It’s the second half of the Ray Bradbury Challenge of writing a short story each week for a year. This is story 34 of 52.
I am finding that this story challenge is getting in the way of my novel writing, so to get to 52 faster, I am going to compress the challenge and attempt to write 2 stories a week, with the goal of getting all 52 done by the end of October.
A Tattoo artist
Goes Back in time
Itch was happy with the finished product. Brittany, his current client, said she wanted something to remember her starring role in the community production of “The Wizard of Oz.” A pair of ruby slippers, almost three-dimensional, was surrounded by a circle of words: There’s no place like home, three times. He even managed to have the heels appear to click together.
He took a couple of pics, first with his phone, then Brittany’s.
“Ooh, it’s absolutely perfect! They were right. You are the best in town!” She studied her phone, enlarging the photo to see the details.
Itch felt his face get warm. People told him he was the best, a true artist. But, the little shop where he worked had been here, close to a naval base, since the 1940s. There was something to the idea that quantity mattered when it came to art. And by now, there might be a thousand sailors with Itch’s work adorning their bodies.
There was a guy standing near the front door. Itch had seen him before. He seemed to be casing the joint. Either he was going to rob them, or he was checking the shop out before he got some ink. That happened a lot, really, at least with the non-Navy folks. The internet must have suggested it. The Navy guys just assumed the shop would be good if it lasted this long. Tradition, right?
Itch finished with Brittany’s bandage and sent her on her way. It was getting close to closing time, but the guy still stood by the door.
Itch walked up to him. “Interested in some ink?”
The guy nodded. “Yeah. I saw the Wizard of Oz tattoo. You are really good. The details were spot on.”
“Thanks. What are you thinking of? We are getting ready of close, but you can look through the book and start getting ideas.” Itch turned to his work area, starting to get his book.
“Um, no need. I know what I need.”
Itch stopped a moment. Need was an interesting word to use about a tat.
The guy pulled out his phone and held it for Itch to see. “This.”
The design was intricate. A clock face, but with swirly arrows, concentric circles, and other odd shapes surrounding it. Itch looked up at the guy. “It’s a delicate design.”
“But you could do it?”
“I think so, but it would be better to do it in stages. Maybe three of four visits?” Itch figured it wasn’t worth that much time, and the guy would agree to a simpler version.
“Whatever it takes. It has to be exact, though.” He held out his hand. “Name’s Turk. I guess we will be spending some time together.”
“How’d you get a name like that?”
There was a spot behind his ear that made him feel more confident when he rubbed it. It had been like that since he was a toddler. An old girlfriend told him it was a misplaced chakra. Itch scratched it. “No clue.”
“There’s just one thing. I need you to work on it after hours or early in the morning. When the shop is closed.” Turk looked around at the last customers leaving.
“I don’t know.”
“Look, there are some people that don’t want me to get this tattoo. It’s hard to explain, but this place is pretty wide open, and everyone can see what is going on.” Turk patted his pant pocket. “I can make it worth your time.”
Itch thought about his upcoming wedding. Right now, it was a small affair, and they couldn’t afford a honeymoon. Maybe he could make enough extra for at least a little trip. Flights to Vegas were pretty cheap right now. “Triple my fees, and you have a deal.”
“How about fifteen hundred? I’ll pay you after each round.”
That was six hundred more than Itch was thinking. “Yes, we can do this.” He looked around at the shop. “We close at midnight, and it takes some time for everyone to clean their pens and all. What if you meet me back here at three, and we can get started.”
“Perfect.” Turk held out his hand.
Itch shook his hand again. It was cool and steady. He didn’t seem like someone who would be worried about someone seeing him get a tattoo. “Deal.”
Six weeks later, Itch waited at the shop for Turk. It was just a few minutes after three, and the moonless night seemed ominous.
Itch carefully packed up his equipment and inks. He wasn’t sure what was going on, but it’s what Turk wanted. Itch would have his gear in a backpack and then put a hand on Turk’s shoulder. Turk had an old iPod nano and would push one of the arrows over and over. There was a bit of a flash each time his thumb pressed the device. When he was done, they were still in the shop, but it was different. All the modern pens were gone, as were brightly colored inks. This had happened twice already, but Itch didn’t say a word. He just concentrated on the fifteen hundred dollars he would have after tonight.
Turk arrived, breathless. He locked the door behind him and rushed over to Itch. “Come on, we need to get moving.” He grabbed Itch’s arm and pulled out the nano, thumb moving as fast as it could.
Itch tried to count the flashes this time. Forty? Fifty? He wondered what was going on, then thought about his Vegas honeymoon. It would be worth whatever weirdness this was. Besides, they would be done tonight and he would never have to see Turk again.
“Almost like going back in time,” Itch said as he unpacked his gear on the table next to the older pens and dark inks.
Turk ignored him. He was looking out the door. “This shouldn’t take too long tonight, right?”
Itch took Turk’s right forearm in his hand. He had to say; this was one of his best tats yet. The design seemed to pop off the arm as if almost alive. “An hour or two? Just some of the last details. I think it looks good now, but you said it had to match–”
“Exactly. It has to match exactly.” Turk said.
“You need a beer or something? You’re a bit tight tonight.” Itch started cleaning the tat. “You need to relax.”
Turk took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Had a rough day at work.”
“I thought you worked at a dry cleaner?”
“The steamer broke today, so we got really behind.”
Itch felt Turk’s muscles tense as he spoke. Was he lying? Shrugging it off, Itch got to work.
Ninety minutes later, Itch stood up and pulled out his phone.
“Wait, what are you doing?” Turk jumped up, pulling his arm close.
“I always take a pic of my work for my book.” Itch held his phone up. “Your face won’t be in it, just the ink.”
“No, you can’t take a photo. I’ll give you an extra five hundred to forget you ever did this one.”
Itch scratched the spot behind his ear. “It’s really good, though. I think it might be one of my best.”
“Ok, a thousand. No photos, no talking about me or the tattoo.” Turk pulled a wad of cash and pushed it towards Itch.
Itch reached out and took the money. He was going to have a great honeymoon, and forgetting about this weirdo wasn’t going to be a problem. If he did talk about it, who would believe him?
There were voices in the back room.
“Who’s here” Turk called out, eyes wide.
The door opened, and two men came out. One was older, dressed in an old-fashioned black suit with a bowler hat. The younger one wore a more modern, navy blue suit.
Itch looked at Turk. The tattoo still needed to be bandaged to make sure it didn’t get infected.
Turk touched the tattoo with the fingers of his left hand.
All three men yelled no, just for different reasons. And then, Turk was gone.
Itch felt dizzy. “What, what just happened?”
The younger man rushed to Itch and helped him sit back down in his chair. “It’s okay.”
“Did you see where he pressed, Joshua?” the older man asked.
“No. He got away again.” Joshua looked around. “This equipment, you brought it with you?”
“Brought it? This is my shop, we never left it.” Itch began to realize why Turk told him not to talk about the tattoo or Turk. These men were after him.
“So you just moved in time from this spot?” Joshua asked.
Moved in time? What was this kid talking about? Itch kept his lips tight together. He didn’t see any guns, so maybe they would just let him go home.
The older man walked to where Turk had last been standing and bent down.
“What is it, Arthur?” Joshua asked.
Arthur held up the iPod nano. “He’s right. They didn’t leave the space of the shop.”
Joshua nodded. “Just the time of the shop.”
Itch couldn’t understand what they were saying. He scratched his spot behind his ear. It wasn’t helping right now.
Arthur looked at Itch. “How many times did you work on the tattoo?”
“Look, I’m not supposed to talk about it.” Itch looked from one man to the other. The younger one, Joshua, seemed more sympathetic. “Look,” he said to Joshua, “I’m getting married in a few weeks. I was just trying to get some money to give my bride a proper honeymoon,”
“My good man, you did nothing wrong, not on your own.” Arthur said. “Our friend Turk didn’t tell you a thing, I can tell.” He nodded at Joshua.
“This iPod, every time Turk pressed the back arrow, you went back a year.”
Itch stared at Joshua. “There was a flash every time he pushed it. I counted fifty.” Ugh, he really needed to stop talking, or Turk was going to come to take his money back. Or worse. He stood up and started packing his stuff in his backpack.
“That’s about right.” Arthur looked at his watch, which was bulkier than a normal watch. “It’s 1959.”
Itch’s heart began to race. There were always rumors that time travel was a thing, but it was not something he would ever try. Not knowingly. “1959? How? I need to be back! I’m getting married!”
“We will get you home,” Joshua said.
“But there is the problem with your equipment,” Arthur said. “It has traveled in time too much, so it is now a time piece, like this iPod.” He held up the iPod again.
“I paid a lot of money for this stuff; you can’t take it away.” Itch stuffed the rest of the inks in his bag and pulled it tightly to his chest.
“Well, that is a problem,” Arthur said. “We can’t have you going about giving that tattoo to just anyone. Not with that equipment.”
“I don’t have a photo of it, I couldn’t replicate it.” Itch said. “I promise, I am all about butterflies and girlfriend names after this.”
Arthur looked at Joshua. “We will take him to HQ first. Let’s get another opinion about that equipment.