This fall, the Kiwanis Club of St. John’s announced the winners of their second annual Kiwanis High School Short Story Award for students in St. John’s and Mount Pearl. Below is second place winner, Vanessa Miller’s story “Inked Skin”. Pick up December’s print issue to read the first place winner.
Her eyes matched the stars.
They both held a twinkle and a shimmer, like lanterns shining under the dimness of night. They held joy and adventure, but also mystery and chaos. They both could have exploded in seconds but instead chose to be a masterpiece that the world may never truly understand. Leonardo De Vinci’s greatest triumph.
She sighed as she stared up at the abyss of a sky from her bedroom window, lazily tracing the constellations she could spot upon her pale skin. She was supposed to be doing homework, but of course she would only procrastinate until the work was left unfinished. As always.
Everything was the same in her life—school over fun, work over sleep, strictness over laughter, success over enjoyment. The brunette continued to stare out her window, praying for a change, a sudden spark to enter her life and make it magical again. But that would be impossible.
She glanced up at the sky once more and at that exact moment, spotted a flare of light trailing across the sea of dark. A shooting star. It was only superstition to believe that a wish upon a shooting star could come true, the girl knew this but still proceeded to seal her eyes shut and mutter a desire in a ghostly breath.
“I wish for something magical to happen, just once.”
Of course, when she opened her eyes, she was still in her tiny bedroom in her quaint home in the centre of a bustling city, where magic is crushed beneath the feet of passing figures. She went to sleep that night, accepting the fact that nothing would change, that she was the only one idiotic enough to wish for magic beneath the glow of a falling star.
But a boy on the other side of the city, with a forgetful mind and eyes full of wonder, made the same wish. And changed everything.
The sounds of chirping blue-jays and white noise poured in from outside her open bedroom window, awakening the girl in the early hours of the morning. She sighed heavily as she sat up and slowly stretched her arms above her head, letting her aching limbs wind up like gears, preparing for a day of repetition.
That’s when she saw it.
Ink coated her wrist, a dark and rich black scribble scratched upon her pale complexion. Without hesitation she jumped from her bed and ran into her bathroom, immediately turning on the tap and letting the frosty water pour onto her skin as she attempted to scrub the area clean.
It would not erase.
Did she somehow get a tattoo in her sleep? The whole idea of waking up with one was absurd. Especially with what the scribbled ink said.
Pick up eggs and milk after school.
It was a reminder of some sort, one that she did not recall writing. It wasn’t even her usual penmanship of a slightly squiggled cursive. She sighed and ignored the ink that still refused to leave her skin. It must have been a prank by her little brother, a confusing one it seemed.
She continued getting ready for the day—pulling on a fresh pair of clothes, grabbing a quick breakfast, and sluggishly stuffing her homework into her bag before leaving the house.
It wasn’t until she arrived at school when she noticed something strange. The ink was gone.
She stared at her wrist in awe, wondering if she could have imagined it. She was probably drunk on stardust again, too caught up with fantasy to decipher reality from a dream.
She carried on her day in daze, too busy daydreaming of a wonderful adventure while doodling flowers on the back of her hand. She barely payed attention in her classes. The only thing that really captured her attention was a line of new words scribbled upon her palm in the same smudged ink.
Homework: Math, English, French.
Everything was wrong. The penmanship was wrong, the organization was wrong, the premise of the message was wrong. It simply wasn’t her doing, nor her imagination. She didn’t even take French in school. The way the message was written seemed like a reminder of some sort. She’d never thought to keep a list of reminders on her body; she was quite good at retaining information and it seemed far too messy to mark her arms with purposeless ink. She much preferred the look of tiny galaxies and smudged floral gardens dancing upon her skin, not words.
During the remaining hours of the day, she spent her time doodling on her palm directly over the mysterious words, coating them in her form of art. Once the bell rung, the girl fled her desk and strolled to her locker.
“Hey Josephine, who’s Uncle Al?” A sudden voice asked. She turned to spot a familiar figure with her signature sly grin.
“What d’you mean, May?” She questioned her best friend, her head tilted slightly to the side.
“Your hand. Didn’t know you could even write without using cursive.”
Josephine’s dazzled eyes widened as she quickly glanced down at her hand. The previous message was gone, along with her doodle. All that was left was more baffling words to add to her confusion.
Visit Uncle Al after dinner.
There was no more curiosity laced in her inquisitive stare, only fear. At first the odd ink marks seemed to be a figment of the overflowing fantasy world living in her cluttered mind. It was now certain that was not the case.
Josephine spent that night in the same spot as the night before, observing the night sky from her opened window. Only this time, her mind was not echoing with the crude silence of boredom, instead it was buzzing with thoughts and ideas about the writing.
It clearly wasn’t hers, unless she had a habit of writing cryptic messages in her sleep. She knew for sure that she did not. Maybe it was someone messing with her, marking her body without her noticing. But wouldn’t she have noticed it? Felt it? Nothing made sense.
With a heavy sigh, she began to draw cherry blossoms on the back of her hand. After minutes of stargazing and absentminded doodling, Josephine noticed the faint appearance of letters just under her drawing.
Stop drawing flowers.
Her pen nearly dropped from her grasp—she had to dig the end into her leg to make sure this situation was real. With caution, she carefully pressed the ballpoint pen to her skin, just below the newly appeared letters.
Who are you? she wrote.
A new message appeared. The question is, who are you?
Was this some sort of game? Was this some kind of evil entity toying with her brain, playing tricks on her, driving her steadily to insanity? At first, her mind was a slave to this idea, then a new message appeared that made her believe that she wasn’t the only person being affected by this.
Please stop writing on my arm. Stop messing with me, whatever or whoever you are.
Josephine was perplexed, but decided to continue.
I’m not messing with you. I don’t know what’s going on either, but whatever you write on your skin seems to appear on mine. And it looks to be affecting you too.
The writing paused for a moment, but then begun again. Smudge by smudge, scribble by scribble, her skin tingled with a sparkle from within. Josephine smiled. It was incredible, unbelievable. It was like magic.
I’m Luke, the other wrote.
Josephine, the grinning girl replied.
After that night, Josephine and Luke began to chat more and more, using only two different pens on a canvas of skin to communicate. Josephine learned that Luke was a very forgetful teenager and thus used his hand as a guide to get him through the day without fault. Luke finally discovered where those creative drawings were coming from.
But after a week of chatting, Luke stopped replying.
The writing had stopped. The scribbles had stopped. The black ink had stopped. The reminders had stopped. That magic had stopped.
Josephine continued to draw on her hand, in the hopes of a forgetful boy’s scribbles to appear just below them, yet nothing happened. She even went as far as coating her forearms in a galaxy of stars and planets, but to no avail. It wasn’t until later that night, when Josephine was just about to wash the drawing from her arm, that she noticed something new. And the magic reappeared.
Pick up coffee at Java Hutt at 7:00.
Her eyes immediately widened, her smile instantly amplified, her heartbeats boomed like thunder as her eyes flickered with lightning. This wasn’t his usual reminder, this was an invitation.
The local coffee house wasn’t too far away from her home. Only a few minutes of breathless sprinting away. Her feet thumped against the pavement, her long hair swept back by the evening breeze. It was cold, but that didn’t matter. She could see her target location in the distance.
She rushed through the door, not even attracting a glance from the few scattered costumers that sat around the small place. Her eyes scanned the cafe like a hawk searching for their prey, only she was searching for something more.
And that’s when she heard the door open behind her, and a boy ran in. His arms covered in a galaxy. A spark of magic arrived when he smiled at her, and she quickly returned the favour. And that’s when she noticed it.
His eyes matched the stars.