Tattooed and Tattered
My palms grazed the glass Katy was standing behind before she disappeared—before I betrayed her and let the time-tube suck her into the past. The drifters in the otherwise abandoned shack glared. They must’ve wondered why a teenager would shove his ravishing girlfriend into a malfunctioning machine that would never let her return home. I wanted to justify my actions, to myself more than anyone, but my focus was redirected toward fleeing from Bale Berwick.
I would have to pay for another round of plastic surgery, run, and repeat the charade each time he and his men found me. I was repulsed at the thought of continuing to live as a fugitive, so I considered a more appealing option: I could swipe the rest of his chips. I’d take the medicine, the cures he created for every disease from the common cold to AIDS, and give them to whoever was in need. I’d be a hero, a medical robin hood.
A hover-taxi drove me through my hometown two hours later and I ignored the urge to visit the house I used to share with my mother. When we lived there, I stole my first pack of cancer chips for her and was able to give her two extra years, but did it matter? She may have recovered from her illness, but Berwick retaliated by murdering her.
Instead of visiting the empty house, I was dropped off at Berwick’s hospital to survey the flashy exterior. Whatever money he claimed to have lost over the embarrassment of my former burglary couldn’t have come out of the hospital’s security fund. The red glare of cameras crowded the area and dozens of guards lined the entryway. If I strolled in without a medical issue, I’d be removed for questionable behavior.
I deactivated my contacts, which changed colors based on my emotions, so that the staff would be unable to tell that I was putting on a performance. A group of guards were already staring when I brought my hand to my head, feigning a headache. My eyes scrunched as if a bright light was shone into them and I swayed several times before collapsing onto the ground. My hope was that a passerby would come to my rescue, drag me into the ER, and I’d be able to slink into the storage room to grab the chips. With any luck, the security measures would be less strict inside.
Footsteps clanked toward me and I was hoisted up by two sets of hands. The plan was effective. Why hadn’t the idea of ruining everything Berwick built never occurred to me before? I should’ve done it years ago.
When my lids lifted, I discovered that the guards’ path wasn’t directed toward the hospital. I was being carried to the Torture By Tattoo building. Defense kicked in and I kneed and clawed and hollered for assistance. The streets were silent as a meaty fist contacted my skull, engulfing me in blackness.
“Do you know why our government issues tattoos as a form of punishment?” a voice asked when I slipped back into reality. “Think of Nathaniel Hawthorne. Think of The Scarlet Letter. Think of the shame that accompanies walking around with a branding on your body that announces to the world that you’re a criminal. I suppose you understand, though. You’re covered in tattoos.”
Bale Berwick stood inches away, drill in hand, while an old man with alert eyes guarded the door. I tried to escape, but any movement was impossible. I was bound to the same chair that I received my punishments on when I was an unruly child.
“Your photo was given to each of my security guards,” Berwick said. “You really didn’t think your naïve little plan through. Almost like you wanted to die today.” His flaky lips curved into a smirk. “Even if you succeeded in making it into the hospital, there were still major errors in your plan. Do you think I’d still keep the cancer chips in the same room you once stole from?” He patted his jacket. “No, I make sure to keep them on me at all times.”
The chips were the size of pockets of air in a miniature roll of bubble wrap. He could keep thousands on his person without any indication. I might’ve thought of the possibility if the desire for revenge hadn’t clogged my brain.
“Just give them away,” I said. “Or at least lower the price. No one has the money to pay for them.”
“If I did that, I’d be broke. And where would I be, then?”
“Why don’t you try it and find out? It’s either that or murder a kid whose life you already destroyed.”
“One of those choices is incredibly enticing.”
Berwick clicked the drill’s switch to turn it on and a buzzing sounded. The noise swelled in my ears; everything else evaporated. I entered the world from the person who loved me most and would depart it from the person who despised me most.
The rusted drill grazed my temple and the blood trickled down my cheek, staining my tongue with saltiness. I kept my gaze on Berwick, ready for my soul to collide with the afterlife. His teeth appeared through a massive grin, devouring my final moments. But before he could jam the device further into my flesh, he collapsed to the ground.
My gaze alternated from his slumped body to the uniformed man behind him who was holding the baton that knocked him unconscious. The elder wore the hospital’s seal, and although I wondered why one of my enemy’s guards would be my savior, I was distracted by his familiar pair of eyes.
The man tossed the weapon aside and unshackled my confinements.
“Let’s get out of here, dad.”
His words were tangled in my mind, incomprehensible. I was free from my chains, but refastened to the chair by confusion.
“Right, you don’t know. Katy Brand’s my mom. Which makes you my dad.” He chuckled. “It’s so weird telling you this. And seeing you like this. What are you, like eighteen?”
“I don’t understand,” I said, although I had strung together most of it. Katy must’ve been pregnant when she was sent back in time, which meant she gave birth to our son fifty years ago. “She never told me she was pregnant.”
“Because she wasn’t yet.”
“You forced her into the past to protect her, but wouldn’t go with her, and she was pissed. But you ended up going back for her.”
“After you met me, which I guess is today, you went back to live with her. Eventually you knocked her up, and I grew up with you. Which is why it’s so weird seeing you this damn young.”
My head swiveled in disagreement. “I can’t go back. I still need to protect her from Berwick.”
“Right, forgot that part. I’m supposed to take all his chips, while he’s unconscious I guess. I’ll give them out for free, and Berwick can’t stop me because he’ll be in jail for attempted homicide.” He pointed at the camera hovering in the corner of the room. “You’re not the only one who didn’t think through their plan.”
Although aiding the sick was my ultimate objective, my mission’s success was eclipsed by the knowledge that I would raise a child. My father and Katy’s mother were absent throughout our childhoods, and we shared a fear of condemning our own baby to the same circumstance.
“So you grew up with me around?” I asked. “Your mom and I stayed together?”
“Yeah, of course. Word of advice, take a hairpiece back in that time machine. You go bald pretty early.”
A herd of questions rallied through my mind: I craved to know what kind of parent I’d be, what career I’d have, and how long I’d live, but I restrained my curiosity. The information I already possessed was the most valuable. By going back fifty years, I would be able to spend the rest of my life alongside Katy and a son who would grow up to help humanity. We would purchase a lakeside house and spend our free time out in nature instead of lounging with technology. And back then, tattoos were in style.