Thursday, April 10, 2008

Scorpio Tattoo by Jude Mason

He sat bolt upright. His heart pounded. Sweat poured down his face. Eyes wide, he stared into the darkness, searching for what had wrenched him from a sound sleep. Then, he remembered the dream.

"Damn!" Jonathan Rorke cursed. Sitting cross-legged in his huge, king-sized bed, he dragged shaking fingers through the wavy, dark shoulder-length hair plastered to his forehead and neck. He shuddered as the cool night air brushed his naked chest.

Visions of the dream tumbled through his mind. An eerie night, a moonlit night, a park surrounded by a forest of evergreens. The woman, the same one he'd seen a dozen times before, lying nearly naked on the grass, her long black hair spread out around her head and shoulders like a halo. Her eyes were closed, her brow furrowed ever so slightly. She was on her side, one arm bent underneath her, the other stretched out before her. Her ankles were crossed, and she lay partially on her stomach. She was naked to her lower back, breasts plump, tipped with dark nipples raised to sharp points by the chill night air.

But what caught his attention, as it did ever time he saw her, wasn't her beauty, although that was indeed eye-catching, it was the mark on her lower back. He'd drifted closer to the prone beauty. At first, he couldn't make out what the mark was, other than it was light colored, and seemed somehow foreboding. When he got closer, he saw it for what it was: a tattoo, beautifully done and carefully placed just above the cleft of her ass--a stylized scorpion--no, not quite, rather it was the astrological sign of Scorpio.

The dream faded, but didn't quite disappear. Each time he'd had it, the details became clearer and he saw a little more. At first, he'd seen just the girl. Then, he'd seen the grassy area around her, the small bushes that lay several feet from her legs and then the park bench in the background. This time, he'd seen the entire area, right up to the forest of evergreen trees around the clearing and the trail that led--somewhere. He'd also spotted a sign, Rotary Park, at the end of the trail.

He had a name--somewhere to start his search.

Clambering out of bed, he grabbed the dark blue terry robe he'd tossed over the back of the chair and shrugged into it while heading for the kitchen. He kept an assortment of local maps by the phone, and he wanted to see if he could find this park before the vision faded. The name sounded familiar.

Knotting the robe's belt, he flicked on the lights as he entered the large country kitchen. Blinking, eyes watering, he shielded his eyes to give them time to adjust. The maps were in the cupboard under the phone, and by the time he dragged them out, he could see again.

"South of town. I'm sure I remember a new park going in at the beach, just south of the point," he muttered as he sifted through the pile. "Yes," he hissed and pulled out the newest map of the shoreline. Opening it, he got the oddest feeling that something extraordinary was about to happen. He took the map to the dining room, and spread it out on the large wooden table. A sudden chill raced up his back. An urgency hit. He needed to go somewhere--be somewhere. The feeling was an ache that made his hands tremble.

"Fuck," he muttered. His voice sounded harsh, even to his own sleep-shrouded hearing. Then he was searching the map, desperate to find out where he had to be. The Rapids slid under his finger as he traced the shoreline, Willow Creek next, then a long bay with no name. Finally, he found it. On the other side of the bay, the tiny park sign with the words, Rotary Park, just above. It skirted the ocean, as all the parks did in the area, and it was less than ten miles away.

"That's it." He hurried back into his bedroom and switched on the light. He dressed in the clothes he'd left on the chair: black boxers, tight jeans, and a baggy cable-knit fisherman's sweater. On the way out, he grabbed his keys and wallet, and slid into the hiking boots by the door.

The Toyota rumbled to life instantly when he turned the key, then he was on his way. A moment later, he sped into the night. The roads were clear, and when he looked at the dash clock, he realized why. It was just after three a.m., and in small town west coast B.C., that meant next to no traffic at all. A myriad of stars filled the sky, and the moon hung above the evergreens like a beacon urging him on as he sped down the highway.

Remembering the map, he kept his eyes open for the right turn off. He was driving too fast and almost missed the sign, and had to back up so he could turn onto the dirt road leading to the park. A mile, two, and he thought he'd made some mistake and cursed vilely for not bringing the map with him. "Dumb son-of-a-bitch, you got no fucking brains or what?" He hit a bump that jarred his teeth, and had to slow down. Three miles, and he saw a break in the trees.

His heart hammered in his chest. Had he found the right place? Was she here, or was his vision nothing more than a dream gone crazy? The road got worse, huge potholes filled with water slowed him to a crawl for the next hundred feet or so. When he'd finally bumped over the last of them, he came out into the clearing. He stopped the Toyota and sat for a moment, looking around.

The trees and the large grassy field were right, but where was the picnic table? The single light post gave off just enough illumination to encourage him to get out of the SUV for a closer look. He peered around, and then stood on the front bumper to get a better view.

A tickle in his mind, as if someone had touched the back of his neck with a feather, drew his attention to the left. He walked that way, slowly, cautiously. The night was deathly silent; there were no animals moving or even a breeze to rustle the branches. It was like he was walking through a dream; just the sound of his own feet on the gravel, and when he got to the grass, even that sound was gone.

Then he saw the picnic table. He glanced around. The scene was so close to his dream it was terrifying. Would she be there--just on the other side of the rustic wooden table? With just the light of the moon to guide him, he walked around it. His heart lurched into his throat, and he felt as if he was going to choke.

Just like in the dream, there she was. Young, perhaps twenty-five, with that black mane of hair he'd expected, spread around her head. It was thicker and shone in the moonlight more than he remembered from his dream. Like a satin cape, or veil, it fanned around her shoulders and back. Her brow had a wave of wrinkles across the otherwise smooth flesh, her eyes were closed, but he somehow knew they'd be warm and brown when she opened them. Lying on her side with an arm extended out, the other beneath her and extended behind, a breast lay exposed, as was most of her back. Her skin glowed a faint blue in the moonlight, almost as if she were an apparition. Her dress was torn and lay in tatters around her hips and thighs, but the white mark was there.

He leaned in and saw that the mark was a tattoo. It looked as though it was only partially completed, as if the artist had started with the outline and planned to finish the rest later. Dropping to his knees, he bent over to get a closer look at her, and the delicate drawing on her back. Her scent folded around him--woman scent and a perfume, so delicate that at first he couldn't tell if it was a smell brought to him on the wind or her.

She moaned, and he held his breath, frozen for a moment. Then, he sprang into action. He knelt behind her and put his fingers against her throat. Her pulse was strong, but she was cold, clammy to his touch. Quickly, he tore off his sweater and carefully wrapped it around her. He checked her body, being careful not to move her in case she had broken bones or injuries he couldn't see. It was just as it had been in his vision. Her neck and shoulders felt fine, arms and legs moved easily and showed no signs of breaks or sprains. He ran his hands over her hipbones and belly, pressing inward, checking for internal injuries. There was nothing.

Easing her onto her back, he tried to keep his eyes off her breasts, unsuccessfully. Even in the cool air, he felt himself getting warmer, his jeans feeling tighter around the crotch as he ran his hands over her. Ignoring his discomfort, he leaned down and gently slid his hands under her knees and shoulders. Taking a deep breath, he lifted her.

He held her close to his chest, trying to give her as much heat as he could. Hurrying back to his SUV, he staggered and nearly dropped her as a blinding flash of her terror enveloped him. He felt her being held down, the pain of the tattoo needle driving into her spine as she fought uselessly to escape.

He managed to stay on his feet, but by the time he got her into the passengers' seat, he was trembling. Buckling her into the seat, he got an even better look at her. Her hair had fallen across her face, and he carefully pushed it back. She was lovely; a smooth complexion, but for a smudge of dirt on her left cheek. She had a pert little nose with wide nostrils and full ripe lips that begged to be kissed. The sweater he'd covered her with had slipped down a little, revealing just a hint of cleavage and that brought back the memory of the full swell of her breasts upon the grass. She moaned, and the frown deepened the creases across her brow.