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oneortheother
09-06-2016, 08:33 PM
The Inker

O-O-O

Panic, raw, blind panic flowed through her body, filling every crack till she was bursting with it. She screamed and cursed, writhing and twisting, as she strained against her bondage, but she made zero progress. She was still trapped, trapped with him. How had she gotten into this mess?

---

Twenty-nine year old Alex yawned widely, as she slid behind the wheel of her service vehicle, tying her shoulder-length brown hair into a tight ponytail as she entered the ignition key, feeling the vehicle hum and purr to life. She glanced up at the morning sky, groaning at the ungodly hour she had to get into the station this morning. She pressed her size eight-and-a-half shoe down on the pedal, not for the first time wishing she could wear tennis shoes instead of the shiny black dress shoes that were mandated by the department. How had she gotten into this latest mess?

---

She gasped for air, having shouted herself hoarse, as a steady, uncomfortable silence filled the room, with the only sound being the steady hum of the air conditioning unit. She had never liked quiet places, having always found herself at home at wild concerts or mosh pits. Silence was for libraries or funerals. But today, for once, sweet silence would be welcome. Silence meant he wasn’t there. And she knew when he came, the room would not be silent anymore.

---

Alex fiddled on her radio, feeling the comforting blast on mindless pop crap blare with her speakers. She preferred country music or some good classic rock, but she just wanting something to keep her awake, something loud and obnoxious enough to keep her focused on the road. She was glad she was alone in her car, or she might have been very embarrassed about people judging her for her taste in music.

---

How long had she been alone here, alone with him, alone with that monster in human flesh? She could feel the thick, tear-stained blindfold chaffing against her pale skin, snagging strains of her dark hair. Her whole body still tingled, still crawled where he had touched her with his cruel fingers, with his devilish tools. The thought made her toes curl, or it would have, if she could move them. Her entire body was taut a bowstring, bound and exposed in every way for him to have his wicked pleasure with her.

---

Alex rubbed her eyes with both hands, as her car jerked to a stop at a red light. She caught a look of herself in the mirror of her car. She wore black slacks along with a navy blue long sleeved t-shirt, which she had rolled up to her elbows. It was the kind of look that Alex was fond of for work: it was so easy to get sexist crap in this job from co-workers and criminals alike, so she liked an outfit that projected a certain kind of authority and respect yet didn’t complete de-feminise her the way some frumpy, tasteless outfit might. She had thrown this look together in ten minutes.She reached down for her thermos flask, squeezing it open and gratefully taking a gulp of saporous hot coffee. It was just the kick she needed to start her day.

---

Her stomach gave a long, needy growl, which echoed across the sparse cell which had been her home for the past few eternities. How long had it been since she had eaten? How long had it been since she had been abducted? Her captor had given her some meagre morsels every now and then, but how long ago had that been? Time played tricks on you in this dark, sunless room. The only thing she knew of for certain was how vulnerable she was, naked, with her pale body exposed to anything and everything he would inflict on her. The only concept of time she had was how often he had come to visit her, and the answer to that question was simple: too many times.

---

Alex checked her way, her eyes widening as she realised she was running late. Where had the time gone? Damnit, perhaps that five-minute snooze she had taken after her alarm had gone off had been more than five minutes…

---

It was better to sleep that dwell on her situation, and she was so tired, so sore from struggling. The only good thing that could be said about her nefarious bondage was that it was easy to sleep in, lying on her back, with her arms sticking straight up from her head like she was stretching before sleep. She let herself surrender to the slumbering sensations…

---

She wheeled into the station, slapping her face with her free hand to shake the last vestiges of sleep from her mind. She flashed her badge as she entered. “Alexandra Jones, Missing Persons,” she said to the clerk at the desk. “Do you have something for me?”

---

“Are you awake? I think so…” it was a voice that sent chills down her spine. She felt her heart hammering at her chest. Could he see her heart pounding? Please no… She had to fake it, she had to pretend to still be passed out, had to, had to, had to… She heard his footsteps clack across the room, echoes bouncing across the walls like he was coming everywhere at once. She didn’t dare move, scarcely dared to breathe as she felt him lean close to hover over her. She could smell his overpowering scent, some Axe crap. She had mocked him for that, before she had learned better. “Wakey, wakey…”

---

“You have a nice nap, Jones?” Alex grimaced as she turned to her co-worker, Stevens, who looked infuriatingly bright and chipper this morning. Stevens was the star of the Missing Persons Unit, and although he didn’t seem malicious by nature, he always seemed to inevitably make Alex look bad because of how damn good he was at his job.

“I know I’m late, Stevens,” Alex said, swiping in her card at the terminal, gritting her teeth as she saw the monitor register her as late for the third time in the last seven days. “No need to rub it in.”

---

“I guess you must still be asleep,” he said, as he ran a finger down her side. She knew he was stroking the outline of the tattoo she had on her hipbone. He knew what effect it had on her. She felt goosebumps forming, as she badly wanted to flinch away, but forced herself to stay stock-still. She just had to hold out a little longer… then maybe, just maybe, he would leave…

“Hmmm. I guess I’ll come back later…” He stood up, his powerful stench leaving her, and she breathed a mental, desperate sigh of relief, saving her thanks to whatever God had spared her. Right when she thought she was out of the woods, she felt a hand slap against her bare right foot. She barely stifled a gasp.

“You wouldn’t be faking to be asleep to get out of our time together, right? You know I can’t stand lies… That would make me very, very… unhappy with you.”

---

“Boss wants to see you,” Stevens said, jerking a thumb over his shoulder. “I wouldn’t keep him waiting. He sounded, uh, not too happy.”

Alex sighed. “Great. I’ll go see him now.”

---

She gnawed on her lower lip as she felt him drag his nails up the bottom of her pale, slender foot. Even though she had known it was coming, even though she had prepared herself for it, braced herself for it, she could still do nothing but react to his touch, she same way she had done ever since he had spirited her away into this dreary, gruesome place. She jolted, a splutter of laughter escaping her lips.

“Why, hello,” he said, with poisonous sweetness. “You seem to be awake now. Let’s begin today’s session, shall we?”

---

Alex walked into her boss’s office and saluted. “Detective Alexandra Jones, reporting for duty, sir,” she said. Superintendent Matthews, a gangly, spectacled, man with silvery hair, steepled his long fingers and looked over them at her. With his thinning hair, thick glasses and lean frame, Superintendent Matthews looked a lot more like an accountant than a police office. He tended to think like an accountant too, which was why he had been promoted to this position: he had a nose for numbers, figures, and micromanagement.

“Your performance has been down for six months now,” he said, by way of greeting. He had never been one for much small talk. “Today is the third time you’ve been late in the last seven days. At work, you often seem to be elsewhere with her thoughts. This behaviour is… concerning. Many of your colleagues feel like you’ve not been pulling your weight.”

“I’m sorry you feel that way, sir – I’ll try harder,” Alex said, balling her hands into fists behind her back. She would badly like to know exactly which colleagues felt this way.

“What exactly have you been spending your time on these past few months?”

---

She balled her hands into fists as she strained against her bonds, but it was impossible, as impossible as it had ever been. She was helpless, utterly, utterly helpless, and he was free to play her taut, exposed body like a piano. She was no stranger to bondage, but always with fake handcuffs or safe words. This sort of true powerlessness was… as powerfully terrifying as it was arousing.

---

“A recent case has aroused my interest,” Alex said, shifting her weight from foot to foot. “It’s a case about a serial kidnapper, a kidnapper of young women in the city.”

“Hmmm,” Matthews pondered, stroking his chin. “That’s the kind of case that does wonders for PR. How you got any leads?”

“I’m still trying to sift through witness testimonies, sir. There are some… complications with the case.”

“Complications? What complications?”

“Well, it’s a bit difficult to explain without my notes…”

Matthews held up a hand. “We can have a more formal briefing at a later juncture. Tell me what you have about this case.”

“Well, the suspect abducts his victims in the city. We’re still working on finding an MO or patterns in his behaviour, or in his choice of victims. But he seems to target girls who won’t be missed – party girls, girls from low-income families, frequent recreational drug users, that sort of thing.”

“What does he do to his victims, exactly?”

“Well…” Alex shrugged, “we’ve had conflicting reports, since we still aren’t sure how many victims there are. What’s unique is that he doesn’t seem to leave any lasting marks on the women. Our rape kits haven’t turned up anything, yet the women all seem undoubtedly traumatised.”

---

The torment was over, thank fuck… she thought, as she gasped for air. At the start of her imprisonment here, the aftermath had always been the part she had feared most, but now? It was strange to contemplate how this could possibly be, but she almost looked forward to this part. Here, his touches would not be… unwelcome. The devices he used were all cruel, with the exception of this humming device.

---

“So let me get this straight… you don’t have any hard evidence this perp even exists, except for some conflicting testimonies?” Matthews rubbed at his temples. “You’re in Missing Persons, Detective Jones, focus on finding people that are actually missing. This guy sounds like he doesn’t even exist… like he’s just the result of some hippies or drunk girls on a bad drug trip.”

“He exists, sir, I can feel it,” Alex insisted, resisting the urge to call his out on his shibboleth.

Matthews sighed. Alex was slightly regretting her choice of words when dealing with such a supremely rational and pragmatic man. “You’ve got another month to turn up something on this guy. Or you’re getting transferred. Fair?”

“Fair.”

O-O-O

Alex trudged wearily to her locker, after a long and fruitless day of investigations. All of the leads she had focused so much of her energies on today had turned out to be dead ends. It was hard not to feel a little demoralised. She pulled out a gym towel from her towel, wrapped it around her mouth and screamed loudly into it. Feeling like she had relieved the pressure bubbling away within her somewhat, she returned the towel and prepared to head home. Just as she closed her locker, she heard a voice besides her.

“Hey, Alex,” Stevens said with a smile, his sandy hair tousled with sweat. “Why are you still here?”

“Just working on my case,” Alex said, stifling a yawn. “And you?”

“Just hit the gym,” he said, wiping his brow with the back of his hand. “Is your case going well?”

“Not as well as I’d like.”

“Want my take on things? I’ll be happy to help you out.”

Alex chewed on her lower lip. She certainly could have used the help… but there was a nagging part of her that wondered if Stevens just wanted to take credit for work she had already put in. She also hated the idea of being indebted to him, the idea of owing him a favour. But then again, didn’t it matter more that the abductor was behind bars, no longer preying on helpless women?

She wasn’t sure what made her say this, either a twisted sense of pride or a stubborn determination to solve this case herself because it was hers, but she shook her head. “Maybe later. This is something I really want to figure out myself.”

“Suit yourself,” Stevens said, shrugging. “Just trying to be a gentleman and help out a damsel in distress.” He smiled, tapping Alex comradely on the shoulder as he left.

“I’m sure as hell no damsel…” Alex muttered, rubbing her arm where he had touched her. “Hey, Stevens, wait!” she called, just as he had almost left.

“Yeah?”

“Do you think he’s real?”

He stopped and pondered this for a moment. “I think there’s a monster in every man, Alex, and there’s about this city that just… brings it out of people.”

He left, leaving Alex to mull over his words. She noticed she hadn’t actually answered her question, probably because he didn’t want to hurt her feelings by saying directly that he thought she was chasing shadows, chasing ghosts that just weren’t there.

As Alex walked to her car, she wondered why she was so obsessed with this mysterious case. Was it because she just wanted to be vindicated, to be proven right? There was a larger than she wanted to admit part of her that felt elated, euphoric if she could prove to Matthews and Stevens that she had been right. Somehow, the fact that everyone seemed to doubt her just filled Alex with more resolve. Alex’s mind wandered back to her days with the marines, where her inability to get along with authority figures and her headstrong ways had gotten her into such trouble there.

Just when Alex settled into her car and was preparing to head home, she heard the crackle of her police radio. “Detective Jones?” Alex recognised the voice of one of the receptionists. She couldn’t remember which one.

“Yeah?”

“Passing on a report from an interviewing officer: ‘a young woman just stumbled into the station and is rambling about being abducted. Fits the profile you gave us. Thought you’d like to know.’ That’s the end of the message.”

“I’ll be right there.” Alex suppressed a sigh, as she climbed out of her car, trying to ignore her aching muscles. A detective’s work is never done…

Alex put on her best interviewer’s face as she walked into the interview room. It was a tough look to master: ideally, it would cumulate all the respectability and fearlessness of a battle-hardened, worldly police officer, with the friendliness and candour of someone you could trust. Alex had never been a great people person, but she knew she had to be at her best in these interview rooms, with suspects and witnesses alike.

Alex sat down, staring at the girl who had just come into the station claiming she had been abducted. Alex didn’t dare get her hopes up, but would this perhaps finally be the breakthrough she needed? Finding someone who had been kidnapped by the mysterious serial hunter?

“I’m Detective Jones,” Alex said, fixing eyes on the girl.

“I’m Samantha,” the girl said, in a hoarse, husky voice. When her brown eyes met Alex’s, the older policewoman knew she had recently undergone some great trauma. There was no way you got that dark, haunted, ten-thousand-yard look unless you had recently been through some serious shit.

She was pretty, in perhaps an unorthodox, transgressive kind of way. Her long black hair had purple highlights, and Alex noticed chipped black nail polish on her fingers. She wore black leather jeans, a white-t shirt under a black jacket with rolled up sleeves, and heavy eye make-up. Alex also noted several tattoos on her fingers, forearms, and neck. She looked to be her early-to-mid twenties

“So, what’s your story?” Alex asked, in a soft voice, the voice you might use when trying to coax a frightened animal out of hiding.

The girl sighed and ran a thin hand through her hair. “I don’t know where to begin,” she said, hugging herself.

“Start from the beginning, then,” Alex said, trying her best to make her voice sound soothing. It was admittedly, not her forte.

“I’m gonna need a smoke,” Samantha declared, as she rummaged about in her pockets and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and a lighter. Alex’s right eye twitched, as she seriously considered grabbing the girl by the throat and yelling that this punk better not be wasting her time. But Alex tried to calm down. If it helped her relax and got her talking then, fine, she could smoke in here if she wanted to…

The goth exhaled, closing her eyes as a white puff of smoke rose and dissipated. “It happened three days ago. I was at a club with some of my friends, near downtown.” Alex slid an empty mug across the table, which Samantha gratefully took and began to use as an ashtray. “Do you know the Hellcry Club?”

“Afraid not,” Alex said, jotting down the name of the Club in her notepad. “And you were there… Friday night? Around what time?”

“I got there at ten. I can’t say when I left.” Samantha scratched her head. “It’s… a pretty wild sort of place,” Samantha said, with a chuckle, but the laughter was quick to die. “I drank a lot. I smoked a lot. I danced a lot.”

“You’re not one of those girls, are you?”

“What, do I hook?” Samantha looked surprisingly unoffended by Alex’s implication. “No.”

“What happened next?”

“Wish I knew,” Samantha said wistfully, blowing out a long plume of smoke. “I guess I must’ve passed out. All I know is when I woke up I was… in some kind of dungeon. With him.” The way she said that final word with such fear and loathing sent shivers down Alex’s back, and Alex was not the kind of girl to be easily rattled.

“Hmmm, so you’re saying you passed out? Is there any way you were drugged in some way? Maybe the guy slipped something in your drink?”

Samantha shrugged. “I guess anything is possible. I remember there was this guy at the club who asked me something funny… something about liking my boots and that he is also looking for a pair to buy them for his female friend. He asked me about my shoe size, too. His grinning face is one of the last things I remember….”

“Do you mind doing a blood test? The substances could still be in your system.”

“Erm, pass,” the goth said, suddenly sitting up straight, almost like she was preparing to flee the room. Alex realised that perhaps the girl had some things in her blood of questionable legality.

“Look,” Alex said, sighing. “I don’t care if you were smoked pot or coke or anything else. I just want to catch this guy.”

“Yeah, well, forgive me if I don’t take you at your word. I don’t want you to throw me under the bus just if you can’t find the freak who abducted me.” She spoke with a bitter tone that spoke of police mistreatment. Alex couldn’t blame her. She decided to drop the matter – it was better to just move on instead of pushing her potential goldmine of information too far and risking her leaving.

“Okay,” Alex said, nodding. “Forgetting I mentioned it. You were saying?”

Samantha hugged herself, shivering like she was cold. “He kept me in this basement… it was dark and cold… it smelled like chemical cleaners.”

“How do you know it was a basement?” Alex said, mentally slapping herself at the way the words came out – they had sounded sceptical, doubtful, exactly the opposite of the nurturing approach she had promised she would follow. Why did words always come wrong when she talked? “It’s not that I doubt you, but every tiny scrap of information helps,” Alex added, hastily. “What made you think it was a basement and not a shed, for instance?”

“There was an air conditioner in the room. I can remember the sound of it whirling.”

“Okay, I see,” Alex said, jotting down the information. “Pardon my interruption.”

“There was this strange bench he tied me to, where he would… touch me, do things to my body.”

Alex swallowed. “I know this is uncomfortable,” she said, wondering if she should clasp the younger girl’s hand, but the way the goth had said ‘touched’ gave her pause. It might be just the thing to bring back all kinds of uncomfortable memories. “But can you go into more detail, what would he do?”

“He tickled me.”

There was a moment of stunned silence as Alex processed this information. She had been expecting many things, but this had not been it. “What?”

Samantha laughed a bitter laugh. “Gosh, this sounds so stupid. If I was listening to myself, I wouldn’t believe this shit. You must think I’m crazy.”

“No, no, I don’t, I don’t.” Alex knew what it was like to be doubted, to have no one believe in you. Alex had been through that whole shebang during her military days, hell, it had happened just the other day about this case. “Tell me everything you remember, please.”

Samantha sighed and ran a finger through her dark hair. “I remember it was hell. ‘Your turn,’ he would say, speaking to my foot or armpit or whatever.” Alex glanced surreptitiously at Samantha’s feet, where the goth wore knee-high chunky black leather boots with straps, as if to protect the skin encased within. “It was like I wasn't even a person anymore, just a collection of body parts for him go play with. That's how it felt like. It’s such a shitty weakness, but I’m ticklish as fuck.”

“Would you say he’s done this sort of thing before?” Alex asked, trying not to think how many Samanthas there were in this country, too afraid to come forward because of how absurd it sounded like to be abducted by a pervert who did nothing but tickle them.

“Definitely… he knew how to push all my buttons,” Samantha said, her face a picture of disgust. “He had some weird recording thing set up, and he was taking pictures the whole time, too. He had done this shit before, that I have no doubt. And he, he…” She stopped and smiled at Alex. “I’m glad I’m talking to a woman here. You’ll get what I mean when I said he touched me.”

“Did he rape you?”

“No, no, he didn’t. All he did was tickle. And lick.”

“Lick?” That could be something. There might be DNA residue there.

“Where did he do it? Could we get a sample afterwards, you think?”

“You’re thinking of evidence, aren’t you? I do honestly doubt that there’ll be anything left... He licked me… on my foot. His tongue would slide over the arch of my feet… that’s where I’m really sensitive. Then it would… slip between my toes. It was… horrible. It was horrible because it almost felt good compared to the brushes.”

“Wh-what? Why would he do that?”

She shrugged. “You can ask him when you catch him.”

“That’s going to happen soon, Samantha. I promise you. I’m going to do everything I can to bring him to justice.” Samantha looked away, like she had heard all this spiel before, but Alex thought she saw a glimmer of hope in those dark eyes.

“He left his mark on me. It’s going to stay with me for the rest of my life.”

Alex wondered if the girl was being poetic, but suddenly, the goth lifted her boot up onto the table. Alex’s first instinct was to scold the girl – first, she was smoking, and now she was putting her feet on the table? Was she trying to provoke her or something? Alex was surprised when the goth zipped one of her boots off and pointed at a tattoo of a feather above her ankle. “I know my tats, and this ain’t one of them. He must have inked me, while I was under.”

“What?” Alex bent down to examine the ominous-looking tattoo of a black feather. “Why would he do such a thing?” Not for the first time, Alex realised it was no wonder she seemed so traumatised considering what the poor girl had been through

“That’s yet another thing you can ask him,” Samantha said, in a dry, bitter tone.

“This tattoo looks pretty professional…” Alex said, thinking back to the military tattoo on her wrist, the one she covered under her watch because her bosses didn’t like it. “Would you agree?”

“Yeah,” Samantha agreed. “The thing might be cute if it didn’t remind me of that sick fucker.”

“Is there anything else you remember about the guy? Anything at all that could help us catch this guy? You didn’t talk about what he looked like…” Alex wondered if whatever narcotics the girl had been drugged with might have played havoc on her memory.

“He wore this mask the whole time… some creepy grinning clown face And it was dark. And I was blindfolded.” Samantha ticked her reasons off on black nail polish-clad fingers. “But now that you mention it, there was this smell about him – like an overpowering body spray. I think it was Axe. I don’t know, but I just can’t picture his face in my mind… it must be something he dosed me with.”

“It seems like that’s just about everything,” Alex said, flicking through the pages of her notes, a growing warmth in her chest at the real, substantial progress she had made today, for the first time in months. “But I’m still trying to get to grips about the mindset of this guy. Did he talk to you? While he was, uh, tickling you?” Even as Alex said the words, she realised how ridiculous it sounded. She wondered if she would get laughed out of the room when she explained to her boss what she had discovered.

“He would speak to me as he slowly stripped me out of my clothes,” Samantha said, in a emotionally-deadened voice. Alex knew this must be unbearably hard to talk about, but she needed this information, she desperately needed everything she could, so she could take this freak off the streets and stop any future Samanthas from having to endure this strange, outlandish form of torture.

“He talked a lot about how I smelled – how he could smell my fear in my socks, my anger in my jeans, and later… my… enjoyment too.” Alex felt like it was apparent where he would have smelled that information, so she was grateful that Samantha did not say it aloud. “He… he would play games with me, no-win games that fucked with your mind. He would say crap like I could win my freedom if I could hold back my laughter for three minutes.” Samantha shrugged, sniffing.

“That sounds horrible,” Alex whispered, visualising the horrors this girl had gone through.

“He had a clock where I could see the display… once he pressed the button, he would start to lightly tease all over my body. I had to fight so hard to control the urge to stay silent and not laugh, even though he was pinching my nipples or licking my toes…. Every time there was less than forty seconds left, he would bring out a bottle of massage oil and rub it all over my feet. Then he would bend back my toes and scrub all over them with a hairbrush. That was always the moment where the laughter would explode out of me. No one could win this game. He knew what he was doing, the whole damn fucking time. No one would be able to hold the laughter back once he did that… I bet even you wouldn’t be able to do so, Detective!” She sighed. “I wasn’t able to last three minutes, but I have a feeling he wouldn’t have let me go even if I had been able to keep quiet. He just keeps toying with you, and you can’t quit the game till he says so. And I…” Alex could see that her witness was nearing her breaking point. Samantha was shaking visibly, her eyes glistening with tears.

“How did you escape?”

“I didn’t. Maybe that’s the worst part of it. No one escape him… he just gets bored with you. After a final intensive tickle torture session followed by a brutal forced orgasm session, he dosed me and just… just discarded me on a park bench near the Hellfire Club. I had all my clothes on, minus a sock, which I guess the creep kept as a trophy… I remember when I woke up, I could almost believe it was a bad dream or a trip gone bad, but then I felt my ankle hurt, and I saw the tattoo… “

Alex jotted down notes, realising that this might mean the mysterious tickler operated on the weekends because he had a normal job during the week. Did he always abducts his victims on a Friday night and release them on a Sunday night? She would need to do some more digging…

“I think we can end it there,” Alex said, but Samantha seemed to not hear her.

“His tongue… his vibrator… after he uses the oil and brushes on you, you’re almost grateful for it. It’s just a… welcome alternation to the tickling. And I…” The rest of Samantha’s sentence was dissolved by a sobbing gulp.

“Wha-what? The vibrator?”

“He’ll force you. I guess that’s what gets him off – touching you and forcing a reaction. I did everything to avoid it, just like the tickling, but I couldn’t do anything about it.”

“You’ve been so valuable,” Alex said, trying to shake the disturbing images of sexual abuse that had just flooded into her mind. It was yet another reason to pursue in the case and an argument she could use when talking to Superintendent Matthews. “Really. I can’t thank you enough for coming forward to this. I know how horrible it is to try to recount things you’d rather just forget.” Alex knew from experience that there were some memories you just wanted to keep buried. “We’ll get this guy. I promise.”

Samantha nodded weakly, as she was escorted out of the interview room, leaving Alex alone with her thoughts.

O-O-O

Alex sat in her car, her hands placed on the steering wheel and the key in the ignition, but she did not move, even as the engine hummed under her. Her mind was too restless, teetering with the revelations of the day. The dark pessimist within her wanted to discount everything, reminded Alex that her only real witness so far was a drug-addled party-girl whose testimony would be thrown out of court by any decent lawyer on account of a lack of reliability. But all these valid, valid facts had no effect on the excitement Alex felt fluttering in her heart, the adrenaline coursing through her body at the thought of being one step closer to catching this mysterious assailant she had pursued for so long.

But there was something else too – an ominous trickle of apprehension, an uneasiness over what the gothic victim, Samantha, had said. She had decided to dub this mysterious perpetrator: The Inker. Part of it was because of his habit of tattooing his victims. Alex knew investigating the local tattoo parlours would have to be her next step. But also, there was something about calling him: ‘The Tickler’ that just struck her as… childish.

Why tickling, of all things? It was these thoughts that kept her glued to her seat, wasting fuel as her engine hummed hungrily, anxious to leave. She was too much of a driving hazard right now, with her mind a hundred places at once. She had to thinks things through, first. She had to.

What was tickling to her, before today? Something juvenile and immature, the kind of thing that teenagers did on a first date if they were too shy to just straight up say they liked each other. Tickling was what you did to babies or puppies or kittens. Tickling was something Alex had always despised.

In her past, Alex could vaguely remember some boys in high school trying to poke her sides, smiling at her in that blatantly lecherous way, but Alex had touched them back in ways that left bruises, and they had chosen targets who would not resist their ‘flirtations’, instead. How could anyone possibly enjoy some stranger touching her body in such a way? It was like being raped, in a sense, only you were forced to laugh. It was a loss of control, a violation of her freedoms.

As she got older, such physical contact was even more unthinkable, especially if it involved something as weak as laughter. Working in a male-dominated environment, Alex had to grasp for every scrap of dignity and respect she could, and the idea of bursting into schoolgirl giggles from a hand goosing her ribs was beyond shameful. She was determined not to be one of those girls.

The only time Alex could remember being tickled and not despising the experience was in her childhood, by her father. But he was out of the picture now. She had been ticklish then, probably, but she doubted she was still ticklish now.

She sighed, kicking herself for thinking so hard about these things – why worry about tomorrow’s problems today? She set off home, playing her music loudly so as to drown out any dissenting thoughts that might try to surreptitiously creep into her mind.

She forced herself to have a relaxing evening – watching some mind-numbing TV and ordering pizza. She found herself yawning around ten and quickly resigned to an early night. The unpleasant paperwork and reports could always wait till tomorrow. She slipped out of her work clothes and donned a nightshirt over her undergarments, checking, as she always did, that the safety of the gun she kept under her pillow was on. Deciding she was too weary even to brush her teeth, she simply turned off the lights and collapsed into bed.

Yet in the dark, certain images started to stray into her mind, even as she did her best to empty her thoughts… All she wanted was simple, dreamless sleep. Yet Alex knew only too well that life was really kind enough to bestow two things you wanted in a row, and having gotten such a bountiful suspect, she knew misfortune was probably lurking right around the corner, like this mysterious Inker.

In her dreams, Alex found herself back at the office.

Matthews was sighing and shaking his head.

“Goddamnit, Alex,” he said, tutting. “Can’t you take your job seriously?”

“I’m trihhihihiying!” Alex was trying, trying very, very hard, but as she sat in the chair opposite Matthew, she felt something crawl about in her shoes, like a long, slithery worm. She tried to stamp her feet, kick them together, or simply wiggle her toes to crush the offending parasite, but it continued to roam about, implacably, one in each shoe. It felt some fuzzy centipede was itching all along her sole.

“Sit still!” Matthews barked. “Are you a police officer or some five year-old?”

“Buhuhuhut it t-t-t-t…” Alex stuttered, but the word would not come. She refused to let it come, even as the snake in her shoes starting weaving in and out of her toes, no matter how she wiggled or kicked her feet.

“So what?” Matthews sneered. “Are you some schoolgirl? Who gives a fuck if it tickles a bit? You’ve been shot before! Walk it off, you weak woman! I knew I never should have hired you!”

THe only thing keeping Alex from bursting into laughter was the fury that boiled in her chest, as Matthews spat, dismissing her with a brusque gesture of his hand.

“You were always a disappointment. Tickling? You want me to report to the press there’s a serial tickler on the loose? Who would believe that?”

“It’s true!” Alex shouted. “It’s true!”

“Is it really, detective?” Suddenly, Matthews had metamorphosed into Samantha, the goth. She grinned at Alex through lips black with lipstick. “Maybe I was just bullshitting you the whole time. Can you really trust me?” She propped her feet up on the desk that had been Matthews’s – they were bare. She wiggled her toes, painted black, and showed Alex the feather tattoo on her ankle. “Maybe I was just so stoned that I don’t even remember getting this,” she said, shrugging. “Who knows?”

“I… I don’t believe that,” Alex managed to say, suddenly finding that she could not move her feet. They were tied and bent back to the chair she was sitting in, the soles facing behind her, so she could not see what tragic fate was about to befall them. She heard the sound of something cutting away at the sole of her shoe. She tried to turn her head behind her, but she suddenly found her neck was stiff and unyielding, as if someone had poured concrete through all its joints.

“You really trust me?” she said, as Alex felt her socks being cut away. ”Me? You don’t really know a thing about me, detective.”

“I know you… I k-k-know…” Alex tried to speak, but she found her words were swallowed by a powerful new sensation, impossible to ignore. Something wet and disgusting had just lapped up her foot, brushing against her clenched toes.

“These taste delicious…” a new voice said, deep and dark. He laughed loudly, cackling like a witch, as Alex shivered and shuddered from the foreign sensations. “A hint of fear, a trace of lust… a lot of anger,” the voice listed, like he was sampling a fine wine instead of slowly licking her naked sole from the heel over the arch and under and in between the toes. Alex shut her eyes just to avoid the sight of Samantha smirking at her.

“Fun, isn’t it?” she said, giggling at Alex’s desperate attempts to maintain composure and control. “I loved it…” Samantha dipped her hands into her tight black leather trousers and began to fondle herself. “But it might be even better to see you try to endure it, detective!” She shrieked with witch-like laughter.

“Don’t be jealous, Samantha,” said the tongue snaking its way through the littlest toes on Alex’s left foot, “but these might taste even better than yours!” Alex flexed her biceps, straining to get free as she felt tendrils creep up her long, like a vine was slowly enveloping her. She realised with dismay that it a nest of tiny serpents had just been birthed on her, it seemed, slithering and sliding all across her legs, inner thighs, and all the way to abdonmen. And every one of those those creatures had a disproportionately large tongue, lapping across her body.

“But you don’t seem like you’re enjoying yourself… so what do you say we make it even worse?” the voice added, guffawing with cruel laughter, as the tongue suddenly ceased its probing actions.

“God, no! Stop, stop, stop! Stop touching my feet!” Alex gritted her teeth, feeling the unconditional laughter hiss and bubble in her throat as she felt two hands hold her toes between their firm fingertips, pinching them gently and wriggling between them.

“Touching? What an insulting word for what I’m doing,” the voice stated, sounding irked. “I’ll have to punish you for such poor diction.”

“No! Nohohoho! Nohooooo!” The hands stopped their gentle teasing of Alex’s tender toes, as they started to scrape the length of her bare feet. Alex’s feet felt paralysed, frozen in place as if they were too scared to even move, now denying her even the defence of scrunching her toes. Her toes could not move an inch while the nails scratched up and down the sole, only stopping to stroke under and in between the gaps of Alex’s toes. All the while, the tongues rampaging across her legs and stomach continued their roving, drawing perilously close to Alex’s private area…

“Fuhuhuhuck! Why cahahan’t I wake up! Stahahahap! Dahahamanit STAHAHAHAP!” Trapped within the prison of her own slumber, Alex could do nothing but wait for this nightmarish vision to run its course, and like any soldier will tell you, the waiting is always the worst part. Samantha’s moans grew more and more passionate, though Alex’s wild, boyish laughter almost muffled the detective from hearing it and being reminded of the welling sensation growing in the pit of her own nether regions.

As Samantha howled and aahed with almost comical lust, the fingers at Alex’s feet continued their cruel ministrations. Alex thought she heard the voices of Matthews and Stevens behind her, commenting about how ticklish Alex’s feet were, and how adorable it was to see her smile for once, making the formidable detective seethe with fury. She would have bellowed at them if their fingers were not tormenting her so expertly, sliding up and down her taut, helpless arches, spidering and making swirling patterns over the fleshy balls of her feet, and teasing every toe methodically, one ticklish digit at time.

To her horror, like a child’s worst nightmare, Alex found her clothing disappearing until she was nude, and she was fully exposed to all these people she wanted, no, needed, respect from. Goddamnit, when would this twisted dream end? Alex desperately wanted to know the answer to that question, but it seemed that even pinching herself would not spare her from this one.

“You want this dream to end?” Samantha said, reading Alex’s mind. Then again, considering this was all happening in Alex’s mind, anyway, it was not necessarily an impressive feat. “Maybe if you can stop laughing for say... a minute, then it'll be over!" The goth girl laughed, a high cruel sound. "I’m not sure you really want to… I mean, look how much you’re laughing! See! Right there! You smiled! I know you loved it, you little tickle slut… I bet it turned you on when I was telling you about how I was tied up and tickle tortured… just how wet are you, right now?”

Alex would have screamed denials, shouted at how big a liar the arrogant little goth was, but the intense tickling was giving her no breathe to answer, no time for any witty responses. Alex gritted her teeth, hard, but the laughter still came seeping through her mouth, no matter how hard she tried to suppress it.

Yet there was no denying the churning, throbbing sensation that was starting to bubble away in her stomach as the vines quested upwards, teasing her naked flesh. She squeezed her eyes shut, trying to block out all the unstoppable feelings that were rampaging across her body, even along areas like her butt, now. Just when she felt like she had her body’s visceral reactions under the control, a new, sudden stimuli sent her body back into overdrive again – her eyes shot open as she felt something wet and rough lapping at her armpits. She turned her head and saw Steven’s licking away in one, while Matthews worked at the other, sending her spluttering with laughter again. And the worst part was it almost felt… nice, but that was a train of thought Alex had no intention of following as she violently pushed the idea out of her mind. The torturous tickly tongues – they were only tongues, now, disembodied organs floating in the air, lapped across her bare nipples, teasing the erect buds. Alex gasped, and then shrieked as the tongues morphed into stiff feathers, the bristles making her squeal with laughter.

Laughing so hard that the room spun around with her, Alex closed her eyes and opened them to find herself back in her bed. Her first instinct was to draw her gun, which she did, as she disentangled herself from sweat-laden bedsheets, which had bunched around her ankles and legs. She gasped for air, swinging her service revolver wildly, knocking a glass on her nightstand to the ground to shatter loudly – the sound shook Alex from her dizzy stupor.

“A dream,” she said, gasping as she put the safety back on. “Just… a dream…”

O-O-O

Alex couldn’t fathom why any logical person would want to sleep. If you thought about it, it really did not make any sense. It was supreme vulnerability for a third of your day. It’s time being wasted, when there’s always so much that needs to be done. Sleeping is a slice of death, a hint of the endless slumber when you take your last breath. And never forget that sleep is fickle. Sometimes sleep comes easily. Sometimes you have to fight for every wink. Sleeping is a thing that we suffer in life because we must, like taxes, old age, and post-orgasmic depression. And dreams? Alex had always thought that they were what hack writers wrote into their stories when they were stuck and had no better ideas. They didn’t scare her. How could they? They were just pointless visions, tantalizing fantasies, the results of a bored subconscious with too much time on its hands, doodling in the back of the brain.

These were the kind of thoughts you had after a night where you just couldn’t sleep.

At around six a.m., Alex gave up the fight for sleep and resigned herself to a long, weary day at work. She yawned, rubbing her eyes as she trudged slowly to the washroom to brush her teeth. She looked in the mirror, groaning at the fresh appearance of deep bags under her eyes. She would have to cover them up with makeup if she didn’t want to come to work looking like a panda.

What were her plans today? She felt like it was highly likely that her mysterious, nightmarish perp worked in a tattoo parlour – perhaps, even the owner. She flipped open her phone to look at her calendar,, mentally calculating when she would be able to find time to hit all the tattoo parlours in the nearby area, especially where Samantha’s club had been located.

It was a fairly grim way to spend a Friday, but Alex knew that was the life she had signed up for when she decided to be a detective. She checked her schedule, and she realised that she had also promised to meet her nineteen-year old stepsister, Vanessa, that evening. The sisters had interacted sparingly in the past ten years, what with Alex’s service in the military and Vannessa studies, but both siblings had vowed to keep in touch, now that they were in the same area. It was their weekly ritual to update each other on their lives.

Alex rubbed her temples with blunt fingers, wondering if her sister would appreciate this update.

There were some things you just did not need to know.