As Gregor woke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed. His eyes peeled open and cast about, vision was blurry but eventually focused. He was where he had been, in a pile of leaf litter in the bough of a tree, but something was very wrong.
He wheeled his limbs about, gaining no traction until he toppled onto his front. Gregor had become enormous. He collapsed under his own weight, face down. His weirdly stunted proboscis was funnelled into the Earth but, stranger still, he smelled almost nothing. The chemical silence was deafening. He hauled himself up on his limbs again: “urgh!” he exclaimed, grunting with effort. The sound shocked him. He’d never made that noise before.
Gregor began crawling around on the forest floor. Where was everybody? Questions rattled around his mind. What was going on? His mind that was once a simple relay was a now a tangled warren of pathways that set off a clashing torrent of thoughts and feelings. Where was he? He felt what he later realised was, a combination of fear, abandonment and deep revulsion. What was he?
He was heavy and large and covered in a strange, soft dermis. His pincers were digits. His carapace was missing along a pair of legs. Gregor tried to climb a tree but the friction was gone. He felt hungry. He tried eating sap, then fungus, then a handful of leaves but these things tasted foul to him. Eventually there was nothing left to do except curl up in a ball to retain heat.
Sometime later his feelings simplified to terror when he found three ape-creatures standing over him on their hind legs. Two of them were tall, one of them was short. They made noises at him; sharp noises that made him cover his ears. He realised later they were trying to communicate with him. More ape-creatures came and two of them managed to pick Gregor up. They wanted him to stand like they were doing. They were also keen to cover him in a pelt a bit like the ones they were wearing. He fell down a few times and the pelt kept slipping off but they were eventually satisfied. They took him slowly, out of the wood and put him in a box. The box started moving. Gregor felt queasy. He would have been sick but there was nothing to regurgitate. He eventually passed out.
When Gregor came to he was in a cave, a square cave, very clean, odorless and cold with an artificial sun dangling from the ceiling. Gregor was wearing a new pelt and had a strange tube burrowed into his arm. More ape-creatures came and went. They touched him, looked him over, measured him, they shined a light in his eyes; all the while they kept making their noises at him. It was hard to get used to. Later they took the tube out and brought him food and water though it took some getting used to. The food they offered him was often warm but had to be broken down with the bony protuberances in his jaw. Gregor was in the cave for a long time. He began to decipher what the noises meant. It was communication.
They wanted to know about him, particularly what he was doing when they found him. Gregor told them he had been living a normal life, eating leaves and drinking rainwater, scuttling up and down trees and rocks but the ape creatures, who called themselves humans, said this was impossible. The showed him something. They gave him a reflective square. One of them said “look.” He did. He realised eventually he was looking at himself. He was an ape-creature, a human.
In time he learned that he was human all along. The other humans, who called themselves doctors, told him he had a name, a word that applied to an individual. His word was Gregor. Despite misgivings Gregor slowly came to accept his humanity. His dreams of being an insect were just that, dreams, delusions brought on by a mental breakdown.
Gregor left the cave, called a hospital, and was settled it a place called home. Home was a small set of rooms, darker than the hospital, warmer, mustier and lonelier. They even settled him into his old job, a task to do as part of the human hive. Gregor worked in telesales, apparently, which meant ringing people up offering them something they didn’t want. Gregor settled into his new/old life. He never felt comfortable in himself, his dreams were still uneasy, but this was his life now. He accepted it.
A year on, a year was a succession of four seasons, Gregor was in his kitchen, a place where humans mixed foods together and warmed them up to prevent poisoning, stirring a pot, when he saw something scuttle across the table next to him. Gregor jumped and lashed out instinctively with the spoon. There was a tiny cracking sound. Turning the spoon over slowly guilt seeped into horror. Gregor realised he had killed one of his own.