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a series of tickle fiction by


chapter 8

changing of the guard 

        I awoke in a room. Well lit, white, but comforting as opposed to sterile. I realized I was on top of a bed, a thick comforter bunching up beneath me. I searched my surroundings for some sort of indicator as to the time of day. There was a curtained window to my left. 

        The Anaheim Convention Center. I remembered where I was. The site of the Anaheim GUARD outpost.


        "You're awake." I heard a familiar voice. I looked over to see Juliana leaning against the open doorframe. I was just coming to check on you.

        She returned with a man, who was wearing a white lab coat over a collared shirt and slacks. He was thin, tall, and looked to be in his early thirties. He had fair skin, dark brown hair--a thick wave of it over his scalp and a crisp shadow that framed his lips and jaw--and brown eyes, which were shieled behind a pair of modern, thick-framed glasses. 




        "Andrew, this is Brian--er, Doctor Stevens," said Juliana. 

        "A pleasure, Mister Adler," he said, extending a hand. I noticed that his palm and long fingers were sheathed in what looked to be the same material as the one used for a pair of leggings--a tan-colored nylon. He noticed me examining his hand and he chuckled.

        "It's a precaution," he said. "The 

        "Do you mind if I...tickle you?"

        "Just at your point of contact. Your foot.



        "Brian," he said, extending a hand. 



        "I was hoping you could answer some questions."

        "Happy to." 


"We'll be downstairs," Jules said. "In the arena."


"Haley Adler.

"James Whittier."

I'll put in a request for you."

"You could go home today, if you wanted to."



        The doctor walked back to the door opposite my bed and placed his hand on the back of a translucent chair. I hadn’t noticed it before. It was small, lacked wheels, and seemed to be made of a sturdy polymer. As he returned to my bedside, I took a moment to study him: young -- late twenties at most -- and tall -- maybe about six-foot -- the man was light skinned, had light brown hair and dark green eyes. A pair of modern, thick-framed glasses were perched on his long, acicular nose. He had a small body frame for a man his size -- kind of thin; his white dress shirt was pulled tightly around his narrow waistline and tucked neatly into a pair of white Dickies.

        Brian also seemed to have large feet -- (I know…I can't help myself -- something about them being potentially ticklish always gets to me) probably size twelves or thirteens, perhaps, concelaed within a pair of black business shoes. Besides his tie, they were the only other dark articles of clothing on his body.

        “Let’s get you all checked out then,” he announced.

        I cleared my throat. “O-okay. What do I have to do?" I wasn't sure how to feel about a strange man inspecting my vulnerable body.

        “You just have to laugh,” Brian noted with a simple grin.

        “Come again?”

        “This isn't the conventional physical exam. To be honest, it involves me, well, tickling you,” Brian stated with a shrug. "I hope that's okay with you."

        Beep. Beep.

        Beep. Beep.

        Beep. Beep.

        “Oh... u-um, yeah, okay...” I had to be glowing now. Shut up, damn heart monitor!

        Brian raised a brow, as he took a seat in the chair that he had pulled right up next to the bed. “You nervous or excited?”


        “The cardiograph doesn’t lie,” Brian noted.

        “Nervous. I’m nervous,” I answered immediately.

        “Well, don’t be," Brian assured, brushing it off. "You weren’t showing signs of TI infection earlier. There’s no reason why you should be now. I just need to observe your reactions to being tickled in the normally-sensitive areas of your body."

        “Wait, why?” I asked, positively beat-red.

        “Well, due to the way the infection operates, gargalites are exclusively ticklers. If you did so happen to be infected, an abnormal reaction to getting tickled would be our first clue."

        I recalled the story that Jake had told me regarding how his brother was tested for infection at the quaratine border. How strange. Being a naturally-inquisitive individual, however, a thought occured to me: “Well, what if someone just wasn’t ticklish?”

        “Good question," Brian responded with a sly smile. "But, that's virtually impossible. Even still, people who aren't as ticklish as others still react in some manner. The Infected, however -- the gargalites -- they retreat."


        “Yes, it’s a psychological withdrawal…as almost as if the mind of the Infected powers down.”

        “Wait, what do you mean? Are they rendered unconscious?" My curiosity was only intensifying.

        Brian chuckled. "Tell you what, why don't I show you after we've conducted our little test here?"


        "Wait, what? Really?"


        "I think you, just as everyone who's survived this outbreak, are entitled to some answers." Brian shrugged. "I'm not a fan of secrecy, especially when it comes to the government. We've got the CDC breathing down our necks constantly: 'find a cure,' 'slow infection rates,' etcetera. At the same time, they never want give the public any information." He shook his head.


         "O-oh, well, that's what Jake was hoping for." I said.  "He wanted to bring his brother here to hopefully be treated. Cured, ideally"


       "And that's just it." Brian laughed, but it was tinged with frustration. "How can we cure something that we don't even understand?"


        The room became uncomfortably silent. I would be lying if I said that I wasn't disappointed. "So... you don't know what it is?"


        Brian must've sensed the discouragment in my voice. "W-well, we have an idea." He offered a smile. "Look, like I said, why don't I show you once we finish up here? I'd be happy to disclose some info." He leaned forward, and shot me a curious look. His emerald eyes where shimmering behind the thick lenses of his glasses. I wasn't sure how to read his expession. I took a slow and steady breath, pondering his proposal. This was quickly followed by a sharp breath that was not of my will.

        Brian had lifted the sheet of the bed and, without warning, he slid the closed end of a pen up from the base of my right heel to the base of my long toes. I looked up at him nervously. So, we're starting.


        He smirked and he slid the pen back down my sole. I smiled, bit my tongue, and shook my foot.

        “You're ticklish." He said it as if he were pleasantly surprised.

        I didn’t respond. His clean, narrow fingertips each slipped in between a toe on my left foot. I gasped. Brian laughed and slowly began wiggling those fingers. My toes began to dance, and I began to giggle.

        “St-stahahap…I’m ob-obviously not inf-infected….” I said, eyes scrunching up. I grabbed at the sheets and threw my head back.

        Brian chuckled and retreated. “Guess there’s no reason to tickle you anywhere else then.”

        Though I enjoyed it to an extent, being tickled by a strange doctor was a bit--


        “OH SHIIIHIIEEHEEEHAHAHAHAHA!!!!” I screamed. Bryan had stepped forward and dug his hands into my armpits so suddenly that I really could do nothing but give into the feeling that had so strongly taken hold of me. It was so awkward, but I really couldn’t interpret the situation from an analytical standpoint when my ticklish underarms were currently experiencing a highly skilled ambush.

       “STOHAHAHAHAHAHAP! OH GAHAHAHAD! BR-BRIHIHIHAHAHA!” I bucked and the bed creaked and moaned. The cardiograph was screeching in unison. After a few more seconds, he retreated.


        “Couldn’t resist,” Brian snickered. "I had to be sure. You know, for the sake of the medical field." He winked at me.

        I really had no idea what to think, say, or feel. It was like I had awoken in some strange, twisted, dark fantasy world. In retrospect, I had already been in a strange, twisted, dark fantasy world for almost six months now.

        “You okay?" he asked.

        I couldn’t look at him for more than a second. I was embarrassed and excited and so, so melancholy, but I nodded. Were there any more emotions to throw into the broth sloshing around my innards?

        “Well then,” he continued as if we had just discussed yesterday’s weather, “I will be right back. You check out just fine, definitely not infected as we had presumed. As soon as I return, you will be free to leave your room and enter the recreational facilities downstairs. A change of GUARD clothing is in the compartment to your right," Brian informed me as he began to disconnect me from the hospital machinery.

        “I…uhhhohhkay….” I muttered. "Th-thanks...?"


        "The pleasure's mine." Doctor Brian Stevens turned, clipboard still in hand, and left the room. After a pause, I shifted over to the linoleum-topped sideboard and slid open the only drawer.

        The GUARD attire was rather… uninspiring, for lack of a better word. Well, 'gray' would actually be the best word. All gray. A gray unisex medium shirt with the frequently found acronym embroidered across the chest and a gray pair of sweatpants with an elastic waistband. Gray ankle socks and gray slip-on shoes to cover my sore feet.

        “Beats this crappy thing,” I muttered to myself with a shrug and quickly removed the hospital gown. It took me only minutes to finish changing and Brian returned just as I was putting on my left shoe, the last of my garments.

        “Good. I see everything fits nicely.” He grinned and pushed his glasses up to the bridge of his nose.

        “Uh yeah..." In actuality, my shirt was a little small, but my pants and shoes were a little big. Ah well. I didn't expect a perfect fit. 

        “Well, are you ready to leave your room and see the fruits of our research as I promised?” Brian gestured for me to follow him. He was still too excited for my liking, but my curiosity helped ease the disdain and I nodded. As I stood up, the blood flow drained quickly from my head to my heart and it made me a bit nauseous and shaky.

        “It may take you some time to get used to walking after what happened. Your body was severely fatigued. Just take it slowly,” Brian advised.

        “Sure…” I agreed as I slammed my eyelids tightly shut, trying to grasp a sense of balance. He led me to and through the doorway -- slowly, mind you -- and I found myself in a partially-enclosed outer hallway. Rimmed in pearl, we stood several floors up from a large lobby. Adorned with white furniture pieces, the sterile atmosphere was present throughout.

        “Welcome to the GUARD Sacramento Research and Medical Facility,” Brian started as I stared out in awe. The floor we were on completely circled the perimeter similar to the four above and three below, not including the main. On each floor, four numbered doors could be seen on each wall for a total of sixteen, including the one I had just exited from.

        “This is the hospital ward for injured, uninfected patients; mainly ones that survived gargalite attacks,” Brian continued as he accompanied me to a nearby stairwell. An elevator rested to its left. We entered and he tapped a silver button marked ‘SL1’. The silver doors slid shut and we were began our quiet and awkward descent.

        “So Mr. Adler, you’re eighteen, correct?”

        “Nineteen, actually.”


        An uncomfortable pause.

       “And you met up with--?”

       “Where are we going…? We spoke simultaneously and our sentences collided rather sloppily. I sprung forward from the verbal collision. “I’m sorry. Met up with whom?” I asked.

        “We’re heading down to the sublevels where the laboratories are situated.” Brian answered, not referring back to his prior question.

        “What’s down there, exactly?” I asked. The elevator doors quickly answered my question, however, parting to reveal a long, somewhat ominous hallway. Brian held out his right hand and gestured for me to walk forward. I complied.

       It was like a tour down the banks of the Acheron with Brian as my Virgil. The border of Hell. Barren, and so, so haunting. Yet, in the presence of the strange doctor, I felt somehow safe. As we passed through the gates of the first circle of this mysterious underworld, I found myself in an enormous office-like facility, lined in an ornate fashion with cubicles, computer stations and several lab tables. A swarm of white-coated doctors threaded through the aisles like bustling ants all slaving away to serve a purpose, a queen.

        “Here we are,” Brian introduced me as we began to travel the perimeter of the vicinity, “the main GUARD research labs. They span three floors, all descending downward.”

        “Wow. We’re underground now, correct?”

        “Well, the entire GUARD branch is situated underground.”


        “Yeah, including the hospital ward.” Perhaps that’s why they had a fake window in my room…

        “So then, how far down are we?”

        “Almost a quarter mile.”

        “Oh, wow…” I started to feel strangely claustrophobic.


        "Try not to think about it."

        As we neared a large azure tabletop, another doorway became visible. This one had a more homely feel to it, seemingly made of oak with a beige rim.

       “Let’s step into my office so we can talk,” Brian suggested. I really had not cause to argue, nor did I feel that I really had a choice.

       It was a small, plain room with a single desk, a computer monitor atop, two chairs, and a large outlined map of the United States, plagued with red flashing lights at various city and county locations:

3 months ago

        Silent night.

        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... Tickling? I was still convinced that I was locked in some prolonged fantasy.

        I'd wake up any day now.

        Any day.

        Thankfully, this wasn't a worldwide thing. At least, not yet. Incidents were happening all up the coast though. San Diego to Sacramento. One isolated event in Portland. A few in Seattle. People were calling this "West Coast pandemonium." As soon as the media footage actually showed people turning...we knew this wasn't just some mass-organized prank, as it had been originally assumed.

        This was something else

        Airports closed. Quarantines went up. The Federal Government announced GUARD. Anything and everything to try and contain this.

        Try being the keyword.

        It wasn't working. Not really. Maybe people like me--ignoring the rules--were part of the problem. But I'd witnessed it first-hand. Seen one of those...things attack my neighbors. Attack police. And the aftermath as things continued to get 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 the 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 was quick. Painless.

        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. 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. 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. The world starts falling apart.

        It's like something out of a nightmare.

        My phone goes 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" was James's home. His family had taken me in after the accident with my parents. I just couldn't bear the emptiness of my house. The Whittiers didn't even hesitate.

        "Stay here as long as you'd like," James's mom had said as she'd enveloped me in a hug and I wept and wept until there was nothing left.

        Shit, I should have just stayed home tonight, I thought as I finally turned up MILLER ST. But no. I had to go and see Shay, let her keep me there until way past curfew. And when James sent that message--I need to talk to you, he'd written. Please get home--I knew I couldn't stay at Shay's, no matter how strong her protests, no matter her threats.

        My dad's really pissed at you, she'd sent to me only seconds after I'd left. Had to stop him from coming after you.

        I'd rolled my eyes. She was so dramatic. 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 Shay didn't 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 confirmation that I'd arrived at my destination. 

        The walk up the dark pathway to the front of the house instilled in me a strange uneasiness. James was home alone. I knew his parents were in Simi Valley collecting his grandmother--with all the craziness happening, she couldn't be left alone; 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 and his arms were crossed against his chest. "Glad you made it back."

        "What's going on?" I asked. "What's wrong?" 

        "Sit," he said, directing me to the loveseat on the adjacent wall. 

        I continued watching him as I made my way over to where he was directing me. "Are you okay?" I asked him.

        He sniffed, rubbed at his eyes, pinched his nose, and shook his head. Then, he cleared his throat and turned to me. "No, Andrew. I'm, uh, I'm not okay."

        "What's wrong?" I asked again.

        He took a deep breath and my heart suddenly felt like it was climbing its way up my throat. "There's something I need to say to you. And I need you just to listen, okay?"

        I nodded slowly.

        "I've been, uh-- I've been rehearsing this little speech all day." He chuckled. It was miserable sound.

        I began 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.

        "You're... you're my best friend," he said finally, and it reminded me of our very first sleepover together, in this very room, when I had told him of my love for tickling, and he had merely responded by saying the same exact thing.

        "You're my best friend too," I said softly.

        "Andrew." James held up his hand, and I knew to stay silent.


        "You are--" His voice cracked. "You are 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 you know I love what we have between us. Everything."

        I nodded. I wiped at my spilling eyes. Why did it feel as if this were some sort of breakup?

        I wanted to say, 'I love you too,' but I resisted. I needed to let him get his words out.

        "But I've been thinking a lot lately...about everything that's been going on. And with everything that's happened between us and I..." His voice trailed away. He suddenly sounded so scared. He recoiled and rested his head down in his palms. He was trembling.

        Despite his instructions, I moved towards him. I sat beside him, so that our shoulders brushed against one another, but this caused him to flinch away from me. 

        "Hey." I tried to get him to look at me. "James," I said. "We're gonna be okay." His eyes didn't meet mine. "We will. We're gonna get through this. Together. We'll keep following the rules and taking all the necessary precautions, and--"



        "That's just it. We're not taking those precautions." He finally looked at me. His face was a mess of fear and sadness and it was killing me to see him so pained.

        "What are you talking about?" 

        "God, you're going to make me say it?"

        I had no intention of torturing him, but I was completely and utterly confused. I bobbed my head, mouth agape.

        "The goddamn tickling, Andrew," he said. 

        I almost laughed. "What?"

        "The tickling," he said again, though much more weakly now. "It's...gotta stop."    

        Surprised amusement finally bubbled up from my throat, but I knew he was being serious. I didn't want to offend him or make him feel like I was trivializing his feelings. "That's what this is about?" I said. "You don't want me to tickle you anymore?" I couldn't help but be a little embarrassed. A strange heat gurgled in my stomach. "I m-mean, sure, James, I can...stop, if that's what you want." I wanted to protest, tell him that I really didn't tickle him that often--especially after the outbreaks began--but I wasn't sure of how true that actually was.

        Tickling was so intrinsic to my relationship with James at this point, the response was practically Pavlovian. See James--tickle James.

        "Not just that," he finally said coldly. "All of it."


        “All of it. No tickling between us at all."

        I furrowed my brow. "Well, yeah. You've made that clear."

        "What I mean is..." He let out a shaky breath and wiped at his eyes again. "I can't tickle you either."

        "Noted," I said, and I realized that it came out a bit sharper than I'd intended. This was unnecessary. It felt like he was rubbing salt into the wound. James hardly ever tickled me. I thought back to our most recent and most intense experience to date, but that was almost a year ago.

       "We're done with the whole thing. All of it."

        He was starting to hurt my feelings. “Okay, James. I got it. No more tickling." I stared at him for a long moment, but he refused to meet my eyes with his. "What's got you so freaked out all of a sudden?"

        "Are you serious?" he snapped.

        "Well, I mean..."

        "You think this is some big fucking joke? People are dying, Andrew. Your parents--"

        "Don't," I warned, and he lost just a little bit of steam, but decided to go down another route instead.

        "Look, I didn't believe it either. No one did. But this is real, Andrew. There are people turning into goddamn tickle monsters out there." He pointed towards the street. "Tickle monsters! It's like you 

        "I'm aware," I said calmly. 

        "God..." James sunk his face into his palms again. "Tickle monsters..." he whispered. "It's like wished up this whole damn thing..."

        "Don't say that," I said. "That's really not fair."

        He didn't reply. We sat on the sofa in silence for what seemed like forever. Finally, I decided to do the only thing that made sense. I wanted to comfort him. I reached over and placed a hand on his upper back. I wasn't expecting him to jump away violently as if I'd burned him.

        "Fuck!" he shouted. "Don't...touch me!" He rose to his feet.

        I'd remained resilient up until that point. But this... This was like a knife to the heart. Even at our lowest points, James had never spoken that way to me before, nor treated my touch as if it were poison.

        "James...?" I whimpered.

        "Don't... come near me. Stay away." I wanted to retreat, to shut him out. It was my defense mechanism. But something else was firing away in my brain now. I heard his panicked breathing, watched his wild eyes, and I knew something was horribly wrong.

        "James, what's happening?"

        He hesitated before saying it: "I'm infected."

        And that's when everything stopped.

        My lungs.

        My heart. 

        The world.

        We both sat there, completely still, completely silent. Then, as if breaking the silence would also break me from this nightmare, I said, "What?" 

        “I’m-- I think I'm...infected," he repeated.

        “H-how?" I asked. "Why?"

        He swallowed and looked up at me, eyes burrowing themselves into my very being. "Shit," he said and turned away from me.

        I stood up 


        "No, James. You're not. Why would you even--?"

        "Because, Andrew." He swallowed and looked up at me, eyes burrowing themselves into my soul. "I'm starting to understand what it's like to be you." I'd never forget him saying that. A sharp pain immediately dug into my uvula.



        “There's no other explanation." He lowered his head. "The tickling. I can't stop thinking about... it." His voice was choppy and broken, almost as if he'd stopped himself from saying something else instead.

        "Tickling's not all I think about, James." I almost laughed. His logic -- his confession -- wasn't making any sense. Nothing about this entire interaction was making any sense. James wasn't himself...

        ...but maybe his behavior supported his words...

        And then, James murmured: "Tell me something. If you had the chance -- the means -- wouldn't you just tickle anyone you wanted? At any time? Just like them?"

        I froze up. "What?"

        James sniffed and wiped at his eyes. His lip was trembling. "Y-you're just like them, you know." He practically squeaked out the words. "Tickling the shit out of people -- out of me -- just to get off."

        And that's what did it. The knife plunged into my heart. I stood up. "What the fuck's your problem?!" I stared him down. "Where the fuck is all of this coming from, huh?" Compared to some of the betrayal I'd felt from him in the past, this was far worse. "Why are you saying this?"

        He didn't answer me for the longest time. He didn't even look at me. Finally: "You need to go, Andrew." It was hoarse and barely audible.


        "You heard me." His words were strained. "You need to go. GUARD'll be here soon."

        "No." I shook my head vehemently. "No, this isn't happening." The tears had snuck up on me. I couldn't help them -- my heart was crumbling away. "No, no. This isn't-- You're not--"

        "Go," he reiterated. I didn't know why he was still crying too.

        "J-James, don't do this. Please." I sniffed. "Don't end things like this. Not now. Not with everything else that's happening." I began pacing the floor in front of him. My brain was scrambling for answers. "I refuse to believe--"

        "Andrew," he said my name, almost like it were a warning, but I continue.

        "James," I said his name back. I turned and finally knelt down in front of him. He still wouldn't look at me. A fire was burning inside me. "Tell me the truth. You tell me right now" -- I whispered, voice as sincere and raw as possible -- "that you mean everything you've just said."

        He closed his eyes. His lips trembled. His arms shook.

        "James." I didn't break my gaze. "JAMES!"

        "GET OUT!" He suddenly stood up, towering over me, and shouted with such an intensity that it broke my resolve. He had never yelled at me before, in all of the years I had known him. "GET THE FUCK OUT OF HERE!! NOW!! LEAVE!" He pointed to the front door. His tone was dark, deep, and monstrous.


        "Oh, James," I whimpered. I slowly stood up, but I didn't move. He had broken down too, tears were streaming down his face, and despite everything he said to me, I felt that I needed to hug him. I opened my arms and stepped forward, silent, but he backed away and shoved at my chest.


        "I said don't touch me! Don't ever fucking touch me ever again!!" He turned his back on me and in that moment, I finally, finally relented. I strode from the room, quick but quiet, and opened the front door.


        "Goodbye, James," I stated, before stepping from the house. He didn't respond.


        And that was that: the last time I would ever see my best friend. Or whoever that person was...


        It wasn't James...

        I didn't break down again until I made it back to Shay's. It was her eyes. As soon as she looked at me, I lost it. I collapsed, broken and defeated. She wrapped her arms around me as I tried to explain to her what had happened as best as I could.

        “Andrew,” she cooed as I wept. It must've been at least ten minutes before I found the energy to speak again:

        “I don't get it," I whimpered. "He just-- He told me to get out. He told me he was infected." Then the sobbing came again, heavy and overwhelming. "I'm losing everyone. Everyone..."  

        “You still have me…”


        I'm not sure what triggered it, but her words brought with them a split-second of clarity: that's right, I STILL have Shay...

        “We need to leave.” My words were but an impulsive reaction, but they felt right.


        “We need to go far away…away from all of this.”


        “Just us, Shay Far away. Like to the suburbs outside of the city. A place where we can live together. Start over.”

        “Andrew, you’re not thinking clearly.”

        “I am, Shay. I am…”

        I heard new screams outside followed by a snarl. The infection.

        I cried until my tear ducts were dry and my voice was hoarse. Shay and I sat there, together in loneliness, even as another chorus of bullets began to sing out into the night.

        A once silent night…


        There was a sudden slamming noise to our left, followed by a large thud. Then:

        "AHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!” A teenage male’s shout of terror sounded from beyond the kitchen. My jaw dropped, but Juliana reacted almost instinctively.

        “ERIC!” She rushed into the kitchen.

        Just when things were about to work out... I bit my lip angrily and followed.

        Eric’s shouts for help were continuous. As soon as I turned the corner, I saw through the now-open doorway the silhouette of crooked human-like figure standing over a struggling Eric. 

        “JULES! JULES! DON’T LET HIM TICKLE ME!!!!!” her brother cried fearfully. A snarling screech followed. Juliana gasped and stepped backward and I almost ran into her.

        Kyle had relapsed again. Severely. Though still retaining most of his normal appearance, a strange whitish growth was now visible over his body in vein-like patterns, spawning outward like roots from his swollen navel. His eyes had grown demonic: heavy black bags beneath the bottom lids, with dilated shimmering pupils like pools of ink. His posture was hunched, but his muscles suddenly looked more toned, as if the infection within was actually building his stamina...

        That's not possible... is it?

        I noticed that Eric’s weapon had slid across the floor to the base of the nightstand. Eric was facedown, immobile under the weight of this empowered version of Kyle.

        “Get off my brother, you son of a bitch!” Juliana screamed and whipped out her magnum again.

        “DON’T!” Jake yelled from behind us. He rushed forward into the bedroom.

        “JAKE!” I cried.

        “Kyle, NO!" Jake pleaded, ignoring me. "Tickle me! Just leave him alone!!!”

        The gargalite hissed at his brother, but remained firmly positioned on top of a struggling Eric. Its nimble figures began exploring the flesh just behind Eric's underarms.

        “NO! NO! FUCK, NOHOHOHAHA!” Eric was petrified, but his face exploded into a frantic smile.

        This was a new level of fear. I was unsure of what to do -- I just stood there, watching the horror continue to unfold.

        “NO, KYLE! NO! TICKLE ME!” Jake continued to beg.

        The gargalite ignored him and attacked Eric, wriggling its narrow fingers deeper into the grooves of his armpits. Eric went completely ballistic: screaming and laughing like a frantic child. Kyle snarled and his discolored skin began to blush around the root-like growth on his body.


         What the hell...?

        “The TI is responding to his laughter!!” Juliana explained.

        “W-what...?!” I whispered.

        “KYLE, NO!” Jake ran up and grabbed a hold of his brother. The gargalite roared and threw his brother from him like a rag doll.

        “SHOOT HIM!!! HEEEEHAHAHAHAHAHA!” Eric began to spasm uncontrollably. His armpits were obviously incredibly ticklish.

        “I have no choice,” Juliana stated and looked over to see Jake doubled over, painfully clutching his torso. "I'm sorry."

        “N-No!” I shouted.

        She pulled the trigger and the bullet was released.

present day
november 2009

        My consciousness backfired into the present as the remaining sound of gunfire continued to ring loudly in my ears. It took the presence of my gauzy vision to realize that the nightmarish memory had caused me to tear up.

        Jake had since returned to the master bedroom, and I was now on the couch alone. He had retrieved for me a blanket and a pillow. I turned to the side, finding it difficult to get comfortable, despite the sofa's softness. My watery eyes fell upon the black box withholding Shay’s engagement ring. It was resting on the coffee table.

        I gasped.

        I can’t believe I forgot about the ring…

        I reached forward to touch it, hoping that it would act as some sort of totem that would prove to me that this entire world was merely a dream layer deep within my subconsciousness. Hearing Jake’s voice from the master bedroom stopped my fingertips from touching the case…

        I could hear muffled sounds from down the hall, but I tried my best to drown them out:

        “C'mon, Kyle, please calm d-down….”

        A long heavy growl.

        “Fight it…please…”

        A snarl.

        Kyle must’ve been growing more monstrous by the minute. I assumed that he was so desperate for the sound of laughter, that his savage symptoms as a gargalite were completely overrunning whatever humanity Jake swore he had left. 

        I couldn't ignore this. I got up from the couch and wandered back down the hall towards the bedroom door. I could hear Jake continue to try and communicate with the tickle monster beyond.

        “Okay, Kyle, I’m going to let you out.... I know you don't really remember who I am yet, b-but you w-will... j-just take it easy.”

        The gargalite hissed eagerly. I approached the door and just stood there, waiting. Horrified. A very strange commotion followed:

        “No K-Kyle, n-not y-yet…heehee….” Jake began to giggle madly. His shaky laugh was joined by the sounds of clanking metal and splintering wood. After a few more seconds, the gargalite let out a monstrous roar and I heard a loud thud. Jake began to howl with instantaneous laughter. As the deep guffaws continued, Jake’s cute boyish giggling began to sound more and more like torturous weeping. And beneath his crazed amusement, I heard another sound--a strange, almost lulling purr. Kyle? He sounded almost like he was in a state of ecstasy. I was growing tense and highly uncomfortable. My mind kept ordering me to enter the room and stop the insanity, but I knew that this was what Jake wanted. Supposedly, he had everything under control.

        “NOT MY FEEHEEHEET! NO, NOT MY FEEHEEHEET!!!!!” Jake continued to wail. I began to back away.

        This kind of tickling was not one that I typically favored, as someone who had a love for it. I'd studied tickling a lot growing up, and I knew that a normal physiological response to being tickled was due in part to the unification of both pain and pleasure receptors sending corresponding messages to the brain.

        But this didn't sound like pleasure at all.

        It sounded only like pain.

        As Jake shrieked again and the gargalite’s animal-like purring began to metamorphose into the sounds of a teen male reaching orgasm, the sickening knot in my stomach twisted into an implosion of sudden nausea, and I sprinted away from the room as fast as I possibly could, heading straight for the front door of the penthouse.

        I'm sorry, Jake, I thought. I don't think I can do this. 

        When I opened the door, however, I was greeted by the mouth of a gun. 

        "Shit!" I shouted, and I fell back with a loud gasp.

        “You!” I looked up and saw a young woman, brown skin and dark features. She looked to be about my age, maybe a little older. She was dressed in a black shirt, combat pants and boots. She rushed forward and outstretched her hand, offering to help me up.

        “What’s going on…? Who are you?” I asked.

        “Agent Ramirez. I'm with GUARD." She flashed me a badge.


        "We know that there are gargs in the apartment," she continued, pushing past me. "Where's the threat?"

        “Why did--? H-how--?”

        “The laughter. You. Come with us. Where's the threat?" she repeated.


        A tall, built young man, adorned in a similar outfit to Agent Ramirez, suddenly rushed in. He bore a slight resemblance to her, but his facial features indicated that he was a bit younger. He was carrying a similar weapon.

        "This is my brother, Agent Ramirez," said Agent Ramirez.

        "I, uh--"

        "Eric," she said to her brother. "Go find the victim. Put down the threat."

        “Wait, what are you doing?” I asked, watching the male newcomer head down the hall, gun at the ready. He was obviously following the sounds of Jake's laughter.

        “Come with me,” the other Agent Ramirez instructed, but I ignored her.

        “Wait, no! What are you doing!” I repeated.

        "He's going to subdue the Infected and save the civilian," she explained. Her brother cocked his weapon.

        "You mean kill him?" 

        "If I have to," said Eric.

        "No! You can't!" I said.

        Eric stopped before reaching the hall and turned around. “Why not?” he inquired. He raised a brow. "Jules, you think he's also one of them?" he asked his sister. "Aren't they, like, a hive mind, or some shit? Isn't that what Brian said?"

        "What the hell are you talking about?"

        “Listen, you! We’re not falling for your bullshit." The agent named Jules now cocked her weapon and pointed it at me. "You and your little garg friend in there are not going to infect anyone else! Do you hear me?"

        "What? I'm not a gargalite!" I shouted, putting my arms up. "The kid being tickled in there--he saved me from some gargs earlier! Right now, he's being tickled consensually.

        Jules cocked her head and furrowed her brow, but she didn't drop her weapon. “Of all the sick lies... Stage Ones are usually clever, but--"

        "I'm not infected!" I said again.

        “Wait, Jules." Eric suddenly held up his free hand. "Shh. Listen." 

        We both quieted and turned to him. An eerie silence had been looming around us, but the argument that had ensued upon these strangers’ unexpected intrusion had prevented us from noticing that Jake’s laughing screams had ceased.


        “We may be too late.” Jules sighed.

        “Wait. Too late? What do you mean?” I asked

        “Eric, find the victim and take out the garg!”

        “No!” I ran after him. Jules screamed something at me from behind, but I didn’t care. I couldn’t let this guy kill Kyle. We both raced to the bedroom door at the end of the hall. I continued to plead with Eric, but he was insistent and armed. I was powerless.

        Surprisingly, neither of the GUARD soldiers fired at me, despite their loud, consistent warnings. We approached the doorway of the master bedroom, and Eric burst onto the scene of the crime that had been committed only moments before. As the three of us poured into the room, we froze up.

        Kyle, the young infected adolescent, was still hunched over his motionless older brother. Jake's body had been bared. His shirt was torn, his socks removed. 

        "What the hell?" Jules whispered.

        "Jake," I gasped. "Shit."

        Kyle was spasming and twitching, his eyelids fluttering. He grappled backward and started to moan, emitting sounds that were similar to cries of pain or mourning. Through his agony, we could all make out the uttering of words. The same words, over and over and over.

        "S-sorry, Jake. S-sorry, sorry....s-sorry..."

        Jake didn't respond.

        Eric raised his weapon again and pointed it right at Kyle's head, and this prompted the garg to look up at us, as best he could through his spasms and twitches. When he opened his eyes, there was a clarity about them. His pupils were dilated, but not like they were before. They were almost...normal.

        “S-s-so sorry….

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. 


This story is a work of fiction. The characters, incidents, and dialogue are drawn from the author's imagination and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental. The use of real-world persons as portraying the characters in this work of fiction is done so solely for the purposes of entertainment and does not suggest tht these real-world persons are affiliated with, or endorse, this work in any way. 

While the majority of the chapters in Pteronophobia are not sexually explicit in nature, mature themes, some disturbing scenes/imagery, and other sexual themes are recurrent throughout. Consequently, the series, in its entirety, should not be read by audiences under the age of 13.


"Ahhhhhhhhhhhh yes, I've been looking forward to this! Especially to find out who the boy in the closet is!...Thank you!"


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


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


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



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