Greg yawned as he leaned into the butterfly stretch, feeling the knots in his lower back whine, squinting in the morning sunlight with the stale taste of sleep lingering on his teeth. Everything was just a normal, annoying Monday. Then he saw something black slithering up his inner thigh.
“Oh, fuck!” he yelled, his brain interpreting it as a giant centipede. And then the perception shifted and he laughed at himself. It was just a bruise.
Wait. No. It was a dark bruise a second ago, but now it looked an awful lot like text. He blinked, and tried to stretch closer, feeling his hips start to whine. Definitely text, but… can’t… quite read it.
Greg scrambled to his feet, knocking over an empty water glass as he rummaged for his glasses. “Mrph glumph,” went his mouth involuntarily.
Then he saw it. HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, it said, in tiny little block letters. Is it a tattoo, or sharpie? Friend playing a really out-there prank?
Poking at it with a finger, bent over, staring at a part of his thigh that he never looks at, Greg started giggling. “Gotta be sharpie.”
He licked a thumb, and rubbed it on the inside of his thigh, willing the black to blur. “Nope.” Greg stared at his thumb, clean. Then back at his leg. The text didn’t dull or move at all. It’s really on there. “What in the hell…”
He picked up his phone and took a picture, to solidify it somehow. A way to try to prove it wasn’t just his eyes wigging out.
All day at work, Greg wondered about it. It sat there, invisible. He couldn’t feel it, but it was a strange kind of mental itch.
When he sat on the toilet, he had to stretch down to read it, suddenly embarrassed all over again, even though he was alone in his kingdom of the echoing stall.
HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG, his leg said.
The next morning, Greg woke from a nonsensical dream and groggily began his stretches. The words on his thigh had begun to seem normal; his brain didn’t suddenly think of centipedes.
But when he grabbed his phone and went to sit down for his morning ablutions, a jolt of adrenaline went through him. His leg didn’t say anything about not freaking out. It quite clearly said something new. Now it read: I NEED YOUR HELP PLZ.
Greg poked it with a finger. Quite solidly, the text sat there on his hairy thigh. I NEED YOUR HELP PLZ. “Urgh. I think I’m the one who needs help.”
Frantically poking his phone, he scrolled to the picture from yesterday. HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG.
He held it by his leg. Same damn location.
I NEED YOUR HELP PLZ.
Falling asleep was getting more difficult. Greg spent some time trying to find anyone talking about this kind of thing online, to no avail. Eventually, he drifted off to a restless night.
Well before his alarm tootled the next morning, he jumped up, grabbed his glasses, and hit the light. “I’m… trapped inside your skin?”
Bewildered, he put his head in his hands and kneeled over the end of the bed. “Gonna have to go see a doctor,” he mumbled into the quilt. “But what if they just think I’m frickin’ nuts?”
Greg was very careful to not look at the inside of his leg for that whole day at work.
When he got home, though, he had to know. Then he swore loudly. He took another picture, and lined them all up on his screen. “Okay. I definitely need to talk to someone. If I can convince them this isn’t some weird joke.”
He stared at the screen for a while, lips pursed, shaking his head.
HELLO DONT FREAK OUT GREG
I NEED YOUR HELP PLZ
IM TRAPPED INSIDE UR SKIN
Thursday morning. Greg swore after he woke, trying to avoid reading his leg for a while by leaving his glasses off.
But then after he showered, he sighed, and gave in. “What you got for me today, stupid skin?”
YES! SHOW SOME1 OR GO 2 DOC
“I couldn’t. I just couldn’t have. They’d think I was crazy! So that was when I made the tattoo appointment.” He laughs, and so does his new lover, who runs a finger over the tattoo of an antique key on Greg’s inner thigh.
“Yeah, right. You probably tell all the boys you take home some made-up horseshit like that. What’s the real meaning of the key?”
“Horseshit? Yeah, well. Sometimes the truth kind of slips out, when I try to weave a new reason…”
“Oh, feed me another one. If that’s the real story, what’d it say on the day you got the ink?”
“What? Say?” Greg frowns. “Oh, wow! Nobody ever asked me that before.”
With a finger, Greg traces around the hand covering the key, lost in thought. “It said, YOU CANT FORGET ME.”
“Yeah, right. What’d the tattoo artist say about that? What a cornball story!” And with that, the man whose name Greg has forgotten rolls out of the bed. “Your bathroom is on the left?”
“Tattoo guy didn’t say nothin’. Like maybe it happens all the time.” Greg nods, distracted, finger still tracing the key. “Just down the hall. Left, yeah. Left.”