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a series of tickle fiction by

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chapter 2

fleeing in fear

        "Shay?" I quietly stepped into the entryway, the tile like ice on my bare feet. I was weary and weak. I needed to get to my phone.

        ​A chilling draft was my only welcome. The apartment was quiet save for The Proposal still droning away on the TV. Sandra Bullock was saying something. I shivered and turned towards the kitchen. In seconds, I caught sight of my phone on the counter. I swallowed and wiped the cold sweat from my brow. For the first time in my life, I was genuinely scared of being tickled.

​        I glanced around, then booked it towards the counter. My pulse raced as it fed on the adrenaline coursing through my veins. I grabbed my phone, but it fell through my twitching fingers and landed on the hardwood flooring with a tremendous clash. I cursed to myself and froze. My deafening heartbeat was hammering away.

        ​"You came back," Shay said.

        I closed my eyes. Shit. ​She had appeared as if out of nowhere, rising up from behind the sofa like a zombie exiting a grave. "Shay," I said, already eyeing my path to the door. "You need help."

        ​"I need to hear you laugh," she said. She took a step towards me.

        ​"No, Shay. You're infected."

        ​"And you're all mine." Before I even knew what was happening, she was lunging at me.

​        "No, Shay! No!" I shouted. I made for the door, trying to dodge her, but I wasn't quick enough. Within seconds, she had grabbed my legs, and I was falling. The wind was nearly knocked out of me as I collided with the ground.

        ​"Time to tickle," she said with a hiss, eyeing my feet. Her fingers were a ten-soldier army, ready to march across my ticklish twin battlefields.

        ​"Let me go!" Still coursing with adrenaline, I managed to dislodge my leg and kick her, my foot colliding with her face.

        ​Shay screamed in pain and released me. I felt a pang of guilt, but when I turned to look back at her, I saw her convulsing madly on the floor, her limbs fluttering and writhing, her back arching, her neck craning as her head knocked back against the hardwood beneath her.

        God. She was turning. Crossing the threshold. This... this wasn't Shay anymore.

        I dashed forward, phone in hand, and raced into the outer hall. I didn't care to look back. I continued my sprint towards the elevator at the end of the corridor. I heard Shay cry out again, the eerie sound followed by her loud, heavy footfalls.

        "Shit," I said aloud. "C'mon, c'mon." I slammed into the elevator doors and ​tapped the first buttons that my fingers happened to come upon.​

        "Andrew!" Shay shouted in that horrible, corrupted voice of hers.

        ​"C'mon!" I screamed again, refusing to turn around.

        ​Like a sacrosanct song, the elevator chimed and the silvery gates before me parted. I threw myself into the elevator, whipped around, and pressed the button for the lobby. The doors closed just as Shay reached me, and I got the briefest glimpse of her eyes, now red-rimmed and dilated, before I was sealed away in safety. Temporary safety at least. I heard her scream out, a terrible sound that faded as I began my descent but would live on in my nightmares.

        ​"Fuck," I whispered, trying to catch my breath. A staggering relief took hold of me, and I sank to the floor, eyes teary, muscles trembling. ​I tried to remember a time before tickling had become so...fucked up. In an effort to calm myself, I made an attempt to focus on distant memories.

        Pleasant ones.

        ​And, of course, that's when I thought of James.

6 years ago
mAY 2003

        By the time I was thirteen, I had figured out, and accepted, that the way I felt about tickling was different than the way most people felt about it. It excited me. It...well, it more than excited me. But up until that point in my life, this revelation was something that I'd only kept to myself.

​        And then James came along.

        He'd made things different for me. He'd made things easy. And I decided that it wasn't enough for just me to accept this strange part of who I was; I needed someone else to accept it too. It was during a sleepover at his house one night when I chose to confide in him for the very first time. I remember it being one of the scariest moments of my young life.

        "So, I like tickling," I'd stammered, as nonchalantly as possible after we'd gotten ourselves comfortable on our respective sofas in his living room, with pillows and all.

​        "You what?" he asked. He sounded confused. I couldn't really make out his facial expression in the dark.

​        "I like...tickling," I said again, less confidently now. An uncomfortable heat was rising up from my chest and into my face. 

        He laughed. ​"Okay?"

        "Like...a lot," I choked out.

        "Really?"

        ​I could barely manage a nod. I was far too embarrassed.

​        He said, "That's, um... that's--" When his voice trailed away, I felt the need to interject.

        ​"Sorry," I said quickly. "It's- It's stupid--er, weird. I'm...sorry. I don't know why I wanted to tell you."

        "N-no, it's fine," James said, but I didn't let him continue. The words, quiet and awkward, were spilling out of me.

        "J-just forget about it." I forced a laugh, then turned away from him and buried my face into my pillow. I felt hot and my stomach was plagued with a sickly squirm.

        "Andrew." James laughed now, but his seemed genuine. I cringed, burying my face deeper into my--well, his--pillow. It smelled like him. I tried to will myself to disappear, and as I did so, he tried again to get my attention: "Aaaaandrew." He stretched out my name. His tone was still gentle.

        ​"What." My voice was muffled by the pillow.

        ​"It's fine."

        "What?"

        "It's fine that you...like tickling." Another chuckle. Soft. Supportive. "It's not...weird." This last statement struck me like a gunshot.

        I peeled my face from the pillow and turned to face him. He was sitting up on the couch across from me. "You don't think so?" I asked. Of course, I was skeptical.

        ​He shrugged. "I mean, it's...different. I guess it's kinda...funny," he said. I could barely make out his silhouette against the white moonlit rays streaming through the window.

        ​"I, um. I don't--" I sat up too, chest flooding with tentative relief. "I don't think you get what I'm really saying." I laughed nervously. "I, like, really like tickling. It's-- I can't describe it. Like I want to do it all the time." I grew hot again, saying it aloud.

        ​James chuckled. "All the time?"

        ​I cleared my throat. "Well, almost."

        ​"I guess that is a little weird."

​        "Yeah, see?" My stomach twisted up again. A tight knot. "Ugh, I'm a freak." I groaned, and back my head went into the mask of the pillow.

        "No, don't say that," he said, sounding more serious now. "You're not a freak."

        A long silence.

        "Andrew."

        I didn't reply. I really just wanted to rewind time. Why I'd felt the need to tell him about this part of me, I'd never know.

        "Andrew." He tried again.

        I offered him a soft grunt.

        "You're not a freak," he repeated. "You're my best friend." 

Soundtrack: Andrew and James's theme; Andrew confesses his secret."True Colors" by David Newman
00:00 / 01:17

​        His words struck me hard again, and this time, I felt like I wanted to cry, and I hated myself for it. "Are you...sure?" I really didn't know what I wanted him to clarify.

        ​He giggled. I was glad he was finding this so amusing. "Yes," he said. After another pause, he asked, "Have you told anyone else?"

        I furrowed my brow. Then, I shook my head. "No."

        "Well, I'm glad you told me." James smiled. "You know, you can tell me anything." Hearing him say it aloud--it comforted me in a way that I couldn't describe. Something fluttered inside of me, something I didn't really understand.

        "Thanks." I sniffed and wiped at my wet eyes. "You can tell me anything too."

        "Why are you crying?" His tone was curious, not judgmental.

        I shrugged. "I dunno. I was nervous to tell you."

        "Do you feel better?"

        "Yeah." A sheepish expression crossed my face.

        "Good."

        I turned back to face the back of the sofa, and we spent a long moment in silence. James's words continued to replay themselves in my head. Oddly enough, he was the one to finally continue the conversation about a minute later.

​        "Hey, Andrew? Can I ask you something?"

        ​"Yeah?" I answered him without turning over.

        ​"Why do you like tickling so much?"

        ​I winced, and I slowly flipped back in his direction, pondering his question. "Um." I sighed. It took me a moment to realize that he'd gotten off of the sofa and was now sitting cross-legged on the floor, facing me. "I dunno," I said again. "I guess...because it's fun?"

        ​James laughed. "It's fun getting tickled? Or it's fun tickling someone else?"

        I shrugged again. "Both, I guess. But I like tickling more."

       ​"You know, this is all starting to make sense." James sounded amused and he clapped his hands together once.

        "What do you mean?"

        "You, like, tickle me all the time."

        ​I felt my face ignite once more. "No, I don't."

        ​"Yeah, you do." He laughed.

        "Nuh-uh."

        ​"Yeah-huh."

        ​I started laughing too. And then, after another pause, I got a little brave. We were already on the subject anyway. The transition made sense. "Do you care that I tickle you?"

        "No." James grinned. "It's kinda torture though. Sometimes."

        ​"You don't think it's ever...fun?"

        He thought a moment. ​"I dunno. I mean, it's fun to laugh, I guess."

        ​Next came the moment of truth. My heart was in my throat. There was a funny feeling in my stomach and just below it, like a weird pressure in my bladder. "Can I...tickle you?" I must have been beet-red. I didn't know my face could feel that hot.

        ​"You wanna tickle me right now?" James sounded pleasantly surprised.

        ​​"For research purposes," I said, trying to be funny. "Show you what I mean."

        ​"Um." He sounded a little nervous.

        ​"Just real quick," I said, trying to encourage him. 

        ​James took a moment to respond, during which I started to regret asking. My eagerness turned to insecurity. But finally, he said, "Sure."

        ​My heart raced faster now, but for an entirely different reason. "Yeah?" I tried to maintain my composure, but I was grinning so widely that my cheeks started to hurt. I threw off my blanket and joined him down on the floor.

        ​"So, what do I have to do?" he asked.

        ​I snorted. "What do you mean? Nothing. Just enjoy it."

        ​"I don't know if I'm that ticklish," he said, sounding more nervous than before.

​        "You just said it was torture."

        ​"It is, sometimes. But if I'm expecting it, it probably won't be."

        ​"Well, we'll find out right now, won't we?"​ Even in the dim light, I could see the whites of his eyes, wide with anticipation. ​"Let me see your feet," I said, scooting myself up so that I was now only a few inches away from him. I was ready to explode with excitement. Feet had always been my absolute favorite spot to tickle, and they were my favorite spot to get tickled too; this was something else I didn't quite understand about myself.

​        James let out a shaky breath, then unfolded his skinny legs, letting his bare feet fall into my lap, wrinkly heels coming to rest on my thighs. I realized that my fingers were already impatiently curling and wiggling. I prevented them from striking however. I wanted to savor the moment. I took in the sight before me: a pair of soft, pink soles each containing a set of round little toes. James's feet were a little big for his age. He was going to be tall. Hell, he was already taller than I was. And though he was skinny, I also knew that he was bound for an athletic body. In all honesty, I was a little jealous of how good-looking he was, with his soft blond hair and crisp blue eyes. It wasn't fair.

        ​"When are you gonna start?" James asked, making me realize that I'd been a little distracted.

        ​"In a sec. Part of the experience is building up a little tension," I said. I enjoyed teasing him.

        ​"Oh god," he said in response.

        ​And then I began. My fingers fell upon his cold, soft flesh, exploring the skin just beneath the ball of each foot.

​        "Ohohoho whoa. Oh. Ohhh! Heehee!" James's response was immediate. He sucked in a breath, which quickly devolved into a stream of uneasy giggles. I primarily focused on his left foot, watching it wriggle and dance and spasm. He curled his toes and my heart leapt.

        ​"You're, like, really ticklish, actually," I said. There was a pounding in my chest. I traced the skin of each instep lightly.

        James began shaking his head. ​"Heeheehaha! Okay! Ohohookay! Androohoohoo! Heehee!" He buried his face into his hands and started rocking from side to side. He didn't, however, pull his feet away, which impressed me.

​        "You enjoying this yet?" I said, giggling too. I couldn't help myself. I used my left hand to pin his ankle down and I went all out, applying a lot more pressure to the sensitive skin under his curling toes.

​        "Eeeeheeeheeheehahahaha! Wait! Wait! Stawhahahawp! Nohoho!" ​James's laugh was perfect--childlike and hearty. He threw his head back, eyes squeezing shut, and he gave in to the sensations invading his body. I was in heaven. Absolute heaven. Unfortunately, my time there was short-lived because James's perfect laugh was also very loud. And it wasn't long before our antics attracted the attention of his parents.

        ​The lights went on upstairs, we heard a door open, and--

PRESENT
november 2009

        The elevator doors opened. I was jolted back from my memories. Despite my daze from the daydream, I willed myself to act quickly. I rushed into the lobby and a new fear welcomed me.

        It was empty.

        ​Where had everyone gone? I thought. Had Shay already gotten to them? Were their other tickle monsters nearby? I winced as my bare soles touched down on more icy tile. There was really nothing to do now but escape and call for help. My next step cued the thunderous screech of my girlfriend-turned-monster to echo out from the nearby stairwell.

        "Shit," I said. Shay was persistent.

        ​I dashed for the glass doorway at the entrance. As I stepped, I dialed the emergency hotline and waited for a response. After a couple of rings, a woman answered.

        ​"Emergency Hotline, GUARD Anaheim Branch," she said.

        ​"Hello! Yes, hello! I'd like to report an Infected."

        ​"Do you need assistance, sir? Are you in danger?" The woman on the other end of the line was calm, but her voice still carried with it an appropriate urgency.

        ​"Yes," I said as I stepped out onto the street, my sore feet slapping down on the sidewalk. I looked around to gather my bearings. I realized that I'd also forgotten the car keys. Nothing to be done about it now. I just needed to get away. Like the lobby, the street was unusually deserted. It made sense, given the curfew, but things still seemed to be a little too quiet, and I suddenly felt unbearably alone. "There's an Infected in my apartment building," I explained into the phone. "What do I do?"

        ​"Are there any other gargalites nearby?"

        ​"What?"

        ​"Infected." She clarified the term she'd used.

        ​"I don't know! Please, send help!"

        "We're already tracing your call, sir. Our closest GUARD unit will arrive shortly. Are you able to hide somewhere?"

        ​"Uh. Um." I frantically looked around, taking off down the road in the direction of the park.

        ​"Have you been in contact with the Infected, sir?"

        ​"What?"

        ​"Have you been in physical contact with the Infected?"

        ​"No," I said quickly. I was afraid of what would happen had I been honest.

        ​"No physical contact of any kind?"

        ​"No."

        ​"Sir, are you being pursued by the Infected now?"

        ​"Goddammit, yes!"

        ​"Are you able to get to a secure location?" She asked question after question.

        ​"I don't know, I don't know!"

        ​"Stay calm, sir. I will remain on the line with you until--"

        ​"Rrraaaaggh!" The sound of a vicious roar--this one unfamiliar--stopped me dead in my tracks. Lo and behold, another figure stepped out onto the sidewalk just ahead me, rounding into view from the shadows of the nearby café. This figure was a male, looked to be about college-aged, and he had those same far-gone eyes that Shay had recently acquired--bloodshot, dilated. Additionally, I could see a mass of some strange white webbing on his neck. One of the telltale signs.

        ​"Oh, fuck." My throat tightened.

        ​"Sir?" said the woman on the phone.

        ​"There's another," I muttered into the mouth piece.

        ​"Another gargalite?"

        ​"Yes," I said, voice weak.

        ​"Can you get to safety?" She sounded concerned now.

        ​I didn't answer her. I continued to stare at the stranger who had appeared before me. This new gargalite--as they were called--bared his teeth. It was like a devilish smile. I saw him look me over as if I were a piece of prized meat.

        "Nowhere to go now, Andrew." And then, of course, there was Shay. One interference and she'd managed to catch up to me. I swallowed and I slowly turned around to face her, now realizing the full gravity of my situation: I was trapped. Between two terrifying ticklers.

        "Sir? Hello? Sir!" I could barely hear the woman shouting at me from the phone's speaker. I had lowered the device to my side, limbs suddenly feeling like jelly.

        ​"Shay," I said, resorting to reasoning now.

        ​"Ready to laugh for me?" said Shay.

        ​The other gargalite snarled in agreement. "Laugh," he said, word coming out more like a growl.

        "Please, Shay." I knew pleading was pointless, but I had to try. This, however, only seemed to prompt her into stepping towards me. As she did, the male gargalite behind me took a step too. Closing in.

        "You don't need to do this." I tried again. I was just about to resign myself to my fate when I heard a strange sound suddenly carry out across the quiet street. An odd, yet familiar, and haunting sound: laughter. The laughter of a kid--a teen, maybe? No, it was the laughter of a boy. Frantic and scared and unrestrained. And it was nearby.

        Laughter is a cry for help, I thought, reciting the GUARD hotline slogan in my head.​ Shay and the other gargalite perked up in interest, diverting their attention from me, if only for a brief moment. They looked around the nearby vicinity, searching for the source of, what they perceived to be, a sweet, sweet sound. I took advantage of this moment. It was my only chance. I darted into the street, perpendicular to the position of the two Infected.

        ​"Andrew!" Shay bellowed in surprise. The other gargalite also snapped to attention.

        "Shit, shit, shit!" I continued to spew out, in succession, my new word of the day, and I blindly ran. I didn't know where I was going; I just knew I needed to go as fast as I could. It would only be a matter of time before I was caught.

        I turned a corner at the end of the street, and I nearly collided with yet another figure. This time, however, instead of stopping dead in my tracks, I reacted in violence, swinging madly. I grazed the person's jaw. Then I heard a clack of metal against cement and I realized that I'd dropped my phone into the street. I'd forgotten I'd been holding it.

        "Hey! What the hell?!" This new individual reeled back and fell against the brick wall beside us, and, after scrambling to process everything that was happening--this onslaught of events--I realized that this person was a boy, blond, wearing a beanie and street clothes, and about my age, though perhaps a little younger.

        "Sorry," I said quickly.

        ​"Christ," he said through a hiss, rubbing at his chin. "Watch it." He jumped to his feet. "C'mon. Follow me."

        ​"What? Who are you?"

        ​The boy threw his head back, a look of frustration crossing his face. "Look, man. You wanna stand here and play Twenty Questions, or do you wanna get away from them?" He pointed over my shoulder. I spun around to see Shay and her new infected companion coming straight for us. We only had a few precious moments, and they were fleeting fast.

        Point taken. "Okay, okay. Lead the way," I said.

       ​My newfound guide gestured for me to trail him down a narrow alley. I heard the gargalites storm into the passage after us. They were, quite literally, right on our heels.

Author's notes: 

This chapter was first posted on a tickling-focused forum back on October 28, 2009 and has since been edited and revised multiple times. 

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID ABOUT chapter 2: 

"I just read the second chapter of Pteronophobia! I loved it. Really enjoyed reading the scene with James, perfect casting on him of course! Also, this was so creatively written and a joy to read. Amazing description! With every paragraph I read the more I realize what a talented writer you are!"

Famous&ticklish

"Wow. That's kinda the only word I can think of at the moment...I do really like the way this story is shaping up...Keep up the good work."

Orichalcos

"It is so refreshing to read a well done tickling story these days that actually seems to have a back story. This is great and I hope you can release the rest soon!" 

Newsboys6

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