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a series of tickle fiction by

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chapter 3

in hiding

        "This way! Hurry," said the strange, beanie-clad boy. He was leading me down a labyrinth of back alleys, turning at random down every other concrete corridor we came upon.

​        "Where are we going?"

        ​He didn't answer me. Soon, we found ourselves facing the backside of a brick-lined building. It was a dead-end. My heart sank.

        ​"Now what? I thought you knew where you were going! How are we--?"

        ​His palm came down on my shoulder. "Hey," he said.

        ​I stared at him.

        ​"You know how to shut up?"

​        My eyes went wide. "What?! What do you--?"

        ​"Do you get that we lost 'em a few minutes ago?"

​        "I-- We...did?" I caught my breath, listening for the sounds of gargalite footfalls or sickly growls. I heard none.

        ​"Yeah, but if you keep yapping on and on, they're gonna find us again. You want that?"

​        I shook my head.

        ​"Okay. So. Shut up."

        "Wait. What's your name?"

        ​"What'd I just say?"

​        "I don't even know if I can trust you," I said, though quieter now. "You can at least give me your name."

​        The boy sighed, but complied. "Jake," he said. He held out his hand and I shook it.

        ​"Andrew," I said.

        ​"Yeah, I know. I heard that garg screaming your name a bunch of times."

        ​"Oh. Right."

        "She your girlfriend or something?"

        ​"She was almost my fiancée."

        ​"Yikes."

        ​"Yeah."

        ​Jake began to walk me back down the same alley we'd just entered directing me from the dead-end towards a new passage on our left.

        ​"Thank you," I said. "For saving me."

        ​"Sure," he said.

        ​We walked in silence for a few moments and, now that the adrenaline was starting to wear off, I began to feel the pain accumulating on the bottoms of my feet. They were still bare--I'd run down sidewalks, across streets, and through dirty alleys. I winced as I looked down to inspect them. Both soles were nearly black with dirt, and there was a small spot of blood right beneath one of my big toes.

​        "You okay?" Jake asked.

        ​"My feet. I cut myself."

        ​"Yeah, I was wondering why you were barefoot."

        ​"Shay turned in our apartment, and I just booked it. I didn't have time to put on shoes."

        ​"Well, don't worry. We're almost to my hideout. You can get yourself cleaned up."

        ​"Hideout?"

        ​"Yeah. What size are you?" Jake looked back and pointed down at my feet. For some reason, his attention on them made me a little shy.

        ​"Um, eleven."

        ​"Aw, damn. I was gonna let you borrow a pair, but I'm a nine."

        ​How strange this was. There we were--strangers until moments ago, him having saved my life from two crazed, plague-ridden monsters--in the middle of an alleyway discussing shoe size.

​        "Here," said Jake, pointing up to an iron ladder at the base of the next building. It led up to a fire escape. I recognized where we were.

        ​"The Kavalier Apartments?"

        ​"Yep." Jake heaved himself up onto the ladder and began to climb. "Got myself a nice one up top."

        ​"What?"

        ​"C'mon," he said.

        ​"How many floors up?" I was mentally and physically exhausted, not to mention I wasn't the biggest fan of heights.

​        "Twelve," he said.

        ​"Twelve...?"

        ​"You'd rather stay down here?"

        ​I sighed. "No." I extended my arm and I let him help me up. Our ascent was quiet save for the distant sounds of sirens. A sudden gust embraced me and I shivered.

        "How you doing?" Jake asked after a few floors. He also sounded a little winded.

        "Fine," I said, taking a moment to rest. My legs and feet were killing me.

        "Almost there. Next"--Jake paused to take in a lungful of air--"window up."

        "Okay," I said. As I neared the upcoming entry point--a massive window nearly the size of a door--I took a moment to look inside. Nestled away in the darkness rested a fairly spacious apartment. Cozy, comfortable, and much better than my place. I could only see one room, but it was large and decorated with modern furniture.

        "Let's get inside," said Jake. To my surprise, he slid the massive pane of glass upward with ease. He hopped inside and I followed. The warmth of the interior was welcoming.

        "Whose place is this?" I asked.

        "Not sure. Probably some wealthy person who skipped town when everything went to hell."

        "You're squatting here," I said, a little skeptical.

        "You got a problem with it, you're welcome to go back out there, back to your place."

        "No, no." I couldn't help but smirk. "Sorry, I just-- Like I said, I'm still trying to establish some trust here."

        ​"Me saving you wasn't enough?"

        ​I dropped my head sheepishly. "No, it was. It's just-- I'm sorry, I-- A lot has happened tonight."

​        He seemed to understand this. "I get it," he said. He closed up the window, locked it, and then drew the curtains. Afterward, he made his way deeper into the apartment and turned on a few lights. We were silhouetted by a soft, dim aura.

​        "You know, it's kinda weird having you here," he said, plopping himself down on the sofa in the middle of the room. "I haven't had company in a long time." He slipped off his shoes and put his feet up on the coffee table in front of him. I couldn't help but glance at them. His socks were very clean.

        "How...old are you?" I asked. He looked young.

        "Eighteen." He almost sounded proud saying it, as if it proved something.

        "And...you're on your own?"

        ​Jake frowned. "Yeah." His tone suddenly went cold. "I, uh... My folks were killed during the evac in San Diego."

        ​"Oh. I'm-- I'm so sorry." My heart sank, and memories of my own losses flooded back. "I... I lost my parents too."

​        Jake locked eyes with me. "What happened?"

        "Car accident," I said. "Right around the time things started getting crazy." I slid my hands in my pockets and looked down at the floor. I felt the reminder of the ring box in my pocket.

        "I'm...sorry," he said, and though he was echoing my sentiments from before, it felt genuine. I thanked him and I tenderly walked over to the sofa, feet still incredibly sore. I sat down beside him, still giving him an appropriate amount of space. ​We remained in heavy silence for a long while. Finally, I said, "How long would you say before it's safe for me to go back?" I directed my attention towards the enormous window.

        ​"To your place?" 

        I nodded.

        ​"I don't think that's a good idea," he said.

        ​"Why?"

        ​"Your girlfriend'll be waiting for you there. You know that, right?"

​        "She...will?"

        ​"Yeah. You said she just turned?" he asked.

        ​"Yeah..."

        ​"So, she's still pretty much herself. Most of who she is. She's gonna go back to where she thinks you'll go." he explained.

        ​"What? That...can't be a thing."

        ​"It is. Trust me. It'll be awhile before she begins to hunt or wander."

        ​Hunt. Wander. As if she were an animal.

        "We should stick together for now," said Jake. His blue eyes darted up to mine, and I caught myself staring at his feet again. I had to admit, his were pretty nice. Again, my favorite spot. Fearing he would notice, I quickly shifted my gaze to the taupe-colored walls around us. After a moment, he stood up, and made his way back over to the door-sized window. "This whole thing's so crazy, you know?"

        ​I almost laughed. "That's an understatement."

        He reached over to a nearby table and picked up a piece of paper. It rustled softly in his hands, and I caught a glimpse of it, recognizing it almost instantly. A flyer. It depicted the acronym 'G.U.A.R.D.' with the local hotline number below and, just below that, in bold, sans-serif font:

LAUGHTER IS A CRY FOR HELP.

​​​        "These are all over the city now," said Jake. 

        "Yeah. And I don't think most people do what they tell 'em to do." I shrugged. "When people hear laughter, they don't call for help. They run." I thought a moment. "You know, speaking of... I heard laughter earlier. That's how I got away. It distracted Shay and the other Infected."

        "You heard laughter?" 

        ​"Yeah." I nodded. "It sounded like a kid. It was a little creepy."

​        "Was it close by?"

        ​"Probably." I furrowed my brow. "Why?"

        ​"Hold on." Jake made his way from the window and towards a dresser on the adjacent wall. He pulled open a drawer and retrieved from it a small device that looked like an old cassette player. I hadn't seen one in ages.

        ​"What's that for?" I asked. Exhaustion was starting to set in, and I found myself shifting to a more comfortable position on the couch.

​        "Listen." Jake turned on the cassette player, and I heard it momentarily--a laugh. It was a cute, male laugh, a fusion of quick, short breaths and deep-sounding amusement. Playful, yet tense. It was genuine- desperate almost--and it made me shiver. "This what you heard earlier?" he asked.

        ​"I'm not sure," I said. "Why...do you have that?"

        ​Jake smiled. "It's mine." Again, he sounded proud.

        ​"What do you mean?"

        ​"It's my laugh. The recording."

​        It took my tired brain a moment to process what he was telling me. "Wait." I tilted my head. "You recorded your own...laugh?"

        ​"Yeah." He almost sounded proud. "I use it to lure the gargs to certain areas. Keep them away from the places I'm trying to scope out."

        ​I raised my eyebrows. "Does...that work?"

        ​He shrugged. "Sometimes. I mean, they usually wise up after awhile, but...it helps."

​        "Huh." I studied him a moment. "That's...actually pretty brilliant."

        ​He grinned again. "Thanks." His smile only lasted a moment before a serious expression crossed his face again. "What I'm having trouble wrapping my brain around is how the laughs affect the Infected." He crossed his arms. "I know that they enjoy hearing it. They need to hear it," he said. "Almost like it makes 'em stronger, you know?"

        I shifted my position again as I listened to him, letting out a sharp hiss as​ my sensitive, injured feet touched down on the floor.

        ​"You should probably get yourself cleaned up," Jake said.

        ​"I think that's a good idea."

        ​"There's a bathroom you can use, just down that hall there." He pointed behind the sofa. "Second door on the left."

        ​"Thanks. You got any socks I can borrow?" I asked, probing at the tender spot beneath my big toe.

        "Yeah. I can even grab you a change of clothes. If you want." He was eyeing my formal attire. So much for getting dressed up for the perfect evening, I thought. 

        ​"Sure," I said again. "Thanks."

        ​"Be right back." He jogged around the coffee table in the center of the room and made his way down the hall behind me.

        ​As soon as I was alone in the quiet space of the Kavalier apartment, I began to reflect on everything that had happened over the last hour. It was starting to dawn on me now, really dawn on me--I had lost the only person I had left.

        Shay was gone.

1 year ago
SEPTEMBER 2008

Soundtrack: Song playing in restaurant."Love Song" by Sara Bareilles
00:00 / 01:32

        "Hey, Andrew?" I felt two bony fingers lightly tickle my side beneath the table.

        "Whoa! What?" I yelped, my attention snapping away from the song playing over the restaurant's speakers. I turned to James, who was sitting beside me in the booth. We were out with a few of his friends, celebrating his birthday. 

        "You okay?" He smiled, probably amused at my reaction. "You seem distracted."

        "Yeah. Sorry. I'm just a little tired," I lied. Truth was, this was the first birthday of his that we were celebrating since going to different colleges--me attending my father's alma mater to pursue business and he getting to freely figure things out at a community college. This was also James's first birthday we were celebrating with friends that were not mutual. Not that I hated Bash or Sean. They were...fine. But something felt different. James felt a little far away, even though he was right next to me. 

        "You sure?" James wasn't convinced.

        I nodded and smiled. "Yeah."

        He eyed me a moment longer, but finally, he nodded, placed a hand on my shoulder, and gave it an affectionate squeeze. "Sorry you're tired. But I'm glad you're here."

        "Thanks," I said.

        Our server arrived not a moment later. She was a pretty brunette with bright, brown eyes. Her nametag read, 'Shay'.

        ​"Can I get you guys started with some drinks?" she asked.

        ​"Pepsi, please," said James.

        ​"Coke okay?"

        ​"Sure."

        ​"For you?" She looked at me.

        ​"Water, thanks."

        ​"All right." She continued her way around the table, and as she took the drink orders from James's friends, he leaned over to me and tickled my side again. I did my best not to squirm as he whispered in my ear: "That question never made sense to me. What if Coke wasn't okay? Would she go and get it a Pepsi for me?"

        ​I grinned. 

        ​"I'll be right back with your drinks." The server looked at me again. "You sure you just want water?"

​        "Oh." My eyebrows shot up. "Yeah, that's fine."

        ​"Lemon?"

        ​"What?"

        ​"Would you like lemon?"

        ​"Sure," I said, unsure as to why she was giving me this attention.

        ​"You got it." She smirked and I swore that she winked at me. What was happening?

        ​"Dude!" said Bash. "She was totally hitting on you."

​        "What?" I reddened. "No, she wasn't." I thought a moment. Was that was she was doing?

        ​"C'mon, man." Sean joined in. "How oblivious can you be?"

​        "I'm not-- I wasn't--"

​        "Guys, lay off him," James said, his tone a little sharp. The others kept snickering. 

​        "Dude, Andrew. Get her number before we go."

        ​"Oh, you should!" Bash said.

        ​James shook his head. "Guys, enough."

        "We're just looking out for our guy over here." Sean tried to reach across the table to tousle my hair. I shifted away.

        ​James blocked his hand. "She's not into him," he said. "Leave him alone." Despite his insistence, however, the guys teased me off and on for the rest of dinner and, as an added bonus, Sean decided to take James's words as a challenge. Next thing I knew, I was listening to him ask Shay for her number on my behalf when she was bringing us the check, and as mortified as I was, I had to admit that I was a little flattered when she, with a bright smile, complied.

PRESENT
november 2009

        "Here you go." Jake's voice brought me back to the present. He returned from a room down the hall with some clothes in hand.

        ​"Oh." I cleared my throat. "Thanks."

        ​"Feel free to crash on the couch if you want to get some rest."

        ​I sighed and stretched, noting the aching in my muscles. "I really appreciate everything," I said, "but are you sure I can't go home?" There was something that just felt a little...off. Granted, I hadn't been expecting my almost-fiancée to full-on turn into a tickle monster, and I was very grateful for Jake's assistance, but things were just happening so fast, and I desperately needed a moment to process things...alone.

​        "I don't think it's a good idea," Jake said. "I told you, your girlfriend's going to be looking for you. She just turned. She's gonna want to find you. And her senses are gonna be all on hyper alert." He made a few passing gestures around his head with his hands.

        ​I sighed. "You know a lot about the Infected."

        ​He nodded. "I've been studying them a while, learning their behavior, how they act..."

        ​"Recording laughter, luring them around..." I added to his list. The laughter to which he had me listen...it was so genuine. I wondered how he got himself to laugh like that.

        ​He smiled. "Yeah." He tossed me the clothing in his arms: a t-shirt, some joggers, some socks. "It's up to you though. I won't force you to stay." He sounded sincere enough, and the fact that he was giving me a choice made me less suspicious of this strange boy who had saved me.

        "I'll stay," I said after a long moment. "At least for the night."

        He smiled. "You can take the couch," he said. "It's comfortable."

        I felt the softness of the cushions again. "It really is."

        "Go ahead and get yourself changed. I'll grab us a snack or something and maybe we can talk a bit more. Seems like we have a lot in common. We...get each other, you know?"

        I chuckled. "Sure."

        Jake directed me to the restroom again and then made for another doorway on the opposite end of the penthouse, most likely towards the kitchen. As I headed down the hall, I began to relax. I considered myself lucky that Jake had, quite literally, barreled into my life just as I had lost Shay. I yawned again and opened up the door on my left.

        ​"Oops," I muttered. Wrong door. I was about to close it, then I noticed something. ​I was looking into a closet. It was mostly empty, but, hanging from a clothing rack above, were...shackles--cuffs of leather and metal. On the carpeted floor was rope. And the walls, white, were covered in strange, scuff marks.

        ​"What...?" I whispered. I quickly closed the door and then hurried to the next one over. As soon as I was in the restroom with my change of clothes, I locked myself in, turned on the light, and sat myself on the closed toilet. 

        ​New thoughts of fear began to course into my mind. Maybe I wasn't safe after all.

Author's notes: 

This chapter was first posted on a tickling-focused forum back on February 26, 2010 and has since been edited and revised multiple times. 

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID ABOUT chapter 3: 

"Oh damn, 'laughter is a cry for help' - that is absolutely insane, man. Utter genius. '"Eighteen." He almost sounded proud saying it, as if it proved something.' Another amazing description that is so short but encapsulates such a huge part of a young person's confidence within their personality. I loved the third chapter, the ending was so enticing!"

FAMOUS&TICKLISH

"I can hardly wait for the next installment! This chapter was rather thought provoking and the ending set up a good amount of suspense. Very well done! :D"

orichalcos

"Okay, [this is one of] the BEST tickle stories I have ever read...PLEASE continue!!!"

t23kman

"Uh-oh...looks like trouble...I'm ashamed I didn't discover this story earlier, it's great!"

kumorifox

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