's 2014 Horror Write-off:

" The Bumps "

Submitted by Evan MacNeil

Moles. That's what people had. That's what he'd had, at least for most of his life. Not these. These were...bumps. Not zits or pimples, not blackheads. Not welts. Just bumps. Raised bumps. Like the dimples on a plastic drink lid.

They start subtly enough. There was one by his left pinky knuckle on Monday. Two days later, one by his index knuckle. He thought nothing of it. Flakes of dead skin or minor bruises, perhaps.

But they didn't leave, and they didn't stop coming.

He went to a doctor a a week or two later. By then his left hand looked like a bee had used it for target practice. The doctor examined the bumps under a magnifying glass.

“Are you allergic? Have you eaten peanut butter, shellfish, anything like that, recently?”

“No,” he said.

The doctor nodded. He poked one. “Skin tags. Or lipoma. That's all. It's benign.”

He left, went home. Tried to sleep. That night he felt his hand tingling and by the next morning there were two more. The back of his hand was numb. It felt hollow. He poked them himself. They were solid, it seemed. Almost stiff.

He interrogated his co-workers. Who was the one bringing in peanuts and shell fish? But nobody was. He tried to brush it off. But the bumps kept growing. One day, he saw one appear. It was as if something had poked the skin from inside. Over the next few days, the numbness turned into a throbbing. Not painful, exactly, but not easily ignored.

He looked it up online. He found articles on scarifying practices among African tribes which produced similar bumps. They signified things like beauty, purity. But these couldn't be scars; there was no injury to cause them.

He went to other doctors. No new answers. No treatments. He went to libraries and investigated rare illnesses. He found cases of people with baseball-sized growths on their necks and twins absorbed into their bodies. But never something like this. So consistent, so subtle.

One night he took a piece of paper and sketched his hand. He drew out the placements of the bumps as well as he could. By now they were going down the back of his wrist. Based on the sketch, he drew the bumps as simple dots. Close to a grid but not quite; there were frequent separations and gaps between them. He tried to graph them, tried to match them to famous mathematical sequences. Fibonacci didn't work. Nothing to do with pi. No pattern. No visual design. But he worked out the layout: eight bumps across at the top, with a growing number extending down the side. More than three never grew straight down at once, but there seemed to be no limit on how many might appear horizontally, so long as they didn't exceed eight across.

But in the end, he hadn't figured it out. He went to sleep still troubled, and found himself gripping his own hand. Could it be dangerous? Deadly? Was he mutated? Diseased? His felt his hand from knuckles to wrist. He stroked his fingers across the back of his hand, eyes closed. His fingertips travelled across the bumps like small hills, like the humps of a sea serpent emerging from the waters only to disappear again.

Then it clicked, and he raced to the book store. It was almost midnight, but he caught them before closing time. He scoured the shelves, picked up a dozen books on braille and spent all night studying.

Then, as if he were some wartime code-breaker, he did his best to transcribe the bumps. He carefully felt each, worked out the divisions between cells. He read over each with his eyes open and then closed. Once he was reasonably certain he knew what was what, he wrote it down.

He rushed recording the message until it was done, not wanting to waste any time. When he was finally finished and had translated his entired left arm to the elbow, he sat back and read over the paper.

He gulped and put it down again, shaking, then began to cry.