When the first few made their complaints to their doctors, they were dismissed - it was a psychiatric pathology, they said, an obsession.
But then the numbers grew - hundreds of people, all suffering from an infestation and the itch that came with it.
Their reddened skin, their sores, the growing desperation in their eyes...Still some dismissed it as in their minds, but others tried to solve the mystery.
Just an overactive itch reflex, said some - your body wired to imagine unreal insects, your mind concocting explanations to match. A few brave researchers, immune to the mocking voices of their peers, determined to look a little closer, if only to prove to their patients that this was nothing, all in their mind.
What they found blew their minds:
Tiny fibers - setae? spines? Something like the irritating urticating hairs of an insect thrusting up through their skin.
And they moved.
The hairs twitched, waved...and sometimes travelled across the surface of the skin to create a new lesion elsewhere.
Samples were taken, biopsies secured.
The hairs seemed attached to nothing...but then what were they? Were they left behind by creatures that had as yet escaped scrutiny? Were they tiny fragments of irritating fibers?
Tests were done - the objects were examined under microscopes, chemical analysis was done, and meanwhile those who suffered endured the unending itch, the sense of something moving just under their skin.
Tests were inconclusive. Some dismissed it - it was little sharp fragments of animal hair, of nylon, of cotton, they said. But others said: yes, some of them are, but others...
There was too much silicon, strange chemical ratios, results that didn't match any database...
But these researchers were ridiculed, and they struggled to get funding to find out more.
And meanwhile, the earliest patients were beginning to change again...