“I swear that it moved,” Kayla hissed into the phone, “the head is turned up now, Becks.”
“You sure? Maybe you’re sick and it’s making your skin do weird things? I mean, tattoos don’t just move.”
“You think I don’t know that?” Kayla collapsed against her bedroom wall, her gaze fixed on the fire-breathing dragon winding around her leg. The claws hadn’t moved while she’d been staring, though they hadn’t been there at all when she’d gotten the tattoo.
Kayla ran a finger across her inked skin. The dragon’s claws looked as though they were digging into her flesh, and the dragon’s head was tilted up, its lips drawn back to show more fangs than she remembered being there before.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve noticed it,” Kayla whispered, keeping her voice calm. “It happened yesterday too but I thought I was just imagining it.”
“Hmmm… Describe the symptoms then,” Becky the Infectious-Disease-Nerd ordered.
“It just moves Becks, no symptoms. Name me a disease that could do that.”
“Ooh, now you’ve given me a challenge,” Becky said, and Kayla could hear the smile in her voice. “Look, I’ve gotta run to class. Call you later?”
“And don’t freak out. It’s probably not anything serious.”
The word ‘probably’ didn’t make Kayla feel any better. “Sure. Thanks, Becks.”
They hung up and Kayla didn’t move from her spot against the wall. She had class to go to as well, but she wasn’t leaving. Not until it moved again.
Weeks went by and no matter how long Kayla stared at the tattoo, it never moved while she was looking. She’d developed the awful habit of checking the tattoo whenever she could, using reflections if she had to. And whenever she talked to someone she’d barely look them in the eyes and would instead stare at her leg, hoping it’d move and she would have a witness.
Needless to say, Kayla’s friend list had dwindled fast. Worse, Becky was busy. She’d begun work in the ER and any time Kayla texted, Becky sent back the same reply: “Falling asleep on my feet. Chat later?”
Without friends or a social life, Kayla found a new purpose for her phone: documentation. She started taking pictures of her leg. Adding to her ever-increasing paranoia, the photos never came out clearly. She began thinking of her tattoo as a demon that didn’t show in photographs or mirrors.
One day Becky finished early enough in the ER to send a text: ‘Tattoo updates?’. Kayla sent her the latest photo, despite the blur. Then in a moment of ill-advised honesty, Kayla admitted to talking to it.
Becky called her immediately.
“Why are you talking to it??” she demanded, not even saying hello. “You said you just had visual hallucinations, not audio ones.”
“I’m not hallucinating. It’s moving. If you were here-”
“What is it saying??” Becky pressed.
“Nothing. I said I was talking to it, not the other way around.”
Becky sighed too loudly for Kayla’s liking.
“I’m not crazy. I dare you to give me a ‘normal’ explanation for this… Ha!” Kayla cried when the phone was silent for a second, “you can’t, can you?”
In the ensuing silence, Kayla could practically envision her friend’s concern. “Look, Kay, this pic isn’t great. Do you have any… videos or anything? Or a time lapse maybe?”
Kayla nearly dropped the phone. Why hadn’t she thought of that? “Yeah, definitely. I’ll do that.”
As soon as their call ended Kayla set to work recording her tattoo. She propped her leg on the bed for a better angle and then had a thought: what if she recorded it while sleeping? The tattoo always changed overnight. Kayla released a triumphant cackle and began setting up her elaborate plan.
It didn’t work. Even when she left the light on at night (which didn’t help her sleep at all), the phone would die or time out even if she adjusted the setting. And no matter what, the tattoo was always blurry, even in videos.
Before Christmas break Kayla woke up from one of her attempts to catch the dragon moving. Her eyes automatically zeroed in on her leg and she screamed when she saw… nothing. The tattoo was gone. Just… gone.
Kayla scrambled out of bed and began searching the sheets, as if the tattoo’s ink could have bled out somehow. She yanked at one of the curtains to let in more light but shadows fell across her floor.
She froze at the sight outside her window. And she screamed again.
From just outside her window, a full-sized dragon stared at her with glowing green eyes that were as big and bright as street lamps.
She toppled back on her butt and tried to slow her racing heart. All the air in her lungs gone.
You believed in me, a voice echoed in her ears. It was deep and rough yet lyrical.
“You’re… real?” Kayla whispered, more to herself than to the dragon. For the first time since getting her tattoo, she was truly wondering if she’d gone crazy.
The dragon blinked. Yes.
Kayla stiffened, her bewilderment giving way to anger. “You’ve been driving me mad for months! Everyone thinks I’m crazy but you’re real. How are you real? How are you outside? Can other people see you?”
Only you are allowed. Others are not trusted.
“Why?” Kayla whimpered. She truly was insane.
You have proven yourself worthy in the last few months. You are now my rider. Come. Now you shall learn.
“Learn?” Kayla gulped. “Right now?” The dragon was massive; even if it never left the ground, falling off would probably break something.
Come, the dragon urged, bowing it’s long neck. With a deep breath Kayla slid through the window and placed a hand on the dragon’s scales. “Where will you take me?” she felt her words tremble but somehow the dragon smiled at her, the look caring despite long pointed fangs.
To find the others, to learn as one.