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The End of the Line · Original Minific ·
Organised by RogerDodger
Word limit 400–750
The Tattooist
The tattooist was packing up the last of her instruments when the customer arrived.

It was late. Her usual customers, soldiers from the nearby garrison, prisoners fresh out on parole, college girls looking for a cheap way to rebel against their parents, they were all gone for the evening. Only the buzzing fluorescent lights and the hum of the autoclave as it began its nightly sterilization kept her company, until the electric bell attached to the front door sang.

“We’re closed!” she shouted. “Come back at noon.”

The bell should have sounded again. Instead there were footsteps on linoleum, and a hand swept aside the curtain separating the lobby from the tattoist’s workroom. A middle-aged man, plump, sallow and sweating, peeked inside.

That deserved a scowl, but she kept her face civil. “I’m sorry, we’re closed.”

“Yeah, I know.” The man glanced around, then peered over his shoulder into the empty lobby. “You’re, uh, you’re her, right? The witch?”

Ah, so it was one of those. She stripped off her sterile nitrile gloves, wadded them up with the rest of the day’s gauze, and tossed them into a grimy red biohazard container. “I guess I am.”

“Okay.” The man stepped through the door, letting the curtain fall shut behind him. Despite the cool air he was drenched in sweat. “I want the special.”

She held in a sigh. “Fifty thousand.” Perhaps that would scare him off.

The businessman pulled an envelope from his pocket. He flipped through it, pulled out half the bills, laid them on the counter, and put the rest away.

Well, shit. Should’ve asked for a hundred. She swept the bills off the counter and through the safe’s drop-slot.

“Take your coat off and have a seat,” she said, pointing at the empty barber chair. “And don’t move, I need to get some stuff.”

It took the tattooist nearly an hour to gather all materials she needed. Not because the magical inks were hard to procure – they were in a shoebox under her bed upstairs – but because the autoclave took fifty minutes to cycle and could not be opened until it finished sterilizing her equipment. That gave them time to talk.

“So, what do you want?” she asked.

He had his head back against the rest, eyes closed. He refused to watch as she rubbed his shoulder down with alcohol. “I want people to like me.”

“You’ve got money. People don’t like that?”

He cracked an eye open. “People like money, yes, but not me. I want friends. I want someone to love.”

“Hm.” She ran a razor over his upper arm, then wiped again with an alcohol rub. “Can’t buy love, I guess.”

“I haven’t yet. So, how does this work?”

“Trade secret, I’m afraid.” When the alcohol dried, she uncapped a skin marker and slowly began to freehand an image. “Just trust me.”

“How will I know if it works?”

“You won’t, I guess. Want your money back? Haven’t started yet.”

There was a long pause. “No. Go ahead.”

The outline alone took most of an hour. Like most tattooists, she used stencils to transfer images onto skin, but for these tattoos, the special tattoos, everything had to be done by hand. That was part of the magic, as important as the ink in the special, sealed vials by her side. Those came out next, and she whispered to the spirits inside as she opened them, begging them not to escape out into the night. She coaxed them, with her voice and her will and her needles, impregnating the man’s skin with the image of a golden apple. Drops of blood flowed down his arm.

Almost done. She drew a long, sharp needle and pricked her thumb. She smeared the tip with her blood, and held it above his skin.

“Last chance. No refunds, but you can skill walk out.”

“Do it.”

She drove the needle into his skin, into the muscle, all the way to the bone. It turned white hot, searing her fingers, blinding her, and when her eyesight returned the man was poking at the healed tattoo on his arm. He had a few new wrinkles and grey hairs.

“Five years, huh?” He flexed his fingers. “Doesn’t feel too bad.”

She stood and stretched. “You’ll feel it in the morning. But I think you’ll like the results.”

The sun peered through the slatted window beside them. She winced at its light, and began packing her tools again.
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