Forty drunken skinheads. If I screw up I’ll have to fight my way out, my tattoo needle against their ink. And their power tattoos are no joke.
I set up in a room with a ratty overstuffed side chair that stinks of stale beer and ass. I open my large leather satchel and take out the equipment: battery powered needle; inks and powders; disinfectants and latex gloves; the collapsible stool latched to the side.
After fifteen members get their tats the leader, DogSpit, totters into sight, the odor of tequila sharp from ten feet away. His head is shaved like the rest with the swastika done in black and red on his skull. He is my target tonight. He doesn’t want a new tattoo.
“Here.” He falls into the chair and pulls up his short sleeve. On his right bicep is a barbed wire design faded into a bluish gray. “Make it work again.”
Barbed wire enables strength, mostly defense but the sharp steel points also give a ruthless bent to acts of violence. As an apprentice I had drawn plenty, uncaring what destruction those images empowered their wearers to do. I’ve since switched my black hat for a gray one.
“You look familiar.” DogSpit’s voice is slurred but his eyes alert. I stare into them for one second, two, three, enough to start the hypnotic connection.
“I have that kind of face,” I say, loading the ink cartridge. It’s my own blend, walnut tannin and ground beetle added to the synthetic inks and neurochemicals.
“There was a dude,” DogSpit says, “worked for Henry Two Shoes in East L.A. You ever work for Henry Two Shoes?”
“No,” I lie. My hair was long back then. I shaved the goatee. But I did have that kind of face, black eyes, big nose, sharp chin, that people remembered.
“Too bad. That dude did some righteous ink.”
I work quickly. The needle drones. I push it hard, have to get deeper in the skin. DogSpit’s jawline tightens. Maybe he isn’t as drunk as he seems.
Twists of wire become vines. Sharp barbs transform into leaves. Hard to see under the blood and smeared ink. He won’t notice until I clean it up. By then he’ll be in a trance. Or I’ll be dead. Last is the flower on the inside of the bicep.
“Lift your arm up.”
The stink of his pit is too much. I breathe through my mouth and switch to a dark purple ink, dark enough to be taken for black. I look him in the eye.
“My ink is my tool and its word is true,” I say. He nods. “My needle delivers and my art is proof.”
Standard opening lines, drawing DogSpit into my own eyes. I look away every few seconds to drag that buzzing needle along his skin, deeper still. Some think power tattoos are just subliminal suggestion, that it is the mind not the ink that acts. Or that it’s a special chemical in the ink that affects the brain. Others still call it magic.
And we artists don’t do much to dispel their notions. Better for business. But most inkers are posers. Real power tattooists require something different in our brains, our souls. Unfortunately, that difference is a darkness. Tonight I’m making amends.
“My ink is my tool and its word is true.”
DogSpit’s lips move in a quiet response.
“Where harm was done,” I say, “let it be healed.”
“Healed,” DogSpit repeats.
“Where hate dwells, let it be scoured.”
“Where violence surges, let it be calmed.”
“Where justice waits, may you be delivered.”
His glassy eyes shift to his arm, see the poison flower amongst the vines, the razor wire transformed to Wolfsbane. With his other hand he grabs my throat hard and squeezes.
“You… you was that dude,” he slurs, fighting the ink that is seeping into his bloodstream. “At Henry TwoShoesezes. You are that dude.”
I have a fingertip needle prepared and I jab it into the side of his throat. It has a quick numbing agent that prevents a shout for help, and a powerful sedative. He squeezes harder still, fighting the drugs, and when I think this is the end and the dark starts to come at my vision from the sides, DogSpit’s grip finally relaxes and his hand falls limply down.
I lower his other arm. I had done the barbed wire on DogSpit years ago. I inked a lot of bangers, helping fuel the fires of the L.A. gang wars. I thought I was an anarchist, helping bring down a corrupt system. I was just making things worse.
I pack my gear into the leather satchel. One of two things will happen over the next few days. The words, the incantation, the symbols, will work their way into DogSpit’s brain and transform him. Some people find religion. Some find a cause. But change will occur.
Unless he fights it. In which case his brain’s chemical mix will react to the chemicals that are leaching into his blood from the ink. And DogSpit will be dead within the week.
“Your boy had too much tequila,” I tell another gang member on my way out the door. “Make sure he doesn’t choke on his own vomit.”
I’m not the only reformed power tattooist. Some of us gray hats think we should just kill our targets. But the line between vigilantes and justice bringers is thin enough. The world needs more people to offset the pain and harm they’ve caused. DogSpit needs to have a choice. I’ve made mine, trying to shine a little light into the dark.
Todd Wheeler writes stories and books set in the near future which address how technology affects us and its humorous and absurd consequences. His stories have appeared in online and print magazines, including Atomjack Magazine, On The Premises, and the anthology Retro Spec: Tales of Fantasy and nostalgia. Garbageland is his first published novel. Each year he runs a virtual Summer Reading Program to benefit library and literacy charities. Additional information about him and his writing can be found at todd-wheeler.com.