It begins

Rebecca woke after a night of turbulent dreaming, unperturbed at first to find her feathers unusually ruffled. She had grown them during her dreams, and in her dreams they’d been glossy, and decorated in an explosion of colours from all across the spectrum. She had flown on her new wings to a bar – it looked like the pub she’d hung out at during her undergrad years though her friends from Shadowlands, the much hipper place she went to these days, were all there, so in her dream the two places conflated.

Rebecca’s friends had admired her plumage. So it was troubling to find it now a sad and crumpled version of that of her dream. More troubling still was the dawning realisation, that, dreams or no dreams, a Twenty-seven year old woman, who led an unremarkable life ought not grow wings at all. That feathers belonged on birds. That she was not a bird. That something alarming was occurring.

Her cat Alfred, a placid, neutered tom, growled at Rebecca’s bedroom door.

The bedside radio crackled to life – the normal sign that her work day would shortly begin. The difficulty she might encounter using her keyboard or her phone occurred to Rebecca as she tried to haul out of bed. Her arms and hands had folded across her chest and had been matted over by downy feathers that now held her crossed arms tight. The arms had no strength to break their bind, and she knew, instinctively, that she had woken in the course of their disappearance.

Her attention was drawn to the animated chatter of the radio, which she tuned properly to remove the static she’d been putting up with for weeks. Excited breakfast hosts relayed reports emerging across the city. Unconfirmed accounts declared a woman in North Burton had laid an egg. A man in Averlie rang talk-back to tell listeners of his tail. He described it in great detail, its florid magnificence when he spread it above his head and shook it out. Rebecca stopped thinking about her own predicament, wishing only that she could go to him, the desire consuming every other idea, until the man, who called himself Jim, signed off.

Listeners were advised of an impending address by the Prime Minister. A group of hastily gathered experts agreed events, though alarming, were isolated at this stage. They warned against panic.

It seemed to Rebecca that the warning and the panic were related in some way, and maybe the experts ought to talk to someone who’d grown partway to being a bird overnight before they said such things, even though, as a rule, Rebecca respected experts, and despised people who dismissed what other honest, learned people had to say on matters they knew or cared little about. The radio announced a cross to the capital… Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister…

– R H, March, 2020

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