The Ghost of a Flea

I have made the Flea my business since that first night with John Varley.

I searched out Robert Hooke’s Micrographia: Some Physiological Descriptions of Minute Bodies Made by Magnifying Glasses with Observations and Enquiries. Micrographia. Small drawings.

Hooke’s work is an exquisite endeavour but his rendering of the flea is larger than any other creature therein. So much so that the page folds out as if Hooke is trying to communicate something. Why else would he elevate the flea so?

Hooke made his study in 1665. One hundred and fifty-three years ago. He writes with obscene interest  of the flea’s curiously polish’d suit of sable Armour, neatly jointed, and beset with multitudes of sharp pinns, shap’d almost like Porcupine’s Quills, or bright conical Steel-bodkins; the head is on either side beautify’d with a quick and round black eye, behind each of which also appears a small cavity, in which he seems to move to and fro a certain thin film beset with many small transparent hairs, which probably may be his ears; in the forepart of his head, between the two fore-leggs, he has two small long jointed feelers, or rather smellers…

            That we could be terrorised by something so minute is both woeful and laughable. Unlike Hooke I see nothing to admire in this parasite. I’ve seen the Flea’s ghost and he doesn’t look like Hooke’s drawing. No, not at all.

The Ghost of a Flea by Priya Sharma
The flea from Hooke’s Micrographia

This story has been in my head for years, ever since I attended a series of talks called “Dreams and Nightmares” at Liverpool University as part of their Continuing Education Classes. William Blake’s “The Ghost of a Flea” stayed with me and I have finally exorcised it via a story for Ellen Datlow’s anthology Screams from the Dark: 29 Tales of Monsters and the Monstrous.

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