Franz Kafka wants you to be an indestructible superhero! (2)
By Stephen Thom
He awoke curled up on the floor.
He traipsed up the stairs to his bedroom. He switched the lamp on and removed a little plastic packet of dirt from the drawer in his bedside table.
He smoothed the bag out on his lap. He frowned. He lifted it up to the light.
There were tiny marbles inside it, scattered amongst the earth.
K rubbed his eyes. He opened the packet, sifted through the dirt, and picked the marbles out individually. They were miniscule, but finely-formed. He ran his fingers over them.
Maybe someone had left them amongst the flowers and stones. It was an odd choice. He didn't remember scraping them up. He felt worse now.
He closed his fist over the marbles. He thought about the work meeting, and his heart sank. He opened his palm.
The marbles lifted into the air, trailing little phosphorus threads.
K gawped. He looked down at his palm, and back up at the hovering marbles. He tried to prod one of them. It shimmied in mid-air and darted to the right. K cocked his head. The same marble glided past its static brethren, trailing iridescent threads in its wake.
He leaned back. The threads were forming words. Words. The little marble was writing something in the air.
K reached out. The coiled trails comprised a ghostly sentence in the gloom.
It cannot be claimed that we are lacking in belief. The mere fact of our being alive is an inexhaustible font of belief.
The words dissipated at his fingertips. Kafka's words.
K wondered if he should call a doctor. An ambulance. He reached for the hovering marbles. They flitted away from him, moving in formation. They came to rest on his bedside table and began arranging themselves into sections. K squinted. The marbles bounced, bumped and attached themselves to each other with a squishy sound.
He heard his clock ticking.
A tiny marble-man was sitting on his bedside table, its legs dangling over the edge. Five marbles for each arm and leg. It shook its cloudy, spherical head. K crouched down close. Two little indents had appeared. Eyes. It opened its slip of mouth.
'It cannot be claimed that we are lacking in belief - '
'Help,' said K.
The little marble-man looked up at him. It stood carefully and pottered across the bedside table, wobbling slightly.
'What?' It said, flexing its marble-joints. Its voice was tinny and high-pitched.
'I need to make a phone call,' mumbled K, backing away.
The marble-man tottered to the edge of the table and pointed at K.
'Don't phone your doctor,' it snapped.
K was almost at his bedroom door.
'Why are you pointing at me?' He asked.
The marble-man looked at its little ball-hands.
'For emphasis? I guess.'
K turned out the room and fled down the stairs. He shrugged his jacket on. The marble-man scurried after him, its little legs motoring across the steps. It arrived beside K at the front door.
'Bloody hell,' it wheezed.
K looked down at the sad little figure. It was doubled over. He grasped the door handle and felt a familiar rush of nerves. The marble-man straightened up.
'It cannot be claimed that we are lacking in belief - '
'You're kind of ruining that for me,' snapped K. The marble-man kicked the carpet half-heartedly.
K opened the door. A flurry of snowflakes blew in.
The marble-man tugged at his shoelace. K knelt down and sighed at the little spherical face. He picked the tiny figure up, placed it on his right shoulder, and ventured out into the snow.
All the sufferings we occasion
we must also suffer
We don't all share one body
but we do share growth
'It was late evening when K arrived. The village lay deep in snow. Nothing could be seen of Castle Hill, it was wrapped in mist and darkness, not a glimmer of light hinted at the presence of the great castle. K stood for a long while on the wooden bridge that led from the main road to the village, gazing up into the seeming emptiness... '
K clasped the bridge railing and ploughed through padded snow.
'Stop narrating,' he said. 'I know this part.'
'Well, excuse me,' huffed the marble-man, adjusting his seat on K's shoulder.
K stopped. He scoped the distant towers of the Castle. The marble-man poked his ear.
'Check you, outside and everything.'
K rolled his eyes.
'Indeed. Should we be heading for the Castle?'
The marble-man stood and lifted one of his little ball-hands to his head, as if he were scouting.
'I don't think so. No-one ever really gets there. Anyway, look.'
A ramshackle cart, pulled by two horses, was approaching over the bridge.
'You have to be sociable now,' whispered the marble-man.
'Right,' said K, grinding his teeth.
The cart slowed, and a driver in flannel clothing stepped down.
'Are you the land surveyor?' He grumbled.
'They don't need one,' whispered the marble-man.
'Yes,' said K, placing his hand over the wriggling figure on his shoulder. 'Yes, I am.'
The driver guided them up and onto the cart. He cracked his whip. The view disappeared in a whirlwind of gauzy flakes as they trundled along.
There are questions we could never get past,
were it not that we are freed of them by nature
K stood by the hole in the ice. The marble-man shivered near his ear.
'I have to go down, don't I,' K breathed.
The marble-man clung to the collar of his jacket as gusts of snow buffeted them.
'I'm afraid so.'
K swallowed. He dropped to the ground, swung into the hole, and lowered himself onto the first rung. The driver watched him impassively.
They descended slowly. The marble-man was coughing a lot.
'You don't sound well,' said K.
The little figure on his shoulder spluttered.
'I have tuberculosis.'
'But you're made of marbles.'
'I'm made of good stuff,' the marble-man wheezed, tapping his collarbone.
K's feet scrabbled for purchase on the rung below.
'Do you have any more?' He asked. 'Words, that is.'
'Thought they were ruining it for you?'
'One more,' K breathed, his palms wrapping round a rung. 'For old time's sake.'
The marble-man's voice was quiet, and punctured with squeaky coughs.
'A man. Cannot live. Without a steady faith. In something indestructible within him.'
K's hands slipped. They fell down the remaining drop.
He struggled up in a small, dark room. He glanced overhead and saw the final ladder rung in a hole in the ceiling.
An old man sat in a wooden chair in the centre of the room. He was watching a black-and-white television. He seemed engrossed.
K knelt and lifted the lifeless body of the marble-man from his right shoulder. He held the little figure close. He blinked back tears. He felt so angry.
The old man seemed to register them for the first time. He looked round. When he spoke, it came with a soft Czech accent.
'Oh dear,' he muttered. 'Oh dear, I'm sorry.'
K stood. He carried the marble-man over. He glanced at the TV screen. It was full of violent explosions. Monochrome stars collapsed. Planets were sucked into black holes. Galaxies snapped and shrivelled. He bit his lip.
'What are... what are you watching?'
The old man smiled.
'The end of the universe. Every twenty billion years. I never miss it.'
K heard rumbling overhead. He pulled the marble-man's body to his chest. Its sphere-head lolled.
'Sounds bleak,' he whispered to himself.
The old man watched the screen. His eyes were deeply sunken, and within them exploding stars reflected. His voice came slow and gentle.
'It's not. It's a miracle. It is a miracle. A ludicrously unlikely amalgamation of atoms, timing, consciousness, people, people who were there long before, people you will see again and again in different places and lifetimes; time, time as a linear line, now a flat circle, now a ribbon unspooling and arcing back in on itself. And there is oceans of it; never-ending time, even if the composite minutiae fail you or you feel you have failed them, then there is still more good in the world - and in all the worlds before and to come - than you can possibly imagine.'
He stopped, breathless. The rumbling was more pronounced now. The walls splintered. Chunks fell from the ceiling.
The old man held his hands out. K passed the marble-man's body into them. He felt a sharp ringing in his ears. Everything seemed to blur as plaster and dust rained around them.
'Don't leave me,' K said.
'But I am not leaving you,' the old man replied.
From a certain point on,
there is no more turning back
That is the point
that must be reached
The old man ushered K up the ladder, despite his protests. K clambered up. There were loud crashes beneath. He looked down. The old man was waving, but he was almost obscured by dust and falling debris.
At the surface, K ran along the ice sheet as it cracked and split behind him. He made it to the bridge. Leaning on the rail, he watched the dead planets dissolve and sink into the darkness below.
He walked home through the snow. He passed through Kafka's village, its distant Castle shrouded in flakes. By the time he made it back to his street, the snow had melted to slush.
He went into work the following day. He said 'Good morning' to his colleagues. He forced himself to.
When he opened his briefcase, he discovered a little marble-man asleep in it. He lifted it out gently, and lay it by his keyboard. Its tiny snores blended into the office bustle.