Time: the present Place: Sheffield, England
Everybody knew about the comet. It was in all the newspapers. When it finally passed close to the Earth, it lit up the sky for three nights. It was beautiful. People who were not usually interested in looking beyond their television screens took at least one look outside.
Even people like Darren.
Darren was looking in the bathroom mirror at the spots on his face. They were near his nose. His mum always said he got spots because he ate too many sweets. But he hated sweets. And he never ate chocolate. His mum loved chocolate and she never got spots. It wasn't fair. Darren was just going to examine his biggest spot when his mum called out.
'Darren! Darren, look at this!'
'Aw, Mum. I'm busy!'
But Darren's mum refused to take no for an answer. She knew her thirteen-year-old son liked science fiction. A bit of science fact would do him no harm. This sort of thing didn't happen every day, after all. They said that this comet was only going to pass the Earth once. She didn't want Darren to miss it.
'Darren Miller, come down right now!'
When Darren got downstairs, the door to the garden was open. He could see both his parents outside. They were looking up, their faces lit by a gentle light. He went out and stood next to them. Then he, too, looked up.
It was, indeed, a lovely thing to see. Darren was pleased his mum had called him. The sky was full of beautiful, coloured light. It made Darren think of Christmas lights and all the bright colours he loved when he was younger.
It was so beautiful that he almost forgot about his spots.
The next day all of the newspapers were full of pictures and stories about the comet. Some of the newspapers were quite excited about it, because the comet had passed very close to the Earth.
'Comet nearly hits Earth!' said one headline in a newspaper.
'Earth escapes comet!' said another.
Most of the newspaper reports also mentioned the beauty of the comet. They all said how lucky we were to see such a wonderful thing.
Of course, there were the usual pessimists who said that the comet would put something nasty into the air we breathe. Others said the comet was a sign that the end of the Earth was coming. However, most people took no notice of these warnings.
Life went on as usual.
Life for Darren meant getting ready for school again after the holidays. Comets were nice but now he had more important things to think about. He had to make himself look good for the beautiful Vanessa.
Darrens school was just an ordinary school in the city of Sheffield in England. It was no better than any other school in Sheffield.
But it did have Vanessa.
Vanessa was a brown-haired, brown-eyed girl in the same year as Darren. She had smiled at Darren once. He remembered it well. It had happened in the last week before the holidays. He had let her go in front of him in the queue for lunch. She hadn't said 'thank you,' but she had given him a little smile. It had showed her perfect white teeth.
He had been too nervous to speak to her. He just couldn't do it. It would be easier, he felt, to grow wings and fly up to the ceiling.
This time he would be ready. He would put on lots of deodorant to make himself smell nice. He wanted to have another look at his spots and, just maybe, have a shave. The night before he had felt something above his mouth that might be the first hairs of a moustache.
He made sure he got to the bathroom before everyone else that morning. He wanted to have a close look at those spots... and his new moustache.
'Darren, will you be in there for a long time?' It was Darren's mum. 'Your father wants to use the bathroom.'
Darren knew his dad always spent ages in the bathroom. Well, his dad could wait today, for a change.
'I'll be out soon, Mum,' said Darren.
But he was lying. He wanted to look good and smell good. It could take a long time. His new deodorant smelled very good this morning. He suddenly noticed all the different smells that went into it. There were flowers, spices - lots of things he had never smelled before. His nose felt a bit wet too. Was he getting a cold? Probably not, if he could smell things so well.
Darren walked over to the mirror and looked at his face. His face looked worse than ever!
His nose was wet and shiny. It was moving a lot, like an animal's nose. It looked like a rabbit smelling its breakfast. But this wasn't the most shocking thing. His top lip had long, thick hairs on it. They were like the hairs on an animal's nose. They were like the whiskers of a rabbit!
Time: the present Place: Singapore
Julie Ong had been fourteen for three weeks. A lot of her friends were fourteen too. They all agreed that a young woman should watch her weight. It was especially important not to eat sweets and cakes. Julie hadn't eaten a cake or a piece of chocolate since her birthday. But there were still no signs that her parents saw Julie as a young woman. To them, she was still a child.
Then there was the strange thing with the comet. Everybody was talking about it. Julies English teacher gave her class homework about it. They had to describe the comet in a poem. It was so unfair! The comet had been quite beautiful, but writing about it was no fun at all. Julie decided to take a break from her Sunday morning homework. Instead of writing she would comb her long black hair in the mirror. It was more interesting than writing a poem, at least.
Her parents wouldn't notice that she was wasting time. She could hear them at the other end of the house talking about the comet. They weren't talking loudly, but she could still hear them. Her hearing wasn't normally that good. It was very odd.
Julie picked up her hairbrush - her favourite pink one - and walked towards her bedroom mirror. But when she looked at herself, she immediately noticed something strange. There were two things rising up and out from her hair. They were on both sides of her head. Julie pushed back her hair and saw that the two things were her ears. They were now pointed at the top, like an animal's ears, and they were bigger too. Much bigger.
Darrens new whiskers grew even longer over the next week. His nose became much, much better at smelling things too. He could smell almost anything from a long distance away now. His dad had his own smell, so had his mum. Everybody had their own smell.
Having a good nose was useful and Darren liked it. He liked his whiskers too, and he couldn't really shave them off. It would hurt, he was sure, if he tried. Anyway, he was getting used to them.
In Singapore, Julie Ong discovered that her hearing had become extremely good. She could hear almost everything.
Darren didn't know it yet, but the beautiful Vanessa had now grown long teeth like a cat's. She had whiskers too. And suddenly she seemed to enjoy eating a lot of fish.
Darren, Julie and Vanessa were not alone.
Sudden changes were happening all over the world. Many young people between the ages of twelve and eighteen had developed the special strength of some kind of animal. Sometimes it wasn't immediately obvious - like having the fantastic eyesight of a hunting bird. But often the changes were obvious. Some had grown long tails and they could hold on to things with them. Some had webbed skin on their hands and feet so that they could swim fast. Some had the strength of a bull; others could run as fast as a horse. They all looked human still, but in some way they had changed.
Of course, adults everywhere were extremely worried. Why had their children changed? What had produced the changes? What could they do to help their children?
Darren discovered that his amazing nose had many advantages too. He found that he could tell what mood people were in just by their smell - even if they were trying to hide it. That was useful.
This new sense of smell was useful in other ways too. If he lost something, he could always find it by using his nose. He helped his mum buy the freshest and tastiest food in the supermarket.
He now used deodorant which didn't have a strong smell. His new nose didn't like strong smells any more.
'You'd better not get too used to it,' said his dad. 'Some day soon we'll be able to get you back the way you were.'
'Maybe, Dad,' Darren said. 'But what if I don't want to go back to the way I was?'
Darrens father didn't say anything. Like many other parents, he didn't understand how his son could like the changes. He wanted the old Darren back - the Darren without the whiskers and the amazing sense of smell.
And why had some young people changed while others hadn't? That was the question every adult in the world was asking.
Some adults blamed the children themselves for the changes. They said they watched too much TV or ate the wrong things or didn't behave in the right way.
Most people blamed the comet.
'Comet causes horrible teenage changes!' was the kind of headline found on the front page of many newspapers. They all had similar stories. Everybody was saying that it must have been the comet - what else could it have been? The comet had, in some strange way, affected the bodies of some teenagers.
'I don't think the changes are horrible!' said Julie to her friends. 'I think my new hearing is very useful. I think my ears are rather beautiful too!'
Some of Julie's friends agreed with her.
'I like my new wings,' said one.
'I can change colour like a chameleon - isn't that cool?' said another.
Teenagers everywhere were comparing their changes.
Some were stronger, others were faster, others could jump higher. But no matter what changes happened, they were still teenagers.
But then something strange happened. Some teenagers began to return to normal. Some eventually lost all sign of their changes and went back to what they had been before.
The answer came almost by accident.
A teen called Danny was given a job in an advertisement. Danny had wings and he could fly. In the advertisement, Danny had to fly over a childrens party and give out chocolate biscuits. Danny hated chocolate biscuits, but he had to eat some during the advertisement. It was after he ate his second biscuit that something started happening. His wings started to get smaller. Soon they disappeared completely. He couldn't fly any more. Danny was a 'normal' teenager again. Why had it happened?
It was the chocolate. It had to be.
Scientists tested the effect of chocolate on other teenagers. They discovered that if the teenagers ate a few things with chocolate in them, they went back to normal. The world now knew why some children hadn't been affected by the comet. The mystery was solved.
The comet had only changed teenagers who didn't eat chocolate!
'I don't like chocolate, you know that,' Darren told his parents. 'I've never liked it.'
'But all you have to do is eat a bit and you'll go back to normal!' said Dad. 'You want to be normal again, don't you, Darren?'
Darren thought about Vanessa. He liked her new cat looks. Vanessa had found Darrens changes attractive too. She had spoken to him quite a lot lately.