The Universal Cockroach

by Zephaniah Sole

It happened to my sister.

We were moseying along, partaking of the tasty granules the gods in their pleasure made the ground in all abundance produce. The gods are happy with us today, my sister said, and giggled. Unable to respond as my mouth was full, I simply smiled.

The old ones tell us that the warning is often a rush of wind, but if you hear it, it’s already too late. They know this only because a few, a blessed few, still walk amongst us with missing limbs to remind us of the precarious nature of our joy. I never heard a rush of wind. My sister had been mid-laugh one moment and the next the world shook and her beautiful little face split open. Half her body was fused to the ground. She twitched and looked toward me. There was nothing, absolutely nothing, to be done. The old ones tell us that when this happens, if you still stand, run. Drop everything and run. But I froze, watching one of her eyes turn upward as her warped and broken legs convulsed. Then she vanished. That was when I ran. The world shook once or twice more, I could not keep count; I was sprinting in horror. That day, the gods chose to let me return home.

The old ones say that when this happens there is always a reason. For that one, they’ll say he became greedy with the food he found, he had not needed so much. For this one, they’ll say, she grew lazy, walking in indolence without purpose or verve. And don’t forget those two, who dared fornicate in the open.

But I do not understand why this happened to her. She never took more than she needed from the world, and when she came upon abundance, like we had that day, if she took extra it was to bring home to the less fortunate. She was humble. She worked hard. She was still young and the blight of fornication had not yet touched her soul.

When we lose ones such as her, the old ones say, it is to be taken as a reminder: even if we cannot remember the sins of our past lives, the gods most certainly do.

Sometimes, if I stay still, I think I can see a god in my peripheral vision. It usually appears as an odd motion. A movement out of sorts against the ground and sky, as if the god is the world and separate from the world all at once. When this happens I freeze and breathe through my terror. If the god is real, I wonder if it can see me. I wonder if it will take me, and often I wish it will. But I also know there is no point in wishing for such things–we all end up with the dust of our carcasses blowing in the breeze. I miss my sister. Her favorite food was roasted strawberries.

Zephaniah Sole’s work is published or forthcoming in Epiphany Magazine, Gargoyle Magazine, Collateral Journal, Carcosa Magazine, Sisyphus Magazine, and The Write Launch. His first novel, Ikigai and the Land of 7,000 Islands, is slated to be published in the spring of 2023. He is a recipient of a 2021 Author Fellowship from the Martha Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a 2021 VONA alum. Follow him on Twitter @ZephaniahSole.