At my sister's recommendation, I checked out the new tattoo artist in my apartment complex. "You'll love him, " she said. "He's like a surgeon," she said. I had my doubts. I had been searching long and hard for the perfect guy to trust with my body. I was planning on slowly becoming, I guess, the Illustrated Woman. I wanted one perfect artist for all my work. He would be excellent, professional, and make all of my work his own. I'd saved up the funds for months, ready for my first piece. It was going to be huge and hurt like a motherfucker—exactly how I'd dreamed of.

I knocked on his door, across the way from my own and on the top floor. The man who greeted me was soft-spoken, handsome by normal standards. His arms were solid, bright sleeves. One of them was a collage of the Nightmare Before Christmas, so I knew he had to be some kind of okay. I wound my way through his apartment to his extra bedroom, the workroom, he called it. I stripped off my plain black T and exposed my side. We'd discussed previously what I wanted and he was excited to do it. Normally, his coworkers would come to him with the usual requests...visages of the local sports team, names, most of the women wanting flowers or butterflies or some such nonsense. Not me. No, I nursed a great love of literature, particularly horror, from a young age. Yes, my first tattoo was a homage to my first love. It was an undulating black serpent-like thing with countless eyes, rendered in black with gold eyes with an orange tint. Oh, he would be lovely to reveal when I undressed!

I laid out on his table, trying to figure out what would be most comfortable for the long session ahead. I didn't do shit halfway...there would be no linework and coming back later for the rest, I wanted it all done at once. I noticed the door across the hall, presumably his bedroom, was slightly ajar. There was a little table near his bed that he knelt in front of, bowing his head. It's cool, some people are religious like that. My own father crossed himself before starting off the Land Rover to his own occupation (conservationist across Kenya) and it didn't seem too abnormal. Perhaps he was asking his creator to give him a steady hand and sure design. No matter. He'd be with me soon enough. I had no religious preference, but this did not affect the people I did business with.

He closed the door and returned to me, readying his tool and washing my side with that green soap. It smelled so refreshing, I couldn't wait for the first sink of the needles. He turned on his iPod and donned gloves, finally ready to begin the work. A Little Piece of Heaven rang throughout the room as I went to my happy place, breathing deep and letting the pain bleed into something like pleasure.

It felt like it took days, but in reality, it took about four hours. He worked quickly and well, blotting at my pouring side with a paper. I was bleeding black all over it, but the end result was so much more than I'd hoped. The long, wispy tendrils of the thing wound up and down my side, seeming to want to envelope my entire body. The eyes had highlights, like they were actually popping forth from my ribcage and keeping watch for me. It was positively gorgeous and I loved it. My ribs throbbed and my hip ached from the intrusion, but there can be no beauty without pain, the way I see it. I shook his hand, paid him, and tucked my T-shirt up into my bra on that side, trying to leave it some room to breathe and perhaps staunch the bleeding. I walked back to my own apartment, feeling slightly sick and very emotionally drained. The experience was cathartic and wonderful, but the high was starting to wear off a little. I decided to eat something and relax for a while.

I peeled a banana and lounged on the couch, idly flipping through TV channels until something caught my eye. There was a documentary on UFOs on the History Channel (of all places) so I just left it on. If I turned wrong, the pain in my side shot straight up through the nerves like fire to gasoline. It took a bit to adjust. About half an hour into the program, I felt something incredibly strange.

My tattoo moved.

Now, I know it's not possible for a tattoo to move. It's just ink imbedded in your skin. It's stuck there. Sure, it can bubble a little and bleed and often does, but that does not explain what I'm certain I saw. One of the eyes bulged a little like something were pushing out under it. Hell, it FELT like something were trying to push out under it. I sat up (god, how it hurt to move so suddenly!) and gently touched the particular offending eyeball. It smeared some blood on my fingertip, but did little else. I must have been seeing things. The event was kind of stressful, and god knows the brain reacts weird to stress sometimes. I wrote it off and continued watching the program, certain it was just an overactive imagination. That still doesn't explain what happened later that evening.

I must have dozed off watching TV, but I distinctly remember something in the back of my mind talking. Probably the person narrating the program. He was talking about Area 51 and the routine helicopter sightings and then it was in my brain.

"Aren't you a pretty lady?"

I sat bolt upright, certain something fucking weird had just happened. Fuck, but it hurt!

I instinctively examined my side, but the ink remained stubbornly just as I'd left it. It was a little dry and I'd thought of it, so I thought I'd go give it a wash. It was just the trauma and pain messing with my head. That's all it was. Honest. I padded off to the bathroom with my clear, scentless soap and tried to wash the big thing. Being gentle with a gaping side-wound is totally as easy as it sounds, by the way. When I turned the water on to rinse, I fucking heard it again.

"Yes, a pretty lady with sexy curves. We like those."


I all but threw the soap down and went after my phone.

"Okay, dude, I think your tattoo guy just drugged me somehow. dipped the needles in acid or something," I was frantic, pulling my shirt off and examining every trace of ink on my side. My twin was not wont to believe my retarded story and she told me so. " You need to quit reading that shit for a while, you're just scaring yourself. Why couldn't you have maybe like, gotten something smaller for your first time?" She was clearly not as concerned as I was. "No, seriously, I am HEARING SHIT IN MY HEAD." I gestured wildly at nothing, starting to wonder if maybe she was right. Maybe I did kind of get in too deep the first time and was dropping my marbles a little."Look," she said. "I'll come have a look at it tomorrow. Keep it clean and dry and happy like he said. He's a good, clean guy who has never used drugs. I trust him. You are being stupid. Go read something happy and dumb to decompress." The phone went silent and I had no choice but to trust her.

A few episodes into South Park and I was relaxed and happy again. I had a granola bar and felt much, much better after that. The head-voice had not returned and I was happy to see it go. It had gone sundown and I thought I might like to have an early night in. I changed into a soft sportsbra and yoga pants, giving my new pretty thing some air. I'd thought to put old sheets on my bed in case I bled in the night, so that was taken care of too. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow. My sleep was not restful and certainly not dreamless. The head-voice returned, but I found myself unable to wake from its taunting. "Wake up, beautiful woman. Wake up and go do our bidding. We want your body. We want you to do things for us." I couldn't wake up. I didn't want to wake up. I was sort-of conscious, though, because I felt the distinct feeling of something crawling under my skin. Oh dear god, it was horrible and I wanted to tear the skin right off my bones, but I couldn't articulate my limbs in that sleep. The voice was silent for a while and I had awful and graphic dreams about sex with everyone I knew. Why couldn't I wake up? Why couldn't I snap out of it? God, at first it was me touching them, my pink nails skimming down their skin...first my boyfriend, my sister, my best friend...and it turned into a horrorshow of my fingers leaking acid into their skin and leaving black track marks like ink down their bodies. Jesus, I have never slept worse in my entire life.

The next morning I was a fucking wreck. My eyes bloodshot, my skin pale. The tattoo looked great, though. It was healing nicely. It had bled a little overnight but washing made it feel much less sore. I felt oddly peaceful, given the nightmares I'd had the night before. Something just seemed to go right with my world. I glanced at my alarm clock on the way to get twin would probably be up by now. I picked up around the house, humming to myself. God, whatever was wrong last night certainly wasn't wrong today.

As I went about my daily grind, I started to notice the voice in my head singing with me. It was no longer this creepy foreign thing. It's like...why was I fighting it? It just wanted to jam with me. We hummed and sung and cleaned and even decided to cook a pot of penne for twin. Yes, it would be a lovely afternoon. I opened the door when she knocked, and I was overpowered by the head voice:


Suddenly my twin looked super tasty.

The crime scene tech had never seen anything like it in her life. It's like somebody put beef liver in a blender and left the lid off all over the apartment. Nobody could identify the slimy black substance that was dispersed throughout the filth and muck. But it sure wasn't normal. It would make the papers and evening news. It made her sick to think about what could have caused this. But she wondered. The tub of Aquaphor in the bathroom sink was most curious.

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