I’ve always been a seeker of the unknown; a vast interest in the strange, unusual and arcane often held precedence over what most would consider to be average. In that sense, I suppose I should have grinned with manic glee upon arriving at the tattoo parlor.
It wasn’t like the usual shop. There was no “Sailor Jerry” style bedecked facade ushering me in, nor the tell-tale sound of buzzing. What greeted me on this misty and cold spring night was a neon glow piercing the gloom of a forsaken alley, tucked away from the vestiges of humanity. This was the place though, I was sure of it. I pulled my jacket around my slender frame and pressed forward, kicking aside untold filth and piles of rotted food. The exterior of the shop grinned before me, an emaciated smile from a blue neon skull.
I shrugged. Strange, unusual. That’s usually how I like it. This was, however, an alien concept to me for my skin remained unblemished and inkless. I steeled my frazzled nerves before pushing my way in. The obsidian tinted door refused to budge. Pull, not push, obviously.
“Stupid,” I scowled at my own wariness and pulled the door open. I stepped in, unable to brace myself for the sensory onslaught: piercing, hair-raising cold inside. That smell: what is that? Sage and cleaning chemicals…is this how a tattoo parlor is supposed to smell? It was empty, no artist or proprietor in sight. A heavily worn couch sat forlornly along the grey bricked walls festooned with banners and sheathes of various tattoo designs. I ignored it because I knew what I wanted.
I knew exactly what I wanted.
A small display case on the opposite wall caught my eye. Within, a glass box held an ornately presented and weary looking book. I stepped forward to glimpse the interior, my nervous reflection catching off the glass. Compulsively, I wanted to see what was written, I wanted to know what lie upon the pages of this tome. I wanted to know what secrets it held, even if it was as mundane as a visitor log book or a ledger. But I never got the chance.
A soft tinkling sound betrayed my gaze. A beaded curtain at the back of the shop parted and ushered in a small, gaunt young woman. Her dark hair was strung with beads not unlike those of the curtain from which he had emerged and her hazel eyes were ringed with the shade of one who hasn’t slept properly. I turned towards her and immediately hoped she wouldn’t succumb to fatigue while inking my bicep. She looked to be middle eastern, copper sun kissed skin and a small rounded nose.
“Hey,” she greeted with a soft and raspy voice; brittle paper turning in a light breeze. “Are you just looking or-?” She trailed off and offered a slight smile.
“Yeah, I’m looking to uh, get inked,” I stated as confidently as possible. That was the correct parlance, right? Damned if I knew. I felt crucially out of my element. She seemed to sense this as she smiled again and gestured to one of two empty chairs.
I nodded in response and sat down, emitting a deep breath as she readied her tools of the trade. As she prepared the ink, I noticed scrawls of text on her left arm. The overhead lights seemed to glint off them, raising the text from her arm and appearing more like scar tissue than actual ink. They whorled about in a spiral surrounding her thin being.
Before I could ask about it, she prompted me: “What are we doing today?”
“Oh, OK, hi,” I stammered out. “Uh, first of all, I’m Hideo. Nice to uh, meet you…” I trailed off but received no reciprocation. She simply nodded, the beads in her hair jangling against one another in the quiet of the otherwise empty shop. I paused, licked my lips.
Awkward silence permeation. OK, moving on.
I pulled out my phone to show her the screenshot I wanted. The image was of an anime-stylized eye glaring forth from beneath a forcefully arched eyebrow. Savage, intense, perfect.
The girl nodded. “Tattoos often reflect the personality of those who choose them. May I ask why this…eye?”
“Yeah uh,” I started. Get a grip of yourself, idiot. “This is the logo of a comic and anime convention that I met my girlfriend at. She’s still living across country, it’s a long distance thing, y’know?”
She nodded. Nothing more and nothing less.
I continued: “Our anniversary is coming up and I thought I’d surprise her. After all eyes are the window to the soul, right? They still say that, don’t they?”
The artist nodded again, the lights glinting off her tired eyes. “They do,” she stated. A soft accent danced upon her withered voice. “Portals to the soul and…so much more. A watchful eye can see more than is truly present before you. They can glimpse truths beyond truths and secrets to be uncovered by the inquisitive.”
I frowned and rolled up my sleeve. I turned away instinctively as the needle approached my flesh.
“Wait, wait,” I cried and pulled my sleeve back down.
The girl grunted with annoyance and pulled the needle away.
“I have a few questions,” I stated. She gestured for me to continue. I glanced around, struggling for small talk. I needed a few seconds to calm my nerves. “Uh, are you the only one who works here?”
The girl hesitated. “There is…another. But she is at rest now.”
“Have you been doing this long?”
“Yes, I have. However, I believe you might be my last. If my inkwell runs dry after tonight, I might finally rest as well.”
I shrugged off the odd statements, simply pegged her as an eccentric. As long as she gave me the right response to my final question: “Is this…going to hurt?”
An odd expression coated her lithe face. Her thin lips pulled into an almost forlorn frown. Then she shook her head, her beads jangled and she seemed to come to her senses. That familiar smile painted her visage, a hint of mischievousness alighting upon it. “Oh, you are a pure one, then?”
“If that means this is my first tattoo, then yeah. I guess I’m uh, “pure”.”
“We shall see how long that lasts,” she said with an uncomfortable hint of malice. “To answer your question, this will only hurt if you allow it to. You do ask a lot of questions, don’t you Pure One?”
“I guess I’ve always been the inquisitive type,” I shrugged with a half-hearted grin. “I’ve always been rather curious about new things.”
“Then, my dear, you’ve come to the right place.”
And then, as the sprinkling of a light spring shower continued outside in the dark, I felt the first pierce of the ink forever stain my skin. I never knew the girl’s name but she seemed to know what she was doing. I still had a lot of questions to ask but no time to seek the truth.
Trust in the ink, Hideo.
This will only hurt if I let it…
I did. Just a little bit. It wasn’t as bad I as had suspected but the temptation to remove the covering on my freshly inked bicep was more of a struggle than anything else. I wandered home that night after paying the odd young woman for her services. I noted the strange look on her face, the unflattering melange of regret, elation and relief. What was going through her mind? As I walked out, I couldn’t help but notice that she watched after me intently. I shrugged it off and that was that.
I took one last look at the strange little shop as I departed and reflected with curiosity on how the lights in the establishment flickered off immediately upon stepping back into the grungy alley. The neon sign, formerly a bright and leering skull, now a silent and vacant spectre. It sat slightly askew; unexpected dilapidation that I hadn’t noticed. I need to be more observant I suppose, keep my eyes open.
I decided to do something I really should have done earlier: research. I made my nightly mug of decaf dark roast and plopped in my sagging recliner. I browsed on my phone for any information about the shop but to only mild surprise, found nothing. I sighed and rubbed at the new design. After it healed and I could remove the covering, I planned to take a few pics and send them to my girl. In the meantime, I pulled up my social media page and browsed around a bit, chuckling inwardly at the latest ridiculous memes to spew forth from cyberspace.
There’s an unusual one: a textless post with nothing but an all-too familiar eye. The logo of the convention, the very same that now adorned my arm. Curious that they would post it, it wouldn’t be held for another several months. I clicked it out of sheer curiosity and boredom.
My finger touched the screen. It immediately melted into the glass. My digit pushed forward into the glass and circuitry as the screen melded around it like gelatin. It was warm, malleable and almost pleasant to the touch. I didn’t think much of it. Maybe I should have been more concerned. I was tired after the experience in the parlor. My shoulder and arm ached. And this felt..good. I deserved a pleasant sensation. I could dig a little deeper. Why not? I deserved it and I knew it wouldn’t hurt. Not if I didn’t let it. I pushed my finger further into the digital eye as the rest of my hand sunk into the tangible soup. So good, so damn good. All the way up to my wrist now. Maybe just a little furth-
I pulled my hand out, threw my phone away with a startled yelp. I leaped up from my seat and stared at the fallen device, quivering with confusion. Then: sudden pressure in my left arm. I dashed into the bathroom and rolled up my sleeve. Beneath the gauze of the freshly inked flesh, something strained at its confines. I tore off the bandage, curiosity overriding even the basest of common sense. The eye, that stylized eye that represented what I loved and cherished the most: it was staring back at me, rolling wildly in an unseen socket.
As I stared back in the mirror, the eye suddenly stopped rolling and titled upwards, staring directly back at me and boring a hole into my very sanity. My arm rippled, waves of impossibility surging up and down. Even as the tiny eyes emerged across my arm like a hellspawn rash, I attempted to scream. But a scream is hard to emit as one’s tongue emerges from their own mouth like a sentient snake from a world that one ought not to know.
My own fleshy appendage strained at its very root and my tongue rose up in a serpentine motion at an impossible length. It ran itself down my eye bedecked arm and the taste that I could still experience was too much for me to bear. I began sobbing there in my own bathroom as my body betrayed me and the inked eye began to spin wildly once more.
The serpent tongue began to turn black, blemished and blighted and it turned towards me before splitting at the seam. It didn’t hurt. I didn’t let it.
The Black Serpent spoke, still spewing forth from my own mouth. Dear God, it spoke and I understood it.
“Inquisitive and Pure, one who hosts the Eye of Agalia, Discoverer of Secrets, That Which Sees All. You bear our mark, you call our name and we arrive to show you sights unseen. Rejoice for only those chosen, those embellished with our blood will be granted the Sight, which is a very precious thing indeed.”
“I don’t want this!” An attempted scream; my own own begotten tongue was too soiled and violated to speak what I wanted.
The Serpent didn’t heed my protest. My infected arm raised on its own accord. I struggled against it but I knew it was a losing battle. My arm raised up and pressed the Inked Eye across my own face.
Eye to Eye.
It showed me things then as The Serpent wrapped around my head. I saw what I had never wanted to see and now would never forget. Things from ages past, from times before. Shadows from other civilizations. Abominations, half human and half beast worshipped by ancient priests. Lovers torn apart and sacred texts recovered yet swiftly lost. Unjust executions, cursed blood and ink. Bottled and shifted through time and space until it bedecked the flesh of one whom would simply stumble across it unexpectedly. I was not the first nor would I be the last. I knew the cursed ink would continue to spread its blight across the land. It said it all in that book in the tattoo shop, the one I never read but now knew every sentence.
The Inked Eye and the Black Serpent showed me. I knew it all. But I decided then, that I didn’t want to see. I summoned one final ounce of strength and tore away from my tormentors. Naturally they rebelled and attempted to halt my mission but I pushed on. I pushed my way into the kitchen, struggling against my own body, shuffled blindly though the drawers until I found what I wanted.
Sharp objects had pierced my body mere hours before and now, in the comfort of my own home, they would do so again. They would do so at my own behest, of my own free will which I would not let be torn away. The scissors did their work splendidly. I cut the Black Serpent free and watched it writhe and squeal upon the black and red that festooned my kitchen floor. I took the blades to the smaller eyes next that covered my arm, popping each one like an overripe grape. But the Inked Eye, that one could not be pierced. And oh, how I tried. Even then, with the defilers strewn about on the floor and my own arm running fresh with filth, they continued to reveal their secrets.
I saw the girl from the parlor. I saw her run ragged blades across her own arm as she chanted in arcane language. I saw the piercing and parting of her skin and watched the red sea surge forth. It poured into a clay bottle at her feet. She thrashed in agony and the beads in her hair clinked together musically, almost pleasantly. Something spewed forth from her mouth, a coiling black foul thing that I recognized. In this age that I gazed upon, it was older and larger. Multiple hands stretched forth from the coiling horror as it chanted the word “Agalia” repeatedly. It streamed into the clay bottle, thick smoke and greasy mist. The girl dipped her blade into the concoction at her feet, held back a sob and began to tattoo her own arm…
I had seen enough. If I couldn’t see, I couldn’t watch and then I wouldn’t know and then… much like the woman who had cursed me with this Sight, I could rest. Perhaps.
I turned the scissor blades toward my own two eyes, granted to me by a God I thought I knew and not the fiend that had forced its own eyes upon me.
The scissor blades, blessed steel, came closer and I held my eyes open. I once was blind and now I see but I didn’t want to see anymore.
At least I knew it wouldn’t hurt.
I wouldn’t let it.