Rocky Colavito is a Professor of English facing the inevitable twilight of a thirty-plus year career. After four career reinventions (he has transitioned from writing specialist to film studies to cultural studies to horror studies), he is undertaking the last and repositioning as a full-time horror writer.

His work appears in Dark Dossier, Dark Dispatches, The Horror Zine, and he a piece forthcoming in Mdme. Gray’s Poe-pourri. He is the creator of Buck Neighkyd, porn star turned occult investigator, whose adventures can be followed in Caveman Magazine. The first Buck Neighkyd novel, Creative Control, is in production and will be published in early 2023.


by J. Rocky Colavito


Enoch’s Tattoo Emporium sits at the edge of town; we do a regular business of both locals and folks who wander by. No one leaves unhappy, at least not with the quality of my work. My name is Ashley Cezil: resident artist. I’ll give you not only the tattoo that you want, but also add a little something extra if I think you need it. Sometimes that something extra is a little lucky, other times, well…

This is one of those stories.


The slightly tipsy Pi Zhis pulled the convertible to the curb outside of Enoch’s, parked half on the sidewalk, and struggled to get out of the car. Lana and Tanya were flying lower, and they helped Amber to unsteady feet on the sidewalk. Each took an arm and walked their nearly potted pledge towards the red and black door. 

The open sign still burned in the window.

“You said you wanted to do this,” Lana whispered to Amber.

Amber giggled. “But I’m kinda lit.”

Tanya snickered, “That’s the best way to do it; it’s how I got mine.”

Lana reached for the door and pushed her way in, pulling Amber with her. Tanya followed, and reacted to the interior of the tattoo parlor.

It looked like a museum. Walls were filled with the artist’s handiwork. Dragons and vampires with bloody fangs shared space with weeping flowers and martial angels wielding Ninja throwing stars. One whole wall was devoted to different sorts of religious iconography, some of it blasphemous.

Amber was taken aback, and started to struggle. “No, uh-uh, I’m not gonna get something like that,” she pointed at a sugar skull that mimicked the famous tongue cover of a record album, a large red, spit-slinging appendage unrolling out of the stark white skulls mouth like an inviting red carpet.

Tanya laughed “That’s a bit much, even for us. We’ll get you something a little less ostentatious.”

“I’d agree,” said a voice from behind a beaded curtain. And the figure behind the voice stepped out.

A very tall, pin-up curved brunette faced the three women, who sucked in their collective breaths in awe. The woman wore a leather vest and skirt ensemble, with buttons undone to show full cleavage. Every visible inch of the woman’s body was covered with tattoos. Multicolored snakes intertwined with thorny black roses on her arms, spiderwebs with fanged black widows encircled her neck, and a weird set of symbols covered her right hand. Even her face showed the sign of the needle, as her eyebrows and eyeliner were clearly enhanced.

She stuck out her hand, took Amber’s, and shook it.

“My name’s Ashley, and I promise not to do anything more than you want. You’re free to look and leave. But if you have any questions...” She left that hanging.

Amber tried to collect herself and stared at the woman’s eyebrows; they seemed to shimmer and sparkle. They completely set off the woman’s upper face in a dazzling way.

And Amber had always hated her own eyebrows. “Can you do that for me?”

Lana and Tanya slunk to the background and spent time looking at the other artwork. Ashley took Ashley’s hand and led her beyond the beaded curtain. “Not a problem, I’ll do you up just right. Wanna buzz to set the mood and relax?”

Ashley seated the girl, pulled a pre-rolled joint from her cleavage, gently put it in her mouth, and lit it. She drew a long toke, held the smoke, and handed it to Amber, whose shaking hands nearly dropped it.

“Ready to be wowed?” Ashley asked as she readied the instruments and inks.

Ashley went to work.


The three women woke up the next day in their respective rooms at the sorority house with no recollection of how they got there. Amber was in the throes of a nasty hangover, but she gathered enough gumption to get in front of a mirror.

She drew in her breath at what she saw in her reflection. Her new eyebrows mimicked those of the artist. Shimmering blacks interwoven with some silver and red highlights; her naturally dark eyes played off the new look perfectly. Everything was in balance. The only annoyance was a new blackhead in the center of her forehead.

Amber grabbed a blackhead remover and went to work on the new eruption. It took some doing, but the annoyance finally popped, leaving tiny pinprick of blood.

She always took care with her personal appearance, even with the parts that didn’t show in public. Her family was naturally dark complected, dark haired, and prone to easy weight gain. Amber was forever exfoliating and shaving the parts that she could shave; she lived on a steady diet of salads and rice cakes, rarely indulging and using extra time in the gym or pool to counteract the occasional bouts of overeating.

She’d done a good job up to this point of not calling attention to her Mexican roots, even participating in the regular vulgarities tossed about illegal immigrants, Dreamers, and donkey shows. It surprised her how easily she fell into the pattern of race baiting and hiding her family.

She’d “forget” to tell her parents about the college’s Family Weekend, plead having to work or study over weekends and short breaks, accepting invitations to her sorority sisters’ homes for Thanksgiving, and planning elaborate spring break trips. She talked with her family on the phone, but drew the line at lapsing into her first language to talk to anyone, even her grandfather, who didn’t speak a word of English (though it was suspected that he understood it). More than once she had told him that since he lived in America it was necessary to learn English. She had started to think that he insisted on using Spanish just to torment her.

She wanted to fit in with her sorority sisters no matter what.

Amber contrived a viable secret identity that allowed her to pass and be accepted into the world that she had craved since she was old enough to realize the difference between them and us. All her life she had wanted to be a “them.”

She was well on her way.

She soaked in the compliments about the new eyebrows, even sharing where she got them done. Her life continued in its normalcy.

Until the day she woke up to some irregular pale blotches on her face.

There was no rhyme or reason to them; one on her chin, another on her left cheek, a third on the right side of her forehead. Amber sighed, counted it to having not been careful when she went tanning, applied some makeup, and went about her days.
The blackhead returned, and it was bigger, with a weird red circle around it. When she tried to remove it, the pain made her scream. She went to the student clinic, was told that it was an infection and not to fret it. The clinician gave her some antiseptic cream, told her to apply it twice daily, and to avoid any extra makeup or treatments near it.

Amber complied, but the cream didn’t seem to do much for the eruption. And the annoying pale blotches returned.

“Jeez, Amber, what the hell is wrong with your face?” Lana asked her as they were getting ready to go out.

“Wore a hat when I went to sunbathe, must have forgotten to take it off,” Amber alibied as she applied more makeup. She used a hat to cover the outbreak on her forehead.

“That hat’s tacky,” Lana said as they walked out to grab an Uber.

And so, it went: Amber fell into a pattern of simply covering the blotches and treating the breakout. This became a regular thing.


One morning Amber woke up as she usually did, went to shower, and came back to put her face on.

She screamed when she looked at herself in the mirror; her lips seemed thinner and pulled back, and her hairline seemed to have receded. Without her makeup, her natural color seemed even more faded, and the thing on her forehead seemed to have split.

She frantically dialed the Student Clinic again, was put on hold for a seemingly endless amount of time, and finally managed to get someone who told her that she couldn’t have an appointment for two days because some staff were out with covid.

She hung up in frustration and dialed the nearest emergency room. She was told that she was welcome to come and wait, but a facial breakout was not a priority.

“But it’s not a breakout,” Amber cried.

“You will be seen as priorities dictate; have you called your personal care physician?”

Amber grimaced. Her personal physician was still old Dr. Benavidez, the man who’d delivered her. She didn’t want it to come to that.

As she hung up from this call, Amber surveyed her remaining makeup, and went to work.


The screams shattered study hour at the Pi Zhi house, and went on unabated. Lana and Tanya lead the charge to Amber’s room.

Tanya pounded on the door, “Amber, what the fuck? It’s quiet hours!”

The screams stopped, and a shaking voice pleaded “Don’t come in here.”

“The hell you say,” Tanya roared and started to push against the door. It took both women to force the door open.

A hunched figure with her face buried in her hands, shoulders shaking in sobs, sat turned away from a mirrored makeup table. The hunched figure sobbed uncontrollably.

Amber stopped sobbing, and started hyperventilating. She finally stopped, drew a breath, and slowly raised her head.

Her sorority sisters screamed in unison.

Facing them was a beautifully etched skull, with no skin or hair, exquisite tiling adorning the cheeks and under where the lips used to be, a blood red flower poked from her forehead. But it was her eyes that made the screams repeat, white daffodils sprouted from her eye sockets, and, in the middle of each flower, they could still see the pupils of what used to be Amber’s best feature, looking around pleadingly.

One by one, the women she thought had accepted her turned away, some gagging, some expressing disgust. Lana and Tanya lingered the longest, their features moving from pity to ire.
Lana struck the first blow.

“Why did you lie to us? Why did you think you had to?”

Tanya finished her off. “What I don’t get is why you lied to yourself. And why you actually came to believe it.”

As they turned their backs and walked away, Amber collapsed, pounding the floor with her fists at the hand she had dealt herself.


This customer sought to hide what she naturally was and instead, she became a living symbol of a life celebrated in her culture.

Festival de las Calaveras is a Latinx arts festival centered on Dia de los Muertos. Calaveras serve to remind families of those lost. In this case, Amber needed reminding of what she had left behind. Her new eyebrows were a means of helping her to see reality. The other changes are part of the little something extra that my customers always get. It’s part of the standard service here at Enoch’s and we’re always open.