There are tattoo artists who are wizards of pigment, skin painters whose work is so beloved their subjects voluntarily tan their own skin after death. There are those who sculpt with white ink, transforming scars into masterworks of lace.
Then there was Juliet. Her mastery was not of the ink and tattoo-pen, but of her pets.
Juliet lived in a little village not too far from here. She was not an artist by trade, but an apiarist. Her hives were great house-sized mounds that only she dared approach. She sold no honey at the local market, the excess wax she burned without ceremony. They were unsalable because they were tainted with the byproduct of her real goal: the bees themselves.
By some unknown alchemy, Juliet had bred her bees to sting color. Her pets lacked the barbels that marked the death of other bees, so they could sting again and again with impunity.
The process for getting a tattoo was this: one made a reservation months to years in advance. Juliet would plant a special bed of flowers in the shape she wished to tattoo and train her bees to it again and again. One hive to one color, the next to another. When the time finally came she marked out a pattern on the customer’s body with a pheromone pen and trained the bees on the skin. Each session was spaced out by weeks so the subject would have time to recover from the venom.
Was it worth it? Juliet had her detractors, like any artist. They called her command of imagery clumsy, that she relied on novelty to make up for her lack of mastery. But she was popular enough to make a tidy enough living, right up until she died.
The first deduction of the scene judged her pets responsible for her death, for her corpse was swollen with stings and the scene reeked of pheromones. After a deeper examination, they found that someone had probably doused her in the concoction hoping the stings would disguise the knife wounds in her torso. 27 stabs in all. The motive of the killer was probably the deepest mystery. Juliet had her detractors, but no one who hated her enough to stab her 27 times.
Lacking closure, the case languished. Her cottage fell into disrepair. The bees thrived on, because no bear or badger wanted honey so tainted with pigments as theirs.
It was predictable that the bees would become a menace, unmanacled from their keeper as they were. But the shape this menace took was a surprise to all. The bees began clustering around a man who made salves and creams for the nearby market, a man who had always lived below suspicion.
It came trickling through the village’s gossip stream that he’d made overtures towards Juliet a time or two, though no one could decide if they were romantic or professional in nature. Perhaps he harbored a secret scorn that had led him to deprive the bees of their keeper. Perhaps the bees only smelled their own product, the wax he melted with various oils for his salves, and hated it. No one felt strongly enough to accuse him, or intercede when he became so plagued by the bees he was forced to wear beekeeper’s attire at all hours.
When he was found dead in a field a year after Juliet’s passing, no one could be sure if it was justice or mere happenstance. The only thing that was truly clear was when they rolled his sting-swollen corpse over, it revealed a perfect portrait of Juliet herself tattooed on his chest.