A Gnat Rat is bad.

Tick was about to bolt away when he heard a loud click like the sound of a gun being cocked. He looked in shock at the ominous toy. A small door slowly swung open on the Rat’s back side.

Then little things started flying out of it.

Light or no light, a son suffering from insomnia or not, Edgar couldn’t ignore the call of nature. He finished washing his hands in the bathroom, flicked off the light, and stepped back into his bedroom. Trying his best to be quiet so Lorena could sleep—though he probably could’ve danced around the room with cymbals on his knees and blowing on a trumpet and she would’ve remained dead to the world—Edgar walked through the room and into the hallway.

Sure enough, it was Tick’s room with a light on, and an odd mechanical hum echoed out his door and down the hall. Did he get some new gizmo I don’t know about?

Edgar had taken only one step forward when he heard the boy scream.

Tick shrieked as dozens of winged, buzzing little drones flew out of the Gnat Rat in a torrent like a pack of raving mad hornets. Without exception they came directly at him, swarming around his body before he could react, attacking, biting, stinging.

Tick swatted at them, slapping and hitting his own body, dancing and kicking, yelling for help. Pinpricks of pain stabbed every inch of his skin, under his clothes, in his

hair; the mechanical gnats were hungry and Tick must’ve looked awfully delicious. Panic shot through him in a rush of adrenaline, his mind shutting down, offering no ideas on what he should do.

He heard his bedroom door slam against the wall.

“Atticus!” his dad yelled.

But Tick couldn’t look at him. He’d squeezed his eyes closed, scared the gnats would blind him. They were relentless, attacking him over and over again, their sharp stingers finding fresh spots to hurt him with a frightening ease. Overwhelmed by pain and fear, he fell to the ground.

He felt his dad gripping his arms, dragging him across the floor and out of his room. Down the hall, into the bathroom. He heard the rush of water in the bathtub.

Dad, he thought, wanting to warn him, but afraid to open his mouth. They’ll eat you alive, too.

It hurt too much to cry. Tick felt like he’d been taken to an acupuncture school and the overanxious students had given up on the little needles and decided to use knives instead. His whole world had turned into one big ouch. He’d never felt so hopeless.

His dad heaved Tick off the floor and plopped him into the tub, splashing the cold water all over his pajamas, his skin, his hair. Though his whole body felt racked with pain, Tick sensed the gnats leaving him in hordes even before he’d landed in the shallow pool of water.

They’re machines, he thought distantly. They run on electricity. The water would kill them.

An angry buzz filled the bathroom, but Tick couldn’t bring himself to open his eyes. He heard a towel whipping through the air. His dad must be trying to chase the gnats away and out of the room. Horror filled Tick’s stomach as he realized the vicious gnats might be going for his sisters, his mom.

“Dad!” he yelled with a slur, his mouth swollen. “Kayla! Lisa! Mom!”

And then he passed out.

“What were they?” the doctor asked. “Where did they come from?”

Edgar didn’t feel like talking. Even if he did, he had no answer for the man.

They stood in a curtained-off section of the emergency room, surrounded by the sounds of medical machines beeping, the murmur of voices, the squeak of gurneys rolling along the hallway; a child cried in the distance. Everything smelled of ammonia and disinfectant. It was all extremely depressing.

Edgar stared down at his son lying on the bed, eyes closed. Every inch of the boy’s body looked red and puffy, pockmarked with hundreds of black dots. Lorena and Lisa cried in the corner, clutching little Kayla in a three-way hug. Edgar felt certain his heart had broken into two pieces and was slowly sinking to his stomach.

Tick had always been a lucky kid. Edgar liked to joke that Tick had been born clutching a rabbit’s foot. When Tick had been only five years old, the family had taken a shopping trip to Spokane and Tick had darted for the middle of a busy road, already two steps past the curb before Edgar even noticed. Even as Edgar had sprinted to save his boy, he watched in utter horror as a huge truck, blaring its horn and screeching its brakes, seemingly ran right over Tick. Edgar would never forget the scream that erupted from his own throat at that moment, an alien sound that still haunted his dreams sometimes.

But when the truck passed, Tick stood there in the street, untouched, his hair not so much as ruffled. It had been nothing short of a miracle.

Then, a few years later, the family had gone to the coast for a summer trip, enjoying a rare hot and sunny day on the Washington beach. Tick, showing off his newly discovered body-surfing talent, had been swept away by a sudden and enormous wave, sucking him out to sea. The current pulled the poor boy from the soft sands directly into an area of jagged, vicious rocks nearby. Edgar and Lorena barely had time to register the shock and terror of what was happening before they saw Tick standing on a jutting shoulder of stone, waving with a huge smile on his face.

Or the time he fell off the big waterslide tower at Water World Park, only to land on a pile of slip ’n slide tubes left there by a family eating lunch.

The stories went on and on. They never talked about it; Edgar was afraid to jinx the whole thing, and he had no idea if Tick even realized anything out of the ordinary was happening. Kids rarely do—life is life, and they know nothing different until much later.

But despite all that he’d seen of Tick’s narrow escapes, Edgar couldn’t help but feel the panic rising in his chest. Had the boy’s streak of luck finally run out? Would he survive this—

“What happened?” the doctor repeated.

“I don’t know,” Edgar mumbled. “A bunch of bugs, or bees, or gnats, or something attacked him. I threw him in the bathtub, shooed the things away with a towel. They stayed in a tight pack, and when I opened a window, they flew right out.”

The doctor looked at Edgar, his expression full of doubt and concern, eyebrows raised. “You shooed them away?”

“Yes, I did.” Edgar knew the man’s concern before he

said it.

“But you—”

“I know, Doctor, I know.” He paused. “I didn’t get stung. Not once.”