As we’re about to celebrate the glorious tradition of Halloween, I’d like to offer our dedicated readers a rare gem – a horror tale with a somewhat unusual subject matter…insects; namely, cockroaches.
Chris Leppek and I have always enjoyed digging up (pun intended) hard-to-find stories with equally obscure writers. Such is the case with “Roaches” – a delicious work that we can’t recommend enough.
First published in 1965, the story was written by Thomas Michael Disch who had quite the following as both a science fiction author and poet. In fact, he earned a total of two Hugo Award and nine Nebula Award nominations during his prolific career.
However, his rare excursions into horror are worthy of all who love to read about things that go bump in the night, or (in the case of “Roaches”) things that skitter and crawl in the night.
“Roaches” ( which appears in the 1987 Dark Descent anthology, edited by David G. Hartwell and published by Tom Doherty Assoc.) introduces us to Marcia Kenwell, a young lady who moves to New York in order to restart her rather dull and unfulfilling existence. Her only warning delivered by her doting grandmother is to beware of cockroaches – insects she has never come across before.
Now in the big city, Marcia finds herself holding a proverbial dead-end job, living an even more unfulfilling existence in a squalid apartment building. And she soon comes face-to-face with what she was warned about – thousands of darting, antennaed cockroaches; disgusting creatures that fester, feed and give birth in darkness, only to scatter to distant corners, cracks and crevices when exposed to light.
But her revulsion to cockroaches suddenly evolves to something else when she discovers that she is somehow able to communicate with these creatures and to actually command them to do her bidding, i.e. infesting the bed of her filthy, Eastern European neighbors that live beyond the wall of her tiny apartment.
In a touching, ironic stroke, Marcia becomes a perverse Queen of the Cockroaches at the shocking conclusion of the tale.
Like any good piece of horror fiction, the disturbing images of “Roaches” remains with the reader long afterwards.
So curl up this Halloween with a good story and pray that the furtive movements just beyond your periphery are absolutely nothing to be concerned about.