I suppose the trouble really started at the cusp of Spring. Shane spent too much time working in his yard and got a nasty sunburn. Normally he would wear a hat but the weather was so nice that he failed to realize how long he had been outside. It wasn’t long before the ugly burn on his bald head started to itch and peel.
His wife Isabel lectured him on the dangers of skin cancer but he knew about that already. Ideally she would have reminded him BEFORE he got the sunburn. It wasn’t a conscious refusal on his part to wear a hat. It just boiled down to forgetfulness and not putting two and two together. The impact of the direct sun never dawned on him until it was too late.
After a couple days, he fully expected to be over the burn but it continued to vex him. He would be scolded every time Isabel caught him scratching it but the aloe and calamine lotions just didn’t seem to take the terrible itching away. Other topical ointments didn’t fare any better so at Isabel’s request, he scheduled an appointment at a dermatologist. The big ‘C’ was always looming in the back of his mind like a boogeyman. With the pronounced sore spots on the crown that were not going away, it was getting harder and harder to ignore.
The doctor examined the two conspicuous bumps but maintained a professional composure. His general expression was mostly noncommittal, but there was a slight hint of concern in his eyes. Shane picked up on his ‘tell’ and nervously inquired if it was some form of melanoma. The doctor smiled and did his best to reassure the patient that there was no real cause for alarm. Shane had played enough poker to know better. Isabel was never going to let him hear the end of it. That is, until he died a gruesome death from the insidious disease! His mind spiraled out of control at the malignant prognosis he was surely about to receive. The doctor sensed the patient’s imagination was on overload and sought to calm him.
“I’m pretty sure it’s not any form of skin cancer, if that’s what you are worried about, Mr. Riggs.”
“It’s not? How can you be so sure? You just examined me for a couple minutes.”
“Well, I WAS trained in Medical school to recognize the various forms of malignant dermal conditions. It’s what I do. Honestly though, I’m not sure what is causing this yet. I just know what it is not. Different forms of skin cancers are very distinctive. In my twenty years of professional practice, I’ve seen them all but your issue is deeper than the skin. Your scalp is irritated from underneath.”
It was a short-lived sense of relief. Feeling like he escaped the frying pan while plummeting to the fire below, Shane’s temporary feelings of relief sank. Just because it wasn’t skin cancer didn’t mean that it wasn’t something equally serious. His fears kicked back into overdrive and his stomach soured. “It was probably a brain tumor”.; He decided.
“We’ll need to do some X-rays but whatever is causing your irritation is below the skin. I’ll know more then. Please try to relax. It’s possible that your sunburn just caused some sweat glands to get stopped up. When that happens, the ordinary sebaceous fluids and oils we all produce can’t drain through the pores. It’s probably nothing. Just sit tight and a nurse will come and take you down to the machine.”
The roller coaster of euphoria and panic made him nauseous. It had been an infinity since the X-rays were taken and yet no one had came to advise him of what it told them. The paper seat cover in to the examination room crinkled annoyingly. The courtesy magazines were three years old. The worst part was that he felt like a pervert sitting in his examination gown for such an extended period of time.
Finally the doctor came in with a man in a lab coat. The doctor introduced the new person as his radiologist. Thinking that he was finally about to learn his fate, Shane bristled when the two medical professionals seemed to hem and haw for an extended period of time. Finally in exasperation he demanded that they cut to the chase.
“Ok gentlemen. Stop stalling and let me have it. Is it bad? What did you find out?”
The two men looked at each other and fell silent. Finally the doctor spoke up. “Mr. Riggs. I am referring you to a bone and skeletal specialist. I think they can offer more insight into your condition at this time.”
“Wait. What condition? What did my X-rays reveal? Is it serious?”
“You um, have unexplained calcium deposits forming at the site of your two sore spots. These bone spurs are pressing against your scalp and, if not removed, will possibly lead to… horn-like growths on the top of your head.”
Of all the horrific scenarios floating around in his head, Shane never even dreamed that could be a possibility. He sat in stunned, awkward silence facing the other two men. Finally he formulated an appropriate response.
“Bone spurs? Sticking out of my head? Why would…”
The radiologist interrupted. “I’m sorry sir but we just don’t know much about your condition. The bone doctor we referred you to is a specialist and will be familiar with any similar cases and a suitable treatment regimen.”
“Treatment? Any ‘remedy’ that doesn’t completely remove these ‘horns’ from my head will make me look like a goat, or deer… or a steer!”; Shane spat in elevated agitation. “I don’t want to look like some sort of friggin’ Minotaur! Cut them off immediately!”; He shouted.
“It’s not that simple, sir. Whatever genetic abnormality that caused them to start forming will probably continue, even if they are surgically removed. Dr. Harrison may have pharmaceutical treatments available to prevent them from further progress through the scalp. Surgery would just be a temporary fix. Please go immediately to his clinic for a consultation. I’ve written his office address on a card for you.”
Shane’s mind was spinning and he couldn’t stop rubbing the spots. The unmistakable points of horns were starting to breach the surface of his scalp! To add insult to horrible injury, the dermatologist prescribed a child’s ‘tooth medicine’ to deaden the breakthrough discomfort.
Isabel called his cell twice to find out how the dermatologist appointment went but he let it go to voice mail. How would he be able to explain ‘antlers’ breaking through the surface of his head? He almost wished that it was skin cancer. At least that was curable if caught early enough. He wasn’t even sure if there was a scientific term for ‘devil horns’.
In an effort to prevent embarrassing stares, he pulled his hat down to be extra secure. All it would take is a strong breeze to ‘out’ him and garner unwanted attention. The tips of both horns were clearly through the skin and they showed no signs of slowing down. Now that the skin was breached, they seemed to have less resistance to ‘sprout’. Depression filled his mind at what had initially started out to be an ordinary sunburn.
By the time he was called back to an examination room, his horns were protruding more than two inches above his skull. They causing his hat to awkwardly ‘tent’ above his head in an almost comical fashion. Despite what the dermatologist said, Shane was desperate for them to be removed surgically to regain his sense of normalcy. He had come to grips with being bald on top as an unfortunate side effect of age but this was just a bridge too far.
On the third or forth attempt, he finally answered Isabel’s call. She was worried that he hadn’t answered but there was no predicting how she would respond to his new situation. In an effort to minimize the news, he tried to spin it as the skin doctor had.
“Sorry I haven’t called you back before now, hon. As it turns out, I have some rogue calcium deposits growing under the skin that are irritating my scalp. Because it is bone related, they have sent me to a specialist about surgery to remove them. I’ll know more after Dr. Bates takes a look at my X-rays. I think they are about to call me into an examination room. I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
He hung up before she had a chance to start asking questions. He just didn’t have the strength to deal with reassuring her at the moment. It was all he could do to hold himself together. The horns were now three and a half inches tall and at least two inches thick. He imagined himself resembling a Hollywood horror villain. Isabel kept trying to call back so he switched his phone off. He needed to come to terms with his freak condition before he could deal with her.
“Mr. Riggs, come on back to the exam room. The doctor can see you now.”
Shane sprung up from the waiting room chair and almost sprinted through the doorway. To say he was anxious, was an understatement. “Thank you for seeing me on such short notice, Dr. Bates.”; He said. “This all started today and frankly, I’m more than a little bit freaked out about it.”
“Sure. Dr. Morris is an old colleague of mine. He advised me briefly of your situation. I’d like to examine you and run a few tests before approaching any treatment solutions. He surely advised you that if your condition is genetic, removing the protuberances will not solve your situation. We need to determine what is causing it. Go ahead and disrobe for me.”
“Why do I need to take off my clothes? The ‘calcium growths’ are on my head, see?”
“I need to do a full body examination, DNA, blood work and complete set of X-rays, Mr. Riggs. I suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg. Do you have any other areas that are painful or ache? We need to examine any instances of discomfort.”
“Doc, I just want these damn things removed! Can you help me out?”
“Please don’t think that I’m not sympathetic to your plight Mr. Riggs but this isn’t just going away on its own. We need to understand what caused it and what further changes you may undergo. These may not be the end of your metamorphosis. I see that you appear to be having trouble standing. Do your legs or other extremities hurt?”
Mr. Riggs legs were clearly changing in size, density and shape. His legs were slowly becoming covered with thick, curly ‘fur’ and his toes appeared to be fusing together. In just a matter of minutes, his kneecaps reversed until they bent in the opposite direction. His horns spiraled up and out of his skull like a sinister ram and his ears elongated until they bore no resemblance to human. Before both their eyes, his feet morphed into hooves and his tail bone sprouted a goat-like tail.
In only a matter of a couple hours, Mr. Riggs strange transformation was complete. From the midriff down, he was a mythic faun-like creature with cloven hooves and forked tail. His chest and arms remained humanoid while his head seemed to split the difference between his former self and the popular Roman depictions of Pan.
His blood work revealed a genetic transformation of unprecedented magnitude. Shane was changing into something else. Something brand new. Isabela tracked down the bone specialist and demanded to see her husband but she wasn’t prepared for what she saw. How could she be? He had left their home as a middle-aged man with a troubling sunburn. The creature that stood before her was only half human. The other half almost defied description. A Satyr-man was the closest comparison that anyone could offer.
Shane was inconsolable during the initial stages of his bizarre metamorphosis but over time, a strange calm overcame him. He finally accepted his curious transition into the unknown. A top team of scientists studied his foreign physiology and DNA to unlock the mysteries of what exactly he was. Their research however led to some very unexpected conclusions.
“Mr. Riggs is an unwitting pioneer. Despite appearances and popular opinion, he is still 100% human being. He’s the first of us to undergo the next stage of human development. Much like a caterpillar transforming into a butterfly, his advanced DNA signaled that it was time for the next phase of our evolution. In a very short period of time, all of humanity will undergo a nearly identical transformation. He’s just the first, ladies and gentlemen. We’ll all be following him into the next stage of our collective development.”