By Michael Baldwin

She had been a beautiful, vibrant young woman when I last saw Lana just a few weeks ago. Now she was gaunt, agitated, with dark sunken eyes. She had obviously been through some recent trauma. She clutched my arm in desperation and moaned, “Look at this damn tattoo!”

She raised her shirt. The tattoo looked something like a dragon or elaborate snake, coiled menacingly on her stomach. It appeared to be emerging from her body,  almost three-dimensional in its macabre realism. I had never seen anything like it.

“That’s an impressive tat,” I said, not wanting to touch it. “But I wouldn’t have expected you to choose something like that for yourself.”

“I didn’t,” she hissed. “It was a butterfly on my calf when I had it done two weeks ago. It changed every day into something different and moved around on my body. I can feel it squirming! It hurts like hell. I haven’t been able to sleep. I think I’m going crazy!”

“Lana, tattoos don’t move or change. You’re imagining it. Maybe you’re having some sort of reaction to the ink, an infection or something.”

She doubled over and groaned in agony. “Look at it now,” she whispered as she crumpled to the floor. The tattoo was different now. It was still a snake, but the coils were in a different configuration. The eyes of the tattoo seemed to stare at me with malevolent glee.

“Shit! Where did you get it?”

“A tattoo parlor on Diablo Avenue called ZBub’s Infernal Tattoos. But when I went back last week, it wasn’t there.”

“We need to get you to the emergency room.”

I helped her up from the floor. She hugged me tightly, terrified, crying into my neck. I held her, finally calming her enough to sit her down while I got dressed. Then we went to the hospital. I explained to the doctor that her tattoo was very painful and might be infected. The doctor examined her, then turned to me and said “What tattoo?”

I looked at her stomach. No tattoo. “Maybe it’s moved again,” I said. The doctor looked at me quizzically. He examined her back and found nothing amiss. Her vital signs were normal. The doctor gave her a prescription for an anti-anxiety drug, shrugged at me, and left.

It was only then I felt the twinge of pain. When I opened my shirt, the tattoo was emblazoned on my stomach. I could actually see and feel it writhe in my flesh. It grinned up at me maliciously then burrowed inside.

“Thanks for your help,” said Lana as she exited the examining room.

Michael Baldwin, a self-professed descendant of the Lakota mystic warrior, Crazy Horse, is a native Texan. He was a library administrator and professor of American Government until he wasn’t. His poetry book, Scapes, won the Eakin Poetry Book award, 2011. He is also the author of Murder Music, a mystery-thriller novel (ASIN: B00OAIJ3YW) , and Passing Strange, a collection of Science-Fiction short stories (ASIN: B00TO13YJ0). He resides in Benbrook, Texas.

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