I Don't Think I'm Okay
- Nick Manzolillo

I knew I shouldn’t have touched it. I didn’t know how long the bones had sat there in those wet leaves, being licked clean by every kind of animal and bug imaginable. There was something fascinating about those antlers that stood out more than I’d seen on any live deer or moose before. I wanted them, if only to bleach and hang in my room. Maybe show off to a bunch of kids in the school parking lot. I didn’t know you could catch something from handling dead animal bones. I didn’t know I could potentially ruin my whole life by playing with something I shouldn’t have.

I wasn’t wearing gloves, despite it being in the low thirties. I like to tell people that I’m challenging the winter, come the end of March, but in reality I was too lazy to put on a hat, gloves, even my waterproof boots that always have to be double knotted. I held one side of antlers up to the sun, and I felt fine. Not the slightest tingling, as I carried them home, leaving them in the garage so as to not freak my mom out. After I got inside, took my shoes off and made myself a snack, I figured I’d just bleach the antlers the next day, and went about my usual schedule. I was watching Netflix when the pain started in the centre of my palm.

I thought I’d strained myself doing pushups that morning, so I ignored it. Then my wrist started aching. The pain travelled up to my elbow and then my shoulder. It came and went, like little dumb ants walking along my veins. I took a hot shower, figured I’d feel as good as new for a while, and I did, until after dinner, when the pain started in my other hand, then both hands, finally reaching my shoulders, my collarbones. That’s around the point I really started getting nervous.

My parents told me it was nothing, that’d I’d strained myself and to calm down. I took a second hot shower, and the pain and tingling went away. Until I was about to go to sleep. This time the paint went to my chest, reached up along my jaw. I ran to the bathroom and stared at myself hard in the mirror. I was fine, I told myself. Then I held my hands up and saw the black marks where my skin was peeling away like charred ash.

I washed my hands and kept poking the marks, which didn’t react to the pain. There was only that general throb along my arms, chest and neck. My cheeks began to tingle too. I kept telling myself how if I had just worn a glove, I’d have been okay. I continued washing my hands and eventually all the black flakes of skin peeled away, and the palms my hands were back, although much paler than before. I debated waking my parents up, but I didn’t want them to tell me it was nothing. Didn’t want to be made fun of for being jumpy. So I did the next best thing and went online.

A flesh eating disease seemed like my best bet. I puked after reading a few articles that seemed to confirm this, and then learned that there was just as much of a chance that I didn’t have the symptoms. I typed in ‘touched animal bones in the woods and now my skin is peeling’ and got some better responses. One was that I had early signs of the bubonic plague. The other that I had somehow caught leprosy. Then I learned that touching dead things and catching leprosy was just a myth. I read about witches setting traps for those that would steal from the natural world. I learned all about the different types of bacteria and viruses, and how they can persevere with the best of microscopic life. How they can seep into your skin through the most innocent of touches and never, ever leave you alone. Some even spread right to your heart and kill you within months. Doctors, let alone parents, are useless. Misdiagnosis runs rampant throughout the medical world, affecting nearly a quarter of all patients, according to some statistics. I ran to the bathroom.

My skin was growing paler, I was sure of it. The tingling was over my eyebrows now, twitching along my nose and even my ears. It was settling in my stomach, too. I began to cry so I woke my parents up and they hadn’t seen me cry in years. I was about to graduate in a few months and how I was reacting bothered them. My dad took me to the hospital. Along the way I told him about the bone. He told me he had no idea what it could be.

My blood pressure was checked, my blood was taken and the doctor didn’t seem to care since I wasn’t bleeding. I was told I was going to be fine, that I couldn’t catch anything from the bones. That flesh-eating diseases don’t work that way. ‘But we’ll run your blood through a few tests, just to be sure,’ the doctor told me. I began to doubt everything he said. He wasn’t sure, after all.

It was late by the time my dad brought me home and while he tried to comfort me, he seemed grumpy. Seemed to indirectly accuse me of being a hypochondriac.

The next morning I woke up and my skin was gone. I was covered in blackened flakes and in place my flesh was flayed, right to the bone. A grinning skull met my face in the mirror, my eyes stinging, bright red, my hair somehow still in place. I began to hear a drum beat, primal, calling from the woods, but that was just my own heart. With my remaining clumps of skin trailing across the floor behind me, I then tried to figure out how to live the rest of my life. All I could focus on was how my exposed jaw, a skull’s ever-grin, made it seem like I was laughing.