The suburban matrix was still and quiet and not in the usual way. There were no young mothers pushing prams with smartphones tucked precariously under chins, no hyper focused elderly trundleing along the pavement on burgundy mobility scooters. The streets, lawns, the driveways and cul-de-sacs were devoid of all human activity. There were no cars turning corners, or children on bikes circling each other or any movement of any kind that would indicate life in the red brick hive.
When Wendy Norrish walked into her father’s terrace house in Manford Close, she felt a pang of fear she had never experienced before on her weekly visits. She twisted the yale key he had given her and pushed the front door slowly open with the usual creaking. She untied her paisley headscarf and pushed it roughly inside the pocket of her puffy, pink, ever-so warm coat. Despite being a grown adult, Wendy shrank a little at the thought of her elderly father, she became more timid in stature. She always made a little plea to herself, in her head, to resist his abrasive nature.
Since the bus ride from her village, she had become suspicious that maybe there had been an evacuation of this outpost town, like it had endured a local attack from a warring community nearby. It would hardly surprise her, all the locals ever seemed to talk about was borders and boundaries, the result of being cooped up together like chickens in a battery farm. The bemused bus driver even made a joke about it as she alighted to the main road that cut through the estates like a dividing line.
“Dad!” she shouted with bellowing, shameless volume.
There was no reply, just the tick-tock of the oversized wall clock in the narrow, gloomy hallway.
The décor was from the sixties, faded, ancient, like time had frozen and made the place stale as a result. There was yellow and orange wallpaper, beige petal lampshades, three ducks on the wall in flight, yet for all the outrageous colour and form it felt lacklustre and forgotten. A small, tatty Union Jack had been recently pinned on the wall with nails as if it were a crude statement of intent for any visitors. She sniffed the air loudly, almost snorting. Through the door to the kitchen, she could smell something musty and out of place, like food that had begun to fungus over.
She shuffled in and shut the door behind her, eyeing up the landing at the top of the stairs like she suspected a waterfall would gush down it any second. She could sense something was out of place. Usually, her father would be complaining at her by now, saying something short and offensive despite her clear, tireless efforts to support him.
“Dad!” she shouted, almost angrily.
She put her Tesco shopping bag down, with its tins and jars and the obligatory loaf of bread. Something was in the kitchen, she could hear it. There were small sounds, like micro movements, little slurps as if something were shifting in slime.
Her father was not a great cook. ‘Women’s work’ he would often growl as he stared at the open box of eggs with confusion. He was what you might call, conservative. His favourite topics of conversation were ‘those immigrants’, ‘wufters’, ‘youths’ and ‘bloody lefties’. She imagined he may have spoiled a meal and left it there to fester, in a foul, miserable temper. He liked to leave messes for others to clear up, a strange kind of cruel control. It was something he would do once in a while, one of his many little games to prove he was the Alpha. Once Wendy had to cover her nose as she peeled the crust fringed gunge of an abandoned four-day old omelette off the pan, whilst he sat in his favourite armchair in the sitting room, shouting profanities at a news story. She helped him regardless of his tantrums and his put-downs and his tirades at reasonable people. Why? She realised, in reality, he was deeply unhappy, and that made her sad too.
“Dad?” she said, this time softer as she turned the corner.
Her heart seemed to spike in shock at what greeted her.
There, in the corner of the kitchen, attached by silky threads to the larder door, was what appeared to be a five-foot silver cocoon with a broad girth, sitting in a puddle of gloop.
The outer layer was a little translucent, and there was a dark shape within, moving now and again, just an inch or two as if adjusting for comfort.
She stepped back and gripped the worktop edge with her hands behind her.
On the kitchen table she noticed the local Gazette’s headline.
Bizarre Rain Over Northfields Baffles Residents.
This was a news story from two days ago, she remembered laughing about it and rolling her eyes when her neighbour, the ever-lingering Mrs. Holdridge, gossiped it was the topic of discussion on the daytime show, Loose Women. The story was something about long blue rain that seemed to stick and then vanish on the skin. No one knew what it was or where it came from. Some said it was supernatural, some said it was pollution, Wendy had presumed it was all a ‘storm in a teacup’ or sheer nonsense.
She let out a small squeal of horror as the harder surface at the top of the cocoon cracked open and transparent goo spilled over from the break, in waves, like a lightly boiled egg chopped too low with a spoon.
From the bulbous sac emerged two long unfurling leathery wings, life blood still inflating them as they stretched and arched out into the kitchen. They glistened with the juices coating them. From the centre of the coccoon, from under the wings, an elongated head craned out like someone taking a breath after a deep dive in the ocean. To her shock she recognised her father’s face, but it was different, his nose squashed like a cat’s, the eyes darker, oval and much larger. There was next to no hair over the head and the pale skin revealed a patchwork network of red throbbing veins under the surface. A weird glow, a light, seemed to emit from within the skull.
“Dad!!! Oh My God…. Dad?”
The face smiled back at her, slowly, deliberately and with a voice that seemed younger, deeper, with enormous spell-binding gravity, the thing that was her father replied.
“Wendy… Do not be afraid…”
“I don’t understand…”
“I have transformed. I have grown in every way. It is a gift from the rain…”
The beast clambered awkwardly out of the shell, like it was being born but as an adult.
“I understand what has happened to me – it’s in these new memories. My DNA has been altered and improved. Metamorphosis is a gift from another race. I have bigger thoughts, kinder emotions, like I have absorbed knowledge and experience from other creatures wiser than us.”
“You’ve never said the word ‘metamorphosis’ in your life…” she whimpered. “How!? Just how is this all real?”
She was quivering with shock.
The creature was now uncurling its spine, rising up to seven foot tall on its legs that were jointed like a horse. Its arms were muscular, and strong, nothing like her father’s feeble, skin-hanging framework of bones. She was aghast at its nakedness, at the long hair that slicked about its body in contrast to the nearly bold skull. It was terrifying and it was talked to her, like she was its daughter. It could not be her father, it simply could not.
“The rain. It falls to worlds’ as a vapour, passes through sentient creatures, drifts into waters until it is in the weather, and that is when it can change beings, completely. I am still your father, but better, I am much better now. It absorbs all and changes all, but it collects the good things, the best emotions, words and memories and wisdom, it is the collector of light, the best of thoughts and flesh from a thousand worlds, including ours…”
Wendy stepped slowly toward the hallway, backing away from the figure looming above her.
“Please don’t hurt me, Dad…”
“I will never hurt you again…” it said, which surprised her.
It flapped its wings free of the slime and they knocked over a stack of unwashed saucepans on the worktop that had been left there, and a glass that shattered into a hundred shards. As the creature turned to survey the noise and clutter, Wendy saw her opportunity and ran for the door. She expected teeth to sink into her neck, she expected a monster to chase her outside, and yet it did not move from the kitchen, as if respecting her panic and need to be away. She knocked the flag from the wall and almost tripped on the shopping bag in her haste to escape.
By the time she was in the drive, it was clear other creatures were awakening and moving about inside and outside their homes in the close. Some were children, some were adults, all were animals with wings, hooves and bodies like towering demons from a nightmare. They held such strength. They each stared at her, she was different. They were almost in pity it seemed, like she was unlucky to have missed the transformation. It was after five minutes of breathless, wheezing running that she realised none were taking chase, they just watched her, like she was a relic of older times, bumbling helpless like a lamb without a clue, across the tarmac roads of the transformed town.
Above her head she could hear the beat of wings and by the time she reached the bus stop, they were filling the air, a flock of beings flying, untethered from the shackles of their three-bedroom houses and mortgages, their financed cars, their clothes, their TVs and mobile phones and the stacks of bills on their side tables.
Wendy slowed down, she was too tired to run anymore anyway. The last thing she wanted was a stroke for her troubles and so she found the courage to sit down on the long, thin, uncomfortable bus shelter seat and stare at the spectacle of the great migration. Where were they going to? Did the beasts even know?
It was like they were just flying away without concern, evolved, spirits of the air now, not the land, going out to explore and witness and be at one with nature. Her father was among them, a huge animal of power but seemingly more gentle in his evolved body and mind, than he had ever been previously. She could not believe it, but somehow as he gracefully flew over her and waved, she found the courage to wave back and even smile, whilst gasping at the sight of a thousand suburban angels taking to the air without fear or prejudice. For a second, she realised, it looked like the purest freedom.