“She’s beautiful,” Jason Watts said as he crouched over a woman’s naked corpse. Rubbing his stubble-covered chin, he studied her lifeless form sprawled face-down on the filthy floor. She was a redhead, and had her hair cut like Betty Page with bangs and a pony tail. Jason fought the urge to touch her.
Homicide Detective Bloomrich stepped into the small hotel room, his massive frame completely blocking the door. He was at least 6 feet tall, and was built like a sumo wrestler. At first glance some would dismiss him as fat, but upon closer inspection it was obvious that he was built for power. There was more than one thug on the streets that could attest to his massive strength and surprising speed. He was a gruff man, and believed in a very cut and dry world. “She’s a druggy freak,” he said as he looked contemptuously down at her body.
Jason stood up with a camera in hand and clicked another picture. “True,” he said. “But beautiful.”
Bloomrich laughed harshly and said, “You like that tattooed freaky shit, don’t you.”
“I guess I do,” Jason replied as he angled for another picture of the woman’s corpse. He switched to a different camera hanging from his neck that was better at black and white shots than his digital, and clicked off a rapid series of more pictures.
She was a dead angel, naked and exposed to the world. Other than her pervasive tattoos, her skin was flawless. Unlike a lot of the other junkies and street trash Jason had seen in his career, she had no piercings or scars, and her skin had none of the sores and blemishes associated with heavy drug use. The only fleshly evidence of her habit was a fine line of needle holes tracing a delicate vein up her left arm.
Her tattoos, or rather, her tattoo, resonated in his head. Jason couldn’t really tell if there were multiple pictures in the same theme that grew together, or if it was a single large picture covering her entire body. Every square inch from her wrists to her neck, and from her neck to her feet, was covered with a writhing mass of tentacles. Everywhere he looked was one tentacle twisting and curling around another, complete with suckers and hooks along sinewy shapes. He’d never seen anything like this almost hypnotic art in his career, and he’d seen a lot of crazy things. He was amazed at what people would do to their own bodies, from branding to cutting, but this was beyond any of that in its utter completeness.
Bloomrich turned and faced back out the door towards the uniformed police in the hallway. “How much longer you gonna be, Watts?” he asked the photographer. “We need to get the medical examiner in here to declare, and get her down to the morgue before she starts stinking up the place.” He was always a practical man, even in the face of horrors that would leave most others sick with fear and turmoil. It was this strange ability to stomach the wretched and gruesome that he and Jason had in common. It was probably the only thing they had in common.
“Just a few more and I’ll be done,” Jason said, distracted as he clicked away. He was determined to capture as much of the artwork embedded in the woman’s flesh as he could before Bloomrich and the other cops made him leave.
Impatient with the part-time forensic photographer, Bloomrich drained his coffee and said, “Come on, man, she’s an overdose! This isn’t a crime scene; it’s an accident that was gonna happen anyway. It just had to happen on my watch.” The big man hated suicides not so much because of what they did to themselves, but because they were a waste of his time. He felt he could be dealing with real murders instead of standing around watching some photography geek take pictures of a woman too stupid not to shoot up.
“Alright,” Jason said as he took his last shots. “I’m done.” He picked up his work bag and started putting cameras away, trying to put images of the woman’s tattoos out of his head.
As he started to leave, Jason handed Bloomrich the invoice, saying, “I’ll let you take care of this since you’re Johnny On-The-Spot on this one.” He knew the huge detective hated any paperwork, and took some joy in adding to the pile. He probably wouldn’t see a penny for this work for months as a result.
Snatching the slip of paper, the detective snarled, “If I see any of those on the internet, I’ll have your ass up on charges faster than the time it took you to sign that non-disclosure agreement. You’ll never do work for us again.”
“Yeah, I got it,” Jason replied. He took a special pride in the fact that he’d never leaked any of his crime scene work, but he also understood the nervousness of the police on the matter. Whenever a new murder photograph wound up on the internet it always caused a scandal in the effected city’s police department. “Relax, Bloom, I haven’t lost one yet!” he said, patting the officer’s shoulder.
“There’s always a first time,” the Bloomrich said as he directed the coroner’s office man into the room. “Do you keep all those pictures, or do you get rid of them after you give us the files?”
Jason lied and said, “I delete them.” He didn’t want the tough cop to think he was any more of a freak than he already did. As he left, though, the images of the woman’s bizarre tattoo played again and again through his head. Even as he went on to his other job of the day taking pictures at a wedding, memories of that gorgeous woman and her images of tentacles kept creeping back to the front of his mind, dominating his thoughts. He couldn’t wait to get back to his apartment and start sorting through the photos he’d taken at her unfortunate scene.
* * *
By midnight the walls of Jason’s in-house photo lab were covered in printouts and developed pictures of the dead woman. At first he tried to pretend that it was merely professional curiosity that captured his imagination, but gave himself over to a strange sort of obsession as he studied the photos more closely. Before he finally fell asleep sometime in the middle of the night, Jason found himself poring over the minutest details of the tentacles, to the point that he began to memorize their every twist and curl.
She came to him in his dreams that night, once he finally went to sleep, her nude form silhouetted against a streetlamp outside. “I am yours,” she said to him in this twilight state as she neared his bed. “I love you.” He felt her hand rest on his ankle, her fingers squeezing softly as the tentacle pictures moved slowly across her creamy skin.
“Who are you?” Jason asked dumbly as he studied the alien images on her body.
“Shhh,” she replied as she put a cold finger to his lips. “I love you now and forever. I died, and now I am here, with you. For you.” With that she leaned forward and kissed him, her tongue sliding between his lips, pushing past his mouth, and forcing its way into his body as she wrapped her arms around him.
He felt the movement of the tentacles as they pulled him closer to her, the screams of his fear and obsession dying against the cold breath invading his lungs.
“Save us,” her voice whispered in the shadows.
* * *
“What the hell is wrong with you?” Bloomrich asked as he sucked down an energy drink. He sat at his terminally messy desk, the files and photographs of various unexplained deaths and murders scattered in barely coherent piles. His laptop sat forlornly at the edge of the desk, turned off as it usually was; a fine coat of dust was evidence of its lack of use. Bloomrich wasn’t exactly the kind of guy who read his email on a regular basis, much to the consternation of his superiors and coworkers.
“I haven’t been sleeping much,” Jason replied wearily as he dropped the folder filled with hard copies of the dead woman on the growing mess. He also handed over a flash drive holding the digital copies of each; Bloomrich tossed that to the side.
The detective grunted, asking, “Was it her?”
Collapsing into a chair, Jason ran his fingers through his hair. “Nah,” he lied. “Not particularly, anyway. I think I need a break from forensic work, though. It’s starting to get to me. I will say, though, that her tattoo bothered me. There was something… Lovecraftian to it.”
Bloomrich leaned back in his chair and put his feet up on the piles of paperwork on his desk. He studied the photographer for a moment, and said, “Yeah, it’ll do that to you. Lovecraftian, huh? Maybe you do need a break.” Reaching across to a filing cabinet that was overflowing with documents, Bloomrich pulled out a form and handed it to Jason. “Fill this out, and I’ll get you some light work for the city. Events and such down at the mayor’s office. Stuff that’ll take your mind off of things.” He grinned, and said, “Nothing Lovecraft to it.”
Taking the form, Jason stood up and said, “Thanks, man. I think I’ll do that. It’ll be good to take shots of something besides dead people.”
“Oh, I’m not sure you won’t be,” Bloomrich replied. “Down at city hall they just bury the bodies deeper.” He started looking through a report on another case, ignoring the pictures Jason just delivered. This one was a real crime, not just another dead addict with a broken sense of proportion. “Oh, by the way,” he said, not taking his eyes off of the report in front of him. “That dead junky woman… the redhead. She didn’t OD. She was pretty clean when she died.”
“Really?” Jason asked his obsession piqued kicking in. “How did she die, then?
Still reading the report, Bloomrich shuffled around the mess on his desk and dropped a sheaf of papers in front of Jason. “Natural causes,” he said. “Coroner said her heart just stopped cold. No sign of foul play, no bruises or anything, so she’s just another weird entry in the books.” He paused for a moment as if thinking, then said, “But you know, there was one other crazy thing. She’s still a Jane Doe. There’s nothing in any system anywhere. You just don’t see that anymore, especially not with a young woman like that. Weird.”
Jason showed himself out, images of tentacles on his mind.
* * *
Naked and covered in sweat, Jason sat cross-legged in the middle of his photo lab surrounded by hundreds of pictures of the woman. He had actually managed to bribe his way into the morgue and take hundreds of more pictures a few days before, capturing every single line of the tattoo in high detail. Some were in color, while others were monochrome, and the stark contrast between her red hair and the black and white images highlighted the strange curves and shadows of the unearthly tattoo. He had been focused on an unidentified puzzle in his mind, circling around the artwork arrayed before him for hours. He’d forgotten to turn on the air conditioner earlier that day, and was too intensely wrapped up in this conundrum to be bothered to go turn it on.
The writhing shapes appeared to stretch from one photograph to another across the boundaries of space, and they all began to blur into one large image. The tip of an appendage seemed to flick across his wrist as he reached out to adjust the position of a single picture to better align with its neighbors. Obsession drew his eye along the maddening lines of the overall image carefully arranged around him, and something bizarre began to take shape in his fevered mind. He finally saw the key when his eyes wandered across the thin row of needle holes up her arm, and shuddered.
Jason stood up slowly, his legs burning from the return of circulation after hours spent on the floor. He walked across the pictures, scattering them carelessly as he passed by. They were irrelevant to his new purpose, now. He dug through his closet and pulled out old art supplies that had been stored there. He hadn’t sketched anything for years; not since before he discovered he had a talent for photography, but he’d always kept his pads and pencils. He sat down at his desk, shoved everything else out of the way, and began to draw.
* * *
“Man, that is some craziness,” Bob said as he looked at the drawings Jason brought him. He was the owner and proprietor of Biker Bob’s Tattoos, and a friend of Jason’s from his art school days. He glanced up at the photographer, saying, “It’s pretty dense work, dude, and is going to take a long time to just outline; months, at least. Are you sure?”
Jason sat down in the tattoo chair and presented his bare arm. “Yeah, I’m sure,” he said. “Whole body sleeve, and it has to be exactly as I drew it. If any of it is off, that’d be bad.” He thought back to the redheaded woman whose body was found lying face-down on a filthy floor in a seedy hotel, and a chill shot up his spine. After days of studying her skin art, he finally spotted the flaw in the design, the one minor line that strayed just slightly from where it should have been. The tattoo artist probably went around one of the drug needle holes in an effort to avoid piercing a paper-thin vein. His caution ultimately proved to be her undoing. He grabbed Bob’s wrist and said, “I mean it. Absolutely perfect, no deviation,” he emphasized. “If you screw any of it up, I will have to go get the error burned off and redone.”
Bob looked at him intently for a moment, and nodded. “I understand, man. I’ll do all the work myself, and we’ll go real slowly.”
Placated by this, Jason relaxed a bit, and glanced at the naked, tattooed, and red-haired woman watching him from across the room in silence. He didn’t know what would happen when the last bit of ink was laid in, but he had resolved himself to finish the job she started, and maybe save them both.
Closing his eyes as the burn of the needles started in on his arm, Jason saw only the fluid lines of tentacles coiled around one another perversely, forming the pattern that had haunted him for weeks. Forming the pattern of God.