VM: Spring Bank
16 May 2025 (04:51)
They say it was solar flares that did it. That changed us. But since when did the sun or radiation or whatever turn your clothes into your skin? Maybe it really was God teaching us a lesson, or the Devil having a bit of fun.
And no, we didn’t wake up like this. It wasn’t a midnight, cosmic ray revelation. It was bright and sunny, blue sky, birds singing––perfect for a lazy day off work. There I was mooching about in my onesie, trying to decide if I could be bothered to make toast, when it happened. 11:06. There’s one of those digital clocks on the cooker. I remember staring at it as my skin itched into fur. Black lines cut across my chest, black bobbly bits sprouting up like scattered currants. Don’t know what the ‘bandolier’ is for, but it tickles when I touch it.
You guessed it yet? That’s right, I’m one of the Onesie Losers. A knock-off Wookiee to be precise. My flatmate, Sophie, is a pink unicorn, complete with a surprisingly sharp horn, and her boyfriend is a big bad wolf. I’m just glad my onesie didn’t have a hood or a tail. Still got my own spiky chestnut hair and nail-bitten hands, but my feet are thick-furred, thick-soled and clawed. Saves on footwear, right? Might have to skip my next pedicure—joke! Do you know how many different onesies there are? I didn’t. Forget all the cuddly predators, we’ve got everything from Elmer Fudd to the Dark Lord wandering the streets.
Onesie Losers for sure.
So, this is me, pacing the bare floorboards of my flat, checking out the street below every time I pass my curtain-less windows—let’s face it, fibres, synthetic or otherwise, aren’t exactly popular these days—recording my thoughts on this crappy phone. It’s supposed to help keep me sane, or so says the latest government guidelines. Worth a try.
Ah, there they go. Our local clutter of bug-eyed midget spidermen, chasing each other across the bonnets of abandoned cars on their way to the park. At least kids still know how to have fun.
The Dog-Collars claim—no, not the ones who got caught in spiky collars and leather shorts, the other type, you know, all clerical and that––they claim we got what we deserved. They’re busy calling for everyone to repent, filling their churches with people on their knees wailing for forgiveness. I gave it a try—yeah, I was that desperate—sat on the back row, watching them Dog-Collars swishing around the pews like a murder of crows. Read that in a book somewhere or was it a Sting lyric? But crows is about right, carrion crows. People fool enough go into those churches don’t always come out again. Me, I’d rather trust them in the spiky collars, at least that’s a kind of truth, laid bare for all to see.
We’ve all got our crosses to bear. That’s one of Ma’s favourite sayings, or at least it used to be. In those first weeks, everyone was wild-eyed crazy. Looking for something or someone to blame. Turns out there were monstrosities even us monsters couldn’t abide. The Slug-a-Beds and Couch-Potatoes didn’t last long, ripped to shreds or starved out. Still makes me shiver. If it’d happened on a Saturday morning instead of a weekday, that would’ve been me melded to my duvet or whatever. Freakshow free-for-all, that’s what they called it on social media. Afterwards, the Suits declared the slaughter ‘a necessary culling’.
Gives us a lie to hide behind, I guess.
Those of us still left look near enough human: head, arms, legs all in the right places. Some of us are lucky enough to have our own clans, but most are odd-ball unique. I mean, all I’ve got to contend with is fur and my freaky ‘bandolier’. Most of you out there, with your skirts and scarves; trousers and boots; jackets, hoodies and hats. All part of your body. All performing some kind of function. All freaking different.
It’s kind of gross when you think about it.
The Suits did some things right. Got the power on and the networks back up. Social media rallied, reformed, let us hook up with our own kind. As of now, there are 2,305 Wook-alikes scattered across England, Scotland and Wales. We don’t hear much from across the water. Just snippets about riots in Europe. Word is Northern Ireland got swallowed up by their southern neighbour in the ‘Change’. That’s what the Suits call it. Not panic/carnage/end-of-the-world chaos that trashed streets/cities/lives. Yeah, the Suits haven’t changed much. All those idiots in suit-and-tie at 11:06 on a Wednesday morning, making their announcements twice a day on the single working tv channel. It’s OK until you spot their ties twitching, like cocks trying to poke you in the eye while they ejaculate rhetoric on the New Order.
Speaking of which, time to check ReBuild. The new government app glitches half the time, but it’s the only way to get paid work. It’s full of adverts for volunteers to help in the search for a cure. No way I’m signing up to be prodded and poked by their ‘teams of dedicated researchers’. Don’t care how much they pay.
VM: Walton Street
18 May 2025 (03:29)
On my way to work. The usual building site grunt job—the fur came with muscles. Not many office-type jobs available these days, and even if there was, no way a Wook-alike would get a sniff. The Suits and Skirts have got the cushy jobs nailed.
Surprised at the number of people out and about this early. Glad I’m not the only one muttering into their phone. We’re all hanging on by the skin of our teeth/nails/claws.
The local market looks busy. You know the one, down Walton Street, used to be a huge carpark? They call it a market, but really it’s just a sprawling patchwork of wooden pallets piled with junk. You never know what you’ll find amongst the looted belongings of the poor sods who never made it. Not clothes, though. Never clothes. When the Change hit, some tried covering up with coats and scarves and the like, ended up with a whole new layer of weird to their bodies. I see them sometimes, shuffling around. I was lucky—bolted straight out the door, never thought to grab my coat or anything else.
I miss my combat boots, my jeans, t-shirts, all of it. But clothes are an ‘anathema’ or so says every social media feed. Street bonfires devoured every last scrap. That was all right, had an almost party feel to it, helped bring what was left of the community back together. But then all that outrage turned outwards: clothes shops, shoe shops, charity shops, they were the first to go, burned to the ground by jeering crowds, egged on by clergy-types shouting about sin and the devil. You know how it went down. One thing led to another, until, when everyone stopped to take a breath and look around, nothing much was left.
There’s a real mix scavenging around the market today. The Aprons are all right. Just got to be careful, they’ve got a real stinger in those apron-strings of theirs. The PJ Brigade are a pain-the-backside, swanning around in silks and satin, with their brushed-cotton hangers-on. A group of Party Girls had just sashayed in—not as rare as you’d think at 11:06 on a Wednesday morning—it’s worth stopping for a look. All that skin, real skin, the skin we remember, on show. Don’t get me wrong, they can look after themselves. It’s something to do with the way they smell. When you’re up close, breathing in that warm, soft scent, they’re the ones calling the shots.
That’s not true for the Skins. Naked as the day they were born. Yeah, we still say that. Rare, they are. Kept safe. Kept secure. Fed, watered, admired. Put on show. People––I guess you can still call us people––pay to have a look, maybe touch, if you can afford it, just to remember what all-over skin is supposed to feel like, you know?
I paid up, once. Made me cry.
Better get a move on. The foreman goes ballistic if any of us ‘fur balls’ are late. At least I’ve got my Wook-alike clan—online and now in my flat. Didn’t take long for Sophie to move out; not to share her gruff wolf’s lair, no way, but to find her ‘soul-mates’, aka other pink, fluffy unicorns with killer horns. Go figure. A couple of Wook-alikes, Havel and his partner Kofi, moved into her room. Real nerds, the both of them. Into all that Star Wars stuff. Spend half their time complaining about their fur: it’s not long enough, not shaggy enough, blah, blah, blah. It was a onesie, idiots. Be happy with your soft, curly fuzz. I got my onesie from a charity shop, bought it because it was cheap and promised to be warm.
Just realised, does that mean I’ve got second-hand skin? Keeping that to myself.
VM: Spring Bank 2
25 May 2025 (01:38)
It’s been a week. Supposed to record something every day, that’s what they said, ‘process your emotions’, or some such rubbish. Well, I’ve got emotions a plenty to process right now.
I’m still sweating, heart thumping, on a proper high. Pacing my room, trying to settle. Havel and Kofi aren’t helping. I can hear them shouting at each other in the living room… something about a ‘Sky Walker’ and ‘trouble’. Well, I had trouble of my own. I was down the market, just rifling through a box of reclaimed phones, wondering if I could afford to upgrade, when I heard shouting from the market gate. A handful of the Lost were trying force their way past the two Wook-alike guards.
The Lost are too weird even for the Goths and the Punks: all writhing chains and those stupid 3-D t-shirts: fanged mouths drooling where your chest is supposed to be is never a good look. If I had my way, I’d call them the Eaters, but another group snapped up that title, obvs.
The Lost charged the gate. I stepped in to help my Wook-alike brothers, or possibly sisters; it’s hard to tell. Chains lashed out, trying to pin my arms. I dragged the grinning youth straight into a jaw-crunching punch. The guards slapped down a couple more. Shoulder-to-shoulder, we snarled at the Lost. A full-chested, throat-ripping, roaring kind of snarl. It felt great. The Lost backed off, shouting and swearing.
I never used to snarl, the urge crept up on me, just like the muscles.
No army patrol near the market. A stroke of luck, that. All those soldiers stuck in their green-and-browns, marching around, shouting orders, like they’re in charge. Well, OK, they are in charge, or at least they do whatever the Suits tell them. They stopped the looting, I guess. If requisitioning everything that’s not bolted down counts as ‘keeping the nation safe’.
VM: Spring Bank 3
1 June 2025 (05:34)
Now that I think of it, Star Wars has a lot to answer for. We’ve got a bunch of Jedi-types swaggering about, calling out the Vaders and generally making trouble. They’ve got their own territory around Bank Side. Havel and Kofi go there sometimes, they say it’s great, that they really fit in. Me, I’m not too sure. Don’t like the half-wild, half-desperate look in their eyes when they stagger back in the early hours. The Vaders are different, keep themselves to themselves. I guess they know how it’s going to go down if they tangle with the Jedi-types. I’m keeping clear of the lot of them. That’s not for me, whatever ‘that’ is.
For once I’m following my ma’s advice: best keep off the streets at night.
Speaking of my ma—was I in for a surprise. Back when it first happened, when the panic took hold and I poured boiling water from the kettle over my hand just to prove to myself I was dreaming. I wasn’t. When I’d stopped screaming and ripping away clumps of fur, all I wanted was to run back home. I tore out of the house, racing through grid-locked streets, past smashed up piles of smoking wreckage. You remember that, right? It’s all a bit of a blur now—still gets to me sometimes, mostly at night, or if I doze off, or anytime I close my eyes for more than five seconds: that beetles-under-the-skin sensation, heart hammering fit to burst, hot-needles in the back of your eyes. You looked in the mirror expecting to see blood running down your cheeks and found a monster staring back at you.
Soz, we’ve all been there.
Right, my ma. Well, I gets there, battering at her door like I’ll cave it in, and she opens it with a ‘what’s all the fuss about?’. At first she looks no different: flowery skirt, old cardigan that she knitted herself, hairnet to keep her perm in place. I step inside, sobbing. She steps back, gives my onesie a critical once-over. Her skirt ripples around her knees and keeps right on rippling; the cable-stitch in her cardi pulses, like fat veins full of blood; when she frowns, her hairnet flexes. But it’s her glasses that really freak me out, frames twisting as the lenses contract and expand, magnifying the contempt that I’d tried all my life not to see. And then she says it: ‘I’ll not have your kind under my roof.’
I was eighteen when she threw me out, with the ‘no daughter of mine…’ speech shouted in my face. Came home to find all my clothes in black bin liners by the front door. Couch-surfed for a while; finally got a flat-share, a crappy office job, a bit of space of my own, you know, where I can think. And then, Wham! I’m a Wook-alike. I still squat to pee. No tits though, not that I had much to start with. Like I said, the fur came with muscle, everything else just kind of flattened out. I don’t miss them, if that’s what you think. It’s just… it’d be nice to know for sure, you know?
I’ve never felt like a girl. Never felt like a boy, either.
I was a freak before the Change hit.
It’s gone quiet in the living room. Either the boys have gone out, or they’re in their room, busy making up. Safe enough to take up my post at the living room window…
…Yes, there she is. I love to watch as this woman—the big, chunky type, her new ‘skin’ all green and gold, sun-on-leaves, that’s what it reminds me of––I love to watch as she goes through her daily routine. When the Change hit, she must’ve been wearing a square-necked and short-sleeved top with a skirt that went straight down to her ankles. She glides along the pavement, feet criss-crossed with gold, toes peeping out. I envy her all that lovely black skin on her arms. Every day she moves up and down the street, on the sunny side, stopping here and there, before settling into place. I think maybe she’s looking for someone. Closing her eyes, she smiles up at the sun, her head-tie unfolding like a sleepy cat, spreading out into a green-and-gold halo. It shivers and shimmers and the woman smiles even wider, and I smile back even though she can’t see me. Joy just seems to burst out of her.
A Sun Sipper, according to Havel. Seen it on the news, he said. She was so happy, I said. Just wait until winter hits, he said. And then Kofi started going on about all the freaks that dodged the culling, that it was about time someone did something about it. I don’t get it. I mean, has he looked in the mirror lately?
We’re not supposed to say ‘monster’ or ‘freak’ or ‘weirdo’ anymore. The Suits say we’re all the same underneath, that everyone should receive equal and fair treatment, and more importantly, that everyone should work equally hard. They’re always banging on about it:
<We must pull together to save our country. To save the world! Anti-social behaviour will be stamped out.> Cue gif of military boot.
And pics like: Suit kisses cute tiger cub; Suits-with-fixed-grins linking arms with members of the Lost; and my favourite, Suits surrounded by a pack of growling Old Biddies as they hand out food parcels.
We’re all the same underneath. I guess that’s true. Still as bigoted and mean as ever. OK, not totally fair. But not far off, either. I’m still waiting for that ‘silver lining’ Ma used to harp on about every time I used to gripe. Maybe she finally got hers. I mean, she’s not exactly house-bound anymore. Those Old Biddies really get about, lurking in groups of two or three on street corners, cackling at passers-by.
VM: Spring Bank 4
10 June 2025 (00:59)
Whispers of a so-called ‘cure’ are doing the rounds. Not the crazy claims that circulated in the first few weeks and months, but stories about underground labs and cutting-edge science. Their strapline is popping up all over the place: ‘Shed your skin. Find the real you.’
Not sure which of those two options is the most terrifying.
Posts on ReBuild insist there’s no cure. Or if there is, it’s years off. Accept your lot. Work hard. Pull together. Might’ve believed it if the Suits didn’t keep contradicting each other. Don’t see them pulling together or working up a sweat on a filthy building-site.
I put my shifts in and keep my mouth shut. The actual construction workers, with their hi-vis skin, like to shout and lord it over us ‘fur balls’. But they don’t push it too far, not since one of them had his yellow bobble-head popped off by, as a newscaster put it, ‘a deeply offended Wook-alike’. The Jedi-types stumped up bail and the Wook-alike walked.
The Army stomped around a bit, but eventually gave up. After all, us ‘fur balls’ all look alike.
VM: Spring Bank 5
17 June 2025 (01:08)
It’s all over the news! A Cure! An actual Cure! Not for us, but for the next generation. The news presenter is grinning ear-to-ear… have a listen:
‘All type-1 females of child-bearing age will be pinged with an appointment to attend a pop-up clinic in their area. The vaccine, which will need to be administered every six-months, will ensure that all babies are be born as God intended.’
Hey, shift over. Can’t believe how much space you two take up. Come on, Havel, scrunch up a bit.
‘Look at the newscaster’s tie, it’s going to get stuck up his nose any second!’
Shh, the pair of you, I want to catch this last bit:
‘Time to save the world, ladies. Go forth and multiply!’
Get those stupid grins off your faces. Yes, you Havel. And you Kofi. I swear, if you two could have kids, there’d been little bundles of fur toddling all over the flat. No, I don’t want a hug. I’m going to my room… I said, no!
Yeah, yeah, I know. It’s not their fault. Wook-alikes count as type-1. I should be happy, right? According to the scientists there’s enough of us with ‘matching genitalia’ to make inter-breeding doable. When the Change hit, it was bad. I know that. Women miscarried; babies died. Like I said, end-of-the-world stuff. But we’re still here. I’m still here. And there’s no way they’re turning me into some sort of baby factory.
VM: Spring Bank 6
30 June 2025 (00:16)
I’ve been ignoring the pings. And the stack of reminders. I’m tempted to delete the ReBuild app, but then how will I get work? Can’t avoid the news, though. There are posters plastered everywhere: on rusted fences, the sides of buildings, on crumbling bus shelters.
I don’t know what to do.
VM: Spring Bank 7
5 July 2025 (00:21)
The boys were cuddled up watching re-runs when the programme cut-off for an emergency announcement: As of midnight, Sunday, only females fully committed to the ‘Babies for the World’ scheme would have access to ReBuild support circles, job boards and the sketchy but still crucial health clinics.
I stomped around the flat, punched a new dent into our crappy chrome table. It didn’t help.
VM: Princes Avenue
19 July 2025 (00:31)
Last night, Havel came home alone. Seems Kofi decided to stay with the Jedi-types. Havel sniffled and then cried in my lap. Kofi was the love of his life, Kofi was a two-timing traitor, Kofi was this and Kofi was that. I’d started to tune it all out when Havel swiped his tongue along my ‘bandolier’. Nipples I didn’t know I had hardened in unexpected places.
So, that’s what it’s for. Should’ve guessed.
I shoved him off, slapped him down. Havel shuffled off to sob in his room.
Right now, I’m stalking the streets. At night. Yeah, so what? Anyone messes with me, they’ll regret it.
VM: Humber Street
22 July 2025 (01:23)
It wasn’t easy finding this place. There’d been hints on some of the more controversial threads about a clinic that offered more ‘bespoke’ work. I called in a few favours. They led me here. Now I’m pacing around a shabby excuse of a waiting room, trying to convince myself that this is the right thing to do. Pacing. I do that a lot. Does it help? No idea.
Sold my stuff, handed over every penny, my savings, the lot. All I’ve got left is my fur and my phone. And pretty soon I won’t even have the fur. Guess I’m committed. Can’t imagine them being big on refunds.
Here we go. A lab-coat type just pushed through the swing-doors. He almost pulls off ‘the scientist’ look, but then his tie jerks, and I see his ‘lab-coat’ for what it is: coarse rumpled skin dotted with gaping, pocket mouths.
He’s headed straight for me. I’m going to leave the voice recorder running. You never know.
‘Caroline, is it?’
‘I’ve got you down for a standard re-fit. A popular choice.’
‘Yeah, choice, that’s what it’s all about.’
‘There’s no need to look so worried. SK453 is our latest synth-skin design. Durable. Waterproof. And, most important of all, Change proof.’
VM: Humber Street 2
25 July 2025 (02:23)
That lying, two-faced, vicious …I can’t believe what he did! According to the nurse, that sadistic whoreson should’ve sedated me from the get-go. If he shows his face in the recoup-ward, I’ll teach him what pain really means!
Wait, got to get my breath back. I’m not supposed to get too excited. Don’t want them to take my phone away.
This is how it went down. I followed that lab-coat along the corridor, claws digging into the lino like they didn’t want to let go. I’m not stupid, I knew there was a risk. I mean, no-way they’ve had time to properly test this stuff.
Should’ve just punched him in the head and made a run for it.
The next door was white and metal and made a hissing sound when it opened. Inside was all white too. Just one white-on-white chair in the middle. Sit, he said. What choice did I have? He rattled around behind me; said, you’re lucky, you get to keep those muscles. He didn’t even ask if I was ready. Just shoved this gun-shaped thing against my arm and psshht, it was done. Hydraulic pressure, he said, no messing about with needles. The chair tilted back, sides sliding into place.
It was like lying in a coffin.
I sneezed and then stared at the blood on my hands. My fur came off in clumps. And the hair on my head, my lovely natural hair. It dropped onto my chest, tangling with ‘bandolier’ nubs as they popped and oozed. Claws cracked and peeled away. It was agony. I couldn’t move, could barely draw in enough breath to scream. Lab-coat just watched, eyes bright, lips twitching.
When it was done, I saw that the Suits were right: we are all the same underneath. The same raw flesh, the same bright blood, the same squirming muscles attached to the same aching bones.
A gurgling sound filled the metal coffin. I blinked and then cursed. Or tried to. The skin on my face had peeled right off too. Just sluicing away the dross, the lab-coat said over my coughed-out screams. A new face stared down at me. There was shouting, words edged with a fury sharp enough to cut through the agony. Lab-coat disappeared. More hissing, a bite of ice; for an instant it burned… and then the pain ebbed, flowed away like the light, like my thoughts.
SK453. Durable. Weatherproof. Like a raincoat. Or a tent.
VM: Queen’s Gardens
4 August 2025 (01:55)
You’ll never guess where I am. Sitting on the roof of the abandoned college building, overlooking Queen’s Gardens. Too dark, yet, to see much. Like the quiet, though. I did a course here, feels like an age ago: Media Studies. Fancied myself as a bit of a creative. Life soon put paid to that. But now I’m my own creation. Or I will be.
They kicked me out the recoup-ward, said they needed the bed. Looks like I’m not the only one dodging the ‘baby factory’ job title. Someone’s sure raking it in.
Shed your skin. Find the real you.
Sure, I shed one skin and wrapped myself in another. The real me? Still working on that. My new skin is plastic-smooth, like a one-piece doll’s suit. Durable? We’ll have to wait and see. Waterproof? Hopefully. Not a hair on my body, anywhere. Feel like one of those shop window mannikins, before they’re dressed up in the latest fashion. Now all I can think about is that old Dr Who episode where the mannikins smashed the shop windows and came out guns blazing. Yeah, I’m a fan. Or I used to be. The Army lot still have guns, though I hear they’re running low on ammo.
Sun’s coming up, a red rim over the black huddle of buildings off in the distance. Up here, it’s like I can feel the world turning. Change. That’s the way of it. Time to let go. Let go of everything.
Ouch! Since when did sunlight sting? Feels like static electricity… Oh, no. Not Change proof. Not Change proof. You liars! Feels like my new skin is melting. I can’t! Not again! Beetles-under-the skin, all over my body. Hot needles inside my skull, pricking… pricking… feels like my eyes are bleeding—
VM: Queen’s Gardens 2
4 August 2025 (00:25)
Looks like I survived the latest Change. Not sure how much time has passed. Sun’s overhead, so a few hours, I guess. My skin’s gone all grey and rough and sort of rubbery. A bit like those outdoor rubber gloves you used to get in garden centres. Trying to screw up the courage to take a picture of my face. Nah, maybe later. The sun feels good, though, all warm and toasty.
Ooh, hungry, more like ravenous. Hang on a sec…
VM: Riverside Quay
12 August 2025 (02:14)
It’s been a busy week. I’m on a boat, crammed in with a handful of others—all different, obvs, with their own reasons for risking the crossing to France. Me, I’m looking for sunnier climes.
Remember that Sun Sipper? Well, turns out I’m more of a Sun Slurper. This new skin of mine just loves the stuff. It’s all I need to keep me going. I’m fully charged. Ready for anything. And you’ll never believe this… I can charge my phone just by holding it. Cool, right? Almost fried it on the college roof that first time. Standing there, arms raised, phone forgotten in my fist, soaking up that warmth, slurping and gobbling ’til I was fit to bust. The phone rang, snapping me out of it. Just in time. Its case was sticky hot and the battery at a hundred percent. Took a bit of practice, but I finally figured it out. Got to be careful, though. Just let a little sunshine out at a time.
Who was on the phone? That was the clinic, upping their offer of compensation for the ‘unfortunate incident during my treatment’. Ha! I took their money. Not allowed to say anything about what happened, but… well, how else was I going to pay for this boat trip?
France is just a staging post. I’m going to travel the world. Keep to the hotspots—there’s plenty of them these days—maybe find other sun seekers along the way. I tried trolling social media for ‘SK453’ hoping to find more like me, but the few that dared use the tag turned out to be more Barbie than beast.
We started with the same synth-skin, but exposure to the world Changed us in different ways. It has to be more than just the type of fibres the skin was made of, or the environment around us when the Change hit; it’s something to do with us, as an individual, as a person. I’m still trying to work it out. But now I have hope. I’m filled to the brim with light. I know why that Sun Sipper smiled and why I couldn’t help smiling back.Inside I feel warm, whole, grounded. I can’t keep the smile off my face. Some of the others on the boat have thawed enough to smile back. It’s a start. They’re an odd-ball bunch, every one of them unique. But, you know, when it comes right down to it, it’s what’s inside that really counts.
Susan is a science fiction and fantasy novelist and short story writer. In her spare time, she works as the Review Editor for the BSFA REVIEW (the online magazine of the British Science Fiction Association). You can find her publication history on her web page: https://susanmayoke.com/
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