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a series of tickle fiction by


chapter 7

into the fire

        BANG! BANG! BANG!        

        Three gunshots. Kyle screeched as the trio of bullets entered his shoulder and chest. He fell backward off of his frantic victim, crashing into the wall behind him.

        "Kyle!" Jake screamed.

        Eric, thankful and weak, tried to take a moment to gather himself, but he had none. Despite Kyle's wounds, the gargalite staggered forward and, with a pained roar, jumped down onto Eric again with a determined fervor to tickle. 

        "No!" shouted the downed soldier. "No!"

        "Eric!" Juliana fired a fourth bullet, this one landing in Kyle's neck. There was a flash of red, and the boy stumbled to the side again and fell onto the carpeted floor. 

        Then, all was still. 

        Jake's cries were silent at first, but they grew louder and louder until they became heaving sobs. I held him fast as he crumbled to the floor, just like his brother a few feet away. 

        "Fuck," Eric said, panting heavily as he struggled to get to his feet.

        Juliana shouted into her comms device: "What's the ETA on backup?"

        "Kyle..." Jake wept. I could feel the wetness of his tears on my forearms. I was just about to speak, searching for words--any words--that might offer him my condolences, when the unthinkable happened.

        Kyle started moving. Again.

        "Eric! Aguas!" shouted Juliana. 

        Jake's brother, seemingly lifeless only seconds before, began to splutter and convulse violently. His torso arched upward and his limps splayed out. We heard a strange noise--crawling skin--and the four of us watched as the white growth on his forearms began to slowly expand.

        "What...?" I gasped.

        "Andrew." Juliana turned to me. "Get him out of here." She pointed to Jake, who had stopped his mourning and instead sat in horror, witnessing his sibling's writhing against the walls of the hallway. "Now! Go!"

        I followed her orders, but as soon as I tugged on Jake's shoulder, he started to fight me. "No!" he shouted. "No! Kyle!"

        Eric and Juliana raised their weapons as Kyle rose to his feet, blood running from the wounds on his neck and on his body. He took us all in, let out one more terrible cry--head thrust out, spasming arms jettisoning back--and then he lunged forward.


        The GUARD soldiers immediately began firing at the target. Kyle was hit a few more times, but he did not stop. He pushed past Eric and Juliana.

        "Kyle!" Jake shrieked, and with a sudden burst of adrenalin, he sprung up and out of my grasp.

        "Jake!" I yelled, but I was unable to stop him from tackling his crazed sibling. In another flash, they fell into the front room of the apartment. Kyle slammed into a wall, grumbling and spluttering his inhuman noises.

        "Kyle, stop this!" said Jake, climbing to his feet again.

        "That's not Kyle!" I shouted from the hall. Juliana and Eric advanced, ready to fire again.

        "I know," Jake said. "But I can talk to him. I can fix this!"

        Kyle snarled again as if he were responding in defiance.

        "Kyle. Listen to me," Jake implored his infected sibling. Kyle roared and made his way around the couch to bypass his brother and head into the foyer, but Jake intercepted him. He didn't care about what his brother had become. There was no fear in him. I watched as Jake grabbed his shoulders and looked directly into his dilated eyes. "You are my brother. You can fight this. We are going to get you help. Didn't you hear what they said?"

        "You are a fool!" Juliana spat. 

        Jake ignored her, ignored all of us, and this, I soon learned, was his undoing. Limbs spasming and twitching, Kyle shrieked and, with an incredible swiftness and strength, swung his sibling around and drove himself into him--another forceful tackle. It all happened so fast. One moment the two brothers were locked in a physical standoff beside the coffee table, and the next, Kyle was forcing his older brother backwards into the door-sized window behind him that led out onto the fire escape.


        The boys tore through the glass and out onto the catwalk, toppling through the barrier, rendering it a rainfall of shards, crystals ricocheting every which way.

Soundtrack: Kyle attacks Jake and the fire escape and Andrew tries to save him."Leaning Tower of Scorch" by John Paesano
00:00 / 00:39

        "Jake!" I yelled. My feet were carrying me forward before any logic could dictate otherwise.

        "Andrew, stop!" I heard Juliana yell after me, but I didn't listen.

        I tore out onto the fire escape, where the gargalite was upon his brother again, tearing at his clothes, fingers plunging into his underarms. Jake was being tickled, but he was not laughing. His face was contorted in fear and he was screaming as if in pain. He writhed up against the railing, his head falling between two iron bars. 

        "Get off of him!" I shouted and, with as much force as I could muster, I shoved Kyle off of his brother. He was surprisingly solid, but the impact was just enough to knock the gargalite off balance, and he fell halfway down the flight of steel stairs to our right. I turned and extended a hand to Jake, whose swollen, tear-stained eyes conveyed the betrayal and loss that he was clearly feeling. I started to pull him up, but Kyle had already recovered.

        "Jaaaaaaake!" he roared, his voice like gravel. "An-Andreewwww...."

        I was surprised to hear him say my name. I didn't have the opportunity to ready myself for his attack. Kyle threw himself onto me--it felt like a bag of bowling balls being heaved into my gut--and I dropped hard against the balusters of the fire escape, my head ringing, the air forced from my lungs. I moaned and coughed, suddenly feeling myself pinned. 

        Kyle straddled my waist. "Lauuugh for meeeee," he said, black eyes lost to the darkness around us. He reared up, preparing to strike, and I readied myself for what was to come.

        Jake called out to him weakly, one last time. Then:


        The final bullet.

        It struck the side of Kyle's head, causing his skull to jolt to the right. His body convulsed once more, as if the infection were still fighting for control of a brain that was no longer functioning. He toppled sideways, his violent movements sending him spasming over the railing. With a strange howl, the gargalite disappeared into the concrete labyrinth twelve floors below. We heard the thud of his body a moment later.

        The silence overtook us. Juliana appeared at the broken window with her gun raised and a somber expression on her face. I acknowledged what she'd been forced to do with a quick glance, then I scrambled over to Jake and pulled him into me as he wept again, this time knowing that Kyle's fate had been sealed. I listened to his cries as I hugged him, trying to calm his shuddering and heaving, the violence of which practically paralleled Kyle's only moments before.

        This was a deep, cutting pain that bore through everything. I knew it. I had been in this exact position before, been in his shoes. Jake cried for a long time. Juliana and Eric slowly stepped through the broken window and out onto the catwalk, their guns still raised, now observers of a violent vigil. Soon, we heard the sirens and saw the lights.

        "They're here," said Juliana softly.

3 months ago

        The streets were empty, but otherwise things seemed...normal. I knew I could be pulled over for being out past curfew. Cities all around me were beginning to implement rules, regulations, lockdowns. I didn't care. Not tonight. I needed to get home.

        I never thought I'd see the day. An "outbreak," they were calling it. Like something out of one of those movies--28 Days Later or I Am Legend. Seriously. Something was infecting people. Changing them. But this... 


        I was still convinced that I was locked in some sort of sick, twisted fantasy. I'd wake up any day now, I kept telling myself.

        Any day.

        Thankfully, this wasn't worldwide. Not even countrywide. At least, not yet. Incidents were happening all up the coast though: San Diego to Sacramento. There was an isolated event in Portland, a few in Seattle. People were calling this "West Coast pandemonium," a "hoax," a "stunt," one of those crazes like flash mobs...but then, when media footage started showing people actually turning...that's when we knew this was real. Fucking real.

        State governments were on it immediately. Airports closed. Quarantines went up. The Line and GUARD were established. Anything and everything to try and contain this thing. "Try" being the keyword. Because it wasn't really working. Maybe people like me--ignoring the rules--were part of the problem. I'd seen it firsthand, seen one of those...things attack my neighbors, attack police. I'd seen the aftermath. And with things just getting worse and worse, I'd barely had any time to even grieve my parents.

        Má. Dad. 

        I was thankful I never had to see their bodies, the crash site. I only got vague details, heard about the semi that had hit them. The driver lost control, I was told. Had he been infected too? James's parents assured me that Mom and Dad didn't suffer. Not the way the car was hit. It must have been quick, painless, they said, but how did they know?

        I'd tried to contact my sister, but every call--every desperate call--always yielded the same result: straight to voicemail. There was also a long chain of unanswered texts. She was somewhere up near San Francisco--it was bad there too--for school with that new boyfriend of hers. I don't even remember his name. But she had fought with Mom and Dad over him. Words were said. Angry words. Stupid words.

        Oh, the things we say to hurt people...

        This is why clichés exist--we always think there'll be more time. We hurt the ones we love and hold grudges, put up walls, thinking that maybe one day--one day--things can be made right. And we put things off and put things off and then... bam. Suddenly, the world starts falling apart, and we lose our chance to make things right.

        My phone went off in the passenger seat next to me. I see that it's a message from Shay. You home yet? she asks.

        Almost there, I think. "Home" meant James's home. His family had taken me in after my parents' accident. I just couldn't bear the emptiness of my own house, and the Whittiers--they didn't hesitate.

        "Stay here as long as you'd like," James's mom had said as she'd enveloped me in a hug.

        I finally turned up MILLER ST., chastising myself for not staying home tonight. I had to go and see Shay, let her keep me at her place until way past curfew. And when James had sent me that message--I need to talk to you, he'd written. Please get home--I knew I couldn't stay the night with her, no matter how strong her protests, no matter her threats. I knew that she was just scared for me, and I appreciated it, but I was hoping that she'd be more understanding, especially since James was involved. Lately, I was starting to get the feeling that she didn't really like James.

        The phone vibrated again in the seat beside me. Tell me as soon as ur home. Plz.

        I did as I was told. As soon as I parked Mrs. Whittier's Civic in the driveway, I sent Shay a confirmation that I'd arrived safely.

        The walk up the dark pathway to the front of the house instilled in me a strange uneasiness. James was home alone. His parents were in Simi Valley collecting his grandmother--with all the craziness happening, they no longer felt comfortable leaving her by herself; soon, she would be another guest for the Whittiers to care for. I was starting to feel like a burden. 

        I closed my eyes as I unlocked the front door and stepped into the quiet entryway. There were only a few lights on downstairs, mainly in the living room. When I stepped down into the space, I found James sitting on the couch nearest the back window. 

        "Hey," I said.

        "Hey." He turned to me and seeing his expression made my stomach drop. He looked like he'd been crying. His eyes were puffy, his cheeks flushed. He was bouncing his leg nervously. His arms were crossed against his chest. "Um. Glad you-- Glad you made it back." His words slurred, and that's when I also noticed the empty bottles of beer on the coffee table.

        "James, what is this?" I asked. He never drank. We both knew he couldn't handle his alcohol. "What's wrong? Are you drunk?" 

        "I, uh--" He wiped at his nose. "I need to talk to you." He didn't answer my question about the drinking, but I didn't need him to. I watched as he took a deep breath, my heart suddenly feeling like it was climbing its way into my throat. "And I just need you to listen and understand where I'm coming from, okay?" He pointed to the chair at the end of the sofa. "Sit."

        "Okay..." I said, heeding his direction. "Um. What is going on?" I asked again, lowering myself into the seat.

        James didn't answer me. He continued to sniffle quietly. I tried to anticipate his words, intentionally straying away from the worst possible outcomes. I had learned to be a good listener with James. I'd learned how to read him, his movements, his gestures, his expressions...a curriculum crafted from six years of friendship. Finally, he spoke.

        "Andrew. I-- You know you've always been my best friend," he said, and his words reminded me of our very first sleepover together, in this very room, when I had told him about my love for tickling. "You're--" His voice cracked. "You've always been the most important person in my life." I suddenly felt a bite at the back of my throat. A tingle behind my eyes. Shit, he was going to make me cry. And not because I was touched. No. Hearing these words, the finality in his tone, it suddenly felt as if this was going to be some sort of breakup. I wanted so desperately to interrupt his train of thought, to ask him where this was going, but I let him get his words out, just like he'd asked.


        There it was. The other shoe dropping down. My stomach turned. When he didn't elaborate, I had no choice but to finally goad him on. "But...what?" I said, my voice wavering.

        "I'm so sorry, Andrew," he whispered.

        "What, James?" My voice grew a bit stronger, my heart racing. "What?"

        He started to cry again.

        "What is it?" I asked. I stood from my chair and made to move towards him. It was instinct. I saw him cry and I wanted to wrap him in my arms, to console him. But...

        As I stood, James's head snapped up. His eyes grew wide with what looked like...fear. And he startled back. "D-don't," he said.

        My heart fell so fast that it physically ached. It plummeted from my throat into my stomach, a physical pull that resulted in blow that felt similar to the one I'd experienced upon learning of my parents' accident. Powerful. Sickening. Disorienting, even. And little did I know in that moment how much worse it was about to get.

        "Don't what?" I asked, freezing up.

        "Just... don't." He held up his hands as if to defend himself.

        "James, I..." My mouth hung open as I searched for a reasonable explanation regarding his behavior. "I don't know what's going on."

        "I just got off the phone with my parents," he said coldly, drunkenly. "I-" He sniffed again, rubbing at his nose. "I had to... I had to tell them..."

        I furrowed my brow. "Tell them what?"
        He locked eyes with me for a long moment. Then he answered, "About you."        

        Ice. It ran through my veins. My throat tightened as I tried to swallow. "What about me, exactly?" 

        His silence was excruciating. He averted my gaze and I began to suspect my worst fears. "James." My throat was growing tight. "What...did you tell them?"

        Finally, he looked at me. Sadness. Fear. Anger. I saw it swirling behind his irises. "I'm so sorry, Andrew. But... I had to. I..."

        I lowered myself back into the seat. "James. Please. Say it." I already knew what he was going to say, but hearing him speak the truth aloud, it gutted me.

        "I told them about the tickling."

        I closed my eyes. My aching heart pulsed with another burst of pain, as if a knife had been plunged into it. I tried my best to remain calm and collected, but a heat was now crackling up my throat and into my face. Warmth flared up beneath my cheeks. My stomach turned and turned. "W-what did you say?" I said.

        "I t-told them that y-you... you have this urge to--"

        "Urge?" I snapped. "That's what you told them?" My voice grew hot as well. Hot and angry and loud.

        "No! Not exactly. I mean, I just-- Andrew, I--"

        "Why?" I said, now feeling a horrible, panicked feeling.

        James continued to cry and apologize, but there was something else in his expression. Something that frightened me. It almost looked... unhinged. "Y-you heard the latest news reports. What GUARD's been saying, right?"

        I let out a sickly, disdainful laugh. "What?"

        "This is getting worse, Andrew! People are dying. Your parents, they--"

        "Don't," I warned, and he lost a bit of steam, deciding to go down a different direction.

        "This is real." He gestured to the walls around us. "This is fucking real. This isn't some movie or some horror book. This is real! People are turning into... god, I don't even know what to call them."

        "I know what's happening, James." I shook my head, dumbfounded and heartbroken. "What does that have to do with you telling your--?"

        "Are you kidding?! Everything!" shouted James. He sneered now, vitriol detectable in his tone. "Since this all started, you haven't stopped with the tickling!"


        "You still touch me. You still tickle me! Even with everything the world going to shit around us! Even with..." His words puttered out and after a long moment of silence, I felt my eyes blur with tears.

        "Oh, James..." I could barely get the words out. The urge to remove myself from this moment, from this conversation, was starting to overtake me. "I d-don't..." I wasn't even sure what I wanted to say. Thoughts and feelings stormed my tired mind and my aching heart. I was overwhelmed. The room spun.

        "I'm sorry," he said again. "I am. But, you have to understand."

        "Understand what?"

        "How could I not say something?" 

        I laughed again out of sheer disbelief. I was convinced this was simply another nightmare. My world was constructed of such as of late. "How?" I asked.

        "What am I supposed to think?" he whimpered. "With the way things are going, and the type of person you are..."

        "Type of person?" I said, standing again, trying to hold back my tears.

        "You know what I mean!" His tone suggested he was trying to correct himself.

        "No, James," I said. "I don't."

        "It's just... You hear what they tell us, Andrew. The news reports. GUARD. You know the signs, what it does to the mind. Urges to tickle. Consuming. Powerful. And all the time. They say it's like... an obsession."

        The tears fell, but I managed to speak through them as best I could. "Are you... Are you comparing me to....them?" I whispered.

        "Shit." James hung his head in his hands. "N-no! This isn't how I wanted to--" He slurred and moaned and wept. "I know you're not them," he said. "I know you're not, b-but..."


        Again, more fucking silence.

        "But what, James?" I bit off the words from the frigid air and flung them at him. "What."

        He looked up at me, intoxicated, grief-stricken eyes meeting mine. "Aren't you ever scared that you--? That you might be....?"

        "Fuck you," I muttered.

        I didn't mean it, but in that moment, it felt like the appropriate thing to say. I stood and I walked quickly out of the room, through the entryway, out the front door. I heard him calling after me as I headed down the drive, as I climbed back into Mrs. Whittier's car. I saw him out on his front lawn waving his arms as I neared the end of his street. I'd seen him so many times out in front of his house as I'd driven away, but never like this.

        I would find out later that his parents, despite their apologies and even attempts to understand, were no longer comfortable with me continuing to stay there 'under the current circumstances.' I was only given the night to pack up.

       James attempted to call me a few times.

       I didn't answer. I didn't know what to say. 

       I didn't want to hear his excuses. His explanations.

       It still felt surreal. 

       This was just a nightmare, I kept assuring myself. Still locked in that sick, twisted fantasy. You'll wake up any day now. Any day.

       "I'm losing everyone around me," I said to Shay much later, as she held me while I wept. "Everyone." I said it over and over again. My parents. My sister. 

        Now James and his family.

        "Shh," my girlfriend cooed. "I'm still here, Drew. You've got me." I buried my tear-stained face into her shoulder as she continued to comfort me. "You still have a home. You can stay with me. For as long as you need, okay?"


        The unit arrived.

        There were armed soldiers everywhere, holding guns, wearing utility belts with comms devices and strange, silver spherical devices that I'd never seen before. After a zap to my neck to make sure I was not infected, I was escorted to one vehicle, Jake another.

        "Wait," I said, just as Juliana was about to usher me into the patrol car. "What about Jake?"

        "He'll be fine," she said, her face somber. "We'll see him at the compound."

        "The compound," I muttered. 

        "It's only a short drive from here. C'mon," she climbed into the seat beside me. I couldn't help but notice that she hadn't put her weapon away. 

        So, we were truly under GUARD's care now--the Gargalite United Armed Resistance Division. We were safe. Or, at least, safer than we'd been.

        As the units drove away from the Kavalier Apartments and into the fleeting night, I couldn't help but picture James again, shouting and waving at me from his house as I left him behind. I was now leaving another home behind. Shay's apartment. Shay. 

        It only took a few minutes for exhaustion, heartache, and relief to set in. I remember just wanting to rest my eyes for a moment.

        And then, darkness.

        Perhaps when I would open my eyes again... I'd awaken. Truly awaken. And maybe then--finally--the nightmare would be over.

Author's notes: 

This chapter was first posted on a tickling-focused forum back on September 22, 2010 and has since been edited and revised multiple times. 

Last updated December 28, 2023.


Really emotional chapter. I can understand how Andrew felt when it seemed like James was betraying him.


"Just finished these and have really enjoyed them! I can't wait for more!" 


"Just read through the most recent chapter, great stuff! Will we ever see Andrew and James reunite?"



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