Hey Rob here. So last week I got a tick on me, and of course I freaked out, and did the whole doctor thing, they have to check your blood, check the tick, etc. And I started thinking: here’s this tiny little thing, hardly even there, and it can bring you to your knees. What if it went even farther? This one veers into sci-fi horror, so I apologize in advance if you have any tick nightmares. Enjoy!
Listen to the Audio (22 min):
Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes
Read the Story (3,500 words / 13-minute read):
“Tick Tick Tick”
Written and narrated by Rob Dircks
Jesus Christ, Bill, calm down. You got this. In forty-eight hours you’ll be signing on the biggest client Taylor & Burke has ever landed, and they’ll be adding your name to the door: Taylor, Burke, & Brown. You just have to get through the presentation. Yes, the client threw a giant monkey wrench into the deal with that bankruptcy we didn’t know about, but two days is a long time. You’ve reworked bigger deals in less time. Actually, that’s not true. This is the biggest deal you’ve ever worked on, and if you don’t figure out a win-win, Taylor will cancel the order for the new door sign, and Burke will personally kick you out the back door, and you’ll die in disgrace, without enough money to even carve your name into the gravestone. Dammit, Bill, cut the shit. It’s going to be fine. Just finish doing your business, pull up your pants, and get through the next forty-eight hou-
Huh? What’s that?
On my butt.
There’s something on my butt. I can feel it. Like a wart. I don’t remember having a wart on my butt.
If I turn around, maybe I can see it in the chrome on the stall door. Nope. Damn.
“Hey, John. Come here. I need to you take a look at something.”
“You’re kidding me, right? You want me to come into your bathroom stall while your pants are around your ankles? No thanks. I’m working on my own thing in here. Indian food last night. It’s murder.”
“No, really. Come on. What are friends for?”
I can hear John groaning, I don’t know whether it’s the Indian food or his reluctant agreement to check out whatever this thing is on my butt. He finishes up and knocks.
“You don’t need to knock, John.”
“I feel like I do.”
John wouldn’t be the first person I’d want inspecting my butt, but we’ve seen each other more than we’ve seen our spouses for the past year and a half on this goddamned project, so what’s the big deal if he sees my butt? “Here. Right here.”
John gags. Oh come on, why is he gagging? “Why are you gagging?”
“Bill, that is the meanest looking, nastiest engorged tick I’ve ever seen. Dear lord, I think I’m going to throw up.”
“FUCK! John, get it off me! Get it off!”
“There is no way I’m touching that. Look, if you grab it, the whole thing, don’t squeeze it for God’s sake, grab it and gently but firmly pull, it should come off. I’ll stay here to make sure you get it off. But then I’m out. I’m going down to the Blarney Stone to try to erase this image from my memory banks.”
Okay. Calm down, Bill. You can do this. Grab it, Oh God there’s something alive clamped on to me, okay grab it and pull. Okay, maybe a little harder. PULL. Wow. This thing is hooked on there good. One last try, PPPUUUULLLLL…
I got it.
Now let’s get a look at this thi- OH MY FUCKING GOD WHAT IS THAT?!?
Oh shit. I just flicked it onto John. He’s freaking out. Now we’re both trapped in this stall, flailing like a couple of mental patients, with some ungodly engorged tick flying around trying to suck our blood, and my pants are still around my ankles. Ouch. I just broke the door off the stall trying to get out.
Whew. Okay. We’re out.
“Where is it?!”
“I don’t know! I stopped looking after you flicked it at me!”
“I don’t see it. Do you see it?”
“No. I don’t see it.”
It’s gone. It might be under one of the cabinets. There’s no way I’m looking under the cabinets for this thing. “Uh, John. Ticks die after they come off you, right?”
“Listen, you should get that checked out. Make sure you don’t get Lyme Disease.”
“Can I wait until after the Harmon presentation?”
“I wouldn’t. But you can do whatever you want.”
He leaves me standing there with my pants around my ankles. Ouch, the bite is starting to sting.
God, you’d think Doctor Lipton would understand you’ve got to get back to work. Time’s a wasting. You’ve been sitting in this stupid waiting room for an hour, watching the same commercial for Zantrum with a poor guy with the worst case of heartburn you’ve ever seen, like he’s going to die from the heartburn, it keeps repeating over and over and over again. The only other thing to look at is some old woman hacking up half her lung over there. Pass. Hey, you think there’s still enough time to go back to medical school after you get fired? Jesus, Bill, calm down. It’s only-
“Mister Brown. Doctor Lipton will see you now.”
“Finally. I mean, thank you.”
Hey, Doctor Lipton’s looking pretty healthy these days. Tan, a little thinner. “You just get back from Florida, Doc?”
“Why yes, Bill. How nice of you to notice. Come, come, into Room Three. Now, you said you had a bite. Where is it?”
Hey, did I just notice him recoil when I pulled down my pants and pointed to my butt? I didn’t think doctors were supposed to do that. “Woah. Am I okay? Doc?”
He replaces his shock with a smile. “No, no, I mean yes, it’s fine. Just a very angry looking bite. A tick, it says here. Were you in the woods? Did you keep the tick?”
“I was on that hiking trail over near Route 80 this weekend, I guess that’s where I got it. Anyway it… John and I… in the bathroom… it escap… no.”
“No matter. We’ll just take some blood, as a baseline, get you 200 milligrams of dioxycycline, and retest you again in four weeks. Until then, don’t even give it a second thought. Return to your… what is it you’re working on now?”
“Harmon? Why you’ve been working on that since the last time you saw me. That must be over a year ago.”
“Yes. A year and a half. So I’m good?”
“You’re good. Now get back to work. And good luck.”
“With the project.”
He’s smiling at me, but man, he’s scrubbing his hands in that sink like he just touched a leper.
Mmmm. The house smells good. Like garlic and cheese and tomato sauce good. And Dawn’s waiting up for me.
“Thanks for leaving a plate, babe. You didn’t have to. I could’ve gotten take out.”
Wow. I even get a kiss. She’s so good to me.
“I don’t mind. I consider it my investment. In the soon-to-be partner at Taylor, Burke & Brown.”
Ahh, what have I done to deserve her? What happens if it doesn’t work out? “Listen, about the partner thing, just in case-“
“Oh come on, honey. It’s a done deal. You’re such a worry wart.”
Wart. I almost forgot. “Oh, hey. I got a tick on me this weekend. I went to Lipton and he checked me out. I’m fine.”
“Gross. When did you find it?”
“I was in the john this morning, and-“
“You were in John this morning? You two are definitely spending too much time together.”
“Smart ass. I was in THE john this morning. I yanked it off but it got away. I already took my meds though, so it’s all good.”
“Where did it bite you?”
I’m feeling playful. Why not let her see my naked butt?
“OH MY GOD! Honey, that’s not a bug bite. That’s a dog bite! Ewww, you better put a big bandage on that before you ruin the sheets.”
“Jeez. It’s a bug bite. It’s nothing.”
Fuck. Is that the alarm? “Honey?” Nothing. “Dawn?”
She’s not here. Huh. If she already left…. Goddammit. It’s eight o’clock.
Wow, so hard to get out of bed. The hours are finally catching up to me. If I do make partner I’ll probably die at my desk the first day in the corner office. Hustle, come on, Bill, shave, shower, dress, tie – not the red one, I think blue today, grab my shit, out the door in record time — wait, let’s take one last look in the mirror, make sure I didn’t accidentally shave off half my beard. Yup, looking good, Bill. Not exactly in college anymore, but you’re looking good.
Woah. Hold on.
GodDAMN, this is the worst time for something like this to happen. John is sitting in the middle of the conference room, with piles of reports, waiting for me. But this can’t wait. This is some weird sh-
“Mister Brown. Doctor Lipton will see you now.”
Thank God. He’ll know what to do. “Doc. Look at me.”
“You look fine, Bill. Is there a problem?”
“My eyes. Look at my eyes.”
“Clear, white-not-yellow, not even bloodshot with all the work you’re-“
“The COLOR, Doc.”
“Hazel. As always.”
No. Wait. My wallet. Driver’s license. Show him. “What does that say?”
“Blue, Doc. Yesterday my eyes were blue. You just said hazel.”
“Ah, blue… hazel… it’s a very subjective assessment. You see-“
“No! My eyes were blue yesterday, Doc.”
He doesn’t seem concerned. He’s patting me on the back. “Now, now, Bill. Our subjective perceptions can change without our knowing. Did you know that? Our perceptions, from day to day, can alter – especially when we’re under a great deal of stress. You’ve been working quite hard. May I suggest a little sit-down with a colleague of mine, Doctor Weinstein? He’s one of the best in the city.”
“Yes. Come now, Bill, don’t be alarmed. I’m only suggesting perhaps some mild anti-anxietals, just until your Harmon project is completed.”
“My eyes were blue yesterday, Doc.”
He’s furrowing his brow now. I think I pissed him off. He’s rubbing his chin, too.
“I have an idea, Bill. As you may or may not be aware, eye color is determined on a genetic level. Sudden changes like the one you’re describing would require your DNA to change spontaneously, which, I believe, is impossible. But to put you at ease, I’d like to do a DNA test and check it against the baseline we have for you on file. I promise you we’ll have a perfect match. I can even have the results tomorrow if I put a rush on it. Does that sound good, Bill?”
“I guess. I mean, it’s just-“
“Let me do the worrying, Bill. You just get through your project, perhaps call Doctor Weinstein in the meantime, and try to relax. But first let’s get some of those cheek cells, shall we?”
“What? We’re the only ones here in this entire conference room. We’ve been working this thing forever, look at these piles of paper, they’re yellowing, that’s how long we’ve been on this. So you don’t have to say my name when you want something.”
“Look at me.”
He’s looking at me. He doesn’t flinch. Nothing to see, I guess. Nothing in my eyes. Maybe I do need to see a psychiatrist.
“Nothing. Forget it.”
“Tie your shoes much?”
Why is he looking under the table? Oh. My shoe. It just fell off. Huh. But it’s still tied. Maybe not tight enough. Okay, re-tie the shoe, put it on, hang your foot in the air…
“Bill. Quit dicking around. We only have 24 hours until the presentation. And where the hell is that last filing, the one from Tuesday?”
While John’s rifling through the sea of papers, I have to check out this shoe thing. Let’s see what happens when I dangle my other foot.
Okay, so either my shoes just got a little looser, which I guess could happen, or my feet got a little smaller, which I don’t see how that could happen, or someone’s fucking with me, which in this office totally could happen. Yeah, it’s gotta be John. What a good guy. He knows the stress mountain we’re both pinned under, and he still finds time to lighten the mood for me. I might be eating out of a dumpster for the rest of my life, but at least I’ll have a friend.
“What are you smiling at?”
“You. The shoes. You did something to my shoes. Made them loose somehow. That’s a good one. Keep it light. You’re a good guy, John.”
“Listen, I have no idea what you’re talking about, but if it’ll keep you focused and help me find that last filing, sure, whatever.”
John. Poker face. It’s totally him. Prankster.
Ahh, thank God. The bed. Dawn’s warm body next to you. What a long fucking day. First you thought your eyes were changing color, then you had to walk around in clown shoes all day because John thought it would be hilarious to punk you right before the big Harmon deal, which I guess was a good idea because it got you to stop thinking about the whole eye thing, then of course you both worked for fourteen hours straight. The good news is you’ve ironed out the kinks in the deal – maybe. But really? If you’re being really honest with yourself? You’ve only got a fifty-fifty chance with this thing. The flip of a coin is going to determine whether you live in a house on the hill or in a box under the bridge. Man, Bill, just stop. What the hell is wrong with y-
“Oh. You’re up.”
“I was asleep. But you’re tossing and turning. What’s wrong?”
“We’re scared, I guess.”
“You and John? He’s scared too?”
“No. John’s never scared.”
“You said we’re scared.”
“I’m scared. Me.”
“Well, why don’t you go down and have a muffin and some milk. That always calms you down.”
“Yeah. That’s a good idea. We’re still hungry.”
“I’m still hungry. I’m.”
And she’s off, lightly snoring, bless her. She can sleep through anything. And man, I’m dead tired, I should be snoring by now too, but the fridge is calling me, and I can’t get the thought out of my head:
Oh my god.
You’ve never woken up at nine-fifteen. In your whole life. What the hell? The alarm’s been going off for two hours. Dawn should’ve woken you up. She knows how important today is, dammit. But she also knows you never oversleep. It’s not her fault. You’ve got no one to blame for this but yourself. Okay, slow down, Bill, the meeting’s not until one-thirty. Relax. The work is done. Oh, my phone’s buzzing. I’m sure it’s John. Yup, it’s hi-
The meeting’s been moved to ten.
Forty-five minutes from now
Fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck jump in the shower no time to even shave fuck fuck fuck fuck dress, run out to the car, don’t kill anyone backing out, Bill, fuck fuck fuck okay if you step on the gas you can get there in time…
Why is it so hard to reach the gas?
Dawn must’ve moved the seat back, maybe she left her water bottle under the seat again, okay move the seat forward, now gun it, adjusting the seat up so you can actually see out the windshield would be good, okay, okay. Calm down, Bill.
We’re gonna make it.
You mean you’re gonna make it. Singular. You. Not we.
Okay, pulling up to the office, spot still reserved. That’s a good sign. They haven’t erased you yet. It’s not the grand entrance you were hoping for, but if you hustle you can still waltz in to the meeting before anyone starts looking at their watches. Go, go, go.
Why are your pants falling down?
Your belt. Must be in the wrong hole. But… it’s the last hole. There isn’t another hole. Whatever, you don’t have time for this shit, just run. WALK, don’t run, just walk fast. Elevator right to the conference room, don’t say “hi” to anyone, don’t pass GO, don’t collect two hundred dollars. Just get the fuck to the conference ro-
Okay, what the fuck was that? You’re hungry, of course you’re hungry, you didn’t have breakfast. And what’s with the we thing?
Dammit. Okay, swing by the lounge on the way to the conference room, don’t talk to anyone, grab a bagel, stuff half of it in your face and you’re good. We’ll deal with the we thing later.
Moment of truth, Bill. Get that big, dealmaker smile on your face, This is the moment you’ve been waiting for, for a very long time. BIG smile. Good. Now push the conference room door open, and-
Why is everyone staring at me?
Why did John just drop his coffee?
Do I have a booger on my face?
John’s rushing at me like he’s going to tackle me. Trying to be quiet, he’s whisper-yelling, “BILL. COME WITH ME.” He’s got me in a death grip. Looks like he’s taking me to the bathroom.
“What the fuck, John? I wasn’t late!”
He’s pointing to the mirror. “Look!”
Okay, so maybe I should’ve shaved. Let’s see how ba-
OH MY GOD. Bill, what happened to you? I mean, you’re still having the same thoughts you always do, so it’s still you inside, but is that thing in the mirror really you? The eyes are brown. The skin is scaly, sloughing off in little sheets. The top layer of skin. There’s another layer of skin underneath it. It’s brownish, too. And you look like you lost fifty pounds overnight. God, what a mess. “John. Is this what Lyme Disease looks like?”
“Lyme Disease?! Bill, you better get to a fucking doctor. NOW.” He’s trying not to touch me.
“No! The deal! My whole damn life is in this deal! Let’s get back in there, they’re waiting for us!”
“If you walk in there like this, there IS NO DEAL! Look at you!” He’s shaking. “Now I don’t know what the fuck is going on with you, but I’m going back in there to try and save this for both of us, this godforsaken shitshow of a deal, and you better…” he looks sad suddenly. “Bill, do you need me to call you an ambulance?”
“No! I’m fine!” But I’m talking to his back. He’s already gone. I’m shaking too.
He’s right. This thing in the mirror needs to get to a doctor.
Don’t look at anyone, just get to the goddamn car. Hold your pants up for Christ’s sake, that’s the last thing you need is someone thinking you’re a flasher on top of all this. What the hell, your entire suit is billowing in the wind in this parking lot, are you shrinking? Jesus Christ lord, if you’re up there, I could use some help, I think I’m shrinking. Okay, get in the car, step up, adjust the seat closer, one knee on the seat so you can still see out the windshield, all right, Doctor Lipton’s only ten minutes away, he’s-
He’s calling me. That’s weird. I was just thinking about him. Hit the speakerphone.
“Bill. Bill Brown. Is this Bill Brown?”
“Yes! Doc! It’s me. Listen, something’s-“
“Bill! I need you to get here immediately. Your DNA test…”
“What? What about my DNA test?! Doc? Doc? Doc!!”
Bill, stop. You just hung up on your doctor, and you’re doing the voices thing again. Just get to Doctor Lipton, don’t speed, don’t want to get pulled over right now, take it easy…
“All right, enough! Who’s saying that? Who’s hungry?! Who the hell is this? WHO ARE WE?!”
We are you.
Wow. It’s funny how one second you don’t know anything, you don’t suspect a thing, and then the next second it’s all as clear as day. You’re fighting it Bill, you can taste the tears running down into your mouth, you can hear your own screams from far off somewhere, your brain is battling for its life, but it’s clear where this car is headed. It’s like the car has a mind of its own. But it’s not the car. It’s you. You don’t have a mind of your own.
We have digested the host.
We are one.
The host’s vehicle and clothing are being inspected by another.
“Ah, dispatch? Moffet here. At the trailhead to the hike right off Route 80. We found the car. Weird. His clothes are all here. Everything, wallet, keys. What? I mean, I guess he could’ve stripped down and went into the woods. I guess. Jeez, yes, all right, I’ll take a look for the naked hiker guy in the woods. Great.”
We are ready. Smaller than the head of a pin, we are perched at the very tip of a branch, claws grasping at the air. Ready to cling to this Moffet as he brushes by into the woods. He will make a good host.