1920 | Prague

Angry Bird

Franz Kafka versus a bird of prey.

A vulture was hacking at my feet. It had already torn my boots and stockings to shreds; now it was hacking at the feet themselves. Again and again it struck at them, then circled several times restlessly around me, then returned to continue its work. A gentleman passed by, looked on for a while, then asked me why I suffered the vulture.

“I’m helpless,” I said. “When it came and began to attack me, I of course tried to drive it away, even to strangle it, but these animals are very strong, it was about to spring at my face, but I preferred to sacrifice my feet. Now they are almost torn to bits.” “Fancy letting yourself be tortured like this!” said the gentleman. “One shot and that’s the end of the vulture.” “Really?” I said. “And would you do that?” “With pleasure,” said the gentleman, “I’ve only got to go home and get my gun. Could you wait another half hour?” “I’m not sure about that,” said I, and stood for a moment rigid with pain. Then I said, “Do try it in any case, please.” “Very well,” said the gentleman, “I’ll be as quick as I can.” During this conversation the vulture had been calmly listening, letting its eye rove between me and the gentleman. Now I realized that it had understood everything; it took wing, leaned far back to gain impetus, and then, like a javelin thrower, thrust its beak through my mouth, deep into me. Falling back, I was relieved to feel him drowning irretrievably in my blood, which was filling every depth, flooding every shore.


Franz Kafka

“The Vulture.” Other short stories with animal characters that Kafka wrote but did not publish are “Investigations of a Dog,” “A Crossbreed,” and “A Little Fable.” His friend Max Brod, who later oversaw the posthumous publication of Kafka’s The Trial, The Castle, and Amerika, praised his writing in an essay in 1907; Kafka published his first work, eight sketches under the title “Meditation,” the following year. Brod once recalled how Kafka read aloud with a “rhythmic sweep, a dramatic fire, a spontaneity such as no actor ever achieves.”