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The Halloween Project 2018 Story 8: Growth Spurt

"What the hell is it?" Cullen asked, looking directly into the eyes of Dr. Virzi, the hand orthopedist recommended by his regular doctor. Cullen's right hand poised flatly on a clean white cloth on top of the examining table. A large round lighted apparatus, actually a magnifying glass, hovered over his hand. Dr. Virzi had examined Cullen's hand for almost ten minutes. Palm up, then knuckles up. He had asked Cullen to grasp certain objects, a ball, a cube, clay. He asked him to squeeze, first tight, then tighter still. Several times he turned to look at his computer and the series of x-rays that were projected there, side by side, like a set of transparent playing cards. He took calipers, measured, wrote some figures down. Finally, he looked up. "Well, Mr. Cullen," the doctor began. "Just Cullen. Cullen will do fine. Everyone calls me Cullen." "Alright," there was a moment of polite hesitancy, "Cullen. In all respects, it appears to be exactly what it is. A functional finger, next to your pinkie. And you say it's growing?" Cullen looked down at his hand as if peering at an unknown object. A finger, strong, firm and flexible, about the size of his ring finger, stood alongside his hand, next to the pinkie. His entire hand now presented as broad, widened, more a flat shovel than a streamlined piano hand. "Dr. Virzi. It was not there three months ago," Cullen placed an impassioned emphasis on the "not". "There was a tiny, hard bump down here at the base," he pointed with his left hand to a joint on his wrist. He continued, "Tiny. It had been there for years. I thought it was arthritis or a cyst, or something. I barely noticed it, but then it just began to grow." Virzi looked at him over the tops of his glasses. Studied him. "Doctor, I am telling you it was not there. You can ask my wife. Or my son, my co-workers." "Don't let my skepticism upset you, Mr. Cullen. Cullen. It's just that I'm amazed. I have seen several infants born with an extra finger, always a pinkie. On the outside of the hand. Usually vestigial. Almost useless. In virtually every case the parents decide to have the digit,...the finger...removed early on in the child's life. I have never in my career seen one that grew. I could make a wild conjecture and say that perhaps your finger was there at birth, buried within your hand. You do have big, rather wide hands. Perhaps some genetic code sprung loose and is causing this...," he stopped to find a correct word, "abnormality. Also, it appears to be fully functional, a nail bed, three perfect knuckles, larger than your pinkie by a good bit." Cullen removed his hand from beneath the magnifying tool. He held it up, eye level, between himself and the doctor and clenched into a fist. His hand looked massive, exceptionally large and strong. He opened it and clenched, then repeated the movement once again. Dr. Virzi leaned back in his chair. "It is most amazing. With your permission I'd like you to meet some other specialists. Show my colleagues your hand and finger. Perhaps send you off to Yale, have them take a careful look, maybe do some further study?" "I want it off. Now. Today, if possible. It makes me look like a freak. I walk around with my hand in my pocket all the time. If I forget and someone notices it accidentally I see the look on their face immediately. First shock. Then disgust. It's horrible." "Why now? Why so abruptly?" the doctor asked. "A million reasons. I wasn't sure what was happening. I was embarrassed. Afraid. You name it. But it's horrible. I can't look at myself. I can't shave or I see it in the mirror. I pick up a fork and see it as I try to eat. My kid is starting to freak out about it. I need it gone. I hate this hand, this finger!" "I understand. I really do. O.K. I'll do my best. We'll have to set up a time for surgery. It's not extremely difficult, just very different. We need to do some more x-rays and most likely an MRI on your hand. There are veins and arteries that we need to protect and more than likely re-align some of the bone structure. It appears to originate in your wrist so it's not that easy or quick of a procedure. You may have only noticed it in the last three months, but based on its size, shape and structure I would imagine it's been," once again he slowly found a word, but it didn't truly satisfy him, "growing. For some time." Two weeks later the finger was removed in a three hour surgery. Elaborate bandages for a week, less as time went on. A period of physical therapy with wrist extension exercises, finger strengthening and stretching. Cullen felt great that the appendage was gone and within six months the slim, lined scar that extended down the length of his hand to his wrist was barely noticeable. Life returned to normal. It was about a year later that Cullen noticed a small nub, barely a protrusion on the outside edge of his left wrist. And another on the base of his right foot, outside his pinkie toe. This can't be, he thought, this just can't be. But worse, far worse, were the changes he noticed a month later that seemed to be developing above the bridge of his nose between his eyebrows. There was clearly a small bulge, growing larger, bit by bit, every week, swelling. At first it resembled nothing more than a pimple or raised skin. But within a short time the bone of his skull had softened. Eventually the hardness of that bone disappeared about an inch round. It was replaced with a distended surface, the size and shape of a marble. The bulge transformed into a circular mound. He could press lightly on he protrusion and feel a bulbous, soft, viscous material, encapsulated by a tight membrane just beneath the skin. Above the bulge a small extra hairline was beginning to grow. An eyebrow. Clearly it was an eyebrow. #