Stories are largely about the choices we make and their consequences, intended and unintended. This story by Caroline Yoachim distills that dynamic to its essence.
In theory, it was a good system, having only a handful of families responsible for all the pens. Skinwriters filled out piles of paperwork and endured random inspections. There were supposed to be harsh penalties for those who disobeyed the rules. In practice, no one looked at the paperwork, and the inspectors were more interested in bribes than rules. By the time I was ten, I was sneaking words onto my skin a couple times a month—clever, stealthy, independent—and I never once got caught.
One night when I was fourteen, I stayed up late and wrote words on my inner thigh—passionate, sensitive, flirty. Mother hadn’t put a word on me for years, but when she found out she added three new adjectives to my back—responsible, practical, prudent. Irritated that she would treat me like a child, I retaliated by filling my entire left shin with words. Artistic and sassy. Ambitious, playful, outgoing, strong. Mother pretended not to notice. She didn’t want to escalate the conflict, or maybe she approved of my new choices.
I moved out when I was eighteen, and I wrote myself confident and sexy. I started dating an older man, and I fancied myself in love with him. He didn’t come from a family of skinwriters and words were expensive, so he only had three—brave, athletic, and charming. Everything was going well until I discovered he was cheating. I did an unthinkable thing. I wrote on him while he was sleeping, on the back of his neck, near his hairline so he would never see the words—loyal, faithful, honest, loving. He left the next morning and never came back. I hadn’t specified who he should be loyal to. It clearly wasn’t me.
Uncanny Magazine, which published this story and is the magazine to which I turn most frequently for stories for this feature, is holding its annual Kickstarter. They’ve hit their first funding goal, but in order to Uncanny to continue at its current scope, they have several stretch goals to hit. If you like the stories I share here, consider helping to fund their work. One of the backer rewards is a blog post from me on their site on a topic of your choosing.