|Image courtesy of Jack Sparrow at PublicDomainPictures.net|
In my class "The Short Story and the Novel," we read Franz Kafka's The Metamorphosis (Die Verwandlung). Now if you ever want an intersection of literature and speculative fiction, there it is. I absolutely loved it. For our assignment, my super awesome teacher Doug J. gave us two options: write a brief response paper, or, using Jane Smiley's "Gregor: My Life as a Bug" as an example, write a "sequel" or continuation of The Metamorphosis. If we chose the latter, we were to use it as a sort of explication of our understanding of the story. So, preferring creative writing to academic, I chose the second option. The following short story is the result of that assignment.
© A.L.S. Vossler
Her screams jolted him out of sleep for the sixth time that week. She often behaved like this at night, seemingly deaf to her own screeches—and anything else around her—for despite his attempts to wake her, her eyes remained tightly shut and she continued to moan in terror or pain. Her flagellating arms and legs could not be made to lie still, and combined with her swollen belly, she reminded him forcibly of insects that, once laid upon their backs, cannot right themselves.
The first convulsion had happened on their wedding night, and it had frightened him to be certain, but he was of the philosophy that auspicious beginnings were a luxury in this day and age, and a working man simply had to take what he could get. He occasionally prided himself on his courage—after all, any other man would have already divorced the fragile young thing; but he, ah, he would stay beside her and somehow make everything right. He had watched her convulsions again and again, night after night; never seeming to come closer to discovering the cause behind them. She would always awake as her phantasm left her with a final shriek; trembling, she would cling to him and weep, all the while whispering, “Forgive me, forgive me.”
He always forgave her. But this was not the cure.
When he had first met Grete Samsa, she was a rosy-cheeked, beautiful creature: the daughter of an associate at the office. Mr. Samsa, by all accounts, had recently escaped some kind of medical misfortune; for where he had seemed wan before, he now appeared to be the picture of health. His once-rumpled uniform was now pristine daily.
“You look well as of late, Mr. Samsa,” he told his colleague one morning shortly after this peculiar metamorphosis.
“Thank you, Mr. Anklage,” replied Mr. Samsa, with a wide grin. “We have had a recent happy event at my household.”
“Might I inquire as to what that might be?” Anklage asked congenially.
A shadow crossed Mr. Samsa’s visage. “Well, perhaps it is of little consequence after all.” The lines that traced his brow furrowed, as though he was straining after a memory, but age or some other agent prevented it from being recalled. It was at that moment that Grete entered the scene, her rosy cheeks glowing with all the vitality of youth, carrying a basket which presumably contained Mr. Samsa’s midday meal. She kissed her father as she passed him the basket, but her eyes lingered with a bashful curiosity on Anklage’s face, and her rosy face turned a deeper crimson shade. Mr. Samsa smiled knowingly, and with a charming smile proceeded to ask Anklage to dinner.
Things between Anklage and Grete proceeded in clock-work fashion, and within months their marriage was in order. Everything seemed perfect, and Anklage could do nothing but predict for himself a happy and fulfilling marriage. But hardly had their blissful lives together begun when these ferocious dreams began gripping Grete during the early hours of the morning; after she awoke, she could say no words other than “forgive me.”
During their waking hours together, Anklage was loath to bring up the matter, for if he even mentioned the nighttime outbursts, Grete would cry out, bury her face in her hands, or in the most extreme case, take her fingernails and dig them into her own flesh until her blood, dark with unbalanced humors, formed stains of penitence on her white blouse. At times like these he attempted to restrain her, but she would not be appeased until the blood had successfully made its mark. Fearful of her reaction, Anklage kept the matter to himself.
As the months of their marriage progressed, Grete seemed more and more plagued by her nighttime visions, which now occurred six nights a week. Sometimes, she burst into silent convulsions at the breakfast table after a peaceful night; every muscle in her body grew tense, and her jaw locked; until a small trickle of blood (from her tongue which she had managed to bite into) emerged at the corner of her mouth. Then, only then, the fit passed.
Anklage’s alarm only continued to grow with Grete’s announcement of her pregnancy. He begged that she see a doctor for the convulsions, but she refused and started clawing at herself so fiercely that he was terrified to bring up the subject again for fear of his child’s life. As the baby grew inside her, the visions came with a startling new frequency; sometimes twice a night.
Now, as he watched her, swinging her arms about wildly as always during the paroxysms, he could do nothing but pray for the preservation his child and his wife. Her time was expected any day now, and he was afraid that she might go into labor at any moment. He spoke soothing words and stroked her swollen belly as the spasms racked her body, forever hoping that he might reach her. He could feel his unborn child too, suffering from the same agitated dreams that plagued its mother. The characteristic final shriek shook her, and she opened her eyes, terrified, and looked up into her husband’s eyes.
“God Almighty!” she cried. “Gregor, open up! I’m pleading with you!”
The atypical words affected Anklage with such shock he could barely react. “Who is Gregor?”
“I—” Grete’s eyes darted to and fro madly. “I don’t remember!” she screamed, and began digging her nails into her large belly.
With a bellow of terror, Anklage grabbed his wife’s hands away from their defenseless child. But only blood would appease her, and she fought him with preternatural strength. He allowed her nails to scratch deeply into her legs until she drew blood, yet even after this she still screamed as madly as ever.
“I killed him! I killed him! We all killed him! And did we weep in his passing? We were overjoyed! And he delivered us from debt, from debt...my brother...! Forgive! Forgive!”
“I forgive you!” shouted Anklage, over the noise of her shouts.
“Your forgiveness has no power! His blood is on me, my children...my children! We who destroyed him!” She began to scream unintelligibly, her body shaking as it had never done before, her voice attaining an unearthly, inhuman pitch; until with a snap, barely detectable amidst the chaos, her womb burst, and a cascade of polluted amniotic fluid spilled onto the bedcovers. Silence struck the room, as Grete’s panicked face froze.
Something inside of her distended body was stirring, ready to leave its prison.
Comments or constructive criticism are welcome in the comments.
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