No Ordinary Tattoo
Last week was my eighteenth birthday.
It was a tasteful affair — no cupcakes, no pizza, no silly sleepovers and talk about boys until three AM.
No. My eighteenth was mature. A nice dinner shared with my closest friends and family. My parents bought me that beautiful charm bracelet from Kay’s I’d been drooling over for the past two months, but other than that the evening was pretty low-key.
But that was last week. Ancient history.
I’d be leaving for college soon, and I needed to do something crazy. Something spontaneous. Something completely out of my comfort zone.
It was perfect. Just the thing to ring in my new adult life.
“I’ll pick you up at nine tomorrow night,” my best friend Josh promised.
Tomorrow came, and before I knew it I was sitting in a metal chair at Devil’s Ink. Demitri, the goth tattoo artist, asked me what I wanted.
Demitri almost chuckled, but then nodded and began prepping my arm.
“You sure about this, Kat?” Josh scooted in close. “Your parents are gonna kill you.”
“Probably,” I shrugged. “But that’s the perk of being eighteen. I make my own rules now.”
Josh sighed. “Whatever you say.”
It didn’t really hurt. Not as much as expected. To be honest, I was surprised when Demitri leaned back in his chair, wiped his face, and said, “All done.”
I looked down at my wrist. “It’s beautiful!” I said. And then, “What is it?”
I wasn’t sure. There was a black circle, and inside the circle were four scattered stars, like a mini constellation.
“The Follower’s Mark,” Demitri whispered.
I glanced up at him. There was more ink on his face than visible skin, swirly shapes and lines that made him look like some jungle animal. “Follower’s Mark? Sounds fancy,” I joked. “What am I following?”
The faintest grin cracked over Demitri’s lips. “In time you’ll know.”
My parents weren’t thrilled with the tattoo. No surprises there. They couldn’t believe I’d wasted my birthday money on “something so trashy.”
But so what. I was eighteen. I liked it.
End of story.
I called Josh a week later, concerned.
“What are you talking about?”
“My tattoo.” I glanced down at my wrist for the thousandth time that day. “I think it’s changing.”
He laughed into the phone. “What?”
“The stars…I think they’ve moved —”
Aaaand there it was. The dad voice.
“It’s a tattoo,” he said. “Tattoos don’t change. I mean, unless you’re ninety, then you can expect some fluctuation in size and shape —”
“Josh, I’m serious!”
“So am I,” he said. “Listen, you’ve never had one before. Your eyes are probably still getting used to seeing it.”
Josh’s speech was comforting — for about a day. After that I couldn’t take it anymore. First thing Monday after school, I stormed into Devil’s Ink, demanding to see Demitri.
“He’s gone, Sweetheart,” said the tatted blonde at the front desk. She chomped sloppily on her wad of gum. “Packed up his stuff and left Saturday morning.”
How convenient, I thought. Gives me this crazy thing and then skips town.
I swallowed hard, unsure of how to put it. My thumb rubbed mindlessly over my wrist.
“I think my new tattoo is haunted.”
The girl stopped chewing. “I’m sorry?”
“Demitri gave me this tattoo Friday night,” I said, showing her. I could feel my face blush. “And I think it’s changing.”
The girl burst into laughter, leaning over the counter to support herself. “Sweetie, you on drugs?”
I left before she could say another word, my face as hot as an oven.
The stars were changing every day, little by little. They were subtle changes, but still…I knew something was off.
When I first got my tattoo, the four stars were dispersed, one in each “corner” of the circle. But now they were together, clustered in a group.
Josh was away in Honduras on some mission trip. No cell service, of course. And my parents had not given “the horrid thing” a second glance, so they’d be no help.
But it was changing. I was sure of it.
I sprang awake just as the grandfather clock in the living room stroke midnight. A cold sweat beaded across my forehead. Aches and chills rattled my body. I pulled the chain on my bedside lamp and lifted the sleeve of my sweatshirt.
The breath caught in my throat.
My tattoo had morphed into something new entirely. There were no longer four black stars. They had merged into one giant star, smack dab in the middle of the circle.
A knock at the door made me jump.
I couldn’t imagine visitors at this hour, but I slid into my slippers anyway. The hallway floorboards creaked under my feet, deafening against the silence of the night.
Three more knocks.
I stood at the door for a moment, unsure of what to do. My parents were sound asleep upstairs. Blood pounded in my ears.
Thump thump. Thump thump.
For some reason, I opened that door.
And almost screamed.
A hooded figure stood before me, the moonlight behind shadowing his features.
“Hello?” My voice was barely a whisper.
The figure’s voice echoed deep, like we were standing inside a great cavern.
“I’ve come to collect you.”
I rubbed my wrist again, my thumb brushing over this new tattoo. An itch I couldn’t scratch.
“Collect me? For what?” The cool night air breezed around my neck, spinning my hair, tickling my ears. “Who’s collecting me?”
The man’s hand was around my wrist in an instant. Not to drag or pull, but to show. He lifted my wrist until moonlight washed over my pale skin, over the black circle and star. We both stared at the ink.
And then I looked up at him, into the shadows of his dark hood. He spoke again, and what he said made the hairs on my body prickle.