This is the original short story that I wrote as a teenager (polished up a bit) that inspired my first novel. "Bird" the novel was published in April 2016. I hope you enjoy reading it.
Paul Bird stood in front of the mirror and admired himself. He normally hated fancy dress, he didn’t know why the marketing department always insisted that his company have a party every single year. He’d refused to ever go before, they must be finally wearing him down.
He hadn’t even noticed that costume shop before, although he must have passed it every day on the way home from work. That’s how much he hated getting dressed up in silly outfits.
This bird costume was the one exception. It was quite spectacular, with sparkling red plumage and a satin sheen. How could he say no? And it fitted him perfectly; it was as if it was made for him.
He pulled the top of the costume over his head like a hood and he fiddled with it slightly to make sure the eye holes were in the right place to give him perfect vision. Then he took one last look at the bright costume, like he was modelling it on a catwalk.
It wasn’t like a bird he’d ever seen, and the red faux feathers were neatly complemented by the yellow and green streaks that covered his hands. He stroked the incredibly soft fabric, it felt so comfortable.
The doorbell rang and it was his cue to leave. He placed his feet in the clawed, yellow shoes, shoved his wallet in a little side compartment that he’d found and he headed for the taxi.
The music was pumping as he arrived in the hall of his company’s annual summer party. Bright lights bounced around the walls and the ceiling glistened against the reflection of the disco ball.
It seemed like such a waste of money to him, but he’d been nagged into it by his management team who swore it would be good for morale. The decent salaries he paid, that was good for morale, this was just being greedy.
He glanced around the room for anyone he would be willing to speak to. He hated making small talk with employees, especially when he had no clue who they were. And it was even more difficult on a night like tonight. All he could see was Little Bo-Peep by the bar, Dracula heading for the toilets and Bonnie and Clyde hitting the dancefloor early.
‘Bird by name, bird by nature. You weren’t kidding when you said it was quite a costume,’ a man’s voice said behind him.
Paul turned round to be greeted by a white sheet. ‘Hi Dave,’ he said, greeting the Sales Director.
‘How did you know it was me?’ he laughed.
‘No one else would be so cheap.’
‘This is a masterpiece!’ Dave argued.
‘You haven’t even cut the eye holes straight.’
‘My wife did that. We were in a rush.’
‘Figures. So you like my costume?’
‘It’s nice to see you make an effort!’
‘It’s amazing isn’t it? Here, feel the feathers.’ Paul held out his arm for Dave to feel.
‘It’s not real feathers is it?’
’Don’t be stupid. But they’re so soft.’
Dave reluctantly flicked one of the wings, but he didn’t react.
‘Well?’ Paul asked.
‘Well what?’ Dave took a gulp of his beer.
‘It’s incredible isn’t it?’
‘What?’ Dave just shrugged. Paul couldn’t believe his lack of reaction. The costume felt like nothing he’d ever touched before, it was like silk to the fingers.
‘Pint?’ Dave asked, knocking the last of his drink back.
‘If you insist,’ Paul replied with a smirk.
It was midnight before Paul knew it and he was climbing into the back of his taxi home. It had been a really good night for a change, and he truly had been the spotlight in his impressive costume. Definitely a night to remember.
He got home, more inebriated than he’d planned on being, and staggered straight up the stairs in his detached house, where he lived alone. Heading into his bedroom, he reached round to grab the zip at the back of his costume, but he couldn’t find it. The soft plumage was quite thick and it hadn’t been easy to zip up, but he was sure there was a large piece of material to grab to help manoeuvre the zip. He felt around again, twisting his arms back as far as he could.
He struggled for about ten minutes but there were just too many feathers in the way, far more than he remembered there being. Whether it was the effects of trying too hard or the effects of the alcohol, Paul suddenly started to feel quite dizzy. He lay on the bed, giving in. Meaning to try again in a few minutes, sleep beat him to it and his eyes slowly closed, sending him off into a deep, warm and comfortable sleep.
It was ten thirty on Saturday morning before Paul naturally woke up. He rubbed his eyes and yawned, slowly bringing his hungover self back to reality. He sat up and rested his feet on the carpet – or at least what he expected to be carpet. Instead his bare feet hit a soft, light material. He looked down and noticed a mass of red feathers cluttering his floor. It was his bird costume, destroyed all over his blue carpet.
Paul picked up a piece of the silky fabric and he was taken aback. Not like the night before, it now looked like real feathers. Shiny and red, just like the costume, but in every other way they were real looking feathers.
Paul swallowed. A sharp pain shot up his spine and he tried to make sense of what lay before him. He recalled not being able to find the zip, then that’s all he could remember. Had he ripped it off in a state of panic?
Deciding he was far too hungover to deal with what had happened, he threw his dressing gown on and headed to his kitchen. Despite it being the middle of July, he felt a cold chill wrap around him and he toyed with the idea of turning the heating on. Maybe he just needed coffee.
He filled his kettle and flicked it on and then headed into the living room to take a seat. What was he going to do about that costume? The worry was niggling at him.
He stood up and headed to the mirror that resided over the fireplace. He wanted to take a look at himself, he was feeling a little alien in his own skin. Before he could take a proper look, though, he saw something behind him.
He turned around to see what was there, but there was nothing out of the ordinary. Composing himself, blaming too much drink, he turned to look at his reflection one more time. And this time he got a clear view. This time he saw, with no doubt, a man standing behind him.
He jumped around, ready to defend himself against the trespasser, but again there was no one there. Then terror burst through his soul as he recalled the face. He knew that man, but from where?
He looked back at the mirror, trying to work out why the face was so familiar, but all he could see this time was himself.
Keeping calm, he sat down. Then, like a flash, he remembered. He raced upstairs to grab his wallet. He pulled out a business card, one that he’d been given the day before at the fancy dress shop. That’s who the man was: he was the owner of the shop.
Paul looked back to the floor where the scattered pile of feathers lay. He must be feeling more guilty than he thought. Deciding honesty was the best policy, he reached for his phone from the bedside table and dialled the number on the business card. He’d just pay whatever compensation was required.
‘Hello, Diamonds Jewellers,’ a female voice answered.
‘Who?’ Paul asked.
‘Sorry, I must have the wrong number. I was looking for Desruc fancy dress hire.’
‘Sorry, never heard of it.’
‘Is this 842651?’
‘Yes, that’s our number.’
Paul’s heart started to pound. ‘You’re not at 21 Marking Street?’
‘Yes. Can I help?’
‘Do you know of any fancy dress shops?’
‘There aren’t any around here, I don’t think.’
Paul hung up. His mouth dried and he couldn’t breathe properly. What was going on?
As always in difficult situations, Paul brought his fingers to his mouth to chew on his nails. He’d done it since he was a boy. But as his finger touched his lip he stopped. It felt weird. He moved his hand down to look, and there, under every nail, were sprouts of red fluff.
Things hadn’t improved by Monday morning. The feathers were still scattered all over Paul’s bedroom carpet and he’d tried everything to remove the red fluff from his fingers, but it refused to go. It was as if it was now part of him.
He called in sick at work and tried to find some logic. Should he seek medical help? What had caused this? What had happened to that fancy dress shop? He sat on the sofa in his living room, trying to decide what to do, when he noticed he was scratching his arm. Pulling the sleeve of his sweatshirt up he looked in horror. There, in the middle of his arm, was a bright red feather.
The days passed by and the feathers multiplied. They were now sprouting up all over his body. He’d covered himself head to toe, like he was dressed for the middle of winter, just so he could get some supplies, and then he kept his front door firmly locked, too scared of what might happen to him next. He didn’t know what to do.
His arms were now completely smothered in feathers and he was terrified. He wanted to scream, to shout for help, he wanted someone to make it all go away and comfort him. But he was all alone. He always pushed everyone away and now he finally did need someone he had no one to turn to.
Days turned into weeks and Paul grew more and more frightened. He’d told his work he had family commitments and wouldn’t be around for a while. At least being the owner of the company, no one questioned it. He was so hungry, but his face was now covered in red fuzz and he was too afraid to leave the house. He’d ordered in, just throwing a well covered arm around the door to collect items, but that was now getting more difficult as with every passing day he noticed the world around him getting bigger; and that meant just one thing: he was shrinking.
A month had gone by since the party, since he’d worn that costume. Paul stood in front of the mirror in his bedroom and he felt a sense of déjà vu. In every way it looked like he was wearing that bird costume again, but it was now all completely attached to him. And he was half the size that he’d been before. A tear rolled down the silky red feathers that surrounded his brown eyes, and past the yellow beak that was growing from his face. It was horrific and painful and he had never been so scared.
He didn’t know what to do. He felt trapped in a horrid nightmare that was never going to end.
Every step was like walking on pins and his voice was barely audible. This was like a death sentence and he was riddled with regret. “If only” scenarios fogged up his head but he was lost for ideas as to what he could do. He wanted the world to help him but he was too ashamed for anyone to see.
* * *
‘Paul!’ Dave shouted, banging on the front door of Paul’s massive house. ‘It’s Dave, let me in.’
It had been weeks since anyone had heard from Paul and Dave knew it was time to take action. He’d first of all tried calling Paul’s family, but they hadn’t heard a thing either; not that they seemed very concerned about it. And now standing at Paul’s front door, Dave could see that all three of Paul’s cars were parked on his massive driveway. He had to be at home.
Suddenly Dave heard what could only be described as a squwark from inside the house.
‘Paul, are you all right?’ Panic hit Dave. He knew he should have checked sooner. What if Paul was hurt? He owed it to Paul to check.
The squwark got louder.
Dave banged again on the door, but he knew it was pointless. No one was coming. Something was wrong.
He stepped back in an attempt to knock the front door down, but it wouldn’t budge. It was a seriously strong door. Instead, Paul moved around to the windows. He glared in but he couldn’t see anything.
Then something caught his eye; something moved. Suddenly, flying, as if to greet him, then sitting on the window ledge inside the house, Dave saw a little red bird.
It squwarked at him as if it was trying to communicate.
‘Do you know where Paul is?’ Dave asked the bird, then he rolled his eyes. What was he doing talking to a bird? Then he looked again closer at it. He noticed it had a glistening eye. He looked closer, through the glass of the window, and he saw a tear appear in the corner of the bird’s eye. The droplet then fell to the ledge. The bird was crying. This beautiful red bird in front of him was crying.