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a series of tickle fiction by

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chapter 4

in him i trust

        "Andrew?" Jake's muffled voice came from beyond the restroom door. I didn't respond right away, so he tried again: "Andrew?"

        ​I took a slow, steady breath. "Yeah?"

        ​"You all right? It's been a while."

        ​"Fine," I said. It was a lie.

        ​Only a few minutes ago, I had witnessed something very unsettling. The shackles. The rope. The marks all over the closet, as if there had been some sort of struggle.

​        Had Jake lured me here under false pretenses? Were those restraints meant for...me? I tried to reason with myself--maybe they'd already been there before he arrived; this wasn't his apartment after all.

​        "I've got us a snack once you're all cleaned up," he said.

        ​"Thanks." I tried to sound grateful. For a long time, I stared at my reflection in the mirror over the sink. As I ran the water, trying to decipher what my next move would be, I allowed my mind to melt into another memory:

1 year ago
november 2008

        I don't remember much regarding how things unfolded; I just remember it happening very quickly. Something in me compelled me to take a shot and message Shay shortly after she'd given me her number, much to the delight of James's friends, and things just sort of...took off from there.

        It started with a coffee, over which we talked about books, music, and movies. The next time we met up, it was to play mini golf. One date led to another, and then another, and this was all within a span of a few weeks. It was just...easy, and I was happy to go along with things. School had already burned me out, and I was barely through my first year. That's where Shay came in. It was nice because she did all the work. She was a natural planner. She was assertive. She decided what we did and when we did it, and I didn't mind. In all honesty, she was helping distract me from the burdens of school--something for which James was unavailable, given his own deep-dive into classes at the community college and his spending time with his own friends.

        One night, during one of my trademarked procrastination sessions, Shay sent me a message, and, as usual, I was happy to direct my attention away from the paper I'd been writing.

        ​A little birdie told me that someone's got a bday coming upshe wrote.

        I smiled and shook my head. James?

        She did not confirm nor deny this, and simply continued: So...what are we doing?

        Oh, idk.

        C'mon, Drew. We HAVE to do SOMETHING. Too bad you're not old enough to drink. ;) 

        I shook my head. Drinking wasn't my idea of a good time anyway.

        What if I cook a nice dinner for you? she asked.

        Smirking, I wrote, Can you cook?

        Her reaction was expected: EXCUSE me? lol

        I laughed aloud and tried to explain myself: It's an honest question. Because I can cook. She obviously couldn't see my face through the screen, but I was holding my head up proudly.

        Oh, is that so?

        Yep.

        Well, why don't you put ur $ where ur mouth is?

        I furrowed my brow. WHAT lol you want me to cook for YOU on MY bday?

        Why don't you make us a nice dinner? I'll bring dessert. literally and figuratively ;)

        I hesitated. While I was very inexperienced when it came to...well, intimacyI knew what she was getting at. It's when she made those types of comments that I realized just how fast things were moving between us. I simply responded with a ;) of my own. I didn't know what else to say.

        Next weekend work for you? she asked.

        I stared at my screen for a long time before sending over a reply. I felt like I was in a strange daze. Time was slipping all around me, yet it also felt like I was drudging along through the slowest season of my life, especially with school. I just missed how things used to be, before the last chapter of my life had closed, before the expectations of adulthood and a career loomed so heavily. I missed my sister. I missed my high school. I missed James.

        Not wanting to take too long to respond, I wrote: Yeah, sure! I added the exclamation point to convey a dash of excitement. 

        Can't wait to see you! replied Shay, after which she sent a <3

        I sighed. Again, I copied her:

        <3

PRESENT
november 2009

        I silently exited the bathroom. I had changed into the clothes that Jake had provided for me, save for the socks, which I had yet to place on my newly-cleaned feet.

        “Feel better?” Jake was on my immediate right. He was standing in front of the door to the closet in which I thought I had seen the shackles. 

        “I guess.” I shrugged and hurried past him, back to the sofa where we'd been sitting before.

        “How's your foot?” Jake said.

        “Still hurts, but not too bad." I sat down and began to slip the socks onto my sore feet. 

        Jake sat himself down on the sofa beside me. "What do you want to eat?"

        "Oh. I'm not really...hungry."

        "You sure?"

        "Yeah."

        "Okay, well, why don't we talk for a bit?" He turned and crossed his legs on the sofa, then placed his hands in his lap. The energy with which he assumed that position, the innocence in his eyes, it made me realize how young he really was. "Tell me about yourself," he said.

        "Oh, um..." My eyes darted over to the closet door behind him. Had I just imagined it? It'd been dark. And I'd just gone through so much...

        "Andrew?"

        "Hm?"

        "You okay?"

        "Y-yeah."

        Jake's eyes followed my gaze. He turned around and glanced in the direction I was staring. When he turned back to me, he furrowed his brow. "What are you looking at?" he asked.

        "Nothing," I lied.

        "Well then...let's start with your age." Jake crossed his arms. "How old are you?" He threw my question from earlier back at me.

        I tore my eyes away from the dreaded door for a moment and looked at him. "Twenty," I said, and immediately realized that my twenty-first was around the corner. Some birthday that was going to be...

        He nodded, then said, "You from around here?"

        "Yeah..." I really didn't feel like being interviewed. Not now. "Grew up here."

        "Nice. I'm from San Diego," Jake said. "Actually made my way up here when things got...crazy."

        "Hm."

        "You, um, you got any questions for me?" I'm sure Jake could tell that I wasn't engaging him like I had been before.

        I thought about my next move, in multiple senses. I glanced towards the foyer of the apartment now. I didn't know if I had it in me to run for my life again, to sprint so helplessly a second time through the streets of Anaheim below. "Yeah," I said slowly. I planted my feet on the floor and rose from the sofa. "I, uh... I thought I saw something in that closet." I pointed to it.

        "The...closet?" Jake broke from the childlike position he'd adopted before and stood up with such a quickness that I recoiled.

        "The hall closet. Right there." My throat tightened. "Next to the restroom."

        "What about it?"

        "Would you mind opening it for me?" I asked.

        Jake's expression was indecipherable. My trust in him--though newly established--was already wavering. Sure, he had saved me from Shay and the other garg, but truth be told, I didn't know this kid from Adam. Still, it surprised me a bit that he so willingly did what I asked. He rounded the couch and headed for the mouth of the hall. As soon as he turned his back, I slowly stepped in the direction of the foyer.

        Jake pulled open the door and...

        Nothing.

        It was empty.

        "What did you see?" he asked.

        I approached the open door, still being mindful to put some distance between myself and Jake. I looked inside the closet. No cuffs or shackles. No rope. The white walls, however, still had those strange scuff marks. "I thought... I swore..." I took a few breaths.

        "What?" Jake asked, and from his tone, I gathered that he was either a really good actor or that he was genuinely confused.

        "There were-- I accidentally opened this door earlier, and there was like... rope and restraints and..." I looked up at him.

        "What are you talking about?"

        "I don't... I don't know," I said, taking two steps back. "Look, I appreciate everything you've done for me, but I think... I mean, I don't know if I'm losing it or what, but I-- I need to go."

        "What do you mean?"

        "I need to get back." I started for the front door.

        "Andrew, wait. I told you, it's not safe."

        "I'll be fine."

        "Andrew." The desperation in Jake's voice caused me to hesitate. "I'm not sure what you think you saw in there, but I promise, you're safer here then you are out there."

        "Yeah, you keeping saying that, but how do I really know that that's true?" I spoke the words before I realized what I was saying.

        Jake winced. "What?"

        "How do I know that I'm safe here?" I said. "If I'm honest with you, something feels...off. Something's been off since you brought me here."

        He laughed, which only fueled my sudden fire. "What's been off?" he asked.

       "This. Everything. All of it." I edged further away from him. "Don't get me wrong, I"--I squeezed my eyes shut as I tried to gather my thoughts--"I owe you for helping me earlier, but I don't think I'm comfortable staying here anymore." It was my determined stride to the apartment's front door that must have caused him to concede, because what he said next surprised me:

        "Okay, okay. Hold up."

        I stopped, and I waited for him to continue. He adjusted his beanie, sighed, and then dropped his head. I could see his whole body wavering back and forth, as if he were unsure of what to do with himself. "Look, I-I wanted to wait to tell you this," he said.

        "What," I muttered, throat tightening. "You're...infected, aren't you?"

        Jake's head snapped up. "What? No!"

        "Then what? You brought me here for a reason, didn't you?" 

        "No! I just thought--"

        "You know what? I don't care." I cut him off. "This was too good to be true. I've gotta get out of here." I hurried into the foyer.

        "Andrew, wait!" Jake started after me, which only prompted me to move faster. "Andrew!" His saying my name again prompted an eruptive response--it was the result of everything I'd been feeling all evening: the anxiety of my planned proposal, the fear at Shay's turning, the relief at finding someone whom I'd assumed was a friend, the exhaustion at entering this alleged haven high above the city, the confusion at seeing the shackles in the closet, and now...I didn't know what else to do, but lash out. The storm spewed forth in harsh, biting words: 

        "Stay the hell away from me!"

        Jake went silent and still. I waited for some sort of response on his end--anger or a smug confession, or, hell, even a full turn into a gargalite--but he did...nothing. At least not at first. And I was left standing there with my hand on the doorknob, lungs heaving, adrenalin firing away.

        Finally, Jake shook his head, and with an angry frown and evident pain in his eyes, he said, "Okay. Fine. Go." He slipped his hands into his pockets. "But do me a favor and don't come back," he instructed and instead of pursuing me further, he turned away and retreated back into the depths of the apartment. After a moment, I heard a door slam. 

        I stood for a solid thirty seconds at the threshold between the apartment and the hellish world beyond. For some reason, I couldn't will myself to leave. As I hung in perpetual limbo, I reflected again:

1 year ago
november 2008

        “Okay," said Shay, polishing off her last bites of my homemade enchiladas--my mother's recipe. "I admit it. You are a much better cook than I am. You ever consider going to school for it? Maybe open a restaurant?" 

        "A few times, actually," I said, depositing our dishes into the sink. I followed her out of the kitchen and over to the couch.

        "Well, that was delicious, thank you." She snuggled up against my body and I breathed in her scent. We stood as one for a few moments. Then, she whispered into my ear, "So, birthday boy, you ready for some dessert?" Her breath tickled and it sent shivers down my spine.

        "I mean, aren't you full?" I asked.

        "No," she said. "I could still eat." She pinched at my flanks and I yelped and giggled and twisted away from her, but she merely replied by wrapping her arms around me from behind. "C'mon," she said.

        "Well, I'm a little f-full," I said. "Maybe we just...talk for a bit?"

        Her grip around me slackened. "Talk?" 

        “Yeah." I felt a little self-conscious about what I was suggesting; she was clearly disappointed.

        "Where do you want to...talk?" she asked.

        "The living room?" I gestured in its direction.

        "What about...your bedroom? Your parents might be home soon. Don't want them walking in on us."

        My parents, in fact, wouldn't be home for another few hours, but I couldn't bring myself to point that out. Shay had clearly made up her mind on how tonight was going to go, and I didn't have the heart to protest. "Okay, sure," I said, but to assert some semblance of control, I reminded her: "Just to talk."

        "Of course," she said. She spun me around, leaned up, and kissed me. Our lips met, gentle and soft. "Let's go... talk." 

        And she led me by the hand down the hall.

PRESENT
november 2009

        What was I doing?

        I could have left. Hell, I should have left. Jake didn't come after me. He gave me a choice. But there I was, standing again in the hallway of the apartment, calling out for the boy that A) I didn't entirely trust, and B) for some reason, still didn't feel right about abandoning. 

        It didn't make much sense, but something was compelling me now to pursue himin spite of my concerns and fears. One thing at least of which I was pretty sure, now that I had given it some thought: Jake was probably not infected. I knew that gargs, especially early on, retained control over their mental faculties, but this only lasted for a brief time. A turn was inevitable and once that happened, there was no going back. Even if Jake had lured me here to serve his own agenda, he certainly wouldn't have been able to hold up the act for this long.

        “Jake?” I called out for him.

        What I couldn't justify, however, was the closet. I had checked it again after venturing back into the apartment. Still no signs of captivity. I was having a hard time believing I'd simply imagined such things. Couple that with the fact that Jake had been ready to tell me something--what was it? What was he hiding? I cursed my emotional outburst from earlier.

        "Jake," I called his name again, and from down the hall, I heard a door open.

        "Andrew?" Jake appeared in the last doorway to my right. "What are you still doing here?" He sounded angry.

        "I don't-- I don't know," I said honestly.

        "I told you, I'm not going to keep you here if you don't want to stay. Get out."

        "I-- I don't...want to leave. At least not tonight." I'd decided that taking my chances here with Jake trumped another journey out into the dark, Infected-riddled streets. 

        Jake crossed his arms. "Well, I don't know if I want you here anymore. Not if you don't trust me."

        "C'mon, man. Can you really blame me?" I said, leaning against the wall beside me. "What were you going to tell me?"

        "What?"

        "Before my...outburst--sorry for what I said, by the way--you were going to say something."

        "I'm not infected," he repeated.

        "Fine, but that's not what you were going to tell me, was it?"

        Jake sighed. He opened his door further and idly made his way backwards into the space. It was, very clearly, a master bedroom. Spacious. Modern decor. There was a large bed to our left and what looked to be a restroom and another closet to our right. Jake sat himself on the mattress, facing another large window, which provided a view of a darkened Disneyland in the distance. "Look," he said. "As you know, I've been studying the gargs--their movements, how they respond to laughs, what the infection looks like..."

        "Yeah..." I cautiously entered the room.

        "What I told you earlier was true. I'm from San Diego. I've been traveling up this way since the outbreaks. I'm..." He took another breath. "I'm trying to get to L.A."

        I furrowed my brow. "Why would you want to head into Los Angeles? It's a Class Three now." The epicenter. "The Infected are supposedly swarming the streets."

        "I know." Jake looked over his shoulder at me. His tone was cold, but controlled. "I'm...trying to help find a cure for this thing."

        "A...cure?"

        "The largest GUARD Outpost is right outside Los Angeles. One of the first to be set up. I hear the gargs that are captured--they're taken there. For research. They're trying to solve this thing, Andrew. Have been ever since it started. M-maybe I can learn something more about this infection. I just--" He lowered his head and brought his hands together. "I need to know that there's still hope."

        Oh. I inched forward. I'd seen this before. This desperate optimism. Was this all that was going on here? Another innocent idealist who was putting himself in danger for something that was not at all guaranteed?

        "Jake," I said. He lowered his head and placed his hands in his lap. I approached the bed. "I know that I have no right to give you any sort of advice right now, but..." I tried to choose my words carefully. "I don't know if going into a Class Three zone just to see if you can somehow get into a GUARD outpost is... I mean, they're not just going to let you walk inside."

        "Yes, they will. They have to," Jake said.

        "No, they don't." I shook my head and decided to take my place beside him again, this time on the bed. "You're a civilian."

        "It doesn't matter," he said. "I have research. I have valuable things I can show them." His tone, the things he was saying--Jake was very much making his childlike mentality known.

        "Yeah?" I raised a brow. "Like what?"

        The universe decided to answer my question on Jake's behalf. A sudden, violent screech caused my tentative smile to flip almost instantly. Then it was silent, but only for a few seconds before the angry roar repeated itself. Then, silence again.

        “W-what was that…?” I whispered, already knowing the answer.

        “Garg,” Jake muttered.

        When the Infected inevitably cried out again, my ears locked in the source of the sound, and I snapped my head to the left.

        It was in the room.

        No--

        It was in the closet.

        “Shit,” Jake breathed.

        “It's in there!” I said aloud, rising to my feet, pointing to the trembling door.

        “Andrew, wait, let me--” Jake started, but the closet door suddenly flung open, and a boy sprang halfway out, his arms still tied above his head. Shackled. Ropes were around his ankles. These were the same types of restraints I had seen in the hall closet. The boy's face was crazed and high-pitched, desperate screams were flowing forth from behind his gnashing teeth.

        “Oh, shit!” I reeled back. The young, struggling gargalite continued to pull at his bonds, but fortunately, they held. His crazed eyes were fixated on me.

        “Kyle, stop!” Jake ordered. The gargalite turned with a growl and responded with a slight retreat.

        “Kyle...?” I stared back at Jake, ice running through my veins. “You know his name?" 

        The gargalite hissed and started to struggle towards Jake now.

        “I’ll let you tickle me later," Jake assured the infected boy, raising his hands up. "Just...calm down." 

        The young garg--Kyle, apparently--seemed to understand him, but he never stopped pulling on the restraints hanging from the hanger rack above.

        “What the fuck is this?” I said, finally getting Jake's attention. "What are you--? Why is there...?" I stumbled over my words.

        Jake closed his eyes and dropped his gaze to the floor. “His name’s Kyle.”

        “Yeah, I got that," I growled. "But who is he, and why the hell is he here?”

        Jake sighed. “He’s...my brother,” he said softly. "I'm going to save him."

Author's notes: 

This chapter was first posted on a tickling-focused forum back on July 19, 2010 and has since been edited and revised multiple times. 

Last updated November 28, 2023.

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID ABOUT chapter 4: 

"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh yes, I've been looking forward to this! Especially to find out [about] the closet!...Thank you!"

darkzodiacking

"I too have been waiting a long time for this. It was fantastic. You can't rush greatness."

guo2long2

"It's not that often that a tickle story can actually surprise me. But you keep doing it. So write on, dude!"

fingrfethr

"This is easily one of my own favorite stories on the web. Thank you so much for another great installment!"

wonderboy

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