Begun by Franz Kafka
As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a monstrous vermin.
Finished by me
He should have been horrified. But nothing could shock Gregor anymore. As he slipped from the bed to consult a mirror, Gregor found himself gripped with curiosity more than dread.
What he saw stunned him. A pinched face with bright black eyes, set back from an elongated snout sprouting quivering whiskers. Behind the tiny face rose a hulking mass covered in sleek fur, a grungy gray-black cape spread over narrow shoulders and powerful hind quarters carried on four small, leathery feet.
The image filled him with revulsion and a deep disappointment. This is not what he’d imagined when he’d agreed to test the vaccine. He knew there would be risks. Anton had warned him about the possible side effects, cautioning him it was too soon for human trials. But as days and weeks went by with no effective treatment for the virus and the city’s death toll mounted, Gregor grew increasingly desperate.
Authorities had stopped testing months ago and hospitals were sending sick people home without treatment. But in Gregor’s district, a thousand miles away, the virus had been controlled, with only a few cases detected. Closed borders and strict quarantine had worked. But it was only a matter of time before infection rates soared as nearby cities unraveled and desperate people came searching for food and safety. Gregor had joined the research efforts determined to help find a vaccine before that happened.
Outside his room a siren sounded, a high-pitched keening that dipped and swelled, a relentless reminder of the invisible killer stalking the streets below, warning people to stay home. Gregor rallied at the sound, making his way to the kitchen and then outside through the disused cat-flap, hesitating as he considered the safest route to the lab.
Two guards in black rubber suits patrolled his street, disinfectant packs strapped to their backs and pistols at their hips. As Gregor watched and waited, a woman and young boy emerged from a house two doors down. The guards approached her, pointing a thermometer at the woman’s face and demanding to see her pass. She fumbled in her pocket and the boy cowered behind her, clinging to her arm and frustrating her efforts, causing the guards to shout and draw their weapons. The distraction allowed Gregor to slip by in the shadows of a rusted car and make his way to the end of his street and from there into the empty city beyond.
Despite his bulk, Gregor found his new form lent him a surprising agility. He could move quickly, squeezing under fences and through cracks in walls. While he found being low to the ground required some adjustment and his eyesight was dim, his tail proved a powerful tool to scale drain pipes and fences.
Gregor avoided the market with its long queues of people who shuffled from one red cross on the pavement to the next, desperately eyeing the baskets of those returning to see what food they’d found that morning. He skirted around the edge of a shopping mall, its vast car park matted with weeds and its facade a silent scream; smashed windows giving jagged views of upturned grocery trolleys, tattered books, smashed crockery and other dusty debris.
As Gregor paused to take in the decay, a deer leapt down from a window ledge, picking its way gingerly between mannequin limbs and glass shards. The deer’s nose twitched as it eyed Gregor, who stood perfectly still behind a tuft of ragweed.
He waited for the deer to bolt, expecting his own grotesque form to frighten the creature. Instead the deer blinked, and turned its head to one side, appraising him. Was it smiling? Gregor couldn’t be sure. He’d never been this close to a deer before and had no way to interpret the quizzical gaze. He did wonder at the animal’s size, however. It seemed bigger than he remembered them, broader across the chest and with more powerful hind quarters. Before he could give this more thought the deer wandered off to graze at a nearby patch of grass. And with that Gregor realised he was hungry and turned to continue his journey, desperately hoping his colleague Anton could reverse the effects of the trial vaccine.
He reached the hospital precinct as the sun was setting, a striking pink and orange sky lending the grim buildings a golden hue and providing a vivid backdrop to the many birds and bats who’d returned to roost in the nearby trees. Gregor squeezed through a small hole in the razor wire fence and waited as more black-clad guards passed by before making his way to the laboratory.
His day spent navigating city streets had given him confidence in his new form and he leapt deftly from surface to surface, trusting his whiskers when his eyes failed him. Once inside he scaled a work bench and hunted for Anton. There was no sign of him in the lab, but Gregor heard rustling coming from his colleague’s office. The pair had been the only researchers on site for months, and in his desperate bid to uncover a vaccine, Anton had set up a camp bed in there.
Gregor scuttled across the bench and down to the floor, gathering speed as he launched himself up to the foot of the camp bed, now desperate to reveal himself to Anton and be returned to his human self.
Instead, Gregor found a python on the rumpled sheets, an eight-metre long reptile with a rippling girth, coiled around an empty vial. Gregor looked on in despair as the python slowly raised its head and flicked a blue tongue at him.
It looked hungry.