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a series of tickle fiction by

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chapter 6

splintered

        “Jake!” I pushed through the gun-wielding GUARD soldiers and rushed forward.

        “Step away from him!" Eric shouted.

        “We have to help him!” I argued.

        “You'll only infect yourself!" 

        Before I could respond, Kyle snapped his head upward and backed away from me. His limbs were still twitching. His cries started to fluctuate back into grunts and groans.

        "Whoa, whoa, whoa." Eric turned his weapon on Kyle.

        "Don't!" I cried.

        “We won't shoot unless he attacks," Jules assured me. 

        “He’s just a kid!” I said.

        “He’s also one of them,” she said. "Look at him. He's turning. The infection in his system is live."

        "Jules." Eric got his sister's attention. "Él lo está protegiendo. Esta infectado."

        I grew up in a half-Spanish household and was familiar enough with the language to infer what he was saying. "I'm not infected," I repeated. 

        Eric shrugged, expression conveying that I'd caught him off guard. "We're not prone to taking chances," he said. 

        I was about to reply when I saw movement on the floor beneath us. Jake moaned, and his chest swelled with a deep breath of air. He began coughing.

        "Jake!" I knelt down, but I felt a powerful hand grab my shoulder and pull me away from him.

        "Hold it," Eric snapped. 

        "Stay right there," Jules ordered. She cocked her pistol. Kyle was now whimpering in the corner, clutching at his face.

        "Let me help him," I demanded.    

        “We already told you--he could be infected." said Jules. “Eric, check his body. If he's all right, we’ll take him with us.”

        Eric nodded, and strode past me. He knelt over Jake’s torso and placed his hands on his flat stomach. He pulled his narrow fingers down around Jake’s navel and then up to his ribs and underarms, checking for... something. That signature webbing, maybe?

        Jake coughed and snickered. “N-no Kyle, no more…”

        Eric said, "No sign of infection. At least nothing late-stage. We'll take them both in for a proper examination."

        "Take us in...where?" I asked.

        "We're with GUARD," said Jules. "We're stationed at the local outpost."

        A GUARD Outpost. Not the Los Angeles one, but still...maybe they could really help Jake, I thought. "Th that's good," I stammered. "Look, can you put your weapons down? Can we just talk for a sec--"

        "You'd like that, wouldn't you?" Jules said.

        "Jesus Christ, I'm not a fucking gargalite! Isn't that obvious?"
       Eric suddenly approached me, pulled up my shirt and looked down at my torso. He pressed up against my soft stomach with his gloved hand and slid his fingers up to my chest. It was highly uncomfortable, and I could feel blood flowing into my cheeks. I was suddenly very self-conscious of my body. 

        “No visible sign of infection,” Eric said.

        Jules sighed. “So...let me try to understand.” She glanced from me to Kyle, who was still cowering in the corner of the dark room, to Jake, who was still coughing and stirring on the floor. "Who are you?" she asked me.

        “My name's Andrew."

        “And what is your relationship to these two?" She pointed to Jake and Kyle.

        “I met them both tonight. Jake...he saved me earlier from two gargs. I didn't know he was keeping his infected brother here with him when he invited me to stay."

        Jules raised her brow. "I see..." She still sounded skeptical.

        "Kyle?" Jake wheezed his brother's name again, and this prompted Kyle to react. Still wavering between human and monster, he clambered forward. Eric swiftly and decisively responded by rushing forward and striking the younger boy with some sort of small device that looked almost like a stun gun. With a loud CRACK! and a POP!, Kyle screeched and toppled over before going silent.

        "Whoa, what the hell?!" I shouted. Jake was still too out of it to realize what had happened.

        "It's okay," Jules said calmly. "He's okay. Just stunned." 

        "Why did you do that?"

        "It's for everyone's safety," she said. "Eric, vamanos. Bring Jake out to the front room. Secure the garg in here for now and we'll call for backup. Andrew." She looked pointedly at me. "Come with me, please."

        Eric acknowledged his sister's orders and I was, more or less, also forced to comply. I looked back over my shoulder as Eric knelt down and scooped up Jake from off the ground. I was a little surprised considering Jake was probably about the same height as Eric, but the GUARD soldier was much more solid, stronger. Within a few minutes, we were back out in the quiet of the living room; Jake was on the couch, I was seated in a large chair on the opposite side of the coffee table, and Kyle was left unconscious in the master bedroom with Eric stationed outside. After making a few calls on her radio, Jules returned and stood before me.

        "You said that this boy saved you from some gargs?" she asked.

        I nodded and recounted to her the events of the evening. It was now that I first took note of the time. It was black outside, and we were only illuminated by the glow of peripheral lights in the restroom and kitchen. When Shay had first arrived for dinner back at my place, it was nearly six. I saw now that it was almost midnight.

        "So, you're why we're here," Jules said with a strange smugness.

        "What?"

        "You placed the call earlier. To the emergency line?"

        "Oh. Yeah."

        She chuckled. "Ay, Dios. Just when we thought things were calming down. There hadn't been an emergency call in days. We were actually just about to head up to L.A. when our unit was con--"

        "Andrew?" Jake muttered, interrupting Jules, who eyed him wearily. I looked over at the blond boy on the sofa. He looked so weak, so small now. "W-what's going on?" he asked.

        I introduced him to Jules, whose full name I learned was actually Juliana--Agent Juliana Ramirez--and I explained to him what had happened, how we'd found him in the bedroom.

        "God, I don't know why Kyle was s-so... It's never been that bad before," said Jake weakly. "He just kept t tickling me, and I then, suddenly I c-couldn't breathe, and I... I guess..."

        "You were letting him tickle you?" asked Juliana, finally confirming what I'd told her earlier.

        Jake flashed her a guilty look and tried to explain himself as he had done with me. "I-it helps him," he said. "I've been studying the gargs. I'm starting to understand how they--"

        "You don't understand anything," she snapped, cutting him off. "You're not helping him or yourself. You're only helping the infection. Do you know what this thing is?" she asked, gesturing to the dark city beyond the windows as if it truly signified the rest of the world. 

        Jake shook his head, his eyes wide.

        "Stevens Pathogen is not a virus. It's not your average run-of-the-mill contagion. It's something we don't fully understand." She let out a heavy breath. "It doesn't just learn. It thinks. It coordinates."

        Stevens Pathogen? The name rung a bell. The infection had garnered many labels over the last several months--"T.I.," "tickle virus," "tickle bug"...even "the laughing plague"--but I recalled seeing 'Stevens Pathogen Infection,' or 'SPI' only once or twice before. 

        Juliana's radio suddenly let out a whine from her utility belt. She stepped away to answer it and Jake took the opportunity to address me. "Andrew," he said. "Wh-what's going to happen to Kyle?"

        "He's okay," I said. "Eric's watching him." I told him about Juliana's plan to take us to the nearest GUARD outpost.

        "In L.A.?"

        "Anaheim," I said.

        He closed his eyes, his expression overcome with defeat. "No," he muttered. "No, it has to be L.A."

        "Jake." I leaned forward in the chair and rested my elbows on my knees. "Jules and Eric seem to know a lot about the gargs. I think you might get the help--and answers--you've been looking for here. Anaheim's a massive facility, from what I've heard. It can't be a bad option."

        Jake seemed to consider this. "I just-- I dunno, Andrew. What if..." His voice trailed away. "I know it's what I've been wanting, but now that it's here--now that it's real--I..." He was struggling to formulate his thoughts. "What if they can't help Kyle? What if they can't do anything? Then what happens?"

        I stood from the chair and crossed the space to sit next to him again. We'd assumed our original positions on the couch, the same ones we'd taken when he'd first invited me in. "Isn't it worth taking a shot?" I said. "This might be the Universe's way of helping you out."

        Jake sighed heavily. "I'm just-- I'm scared to let go. Once Kyle's with GUARD, I won't have any control over what happens to him anymore..."

        "Jake, think about it--you barely have control now. You know Kyle's getting worse. You said so yourself. GUARD will be his best option at this point." GUARD might be the best option for me too, I thought. Maybe they could somehow help me locate my sister...

        Jake looked up at me. "I just wish I knew how."

        I wasn't sure what he meant. "How what?"

        “How this happened. All of this. The infection. Th-the tickling...”

        “Well, maybe with GUARD, we can find out."

        Jake studied me a moment. Through his exhaustion, he managed a very weak smile. "I hope so. I just want Kyle to be okay," he muttered. "I want all of us to...be okay."

        "Me too, man." I placed a hand on his knee just as he had done with me earlier. "Me too."

        "Backup should be here soon," Juliana said when she returned. "Maybe twenty minutes. Apparently there was another incident Downtown. A couple of rogue gargs."

        Rogue gargs. I immediately thought of the college-aged man whom I'd stumbled into when fleeing my apartment. Then, I thought of Shay.

        "You're welcome to grab a few minutes' rest, if you'd like," Jules said to us before directing me back to the armchair as a precaution. "Under my watch, of course. I need to ensure that neither of you show any signs of Stage One infection before my unit arrives. Jake, I understand that you've had prolonged exposure to that garg--"

        "Kyle." Jake corrected her.

        "Right. Kyle." She eyed him. "Well, if either of you start to feel any strange impulses, or muscle spasms, you'll need to notify me right away. And don't even think about trying anything."

        I was suddenly very aware of my body. My pulse. Every movement. I turned away from Juliana's intense gaze--noting the insistence of her right hand to stay on her weapon--and I slouched back into the chair. I watched Jake curl up on the couch, folding into himself. He crossed his arms and kept his head low. The apartment grew quiet once more. Every once in a while, there came a chirp or whine from the GUARD soldiers' radios. Eric patrolled the hall. Up and down. Up and down. Juliana paced the room, circling us slowly as if we were exhibits on display.

        I didn't remember drifting off, but sleep had, apparently, seized me as if out of nowhere, undoubtedly the result of my exhaustion finally catching up with me. The next thing I knew, I found myself entangled in a dream--a memory, a much needed respite.

1 year ago
september 2008

Scene: Andrew, James and Shay at the pool."Change of Season" by Sweet Thing
00:00 / 07:16

        A poolside. The end of summer.

        “C’mon, Andrew! Get in!” The voice of my best friend. I turned to see James, smiling, standing in the shallows of rich cerulean waves.

        “I’m planning on it,” I said.

        “Stop procrastinating. Join him.” Shay was with us as well. Sure, we'd only been dating a short time, but the three of us were already hanging out together. James and I were a packaged deal, "attached at the hip," as she liked to say. It had been Shay's idea to do a pool day, despite the time of year. It was a beautiful, eighty-eight-degree day smack dab in the middle of September, and we found ourselves at Shay's apartment complex, ready for the water. James had joked that this whole event was merely Shay's excuse to see me without a shirt on.

        "He's got a fear of water," James called from the shallows. "Don't be too hard on him."

        “Shut up,” I snapped, my face twisting into a threatening expression that James obviously didn’t take seriously.

        “I'm not afraid of water," I assured Shay.

        "Oh, that's right. It was heights. And spiders. And clowns."

        "James!" I shouted playfully and I heard Shay giggle as I dove into the pool. With a splash, I entered a new dimension--crystalline, altered gravity, fluctuating hues of blue. I saw James swimming deeper into the twelve-foot depths, almost out of my reach. Fortunately for me, he was quite tall, and he had very long legs. Perfect. I grabbed his right ankle with ease and pulled him back towards me. I heard him call out in surprise, muffled in submergence. I pinned his long, narrow pink sole against my side and immediately began tickling away. James writhed and giggled beneath the water. I found it endearing, seeing his right foot dance in response to being touched. Fearing I would cause him to take in water, however, I pushed off of the bottom of the pool, and took him up with me. We broke the surface in unison, though James was still chuckling like a child.

        “You trying to drown me?!” He coughed.

        “Maybe,” I joked.

        “Well, maybe I’ll drown you first!” He rushed forward and attacked my ribs, his fingers gliding along my smooth skin. Despite the water lessening the friction, it still tickled like crazy. I yelped and laughed and backed away from him, but his hands quickly jumped up to my armpits and I squealed.

        Full. On. Squealed.

        "What the hell was that?!" Shay laughed, glancing at us from over the top of her magazine. She looked quite comfortable relaxing on the lounge chair in her green bathing suit.

        "Shay, you realize you were dating someone who could scream louder than you?" James said. 

        I felt the blood rush into my face and shot him the dirtiest look I could muster. He just grinned back at me--that stupid cheeky grin of his--all teeth--and he began to back away.

        "You. Are. Dead." I said.

        "Gotta catch me first," James taunted and broke into a freestyle swim toward the opposite end of the pool.

        Challenge accepted. I allowed him to swim a few feet before I climbed out of the water and jogged around the pool to meet him on the other end, just as he was getting out.

        "Oh, shit," he said, snickering as I tackled him and pulled him onto the sunbaked concrete. 

        "What is it about the water that turns men into ridiculous little boys? You guys are acting like children," Shay chastised, but she did so warmly. "I swear."

        I ignored her, instead poking and prodding James's bare, muscular chest. He responded by giggling and fidgeting and flailing, trying to tickle me back in return.

        "Are you-- Are you guys having a tickle fight?" Shay asked.

        "You wanna hear a real scream, Shay?" I asked, finally managing to land a lingering attack on James's ribcage.

        “Ahheeheehaha! Stahahap it! Get ohohhff!” He roared and curled up into a ball, bringing up his legs. As he rolled back, he pulled me on top of him, and I used the momentum to my advantage, now plunging my fingers into his armpits, one hand in each. My fingers massaged the silky wet flesh beneath the dark, wet hair of his hollows. James's register shot up another octave.

        “Ahhhhhhahahahaha! Nohohoho! Eeeeeeeeekheeheehaha!"

        This was pure bliss. "You like that? Huh? This is what you get," I said, watching my best friend's face explode into utter, manic delight. He rocked back and forth and twisted away from my grasp, now flipping onto his front. He started to crawl back to the water. "Oh, no, no, no," I said. I made for his feet again.

        "No! No, no, nohoho! Aggh! Haha! Andrew! No! Noho!" James's laughter shifted from unbearable torment to playful panic. I grabbed both of his feet in a lock with my left arm and used my right hand to continue my onslaught. As I tickled away, anticipating his movements to shirk away from me, I took a few seconds to admire how flawless the two wriggling masculine feet were in my grasp. They looked the same as they had all those years ago--beautiful, narrow, with long, tender toes--though obviously much larger now, more to tickle, with wider soles, curvier arches and coarser heels. The cream-colored flesh beneath his toes…squishy, wracked with sensitive nerve-endings. God, I couldn’t help myself. My fetish was overpowering me. My fingers dragged upward, my short nails applying the perfect pressure to elicit the best response.

        "Shayhayhay! Hehehehlp meehee! Please! He's k-killing meehee!" James begged, unable to get himself close enough to the water's edge. His right and left foot fell into a rhythmic, spasmodic promenade as my fingers darted back and forth between them. His toes curled and wiggled. I felt his body buck upward as he twisted and continued to squeal and giggle. His musical, manly laugh just egged me on.

        "I'd rather not get involved," Shay said. She was starting to sound annoyed.

        "T-tell hihihihm to st-stahahahahp!"

        God, it was so cute--he could barely formulate his sentences. I was beaming now. My fingers fought into the crevices between every toe on each foot. They curled even tighter, and James kicked his entire leg upward, but I was too strong. I tickled harder and harder, and James continued singing his deep masculine laughter.

        He tapped a few times against the concrete with his right hand. Tapping out. "I g-gihihihive up!" he roared. "You wihinin! Andrew! You wihihihin! Please! Stop it! Stop! Heehee! Aggh!"

        "C'mon, Drew. That's enough," said Shay. 

        Indeed it was. I knew James had his limits, and I had always promised to respect them. Besides, it was good timing. It took me a moment to realize that my excitement had quite evidently manifested beneath the thin, wet fabric of my board shorts. Good thing I was sitting down, cross-legged, with my back still to Shay. James took a few deep breaths and pressed his cheek against the cement. He was still grinning wildly at me, cheeks flushed, teeth white, hair gold with sunlight.  

        And then the ache came.

        The miserable ache that always followed one of these memories.

        Because this was before.

        Before. 

        Not now. 

        No, now was--

        BAM!

PRESENT
NOVEMBER 2009

        The slam of a door jolted me awake. There came a crash, a shout, and a thud. As I grappled for my senses--Where am I? What time is it? Who...?--I heard a commotion, and then another panicked cry.

        "Jules! Jules!!" Eric's voice.

        "Eric!" Jules's voice.        

        Eric’s shouts for help were continuous. I watched as Juliana ran towards the hallway. Jake and I bolted up and after her. As soon as I turned the corner, I saw, down at the end of the hall, the silhouette of a crooked human-like figure standing over a struggling Eric, foot on his back.

        "Kyle! No!" Jake said from beside me.

        "Stand down!" Jules ordered the gargalite, who had very obviously relapsed into a crazed, infected state and had, somehow, busted through the door of the master bedroom. Kyle snarled at her, but he didn't move. Though he still retained most of his appearance from before, there was now a visible whitish growth on his arms, sprawling down his biceps like roots, like webbing, like fungal mycelium. His eyes were fully dilated again, dark pools of ink, beneath them the skin swollen and irritated. His posture was hunched, but, strangely, he looked almost...toned, as if this new appearance was somehow the result of the infection increasing his stamina. 

        That wasn't...possible, was it? I would have dismissed the notion, had I not witnessed Eric--burly and strong--struggling to move beneath Kyle's frail frame. He was pinned.        

        “Get off my brother, or I will shoot!” Juliana shouted and raised her weapon.

        “Don't!” Jake yelled from behind us. He rushed forward, but I instinctively pulled him back, preventing him from rushing into Juliana's line of sight. As I struggled to hold him, he pleaded, "Kyle, no! Tickle me. Leave him alone! Just come get me!"

        The gargalite hissed at his brother. He hesitated a moment, remaining firmly positioned on top of a struggling Eric. For a split second, I believed that maybe he might listen, but only a second passed before he decided he would no longer heed Jake's instructions. He pounced downward onto Eric, his nimble fingers plunging into the soldier's underarms.  

       "No! Fuhuhuck no! Ahhhhh!" Eric screamed, his face exploding into a frantic smile as he brought his arms down against his sides, immediately convulsing as if he were being electrocuted. "Jules! Help meeheehee!"

        Juliana's reaction was instantaneous. She glanced over her shoulder at me and Jake, and offered a quick "I'm sorry" before she focused her weapon on Jake's younger brother and fired.

Author's notes: 

This chapter was first posted on a tickling-focused forum back on September 2, 2010 and has since been edited and revised multiple times. 

Last updated December 12, 2023.

WHAT READERS HAVE SAID ABOUT chapter 6: 

"This was quite a sad chapter. But the story is still amazing!"

KUMORIFOX

"LOVE THESE!!! How awesome would a movie be of this?? Would LOVE that! You have a gift, my friend!

t23kman

"Such a great chapter in the series. I was so glad to read it...You're doing such a great job.

orichalcos

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