Bugs R’ Us: Spitting Grasshoppers, Human Beetles, and the Insect Revolution

0e0f1-the_metamorphosis_by_jezabel7Entomophobia (also known as insectophobia):  a specific phobia  of one or more classes of insect.

One of the hazards of growing up in rural Pennsylvania was the grasshoppers. Huge and green, and in full possession of that potent insect combination of equal parts relentless energy and mindless dedication to all things survival, these chirping, leaping, leaf-eating machines terrorized our summer afternoons.

They would sit there and stare at you, these bugs, and I could never figure out whether they were simply trying to figure us out or–the far more likely scenario–they were planning ways to eat us and take over the earth. When I learned that the grasshoppers could not only happily deliver painful bites with their huge, leaf-chomping jaws but also spit on people, that decided it: they were definitely here to take over the earth. Add in a story about how some prankster had once put a biting, spitting grasshopper into the  mouth of a sleeping person, and I was fully convinced the insect-led revolution was fully under way.

In fact, it has been underway since 1915.

Jamie Keenan’s design for a new edition of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (W. W. Norton & Company)

Jamie Keenan’s design for a new edition of Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis” (W. W. Norton & Company)

That’s when The Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka’s bizarre tale about Gregor Samsa, a man who wakes up one day to find himself transformed into a huge, beetle-like creature, first shocked the world with its surreal collision of insect and human. The cause of Samsa’s transformation is never revealed, and Kafka himself never gave an explanation. Is the transformation symbolic? Metaphoric? Magical realism with a pinch of satire thrown in on the side?

Perhaps all of those things, as attested by the story’s secure place as one of the 20th century’s seminal works of fiction, studied in colleges and universities across the world.

But Mr. Kafka never had me fooled.

I knew from those ominous Pennsylvania grasshoppers that the story was actually a warning: a glimpse of the future to come, when we either join with our planet’s most resilient inhabitants–the kind with compound eyes, sectional bodies, and chitinous exoskeletons—or perish.

“The First Science Officer bent to inspect the glass container. The brown bodies were scuttling back and forth, bumping into each other and the walls in a mad search for an exit that did not exist. He felt almost sorry for the poor creatures, and sorrier yet for putting them in their current predicament. But of course, his pity was misplaced. A human being could only last for mere seconds without a head, whereas these decapitated cockroaches had been going strong for almost two weeks…”

Find out whether or not a pair of science officers will finally succeed in assimilating humans with Earth’s new masters after a series of, shall we say,  most unfortunate false-starts and failures in my short story “Metamorphosis, Not Metaphors.” The tale is included in Great Old Ones Publishing‘s latest anthology, Bugs: Tales that Slither, Creep, and Crawl:

“Thirty-four of today’s top voices of terror take on the undulating hoards of a life form that knows no mercy, only the primitive urges to kill, destroy, and feed. They skitter through remote swamps and pine barrens; slither up from the earth and creep through human civilization, determined to conquer our world and others; crawl under and across our flesh, hungry, so very hungry…”

Edited by Gregory Norris, with a foreword by Simon Rumley, cover art by M.J. Preston, and stories and/or poems from thirty-four of today’s top voices of terror.

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