She rubbed her arm unconsciously over and over again as she sat in the subway car on her way home. She had her canvas bag laying over the top of the mark but she knew people were getting suspicious. Anyone rubbing or hiding their arms was a call to move seats or back quickly away. Not a single person would come near her, not that she blamed them. Until today she had acted the same way, crossing to the opposite side of the street or finding a new restaurant to eat at. If they didn’t touch you, you couldn’t get it. Or so she had thought.
It had appeared during a budget meeting. Her boss had been showing charts and explaining complex numbers, she couldn’t have understood even is she had wanted to try. She had been tapping her pen in a basic rhythm on her notebook when a small black dot had caught her eye.
At first it was nothing but the dot. Just a black spot glaring up at her, a black mark silently letting her know that things were over for her now. She couldn’t take her eyes off of it for the rest of the meeting. She had waited with held breath and a nervous anticipation for it to grow and expand but for those two hours it had never changed.
By the end of the meeting she had been convinced that it was nothing more than a stray bit of ink from her flying pen. Everyone said the mark appeared and grew within minutes. One minute you were normal and the next you were a sniveling mess as the mark grew and destroyed your whole world.
Whoever had started that rumor was cruel and sadistic. After the meeting she had gone back to her desk and was surfing her research sites when she had seen the first few lines begin to grow. Her heart had sunk into the soles of her feet and she had nearly cried. She hadn’t shut off her computer or clocked out, she had just grabbed her things and run headlong from the office. She ignored every shouted question that followed her out. She never looked at the picture forming. She had just covered it up and prayed she could get home without anyone noticing her infliction.
The train finally pulled up to her stop and she nearly twisted her ankle running for the doors. She pushed aside every other person attempting to get home after a hard day of work. As she ran the two blocks home her eyes caught every passerby’s’ face. Each held a certain amount of sadness in them. Like they could see in her own eyes the fear she had racing through her veins, it was a sympathetic look. A look that said, “We are sorry you are going to be gone soon, but better you than me.”
“Madeline!” she screamed for her fiancé as she entered their home. “Madeline help!” she sobbed collapsing inside the doorway. Her legs couldn’t hold her up anymore, her heart was shattering in her chest and her lungs felt like they were on fire. She was out of things she could do for herself.
“Becca, what is going on?” Madeline feet came running down the stairs. Becca looked up as she came into view.
The sun shone from behind her, giving her a pale yellow halo. A halo that highlighted her auburn hair just right and brightened her green eyes so that they almost glowed. An angel, her saving grace, hopefully.
“I got…one,” Becca breathed out. She knew she looked a mess, her hair was probably flying all around her face and her chest was rising and falling heavily, as if she had just run miles instead of blocks. Her face was probably all taut, her eyes wide with pure panic. Normally this was her fiancé’s time to pull her down back to a calm place. A place that did not exist at the present moment.
“No, no,” Madeline sobbed. She ran to her loves side and wrapped her arms around her shoulders. “Come on, into the living room. You can show it to me there.”
Becca barely got to her feet. She shuffled leaning heavily on Madeline into their quaint barely furnished living room. She fell on to the dark brown love seat. She refused to pull her hand away from the mark, if Madeline saw it, it would be real. She would be out of hope.
“Move your hand, let me see,” Madeline begged. Becca slowly pulled one finger after another from her arm. As the last finger came free she held her palm over the image for a moment longer. Finally she removed her palm and felt the tears fall and hit the hideous image before her.
At the top of her forearm were two women, hands joined but just barely. Their palms touched but their fingers weren’t intertwined. It looked as if they were about to turn away from each other. About to run off and leave each other. Becca just stared at it, sobbing harder and harder.
“Honey,” Madeline wrapped her girlfriend in a tight embrace. “I’m so sorry.”
“Make it stop,” Becca begged with a small barely audible voice. A child asking her mother to make the monsters disappear “Make it go away.” She knew what was she was asking but she was out of options.
“I”m sorry,” Madeline kept whispering over and over into Becca’s shoulder.
“Stop saying that. Fix this before I see that moment.” The lines were already extending. A new picture was slowly coming to life.
“I can’t,” Madeline replied. She sat back on her heels. “I’m not allowed.”
“Not allowed?” Becca felt her eyes instantly dry. She looked down at her other half, the one person who was supposed to fix everything for her, to be there to pull her out of danger’s embrace. “Who cares what you are allowed to do! Fix this, save me!” she begged.
“Honey, you know the rules. I have no options. My hands are tied. I’m so sorry,” she looked so sad, so upset and scared. Becca couldn’t believe it. How could she be thinking about rules and regulations now? She had options, Becca knew it, she just had to give her one.
“This is your fault,” Becca pushed Madeline back from her and got to her feet. She shuffled sideways to get away from Madeline’s reaching hands. “You started this. You are the reason everyone is terrified of every other breathing human being. You are the reason people go into full on fits of hysteria from the smallest blight on their arms! You started this. Now end it.”
“It was an accident, you know that,” Madeline replied, still kneeling, still looking so broken.
“I don’t care,” Becca shrugged. She was telling the truth. Two year ago Madeline had been working on an elixir to give to a select group of people. It was supposed to give them brief flashes of the future. Just enough to give a hint to what was coming.
The military wanted it to give them the upper hand. Madeline was a pioneer in future sciences working to solidify that knowledge. It was a dream job that was handed to her, no one else could even have had a shot at completing the task.
The elixir had worked exactly as was intended. The test group saw flashes with just enough information to give a path to the officials. The experiment had been considered a huge success, the elixir had been made in bulk and Madeline had moved on to a new experiment.
Two months later the first body had been found. One of the experiment test subjects had been found hanging in his apartment, a tattoo covering his whole inner arm. It detailed some of the worst moments of his life; the death of his son, the demise of his dream job and his own death. His body had been quickly cremated and the whole incident put into a classified file. A one time side effect nothing more.
They couldn’t hide the carnage long. Over the next three months the news was constantly clogged with reports of suicides. Suicides with mysterious tattoos detailing every horrible incident in the person’s life. Always ending with their deaths, depicted exactly how they were ultimately found.
The government went into a panic. Madeline was held for weeks, questioned and forced to work around the clock to figure out what exactly had gone wrong. Madeline who loved control was in her worst nightmare. People were dying and there wasn’t a thing she could do to help. She used her free time to get in contact with Becca, always hysterical because she couldn’t understand what exactly was happening. She wasn’t supposed to give details, but she told Becca enough for her to draw her own conclusions. It was a side effect of the elixir, that was a known fact but the elixir wasn’t being used anymore. How it was moving from person to person was the unsolvable problem.
It was a problem that was never solved. The government still researched possible cures but like cancer it was an evil that could hit anyone at anytime and was nothing but an ultimate death sentence.
Becca had watched Madeline struggle with the problem forever now. She had watched her collapse in fits of angry tears and hysterical exhaustion. Madeline still worked on the infection day in and day out. Becca knew she had to have some type of options. It didn’t matter how experimental it was, anything was better than watching herself die.
“Becca what do you want from me!?” Madeline begged, still on her knees.
“To not let me die,” Becca sobbed. “Don’t you have anything? You’ve been working on this for years! There has to be a way to delay this or stall it or something,” Two years and there was no possible cures? She could not and would not believe that.
Madeline could barely talk through her own tears. “We have something but the side effects are horrible.”
“As horrible as watching the nightmare of my last bit of life unfold in front of me?” She pushed her arm out further. A new image appeared below the one of Becca and Madeline ending their relationship. It showed Becca huddled in a ball, rocking back and forth, nothing and no one around her. Her eyes were wide, like she had just seen the end of the world.
“I.. I,” Madeline sprang to her feet and grasped Becca’s hands, not intertwining their fingers. “I can’t do this,” she kissed Becca hard, putting every bit of love, passion and despair into that one last act of love. With one more whispered, “I love you,” she released Becca’s hands and ran from the room. She left Becca with her death slowly coming to life on her arm.
Becca stood completely stunned. What had just happened? Did her fiancé, the one she trusted above everyone else, just leave her to die? She didn’t even want try to save her? The front door shut with bang and Becca collapsed like someone had punched her. She sat on the ground staring at her arm. Her brain turned off, shutting down her emotions and her rational thinking. She didn’t want to feel anymore, it was almost worse than the death mark. The last image came into better focus.
It was her alone, nothing but a skeleton outline. She laid in this exact living room wasting away to nothing but a shell.
She felt a swift calm steal over her. Her hands, feet, arms, and legs went numb. A bitter cold flowed through her chest, her breathing a constant unchanging rhythm. She curled up into a tight ball, eyes wide, complete shock taking over. There she laid, as the tattoo completely solidified.