Estimated reading time — 7 minutes
My friends and I were always trying to dare each other into doing stupid stuff. Generally, it involved us all getting super drunk, then making suggestions. If we all agreed somebody had to do something, they would have to do it…or they’d have to have a drink from “the Bottle.” The Bottle was a former bottle of vodka that now contained any sort of nasty, vile fluids that we collected over time. One sip was guaranteed to make anyone hurl.
Looking back on it now, my friends and I were dicks. But things definitely would have been better if I had just drank from the Bottle that night.
The night I’m talking about was the night I was chosen to get a tattoo…from the lowest-rated place Yelp had to offer. I never wanted a tattoo. Everyone else in our group had at least one, with Frank covered in the things, but I had always been a holdout. That was why I was chosen. Being super drunk, as I said, I was less willing to say no. It didn’t help that I was the last contributor to the Bottle and definitely didn’t want my lips anywhere near it.
It didn’t take long to find a place online. We had never seen a place get so many negative reviews and still be in business…without it being a trolling prank, anyway. These looked genuine, ranging from being stabbed with the needles to getting the wrong tattoo to getting a staph infection from leaning against a stain on the wall.
The guys thought it was perfect for me.
I’d never actually been to a business that had its front entrance come in from an alley, but this did. Everyone else waited back at my place while Frank drove me there, to make sure I did the deed right. He sat in the lobby with me until I was called back behind a yellow curtain.
The guy doing my tattoo looked like an ex-biker who had recently gotten into voodoo. He wore a bandanna on his head (probably to hide the fact that was going bald, most likely), a Killing Joke jean jacket (the band, not the Batman story), and had a beard long enough to hide gravy stains on his belt buckle. On the shelf behind him were a collection of painted skulls (those calavera ones from the Day of the Dead festivals) and vials filled with used needles, fresh needles, and at least a few shrunken heads. I hoped they were fakes, but they were really leathery looking.
He looked me over, and then pointed to a binder full of designs to pick from. I flipped through them, looking for anything unusual enough that I’d never seen it on anyone before, but not so lame that I’d regret my decision in the morning…though I was still drunk enough that I’d probably regret anything at this point.
I finally found one, towards the middle…an hourglass. A real Goth-looking hourglass, with spider webs and curled, pointy edges, very Tim Burton-looking. I gave it to the guy, pointed to the back of my neck (right where a nice business shirt would cover it up), and prepared myself.
It took three hours. It shouldn’t have taken three hours for something as small as I got, but it did. Every second the needle was running hurt, and hurt bad. But after sweating, swearing, and plotting revenge on all of my friends one by one, he said it was done. I thanked him, paid him (though the tip was certainly smaller than he probably expected), and went to go see Frank.
Frank, mad that he’d waited for so long, asked to see it on the way back to the car. I pulled back my shirt and angled my neck. “So, what do you think?”
He looked at it. “Christ, dude, I knew it had to be big, but wow, that’s commitment. I can’t believe you’d get something that disgusting and realistic looking.”
Disgusting? Realistic? Maybe he’d had more to drink in the lobby. It was a stupid hourglass; realistic I could buy, but disgusting?
We got in his car and started driving back. With my neck itching, I asked if he had a mirror in the car so I could take a look at it, maybe even rub some of that greasy lotion the artist gave me to keep it from drying out. He said there might be a signal mirror or something in the glove compartment; I checked, and he was right. I raised it up to look at my hourglass.
It was dark in Frank’s car, but even I could tell something was wrong. My hourglass, which had looked fine when I was in the tattoo parlor, wasn’t an hourglass anymore. It couldn’t have been. It was too big… it stretched across my neck completely. I would have never gotten a tattoo like that.
But there it was. And I could see why Frank said it was disgusting.
It was a car wreck. A truly disturbing one, with twisted metal and a corpse hanging out of the windshield. Blood and glass everywhere.
What in the hell was I looking at?
Frank must’ve noticed my look of surprise. “What, did the guy give you the wrong one? I guess that’s why they’re so low rated. You really got to be careful, I almost had the same thing happen to me on the one on my forearm here. You know the guy thought I wanted a Garfield and not a snow leopard? It would’ve been embarrass…”
I never heard him finish. He was cut off by a loud roar as something smashed into the car. I felt it spin through the air, but I remembered nothing else before waking up on the road. It can’t have been a long time, because there were no emergency vehicles around. But I stood up, with only a dull pain in my arm the only injury I could feel. I was lucky, considering I had been wearing my seat belt and yet had still been thrown from the car.
Frank wasn’t so lucky. The car lay in a puddle of leaking fluids, and when I came closer I saw he was hanging out of the driver side window. He was shredded by glass, and not moving.
The way he was hanging looked familiar, and the longer I looked at his ruined body, the more I realized what I was looking at.
The tattoo on my neck. The wreck looked just like the tattoo.
I was checked by the emergency personnel who arrived, who confirmed that I had bruised my arm and gotten a few superficial cuts. Frank had been killed on impact. The truck driver who had hit us had fled the scene and was caught a little ways up the road. Thing is, if he had stayed he wouldn’t have been at fault; Frank had run a stop sign.
I didn’t talk to anybody for awhile. I wasn’t sure if I was just in mourning, or if I was still scared about my tattoo. Since the night of the accident, it was clearly back to being an hourglass. I couldn’t be sure, but I thought there was more sand in the bottom than there had been when it was first done.
The night of Frank’s funeral (closed casket, obviously), the guys and I got together to have some drinks in his honor at a local microbrew.
Eric was the first to remember that I had gotten the tattoo, and wanted to see it. I let him, but I was reluctant.
“Dude, sick! What the hell? Who’d even let you get that?”
My stomach twisted. I had to see what he had seen. I excused myself and went to the bathroom.
I still had the mirror from Frank’s car. It had survived the crash, and I held onto it just in case. Looking in both mirrors, I saw the tattoo had changed again.
It showed a man whose head had been smashed to a pulp, but the body was still holding a glass raised in toast.
I ran back out to the group, and told them maybe we should go on home and meet back up tomorrow. They all agreed, except for Eric, who said he’d call for an Uber or something, that he wanted a couple more drinks.
I thought maybe that if I left, he’d be okay. Maybe if my neck was cursed or something, it would leave him alone if I got as far away as I could.
I went to sleep. The next morning, I got a frantic call from Jeff. It was Eric. He had gone missing. A few hours later, Jeff called again. Eric was dead.
He had apparently gotten blind stinking drunk and started getting loud and screaming that he wanted to fight someone. He got kicked out, and he thought it would be a great idea to walk home by himself. He passed out on the railroad tracks. The train hit his head and never even slowed down. They found him early in the morning, but it took awhile to find out because they needed fingerprints to identify him.
I checked my tattoo. Hourglass again. More sand was definitely in the bottom than there was.
I went back to the tattoo parlor and asked about the guy who gave it to me. I found out he’d been fired. Turns out he falsified his application form. The name and address he gave weren’t his. He had taken his stuff and left before anyone could call the police. No one knew who he really was.
After Eric’s funeral, I didn’t go out drinking. I stayed at home. I found myself watching the tattoo. It was the only thing I could do.
It was a mistake to be alone, though. My remaining friends decided to check in on me and make sure everything was OK. Jeff brought The Bottle with him, not to drink from, but just to remember better times. And then he made a comment asking if I got the tattoo worked on, because he didn’t remember it being big enough to see over the top of my shirt.
No. I wouldn’t let it hurt anyone else. I would stop it.
It was the stupidest thing I had ever done without being drunk. I grabbed The Bottle, and smashed it on the table. Everyone shouted as I ran out of the room and up to the bathroom, where the mirrors were still set up, where I watched every day to see what shape the tattoo would take next. I saw it was no longer the hourglass, but didn’t look at what it was now. I locked the bathroom door, held tight to the gooey, liquid coated edge of the Bottle’s neck and started cutting.
It hurt. It hurt so bad. But it had to go.
I vaguely remember the door busting open and some calling an ambulance, going to the hospital.
I did live, as I’m writing this now. One skin graft and many psych evaluations later, I was discharged.
So far, nothing more has happened. But I’m still afraid.
You see, nobody found the piece of skin I had cut off. I had stared at it, long and hard, before my friends broke down the door. I’d thrown it into a drawer and hid it. When I came home, I found it. It was the hourglass again. But even on that now dead tissue, it still changes…I think. I swear more sand is still falling through the hourglass, even without it being attached to me. There’s only a few grains left.
Which means now I look for it to change. To go back to that image I saw that night. The image that I know realize nobody ever saw but me. Jeff never got a good look at it. It means that was my fate. And with the grains left in the hourglass, it’ll be any day now.
On that piece of severed skin that night was an image of a man. A flayed, skinless man. He sits in a puddle of his own blood, holding strips of his own skin and a knife. The strips are all covered in tattoos. And he’s laughing.