There is a bit of an explanation of this story at the bottom – I don’t want to give it away before you read it.

I spend a lot of my days waiting and watching for the perfect subject.

The squeamish ones are best; the ones who are coming to me for their first time.  They keep their eyes closed for most of it, which means I can do whatever I want with them. 

By the time they realise, it’s too late. 

The seasoned pros, the ones who know what they’re doing, are no good for my purposes.  They watch my progress as I work my way across their skin; enjoying the rush of adrenalin and the release of endorphins.  And because I’m good at what I do, they tend to come back.

It’s not exactly that I don’t like having regulars.  It means I can keep the place going and some even let me experiment on them a little, because they trust me.  But trust means they don’t have the slight fear it might all go wrong, that they’re making a mistake by coming here.  What’s more, they never recoil in disgust at the end when they realise what I’ve done.

My regulars never give a little scream of horror at the end, they never demand to know who the hell I think I am or threaten to come back with a big cousin or a police officer to sort me out. 

The first time I heard that shriek of fear, the one that makes my spine tingle with pleasure, I knew it was exactly how I wanted to spend my life.

Her name was Bettina.  She was an Austrian exchange student, leggy and blonde, who had come to The City to study chemistry.  It was her first time away from home – she was only about eighteen – and she wanted to try everything.  

When she got to me she was just beginning to discover who she was, and she was rapidly finding out she wasn’t a chemist. 

“I want this one,” she said; brisk, cutting through all the nervous giggling and small talk I had got used to from other kids her age.

She had a copy of my folio in her hand and was pointing at something quite tame, even dull.  I wanted to give her more than that, I felt someone so brave and beautiful deserved a unique experience.  Something to make her stand out in a crowd.

I could tell she wasn’t feeling as brave as she sounded either.  She was trembling in the late August sun and there were goose bumps on her arms that had nothing to do with the temperature.

I watched her in a dream.  She was really attractive, but that wasn’t what drew me to her.  There was something else, something in her manner and the way she spoke that I’ve never managed to put my finger on.

I nodded my head – fortunately my morning appointment had cancelled on me or I would have had to ask her to come back later and then I’d probably have lost my nerve.  I led her into the back room and made her comfortable, trying to remain cool and calm so she wouldn’t see that I was almost as nervous as she was.

I turned the radio off and worked in silence.  I didn’t want to have a cheesy DJ cutting across us and ruining everything.

Her eyes were closed for the whole hour and she didn’t say a word, which was something of a relief.  I’m not great at small talk, and I like to get pretty absorbed in what I’m doing.  It was easy to get lost with her.  She had the most beautiful skin I’ve ever seen and all I wanted was to drink it in. 

When I was done, I wiped her off gently and told her to open her eyes whilst I went to wash my hands. 

Then there it was, the shriek of surprise and horror.

“What is that?” she squeaked in a panic, “I told you a shooting star!”

“This is better,” I said enthusiastically, “this one is totally unique.  Everyone has shooting stars these days.”

She didn’t seem to appreciate the craft that went into drawing on someone’s shoulder blade totally freehand with a vibrating needle, but as a newbie I wouldn’t expect her to.

“It’s horrible.”

“It’s cute,” I protested. 

This was true, it was cute – if you like baby ravens.  I guess the eyeball dangling from the beak might have been overkill.  But I was really pleased with the detail of the fluffy tufts of feathers sticking out from the adult ones, and the 3D curvature of the eyeball.  It was art, frankly, an amazing accomplishment for sixty minutes of work.

“What is wrong with you,” she hissed, her face colouring with anger, “it’s not cute, and it’s not what I asked for.” 

I shrugged nonchalantly, although I was a little hurt.

“I’m not paying,” she said, as if I had expected that she would.

“It’s my gift to you,” I said chivalrously, handing her an aftercare sheet. 

This is going to sound creepy, but it was enough for me that I’d branded myself onto her.  A piece of her would always belong to me, I thought.  Even if she got it zapped, the scar tissue would remember.  Bettina would remember, however hard she tried not to.

Maybe one day she’ll even start to like it, I thought.  She might come back for another one.  She’ll tell me how she gave up chemistry and is now an artist.  She’s probably covered in tattoos from head to foot by now, but saving a space – maybe on the other shoulder blade – for another piece by me.

I used to check for her blonde curls and shining blue eyes from the shop door a couple of times a day, but so far she’s never come back.  

Over time I’ve looked for her less often.  There are other newbies who react the same, and I love them all in their own way.

Still, there’s nothing quite like the thrill of your first time, and I’m sure Bettina feels the same.  She’ll come back eventually, my perfect subject.

I can wait.


I came up with this one not from Lottie’s comment about needles and cannulas and stuff, but after seeing an online comment by a friend about mobile tattoo artists and how they are evil incarnate.  This got me to thinking a story about a creepy tattoo artist might be fun to write.

Image by Kara Kastanada (

In related news, the same person is the apprentice at Old Town Tattoo in Edinburgh and they are running an awesome competition for anyone who might fancy getting inked. None of the artists there are creepy in the slightest, by the by, although they are amazing at what they do.  Check out their website for examples of some of their work.

Basically they are looking for people to design a Hallowe’en themed tattoo for themselves or a pal, which they will post on their website and ask people to vote for their favourite.  The design with the most votes will be tattooed onto the designer or a friend of their choosing for free.  Details on where to send your design are HERE, and the deadline is Friday October 16 at 5pm.