The first time it happened, I woke up to a feeling like my arm was on fire. It was early in the morning on a Saturday, but still dark, and I stumbled to the bathroom, expecting the mirror to show me some sort of rash. Instead, I saw a tattoo. I had never stepped into a tattoo shop in my life. My mind struggled to rationalise it. I was drowsy but I knew I wasn’t dreaming. Surely someone had not tattooed me while slept. I lived alone and whether it had happened in my apartment or somewhere else, I would have woken up. Unless I had been drugged, I thought as a feeling of dread swept over me. It was at that moment that I noticed something even stranger. The tattoo was moving. Or, to be more precise, the image depicted in the tattoo was animated. I watched a couple hiking a mountain trail. All of a sudden a figure appeared from behind a tree on the path and attacked the hikers. I recognised where they were. It was the Wildflower Mountain trail, a short drive from the city, I had hiked it many times myself.
I jumped into the shower and let freezing cold water wash over me. I prayed that the icy shock would fix whatever was happening in my brain and cool the prickling heat on my arm. But as I walked back to the mirror draped in my towel, I saw that the tattoo was still there. I considered calling the emergency services, but what would I say? It might technically count as an assault to forcibly tattoo someone, but I had no evidence to prove that I had not got the tattoo voluntarily. Besides, there was no explaining the animation. I was in pain, but not sick or injured in a way that an ambulance would be of any use. So, I opened my bedroom windows to let in the cool night air and returned to bed.
When I woke again later in the morning, the pain in my arm was more intense. I still didn’t have a plan. After taking another cold shower, I took some painkillers and pulled my duvet to the sofa, setting up camp in front of the TV. I lay there popping pills and drifting in and out of sleep throughout the morning and into the afternoon. When I heard the tune for the six o’clock news I decided that it was time to do something productive. I hadn’t eaten all day so I decided to make my dinner. My mum had always said that ginger was good for pain, so I started to prepare a meal of ginger chicken and rice. The TV was still on in the background, but I wasn’t really watching or listening until the news announcer began to report a breaking story.
“The bodies of two hikers, a man and a woman, have been found on the Wildflower Mountain trail,” said the announcer. “Police believe the crime to have been committed by an ex-partner of the murdered woman.”
I collapsed into a heap on my kitchen floor. I grabbed the handle of a cabinet and breathed deeply. I looked down at my arm. The hiking scene was fading and another was replacing it. A man was lurking outside a house, watching a family have dinner. I could see the door, it was number 19. I searched the scene for clues. The street looked vaguely familiar. I was sure I had driven down it before. My arm was pulsing, my adrenaline was flowing, and then I remembered. My aunt and her children lived on the street: 32 Bradbury Street. I grabbed my car keys and my phone and ran to my car.
“Call the police,” I said, once my phone was docked in my car.
“Police please,” I said once I was connected to an operator. “19 Bradbury Street, there’s a man outside the house, I think he’s going to kill them.
That was seven months ago. The man was arrested before I arrived on the scene, and before he could get into the house. He had already killed two other families in the preceding months. When he was safely in custody, the tattoo disappeared along with the pain. I could not explain what had happened, but deep inside I felt different. Something had changed. I knew the disappearance of the tattoos was only temporary. Even in their absence, I was marked. A couple of days later another one appeared, and I got to work. That’s how it has been ever since. My grandmother would always say that God has a purpose for everyone’s life. My response had always been that I wished that God would be more explicit with mine. So here I am, on a roof, telling a man not to jump as I have seen him do repeatedly in the moving pictures on my arm. That’s pretty explicit, I must admit.