‘Unhappiness’ by Franz Kafka

Kafka, Franz 1912

Unhappiness by Franz Kafka, 1912

The magic trick:

Writing a story so scary it makes you question the worth of humanity

So most of this month on the SSMT site has been spent on horror stories that are as fun as they are scary. Not so much today. “Unhappiness” is one of the scariest stories I’ve ever read, and it’s the definitive antithesis to fun.

Ol’ Franz just gets you going both ways. Every single time. Here, as in all of his works it seems, he puts the reader off into the world of oddness in the first sentence, only to have us assessing the conversation (between the adult narrator and a child ghost, mind you) as realistic and plausible. You’re left with your head spinning, wondering why the human race should even bother going on living. And that’s quite a trick on Kafka’s part. (Oh, also, the first paragraph is amazing.)

The selection:

When it was becoming unbearable – once toward evening in November – and I ran along the narrow strip of carpet in my room as on a racetrack, shrank from the sight of the lit-up street, then turning to the interior of the room found a new goal in the depths of the looking glass and screamed aloud, to hear only my own scream which met no answer nor anything that could draw its force away, so that it rose up without check and could not stop even when it ceased being audible, the door in the wall opened toward me, how swiftly, because swiftness was needed and even the cart horses down below on the paving stones were rising in the air like horses driven wild in a battle, their throats bare to the enemy.


What do you think about this story? As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.


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