Author: Alzo David-West
Ean Braun was working late at his college office when a feeling of malaise came over him. His first thought was that he caught the cornea virus, which had caused a voluntary citywide stay-at-home order. He opened the office door, shuffled lamely down a flight of stairs, and went outside to get some night air. His cloudy eyes and scabby temples were aching. He removed his thick bifocal glasses and massaged his wrinkled face. The feeble moon glowed meekly on his pallid skin and patchy dome. He put on his glasses again and, at a distance, noticed his young colleague, Adam, walking briskly on the empty campus grounds.
The picture of the well-dressed, tan, healthy man provoked his anger, and spiteful thoughts boiled in his brain. What had particularly annoyed him was the fellow’s habit of taking vitamins instead of eating breakfast or lunch. Braun recalled a disagreement they had at the faculty lounge, he insisting that food was better, whereas the young man was adamant that vitamins were essential nutrients that maintained physical and mental balance. The retort stirred a rage in Braun, who was not used to being contradicted, so he spoke his unfiltered mind, and the young man stopped talking to him. Naturally, Braun rationalized, the vitaminer was an insane maniac, and the old man took the silences as an unforgivable insult.
The recollection had distracted Braun for a few minutes, but the general unwellness he was experiencing was becoming worse. He felt a painful compression in his wrists, ribs, and rotator cuffs, and there was an acrid taste of bile acids in his mouth. His shabby clothes felt baggy. He hobbled under a lamppost near the closed Human Resources Building and paused to look at his reflection in the large windowpanes. In confusion, he saw he was a third of his height and growing smaller, transforming into something with six clawed legs, four eyes, two antennae, and rows of nostrils on the sides of his stomach. Panicked, he darted out of his pile of clothes and ran across the campus. He found a men’s restroom without a door and decided to hide there until he could figure out what caused his mutation.
The room was dark, and the floor smelled of wet mold and waste particles. He traced the sides of the wall with his feelers, struggling to make his way in the murk. As his confidence was beginning to rise, there was a sudden, immense blast of light that staggered and blinded him. And then he heard the boom of footfalls like bombs on the floor tiles—someone had entered the restroom. Terrified, he scurried helplessly into the corner of the wall, raised his thin flat head, and strained to perceive the moving form. The massive figure slowly came into focus in his compound eyes, and Braun realized who it was—“Adam, it’s me! I transformed into an insect! Adam, help me!” he shouted.
The young man stood before a urinal, oblivious to the minuscule appeals from below. He looked up and down and, without a thought, turned his gaze to the corner where Braun was crying out: “Chikt-chikt chikt-chikt chikt-chikt,” the insect emitted. An instinctual chill surged through the man, followed by a powerful hateful impulse to destroy the disease carrier. He lunged toward the paper towel dispenser at his left, grabbed a handful of coarse brown sheets, and made for the cockroach.
“Help! Help!” Braun screamed, running around the restroom. He ran under the door of a stall and into the shadows behind a toilet bowl. But the young man quickly found him, chased him out, and, after several misses, smashed the pest with the paper towels. He held his breath as parts of the insect twitched in broken, seeping fragments. The man threw the corpse into the bowl, pressed the flush handle with the tip of his left dress shoe, washed his hands in the sink, and turned off the light, with an exhalation of relief. Still aware, Braun descended into the mazy whirling grave. His lugubrious eyes wept melancholy tears.