When the first rays of the morning sun lanced through a gap in the curtains, I finally made up my mind.
I heard my mom’s footsteps downstairs coming closer to my room. About ten seconds later, she knocked at my door. ‘My dear son, Gregor, it’s a quarter past six. Time to wake up. Otherwise you’ll have no time for breakfast.’
I responded, moved from the windowsill, fiddled with the lock and opened up the door.
Mom intended to embrace me but her arms held there, with smile frozen on her face. She looked down at me for a few seconds then turned around, walked into the kitchen.
‘I’ve prepared hot milk and toast today. Would you like some cheese?’ I tried stretching my slim limbs, made my way to the table and answered ‘Yes. Give me some more.’
When I came out, Dad was sitting beside the table, reading newspaper. He grabbed the cup at hand, frowning. ‘Grete, how many times should I tell you that do not climb out like this! Gregor could metamorphose into human since he was six years old. You are sixteen now. Why…’ Dad stopped his rebuke because the real Grete was brushing her teeth upstairs. She poked her head out and asked ’What’s the matter, Dad?’
Dad put down his newspaper then stared at me in a shock.
Pretending that nothing had happened, I climbed onto the chair with my several limbs and nearly fell off. A large brown beetle with a big round belly and several slim limbs appeared in the full-length mirror on the wall. That’s what I looked like.
‘My dear son…’ Mom hold the plates out of the kitchen, ‘I’m sorry to tell you that both of our cars have broken down. So you’d better hurry the meal then catch the bus to work today.’
Turning into a beetle equipped me with a sharper hearing and smelling but a slower reaction. When I was about to gobble the toast in front of me, Dad suddenly took away my plate. As a result, my head strongly hit to the table. ’You’re going to eat like this?’ He seemed to restrain his anger, which made me hesitate about my decision made this morning for a few seconds.
At that time, Grete went downstairs. Not having noticed the heavy air among us, Grete gladly came to me. ‘Oh my god. It is the first time I see you as a beetle. You are black! I used to think you were dark green.’ ‘Dark green? The same color of our mailbox?’ Grete laughed, which made her immediately metamorphosed into a small pink beetle. ‘What are you doing, Grete?’ Dad shouted. Grete immediately turned back into human, wiping her tears. ‘Grete, you are so small. When you were born, I’ve learned how to metamorphose for four years. I think I should let my dear sister to see the real me.’
Mom said to me ‘Gregor, you’d better hurry up. What if your employees start a rumor that you are slack in work? That will be hard for you to establish your authority.’ Without a word, I buried myself into the plate which Mom gave back to me and devoured the toast.
The rich flavorful cheese greatly satisfied my olfactory system although anything tasted insipid due to the degeneration of my taste.
After finishing breakfast, I rolled down to the ground, which could not be considered graceful at all. Then I sneaked to the front door as quickly as possible.
But Dad did it before I could. Standing by the door, he gazed at me and asked surprisedly, ‘Are you kidding me? You are going out as a beetle?’
Although nervous, I pretended to be calm and answered, ‘Yeah…’ Right at that time as if I had been highly near-sighted, his figure was gradually blurred in front of me. The rough breath indicated his anger. ‘Are you crazy? Unless I die right now, you can never walk out like this!’ He shouted.
Mom seemed a bit scared when she heard so. From a distance, she asked, ‘Gregor, are you feeling well today? If not, maybe we can ask for a day off…’ I interrupted. ‘Can’t be better. I don’t know why it’s not appropriate to go out like this. I just want to.’
‘Are you mad? What’s wrong with you? Now I told you twice. As long as I am alive, don’t even imagine you can go out like this!’ He roared, which made me nearly deaf.
Dad in front of me was both strange and familiar. He often yelled at Grete like this and called her an idiot. But for the first time in my life, he lost his temper and shouted at me. Which made me realize that I had been their obedient son for such a long time.
I had my first metamorphosis experience without conscious when I was three. At about six years old, I could wholly metamorphose into human and would not resile even in a state of dim awareness. Dad and I believed that it was mostly because my Mom was a real human.
Not until our little fool Grete was born did Dad change his mind that maybe I was just a genius.
Grete was not allowed to leave her room before she could metamorphose into human when she was ten. Even so, she was only allowed to take a breath when it was dark outside. Those days my greatest fun was to tease her after a day’s work and social engagement. The time spent with her made me feel most relieved.
With strong winds at my back for many years, I created sales miracles as soon as I started my career and since when I kept getting promoted.
I thought maybe several years later I would marry a woman and have our own baby. Not until then would my mission complete.
However, I was gradually fed up with all of this. I had to polish the whopper which I told since childhood with more and more lies. Although I looked just like a human, when I was in a crowd I still thought of myself as an alien. I tended to pay close attention to people around to find out whether they were human or beetles. When others were staring at me, I was so scared they would find out that I was not a real human at all. As time passed by, I was tired of disguising myself.
But that girl gave me the hope. She was the new secretary sent to my office. Long curly hair, fair skin, hazel eyes, she was so beautiful. When I saw her I finally believed the old saying ‘fall in love at first sight’. Soon she became my girlfriend.
But as time went on, I felt more and more insecure. I kept asking myself the same question: did she love me or just who I metamorphosed or even my post? And was the person I loved a real human or just the same with me, a beetle? I didn’t know. I was afraid that everything would be destroyed when the truth was revealed.
When I was young, I found my mom’s diary by accident. I’d never forget her fear through her words. She wrote in her diary that ‘Oh my god, I can’t believe what I’m pregnant with! A beetle? What? That’s impossible. What can I do? What should I do?’ That page was crinkled, on which I felt her helplessness. On another page her handwriting was unbelievably crazy which read ‘He lied. He is not a human at all. I loved him so much. Why? Why? Why?’ But after all she chose to accept all of this, holding no hope or passion for her future life. She avoided Dad’s touching, which disgusted her. Then Grete was born. They all knew it was an accident. Mom loved Grete and me but she just couldn’t believe that she had been cheated by Dad, the person she loved most for such a long time. All the time I couldn’t imagine her pain.
So I wouldn’t let the tragedy happen again on her, the girl l loved. I hoped that she would love the real me and would never suffer from such pain. Since when I decided not to disguise myself in front of her any more. But the truth was the moment she saw my metamorphosis into a beetle, she shouted as she ran away. Having left a resignation letter on my desk the next day, she left me forever. Although in grief, I was a bit grateful that I didn’t catch her disgusted look owing to the poor sight after I turned into a beetle. Before I had the chance to explain and tell her ‘don’t be afraid’, I had been already sentenced to death by her. But that was the real me rather than the one taught to be disguise since a very young age.
Both sides were in a stalemate. Mom suddenly wept out ‘Your father was right, Gregor. You cannot walk out like this. People will treat you as an alien. They will repel or even kill you. You cannot take the risk.’
Grete started to sob, too.
Dad pointed his finger at me, ‘Listen, I don’t care if you’re mad or sick. I will never allow you to climb out from this door.’
I realized that it would be a protracted war. Before I metamorphosed, I had already considered my parents’ reaction towards it. It was really a tough try.
I quickly moved my several limbs, making my way to the sofa according to my memory, where was quite and I could have a good rest.
In the evening, Mom told me to have supper. She didn’t get close to me instead she called from a distance ‘Gregor, you’ve missed lunch. I’ve made spaghetti for dinner. Come and have some.’
I stretched my body. It was the first time I slept and woke up both in the form of a beetle. It was really relaxing and pleasant, which was beyond expression, as if I had a full body massage. I slid down the sofa and climbed onto the table, this time more expertly.
Holding the plate, Grete walked to the table then sat down beside Dad sheepishly. Anxious and fear, she looked at me because she was forbidden to talk to me by Dad. I lifted one of my limb and waved slightly to her.
Dad put down his newspaper, stared at me indifferently, spoke to me in a disgusted tone ’Have you ever seen a beetle eating on a table? If you persist in doing so, back to where you suppose to be! Don’t spoil others’ appetite. ’
With a flourish, he swept the plate to the floor. With the plate broken in pieces, spaghetti rolled all over and the soup spilt to the tablecloth.
Grete began to sob again. ‘Dad. Please don’t treat Gregor like that.’ she whimpered.
I felt great sorrow in my heart, even more hurtful than the moment the girl left me. With hunger and also by instinct, I rolled down the chair, following the smell of the food. When I finished the last taste of the spaghetti on the floor, I found myself under the sofa, from where the light outside could be seen. I relaxed myself. A wave of drowsiness overpowered me.
The next morning I woke up surprisingly early. The cold ground was not so bad. I decided to leave right now, during which they were all asleep.
Unexpectedly, Mom made the bed near the door. She was still in her dream, breathing gently.
As if she felt my existence near the door, she sat up all of a sudden. I stepped back. Although I couldn’t see her face clearly, I felt her fear the moment she sat up.
‘Gregor…’ her voice sounded weak, ‘Why do you always go your own way and never look back? Don’t you know that if you go out like this, people will hurt you because they are afraid of you while your comrades will resent you because you are exposed. You’re such a smart boy. Why are you being so silly?’
‘I know. I all know. ’ I was a bit emotional, ‘Mom, but you know, when I was little I read your diary. I know that Dad lied to you which made you suffer until now. I also know that you hate beetles, which make you scared and disgusted. That’s all Dad’s fault!’
‘Stop, Gregor. Stop it.’ She sobbed.
‘But Mom, have you ever thought that if I keep disguising myself like him, every person I love will become the next you. Because who they love is not me but a big lie.’
‘My boy, why do you choose to challenge the reality? You just need to show the real you to the people you love, they themselves will choose to stay or leave.’ Mom’s tone was soft.
‘I’m tired of making up lies. I’m just tired. I don’t want to disguise myself any more to whomever, lover, friends or colleges. Mom, I was a born a beetle but I am as outstanding as any other kid. Yes. I can have a better sight if I turn into a human. But at the same time I lose my sharper hearing and smelling. Why do I have to be human just to gain recognition from those who I don’t even care?’
‘Please stop it, Gregor.’ Mom begged.
‘Keep going!’ It was Dad’s voice. ‘I just wonder what else you can say about it.’
I didn’t even notice his step. Instinct to danger drove me to quickly get under the sofa. A watermelon was smashed right at the place where I stayed just now. I knew that the war started.
‘Since you persist on ruining our family’s reputation, let me give me an end.’ He turned into an ugly huge grey beetle then climbed towards me.
‘Don’t hurt my son.’ Mom screamed.
I stepped back nervously.
All of a sudden he stopped his move. With huge rumble, he fell off straightly in front of me.
I tested to climb forward.
He died. Because the sudden metamorphosis made his beetle body incapable of enduring insobriety and asthma. His body lied there, in the figure of a beetle, which he hated most.
Mom came towards me, touched my carapace with her trembling hand, which gave me a sudden shudder.
‘If you insist on doing so, son, then go.’
Word count: 2473