carpet walked him to the bedroom. As he got dressed he explained.
    “Your kind doesn’t deal with the underworld culture so I wouldn’t expect you to know it, but demons work much differently than angels.”
    Julie snorted. She sat on the bed. “Don’t be a smart, get on with it.”
    “You don’t get marked from sleeping with an incubus, you get marked for mating.” Andrew continued. He sat with her once jeans and a band tee replaced the towel. “If an incubus finds his mate, he has to make a decision to ignore one part of his nature and be monogamous or ignore his mate which burns the same. It seems I’ve found the only respectable demon alive and I’ve been branded.”
    From the way Julie stared Andrew thought she’d stopped breathing, or choked on her corn flakes. Then, while she stared with wide eyes and an open mouth a small sound came from her throat. She was laughing.
    “I hate you.” Andrew sighed.
    He left her in his room without caring if she spilled her breakfast all over his sheets. She could clean it up. Unfortunately he had to clean up another mess first. Andrew brushed his fingers over his hip which grew warm for a moment. He lifted the blue jeans away to see the black ink began to spread already, twisting in vine-like tendrils up his side. If he didn’t hurry this would mimic the tattoo’s on Tempest which tabled him a demon. Oddly, Andrew didn’t know if that would be a step up or down from half-breed.

    1. Bushkill

      Good story. I had thought about a growing brand as well, though demonic and underworld hadn’t crept in. And your poor MC has got his hands full trying to sort out another misunderstanding.

  16. esmionoestuyo

    Kahurangi and Tui walked up the gravel path. Kahurangi wasn’t in a talkative mood. Tui had a stick in hand, letting it drag along the bottom of the red-painted fence posts: tickiti tackiti tickiti scrrrrape tack tack tack tack fwaack swaaa — the noise changed. “Ahw, fuck, boys!” Tui stopped short and looked up to see Mr. Haurangi, who tended to give long lectures about getting to school on time and not messing around so much, how they should be at every language lesson and how they missed last Saturday.

    Today he pointed to his trousers and stated simply that Tui would be paying for their repair, but then led them back to the fence posts in order to lecture them about respect for ancient property, and how the faces of their ancestors and gods are looking down upon them from the top of those poles and how their late queen would be disappointed in the youth of this generation.

    Tui looked up and said, “Seems to me Tiki is just going to pee on me with his penis sticking out like that, Sir”, looking at his brother Kahurangi, sticking his tongue out and gesturing to pee on him. Mr. Haurangi was livid, but all he could get out calling after them was, “That’s Tāne, eh! No respect…”

    Tui was still laughing as they crossed the football field which was covered in a low-lying dense fog, as it was most every morning, rolling in off the Waikato River. But Kahurangi held still, staring at a bird that dove in around his head several times, and at last had settled upon his shoulder.

    Kahurangi wasn’t afraid. He extended his arm carefully, so the Miromiro could carefully bounce along backwards, down his arm, staying near his wrist, so he could face him. He spoke to the bird without words. He knew it to be his guardian. The Miromiro sang and said, “I gift you with being a warrior”, and blew onto his face – a wind that seemed sharp and piercing, like a thousand needles, but instantly healing and warm.

    By time Tui turned around, Kahurangi’s face was unrecognizable. “Fuck, bro!” He tried to shew the torotoro off his brother’s shoulder but couldn’t and backed away, stumbling. The Miromiro flew away, and Kahurangi extended his hand to help his brother up. With wide eyes, Tui said, “You have to see this, bro!” He took out his phone and took a picture. Turning the screen around, Kahurangi saw Tā Moko like in his grandfather’s stories about the ancestors’. The tattoo swirled up his cheekbones, was perfectly symmetrical above each eyebrow, and filled in his chin nicely.

    “No one’s going to believe this, bro!”

    “I believe it, Tui. It’s a new day for us all.”

  17. creaturescry

    It had been five years, five long years. I scrubbed my arm with a bar of soap which smelled like the kind they had in gas station bathrooms. No matter how hard I scrubbed the scars remained. The clean knife cuts across my chest, the labyrinth of tattoos on my arms, and my crooked hands where bones had been broken. But as i rubbed my arm with soap I noticed a newcomer on my elbow and smiled. It was a crudely drawn heart, drawn with pink and black sharpie. I finished the rest of my shower quicky, careful not to wash off my new tattoo, and slipped into my boxers and white tank top.
    “Ella!” I shouted as I Peeked outside the bathroom.
    “What daddy?” she shouted back from her bedroom.
    “Come here, Daddy needs to ask you something.”
    A little girl with a purple fairy costume with wings bounced from around the corner. Her brunette hair was tied up in a storm of hair ties and clips. As she approached me a mischievous smile drenched in hot pink lipstick grew. Bianca, the resident grandmother, must’ve given her some more play makeup when I wasn’t looking. If someone had told me being a father was hard seven years ago I would’ve laughed it off. But now as I looked down at little Ella I knew what my mother had been complaining about all along.
    “Do i look pretty?” she asked, her eyes growing wide in anticipation.
    “You always do my little angel,” I cooed, patting her on the head, “what else have you done?”
    “What do you mean?” she rocked back and forth innocently.
    “Like Giving me a new tattoo.”
    I lifted my arm so she could see her work, “you did this right?”
    “Yes,” she nodded nervously, twisting the material of her dress around her fingers, “are you mad?”
    “Are you kidding me? It’s the best one I’ve ever gotten!”
    “Really? I thought you only liked the mean and scary ones like that tiger.”
    “I used to,” I crouched down and gathered her into a hug, “and then you came into my life and everything changed princess.”
    “I broke the spell right? I took the curse off you daddy?”
    I nodded, too teary to even respond. As I remembered the past and the terrible things I had done. I didn’t deserve Ella, nor did I deserve a second chance. Hell she wasn’t even my daughter by blood, but by god I loved her like one. Fate has little ways of allowing you a second chance, as long as you’re willing to look for it. Ella was my redemption, my new beginning, and in a way my end as well. The end of a dark moment of my life, which faded away like a temporary tattoo.

    1. Bushkill

      Huzah! very good with a great ending. Awesome! Also, I love the pregnancy and promise of your last sentence. Has his life really changed? will the permanence of other’s ink outweigh the love-soaked markers of the now?
      good
      good
      good

  18. RebekkahGrace

    Jane stood in the shower, letting the scalding water wash over her. Her hair fell in long, heavy strands across her face and back. She sighed and leaned her head against the side of the shower. Her temples ached, and her body felt deplete of energy. Over the past few months, her exhaustion had grown exponentially. What began as feeling “run down” had grown into debilitating weariness. Her fracturing mental state left her barely able to judge fantasy from reality. The hot shower offered little reprieve from the pounding in her skull and bone-aching exhaustion.
    After the water began to run cooler, she turned off the tap and stepped out into the bathroom. Steam hung in the air as she dried herself off and began to get dressed. As she pulled her shirt over her head, she gasped with a sudden burst of pain on her right shoulder blade. She tried to reach around a feel for a wound of some kind, but she was unable to stretch that far. Wiping the mirror clean of moisture, she turned and looked at her back in the mirror. Seated just to the right of her spine was something small and red. She leaned closer to the mirror trying to get a better look. At first it appeared to be a shape or figure of some kind, but upon closer examination, she saw small a number – “27”.
    Her first thought was that she must have slept on something, something with fresh ink on it, maybe a tag in her clothing. Perhaps she sweated in the middle of the night and the ink transferred onto her skin. She searched through the clothing she’d worn the night before and the clothing she wore to bed, and she found nothing, except a small smudge of red dye (or, maybe blood?) on her pajama top. She turned up her bedding and search, but also found nothing.
    She went back into the bathroom and scrubbed her skin on her back. She strained her left arm to reach the spot. She rubbed it for several minutes until the skin was raw. She turned her back toward the mirror. Though the skin was now red and raised, 27 was still cleared printed.
    The pounding in her head took on a thunderous intensity. It felt like her own pulse was putting her brain in a vise. Without warning, she felt her stomach respond to her brain. She ran to the toilet, vomited bile, and lost consciousness on the bathroom tile.
    Lying on the floor, between states of consciousness, images forced themselves to the surface of her mind. Flashes of syringes, medical exams, men and women in lab coats, and days (perhaps weeks or months) of being in a small metal room. The fragments of memory didn’t make sense to her in her semi-conscious state. She awoke fully with a jerk, a surge of adrenaline pumping through her veins. Her own fight-or-flight response felt fully engaged, and she threw herself backwards in a violent, clumsy motion that almost caused her to injure herself further.
    In that moment, she remembered. The images congealed into memories, albeit fuzzy, drug-influenced memories. She remembered being taken in the middle of the night, every night for a very long time. She remembered being injected and watched and studied. The smell of the disinfected laboratory room where she was held prisoner came clearly to her mind. The last thing she remembered was being branded with the number 27, before they brought her back to her apartment in the early morning.
    Her pulse quickened to a deafening tempo, ringing through her aching head. She had no idea what they were doing to her, what they injected into her for, what she guessed was, months. She didn’t know who they were or what they wanted. But, as she fingered the tattoo on her back, she knew they were not done with her. She knew they’d be back for her.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      As I wrote to Kim, below, I see the prompts as starting points, and everyone will be inspired differently. This was a very creative way to use the prompt to introduce a character and a story.

  19. Russ

    Well this one’s a little long. I took a while to figure out how to relate the tattoo in this. lol. Well here it is. It’s a little random.

    I woke up one day, and something felt a little off. Was I supposed to work today? Was today Saturday? I looked at my phone. It was indeed Saturday. I paused for a moment, a little perplexed, and went to take a shower.

    During this shower I noticed a mark on the back of my calf. What is this? I thought. I got a better look at it. It was blue and looked like a cloud. What is this? What in the hell is this? I don’t have a tattoo. I turned off the water and got out of the shower.

    I dressed and walked quickly to my room. Yesterday I… at that I stopped. Yesterday was Friday… For some strange reason, I couldn’t remember anything at all about Friday. I remembered Thursday. I remembered work, getting home from work, eating a big meal, and I remember getting to bed. It can’t be Saturday… As I was thinking there in my room, I saw a little man run past my door through the hallway.

    I froze. I didn’t know what to do. I grabbed my phone and dialed 911. But just then, something grabbed my leg and pulled me to the floor. The phone dropped out of my hand before I could press the call button.

    “Don’t do that!” a little man dressed in all blue said. He was on the floor with me. The little man proceeded to take the phone, and he put it carefully in his shirt pocket. “We are here to help!” the little man said.

    “What are you talking about?” I said.

    “We are here to help. I know you can’t remember anything from yesterday. Now, get up. We have to go. We have to get back! Let’s go! Let’s go! Up, up, up!” I slowly stood up, looking at the little man. “Follow me,” he said.

    “Follow you?” I asked incredulously.

    “Yes! We only just arrived. We are in a hurry. The car is leaving!”

    So for some reason I started following the little man in blue. He quickly ran to the front door (which was already opened), and I saw a big hummer in out in front of my house on the street. The engine was on. I saw two little men in the front passenger seat, and one man wearing a cap was in the driver’s seat.

    “Let’s go!” Yelled the little man in blue. I walked up to the car.

    “Come on!” “Hurry up!” I heard from others in the car.

    “What’s going on?” I asked. The little man in blue gave out a frustrated sigh and jumped into the backseat of the car. “Get in!” he yelled. The man in the driver’s seat beckoned my over with his finger. I went over to the driver’s seat open window.

    “Now, Jason,” the man said to me. “I know you don’t remember yesterday. But that was only because Henry gave you a shot and carried you back here. We escaped, luckily, and now we are on the run. We know you well—well we did know you well—but I suppose we have to start over. My name is Blanton, and get in the car. Please.”

    I just then saw a miniature Volkswagen beetle car skid onto my street, heading straight towards us. I then decided to jump in the car. What they told me was enough. I opened the back seat door and jumped in on top of a couple little men, these dressed in yellow. “Go, go, go!” the little men yelled as the man in the front drover off at full speed.

    I went to get a better look at the driver. He had a blue cloud tattoo on his arm. I looked at the other men. “What does the blue cloud mean?” I asked. “The tattoo.”

    “That isn’t a tattoo,” one said as he looked back at the car chasing us. “It’s a sort of permanent marker. It’s a drawing. His (he pointed at another little man) daughter did it on a few of us yesterday, before we were kidnapped, of course… These men chasing us really hate us, especially because we brought you in to show our world.”

    I looked back at the little car chasing us. They were right behind us. I saw a little man from the little car reach through the side window with what looked like a gun. The hummer did a sharp turn.

  20. Jennifer Park

    Complete writer’s block here, as far as Darth Barbara goes. Hard to imagine a tattoo being anything less than completely and instantly removable in the 30th Century, and I’ve got an alien race with exoskeletons, which probably molts…

  21. kimcatwil

    Ivy opened her eyes lazily as the sunlight hit her face. She was sprawled out on the bed, having slept in until maybe early afternoon. She had no clue, and she didn’t really care. Kim was gone for the day. This morning she had gotten ready for work, kissed her on the head, and left Ivy to continue snoozing. She loved that woman so much. She was kind. She was fun. She provided for her.

    Ivy got out of bed and stretched her long, graceful legs. As she stretched, something caught her eye. It was a small black line, barely noticeable, tattooed on her lower stomach. She tilted her head, examining it more closely. When did she get that? She certainly didn’t remember. Did it have something to do with that faint, long scar on her stomach from the surgery she had when she was so young?

    Before she could spend any more time thinking about it, she heard a car pull into the driveway. It could only mean one thing- Kim was home! This was Ivy’s favorite time of day. The door to the house opened and Kim walked in.

    “Hi baby girl!” she exclaimed, as Ivy met her at the door.

    Ivy barked in response, licking Kim’s face all over. Kim got down on one knee to be on eye level with her beloved dog, petting her as she jumped all over her with excitement.

    And just like that, Ivy forgot all about that tattoo.

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Great, fun, enjoyable take on the prompt. As for forgetting to add the shower, personally, I view the prompts as ways to be inspired to write, not rules. Keep writing.

  22. ShamelessHack

    Last night I was in the shower.
    Water was wunning off my pink body and I was humming my favowite tune: “The Wong and Winding Woad.”
    All of a sudden I sensed there was something not quite wight.
    And I felt something weird on my dewwiere.
    I twied looking over one shoulder but that didn’t help.
    So…
    I stepped out of the shower and stood sideways in fwont of the miwwor.
    I looked over my shoulder again and saw it.
    My mouth opened in howwor.
    There, on my wight butt cheek was a tattoo. A tattoo of…
    Suddenwy, a famiwiar figure matewialized at the bathwoom door.
    My enemy.
    My arch nemesis.
    He smiled and said, “Ehhh, what’s up doc?”
    I took a last look at the cawwot tattooed on my ass and wan to get my shotgun.
    But by then the wabbit had fwown the coop.
    Wats.

  23. writer_sk

    MY ROOMMATE’S GIRLFRIEND

    Kaylee was never really Thad’s to begin with. From the moment her face lit up at the sight of my signed Dave Matthews Band box set and subsequently fell when she learned it wasn’t Thad’s, I liked her. That night they hadn’t stayed but gone out in the kayak on the lake. I’d taken my dog for another run at that point before crashing in my room with a six pack and a couple tacos from the food truck. It had been an entire year since my fiancé had left and I had only hooked up with one person.

    I woke to the smell of caramelized onion. Kaylee was cooking. As I approached from my bedroom off the kitchen she didn’t look extraordinary. She was a regular girl. The way she looked at me made me feel unbelievable.

    “Thad ran out to the store.” Kaylee said.

    “I’m about to head out.”

    “To work?”

    “No, I have a date.” It was a lie.

    “Will you try this?”

    She held out the spoon with some kind of gravy on it and as I tried to take it, she instead fed it to me. It was in the awkward aftermath of that dance I felt a pull like no other.

    “Stay right there.”

    I retrieved a bottle of nice red wine I’d picked up from Dave Matthews’ vineyard and opened it in the spot. Time was of the essence.

    I poured us each a glass and we headed out back where the dusty driveway bled into the dirt yard and the night air smelled of impending rain.

    “Did you ever go to see Dave play with Tim Reynolds?” she asked

    “Once. It was pure bliss. Did you ever see DMB play a winter show?” The words barely passed my lips when I felt her sweet kiss.

    I’d never stolen a friend’s girlfriend but that was the outcome I hoped for. I hadn’t counted on the level of underlying rage Thad had and when he came after me with the shotgun I grabbed my box set, jumped in my truck and took off.

    There was no one at the dive bar but the biker bar was jumping. I walked in with the determination of a man who wanted to achieve something but who wasn’t desperate. I put $50 down on the pool table and a biker took the challenge.

    The game got smokey and boozy and I finally won some of my dough back. By that time I was fully inducted into the bikers’ world and leaned back to watch as they
    tattooed themselves with their group’s insignia in the bar’s basement.

    It wasn’t until I was getting out of the shower at the gym directly across from the mirrors, having completed five miles on the treadmill in under thirty minutes, that I spotted the almost indecipherable tattoo behind my leg: “John loves Kaylee.”

    I rolled my eyes knowing I would have to text her to see where things went.

        1. Kerry Charlton

          When you steal someone ‘s girl it works the steam.up.Much more fun because of the danger. And danger attracts most people think of bungee.diving.. Not on.my life, I assure you. Lots of tension.here

  24. JRSimmang

    Just ’cause.

    A SINGLE TRAINRIDE

    Some days, Abner didn’t feel heat. The lady who comes in to check on him and help him bathe says it’s a degenerative nerve disorder, but it’s best not to worry about it because that never helps anyway and the summer would be just as hot soon enough and if he couldn’t do his puzzles out on the veranda now then he’d sure enough be able to soon.

    The cold he still feels, and he feels it even in his dreams.

    “How’s it going today, Mr. Schmidtz?” Eustace asked.

    Abner noticed the steam rising up from the tub, a visual cue that the water was getting hot. “I started a new book today.”

    “Mh-hmm. What’s it called?”

    “‘The Sound and the Fury.'”

    “Ah, Faulkner.” Eustace pulled Abner’s elastic-waist pants and underwear down to his ankles. “And, what do you think so far?”

    “Faulkner, yes.” Abner pulled the shirt over his head. “It’s not easy.”

    “No,” she half-chuckled. “It is not an easy read.”

    “It’s about war.”

    “Is it? I thought it was about sexual maturity,” Eustace said as she looked over Abner’s back. “There’s a new abscess.” She jotted something down in her notebook.

    “That’s what I meant,” Abner blurted before running his fingers over the inside of his forearm, the numbers written B10065. “What’s this?”

    Eustace held on to him as he stepped over the tub wall, and sighed deeply. “That, Mr. Schmidtz, is a constant reminder of tragedy.”

    “Where did it come from?”

    “Evil.”

    “How long has it been here?”

    “Since you were young, 6, and your brothers and sisters got one too.”

    “Have I asked about it before?”

    “You have,” Eustace demurred as she scrubbed Abner’s back with a loofa. “Every day.”

    The two finished Abner’s bath, the steam coalescing around the edges of Abner’s vision and clouding the mirrors. Abner didn’t want to look at himself, at the sagging and the wrinkling, not because he despised it, but because he couldn’t remember how his skin got so loose.

    In the commons, Abner sat in his rolling chair across from another old man who looked just like him. Bald, sallow, kind.

    On the outside of his forearm was a faded inkstain that read A13448. Below, a tiny triangle. “Hey,” he shouted. “I’ve one of those too!” Abner smiled broadly.

    The other man looked up to him, looked at his arm, and began muttering to himself. He yanked his sleeve down and kept pulling at his cuff. “Damn them,” he started. “DAMN THEM. DAMN THEM. DAMN THEM!” was all he shouted while the men like Eustace wheeled him from the commons.

    Abner watched them go, eyebrows furrowed, and absentmindedly scratching lightly at his stamp. “Hm,” he whispered to himself. “Wonder what that was all about?”

    He stared out the window for the rest of the afternoon, wishing today were a good day, and he could feel the sunlight. Maybe he’d ask Eustace if he could be taken out to the veranda.

    -JR Simmang

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Beautifully done. Abner speaking to the other man was very moving. Great job. Last phrase in third paragraph from the bottom was a bit confusing for me. I think I know what you meant, but “men like Eustace” made me go back and confirm her gender.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Very engaging, I have met people who survived with numbers on their arm. They not only hate seeing them but at the same time, it is a badge of courage, extremely moving piece.

    2. writer_sk

      JR

      I agree with what other posters have said. wonderfully written as we are accustomed to from you.

      Curious about the reference to train ride in the title.

        1. writer_sk

          Right I looked it up. So horrendous. I had heard of the numbers but got a lot more information on Wikipedia. I don’t want to sound uninformed, I know works history but hadn’t known some details or about the train. It’s all so appalling but so necessary to keep these atrocities as part of the narrative so future generations understand what happened during the Holocaust.

  25. ReathaThomasOakley

    Marge and Arlee, again

    “Rich Corinthian leather,” Arlee looked up from his Sudoku game, gold star, the most difficult. Third time hearing finally did it.

    “Yes, Marge?” She’d been busy with Strong’s Concordance on the Bible since just after breakfast. The weighty tome usually was only taken off the shelf on Sunday afternoons if the pastor had tried to introduce some non-traditional Biblical concept in his morning sermon.

    “Oh, did I disturb you, Dear?” She nestled her glasses in her hair, rather wild today. She’d ignored much of her usual routine this morning. “Well, since I have your attention perhaps you can help me.”

    “I doubt it,” Arlee muttered, but put the book on the table next to his recliner.

    “Do you recall, in any of his letters, St. Paul referring to saddle making?” Arlee closed his eyes, he regretted his lapse in judgement.

    “No, Dear, can’t say as I can.” Without thinking he went on. “Why?”

    “Well,” Marge closed the book, “it’s the strangest thing, but last night, I dreamed I got a tattoo. Isn’t that strange?” She smiled at Arlee. “Dear, do you remember your dreams?”

    “Only bits and pieces,” he said as he fondly recalled the vision of a highway overpass rising up from his design with the intoxicating aroma of fresh asphalt in the background. “Yep, just tiny bits and pieces.”

    “Hmmm, too bad. I do know why I dreamed so silly. It was that documentary I watched on Pacific Islanders. But, when I woke up, I kept thinking Rich Corinthian Leather. So, I thought perhaps the Corinthians were leather workers. Camel skins most likely, but I can’t find anything.” She tapped the book.

    Arlee knew he was taking a risk, but he couldn’t help it.

    “Ricardo Montalban. Google it, dear.” He picked up his Sudoku book. “Fantasy Island, Tattoo.” He watched as his beloved wife felt in her lap and on the arms of her chair.

    “In your hair, Marge, in your hair.”

    1. JRSimmang

      I was more of a Don Knotts fan, myself, but Arlee might just change my mind. I love you’ve interspersed your weekly prose with these two. I can tell you have fun with the breakfast table conversation between Marge and Arlee; it shows so vividly. I consider these two the Rosencrantz and Guildenstern to your Maria and Josephine.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        When you have been.marrief as long as I have, the conversation.seems normal, realistic and believable
        I like this couple, they are so realistic in the way they converse together.

  26. Pete

    I think it was Thursday when I noticed it. We’d all gone back to my place after our shift and since it was my turn to pick the flick we watched Clockwork Orange. No one wanted to smoke with me. Ray was drinking red wine like a poet or some shit and Mitch was still pretending to be mature and thoughtful because he was trying to impress that teacher chick he’d met at his master’s course.

    Oh well, I shrugged. I fell into my bean bag and did my thing.

    When I woke up, the DVD had made it back to the main menu and the Clockwork theme music barreling through the surround sound. Mitch and the teacher were gone and Ray was out cold on the couch. But my skin was on fire. Itchy like I had bugs crawling on my arms and legs.

    It had been a few days so I took a shower, scrubbing like a demon with a hairbrush and dishwasher tablet because Ray had used up the sliver of Ivory bar soap we’d been scraping out of the dish. It worked, or at least the red driblets of blood swirl around the grime of the tub and into the drain diverted my attention. But then I saw what I thought was a roach tattoo on my leg. Only I didn’t have a tattoo of a roach on my leg.

    I froze. Then I screamed and slapped and did a little flashdance because the roach was moving in my skin like a crazy cartoon tattoo. It skittered down my thigh, stopped to wiggle its antenna, then scurried off again.

    Freaky. And maybe if Ray was half human he might have heard my agony and fetched the can of raid he kept under his bed. But that wasn’t happening. And I was flipping out because I thought it might crawl into my lucky wand—if you know what I mean.

    By then the water had gone cold. But I had bigger problems than some shrinkage to worry about. And when the roach found its way to my foot I was contemplating some very bad thoughts. Thoughts involving a hacksaw and a limp.

    There wasn’t much time. The roach climbed up my leg and I jumped back, scraping and slapping harder still because what if it got into my head and wormed its way around my brain? With that (and maybe a bug) in mind, I took off, blasting through the shower curtain and out to the living room.

    Ray looked up, groggy and Poe-like, clutching his wine as I tried to explain what was going on. For a guy who never came up with rent he sure looked comfortable. He shot me a lazy smile and said, “Brandon.” Then he rolled over and left me to rot.

    I wiped at my arms, my legs, I tugged at my prized possession. I dripped and slipped and choked and poked. Was it in my neck? My face? I needed air. I busted out, sprinting and flopping without a care about the ball-freezing temperatures.

    I buried my head in the snow. And I was hairy ass up when I heard a car pull up to the curb. I yanked my head out, like a dizzy ostrich. The snow was pink in places from my hands, my skin was blue in places from the snow. The window in the car went down and there was Brandon. What was he doing here? No matter, scratching at my neck, I told him about the roach. Or maybe roach-es, now. Oh God, I was infested.

    His eyes went wide. His mouth playing tug-a-war with a smile.“Yeah, that’s kind of why I’m here. That stuff I sold you last night? I was coming by to warn you not to smoke it. Looks like I’m too late.”

    1. ReathaThomasOakley

      Extremely effective, and well done, descriptions of characters, setting, lifestyles, and that roach. I hate roaches. I liked: drinking red wine like a poet.

  27. creaturescry

    General Arlan sat in the library with his red hood cast over the pages of an old philosophy book. Unlike the other Generals, Arlan was quite fluent in more than just the simple giant speech. Which explained why the book was written in the scratchy script of a goblin, and others piled beside him in Elven or Druid. Noah watched him from across the room, nervous about even entering the library. He’d seen Harold interrupt his reading once before, and ever since then Harold feared going into the library. So he stood there, eyes locked on his gloved hands as he turned another page. He was so focused on Arlans hands that he didn’t notice the table he was leaning on was beginning to crumble under his weight. When it finally broke, he was sent tumbling to the ground, sending a large clatter through the screen atmosphere.

    “I am so sorry Arlan,” Noah apologized, trying to clean his mess up, “I’ll leave, I’ll…”

    “The servants will clean it up later Noah,” Arlan said softly, shutting his book, “come on over here and sit.”

    Noah scurried across the room and sat beside Arlan, “whats the matter Noah?”

    “Nothing’s wrong,” Noah replied, biting his lip, “just a little shocked by the table breaking.”

    Arlan shook his head, “you never were a good liar.”

    “Fine, its just hard to explain.”

    “I’m not stupid Noah, just go ahead and tell me.”

    He looked over at the hooded face of Arlan before casting his eyes to the floor. He may have preferred to be around Harold over him, but Arlan remained the most trustworthy. He had that sort of calming and all knowing presence of a teacher, like he was in control of the situation. Which was exactly why most of the army pledged their loyalty to him. Noah pulled out his left arm and began to roll his sleeve up his arm. But before he could finish, Arlan had already grabbed his arm, running his gloved fingers over his skin lightly. A tattoo of a white dragon with black spikes running down its back was coiled around his arm. The intricate white scales of the beast glimmered in the hazy light of the candle nearby. Yet what stood out most of all were the tree black eyes, staring up at him mockingly.

    “How did you get this?” Arlan asked, squeezing his arm gently.

    “I don’t know,” Noah murmured, “I just remember washing myself at the river, and there it was when I got out.”

    There was a numbing silence before he spoke again, “promise me this will stay between the two of us.”

    “Why?” Noah pried, his fingers curling into a fist.

    “I can’t say at the moment,” he pulled Noah’s sleeve back down and released his arm, “but If the wrong person sees it you might get killed or worse. I just don’t want to see you get punished for something that you have no control over.”

    1. JRSimmang

      Whew, CC, definitely in your wheelhouse. This is a superb piece of fantasy, and I’m curious as to what has happened before, and what will happen next. Arlan, the General, has to have an army out there, but is this maritime or peace? Also, are they all giants? Why are they planning on being so secretive about the dragon tattoo? From whom are they hiding it and why? Oh dear, so many questions.

  28. typewriter

    There was something odd that happened to me. I’d never saw it before. This was unexpected. I didn’t know how I got it or why it was branded on me. But it was all too surreal to process. The crazy part about the whole problem-thing was that people find it rather witty than with a high-priority concern. As I was showering this morning I saw it on my right hand, between the forefinger and thumb; small but noticeable, was this strange symbol. It was two backwards parenthesis brackets with a line across the center. It looked like a saggy letter H.

    I spent all morning and mostly afternoon scrubbing it with an alcohol-soaked cloth, trying to erase it of my skin. But it was still there somehow. Like it held an impassive presence on me. I used all kinds of soaps. Then switched to the heavy stuff, paint thinner and sandpaper. But those things were useless, didn’t obliterate the pesky sign, it was too deep in the dermis layer of the skin that nothing would have worked. I realized that it was a tattoo. A tattoo I don’t recall getting.

    Next day, I phoned the doctor, made an appointment with Dr. Mercedes. I spent sitting in a ponder state while reading a National Geographic magazine about wildlife, wondering what it was. When the Doc came in the room, he sat down on the (Doctor’s Chair) stool with wheels next to me. He smiled and shown support, he looked (not stunned) a bit amused. He pointed, “That right there is no saggy H. Oh no. That right there is a moon sign, Pisces. Falling in between February 19 through March 20.”

    “How did it get on me?” I questioned.

    Dr. Mercedes looked, once more to the so-called Pisces, then back at me, and said, “Probably had it tatted on you. People get tats like that of their own sign. Thrust me, it’s a universal thing.”

    “No. C’mon, doc. I woke up yesterday and there it was. Like it magically appeared.”

    “Was you drunk when you had it done,” He bleated. Then came a chuckle. “What day and month was you born on?”

    “What? No, Doc. Please. You must listen to me. I want this thing rid of. Get it off.”
    Dr. Mercedes asked one last time, “Day and month was you born on?”

    “March 15th,” I said. Unsure why he wanted to know.

    The doctor clapped both his palms on the cuffs of his laps, stood up, walked out of the room. Five minutes later, he came back with an Astrology Guide. He sat down on the stool, opened the book, turned pages, stopped. He read the horoscope on that page.

    “February 19th through March 20th. Here we are. Your horoscope for January 17th, it says: you’ll do well to jump on opportunities to work with colleagues or friends towards a shared goal around January 16, when the new moon is in your eleventh house of networking. The team effort makes for an easier-won and more fulfilling result!”

    After Dr. Mercedes read that horoscope, I went home. I thought a lot about doing the unthinkable. I was in the kitchen looking for a clever or a large knife. I had one. I placed my hand on a cutting board, took the knife and severed my hand.

    1. JRSimmang

      Type, you made me laugh out loud with your description of the Pisces sign. Overall, interesting concept you’ve worked with. The dialectal choices and short sentences make this piece a roller coaster of a read, and I’m left wondering why chopping off the MC’s hand was the solution. Does the MC really just not want to jump on opportunities for success that badly? Talk about neuroses…

  29. mayboy

    One warm, Wednesday, after doing my morning exercises I took a shower. As usual, the sound of music spread all around the apartment. As soon as I took off my clothes, stepped into the bath, enjoying the water washing all the dirt from me, unpleasant feeling run down my spine. Soon after, my body began to shiver from toes up to my head, my vision blurred. The music suddenly changed, from old rock to the annoying, repeating sound of a raindrop. The pressure in my ears became unbearable, that silly noise united with the music of higher frequencies. When I looked down, I barely saw the roots of a tree on the left ankle; it looked like a tattoo.

    What horrified me was that it was spreading like my veins, growing slowly. Through the mists, I couldn’t see a lot, so I closed my eyes, trying to forget what was going on when a sudden flash passed …and I realized that it was the day before when it happened. Walking along the road, a truck driver clashed from aside, I stumbled and fell, hit the rock, from there my memory became unclear until…

    Voices, I hear voices…similar to the mouse whining…and… and noise of the drilling into your tooth at the dentist. I feel pain…in my ankle… the pain doesn’t want to stop, it intensifies, and I can’t move.
    Someone or something cut into my skin with a sharp object, similar to a surgical knife. I am not sure; it is difficult to distinguish from a distance. My vision is still unclear…

    But I can hear…despite the constant noise in my ears, razing like a blade, not allowing me to think clearly.
    The Ecco is pressuring on my brain cells: “Implant-installed.”
    My Ego resists: “What are you doing to me?”
    My mouth cannot spell a single syllable.
    “Procedure-confirmed.”
    “I repeat Procedure-confirmed.” the robotic head has spoken and I have got chills.
    “Is it head or hand?” Still unsure I’m trying to focus on my lower part of the body when I hear:
    “Blood cells reversed!”
    “Think, stay calm,” the Ego in my mind tries to take control of my mind.
    “Blood cell replaced!”
    “What are they doing with my body? Who are you?”

    The drilling is becoming stronger; I am not able to hear any more. In particular moment, it stops. The silence around is killing me more than a pain in my ankle. It starts again…that horrible sound…I feel a touch, a cold sleazy touch like a snake wrapping around your body. And I don’t see; Through the fog, I can’t see…who or what is touching me…

    “Conditions-stable.” The robotic Ecco continues without empathy.
    “They want you to be unresponsive,” my Ego is pushing me to take action, but I am too weak to react.
    “Give me a few seconds,” my will is not undermined, “they are poisoning me.”
    “Get away until you can!”

    The flashy image disappeared; when I looked what’s happening I saw the shape of the mouth in the crown, but the vein roots were spreading and pumping up before I collapsed.

    1. JRSimmang

      Curious stream-of-consciousness, Mayboy. This story feels highly contemporary of the sci-fi being published nowadays. I like the names you’ve chosen, and the game that this “infection” is playing with the MC’s internal systems.
      There are several areas where the tense shifts from past (in the beginning) to present (in the middle) back to the past (at the end), and so makes following the story a little confusing, but the gist is so gratifying.
      I am further intrigued by “the mouth in the crown.” It’s an interesting image.

  30. writer_sk

    Excellent, Jhowe

    For a sec I thought it was “the Rock” you were referring to, which would’ve been an entirely different story.

    This piece was captivating, twisted and hit all the marks. It totally had a Twilight Zone vibe.

  31. RafTriesToWrite

    I keep having this vivid dream but yet it feels so real. I feel like I’ve lived a different life, but at the same time it feels like nothing has changed at all.

    My friends kept asking me if I were okay, I mean, I just survived a car crash, why wouldn’t I be ‘okay’ with that?

    It’s my last day at the hospital, before they discharge me. Yesterday, my mom and dad asked me this weird question. “Do you remember anything before the crash?” It made me ponder on the question for quite a while.

    I know I was driving to college because I always drove there from home whenever I stay over for the weekend. That’s what I remember, but then they gave me that confused look, like I was delusional or something. Later that day I saw them talking to another couple when I almost passed out from the medicine that the nurse injected in my system, I remember the couple asking my parents “Does he remember our son?”

    I never knew what they meant by that. I just shrugged the thought off when I went home to my parents’ house.

    A lot changed in the house after just a week, which weirded me out a little bit. Everything’s in a different place now, the furniture, the appliances, just… everything.

    I stayed in my room later that afternoon. Stared at the same old ceiling where my poster of Mumford and Sons still hang. It felt nice that some things hadn’t changed around here.

    I decided to take a long warm bath before dinner, I felt like I needed the time off after what my body has gone through.

    As I prepare my bath with hot water and some liquid soap, I took off my clothes and made my way into the tub. Then, just as I was getting into the tub, I caught a glimpse on my mirror from the corner of my eye a scribble on my upper right butt cheek.

    I went closer to the mirror and inspected the scribble.

    It was a tattoo of a balloon. I’m quite certain I never got that tattoo and if I did, it surely won’t be a balloon.

    The more I stared at the unexpected ink on my butt, the more my head began to ache. Until it became unbearable, then lights flashed around me that sent me falling down butt first on the cold bathroom floor.

    Then it happened. Tons of memories, images and scents flowing through my mind all at once hitting me hard like a freight train.

    I remember everything. The couple that my parents were talking to yesterday were my mother and father in law. A name suddenly surged through my head. James, my husband. Where is he?

    I looked at my left ring finger and the tan line where a ring used to be and felt around the emptiness of that ringless finger. I started to sob when I remembered how I got that tattoo. It was our first year anniversary of being married and we wanted to do something crazy that day so we both got a balloon tattoo to commemorate the time that we first met.

    A balloon was all it took for our paths to cross and to bond us till death do us part. We were the only two adults that bought one balloon that afternoon on the beach who weren’t parents. He was so handsome, so bold, so carefree, so daring and so kind.

    I covered my face with my hands and cried as I remember that tragic day. I remember a deer in the middle of the road. I remember seeing a broken windshield, my car crashed onto a tree, my husband bleeding to death as well as I, and… and… wait.

    Where’s my ring?

  32. RafTriesToWrite

    I keep having this vivid dream but yet it feels so real. I feel like I’ve lived a different life, but at the same time it feels like nothing has changed at all.

    My friends kept asking me if I were okay, I mean, I just survived a car crash, why wouldn’t I be ‘okay’ with that?

    It’s my last day at the hospital, before they discharge me. Yesterday, my mom and dad asked me this weird question. “Do you remember anything before the crash?” It made me ponder on the question for quite a while.

    I know I was driving to college because I always drove there from home whenever I stay over for the weekend. That’s what I remember, but then they gave me that confused look, like I was delusional or something. Later that day I saw them talking to another couple when I almost passed out from the medicine that the nurse injected in my system, I remember the couple asking my parents “Does he remember our son?”

    I never knew what they meant by that. I just shrugged the thought off when I went home to my parents’ house.

    A lot changed in the house after just a week, which weirded me out a little bit. Everything’s in a different place now, the furniture, the appliances, just… everything.

    I stayed in my room later that afternoon. Stared at the same old ceiling where my poster of Mumford and Sons still hang. It felt nice that some things hadn’t changed around here.

    I decided to take a long warm bath before dinner, I felt like I needed the time off after what my body has gone through.

    As I prepare my bath with hot water and some liquid soap, I took off my clothes and made my way into the tub. Then, just as I was getting into the tub, I caught a glimpse on my mirror from the corner of my eye a scribble on my upper right butt cheek.

    I went closer to the mirror and inspected the scribble.

    It was a tattoo of a balloon. I’m quite certain I never got that tattoo and if I did, it surely won’t be a balloon.

    The more I stared at the unexpected ink on my butt, the more my head began to ache. Until it became unbearable, then lights flashed around me that sent me falling down butt first on the cold bathroom floor.

    Then it happened. Tons of memories, images and scents flowing through my mind all at once hitting me hard like a freight train.

    I remember everything. The couple that my parents were talking to yesterday were my mother and father in law. A name suddenly surged through my head. James, my huband. Where is he?

    I looked at my left ring finger and the tan line where a ring used to be and felt around the emptiness of that ringless finger. I started to sob when I remembered how I got that tattoo. It was our first year anniversary of being married and we wanted to do something crazy that day so we both got a balloon tattoo to commemorate the time that we first met.

    A balloon was all it took for our paths to cross and to bond us till death do us part. We were the only two adults that bought one balloon that afternoon on the beach who weren’t parents. He was so handsome, so bold, so carefree, so daring and so kind.

    I covered my face with my hands and cried as I remember that tragic day. I remember a deer in the middle of the road. I remember seeing a broken windshield, my car crashed onto a tree, my husband bleeding to death as well as I, and… and… wait.

    Where’s my ring?

    1. JRSimmang

      Tragic, Raf, and well-done detailing a memory loss patient’s experiences. Sometimes all it takes is that trigger. The MC is very believable, and your time progression is easy to follow. Nicely done.

  33. JRSimmang

    This excerpt comes from a YA idea I’ve been trying to flesh out for the past couple of years, and waiting for the right time to show itself.

    PATHMAKERS

    People always understate the coldness of the Arizona winter rains and the quiet that settles into the ground after them.

    Dominica Mapp didn’t have the time to feel the cold. She was already sure she wouldn’t be able to enjoy the quiet.

    Her footfalls were drowned out in the thunderous cacophony, and she chanced another look at her forearms where new lines connected to old ones, ones tracing her biceps, her shoulders, her back. She didn’t dare look behind her, though. Tracer and Apresvoir had only been this close once before, and Dominica wanted to avoid the chance she may end up like her father.

    “There’s a cave over there,” shouted William. “We can hide there!”

    Dominica shook her head. “No. We have to get to here,” she pointed at her forearm. “This is where he hid it.”

    “You’ll take those two directly to it!”

    “I have to only get there first, and there’s no way they going to be able to get this from me while I’m alive,” she shouted. The night sky flashed in her eyes, and thunder concussed off the towering promontories.

    “That’s what I’m worried about!” William glanced back to their pursuers, their outlines drifting in and out of view. “We have to get as much distance between us and them as possible.”

    Dominica nodded, but a peculiarity on the back of her hand was drawing her attention.

    “Don’t slow down!” yelled William.

    “Wait,” she replied.

    William stopped a couple paces ahead of her, turned, and kept his eyes on Tracer and Apresvoir. “You have three minutes.”

    Dominica looked up, to the left, then ran. “Here! Here! This is where he is!”

    They stopped in front of a sheer cliff wall that pulled the ground stories into the sky.

    “You sure?” asked William as he searched for the two hunters. “They’re too close for us to make a mistake.”

    Dominica took a deep breath and said, “I think so.” She placed her right hand on the rock and let the ancient tongue fill her mouth. The wall shimmered, and a hand, gnarled and lonely, reached through, grabbing first Dominica, then William, then there was nothing left but silence and darkness.

    “Dominica!” a gravely voice echoed. “You’re in trouble.”

    A single light sparked, then a torch, and William saw for the first time an Ignean.

    “I am,” Dominica admitted. “Close your mouth, William. We haven’t the time to be agog. It won’t take Tracer and Apresvoir long to get through the gate.”

    “You’re being chased by Tracer and Apresvoir?”

    “Yes, my dear friend.”

    “I’m William,” William finally said.

    “Oh, yes, Guster. Pleasure.” Guster held out his hand, they shook, and he said, “this way.”

    They were led through a series of tunnels and catacombs. All the while, Dominica stared at her forearm.

    “This one is new. It only just appeared as we were running through the desert storm. It’s as if my father had sealed it, letting it come to the surface only when I needed it to. Funny thing is, I’ve been there, otherwise it wouldn’t have shown up.”

    “Well,” William near-whispered, “you’re going to have to remember soon. We need whatever your dad left you, obviously.”

    As they walked, Dominica could feel the new ink trace itself along their path. She could only hope that this detour they were taking would bring them closer to the new ink on her arm. It still seemed so far away.

    -JR Simmang

    1. writer_sk

      Hi JR,
      Hmm very unusual and cool. I’d like to hear more.

      It was neat how they were pulled in through the wall.

      I thought your use of the tattoo worked well.

      I would like to know more about the hunters in the future.

      Nice!!

      1. Kerry Charlton

        Write it, write it, write it. By the time I finished this my heart pounded in my chest and I was breathing heavy. I felt the danger surround me and was tempted to roll my sleeve up to look at my arm. There is no better compliment I can offer you.

  34. rlk67

    I stared through the glass at my visitor. The first in almost ten years.

    “Look, Jim, you don’t exactly have much potential when you’re chained to a life sentence, do you?”

    He got that right. This dude from Nasa don’t know half of what I done. And he don’t care.

    “Think about it, my friend. You would be among the first to fly to Mars! We’re almost ready…just a few months.”

    I tried to keep a straight face. “Whaddya want with me, science man?”

    “Exactly like I said.” He seemed pretty cool about this. “We’re looking for guys who have been written off in life. Seven months one-way in a rocket, Jim. Makes you want to go nuts. So we’re choosing people who…”

    “…got no life? No potential?” Yup, for thirty-five years I’ve been saying that. “And just what’s in it for me?”

    “Everything you need to survive on a foreign planet. And…” he cleared his throat. “…to get away from this world forever.”

    Hmmm…that sounded good. Blaming others for your troubles was in fashion today. It was the world’s fault. Yes, it was.

    Science man reached out with his card. “Think about it. Give me a call. Training begins in two weeks.”

    I silently took the card and waited until he left. Then I went back to my cell and crashed.

    Two weeks later I found myself out of my pathetic ‘home’ and in some lab with Nasa-dude number two. This half-freedom made me giddy.

    “Ok, Jim. Your overall health is quite good considering…”

    “Yeah, yeah. Workout room. Laps in the garden. Punching out guards.” I grinned. “Just joking, Mars man.”

    “Well, Jim, we’re also checking out for other things. Mental stability. Problem solving. And…”

    “And what?”

    “And lack of suitability for this planet. Jim, we’re sending people who have no chance here.”

    I roared laughing. “Then you got the right guy!” He led me to some mind-blowing machines and the testing went on. Mars? Can’t wait!

    Right before I entered the last testing room, I say a small boy holding a space picture. I stopped.

    “Hey, boy, what’s that?”

    “Hey, mister. This is my hero. My dad in a space suit. He’s going up again soon.” I smiled. At that point, he dropped his picture.

    “I got it, kid.” I bent down to get it. Then I ruffled his hair. Don’t know why. “Listen kid. You’re gonna be like your dad one day. Don’t ever give up your dream. I that’s an impressive picture you got there. I bet you’re real smart, too.”

    The kid looked down. “Well, I need help in math. Dad says you need a lot of math for this stuff. Maybe you can teach me math, mister?”

    “Hey, I would love to teach you. But I’m goin’ on a trip soon, so…”

    Suddenly, I was grabbed from behind. I looked up. People were talking and pointing at me. What was–

    I was thrown into some sort of purple room with a machine and locked in. Spinning, spinning…I was about to pass out! My chest was being compressed, flattened with something bumpy! Blackness.

    When I came to, I was in my cell again. Was it just a dream? No, it wasn’t. What happened? I couldn’t think straight. I removed my shirt and walked to the showers. The other fellows were pointing and laughing. I jumped into the shower, and noticed some purple ink on my chest. It wouldn’t come out!

    When I exited the shower, I moved in front of a mirror. I couldn’t believe it. I was stamped! That machine stamped my chest with…

    “REJECTED. TOO MUCH POTENTIAL.”

    I sat on the floor and cried. Oh, what have I done to my life? Maybe one day…one day…

    1. JRSimmang

      Interesting premise, rlk. Australia 2.0, and rejection based on how people respond to a child’s wishes. It makes me wonder what the goal of the “space man” organization is. There were a couple places where the voice shifts, but they doesn’t detract from the overall piece.

    2. writer_sk

      Wow, RLK- great use of the prompt. I was not expecting the tattoo in the last few seconds and rushed through to see if he’d get to Mars.

      Your characterization and MC’s commentary were dead on.

  35. GrahamLewis

    TAT

    That had been a close one.

    I knew I’d stayed around too long, that they had started to watch me. But I hadn’t listened to my head. My heart was tied up with her, even though I knew it was against all rules. More fundamentally, it was against all common sense. She and I could never have a lasting relationship, and it would be far better to leave early than too late.
    But I’d let it get too late. After I’d finally had sense enough to call it quits and had set up an evacuation request, they stopped me on the street. Two of them. If this were a noir novel, I’d call them goons. But actually, it fits. Let’s go with it. They were goons, big men in long coats, muscular and of few words.

    They took me to the headquarters, and drilled me for hours, but of course I denied all. They knocked me around a bit at first, just for show or maybe for kicks, but then they got serious. They locked me away for two days, figuring that I’d either tell all in exchange for a dose of restorative or fade away. They didn’t know about the month-long injections we had developed for just such reasons. Then they knocked me out cold with some sort of sedative.

    Frustrated, I guess, because when I came to they gave me back my clothes and bundled me out the door. I limped away, battered, bruised, but still defiant. I came home because I have nowhere else to go. The rescue plane must have come and gone, I’ll have to reschedule. First though, out of these smelly clothes, into a shower, a dose of restorative, and a long nap.

    The hot water feels great, the steam rises up and intermittently covers the mirror. When I get out I glance at the mirror, and I catch a glimpse of it. On the rear of my left shoulder, near the top and side, where I can just make it out if I turn my body just so. I turn. A tattoo, in script. It says, simply, “RG.”

    They know. They know who I am, what I am, and apparently about the injections. I know there is a mini-transmitter under there. They’re not trying to be sneaky, they want me to know. Want me to gradually lose my restorative powers, knowing I cannot call for another evacuation without giving it all away. They want me to tell all or die.

    I’ll . . . …

    1. JRSimmang

      Graham, apologies for not getting to comment last week, but I wanted to share just how much I’ve enjoyed reading about RG. Last week’s story really made the whole story real. So, is this where RG runs out of Restorative? What will happen to the Order? I must know.

      1. GrahamLewis

        Thanks JR. Glad you like him.

        I’m still working on him, got 7 chapters in the book, so far. This might go in there, I don’t know yet. I like to use these prompts to try out and develop ideas.

        He’s unpredictable and fun to write.

  36. jhowe

    Typically, Candy’s services didn’t include a shower. But it was my birthday and she agreed to a half price deal and, well, the shower just kind of happened. She was soaping me up, really doing a great job and I started doing the math, trying to remember how much was left in my wallet.

    “Frank, I didn’t know you had a tattoo.”

    “I don’t,” I said, chuckling. “I hate needles with a passion.”

    “Yeah, right.” She traced an area on my back. “I like it though. My husband has one just like it.”

    “Excuse me… your husband?”

    “Didn’t I tell you about him?” She turned me to face her. Water cascaded between us. “He’s in prison but he’ll get out in a few years if he doesn’t do anything stupid again.”

    I turned off the water and stepped out of the shower. The hotel mirror was completely fogged up and I wiped at it with towels and tried to get a view of my back. Candy took my hand and led me to the mirror in the hall. She handed me her makeup mirror and I was able to see it perfectly. I gasped at the violence and the gore, the pile of bodies and the bystanders smiling broadly. I ran back to the bathroom and vomited in the toilet.

    “You say your husband has this tattoo?” I said, gulping water from my cupped hand. My head swam with confusion and anger.

    “Of course. All the White Power members have it. Yours is very good though, obviously done by a true pro.” I looked again and realized all the dead bodies were black.

    When I came to, Candy smiled and removed the cool cloth from my forehead.

    “You scared me, Frank. I didn’t think you’d ever wake up.” A man stood beside her with his hand on her butt. “This is Rock. He’s our president.”

    Rock turned and lifted his tee shirt. The very same tattoo covered most of his massive back.

    “Why don’t I know you?” he said, lowering his shirt, his voice gravelly.

    “I have no idea.” My mind raced, wondering if it was some elaborate nightmare.

    “Who authorized the mark of the beast?” he said, eyes narrow.

    “What are you talking about?” I had to get somewhere and have this removed.

    “The mark of the beast, Frank,” Candy said. “It means you’re the Exalted One.” She fidgeted from foot to foot. “Rock has an appointment to get it added to his tattoo, but there can be only one.”

    “He can have mine.” I rose to my feet, hands trembling. “I’m getting the whole thing removed.”

    “The mark of the beast cannot be removed,” Rock said, clenching his fists. “Unless you’re dead.”

    As Rock moved closer, I knew I had to act quickly. I shouted, with as much force as I could manage, “Kneel to the exalted one!”

    Candy and Rock fell to their knees, heads bowed. I grabbed my clothes and ran from the room.

    ***

    The plastic surgeon stood by my hospital bed when I woke up.

    “We had to admit you. The process took much more effort than usual.”

    “Is it gone?”

    “All but one thing. We tried many times but it kept reappearing.”

    “What does it look like?” I said groggily.

    The black surgeon eyed me with contempt. Several other black employees in scrubs moved toward me with various stainless steel instruments in hand.

    “You see,” the surgeon said. “There’s only one way to remove it.”

    “Never mind,” I said. “I’ll just be on my way.” But it was too late. The mob was on me in an instant and I felt the sharp instruments find their target.

    1. JRSimmang

      Beautiful progressions, J. The entire conversation between Frank and Candy is spotless. I felt the transition from Candy to Rock was a little jarring, and I think, given more length, it would be eased. I am curious as to where the story is going; referencing the mark of the beast and the exalted one makes me think that this will be a Revelation story.
      At any rate, excellent diction and vivid imagery make this an intriguing tale.

    2. ReathaThomasOakley

      Very powerful story and writing. That first sentence was a grabber. A tiny suggestion, because you used the word black earlier, instead of “black surgeon/employees” how about something like, “contempt on his (something something something) face.” That could also add to the tension for a few words. Great use of the prompt.

      1. Kerry Charlton

        I bow to the writer here. I think with my non-educated mind this is close to perfect for the prompt I wish you to continue this as far as you like. It is most powerful.
        .

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