When Gregor Samsa woke one morning from troubled dreams, he found himself transformed into a monstrous freshman. He was lying on his back – which slid around from greases and oils – and when he raised his head he saw his pasty soft belly encrusted with vomit, ridged and given shape by chunks of brown and green undigested matter, an unsightly image made only worse by the wet comforter covering his legs, yellow with pungent urine. His two legs, desperately moving to fling off the horrid soggy sheet, waved helplessly before his eyes.
‘What in the world happened to me?’ he thought. It was no dream. His room, a tiny basement dorm in Farnam, lay awkwardly between four unfamiliar walls. Above the nobbled desk, where a cluster of coffee stained papers and unattractive books lay (Samsa was a Poly Sci major) hung the picture he had recently clipped from the June/July issue of the Fader and placed in an attractive frame. This picture showed Lana Del Rey wearing black eye makeup, surrounded by cherry blossoms with her nose upturned, and making a face of desolate longing. ‘Why is she on my wall? She is terrible,’ he thought to himself.
Gregor’s gaze then shifted to the window, where the bleak weather – New Haven sleet fell silently, only heard as it slushed under fat four by fours driven by blonde mothers with lattes – made him feel quite melancholy. ‘What if I just go back to sleep for a little while and forget all this foolishness,’ he thought, but this proved utterly impossible, for it was his habit to sleep on his right side, and in his present state that side was still damp with vomit, urine and what smelled like half breakfast sandwich with hot sauce and half seminal fluid. He stewed in his filth, unsure of what to do, before a giant burst into his room.
‘Gregor you fucking savage! Are you even gonna make it to Woads?’ The man who appeared in his room was dressed head to toe in sweatpants with the words ‘Yale Football’ on them, and he was clutching an enormous vessel of water, with the words ‘Poland Spring’ on it.
‘What is woads? Who are you?’ Gregor said in confusion.
‘Bro. You’re such a savage. Take a shower, you smell like ass. We’re gonna start drinking in like a half hour.’
After attempting to work through the syntax of ‘smell like ass’ in his head, Gregor concluded that to wash was a wise idea. Though frightened by his sudden presence, Gregor was grateful for the giant’s counsel.
In the bathroom, Gregor looked in the mirror. His face was covered in large spots like small red meteors imbedded in his skin. His confusion swelled. ‘Only yesterday, I was the hero of my high school. I was a decent soccer player. I was bestowed awards. Now I cannot control my bladder and I smell like dumpsters. What has happened?’
A twitch crept out of his formless khaki trousers. He was not sure if they were all covered in vomit, or if they were just a very ugly shade of beige. Both options made his heart heavy. His trousers twitched again. His phone was ringing. He answered it. ‘Gregor,’ the voice called – it was his mother – ‘it’s your sister’s birthday tomorrow. Have you bought your tickets? And have you registered for classes? Did you email your professor about the thing?’ That voice! Gregor flinched when he heard his own voice in response: it was shredded from all manner of chemicals that had been in his throat. He muttered some words to buy himself time and hung up.
In the shower, he looked down below his waist. His pubic hair had been shaven clumsily, at impossible and bizarre angles. He did not remember doing this. As he walked out the shower, someone screamed at him. He had forgotten a towel, and he discovered that he was bleeding profusely from just below his left nipple. There appeared to be bite marks, but the set of teeth did not resemble human teeth.
‘WHAT THE FUCK?’ the person said at him.
‘I do not know.’ Gregor said. ‘I was the valedictorian of my high school yesterday.’
When he returned inside the giant gave him two cups with clear liquid inside to drink. He drank the first, which made him throw up into the cup a little bit. He was fairly certain that no one saw except the giant, who punched him on the shoulder with an enormous fist. He drank the second with no difficulty.
Gregor and a group of unknown people walked through the sleet to Toad’s. When they went inside, Gregor heard a song whose name he did not know but whose melody faintly recalled a sequence of bad evenings. As the song progressed, an image flashed into his head of a faceless human in a Canada Goose jacket, saying at high speed: ‘yeah I like Global Affairs but I think EP&E is better for what I want to do after college.’ The image disturbed him.
He looked to his right and saw an attractive woman, but her face coiled in disgust when she met his gaze. Gregor fearfully took out his phone to examine himself in a reflective surface yet again. The cold had made his nose red, and out of one nostril an ochre fluid flowed down past his mouth. He was being jostled from both sides, and the vigorous rocking motion was making it impossible to keep his balance. He fell down, and tried to crawl on all fours to safety. His hands squelched against the grime on the floor. He let out a scream as a shoe crunched down on his finger. Someone kicked him in the rib. He looked up in pain, confusion and sadness at his assailant. It was another giant, but a skinnier, decidedly European one.
‘Please help me,’ he managed to say. ‘Please help me! Please, someone help me!’ As he begged in desperation, he heard a voice say ‘Pledges, go piss on that freshman.’ Before waiting to find out whether the command had been sincere, Gregor summoned a fatal burst of insectile energy and scurried through myriad legs to freedom. On his desperate journey, he saw from below the giant who had brought him here. The giant was roaring at Gregor as he scuttled, perhaps cheering him on, perhaps chastising him. His expression was not human; no meaning could be found in it. Flecks of spittle flew from his vast mouth. A smaller person was paying him keen interest.
Gregor broke into the clinical air of the winter evening, circumventing on his way out a weedy musician who also seemed confused as to why he had come to this place. Gregor lay prostrate on the street outside Toad’s as the sleet grew colder and turned into snow that fell on him without respite. He remained in this state of empty, peaceful reflection until the Harkness tower struck the third hour of morning. Then his head sank all the way to the floor without volition and he passed out.
This article was updated on Jan. 29 to reflect the version that ran in print on Jan. 27.