It starts when you feel a little tickle on your right ankle. You’re lying on the couch, reading a book, and then this little . . . tickle. Small as a cat’s whisker.
But the cat’s not around.
It’s a good book, so you don’t think about it.
But then—ugh—you feel the tickle moving. The little tickle is climbing up your leg, right up onto your calf.
Too late, though. It’s already crawled up to your knee, the soft, inside part of the knee, and it’s scratching away there. You’re sitting up now, trying to sort of reach up inside your pants’ leg to get it . . .
. . . but now you feel another tickle on your collarbone, like something walking across your collarbone on tiny insect feet.
Ugh, GROSS. You reach to pinch it off, to get it off you, but it’s already scurried down lower, inside your shirt. And now there’s another one on your other ankle—no, that one’s fast, it’s already up your calf. And the collarbone one is already tickling down your breastbone, straight down toward your navel.
Now you’re on your feet, of course. The book’s on the floor half open, its pages bent. There are so many little tickles now—god, one’s in your hair—and you claw at your hair: get it out, get it out.
Then you realize that you said that out loud, you shouted it, actually, and you’re still shouting, GET IT OUT! GET THEM OFF ME!
Clawing at your hair, you grab one of the little creatures. YES. You GOT it. But did you get it? Or did it get you? Because you can feel tiny, clawlike fingers and toes clinging to your index finger.
So you look at your hand, at the thing that’s wrapping itself around your finger. It isn’t a centipede; it isn’t a roach; it isn’t a horrid little spider. It isn’t anything you’d imagined.
It’s a human sort of thing, but tiny, and dull gray all over, with thick black stripes, and hands and feet like little claws. It has a sort of face, with shiny black eyes like tiny stones in its head. And it’s wearing a tiny black hat.
You look at the thing. It looks at you. Its dark gray lips twist up in a grin, exposing little black needle-sharp fangs.
Then, without warning it scuttles down your hand and up your arm, inside your sleeve.
And now you scream for real.
Because you see them, now, you see them all: streaming out of the walls, marching out of that faint crack in the ceiling, pouring out of the stuffing of the couch you were just lying on so comfortably. They’re running toward you on their tiny feet, hundreds of them, thousands.
Why are they here? Who are they? You don’t know. And honestly, right now you don’t have time to think about stuff like that.
Because the one on your stomach is biting. It bites hard. It hurts so much, so shockingly much, the pain radiates from your stomach throughout your body like an electrical field. For a moment you’re paralyzed with pain, you can’t move, you can only feel the agonizing pain, and behind it the tiny claw-hands and claw-feet that scamper over every part of your body.
Now, on your thigh, another bite. At your soft throat: another bite.
You scream and scream and you run out your front door. HELP ME, you’re screaming. THEY’RE ON ME! THEY’RE BITING!
Screaming, you fall down on the street, rolling on the hard surface, trying to crush the horrid, grinning little biters. But it’s as if they’re made of rubber or something—they won’t crush. They spring right back, and dig back in with their poison-needle fangs.
Neighbors are out now, they’ve run to you on the street, and from the way they stop short, from their horrified faces, you have a flash of what you must look like: red face, bulging eyes, rolling on the street, screaming Stop them, it hurts, they’re hurting me.
The neighbors call an ambulance, of course, and the ambulance takes you away. The ambulance people say things that make no sense, and they don’t help you, they don’t get them off you at all.
You’re at the hospital, and your parents have come, and your mom is crying. But are they here right now? she asks, do you feel them even right now?
And you, clawing and slapping and flapping at yourself under the sheets: Yes, of COURSE they’re here now, can’t you see them, look, just LOOK.
And your dad says, really soft, I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, but we can’t see them. No one else can see them, kiddo. Don’t you think—
But just then one of them bites you extra-hard, and you scream, and the nurse comes running in. Now your dad is crying, too.
You pull up your shirt, for the millionth time that day, and scream, Look! Look! Will somebody just look? Look at them and look what they’re doing to me! You look down at your stomach, the writhing gray creatures with their little black claws and evil grins, at your skin with its swelling blisters and oozing sores.
You looks at your parents, you look at the nurse.
And your mother says wetly, through the tissue at her nose, But there’s nothing, honey, there’s nothing at all.
And the nurse says, I’ve got a sedative here, that will help, at least for a while.
And as the drug takes effect, you hear a voice saying—and is it your voice? it might be—saying, They’re on me, get them off . . get them off . . .