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June 20, 2018

24. Osteitis deformans preciosa

Feathers, pebbles, and dust peppered the floor. Pedestals of mahogany and oak littered the space. A perfect light flooded through windows on the north wall, painting it with the sun’s warm gift.

A falcon watched from a corner, glazed eyes unmoving. A weasel curled around a dry limb, frozen in time. A fox stood relaxed on all fours, it’s haunch in rest, its eyes gazed into nothingness.

Tom felt his fingers pull back, tightening across the back of his hand, opening his palms—a tension he’d never felt before and couldn’t describe, even to himself. It wasn’t painful but it wasn’t comfortable either. It only lasted a moment but stuck with him for days. What a strange feeling.

Taxidermy is a compounding of the Greek words taxis and derma, which translates to “arrangement of the skin”. Stuffing and stitching the dried flesh and reforming what was once natural and beautiful into a new man-made work of art: a facsimile of nature in a grotesque and statuesque fashion.

In the following days Tom felt his tongue in his mouth, dry and swollen. Maybe dehydrated, he thought. But an ache in his spine made him worried. His fingers stiffened. He was too young for arthritis. In his early thirties he was too young for any illness. Age—mortality—had never been a thought. Even in his livelihood of reviving the dead into an immortal and perpetual stasis.

Tom’s taxidermy studio was in his home. Rather his living space was in his studio. Nonetheless he stepped out of a warm and calm shower, dripping wet and naked. His toes touched cold marble and retracted—mimicked his fingers: starting at his toenails and pulling up, in an unnatural way toward the top of his foot. This time a slight pain accompanied the odd experience. After only a minute his toes and feet relaxed and went limp and normal. He clenched his toes and took a breathe. He thought again of his fingers and hands and made fists, some attempt at grasping reality.

Now eased and prepared to work into the night, his fingers thread the delicate eyelets of tiny scissors. The art of thread and needle was a love language for Tom. He stitched and cut and suitured and mended and remade the animals into beautiful statues.

This time the curling did not stop. His fingers pulled back across the dorsum of his hand. Simultaneously his toes did the same over his feet. His wrist bent back and wound up his forearm and further up his bicep, a curled mass of malleable bone and respondent flesh. He was on his knees quickly and then his back. No thought of screaming crossed his mind—he was alone. In pure helplessness his arms became rolled dough and his legs bent up and into his torso. To Tom it seemed to drag on for ages as he watched himself succumb to this odd and fatal malady. Truly it took only moments and was complete: a walnut-sized mass of pure ivory lay in the polished mahogany floor.

A falcon watched from a corner, glazed eyes unmoving. A weasel curled around a dry limb, frozen in time. A fox stood relaxed on all fours, it’s haunch in rest, its eyes gazed into nothingness.

This story takes direct influence from The Afflictions by Vikram Paralkar. In his short work, Paralkar writes about fictitious diseases and maladies in a fascinating world. One such disease is Osteitis deformans preciosa, wherein the afflicted suffers from their bones curling and rolling inward so much that their whole body becomes a walnut-sized nugget of concentrated bone mass—just like Tom.t

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