Winter is over. It’s this belief that damned Sophie Ting. She’s not used to the difference in seasons from Japan to Jersey. Growing up in Japan the passing of winter was immediately followed by the sprouting of new flowers, and blooming of trees. She didn’t know that in New Jersey you can still wear a t-shirt through November, and that April showers sometimes turn into snowfall.
That very same snow caused Sophie to lose track of the path in the woods that led to her awaiting friends. Thinking she’s headed in the right direction, Sophie quickens her pace, but the realization she was heading the wrong way sets in when she comes to a brook, rapid with fresh melted snow, a brook that she didn’t cross when heading into the woods to go to relieve herself.
Turning to return in the direction she came, she sees a figure move behind a tree. A figure much too large to be any of her girlfriends who have more than likely stopped smoking up just long enough to ask if Sophie returned from taking a piss. She calls to the wind and the mystery figure she’s no longer sure she even saw, but there’s no response. Deciding it best to not to find out, she begins to follow the bank of the brook assuming she’ll eventually come to some landmark of significance.
After half an hour of following the river, Sophie's jeans and hoodie sweatshirt no longer suffice in fighting off the cold. Again she can swear she sees a shadow move behind a tree to her left. Already scared of the impending nightfall this is enough to push Sophie as she breaks into a run as fast as her cold bones allow her to move.
Five minutes of this brings Sophie to a patch of grass devoid of any snow. Figuring she's put enough distance between her and the shadow, Sophie takes a seat on a relatively dry stone. Just as she gets in a comfortable position, she hears a branch break. Without a second thought Sophie's in another full sprint yelling for help. Scared beyond all reason, Sophie decides to cross the brook at a point she feels is thin enough to jump across. On any other day if her legs were working up to par, Sophie may have made the jump; unfortunately, her jump is just short and she lands near the opposite bank and slips on a stone beneath the water.
No longer able to run, Sophie goes to hide within the trees. Rounding a tree she trips over a root that in a week’s time would surely have been visible, but as it stands today is mostly covered with snow. She lands head first into a tree bending her neck at an awkward position, not hard enough to break her neck, but it's guaranteed to be sore if she regains consciousness. During her fall a low hanging branch catches on the hood of her thin sweatshirt, ripping it down the back in jagged fashion.
Revealed on the back of her limp body, is the upper portion of an elaborate tiger tattoo. A tattoo that suggests more of her past than any of her stoned friends know about. A tattoo that may hold clues as to Sophie's paranoia and fear of being followed, or simply a tattoo that will entice the possible stranger in the shadows.
I owe the origin to this story entirely on my trip to Florida in the summer of 2010. While there, I attended a tattoo/comic convention that was mediocre at best. However, my friend’s tattoo booth was next to an old Asian man who had a lot of ‘tattoo art’ on display. They were mostly Asian girls with elaborate tattoos.
One painting in particular caught my eye, of a girl crouched on one knee in the middle of a snow covered field, with dead trees and rocks around her. She was only barely covered by a blanket, and revealed on her back was the majority of a large tiger tattoo.
But what struck out the most were the streaks of mascara running down her face from tears as she stared at the ground. I couldn’t help but wonder how she came to this situation, but even more so what happened next.
Admittedly, I altered some of the aspects of the painting to fit the story. I submitted this in for a seasonal anthology calling for stories set in spring. Ultimately, the story was rejected, but I’m happy with how it turned out.