Ellen was nearly finished with her third drink when she noticed the man in black. He was standing by the edge of the dance floor, watching the crowd with a bored expression. The crowd deserved his disdain; for an underground nightclub, there were certainly a lot of normal-looking people at Shades of Midnight tonight. Ellen had been on the prowl all night, and had been decidedly unimpressed with the variety of men she had seen. Until now. She put down her glass and turned to Tamara, prodding her on the shoulder to get her attention.
“What do you think of that one?” she asked, leaning close so her voice could be heard over the blast of the music. She pointed through the crowd where the man was standing
“Oooh, definitely do-able,” Tamara replied, nodding. “And just your type, too.”
“Who’s this?” Andrew, the third at their table, asked. “Who are we talking about?”
“The longhair in the corner. Black jacket, black pants,” Tamara replied, gesturing with her cigarette to the figure Ellen had just pointed out. “Ellen wants him.”
Ellen put on an mock expression of indignance. “I only pointed him out, I didn’t say I wanted him.”
“Just your type,” Andrew affirmed, as the man took a long drink from a bottle, completely oblivious to their observations. “Long hair, black clothes, earrings. Yup. Ten bucks says you wants him.”
“Ah, but you don’t know if he’s tattooed,” Tamara noted as Ellen opened her mouth to protest.
“True,” Andrew demurred. “Five bucks.”
“Sucker’s bet,” Tamara said, refusing Andrew’s outstretched hand.
“Cut that out,” Ellen laughed. She had obviously spent far too many nights in nightclubs with these two; they knew her taste in men all too well. Although she had to admit her taste was all too predictable; to give Andrew credit, the mysterious man in black had most of the characteristics she looked for in fresh meat.
“Well?” Tamara asked, nudging her with her arm. “If you don’t get a move on, some other sweet young goth thing’ll steal him away from you, and I’ll have to listen to you bitch all the way home.”
“Wait, the song’s ending,” Ellen protested. “And besides, he sees me. I have time.”
* * * *
Ellen took her time in approaching the man in black. For almost three songs she watched him as she had a fourth drink, watched him as he danced a little bit, danced with the showy air of someone who knows they are being watched. He had most definitely seen her in the corner, watching him; even though he was positioned on the dance floor at the opposite corner of the room, he peered at her through the spaces in the crowd. Ellen felt herself flushing with drink and with the attention; she loved this game of tease and reply, of hide and seek.
All the while Tamara and Andrew made fun of her for not getting up from her chair, but she shushed them. The crowning glory in Andrew’s and Tamara’s evening came when the man removed his jacket after dancing to a particularly hard and fast song, revealing his bare chest underneath. Covering the front of his upper torso, and snaking over his shoulders and around his sides, was a single, huge, tattoo. Andrew and Tamara practically crowed with glee.
“Ten bucks,” Andrew reiterated his bet. Tamara merely gave him a sarcastic look.
“What is it of?” Ellen asked, peering through the darkness as the man wove between the dancers in his own rhythm. “I can’t see clearly from here.”
“Its some sort of monster, I think.” Tamara said. “I can see claws, and….eyes.”
“Its beautiful work,” Andrew commented. Of the three of them, Andrew was the resident tattoo expert and owner of five of his own. He was on a first name basis with most of the artists in the city. “I don’t think I’ve seen so many gradations of purple blended like that before….”
Tamara snorted. “Leave it to Andrew to provide a running commentary on the artistic qualities of punker tattoos.”
“Oh, its ok,” Ellen said, relishing the chance for the teasing to turn to someone other than herself. “You know how Andrew gets sometimes –”
“Holy shit.” Andrew abruptly said, sitting upright in the chair. Tamara and Ellen turned to face him. “What?” Andrew’s gaze was riveted upon the tattoo. “Thats a Mark Killock. I’d swear it, its his work.” Andrew leaned even further forward, trying to get a better view through the lights and the darkness. “Shit, I never thought I’d see one.”
“Who’s Mark Killock?” Ellen asked.
“A tattoo artist, obviously.” Tamara replied. Andrew looked sharply back at the two of them. “Not just any tattoo artist. Mark Killock is one of the very best tattoo artists…his work is incredible. That tat is just his style, the colors, the blending, and the subject matter….”
“Its delicious.” Ellen commented, grinning, standing up and adjusting her short skirt over her thighs. “He’s mine.”
“Don’t look so worried,” Tamara commented after a pause, reaching out a hand. “Ellen will be fine. You know her, she likes dangerous-looking longhaired boys.”
Andrew shook his head. “I was just thinking about that tattoo.”
“Is it that special?”
“I’ve heard some really wild rumors about Mark Killock,” Andrew replied, looking at Tamara mysteriously. Tamara laughed at him, taking his hands in hers as if to reassure him. “Ellen can take care of herself.”
* * * *
Ellen was pleased with how the night was progressing. When she had started dancing the man had ignored her, but he had been watching her the whole time. When this song had started he had given her his undivided attention. One more song and she would be sure. The music pounded in her ears as she swayed back and forth, and the man in front of her mimicked her movements, watching her with black eyes that radiated lust and made her breathe faster even before he had even touched her. And here on the dance floor, with the lights, Ellen could get a better view of the tattoo.
It was a shapeless monster of a tattoo that seemed to writhe as its owner moved. It appeared to have dozens of tentacles, tentacles that ended in claws, claws that were tinged with dark blood at the ends. It had no head, this monster, but it had eyes, thousands of them, greenish purple eyes over the expanse of its gelatinous body that seemed to look straight at Ellen while she danced. Its mouth, in the center of its body, was ringed with teeth in rows, sharks’ teeth. The creature was purple, varying shades of purple that reflected and glistened in the light, almost like scales. It was a repugnant picture, and Ellen could not fathom why anyone would want it painted permanently on their skin. But at the same time she had to agree with Andrew that the work was fantastic. It was hard to believe that any single needle had crafted the lines and blended the inks so perfectly that you could not tell where one shade of purple ended and another one began. Reaching out playfully, Ellen ran a finger down the center of the man’s chest, right over the creature’s mouth. The man’s chest was smooth and hairless, with nothing to break up the lines of the tattoo. Beautiful. “Do you like it?” the man mouthed to her as he danced.
“Yes,” she nodded admirably.
“He likes you too,” the man smiled at her, and Ellen smiled back. Bingo, she thought. She had made her conquest.
* * * *
Later on Ellen approached Tamara and Andrew, who had moved to the upstairs bar where the music was quieter. “So what’s up? Progress?” Tamara said as Ellen approached their table again.
“Oh, yes,” Ellen said, smiling. “We’re leaving.”
“Have a good time,” Andrew commented. It was ritual that made him say that; Ellen always had a good time.
The man approached Ellen from behind, wearing the discarded leather jacket over his bare skin once again. He reached out and took the back of Ellen’s neck in the other. Andrew looked uneasily from the hand to the man’s face; he looked like he could close his fist and snap her neck with barely a thought. “Ready?” the man asked, as Ellen took her jacket and purse from the chair where Tamara had put them.
“Yes,” Ellen said, nodding politely to the pair, and turning to leave.
“Excuse me,” Andrew suddenly asked. Ellen and the man stopped and turned back to the table. Andrew motioned to the tattoo with his chin. “Is that a Mark Killock?”
The man looked at Andrew, and his eyes pierced the darkness as if a light was shining behind them. “Yes,” he replied. “It is.”
“Are the rumors true?” Andrew asked, his voice straining to remain causal. Tamara could feel the tension behind it in the air. “The rumors about the rituals…?”
The man laughed, once, a short laugh that showed only in his mouth. “Of course not,” he replied, taking Ellen by the shoulder and guiding her away from the table. Ellen waved back as she left, grinning.
Tamara waited until the couple was out of sight before turning to face Andrew. “Rituals?” she demanded, eyebrows raised, “what rituals?”
“Its just rumor.” Andrew shrugged, watching at the doorway where the two of them had vanished. “I’ve heard a lot of rumors about Mark Killock’s work.. weird satanic shit.”
Tamara waited several seconds for Andrew to continue and when he did not, asked, “what sort of satanic shit?”
Andrew shrugged again, reluctant to continue. “Mark Killock tattoos demons.”
“I’ll say,” Tamara stated. “That creature was horrible –”
“That not what I mean. I don’t mean that he tattoos pictures of demons; he tattoos the demons themselves.” He took a pause as Tamara absentmindedly let the ash fall from her cigarette onto the floor. “Its just rumor,” he finally continued, when he realized he had said too much to just let it drop. “I’ve heard that just finding Mark Killock is a test; you have to be really determined to want to find him. It’s not like he tattoos in any shops. Then once you find him if you want to get tattooed by him you have to go through years of training, to prove yourself, before he lets you go through the rituals. And the rituals are the weirdest part. I’ve heard claims that during the ritual, black magic draws out demons from your soul. Usually the worst kinds of demons. The magic enslaves them and then Killock tattoos the demon itself into your skin.”
There was a long pause, and then Tamara took a long drag on her cigarette and laughed. “Do you actually believe all that shit? Thats major twilight zone stuff…Personal demons, exorcised from the body and painted into the skin. Ooooh,” she laughed, waving her hands about in the air in front of her.
Andrew looked over at her almost angrily, grasping one of her hands in his. “Does it really matter if I believe it or not, or even if its true or not? The point is that if someone goes through the trouble to get tattooed by Mark Killock, he very probably believes it himself. Regardless of the validity of the rumors, Ellen has just gone home with a man who believes that he has enslaved his own personal demon under his skin. And thats what worries me.”
* * * *
Ellen laughed as they walked to his apartment, feeling drunk and silly, and loving the feel of a new man in her arms. They weaved haphazardly down the sidewalk, occasionally taking breaks in the dark sections to grope each other. Inside the building, he stopped her abruptly in the hallway outside his door and shoved her up against the wall, one hand tangled in her hair, forcing her head back to kiss her, hard, and the bit at her neck. Ellen pushed her hands up under his jacket, gasping at the naked skin on his back. She gasped when he hurt her. Then as suddenly as he had grabbed her, he let her go, standing aside and reaching for the keys in his pocket. She had to press her hands up against the wall to keep her balance, t keep from collapsing in a heap on the floor. Lustfully she eyed him as he unlocked the door and gestured chivalrously into the apartment.
She giggled when he locked the door behind her and pulled her directly to the wide futon in the middle of the small studio. He pushed her onto the bed, and took off his jacket in the dark, dropping it absentmindedly on a chair. “Get undressed,” he commanded her, turning away from her and moving about in the room. Ellen did as she was told, watching him in the half light as he lit candles around the bed. In the flickering of the yellow light the tattoo on his chest moved with the muscles in his body as if it were alive. “Come to bed,” she said, impatient.
“In a bit.” he said, ignoring her as he finished with the candles. It seemed like an hour before he finally put down the matches and climbed onto the bed next to her. She gasped as his body covered her, gasped as his teeth bit into her neck and her breasts. “Oh,” she said, once, and he leaned over her, his hands on either side of her shoulders, the demon on his chest fully displayed by the light of the dozens of tiny flames around the room. “Oh,” she said, again, finding herself drawn to stare at the work on the skin a few inches before her face. It was moving in the light. The clawed tentacles undulated towards her and the mouth appeared to open and close, dripping black saliva as it did. The demon’s eyes looked down at her body in lust and hunger, and Ellen found she could not take her eyes away from them.
“Oh,” she said, a third and final time, as the man bent his arms and crushed her body beneath his.
* * * *
“She’s not home,” Andrew said, holding the receiver against his ear with one shoulder. “I’m telling you, she’s not home.”
“Well then where the hell is she?” Tamara asked. “She never misses Fridays.”
“Maybe she has a new guy,” Andrew shrugged as the phone rang over and over again in his ear. “Maybe she’s out with him. You know her.”
“She would never miss a Friday at Shades,” Tamara insisted. “Never.”
“When was the last time you talked to her?” Andrew asked, giving up and hanging up the phone.
“Same time you did,” she replied. “Wednesday, when she went home with that guy with the tattoo. He’s probably murdered her, dismembered her body in the bathtub and poured acid over it to get rid of the evidence.”
Andrew smiled, once. “And you claim that I have a vivid imagination.” Then looked worried. “I wouldn’t put it past him. He does have a Mark Killock, after all. The type of people who get Mark Killock’s tattoos are hardly the type who are into normalcy in any way shape or form. And I didn’t like that guy to start with.”
Tamara suddenly leaned close and pointed. “We could ask him.” she said, her voice low. “Thats him over there.”
He was standing by the bar, wearing the same battered leather jacket as before, once again bare-chested underneath it. The creature on his chest seemed much less frightening than when it was fully exposed. In the full flourescent light of the upper bar, it looked almost like a regular tattoo. Andrew and Tamara watched him for a while as he ordered a shot of something dark and sludgy looking, and swallowed it effortlessly. “Go ask him,” Andrew said, nudging at her arm. He didn’t admit that he was slightly afraid to ask himself.
“OK, I will,” Tamara took the challenge. Andrew watched as she pushed through the people standing around in her path, watched as she walked boldly up to the man and talked to him. Andrew could not hear their conversation, but the man looked puzzled when she asked. Tamara made motions that were obviously a description; about this tall, longish hair. The man looked at her, and a slow languid smile spread across his face. He leaned over towards her, and Tamara seemed transfixed by her voice. The man’s lips just touched her ear, and he whispered something to her. Tamara blinked, once, and then turned pale.
Andrew pushed himself away from the wall, ready to jump in if Tamara was being threatened. What was going on? Tamara took a step back, blinking, and the man leaned back and turned back to the bar, waving at the bartender with authority, that smile still stuck on his face.
Tamara stood stock still for nearly a minute, and Andrew was just about to go up to her to see if she was all right when she turned and bolted for the door, one hand pressed up against her mouth. Andrew paused, debating whether to confront the man, or run after Tamara. He chose to run after her, following her outside. He called her name as she stumbled along the sidewalk, chasing her, and finally caught up to her several doors down from the club.
“Tamara.” He said, grasping her shoulders, turning her towards him as she went weak against the wall. Her expression was panicked, her eyes wide and full of frightened tears. “Tamara, what is it? What did he tell you?”
“She — I–” Tamara started, and gulped for air, struggling for control. “He has her. He has her trapped.”
“Wait here,” Andrew said, turning back towards the club. He pushed past the door guy, pushed through the crowds to the bar where the man with the tattoo was still standing, talking to the bartender and looking as if nothing had happened.
“You,” Andrew said, pulling on his shoulder, spinning him to face him. “What have you done with Ellen?”
The man stumbled a bit as he was spun, but he caught his balance and looked coolly at his attacker, a faint air of disdain in his glance. “Ah, its you,” he said. “I just explained it to your friend, ask her.” As if that was the end of the conversation, the man turned back to the bar. Andrew took hold of his shoulder again, grasped the front of his leather jacket in his fist and turned him forcibly back around again.
“She told me already. She said you had kidnapped Ellen. I want to know what the deal is, but if you’ve hurt her, I’ll fucking kill you right here.”
The man looked into Andrew’s eyes for several seconds, and then laughed again with that faint humorless laugh. “I haven’t done anything with her.”
“Well, you certainly gave Tamara that impression. Why is that?”
The man pulled back, ripping his jacket out of Andrew’s grasp. There was a long pause between them as their eyes locked. “Perhaps because I showed her this,” the man said, and pulled aside his jacket, turning slightly into the light.
The full glory of the tattoo was displayed in the flourescent light, and Andrew found his eyes drawn once again to the fine detail in the work, admiring it even as he was disgusted by its subject matter. The thousands of eyes appeared to be staring at him, almost blinking. The tentacles writhed in the light, and then as Andrew watched it, the creature actually was moving, rolling about on the fabric of the man’s skin. And in one of its tentacles, viciously mauled, was Ellen. Andrew stepped back, unable to pull his eyes away from the scene. Ellen’s lower body had been entirely eaten away, the remainder cut in slashes over every inch of her skin and her hair hung in her face, caked in her eyes with blood and slime. Andrew watched in horror as Ellen’s body turned in the creature’s claws, and saw with ever mounting panic that Ellen was still alive, that she was fully aware of what was happening to her, and that she was screaming at him, screaming mindlessly, trapped within the tattoo.