Living in the dry cold climate of the northeast, my husband and I are used to dry skin. We buy organic lotions and chapsticks to help, but this year was by far the worst. As always, when fall descended and the air began to bite, a layer of dry white chalk formed on our hands. The small wrinkles and lines deepening and growing angry from dehydration and cold.
For the first time in our history, my husband, Pat, had it worse than me. The skin on his hands grew red and itchy. It got so bad that his skin would turn angrier with each week, the red dry areas growing larger and larger as fall turned to winter.
A few months ago we were holding hands and I noticed that the knuckles of his right middle finger were enlarged, coarse dead skin bulging from each joint.
“I think you have warts, love.” I said, bringing his hand to my face and examining his skin.
Pat shrugged, his tone flat as he said, “Nah, it’s just eczema.”
I began to notice special medicated lotions appearing around the house. I wasn’t concerned, it was just lotion that he bought over the counter. No harm no foul. I didn’t think much of the situation until a little later when we were making dinner together.
“Jesus fucking Christ!” I cried as I looked down. Pat was stirring the pot of boiling water, his hand loosely gripping the wooden spoon. The knuckle of his middle finger was now covered in a huge calloused mass of dead skin which expanded over his finger and the top of his hand. “That things the size of a friggin’ golf ball!”
He looked nonplussed. “Yeah, I’m gonna go have the doctor look at it soon.”
“Does it hurt?!” I asked incredulously, looking closer at the skin with a morbid curiosity. The skin was firm, rough, and white. I had plantar warts as a young adult and I remember the clusters of hard pale circles that formed at the bottom of my foot, the surfaces of which were uneven and often cracked. Though if what was on Pat’s hand was warts, it was the largest cluster I had ever seen, the warts stacked clumsily on top of each other instead of in the mostly flat pattern I was used to. Stacked like boulders forming a rocky mound. The mass gave as I pressed my finger into it but nothing came out from the folds of dead skin.
“Ewww! That’s so fucking nasty!”
“Thanks honey, I love you too.”
“Sorry, it’s just… so gross.” I poked at it again.
“Would you cut that out!” He swatted at my hand. I returned to my sauce shaking my head. At least he was going to have it looked at.
One night as we were watching TV, I noticed Pat playing with something out of the corner of my eye. I turned to see what he was up to and found him poking at the mass with a pencil. I leaned in closer to get a better look. Pat was oblivious to my presence, his attention completely occupied by what he was doing.
The mass had grown almost twice in size. It was as if someone cut a tennis ball in half, glued a bunch of barnacles to it and stuck it on top of his hand. The skin was similar to how I had last seen it: layers and layers of dried, dead white skin. As it grew, however, I noticed that the skin was pulling away in areas, giving the mass small opening. To my horror, Pat was poking the tip the pencil into the largest of these holes.
“Oh my god, what are you doing!?” My voice came out high and shrill. Pat jumped in surprised and looked at me, his eyes wide.
“I’m just scratching it.”
“That’s disgusting!” He shrugged and continued to poke the pencil deep into the hole. I grimaced. “Aren’t you going to have that looked at soon?”
“Yeah, I’ll make an appointment tomorrow.” The pencil dug into the hole and I felt my stomach turn.
“God, please stop that.”
“It itches!” He insisted. I narrowed my eyes at him and he sighed, reluctantly putting down the pencil and grabbing some medicated lotion from the shelf.
That night I awoke to a noise. My sleepy mind ran through the rolodex of noises that might wake me: a cat knocking something over, a bang at the door, my dog’s bark. Slowly I began to realize it wasn’t something loud or startling. It was a squishing, wet noise. And it was coming from right beside my head.
I sat bolt upright and turned on the light. Pat didn’t stir. Ever the fast sleeper, his snores continued at a steady pace.
We had been spooning, Pat’s arm crooked at a 45 degree angle so his hand was beneath my head. Shock washed over me as I looked where my head had been. Was the mass on his hand… moving!?! Bending over to get a closer look, I saw that it was throbbing. Amazed, disgusted, and entranced, I held my breath as I watched. No, not throbbing. It was pulsing in waves. The mass wasn’t moving as one but in sections, the holes made by dry skin pulling at itself stirring and pushing upwards on their own. There was something inside the holes. Something moving. Something with eyes.
My screaming awoke Pat with a start. He looked around himself in bewilderment, his eyes wide with panic. I continued to scream, pointing at his hand accusingly. Pat looked down and his screams joined my own. He jumped from the bed and ran to the bathroom as I followed.
We stood at the mirror no longer screaming but watching as Pat poked at one of the holes with a pair of tweezers. His teeth clenched, Pat fished inside, the dead skin of the opening ripping at the corners with the force.
The tweezers stopped and we stood in silence as Pat slowly began to pull. Between the ends of the tweezers was a tiny greenish brown head. I gagged, unable to take my eyes off of it as Pat finished pulling it out with one quick tug.
A tiny toad like creature fell into the sink. We stood stunned with abject terror as we watched it move slowly around the white porcelain.
“Oh god. Oh god. Oh god!” Pat said, the sentence filled with more horror with each repetition. I looked up. The openings were now twitching as more toads squirmed their way out.
I stepped back, suddenly dizzy as tiny toads began to fall from his outstretched hand. Before I had time to react, vomit erupted from my mouth, landing on the floor with a wet thud.
Pat, shaken from his shock by my retching, thrust the pair of tweezers violently into the mass of skin, stabbing himself and the toads still inside. Blood and green puss began to flow from his hand as he continued to stab.
Sobbing, I ran to the bedroom, grabbed my phone, and dialed 9-1-1.
An ambulance came and Pat spent the evening at the hospital. They removed the mass, but we never received any solid explanation for the toads. A specialist from some university came and asked a bunch of questions. She even came to our house to collect as many “specimens” as she could. She asked if we had ever heard of the Suriname sea toad. I tried to research it on my own but the second the videos appeared in the search results my stomach threatened to explode. The image of those toads squirming from Pat’s skin will haunt me forever.
I’m writing this because I noticed a rough, red, itchy patch of skin on my chin today. Maybe it’s from the recent dry weather. Maybe I need to moisturize. Or maybe… Maybe those toads were contagious.