Roach Flash fiction

Flash fiction

First published in Second Coming: Only Begotten Son #4 by Ahoy Comics | September 2021

As Greg Sampson awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself with a tremendous hangover. He’d been drinking with his students after his last lecture. One of the girls (Gabby? Genevieve?) had been flirting with him, touching his arm every time he made a joke, which only made him want to make more. He remembered implying something about what the F in F. Scott Fitzgerald secretly stood for – but the rest of the night was a blur. Greg stumbled out of bed, straight to the fridge, and guzzled cold water.

That’s when Franz Kafka crawled out from under the refrigerator. 

At least, he had Kafka’s face, the thick brows and piercing eyes, although his mouth was bracketed with mandibles. His arms, protruding from torn shirt sleeves, had extra elbows and hairy spines.

“Hello,” said Kafka, like chewing on tinfoil. “I believe you are familiar with my work.”

“Yes,” said Greg. “I mean, absolutely. I’m a big fan.” 

Greg hoped Kafka wouldn’t notice the state of his apartment: the dirty dishes, dust bunnies, and stacks of student assignments waiting for his red pen. Then Kafka started licking grime off his arm-spines, and Greg felt a little better about it.

“I have so many questions!” he said. “How was Amerika supposed to end? It was published as an unfinished work…”

“I left so many things unfinished,” Kafka sighed. “That’s why I’m here.”

Greg scanned a bookcase, heaving with hardcovers, until he found a battered copy of Kafka’s complete works. He took it and held it out like a sacred object. “This is almost everything. Everything you wrote.”

Kafka took the book and ate it. “Tell me,” he said, scraps of paper falling from his mouth, “are you familiar with the name Brod? Max Brod?”

“Of course!” Greg was almost offended. He was a literature professor, after all. “Max Brod was your friend. You left your work to him when you died…”

“To be burnt. To be destroyed.” Kafka reared up; his antenna scraped the ceiling and knocked a dangling globe, causing shadows to skitter around them. “And what did he do?”

“…he published it?”

“That is right.”

Greg took a step back and collided with his couch. His mouth was dry, his tongue clumsy. “But he made you famous! There’s a word – ‘kafkaesque’ – that’s all because of you!”

Kafka reached out, plucked a dictionary from the bookcase, and opened it to the Ks. “Kafkaesque,” he recited. “Characteristic or reminiscent of the oppressive or nightmarish qualities of Franz Kafka’s fictional world.”

“People use it all the time!”

Kafka tore the dictionary in half and let the pieces fall to the floor. “Yes. It is a nightmare, isn’t it? The world has read my work before it was ready…”

“Well,” said Greg, treading eggshell carefully, “Max Brod is dead, isn’t he?”

“But you’ve read it, too.” They were standing close now, eye to eye, mouth to mandible. 

“You can’t…” Greg swallowed and tried again. “You can’t kill everyone who’s read Kafka. That’s insane.”

“Is it oppressive? Nightmarish?”

“It’s more just kind of terrifying,” said Greg. Then he lunged across his desk and grabbed up a wad of papers. “Look! These are student essays. Some of them are about you! Your work! Go and kill them first!” 

(Sorry, Gabby or Genevieve.)

Kafka took the papers and tucked them away somewhere in his carapice. “I will,” he said. “Thank you.” He turned to leave, and Greg saw the vestigial wings on his back, emerging from his jacket. They glistened with slick rainbows.

Kafka stopped before he reached the door. “Although,” he said, “you did say I leave things unfinished…”

He pinned Greg’s hands with two of his arms, tore open his clothes with another two, and ate him like he was a cheap paperback.