Day 226 of 365 Days of Writing Prompts: Explain a character’s tattoo.
Shannon: I got a tattoo of a star on my foot a few weeks after my grandmother died. I’d never lost someone I was so close to up to that point, and I had never permanently marked my skin either. On a whim one night, when I couldn’t stop thinking about how we’d never share another memory together, I decided to get it done. I didn’t want to forget her so I made her memory a part of me. The image makes me want to look up every time I see it. And when I look up I remember I’m alive, and I remember I’ve got someone watching over me.
Erin: I wish that I could say the little flower on my wrist meant something, but it doesn’t. Which is annoying because it takes twice as long to explain. When I try to say there is no meaning it takes about twenty minutes to explain to the questioner that I am hiding some deep dark secret. Sometimes I make up a fake story to ease the experience.
Your character has a meaningful mark, tell us about it.
I stood at the entrance to the hotel, the enormous, ancient building looming so high above me I had to crane my neck just to see the pointed roofs. There was an ominous, sickly green substance oozing down one line of darkened windows, with ivy growing up the other side in an apparent fight over supremacy for the clapboard siding. Above my head dangled a large pendant light so shrouded in spider webs the light protruded from it like mangled fingers. Squealing in the light, frost-bitten breeze was a charred and crumbling sign proclaiming vacancy for the past three decades.
As I finally got up the courage to pull on the massive bell, which chimed through the entire house like a wedding chapel, I cowered against a dusty pillar to wait for an attendant to arrive. When the door creaked open and a short, greasy-haired fellow stood in the doorway, barring entry to the darkened foyer, I cleared my throat nervously and fixed my bulky jacket around my neck. “Uh, uhm,” I squeaked, struggling to clear the persistent frog from my throat, “Uh, I’m here to see Irene; she won’t be expecting me.” I sucked in an icy breath and wrapped my arms tightly around my midsection, attempting to hold in the heat that was quickly vanishing from my body.
“Ah, yes, Madame Irene has been expecting you for some time, miss, some very long time, miss,” he mused, drumming his fingers in midair as his eyes darted anxiously, taking in everything there was to see. “For some decades now, miss, Madame Irene has been expecting you. Come in and I shall fetch the good Madame Irene, miss, come in,” he stuttered, disappearing into the dark house as the quiet sound of his dress shoes padding on dusty carpet fell away into the background. With one last, regretful glance at the roiling sky outside, I took a few steps into the foyer, the door shutting of its own accord behind me. I stood, fidgeting with the buttons on my coat, under a second webbed pendant light and peered through the moats of dust at ancient paintings and sconces along the textured walls.
Above me, there was a racket of quick, light steps from the attendant and the unmistakable clicking of Irene’s heeled boots on the hardwood floors upstairs. Dust fell down from the ceiling as a woman’s slender legs appeared at the top of the rounded staircase and a long satin dress fell about her heels as she sauntered. When her face was finally visible in the dim room, I realized it was covered in a thin veil of dark material so that only her slightly-glowing eyes were visible to me; she was always about hiding her true intentions. “Ah, we meet again, dear Izzy. And what do I owe the pleasure?” she drawled, her voice floating vainly through the decimated house she was too arrogant to leave.
With a slight bow at the knee, I rolled my eyes and answered tersely, “Hello mother, er, Irene. I need you to sign this for my college course; they need a next of kin and you were the closest.” Though I couldn’t see her expression for the veil, I thought that would hurt her to some degree; she thought we’d been very close, and at one point we had been, but nowadays she was a regret I had eating away at the back of my mind. If I’d just sent her to the home when I had the chance, she might still be able to look me in the eye, and perhaps we’d see each other more often than when I needed her help. Holding out a letter, I cringed when her paper-dry fingers brushed against mine as she plucked the note from my hand.
“And this is what, exactly?” she asked airily, holding the letter as though it were a strange artifact that may crumble in her hand if she held it too hard.
I crossed my arms and answered stiffly, “It’s a permission slip for this dimension slip trip. It’s only for a few days, but they want someone to be responsible for my possessions should I not make it home safely. Nothing’s going to happen to me, but they want to be on the safe side and cover their asses,” I added when she ceased her incessant pacing at talk of my possible demise in a faraway dimension. “I can just aske Isaac when I see him next,” I insisted, attempting to tear the paper from my mother’s hands in a sudden rush of panic.
“Oh, no, that’s quite alright dear. I’ll sign it for you; I wouldn’t want your poor brother to catch word that you were dimension hopping without him. You know how he gets when he’s not included in these kinds of things,” she mused, taking on a dazed sense like that of her attendant. With a flick of her wrist, she opened the envelope and drew a pen from the depths of a charcoal writing desk at one side of the hall. As she read through the slip, she touched the pen to her tongue and scratched a flourishing signature across the bottom of it, sealed it back up and placed the pen carefully back in the desk as though it were the most important thing in the world. Passing the page back to me with a smile below the veil, she added, “Here you are, dearest Izzy. I hope your trip is as wonderful as it sounds, and that you will not die on it.”
With that, my mother turned and leisurely climbed the dusty carpeted stairs to her room without another word to me. Stunned into immobility, I simply stared after her until the attendant appeared at my elbow with a rude scowl warping his crooked face. “Out you go, Madame Irene does not want to see you anymore, so out you go,” he growled, pointing toward the door until I snapped out of it. I made a rude gesture on my way out the door and stood on the porch for a long moment peering into the gentle sheets of rain. Down the overgrown path was my hover-car, but it was going to be a freezing walk.
When we arrived in class the next morning everyone was in their best clothing, except for those who’d failed the class before and already knew what this trip entailed, and on their best behaviour. With bags full of the specific currency of Darium Central called gonta, there was a tangible excitement in the air along with a good amount of anxiety. Leaving the dimension was a big deal, even if it was on an assignment and with the strict guidance of our professor D. We’d been waiting for this trip for ages, and no one was about to miss out. All the permission slips had been handed in and scanned, and all we were waiting for was the portal to be opened; this could take all day.
Though we’d been slotted to leave as soon as class usually began, it took them half an hour to start the machine up, and a further twenty to test the connection with every device under the sun. As soon as it was ready for transportation we all lined up and walked through to the next dimension.
This place was similar to ours, though it had gone through a revolution which knocked it several centuries back; there was a minor amount of technology of our calibre with most of the planet running on twenty-first century crap. There was some sort of connection between our college and this dimension which allowed us to just show up unannounced in the middle of their capital city, but there was too much conspiracy for anyone to have a definitive reason. It wasn’t really important, anyway.
“Alright, now, you will have a few days here, but you will be required to check in on a regular basis, got it?” called D, waving his arms emphatically at the group of students milling around between the familiar-looking humans of Darium Central. “Everyone, please come over here so I can brief you!” he shouted, pointing at each of us in turn and waiting until everyone was clustered around him, drawing the ire of several of the natives. In his most impressive professor voice, he boomed, “The hostel is on your cells, as well as room information and your assignments. Each of you is to bring back something different, but some of you will need to work together to achieve your goals; you should speak to your peers before heading out and use the buddy system if you’re going to leave the group.” People were staring at the spectacle of us, some with mere interest, while others appeared hostile. “Now, I want you to all have fun, and I’ll buzz you all in for dinner. Good luck!” he shouted before suddenly turning and heading down a darkened alleyway.
Thirty sets of wide, excited eyes swiveled around as we all took in our surroundings before there was a mass exodus with small clusters breaking off, muttering about their individual goals. I was lucky enough to have Ger and Fe right next to me, so we huddled and silently read our own assignments. In a whisper, I started us off, “I need to find a special herb that only grows in this particular part of the planet. Two grams will do. Next,” I glanced up to see Fe giggling hysterically.
“I gotta find a ticket to a holographic circus. They have that kinda thing here?” she asked excitedly, putting her cell away to peer over my shoulder at the strange, asymmetrical buildings that sprouted from this spot in the center of the city.
With a heavy sigh, Ger replied, “You guys have easy ones. I have to find out who the historical figure is on the one gonta coin and why they are on it. Pft, that sounds like a blast,” he grumbled, slipping a coin from his backpack and tossing it up into the air, watching it glint in the sun.
“Well, let’s get going or we’re not gonna have a lot of time left. I guess we should find a library or museum or something to find out about the gonta guy, right? Go with hardest first?” I smiled up at Ger to take his mind of his bad luck. When he cracked a grin, I patted him on the shoulder and we headed down a random street.
After a day and a half of searching, we managed to find out the answer to Ger’s quest, discovered the awesomeness of holographic circuses and tasted the earthy herb I needed. With our assignments safely tucked away in the safe at our hostel, the three of us headed back out on the last morning in search of adventure and danger before we had to go home. On our quests we’d discovered lots of foods we wanted to try, entertainment we couldn’t wait to see and tons of little shops that were just begging for us to explore. We stopped to get bowls of hot ice cream that tasted like chicken curry and cotton candy that was chewy like gum and fizzed in an array of berry flavours in your mouth.
When we’d finished our breakfast, we headed through too many shops to count that sold everything under the alien sun, and some things that had clearly been stolen from our own world. As their sun died, leaving us only a couple hours until we were to head home, we stopped in a hole-in-the-wall fortune-telling shop. Fe wanted to have her fortune read by someone in another world to confirm her own psychic’s telling about her love life, and Ger and I didn’t really care what we did with the remaining time. Stepping inside was like stepping into a cloud of scented mist that stuck to your skin and scrambled your head, but it had artifacts lining the walls to keep us non-believers busy while Fe did her stuff.
We’d only been there a few minutes when a woman with more necklaces than teeth sauntered into the room and told Fe to follow her. Ger and I waved goodbye to our friend and went back to peering at all the interesting items in the occult shop. One thing that really caught my attention was a tiny glass horse with roses in its mane and a swirling mist inside it. I was about to touch it when a second woman entered, this one tattooed from head to toe with strange symbols and signs, and pointed at me. As though I was in a dream, I followed her into the next room and awoke lying in the uncomfortable bed at the hostel with Ger and Fe at my side, and a sprawling tattoo snaking its way like a vine up my arm.
None of us spoke a word about it on the way to the town center, nor when we got back home, but I felt there was something to this symbol that strange woman had written on me in permanent ink.
August finally got to middle school. Josh was showing him around all day, and chatting up the teachers with an arm around his younger brother’s shoulders. August was really looking forward to the experience.
But one day, his patience was seriously tested.
“Whoa! Nice tat!”
August tried to ignore the boy, but he didn’t let up.
“Where’d you get the tattoo?”
August takes a deep breath, then carefully says, “Please leave me alone.”
August decided to wear a tank top that day. And, as default, his shoulder scar was showing. One of the new kids from a different elementary school just had to bring it up.
“C’mon, dude, that’s wicked! It looks like you actually-”
“It’s not a tattoo!” August yells at him, on the brink of tears.
The teacher calls August’s name, but he stares at the boy for a few moments more. The boy looks from his shoulder back to August’s face. Then the color drains from his own when he realizes what August is saying.
Sound filters back into August’s point of recognition in time to hear the teacher say, “August, go to the office, now.”
August picks up his bag and heads to the door.
“You fought a cougar! Seriously!?” The same boy cheers, “Oh man, I would have loved to see that!”
August slams the door behind him, only hearing the beginning of a lecture from the teacher. He walks down the hall, one hand on his backpack strap, the other touching his right shoulder. He reaches the office and sits down. The secretary squats in front of him, offering a tissue. August takes it, swiping under his eyes.
He’s asked if he needs the nurse. He shakes his head. He’s asked why he was sent to the office. He shakes his head again. The secretary walks back to the desk. A few minutes later, his teacher walks into the office and explains the situation.
They know he has a brother, so he’s pulled from class to both console his brother, who’s distress built up listening to the adults talk, and to explain the situation.
Both went home early, due to Josh finding the kid that worked up August.