“Ready for the final touch?” Mundo asked. The surly, heavy-set woman held the tattoo machine inches off Maxwell’s forearm. His tanned skin was covered with a freshly-inked potted ivy. Long green strands crept their way down his arm; there was an empty spot on its red pot. She released the foot pedal and leaned back in her seat when the pale college student took too long to answer. Instead, he swallowed hard.
“How’s this going to happen again?” he asked. Mundo sighed and set the machine down carefully. She was annoyed but patient; Maxwell wasn’t the first unsure Unique she woke. She offered him a cold water bottle. She felt like he was more nervous about the needle than anything else. He knew the answer but he needed a break. Mundo gave him a friendly smile and an exaggerated shrug.
“It’s impossible to say how exactly. For you it’ll probably be stats floating over the heads of Zeros,” she said. The broad woman looked out through the shop window at the bustling city street outside. “I can see most of them,” she turned back to him. “Once it happens, tell me what you see and I’ll tell you what stat it is.” Maxwell set the water down and presented his arm to Mundo again.
“Ready,” he said. Mundo nodded and grabbed his arm. She leaned on the foot pedal to start the machine’s high-pitched buzz. Mundo touched the tip to the red pot. With a slow, experienced motion she inked in the number 52 onto the pot. Again, she released the pedal to quiet the machine then sat back.
“All done.” She began prepping the plastic to protect it but Maxwell focused his attention at the stream of passersby.
“I don’t see anything,” he said. His eyes danced from head to head: blonde, bald, mohawk. All he saw was hairstyles the same as always.
“Sometimes it’s instant. Sometimes it’s not,” Mundo shrugged. “Give it time.” She wrapped his forearm. She had just finished when he yanked his hand away and jumped out of the chair.
“I SEE IT!” he shouted while pointing out the window. His head swiveled from side to side like a garden sprinkler as he eyed the new numbers floating above everyone’s heads.
“Alright. What do you see?” Mundo said. She stood from her stool and stretched as tall as she could. It wasn’t much; she was taller sitting on the stool. After the stretch, she took several steps to stand next to him and stare out the window.
“A date…,” Maxwell’s gaze hopped from head to head, then he nodded. “They’re all dates,” he pointed at a hurried man in a dark suit. He rushed past carrying a briefcase. “That one has today’s date,” he said.
“Yep,” Mundo nodded. “He’s dying today, you see their death date.” He faced her with a concerned look.
“Can’t we do something for him?” She met his eyes; hers were narrowed with slight confusion.
“Why?” she asked.
“Because he’s going to die?” Maxwell said. Mundo nodded.
“That’s right. No matter what you do, he’s still going to die. Probably still today, but maybe you can keep him safe until tomorrow or the next day.” She shrugged then she wandered to the customer service counter. “Are you signing up to be a permanent guardian angel?” she asked him. Maxwell sighed and shook his head. Mundo pulled her own bottle of water out from under the counter and took a big gulp. She sighed after she swallowed and sat down on the tall stool she kept there. “Besides…,” she pointed out the window again. “…things change all the time.” Maxwell looked out at the crowd and picked a random, attractive stranger to check her date: it was today’s date also. He started looking at as many as he could. All the dates had changed to today’s date. Maxwell turned to Mundo.
“What.. what’s going on? Is that supposed to happen?” He asked. Mundo was in the process of lighting a cigarette. After she exhaled the first puff she smiled at him.
“It looks like everyone out there is going to die today,” she said flatly. Maxwell looked at her; his eyes flitted above her head; she shook it.
“It only works on Zeros, but don’t worry,” she took a long drag from the cigarette and took her time exhaling. The persistent stream of pedestrians stopped. They all stared upward. “… we’re going to die today too.” The still crowd suddenly dispersed in all directions. They ran away screaming in fear. A single white skeleton landed in front of Mundo’s tattoo shop. “Ballisea’s here.”