» The Tattoo - Dark Stories

- A September/2003 Special Feature -

by The Old Wife

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As Axyl DeVries entered Ink Inc one Friday afternoon, the teenage girl behind the counter took notice. "Can I help you?" she asked with a smile meant to indicate that she might be interested in him as more than a customer.

"Yeah," Axyl replied, "I want to get a tattoo. This is my first, so I'm not sure of the procedure."

"Well, you're in luck. Leila will be back from lunch any minute now, and she doesn't have any appointments scheduled until later this afternoon."

"That's great," Axyl said, although part of him was still a bit squeamish about the whole thing and would have preferred postponing the ordeal.

"Do you have an idea of what you want, or would you rather look at the samples?"

"I'll look at the samples. Thanks."

As Axyl looked at various skulls, dragons, snakes and eagles, he saw a pretty young woman enter the building, carrying a salad and a can of Diet Coke. "Here's your lunch," she said, giving the food to the teenager at the counter.

"Thanks, Leila. By the way, a customer came in while you were at lunch," the girl said nodding in Axyl's direction.

Leila Henning smiled and said to him, "When you find something you like, just yell. I've got to go sterilize the needles."

Several minutes later Axyl called to Leila. "I found one I like: this guitar with the flames around it."

"Come with me," Leila said, leading him to a back room where there were two chairs that resembled those found in a dentist's office, a cot, and three padded stools on wheels. "Where do want it? The chest? The back?"

"The upper arm will be fine."

"Have a seat," she said rolling the tray of needles and ink over to him and taking a seat on one of the stools. Then she raised the armrest on the chair and strapped his arm down. Axyl looked at her a bit uneasily.
"Don't get nervous," she said with a smile. "This is just to prevent you from moving your arm and destroying all my hard work."

Leila picked up the needle and began outlining the guitar. 
Axyl looked away.

"You must be a musician."

"Yes, how could you tell?"

"Because you chose the guitar. I can tell a lot about a man by his tattoos."

"Oh? What else does my tattoo tell you about me?"

"For one thing, you don't have a wife or a fiancée. If you did, you'd ask me to include a little heart with her name on it."

"You're right. I play guitar in a group called Mirage, and I don't have a girlfriend. Do you have any tattoos?" he asked.

"Of course. That's what got me into this field." She raised her sleeve and showed him the rose vine that encircled her arm. "I also have a large tattoo across my back, from shoulder to shoulder, and a 
small one near my navel."

"I guess a lot of women are getting tattoos these days. It's funny but I always associated tattoos with sailors and bikers."

"And no doubt you thought any woman with a tattoo was a lesbian, right?"

A guilty blush appeared on Axyl's face. "I suppose so, but they are kind of sexy come to think of it. So tell me Leila, is there a man's name tattooed anywhere on your body?"

Leila smiled and shook her head.

"...Why? What's with the third degree all of a sudden?"

Axyl DeVries and Leila Henning dated for several months. During that time Leila had Axyl's name tattooed on her arm. She also talked Axyl into letting her tattoo a vine of hearts and roses across the top of his back.

"A design this size takes 20 to 30 hours," she said. "But there's no rush, is there? I can work on it a couple of hours each day."

"What am I supposed to do, walk around with half a tattoo on my back?" he laughed.

"Wear a shirt. Then nobody will see it until it's done. Except for me, of course."

Leila worked on Axyl's tattoo from one to two hours a day two or three days a week, depending upon his schedule. His band, Mirage, was beginning to get a loyal following and their number of bookings was steadily increasing.

It was while Mirage was performing at a club in Boston, that Axyl met a very beautiful and wealthy Harvard law student. During the four-week gig, he took her out every night after the show. But then Mirage went back to New York, and Axyl went home to Leila.

Three days after returning to Brooklyn, Axyl received a phone call from the girl. Leila came home from work while he was talking to her, and Axyl quickly ended the call and hung up the phone.

"Who was that?" Leila asked.

"Just a fan who heard us play up in that club in Boston."

"Is her name Elsbeth Cabot?"

Axyl turned pale. "How did you know her name?"

"She phoned this morning right after you left. What did she want?"

"She just wanted to know if we would be playing that club again. Why? What's with the third degree all of a sudden?"

Up until that point Leila had seen no reason to question Axyl's faithfulness. But his sudden defensiveness made her suspicious. "I only asked you a question. Why should it make you feel guilty?"

"I'm not feeling guilty. I didn't do anything wrong. It's not as if we're married, you know. There's no reason I can't spend time with one of my fans."

"Just how much time did you spend with her?"

Axyl picked up the telephone and, in a fit of temper, threw it against the wall. "I've had enough of your questions," he screamed and then left to spend the night at a friend's house. From there, he phoned Elsbeth back and told her he'd be in the Boston area in another two weeks.

Axyl returned to his apartment the following morning. Leila, who had been up all night crying, greeted him with swollen red eyes. "I'm sorry," she cried. "I won't question you any more."

Axyl brushed her aside and walked into the bedroom. "Forget it, Leila. It's over." He took his suitcases out of the closet and began packing.

"Why? I said I was sorry, didn't I? I won't be jealous anymore. Okay? Is that what you want?"

"I want out," he said, cruelly disregarding her feelings. "This relationship is beginning to bore me."

"It's that girl Elsbeth Cabot isn't it?"

"She's part of it," he admitted. "But it goes beyond her. I just don't want to be tied down right now."

"I don't want to tie you down. I just want to be with you."

"But I don't want to be with you, not anymore," Axyl said as he grabbed his bags and left.

Leila crumbled to the floor in tears. She had never even gotten the chance to tell him she was pregnant.

"She's a tattoo artist in New York. Why?"

Two weeks later Mirage had a return engagement at the club in Boston. Elsbeth Cabot was at Logan Airport to meet Axyl's plane.

"I missed you," he said after a passionate embrace.

"I missed you, too," she replied. "I'm glad you flew up a few days early because I've borrowed the family's yacht. I thought we'd cruise around the Cape and the islands for a couple of days."

"Sounds great," he said as he got his bags and they headed toward her Land Rover.

From the airport, Elsbeth drove to Hyannis where she and Axyl boarded the yacht. They changed into their swim­suits and stretched out on the deck to get a tan.

"You're as white as a ghost," Elsbeth said. "I'd better put some sun block on you." Axyl smiled as she rubbed the cool lotion on his chest, arms and legs. "Roll over and I'll do your back."

Axyl rolled onto his stomach, and Elsbeth rubbed the sun block on his back. "Who's Leila?" she asked.

"Leila?" Axyl echoed. "She's a tattoo artist in New York. Why?"

"She tattooed her name on your back."

"You mean she signed the tattoo?"

"It's more than a signature. She wrote her name in large letters all across your back."

"She did what?" he yelled. "She was supposed to be tattooing a vine of roses."

"The vine of roses encircles her name. You mean you don't even know what this tattoo looks like?"

"She hasn't had the chance to finish it yet."

"It looks finished to me."

Later that afternoon when Axyl and Elsbeth went below deck, Axyl held a hand mirror up to his back and looked at its reflection in the full-length mirror behind the bathroom door. It was the first time he saw the tattoo Leila had been working on before they broke up.

"Shit!" he swore when he saw her name spelled in letters nearly 5" high.

"What's wrong, honey?" Elsbeth asked.

"I just got a good look at this tattoo. I can't go through life with the name Leila written on my skin."

"Go back to the tattoo parlor and have her create something over her name."

"I don't know that I'd trust her anymore."

"Don't worry, darling. Just threaten her with a lawsuit. You'll see how fast she'll be willing to accommodate you then."

Axyl was struck speechless with surprise, pity and guilt.

Four weeks later, Axyl was back in Brooklyn. After he had the chance to unpack, he tried phoning Leila. A computerized voice informed him that the number was no longer in service. Axyl then drove to Leila's apartment, but another woman answered the door claiming that she'd just leased the place a week earlier. Finally, Axyl returned to Ink Inc. An aging hippy in a tie-dyed tee shirt was working behind the counter.

"I have to see Leila," Axyl said.

"Leila? Sorry, I don't know anyone by that name."

"Three months ago she started a tattoo on my back that I want to have finished."

"Oh, you must mean the girl that used to work here. I was hired as her replacement. If you've already paid for the tattoo, I'd be more than willing to finish it."

"No, she was doing it on her own time. Listen; do you know where she works now? Or maybe you have a forwarding address for her."

"Nope. There is none. She's dead."

"Dead?" Axyl was stunned.

"Yep. Suicide. I heard from the girl who works here on weekends that this Leila was pregnant and that the guy walked out on her. So she killed herself."

Axyl was struck speechless with surprise, pity and guilt.

"Tell you what I can do for you," the man at the counter continued. "I'll take a look at that tattoo and give you an estimate on how much it would cost to finish it."

Axyl shook his head and walked toward the door. "Some other time maybe."

For days Axyl bore his guilt and pain in silence. Then he boarded a plane and headed for Boston. He showed up unexpectedly at Elsbeth's Cambridge home. A stuffy British butler answered the door.

"I have to see Miss Cabot," Axyl said. He was shown into the study, where several minutes later Elsbeth joined him. Axyl took her in his arms.

"You shouldn't have come here," she said stiffly, as she inched away from him.

"I'm sorry," he replied with mixed feelings of hurt and confusion. "I received some really bad news the other day. A friend of mine died, and I need someone to talk to."

"Why me?" she asked coolly.

"Why you? Elsbeth, what's wrong? Are you mad at me or something?"


"Then why the cold shoulder all of a sudden? A few weeks ago we were skinny-dipping off your family's yacht, and today you treat me like an insurance salesman."

"I can't talk here, okay. Go to my apartment. There's a spare key under the mat. Wait there and I'll talk to you later tonight." Elsbeth then disappeared down the long hallway, and the butler showed him out.

Axyl waited at her apartment for four and a half hours. Eventually, a man driving a late model Porsche dropped her off at the front door.

"Who was that?" Axyl asked jealously.

"He's a very good friend of mine from Harvard."

"How good?"

"I'm not going to lie to you, Axyl. Daniel and I are going to get married after we graduate."

"You're getting married? Then what were you doing with me all this time?"

"Having fun. There's no crime against that, is there? After all, I'm not married yet. I'm not even officially engaged."

"So you decided to go slumming before you settled down with Mr. Harvard graduate, is that it?"

Elsbeth looked him straight in the eye, "That's it exactly. But why are you so concerned about the other men in my life? Did I question you about the girl who answered your phone in New York?"

"Leila," he said more to himself than to her.

"Leila? The girl from a tattoo parlor?" Elsbeth started laughing. "Tell me; did she tattoo her name on your back before or after I phoned?"

"She's dead," he said simply, expecting no sympathy from Elsbeth. "She killed herself after I left her."

"I'm sorry. Is that why you were upset? You shouldn't feel guilty. Girls like her can't cope with life's problems."

"Girls like her? You don't know anything about her."

"I've seen her kind before. They work in tattoo parlors, beauty shops, bars, Wal-Marts and fast food restaurants. They have boring, low paying jobs, and they can barely make ends meet. So they wait for Prince Charming to rescue them. They'll settle for the first guy that comes along rather than try to make something better of themselves."

"Why, you snobby bitch!" Axyl cried. "Maybe Leila didn't have your education and breeding, but she had a heart of gold."

"Then why did you leave her?"

"Because I was blinded by your beauty, your brains and your wealth. I thought I was moving up in the world, but I see now that I was slumming, too."

"Take a good look at it, will you?" Axyl asked. "Is it really a tattoo?"

Three weeks later as Axyl was shaving in front of the bathroom mirror, he noticed an odd mark on his neck. He twisted this way and that but could not get a good view of the mark. He rifled through the vanity drawer and found a hand mirror that he used to view the back of his neck.

"What?" Axyl cried in disbelief. The tattoo between his shoulder blades had spread to encompass his entire back, from his beltline to the base of his skull. The mark he had seen while shaving was part of the vine that had spread across his neck. As he stared at the width and breadth of the tattoo, he noticed that Leila's name was no longer visible in the mass of roses that were blooming on the tattooed vine.

Axyl put on a turtleneck sweater and paid a visit to the middle-aged hippy at Ink Inc.

"Hey, man," the tattoo artist said when he recognized Axyl. "Decided to have that tattoo finished after all, huh?"

"I want you to take a look at my back," he said.

The two men walked into the large room with the dentist's chairs. Axyl pulled off his sweater, and the hippy whistled with appreciation.

"That's a beautiful job. But it looks like it's already finished. What more do you want done?"

"Take a good look at it, will you?" Axyl asked. "Is it really a tattoo?"

"I don't follow you, man. It's a tattoo, all right."

"When Leila stopped working on it, the entire tattoo was confined to the area right between my shoulder blades. The rest of the design just ... appeared."

The hippy laughed. "What have you been smoking, man?"

"I'm serious! This tattoo on my back is growing."

"Not my face!"

As the weeks went by, the tattoo continued to spread. In less than a month the vines traveled down his legs and in less than two, they made their way down his arms toward his hands. He thought about seeing a doctor, but he doubted a man of science would believe such a preposterous story. No one else did. He tried convincing his closest friends, and they all thought he was joking. Who had ever heard of a tattoo that grew on its own?

As the vines took over his body, Axyl tried to cover them with long sleeves and high-neck shirts. He even took to wearing gloves to hide the vines on his hands. But eventually the tattoo made its way to his face.

"No!" Axyl screamed when he saw the first prickly leaves appear at his temples. "Not my face!" When the tattoo started making its way across his cheeks toward the bridge of his nose, Axyl smashed his bathroom mirror in anger. "How much further is this going to go on?" he screamed.

The tattoo grew for two more weeks. Every inch of flesh on Axyl's body-including his eyelids, his scalp, his lips, the soles of his feet and the palms of his hands-was covered with vines of roses and 

Feeling like a freak in a circus sideshow, Axyl stayed in his apartment behind a locked door. Things such as working, eating, dating and even living mattered little to him now. His phone went unanswered, his bills unpaid.

Axyl sat at his kitchen table chewing on a moldy piece of cheese sandwiched between two slices of stale bread. As he chewed, he felt a strange tickling sensation on his forehead. He reached up and touched the area with his finger­tips. His forehead was wet. Was he sweating? He didn't feel hot. He looked at his hand. The tips of his fingers had blood on them.

Slowly the bleeding spread, from heart to heart, from rose to rose, all along the network of vines that covered his body. Soon the blood soaked through his clothes. Axyl stripped and stood in the shower, hoping to rinse the blood away. But the warm water only seemed to increase the flow of blood. Axyl was soon bleeding profusely from the hundreds of hearts and roses that had been tattooed on his body.

A wave of dizziness hit him. He reached out his hand and grabbed the shower curtain, which ripped as he fell. Axyl laid half in and half out of the shower stall. His blood was running down the shower drain and pooling up beneath him on the bathroom floor. His eyes fluttered briefly and then closed.

Axyl DeVries' body was found three days later by the superintendent of his building. The cause of death was not immediately apparent. The police found no wounds, no bloodstains, and no marks on 
the body-just a tattoo of a guitar on his upper right arm and a second tattoo across his back, between his shoulder blades: that of a small heart inscribed "Axyl and Leila forever."

The End

Visit the Old Wife's site to read more of her stories: The Old Wife

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