“You study… what?” she asked, licking her lips hungrily.
“Cockroaches,” Dr. Archibel responded, sighing.
Bespectacled and slight, with thinning hair and alarming pallor, Franz Archibel was unaccustomed to being the object of a woman’s attention. Yet here he was, at another cocktail party hosted by the department chair’s wife, but this time surrounded by women — colleagues, spouses, catering staff — hanging on his every word. And their eyes — some soft and fluttery, others hard and carnivorous — all focused on him.
“Periplaneta Americana, of the order Blattaria. Modes of adaptation and reproduction are my specialty.”
“Fascinating,” said the woman, Mira, a smoldering brunette. “May I call you Archie?” she asked coyly, through those just moistened lips.
A pet name? From a beautiful girl? Unprecedented, he thought.
“My name is Franz,” he mumbled, stunned.
“You know, Archie, I find the scientific mind irresistible.” Mira casually brushed back some strands of Archibel’s limp hair. Her touch sent an electrical charge through his body.
“Yes, thank you, I mean… what was I talking about?”
“Reproduction,” said the waitress, passing by with a tray of crab cakes, her mouth curled in a secret smile.
“Please, professor, don’t talk about reproduction,” urged Emily Samsa, the hostess. Carrying triplet girls en utero made Emily sensitive to the subject. “Every woman I know is pregnant.” Her guests laughed.
“But it’s fascinating,” continued Archibel. “The cockroach has been with us since before the dinosaurs.”
As he spoke, a woman across the room rocked a pink-blanketed infant in her arms. Babies seemed to abound these days, he observed. What was he saying?
“Um… but… how did they survive the cataclysms that brought so many other species to extinction? Adaptation! The cockroach, you see, is…”
Emily sidled up to him and whispered, “Franz, this is why you always leave these parties alone, despite my best efforts and the diminishing supply of eligible men. Talk about something else… the odd weather, anything!”
Mira, however, continued to show intense interest. “But what does your work have to do with, you know, people?” She was unconsciously spooning too much sugar into her coffee. Franz pretended not to notice.
“You would be surprised by the amount of genetic material humans have in common with insects, especially ones that have been swimming in the gene pool for 300 million years. In fact, a recent test I conducted may have profound implic — ”
Franz was interrupted by Dr. Upson Samsa, the host and his department chair, handing him a Bloody Mary. “Emily thought you could use this… oh, I see you’ve met Mira; she’s my new assistant. Mira, I’m afraid Dr. Archibel here is a confirmed bachelor, so go easy on him.” Samsa chuckled and wandered off. Archibel blushed.
“Please Archie, continue,” coaxed Mira, nearly purring.
“Oh, what was I… oh, yes. Profound implications…”
“Franz, hold Dottie a moment, I need to pee.” Professor Berenbaum pushed her toddler into Archibel’s arms, causing him to spill his drink down his white linen pants. Berenbaum disappeared down the hall. Dot hugged Archibel tightly.
“You have a way with children,” observed Mira.
“Not really,” Franz replied, shocked.
“Are roaches good parents, too?” she teased.
“Yes, surprisingly maternal.”
“What’s surprising is that they’re able to attract mates at all since they look like, you know, cockroaches,” Mira giggled and then went wide-eyed, seemingly shocked by the sound.
“Yes, I see what you mean. Ha.” Archibel put Dottie down so he could clean off his trousers. She hugged his leg like it was her Build-A-Bear. “Actually, not all roaches try to attract mates. There’s a rare strain that reproduces through parthenogenesis.”
“Partha — ?”
“Parthenogenesis. Asexual reproduction.”
“Asexual? Well, that doesn’t sound like any fun at all!” Mira tried to help Franz by wiping his crotch with the napkin in her hand.
“So that was your profound new discovery?” she continued, nonchalantly, as she stroked his groin.
“Um… what… oh, no. That’s fairly old news… Please, thank you, I’ve got it…” Archibel took the napkin from her and started wiping himself.
“I recently altered their environment so radically that this particular intrusion of roaches should have eventually died out. But, instead, the females started breeding at a tremendous rate, disgorging a disproportionately large number of female progeny. The environmental impact did cause a precipitous decline in the male population, but enough males remained to keep the female population… um, populated.”
“How terribly sexy,” Mira whispered.
“My theory is that it’s a genetic failsafe, hardwired. When faced with extinction, the female overbreeds the species to survival. Amazing, really.”
Franz had succeeded in spreading the tomato juice further down his trousers.
Berenbaum came back and peeled her daughter off of Archibel’s leg. “Oh, did Dottie do that?” indicating the stain. She reached for a napkin. “Let me get that for y — ”
“Yes, I’ll just go back there and take care of this myself, thank you both…”
Archibel retreated to a guestroom down the hall. He sat on the edge of a bed piled with coats, the only light in the room coming from a TV droning on in the corner. Fox News was bleating at him, with talking heads shouting about whether the continuous warnings of imminent natural disasters on a scale that would make Noah weep was just more liberal junk science or whether it marked the “end of days” as described in the Book of Revelation.
There was a soft knock at the door. Mira entered the darkened room, unbuttoning her blouse as she crossed to him. Franz froze. As the two sank down onto the coats and her lips brushed against his, he finally understood. From now on, there would be only this, just survivors in the dark waiting for the storm to pass, and nothing else mattered.
The upside of the gradually encroaching apocalypse was that even males like him wouldn’t have to be alone anymore, and so his life-long terror abated. In fact, there was only one thing for him to be afraid of ever again…
Ralph Sevush, Esq., is an attorney and the co-Executive Director of The Dramatists Guild. As a writer, in addition to the 100+ articles published by The Dramatist Magazine, he wrote an article for Worlds of If Magazine (1983); his noir fantasy, “Emmett, Joey & the Beelz”, was published by Abyss & Apex (2006), reprinted by Kaleidotrope (2008), and produced as a podcast by Dunesteef Audio Fiction Magazine (2011). His western tall-tale, “Mad Gilly & the Were-Bear”, was published by Scareship.Com (2012), and his dark fantasy, “Picasso & the Satyr”, was purchased for an upcoming anthology, A Darke Phantastique.