Coming down the stairs from my apartment to find a cute girl at the front door of my tattoo studio would usually make for a phenomenal start to my day. But not this day. Not this girl. Not this early.
My sleepiness gives way to the prickling irritation I’ve been marinating in for days. I throw her my best frosty glare.
“You should have called first—Kit, was it?” As if her name weren’t seared into my brain. “Then you would’ve known we’re closed on Mondays.”
Tears well up in her eyes, and she brushes past me into the studio. Kit steadies herself on the client chair at my station in the corner. Mere days ago she was sitting in that chair, telling me how excited she was to get her first tattoo. How she loved roller coasters. How she thought my eyes were beautiful.
My ears burn at the memory.
She finally turns to look at me. Her lips are dry and cracked, but I still have to make an effort to think about punching them rather than kissing them.
“Jayne, what’s happening to me?” Kit asks, rolling up one sleeve of her lavender hoodie to reveal the tattoo I put there just days ago.
The smattering of tall pine-tree silhouettes I inked so carefully up and down her forearm last week now includes a gray fog oozing out from between the trunks.
“You already had someone add to it?” I hiss.
“No! This just happened.” Her voice cracks. “And there’s something else.” She takes a ragged breath. “There’s someone in there. Someone in the fog.”
Scrutinizing her arm, I barely register her words, which suddenly sound miles away. I’ve seen tattoo blowout, but nothing like this. Nothing that looks so purposeful.
The fog almost appears to be moving, rolling, settling. I feel it swirl around me, enveloping me until I’m breathing cool moisture into my lungs, the earthy smells of pine and decay leaving me light-headed.
I blink and look around. Dark tree trunks and dense fog press in on all sides.
“Jayne,” says a familiar voice. I’m too disoriented to respond.
A shadow approaches me through the fog, a low laugh burbling up.
“You like her.”
The sting of irritation grounds me.
“Yes, and I also freaking hate her.”
“Hot and cold, just like always.”
“I’m sorry, who the hell are you?”
“You created me. You created this.” The figure gestures to the forest. Pinprick by pinprick. Art turned to love turned to hate. A powerful trifecta—I’m still drunk on it.” The voice speaks with an unseen grin I can feel. “And long before that power runs out, I’ll have driven her completely mad.”
Uninvited visions of Kit flash through my head. Tears over freckled cheeks. A haunting figure in the fog and a voice that can’t be silenced or escaped. The blurring of what’s real and what isn’t. Nails clawing at skin, blood flowing from tree bark. Madness, madness, madness.
The visions dissipate as the figure gives a rolling laugh I swear I recognize.
It steps closer, finally becoming clear, and my own gray eyes materialize out of the fog.
“Come to check on me?” asks this person wearing my face, tilting her head as fog rolls off her long black hair.
“You can’t do those things to Kit,” I croak.
“It’s what you wanted,” replies my reflection. “It’s what you wished for as you thought of every way you wanted to tell her off. Willing pain into every prick of ink. It’s what she deserves. It’s what you made me for.”
I remember Kit’s lips brushing against mine, setting me on fire.
Then came the jangle of bells from the studio’s front door, and in he walked.
Her boyfriend, apparently.
That was when the rage moved in, magnifying every infuriating detail. The way he leaned over her as I inked the final touches, his sticky breath on my hand making my lip curl. The way her eyes stayed glued to my working hands. The way she went from vibrant to silent.
Before, it had been shy compliments and quiet smiles, then sharing hiking stories and trying to out-pun each other. The compliments grew bolder, the smiles more intimate. When she leaned forward in the chair to kiss me, it felt like stepping from shadows into sunshine.
That heat turned frigid when the moment shattered. The bubbling in my heart transformed into ice. I called myself wronged. Deceived.
But those visions.
I don’t want that.
She doesn’t deserve that.
And as fast as it froze into place, the ice melts.
My heart is ablaze.
Hot and cold is right.
I take in the disturbing sight of my reflection given life and waiting for my blessing, my command.
Art and love and hate.
Closing my eyes, I focus on the trees around me: lines I know so well because they came from my own hands. I inhale, feeling that power of creation replace the damp fog in my lungs. The warmth in my chest spreads to my fingertips and I think of the girl whose smile it took me only hours to memorize. I gather up the cold, lingering rage. With power and heat filling me, I don’t have room for it.
I open my eyes and lunge for my reflection, but before flesh meets flesh, the figure is thrust backwards, crashing into the nearest tree trunk and exploding into thick tendrils of fog.
The real world slams into focus around me.
Kit’s hands clutch the sides of my face. When I give her a tired smile, she looks relieved.
I know before even looking that her tattoo is clear now—no figure, no fog. Just crisp black lines against her pale skin.
I stare at Kit, seeing the girl I first met last week. Eyes sparkling and earnest but cautious. Charmed but restrained. Figuring it out.
I feel the burn of wildfire.
I feel the slow drip of melting ice.
I reach for something in between.