Timothy Albert Shike was small for his age. Puberty had yet to seize him in its hormoned grip, and he appeared even younger than the rest of his sixth-grade peers -- fragile, wide-eyed and slightly nervous. He loved to read stories of fantastic and future worlds and cherished quiet summer afternoons squirreled away in the solitude of his room. He tried to love sports for his father Max's sake, even though they both knew he wasn't any good at them. But most of all he loved to pick.Eight or nine years ago, I got a mosquito bite on my ankle. That's nothing odd for someone who lives in south Florida; the little bloodsuckers down here seem drawn to exposed skin like iron filings to a magnet. But what proved noteworthy about this particular bite was how badly it itched. From first light to day's end, it was a tingling torment that crawled all the way up to my calf. Scratching would bring a little relief, and only a little. You can guess what that led to -- more scratching. And even more scratching. And more scratching still. Sometime around the ten-day mark (to which I awoke with fingers already digging into a patch of very raw flesh that hurt quite a lot but no longer even remotely itched), I realized I was no longer seeking relief from discomfort. I was creating discomfort for no rational reason and nurturing a nasty little addiction in the process. That germ of a thought slowly festered into "Picker."
Scabs brought joy to Timothy the way a dessert rich with crème and cocoa does to a canny gourmand.
"Picker" is the grossest story I've ever written, hands down, no contest. It left a beta reader speechless. It made my wife cry with revulsion. My mother likes to pretend that I never penned it. How ironic, then, that it was first-ever short fiction sale. Storyteller: Canada's Fiction Magazine picked it up and then promptly ceased publishing. (I like to pretend that the two events are completely unrelated.)
All joking aside, I'll admit that the story is an unpleasant read, raw in its subject matter and repellent in its over-the-top conclusion. It's meant to be. Addiction is ugly, and too often we justify away our self-induced agony. But I've lost family members to substance abuse that seemed small at the start and had mentors jailed when their sexual peccadilloes swelled into something monstrous. I wrote "Picker" for them. I wrote it for me. I wrote it for all of us in our human frailty that needs constant reformation.
"Picker" appeared in volume 12, issue 4 of Storyteller: Canada's Fiction Magazine. You can download a pdf of the story by clicking here.