October 4

Fictober, Prompt 4 – “I know you didn’t ask for this.”

Warnings: horror/body horror, parasite, parasite removal, blood.

I sat in the little stand of woods, huddled beneath the biggest tree, knees drawn up to my chin, arms wrapped around my legs, fingers digging into my arms hard. Too hard. I was almost certainly going to bruise myself.

Since the alternative was to start clawing my own skin off, I thought bruises were probably a better option.

I couldn’t feel it. You never could. That was the awful part.

If it hadn’t been for Lydia, I wouldn’t even have known one had attached itself to me, would still be walking around in hideous ignorance.

And they would probably already have come for me.

Rustling from the field next to this stand of trees, and I looked up quickly, watching with wary eyes until the corn and then undergrowth parted to reveal that it was just Lydia, back with (hopefully) everything she would need to get it off me.

If it wasn’t already too deep.

I shuddered even as she came over and quietly dropped the backpack she carried into the leaf litter and crouched down in front of me.

“How are you doing?”

I made myself relax one hand from its death grip on my arm and waggled my fingers in a so-so motion, not wanting to move enough to shrug.

“Well, best not wait any longer,” she said, accepting that with a nod. “Can you get your shirt off yourself?”

Taking a deep breath, I nodded tightly and forced myself to move. It felt uncomfortable, being so undressed out here in the open; it wasn’t something I’d ever done before, but the thing was on my back and I wanted this to be as easy as possible for Lydia.

“Are you sure?” I forced myself to whisper. “I know you didn’t ask for this.”

Lydia regarded me steadily for a long moment, then said, “No, I didn’t. But you asked for help, and I accepted, and I meant it. I’m not going to let them take anyone else…and least of all you.”

Oh. There was an intensity in her eyes that I hadn’t recognized before, and it made me flush. We had known each other for a long time, but not well, not until recently. But now…

Lydia didn’t seem inclined to make anything further of it just now, pulling on a headlamp with business-like motions and digging through the backpack for whatever else she needed.

Okay, I thought. Something else to deal with later. If we got a later.

Please, let us get a later.

I turned around, sitting up as straight as I could, ignoring the chill night air on my bare skin, the faint, phantom itch that always started between my shoulder blades when I didn’t have anything covering my back. I fancied that I could feel where it was, even though I couldn’t.

“Ready?” Lydia’s voice was still low, still steady, and I nodded, because I had to be.

“Alcohol first,” she said in warning, and I took in a breath, letting it out shaky and slow as the cool liquid hit the back of my neck and started to trickle down—

I nearly screamed in agony when the rubbing alcohol reached the spot where the thing had attached itself, lower and to the left of where I had thought it was. Lydia had deliberately refused to tell me where when she had first identified it, knowing I would be unable to keep from trying to claw it off if I knew exactly where it was.

It writhed, and I could feel it, could feel where it was partially burrowed into my skin. I retched, then took in a deep gulp of cold air, trying desperately not to be sick.

“This will hurt,” Lydia warned next and my hands, clenched around my knees this time, tightened even as I took another deep breath and gave her a nod to continue.

Sharp pain, and more of that writhing sensation as the thing struggled against whatever Lydia was doing to try and pry it loose. I deliberately hadn’t looked at what sorts of tools she’d brought. It was bad enough being able to feel it, any visualization and I was sure to lose my battle with my churning stomach.

It fought, and that hurt more and more as the moments passed. I was certain there was a knife involved but didn’t dare turn my head to look. Bile rose in my throat, and I swallowed it back painfully, still working to keep my breaths deep and slow whenever I could manage, teetering on the edge of giving in to the nausea…

The thing came loose with an awful little sucking noise, but there was an immediate relief the instant it was out, in spite of the blood I could still feel trickling down my back.

“Hold on,” Lydia said, voice tight. Something that sounded like a jar being opened and closed, and then her hands were on my skin, soothing, wiping the blood away. “I’ll have to check and make sure I got it all.”

“Okay,” I whispered, bracing myself for the pain that followed. It wasn’t as bad now, somehow, and my stomach felt less as though it were going to revolt at any moment.

Lydia let out a sigh of relief, and she went on to finish cleaning and bandage it with quick, careful motions. “It’s out.”

“Thank you,” I said, voice still barely a whisper, tears welling in my eyes at the force of my relief. It was out, it was gone, and I was going to be okay.

“Of course,” she replied. A last smoothing of what felt like gauze and tape, and then she patted my back lightly. “Go ahead and pull your clothes back on.”

I did: bra, shirt, sweatshirt. Being covered again and warm helped more. My back still stung, but it was a healing kind of hurt, and I could live with that.

“Want a pain killer?” she asked when I turned around, holding out a water bottle and pills to me.

“I guess that would be a good idea,” I agreed, accepting both. I ended up finishing the water in a few gulps, thirstier than I had realized.

Then, against my better judgement, I asked, “What did it look like?”

Wordlessly, she held out an empty peanut butter jar, which I reluctantly took.

It wasn’t much bigger than a tick, and vaguely of the same shape and design. At first glance, you wouldn’t really have known there was anything different about it, wouldn’t have assumed that it was anything worse.

My stomach turned over again. A normal tick would have been bad enough, but this?

From what we had been able to learn, these things didn’t stop at drinking your blood. They just kept burrowing in, until they were inside you and could move around, making for vital organs and even (or eventually) your brain.

There was no coming back from that, as far as anyone knew.

Our only hope was that they burrowed slowly, so if you caught it early enough, there was a chance to get it out.

I handed the jar back to her quickly, and Lydia gave me a wry smile even as she pulled out a roll of duct tape and began to seal the jar up more thoroughly.

“Why not just kill it?” I asked, wishing desperately that we could light the thing on fire.

“We need to know more about them,” she pointed out. “For now, it’s more useful alive.”

I shuddered again, but she was right.

Somewhere in the distance, a dog barked.

Both our heads snapped up. Someone was hunting down people who had been bitten by these things, and was making them vanish. We weren’t sure exactly who they were, or exactly what their intentions were, but so far helping against the parasites didn’t seem to be a goal of theirs. We did know that they had co-opted the Sheriff and his deputies into helping.

Lydia hurriedly shoved everything into the backpack, and I picked up mine that I’d been carrying since earlier. It didn’t have much useful in it, but I had a little money, so if we could get far enough away we could buy anything else we needed, and hopefully lay low.

She rose, and our eyes met. Mine were wide with fear and uncertainty. Hers glinted in the moonlight, bright with determination and confidence.

“Ready?” she asked again, and held out a hand.

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and let the fear fall away.

Opening them again, I stepped forward and accepted her hand.

“I’m ready.”

We ran.

Can you tell that I am Not A Fan of ticks? >.>

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