by Philip Webb Gregg

The octopus that was his infant daughter slipped out of his hands and fell to the floor with a sound like an over-dunked biscuit dropping back into a steaming cup of tea. His wife screamed.

Until that moment, Frank had been an ordinary sort of person. He would be the first to admit that standing out in a crowd didn’t come naturally to him. Quite the opposite; he was the sort of person who consciously enjoyed queuing. Up until five seconds ago, he’d lived a reasonably happy life, standing, as it were, toward the back of the line, waiting without malice or desire for nothing in particular. Now, the sheer exceptionality of his existence had finally arrived, instigated by no nothing other than the random elements of a joyously collapsing universe.

His wife ran toward him, shouting obscenities as their nine-month-old squelched toward the bathroom door, searching for water.

“Oh my God, Frank! What the fuc—”

Frank reached out and clasped his wife in his arms. As he did so, she dissolved into a pillar of moths. Greyish purple and bright yellow silk suddenly filled his eyes, nose and ears. They fluttered through his fingers and tickled his skin. He coughed, spat wings and antennae. Everything spun and he tripped back onto their Ikea FÄRLÖV sofa, tastefully coloured in mocha-cream, which promptly became an alligator.

Also screaming now, Frank ran for the front door, falling several times over toys and carpet on his way, and wherever his hands touched, living things were born. Hexagonal wallpaper became a mess of crawling ants. Coffee table and chairs became an ostrich and a small family of lemurs. As he crashed through the door, it merged into an ibex, the silver handle twisting into a horn as he held it. He hit the pavement hard, landing facedown on the concrete, which metamorphosed into a giant cascade of curled up armadillos, reaching all the way down the street. Frank closed his eyes and screamed himself into unconsciousness.


He woke up twelve hours later, bound to a hospital bed in a stark-white room. The light felt urgent and there was a magnificent mirror all across one wall. Someone had stretched out and strapped his hands down into a crucifix position. They’d also taken his clothes and replaced them with a light blue apron. His head ached and he desperately needed the toilet.

After a while a pair of doctors came in, accompanied by a woman in military uniform. She had a thin, pale moustache, so that she looked like she’d been sipping hot-chocolate, but also very frightening, so Frank didn’t feel like saying this out loud. However, he couldn’t help laughing a little to himself. A tiny childish snicker.

“So, Frank—may I call you Frank?” one of the doctors was saying. “I’m afraid I have some awful news: it appears your daughter was eaten by a sofa. I’m so sorry for your loss.”

They experimented for weeks. Stuck in that strange room with those angry lights. The space filled with a bustling menagerie of mammals, insects, fish, and birdlife. Never plants or fungi, always breathing, moving things. Several times the moustached lady had to use her pistol against the larger carnivores, and the sound of her gun in that small space was like a single ironic applause.

“It’s your hands,” declared the doctors after a few days. “No other part of your body seems affected, but anything that touches your hands instantly becomes something else. Do you understand how important this is? We could transform landfill. We could feed millions using non-recyclables. We’re calling it the MidasFauna effect. Frank, this will change the world.”


Frank stayed in the stark, white room for just under a month. And he hated it. He hated it so much that when the black-clad figures in balaclavas broke in to kidnap him, he went with them gladly, obligingly holding his hands above his head as they marched him out. In the hallway he passed the murdered body of the military lady, and felt the slightest pang of guilt for that time he’d laughed at her moustache.

His kidnappers took him to a high tower. They blindfolded him for most of the way but he could tell the journey involved a trip in a van, then a smooth corridor full of whispering voices, followed by the sensation of rising, like an elevator, which went on for a long time. When they finally removed the blindfold, Frank was standing in a room with a dozen or so sharply suited men and women, sitting calmly around an oval table. The wood looked like genuine mahogany.

“Please take a seat, Frank,” said the man wearing the sharpest suit. “We have a business proposition for you.”

The restaurant was called Food Chain. They opened it at the top of the city’s tallest skyscraper. It promoted itself as the ultimate answer to all eco-ethical concerns. Using Frank’s strange gifts, the diners could, at a cost, serenely enjoy the high-protein, high-flavour meats without harming any animals at all. At least, no animals which had been animals before Frank created them, from second-hand furniture and bric-a-brac. The motto of the restaurant was: Come to Food Chain. Eat the chair. Eat the table. Eat the world.

Frank never left the building but instead wandered around his massive apartment block with his hands secured in a specially-designed harness, so that he could perform even very complex tasks without the need to touch anything—unless he wanted to.

He had made peace with his exceptional nature in a way that few are able to do. He considered it part of the rising tide of change that was sweeping the globe, whether anybody liked it or not. He hardly ever thought about his wife and daughter these days, apart from when the restaurant served octopus for lunch, and he would get an inexplicable urge to brew a cup of tea.

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