Planet Of The Roaches
He woke up. Feeling groggy, he got to his feet and stumbled to the window. He opened the window and sucked in the fresh air. Fresh air? Wait a minute. The view outside the window was not the same. The sky was covered with dark clouds, and the twilight illuminated a hellish landscape. As far as the eye could see, the buildings were crumbling and falling apart. The pavements were pitted and scarred. Cracks extended across the automobile roads. Rocks and debris were strewn haphazardly everywhere. Some of the rocks glowed strangely. But the air was fresh.My God
, he thought. What the hell happened?
He looked down from his bedroom on the seventh storey, bewildered and at a loss. Then he blinked. A dark shape flitted across the barren landscape. It was the size of a human being, as far as he was able to judge from his perspective. However, it was definitely not the shape of a human being. His head started to hammer. Maybe I had too much to drink last night,
he thought. It couldn't have been . . .
Then he saw several more of those shapes skittering across the ground, faster than a human could possibly move. He recoiled in horror, for he had feared cockroaches for as long as he could remember. What kind of a nightmare is this?
Everything looked so bizarre. Nothing was the same, except for the air, which was still fresh.
He spun back to face inwards, but everything in his room was different too. The metal frame of his bed was badly corroded. The mattress was rotting. The floor looked as if it had not been swept or mopped in years. It was covered with filth and worse. The computer still seemed to be working, even though it looked as filthy as everything else. The thought struck him that he had find out if anything had happened to his parents! Cautiously, he opened the door of his bedroom and peeked out. What he saw made him breathless with fear. He gulped and slowly closed the door again as silently as he could. He turned the door-knob, pressed the locking button, and slowly let it turn back to its original position. The human-sized roaches were in his living-room too.
Suddenly, the door-knob jiggled! Then, there was a knock on the door. Panic-stricken, he looked around frantically for a route of escape, but there was only the window. Whatever was outside pounded on the door again, and he made up his mind. He climbed out of the window and suffered a bout of dizziness as he gazed down at the ground far below. Taking a deep breath, he calmed himself and started climbing down. There were plenty of holes in the damaged walls for him to use and the climb was surprisingly easy. He breathed a sigh of relief when he reached the ground.
Hiding behind a boulder, he watched the street. Every now and then, some roaches would rush by, moving at blistering speeds like hideous automobiles. Every now and then, roaches would emerge from buildings. He was terrified, and he was hungry. He needed some place to think and to plan. But where? The roaches seemed to be everywhere. The thought of the sewers came to his mind, but sewers were the home of roaches! For a while, his mind kept going around in circles.
Presently, he forced himself to calm down. You are made of sterner stuff than this,
he told himself. He decided to give logic a try. He listed the facts.
Item: He could not stay where he was indefinitely.
Item: The roaches appeared to be everywhere above ground.
Item: The sewers were the one place he could think of trying, but they were the natural homes of roaches in cities.
Conclusion: If he stayed, he was screwed. If he tried the sewers and they contained more roaches, he was screwed anyway because there was nowhere else to try. If they did not, he would have some place and time to think and try to make sense of the situation.
With that decision made, he was left with the problem of sneaking into the sewers. He waited until there were no roaches on the street, and he dashed across to an alley opposite, where he remembered that there was a sewer entrance. Suddenly the back door to the corner shop in the building opened! He flattened himself against the wall and prayed that the emerging roach would not see him. The giant roach stepped out into the alley and skittered out into the street, antennae waving. He breathed a sigh of relief. He could have sworn that there was no way the roach could have missed him. He quickly ran to the sewer entrance, lifted the cover and climbed in.
He had thought that the place would stink, but the water seemed aromatic rather than putrid. He noted with relief that there were no roaches in sight. He rested on the side of the sewer, out of the water. In the gloom, he could not see much, but he could dimly perceive small, shadowy shapes skittering around, accompanied by high-pitched squeaks. So, there were still rats in the sewers.
He started to think. He remembered reading a bit of trivia somewhere that roaches were the most likely creatures to survive a nuclear holocaust. Remembering the sight of glowing stones from his bedroom, he concluded that they must have been radioactive. This could not have been a primary blast site, for if it had been, there would have been no buildings standing. Probably the radioactivity had mutated the cockroaches over time. But where were the humans
? If the humans were all dead, how did he survive? Again, the seeds of insanity began sprouting in his head as his thoughts started to move in circles once more. This time, he welcomed the blackness of madness and despair . . .*
Gradually, sanity returned to him. He did not know how long he had been wandering the sewers in a daze. It could have been anything from a day to a few weeks. He realised that he had started to catch rats and eat them. He had also begun to drink the water in the sewers. He recalled that during his period of insanity, the thought had come to him that he could not survive long on such poor sustenance, and had welcomed the thought of death. Strangely, he still felt relatively healthy and strong. If I survived, there must be others around.
The thought gave him strength of purpose.
He remembered that the suburbs he lived in was just a half-hour bus ride away from the city. If there had indeed been a nuclear war, the enemy must have targeted the city. Since no terrestrial organism, no matter how hardy, could survive a nuclear blast, he reasoned that his best chances of finding fellow survivors lay north, opposite the direction of the city. But which direction was north? Dread filled him as he realised that he would have to emerge from the sewers to get his bearings. He re-examined his situation, hoping to find an alternative course of action. There was none. He mentally prepared himself, drumming up his courage. Then, he climbed the nearest sewer exit.
The surroundings were wholly unfamiliar to him. Fortunately, he seemed to have emerged from the sewers at night, and he hoped that the darkness would provide a cover for him. He started to sneak around, always skirting the walls and swiftly hiding himself whenever any roaches came into sight. He had a few close shaves in which he thought that some roach would surely have seen him, but always nothing happened. He even started to feel a little pride at not being discovered. All the while, he searched for familiar landmarks or buildings, but everything was so different. He was not even sure that he would recognise any buildings from his neighbourhood even if he saw them.
Suddenly, a roach came into sight, and he hid himself behind a pile of bricks. This roach, he noticed, had a star emblazoned on its forehead. The roach looked straight in his direction and started to walk towards him. He cursed. He wondered what he could do. He ran. Glancing behind, he saw the roach skittering after him. Suddenly, other roaches with stars in their foreheads started joining the chase. Terrified, he ran as fast as he could. Amazingly, he managed to stay ahead of them.Bastards must be toying with me,
he thought, and anger brought a fresh surge of strength to his limbs. Suddenly, two more roaches appeared in front of him. He was trapped. He backed away to the side of the street, stopping when his back collided with the glass window of a storefront. The roaches approached slowly and ominously. Then, amazingly, one of them spoke.
"Just what the hell do you think you're doing, son? Don't you know how worried your parents are? And why the hell were you running away from us?"
An impossible suspicion began to creep over him, as with dawning comprehension, he slowly turned around to look full upon his reflection in the glass window behind him. He saw, with horror, the hideous face of a roach, himself, staring back at him.