The Tattooist

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"Where'd you get this design?" It seemed a casual question from the middle-aged tattoo artist, one he'd asked many times.

Hazen held his arm still, but the rest of him squirmed. "It's from a dream I had."

The needle lifted from his skin, and the tattooist raised a curious eyebrow. "A dream? That's it? And you're getting a tattoo of it?"

Hazen tried to chuckle and looked around the parlor at the handful of other workers and patrons. "That can't be the weirdest answer you've heard."

The tattooist shrugged in agreement and went back to work. Hazen toughed it out as the needle slid over and over the inside of his forearm. The '+' section complete, the artist got to work on the outer circle which would connect the points.

This was not Hazen's first tattoo. It wasn't his first from his dreams – well, nightmares, if he was being honest. But this Mark tattoo was the most important. He couldn't even explain why.

This Mark means something, he thought. I've envisioned it hundreds of times... On that little girl's shoulder when she's pulled across a burning camp. On that boy's as he fights soldiers. But those nightmares aren't at all like my normal visions. They're far in the future... Am I nuts? Well, no. I had my sanity confirmed a long time ago...

The tattooist's phone buzzed on the shelf behind his work station. He lifted the needle and looked at his phone, then made a face. "Sorry. It's my wife. Our kid's been home sick. Mind if I take this quick?"

"Go ahead."

The man turned away and answered his phone. "Hey, Rach. How's the kiddo?"

Hazen swallowed.

This, he thought, could be the last time he talks to his wife, if I'm wrong about this vision. If I screw this up... But I had to come. I have to try.

Hazen would never not try everything in his power ever again. Not after what happened with his brother.

But I wish there was a way to know, he thought. Some of my nightmares show things that are going to happen no matter what. Others show things that can be changed. It's maddening!

"I love you too. I'm just finishing up this last guy and then I'll hurry home. Bye." The tattooist hung up and returned his full focus to Hazen. "Sorry about that. Not super-professional, I know."

"No problem." Hazen smiled and tried not to look worried.

The needle buzzed again, followed by the piercing, scratching pain in Hazen's arm.

When the artist finished and wrapped Hazen's arm in plastic wrap like a leftover meal, Hazen pulled the sleeve of his hoodie back down. He paid at the parlor's front desk, leaving his tattooist a generous tip, and exited the shop. The door's bell jingled to announce his departure.

Hazen stepped out onto a cool, windy sidewalk. All the normal sounds of Toronto filled the air. He used his good arm to pull the hood of his sweatshirt over his buzzed hair, blocking the wind. Then he leaned against the side of the building, pretending to be busy on his phone. But he was starting to sweat, and his stomach tightened as he looked at the street and recognized it from his nightmare. It was almost time.

Soon, the door's bell jingled and his tattoo artist stepped onto the sidewalk. The man looked both ways along the street, pulled his collar over his ears, and looked down at his phone to check something. He stepped between two parked cars and looked both ways again before stepping out to cross the street.

Now, thought Hazen.

He darted after the man. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the delivery truck rounding the corner. Just as the tattooist stepped into the truck's lane, Hazen caught up and grabbed the man's jacket. He heard the truck's brakes squeal, but he didn't look as he pushed the man forward and stumbled the last few steps to the far curb.

"What-" The man tripped over the curb but recovered. His eyes went from Hazen to the truck and back to Hazen.

The driver yelled, "Careful, buddy!" and drove on up the road.

Hazen, panting a bit, had to smile.

"Holy..." The tattooist looked around and ran a hand through his hair. "Thanks, man. I did not see that guy. I'm lucky you were here."

Hazen chuckled at this. "No worries. Have a nice day. Hope your kid gets better soon."

"Thanks." The man smiled, clapped Hazen's shoulder, and turned to walk up the sidewalk.

Hazen, incredibly relieved, let out a breath and turned to walk to his car. He looked at his watch, a college graduation gift from his father six years ago.

I still have half an hour, he thought. Should be enough time to reach the restaurant.

With a sigh, Hazen approached his parked Maserati Quattroporte. The beep to unlock the vehicle always sounded pretentious to Hazen, but damn it was a fun car to drive. The Maserati had been a competing graduation gift from his mother. Hazen had to admit she'd won that round.

When he sat behind the wheel, he pulled up his sleeve and examined the fresh tattoo. These always felt good. The pain helped glue him to this reality more than anything he'd tried. Certainly more than drugs – that'd been a whopper of a mistake. While in college, he'd experimented with anything that kept him awake, but certainly not for the purpose of pulling an all-nighter. He'd wanted to avoid sleep in order to avoid nightmares. The Dexedrine worked at first, but when he'd finally come down he'd slept deeper than ever. And his nightmares... Let's just say he didn't want any that vivid ever again. Nowadays, he was smarter about how to avoid the truly frightening visions, only sleeping four hours at a time. And he definitely avoided hallucinogenics. Hell, even Motrin activated nightmares about people infected with a disease that turned them into-

His phone rang. L.A. area code.

With a sigh, Hazen answered. "Hi, Mom."

"Hazen Randall Stephenson, please, tell me you're still going."

All three names, he thought. Yep, I'm in trouble.

"I'm on my way."

"Don't keep Maghen waiting. I told her mother you were excited to meet her, so at least try to smile, will you?"

"I'll be as charming as possible. I Promise. Okay? Chill, Mackenzie Schultz-Stephenson-Whyte."

"Very funny. Call me when you're back at your hotel. Unless it's after ten. I have an early brunch with the girls."

His mother's demands were oddly selective.

"Okay. Bye."

He ended the call, then adjusted the mirror for a quick inspection. His blue eyes weren't too bloodshot. His skin was clean, though he hadn't shaved in a week. The circles under his eyes weren't too noticeable. He brushed a hand over his buzzed, blond hair, but there wasn't much to be done there.

Hazen started the Maserati, turned up the radio, and sped down the street.

How does Mom havefriends in every city I visit? he thought. And I remember Mrs. Cannon – Maghenbetter not be anything like her mother. 

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