SOUND IT OUT, STOCKTON-ON-TEES. 2008.
Sixteen-year-old Matty Thompson was in his favourite record store with his best friend Doug. Matty was flicking through the records, hoping to find a gem, but not sure what exactly the gem would be. Techno? Rap? Hip-Hop? Pop? He didn’t mind, and that was what was fun about the record store, Matty could lose himself and explore new artists and genres that he would never find looking at Amazon, or by listening to the radio.
They had been in there for an hour already, but the owner Tom encouraged people to stay for as long as they wanted. He wanted people to have a look, and Sound It Out did feel like a second home to Matty because of it. Everyone went to the record store: chavs, emos, disco lovers, metal heads – and lovers of every type of music. However, it was highly populated with men. Seeing a woman there was quite surprising.
Matty’s best friend, Doug, picked up a record and a smile crept up into the corners of his mouth. He lifted it so Matty could see it. Kanye West. Matty was about to speak when he heard something behind him.
‘Open the cash register or no one gets hurt,’ the strangled voice said.
Matty whipped his head around to see the back of a man with a black hoody on.
Tom was behind the counter with his hands in the air. A look of pure terror was plastered on his face. Matty’s heart quickened as he realised the man had a gun.
‘Nobody move!’ The robber shouted. He turned and Matty locked eyes with him for just a second. Matty looked down but kept his body still. He felt sick. He wanted to see what Doug was doing but he felt too afraid to turn around.
The robber walked over behind the till, and told Tom to lie on the ground. Matty assumed Tom did it as he was no longer in view. The robber and Tom were talking about how to open the till in low voices, which afforded Matty the opportunity to turn to Doug.
Doug’s face was white, eyes wide and his mouth was open slightly in complete disbelief at how this could happen in Teesside, in a record shop. This wasn’t America, and Sound It Out wasn’t the biggest money-maker. It made no sense.
While Matty’s back was to the robber he took out his phone and dialled 999. It was risky but he couldn’t do nothing; it was a natural instinct. When Doug saw what he was doing his eyes widened even more.
‘And what exactly do you think you’re doing?’ The robber said, suddenly behind Matty. He grabbed Matty by the back of his hair, took Matty’s phone from him, put it on the floor and crushed it with his black boot. He stomped on it repeatedly and raised his fist to Matty’s face.
Matty closed his eyes in preparation for the blow, thanking his lucky stars that it was just a punch that was being thrown at him and not a bullet.
Then, something deep inside Matty changed, instead of fear he felt adrenaline. He assumed it was something to do with the fight or flight mode he had heard about in science. He always assumed he would be in the flight category; he had never been in a fight before and certainly didn’t want to change that. And yet, from the pit of his stomach he felt total and utter anger. And strength.
He didn’t want to punch the robber in the face, but somehow he did, not caring about the gun or that he could get other people killed.
With the blow Matty dealt the robber he felt something more. Deep inside him something rumbled and he felt intense pain throughout his body. Did he get shot? He looked down. What he saw made him think this was all a dream.
‘What the fuck, man!’ Doug yelled, backing away from Matty. Even the Robber moved away, dropping the gun and eying the exit.
Matty looked down at himself again. His body was furry, his clothes ripped. He seemed bigger somehow. Everything around him was blurry. He felt his face for his glasses and took them off. Without them everything was in pristine colour and sharpness. He could see further, and noticed small things that he normally wouldn’t have. He could see the bead of sweat run down the Robber’s face even though he was all the way across the room. He could hear Doug’s breath quickening, and hear Doug touch the handle of the door in a sly attempt to run.
‘What the fuck is going on!’ The Robber yelled, his voice breaking.
‘Leave now and no one gets hurt.’ Matty found himself saying. ‘Everyone leave!’ Matty bent down, picked up the gun and pointed it at the robber. ‘Put the money back in the till now.’ The Robber did as he asked. Tom must have still been lying on the floor and Matty thought that best right now.
The Robber looked scared. ‘I told you to leave!’ Matty roared. The Robber ran past him and left through the front door. Matty turned to Doug. Doug was stood paralysed. He didn’t dare leave.
‘Matty, is that you?’
‘Yeah, I don’t know what’s happening!’ The look Doug gave him brought a range of emotions to the surface.
‘You look like…a bear.’ Doug said carefully. Matty walked over to a mirror on one of the walls and saw himself. His skin was no longer pale but instead his entire face and body was covered in brown fur. His eyes were no longer blue/grey but were black, the pupils dilated. He was taller, but felt the same internally. He still felt like Matty Thompson.
Tom must have got up at this point. ‘Fuck! Fuck! Fuck!’ He screamed. He grabbed the telephone. ‘There’s a wild animal in my shop, help!’ He said. Hearing this Matty ran, he ran out of the shop and to an alleyway.
Matty remembered feeling pretty cold when he and Doug walked from his mum’s car to the shop. Now, essentially naked as his clothes had ripped when he transformed, he felt warm if anything. The streetlights and Christmas fairy lights on some of the trees illuminated the dark street. Matty felt thankful that this hadn’t happened in daylight.
He did, however, find himself in a predicament. How would he get home? He lived in Carlton, a village a drive away from Sound It Out. Instinct took over, and Matty ran. He ran in the direction of his house, and throughout the run he felt no tiredness – none of the pain he would normally feel. Matty’s dad was a runner and always tried to encourage Matty to run. Matty in part out of stubbornness didn’t want to run because of this. Another part of him knew it would be hard, and it wasn’t something he cared to struggle with. But now it was different. He ran effortlessly. He could run for hours. Matty kept pushing back the questions that emerged with every step he ran.
He was lucky the path was clear, and that not many people saw him throughout the run. Occasionally someone would see, but they would double take and when they looked back he would be long gone.
He slowed down when he approached the pub next to his house. He felt himself shrinking, and it was a good job too because his dad walked out of the pub at the very moment Matty became his normal self. Matty looked down to check that he was all normal. And he was normal. And very naked. Outside. In front of his dad.
And his dad’s racist friends were coming out of the pub at that very moment.
Matty ran to the door, but he already heard their roar of laughter. Matty slammed the door behind him. He could hear his mum walking from the kitchen at the back of the house to greet him. He grabbed the mail from the table next to him and used it to cover his crotch.
‘Matthew!’ His mum exclaimed. She put her hand on his arm comfortingly and ushered him into the back living room. Another door slammed.
‘I need to get dressed!’ Matty said trying to go to his room, but his mum’s hand was suddenly extremely tight on his arm. He tried to shrug her off but he was unable to do so. His mum was in her fifties; he didn’t expect her to have such strength.
‘Here,’ his mum had a pair of jogging bottoms in her other hand. When did she get them? Matty thought. ‘Doug called.’ Her grip loosened to allow Matty to put the trousers on.
‘What? This makes no sense-’
He heard his dad move behind him.
‘Matthew, we’re not human.’
MATTY’S STREET, CARLTON. 2008.
It was just past 3am, the sky was black, and all was still. The only sound Matty could hear was the swing he sat on creaking when he pushed himself forward. From where Matty sat he couldn’t see the seesaw or climbing frame that were just a stone’s throw away. This was only in part due to the darkness. When he changed forms he must have left his glasses at the record shop. They were most likely broken, not that he could ever go back there. When he was a bear he saw everything clearly without his glasses. When I was a bear, Matty thought horrified.
Earlier that night his sweet mum and straight faced dad sat him down in the living room and explained that he was only part human, and that they were like him too.
‘We were not sure when you would change,’ his mum had said.
‘We were expecting it though,’ his dad grumbled. He noticed his dad was unusually shaken up considering his mum’s reaction, and also that he was a bit tipsy from being in the pub earlier.
There was a short silence.
‘How many?’ Matty’s dad asked.
‘How many what?’
Matty’s mum gave his dad an angry look. ‘Not now, please.’
‘I want to know.’ Matty only just realised his dad had not looked him in the eye since he saw him naked outside of the house. When it became clear Matty did not know what his dad meant, his dad raised his voice. ‘How many people did you kill, Matthew?’
‘Kill?’ Matty said confused.
‘It’s okay. When I first changed I killed some people. It happens. But we need to know.’
‘What?!’ Matty got up from the sofa, walked into the kitchen area and had his back to his parents. He shut his eyes tightly. This had to be a dream, he thought repeatedly. He opened his eyes and was faced with the Golliwog teapot that his mum had on show with her other teapots of high value. Out of instinct he almost complained that she really needed to get rid of it.
Matty’s mum and dad exchanged a look, but Matty didn’t see this. He hated not knowing things immediately; it was a major character flaw in times such as these.
‘You have to tell me what you mean.’ Matty said.
His dad explained that when a bear-man/woman first transforms, something that usually happens around puberty, he/she cannot control his/her rage, and consequently lives are sometimes lost in the crossfire.
But Matty had killed no one, and his parents couldn’t believe it. When he explained fully that he, well, saved the day, they were flabbergasted.
His mum didn’t want him to go out; she was scared Matty would change again and someone may try and catch him. Or even that Matty may end up actually hurting someone by accident. After a lot of probing he was allowed to go to the park around the corner of his house. Matty lived in too much of a small village for anyone to be there past 11pm.
What Matty really wanted was to test his new form, and to be different from his parents, and their parents, and their parents. Matty wanted to use this power, deformity or ‘curse’ (as his dad had put it) to help people. He wanted to make a change.
Momentum built up within Matty. His blood felt like an overflowing kettle, everything was rising to the surface, scorching hot and sporadic.
He first noticed his hand change, it looked vaguely human and then within a blink of an eye Matty had a paw instead of a hand. His body soon changed also. The swing groaned at the sudden change in weight.
Matty changed. He became…Matty Bear!
He jumped up from the swing, and could see everything crystal clear. Then, he leaped up onto the climbing frame and looked out at the playground. It amazed him how acrobatic he was when he changed forms. His mum did say they only resembled a bear but in terms of characteristics they were speedy and strong.
Everything in his life that once confused him became crystal clear.
He finally knew his calling.