One morning, as Paul McCartney was waking up from an anxious dream, he discovered that he had been changed overnight into a human-sized beetle. He lay on his armor-hard back and saw, as he lifted his head a little, his black, arched abdomen divided up into ridged bow-like sections. His six legs, pitifully thin in comparison to the rest of his circumference, flickered helplessly before his eyes.
"What's happened to me?" he thought with a wave of despair. He tried to pinch himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming, but he didn't know how to manipulate the tarsal claws on the ends of his legs.
Before he could cry for help, his cleaning lady Rose stepped into his bedroom. She paid him no mind at first as she plugged her vacuum cleaner into an outlet and started hoovering the carpet. But as she pushed the nozzle towards the bed, she saw the giant insect lying on top of the mattress and screamed. She ran out of the room, leaving the vacuum cleaner running, and forcing Paul to cope with the loud droning of the noisy, now stationary Hoover.
"Damn, that thing is irritating!" he cursed aloud over the cacophonous machine. He struggled to climb out of his bed gracefully, but ended up sliding onto the floor on his back. He wriggled his thin legs helplessly in the air for several minutes while he rocked back and forth on his dorsal plate. When he finally managed to roll onto his underside, he crawled to the outlet and reached for the cord with his pinchers. After several failed attempts, he managed to the clumsily plug out of the socket.
"Well, at least that's one less thing to worry about," he said to himself. Then he crawled out of the bedroom doorway which his cleaning lady had left open, and scuttled down the hallway and into his front parlor. He called out Rose's name, but was met with only silence.
"I'll bet she's bloody left!" he groused. "Without even finishing with the tidying up! I'll have to dock her pay for the week. But now what am I supposed to do?"
He spied his phone sitting on a tabletop, and lifted his front leg towards it. He managed to knock the receiver off the cradle, but when he placed the tip of his pincer into the finger plate and attempted to dial a number, he ended up pushing the whole telephone set to the floor.
"Fuckin' hell!" he cursed under his breath.
If only Jane were here, she could help me, he thought. But his girlfriend Jane Asher was still in America, finishing up her theatrical tour with the Bristol Old Vic Company. He'd helped her memorize her lines this past December as she prepared for her role as Juliet in Shakespeare's most famous love story. Words from one of her soliloquys came rushing to his head:
"Oh, serpent heart, hid within a flow'ring face!
Did ever a dragon keep so fair a cave?"
He caught a glimpse of his transformed self in the bottom of a floor-length mirror that hung by the front door and started to sob. "My flowering face is gone!" he cried. "How can I ever appear in public again?"
He crawled into the farthest corner of his parlor, away from the sunlight that was streaming through the front window, and wept.
How long he spent there, he did not know. But his crying jag was eventually interrupted by a loud knocking at his front door. He wiped his tear-streaked face with his antennas, then started crawling towards the door.
"Paul!" cried the familiar voice of his manager Brian Epstein through the wood. "Let me in!"
"There's a key under the marble frog statue at the side of the house!" Paul called back to him. "Go fetch it!"
"Can't you just open up the bloody door for me?" Brian retorted.
"No, not just now. Sorry," Paul apologized.
"Why not?" Brian shouted.
"Just find the key and I'll explain when you get inside," Paul called back. He stepped away from the door and discovered with a jolt of surprise that he could crawl backwards just as easily as he could move forwards.
He hoisted himself onto a high, upholstered, wingback chair and attempted to assume a pose of nonchalance while he listened to Brian fiddling with the key, then turning the knob.
Paul drew in a deep breath and felt several pockets of air rushing into the multiple spiracles that lined his middle and lower body. "Well, that's a jolly new sensation," he said aloud.
Then Brian stepped into the foyer, looked at Paul, and screamed.
"Calm down, Brian, it's just me!" Paul urged him, waving his antennas, feelers and top legs together in what he hoped was a friendly gesture.
When Brian made no effort to stop screaming, Paul slid off his chair and crawled closer to the front entrance. "It's me, Brian! I'm James Paul McCartney – the bug-eyed Beatle! Now get a grip on yourself and close that bloody door before the neighbors start rushing over here. I need your help!"
Brian stared dumbly at Paul for several seconds, jaw slacked and eyes wide with fear, then turned around and slammed the door shut. He took a cautious step towards the human-sized insect standing on the floor before stopping abruptly. "How can I be sure you're Paul?" he asked warily.
"What do you want me to do? Perform like a bug in a flea circus?" Paul retorted. When Brian offered no reply, Paul took a step back, then opened his mandibles and sang, "Yesterday, all my troubles seemed so far away. Now it looks as though they're here to stay."
"Oh fuck," Brian cursed. "It is you." He took another cautious step towards Paul, then hesitated once more. "What happened?"
"Hell if I know," Paul replied. "I was having a nightmare last night, and when I woke up, I discovered I'd been transformed into an insect."
Brian cocked his right eyebrow. "What were you taking last night?"
Paul harrumphed indignantly. "Nothing out of the ordinary. I just smoked a little pot and drank a whiskey and coke or two. Same as I do most nights."
Brian sighed. "Well, this is a fine kettle of fish you've gotten me into! How am I supposed to get you back to your original shape in time for tonight's party?"
"Party?" Paul asked, wiggling his feelers back and forth.
"Yes, the party at my house to celebrate the release of Sergeant Pepper," Brian replied. "I've invited quite a lot of journalists and photographers. I can't just rescind their invitations now!"
"Well, I don't know," Paul said. "Maybe I should see a doctor?"
"What kind?" Brian challenged. "A GP or an entomologist?"
"Don't be unkind," Paul admonished his manager.
"Well, I hardly think yours is a condition that the National Health physicians are used to treating," Brian insisted.
"Well, maybe you could ask around a little," Paul suggested. "John's had some weird trips. Maybe he knows a thing or two about this…this…"
"This metamorphosis?" Brian replied.
Paul lifted the top of his thorax in an attempt to shrug. His wings immediately sprang out from the sides of his body and started to buzz.
Brian flinched. "Um, I think I'll go then, and fetch John," he said, his face blanched with fear once more.
"Right, you do that," agreed Paul. "I'll just go to my kitchen and see if I can round up a bite to eat."
"Hello! Is anyone at home?" John called into the foyer of Paul's St. John's Wood home. He closed the door quietly behind him and stepped into the parlor.
Paul rushed out of the kitchen towards him. His back two right legs caught in the fringe of the long runner on the hallway floor and he lost his balance. His thick, heavy abdomen hit the top of the rug, but his left legs kept moving, propelling him towards his song writing partner as if on a carpeted toboggan.
John sized him up, then drew in a deep breath as he attempted to swallow back his repugnance. He lifted his right hand to his glasses. "You don't mind if I take off my specs, do you, Paulie? I think I'd be more comfortable if I didn't see you quite so clearly."
Paul sighed and crawled back to the wingback chair he had been sitting on earlier that day. "So Brian filled you in on my situation?"
John shrugged. "Um, yeah, well, he told me what he'd seen. Though I wasn't quite sure I believed him."
"But now you do?" Paul surmised.
John sat down on a chair facing Paul. He noticed the telephone set lying on the floor. He picked it up and placed it back on the table, then rested the receiver in its cradle.
"Brian said you claimed you didn't take any unusual drugs last night," John stated.
"That's right," Paul agreed. "Not even a sleeping pill."
"You didn't drop any acid?" John asked.
"No, and I didn't eat any magic mushrooms either. Or snort any cocaine."
"You didn't take any prellies or bennies?" John asked, counting on his fingers as he ran through a list of possible causes for Paul's inexplicable condition. "You didn't sniff any glue or aerosols?"
"No, no, no, no," Paul replied. He sucked in a deep set of multiple breaths, then added, "I don't 'sn*ff' no more."
"Hmmm," John mumbled. "Did you perchance dabble in the mysteries of peyote, and were too high afterwards to remember taking it?"
Paul shook his antennas emphatically back and forth. "I've never even tried that."
"I'm assuming you've never tried heroin either," John continued.
"Nope," Paul insisted. "I just smoked a spliff and drank a little whiskey last night. Nothing out of the ordinary."
"Then I'm flummoxed," John said. "Your transformation is a completely new revelation to me. I've had trips where I've seen people turn into bugs, and bugs turn into people, but they never actually changed forms. I was just hallucinating. And I've never witnessed anyone metamorphosing when I was sober."
"Well, you're no help," Paul replied. He scratched at an itch on his thorax with his hind leg, then brought his middle leg to the spot and started rubbing it some more.
"You're pretty dexterous with those six legs of yours," John noted.
"Right, I've been practicing moving them ever since Brian left," Paul said. "Want to see me walk up the walls?"
John shook his head. "I'm more curious as to whether you could play two instruments at once now. It would be great if you could strum your guitar and pluck your Hofner bass at the same time."
"I hadn't thought of trying, but that's a great idea," Paul agreed.
"You should practice this evening," John suggested. "It might keep your mind off missing the party."
Paul wriggled his six legs in anger. "Brian can't hold his party without me! It would raise too many questions!"
"He's called a talent agency and hired a look-a-like to fill in for you," John admitted.
"Why, that dirty, little wanker!" Paul exclaimed. "Just wait till I get my six hands on him!"
"Do any of your appendages have feet, are do they all end in hands?" John asked, his curiosity piqued.
Paul fell back against the cushions of his chair. "Damned if I know."
John sighed. "Brian is genuinely concerned for you," he said in their manager's defense. "After he rang up the talent agency, he started calling the world's top doctors. Christiaan Barnard, Jonas Salk, James Herriott…"
"James Herriott is a veterinarian!" Paul protested.
"Well, yeah," John agreed without making any further comment. He coughed awkwardly, then stood up from his chair. "Can I help you in any way just now? Open up your refrigerator for you, and pull out some food maybe? I could make you a sandwich or do up some eggs."
"No thanks. I just worked my way through my kitchen rubbish bin," Paul said. "It was surprisingly tasty, don't you know? Banana peels, apple cores, pork grizzle on the bone, some greasy newspapers left over from when I had fish and chips a few nights ago." He smacked his mandibles together in relish.
John nodded. "Right then. I'll ask Cyn to set aside some leavings for you from our tea this evening, and bring them with me on my next visit."
"You're going then?" Paul asked, a note of sadness creeping into his voice.
"Yeah. But I'll collect Eddie and Martha first, and watch over them until you feel better. I saw them cowering in the back corner of your garden while I was fetching your key. I gather they're a little unsettled by your new appearance." John started walking out of the parlor and bumped into an ottoman. "Fuck! Sorry! I guess I'd better put these back on."
He reached into his jacket pocket and slipped his glasses back on. He eyed Paul one more time and winced. Then he sighed apologetically. "Just relax for a while, why don't you? Try to sleep maybe?"
"The last time I fell asleep, I turned into a giant beetle!" Paul protested.
"Yeah, but another time you slept, you dreamt up the melody to 'Yesterday', so you might have a bit more luck this time around." John stepped closer to the door and offered his bandmate a sympathetic half-smile. "Don't despair. George told me he had an idea for how to help you. He's gonna pop by in a bit. Give him a listen."
"Is that all the help you can offer me?" Paul asked indignantly.
John sighed once more. "I've got nothing to say. But it's okay." He grabbed a wide-brimmed hat off the rack by Paul's door. "I don't suppose you'll be needing this for a while," he remarked as he slipped the hat onto his head. Then he turned towards Paul and tipped the hat in a gesture of farewell. "Good morning-guh!"
Paul sighed dramatically as John stepped through the door. But then his stomach rumbled. He slid off his chair and crawled back into the kitchen so he could finish eating the day-old, moldering bits of kibble he had seen lying on the floor behind his dogs' empty food dishes.
"Well, I guess this makes me 'The Cute One' now," George said as he examined his bass player's armored, exoskeletal shell. "I never thought I'd see the day when I surpassed your good looks."
"Ha, ha," Paul replied sarcastically. He started crawling up the wall of his parlor, then turned his head towards George. "You don't mind if I climb, do you? It's just more comfortable for me to hang from a vertical surface sometimes than it is to always be stuck on the floor."
"Suit yourself," George replied. He absentmindedly flipped through the stack of records that lay beside Paul's stereo system and pulled out the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds LP. "You know, I think we really passed them with our newest record. Sergeant Pepper is quite an astounding bit of music, if I say so myself. I'm not surprised Brian is so chuffed."
"Well, I'm proud of it too," Paul called down to him from his spot beneath the ceiling. "I'm the one who came up with the concept, remember?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah," George agreed. He rested the record sleeve back by the turntable and looked up at his friend. "So I was talking to Pattie about this Indian guru she's seen in the news. He's called Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. He's developed a whole course of meditative studies that can teach you to use your mind to master your body. I'm thinking he might be able to help you."
"What does this course entail?" Paul asked.
"I'm not sure, but he's giving a series of lectures in London this summer. And he's going to lead some week-long retreats in Wales in the fall," George replied. "I figured it might not hurt to, you know, give him a ring and see if he could maybe develop a special program just for you."
Paul sighed, releasing eighteen gasps of air through his spiracles. "Yeah, well, maybe. But I've never been much of one for religion, mind you."
"I know, I know," George agreed. "But desperate times call for desperate measures, or so they say."
Paul scurried over to the other corner of the wall and plucked a large spider out of its web with his front tarsal claws. He brought it to his mouth and bit down on it with relish. "Take that!" he exclaimed as he chewed the hapless creature. He looked down on George and let loose another long sigh. "Sorry. It's just that, well, you know, I felt a sort of animalistic pleasure in turning the tables on that bloody arachnid."
George walked to the door. As he put his hand to the knob, he looked up at Paul. "Try to realize it's all within yourself. No-one else can make you change."
"Is that lyric supposed to help me turn back into a human?" Paul called down to him.
George shrugged. "When you see beyond yourself, you may find peace of mind is waiting there." He turned the knob, opened the door and left.
"I suppose this gives a whole new meaning to the phrase 'Meet the Beatles'," Ringo remarked as he gazed into the highest corner of Paul's parlor and sized up his friend's new body.
"I've been giving a lot of thought to my new look," Paul called down to him. "And I've decided that, all things considered, it's a good thing I turned into a giant beetle and not an enormous ant or grasshopper. This way, if worse comes to worse and I'm stuck this way, at least I'll fit in with the band's still. I mean, it's kind of cute, don't you think? To have an actual beetle in the Beatles?"
"Right," Ringo agreed. "It's great that you're staying so positive. I'm sure that keeping an upbeat attitude about this whole ordeal will be the key to solving your problem."
Paul sighed. "I hope so. I mean, what else can I do? John stopped by and talked about drugs and doctors. And George came for a visit and mentioned Eastern spiritualism. But neither one of them had any practical advice."
"I haven't got any either," Ringo confessed. "Though I do remember spending months in hospital when I was a lad, recovering from all sorts of illnesses. And I know that just keeping my mind focused on getting better really did seem to help. That and drumming. I played drums in the ward band, you know."
"I remember you telling me that," Paul replied. "John mentioned that maybe I ought to try playing bass and guitar at the same time, now that I've got six appendages. But perhaps I should try playing drums as well."
Ringo eyed him warily. "Don't be getting any notions in that bug-eyed head of yours, just because you've grown a new body. I'm still the drummer in this band."
"Sorry, I didn't mean to imply that you weren't," Paul apologized. He crawled down from the highest corner of the wall and approached Ringo cautiously. "There is one thing I would like to ask you for, though, if you wouldn't mind."
"Anything for a friend, Paul," Ringo reassured him.
"I could really use a…oh, fuck, this is embarrassing," Paul murmured.
"Out with it!" Ringo commanded. "Get this off your chest. Or thorax. Or abdomen. Or whatever you call that part of your new body."
Paul lifted his head towards his drummer. "I could really use a hug," he said quietly. "Everyone seems too revolted by my appearance to get near me."
Ringo walked closer to Paul, then crouched down so that he met his multi-faceted eyes. "I'm not afraid of you," he assured Paul. He ran his hand over the shiny, black exoskeleton that covered Paul's head and tickled the top of his antennas. "C'mon, then. Stand up if you can. Or if you need help, hold out your top pincers and I'll give you a hand."
"Are you sure?" Paul asked nervously.
"That's how you're going to get through this," Ringo replied. "With a little help from your friends."
Paul held out his front two legs. Ringo helped him stand, then wrapped his arms around Paul's thorax. Paul hugged Ringo with his top four legs while he balanced precariously on his back tarsal claws.
"Thanks," Paul said sheepishly. He slipped back onto the floor and rested his large body on all six feet once more.
"You're very welcome." Ringo smiled at him. "John said to tell you Martha and Eddie are fine. They're terrorizing his cats, mind you, but otherwise adjusting well to suburban life in the stockbrokers' belt."
"Good," Paul replied. "Thank him for me, will you, at tonight's party? For watching the dogs? And remind him that Eddie shouldn't eat any cheese or dairy products. They give him the runs."
"I'll put a bug in his ear," Ringo said with a laugh. "And I'll keep a close eye on this look-a-like Brian has hired to fill in for you. Don't want his head swelling with possibilities, like Jimmie Nichols' did when he filled in for me those coupla' weeks when I was in hospital having my tonsils out."
"You know I stole that line of his for my song, didn't you?" Paul confessed. "It's getting better all the time."
"Well, let that be your motto, then," Ringo said. "Things will get better. Just like they did for that prince in the fairy tale who was turned into a beast. He turned human again after a bit."
"I've forgotten that story," Paul said. "How did he get better?"
"True love's kiss," Ringo replied. "I'll bring you Mo's copy of the storybook tomorrow and read it to you. Zac's not really old enough to understand it yet. He prefers cardboard books that he can chew."
"Okay," Paul agreed.
Ringo checked his watch. "Best be going then. Brian hates it when we're late."
Paul waved his antennas at him, then crawled back up the wall and rested in the darkest corner of the room.
"Hello?" A woman called into the foyer of Paul's London home. "Are you there, Paul?"
Paul felt a rush of panic as he tried to place the woman's voice. She had an American accent and a slightly nasal tone. Could it be…?
"I hope I'm not bothering you!" she called out as she flicked on the light switch by the front door. "I just wanted to check on you. Your front gate and door were both unlocked."
"Turn that off!" Paul commanded her from his corner. "I want it dark!" Damn that Ringo! he cursed in his head. Why didn't he lock up behind him? Anyone could have come in and seen me!
"Okay," the woman replied. She switched the light back off, then rested a large bag on a table near the door. She stepped cautiously into the dark parlor, lit only by the faint glow of streetlights shining in through the front window. "Where are you? I can't see you."
"I'm resting," Paul called to her. "I…I don't feel very well. You'd best not come close."
"That all right," she agreed. She took a seat in the first chair she found. "Is it a migraine? My mom used to get those sometimes. She always wanted to lie down in the dark whenever she had them."
"No…I mean…yes," Paul stammered. "I really need to keep the room as dark as I can."
"Fine," the woman said. "You seemed kind of out of it at the party. You wouldn't speak to me at all, which kind of surprised me. You were so chatty the other night when we went to those clubs together. I managed to get in a word with your friend John Lennon though, and he told me you had a little bug. Or rather, a big bug, he claimed. He warned me not to get too close to you if I didn't want to catch it myself. But I wanted to make sure you were okay before I left London. I hope you don't mind my stopping by."
"No, no, that's fine," Paul said nervously. "It's…it's lovely to hear your voice again, Linda."
Linda Eastman fell silent for a long moment, then summoned her courage. "Listen, I hope you don't think I'm being too forward. I know you have a steady girlfriend who's due to come back from her theater tour soon. But I just…I just wanted you to know that I really enjoyed meeting you the other night. And I really liked seeing your paintings, too. I…I was just hoping we could say a proper goodbye before I went back to America."
The muscles and ostia attached to the long circulatory vessel that ran along Paul's dorsal side started contracting rapidly, pumping hemolymph throughout his abdomen. "Yeah…right then…okay," Paul stammered. He crawled down the wall and positioned himself behind a couch in the back of the room.
"Where're your dogs?" Linda asked. "The last time I came here they were jumping all over me!"
"John's minding them," Paul replied. "While I'm…indisposed."
"Oh, that's nice of him," she said.
Another awkward silence descended upon the room. This time Paul broke it.
"So how was the party?" he asked.
"Fine. I mean – what do you mean?" Linda asked. "You were there, right?"
"Of course, yeah, I know that!" Paul answered with an awkward laugh. "I just meant, did you have a nice time?"
"Mm-hmm," she replied. "Except that I was hoping to chat with you a little more, and I couldn't."
"Well, as John said, I'm suffering from a bit of a bug at the moment," Paul said. "I'm sorry, though. I was hoping to talk with you again too, before you flew back to the States to collect your daughter."
"I'm here now," Linda said.
Paul felt a strange tingling in the lower part of his abdomen that threw him for a loss. What the hell is my weird body doing now? he wondered in a panic.
"I suppose I should go then," Linda said. She stood up from her chair. "I hope you feel more like yourself soon."
"Me too," Paul said. He summoned his courage, stood up on his two hind legs, and leaned his large abdomen against the back of the couch. "Stand right there. I'll blow you a kiss." He opened his mandibles and made a strange noise that didn't sound at all like lips puckering, then exhaled loudly through his spiracles, hoping he was making a sound that resembled a human breath.
Linda laughed and stepped towards the couch, extending her hands in front of her to help guide her way through the dark. "Excuse me for saying this, but you're a Beatle. I want to hold your hand."
She reached out her hand towards him. Paul reluctantly extended one of his tarsal claws.
"Ooh, your skin is cold and clammy!" she exclaimed. "You really are ill!"
"Yeah," Paul mumbled in agreement.
She raised his pincer to her mouth and kissed it gently. "Goodnight, sweet Beatle. Feel better soon." Then she turned around, walked out of the room, and shut the front door as she left the house.
Paul felt an odd sensation in his abdomen, as his elongated dorsal vessel began twisting and contorting into a small organ that starting pumping steadily inside the middle of his body. His exoskeleton shivered and shook, then started melting into dewy, newborn skin. His middle legs retracted into his thorax, and his abdomen shrunk and reshaped itself into a human torso. His antennas and feelers drew back into his head, and a thick mop of hair sprouted out of his scalp. His giant eyes contracted, and his crooked mandibles lowered themselves to the bottom of his head and reshaped themselves into a jaw with a human-shaped mouth. He sucked in a deep breath and felt it fill his two lungs, then released it with a loud cry of joy.
He leapt over the couch and ran across the room, switched on the light that hung over the foyer and examined himself in the mirror that stood by the front door.
"I'm me again!" he screamed. He reached for the doorknob to run after Linda, then realized with a sudden jolt he was entirely naked. He hesitated.
What will she think of me, running into the street after her while I'm nude? he thought in a panic. I just told her I was too sick to even kiss her!
He lifted his hand from the doorknob and brought it to his head. He ran his five flexible human fingers through his thick, dark hair and laughed out loud.
Tomorrow, he promised himself. I'll call her tomorrow.
No, wait! he remembered suddenly. Linda is flying across the pond tomorrow! She'll be too tired to talk in the evening.
He threw a quick glance at calendar hanging beside the mirror. It was crammed with notes reminding him of scheduled recording sessions, photo sessions, interviews, and god-knows-what-other appointments.
He looked back at his human reflection in the mirror and smiled at himself. Soon, he decided with a vague but real sense of determination. I'll go to New York and look Linda up soon. At the very least, I owe that woman a proper goodbye kiss.
Inspired by Franz Kafka's short story "The Metamorphosis" (1915) and by the classic fairy tale "Beauty and the Beast."