Once an insect awoke from uneasy dreams to find itself transformed into Gregor Samsa. Stunned at this contretemps, the insect raised its head and looked down at the soft flesh where its armored thorax had been and the motionless limbs that felt pinned to the bed by their own weight. “What’s happened to me?” it wondered as it surveyed the four walls of the bedroom from its new and disquieting perspective. The sudden contraction of the room, once nearly limitless in its invitation to scuttle freely here and there, was matched by the disorienting sensation left by the metamorphosis itself. For some inexplicable reason the insect had been turned into a man, and a man, it seemed, with a few “issues.” That in itself would frighten any insect out of its wits. But the feeling of baffled, queasy alarm only deepened as the minutes passed. What if this transformation wasn’t the end of the morning’s surprises? Might there be something else to come that was more harrowing still? And what if this new body the insect found itself trapped in wasn’t even Gregor Samsa’s? How could one be certain in this state? Or what if it truly was Samsa, but on a bad day? Or on a good day? That second possibility was especially troubling. For if the insect’s plight were to get worse, mightn’t a morning as Gregor Samsa seem rosy indeed? The insect turned these questions over and over in its mind as it lay on its back, yet came no closer to answering any of them. Instead, it found itself distracted by growing evidence that it wasn’t alone. There turned out to be a number of other creatures here in Samsa, or whoever it was, all waking up much as the insect had and looking about themselves with much the same mixture of disbelief and apprehension. What an odd collection they made. Some were immediately recognizable, but others were so shadowy and indistinct that it was difficult to know what to make of them. When they became aware of one another’s bizarre appearance, most could barely stifle a burst of laughter at the absurdity of what they saw. Strangely, those that looked the most painfully vulnerable or forlorn prompted the loudest laughter. As this amusement died away, however, the insect felt it was replaced by a sobering recognition of their common fate. Then the most ludicrous figure became the most distressing as well, like a freak in the carnival mirror who turns out to be oneself. Together, they faced the possibility that what they’d always considered themselves to be had ceased to matter. None of them could protest “I am not what I seem in this guise!” and hope to be heard out. Their world was now defined by the limits of the human species, and inside that alien skin they must find their earth and sea and sky. You could get used to anything, the insect supposed, so long as that anything made some sense. But how much sense could be made of what had befallen this hapless lot? How many of them had any better idea of why they’d come to this pass than the insect did? Their predicament, it began to think, suggested nothing so much as a parable gone grotesquely awry. Or else some fable with all the familiar parts erased, so that you had to fill in the gaps for yourself—trying to give the tale whatever moral you could from one moment to the next. As though you were making life up as you went along.
Copyright © 2003-2004 by Geoffrey Grosshans