The Mantis & the Fox

This one was for Esoterotica’s annual SFF fandom-themed show. I’ve never been much of a Trekkie, or a Star Warrior, or a Veronica Martian, so I wrote a style parody of two of my favorite novels: Vellum and Ink.
Writing prose in 100-word stanzas is actually quite fun!

The Mantis & the Fox,
a tale in three timelines

Far ago and long away, in an enchanted forest — doesn’t matter which, most forests were enchanted enough for our purposes back then — there lived a mantis who’d made his nest out of old books. Mantids don’t make nests, you say? Well that’s how you know he was enchanted.

Now, when this mantis got to reading the old fabbles and wives’ tales, he found some about insects. Plenty featured ants. Caterpillars too. And bees — they had a FUN one! But there weren’t any about mantids.

So he laced up his boots and set out to make a fabble for his kind.


The detective picks up the phone on the fourth ring.

“Literary Indiscretions Division,” he says, by rote.

It’s the priggish head archivist of Kentigern University, sounding quite agitated. Another mysteeerious ancient tome has gone missing from the basement, all doors locked, all guards found fast asleep with smiles on their faces. It’s the fifth theft they’ve called him about in the past two months, but it’s different this time — one of the guards has provided a description. Quite a handsome one, at that.

“What’s it worth if I find him? Or the book?” says the detective.

He gets a number.


Jack Flash buckles on his spring-heeled boots, holsters his ki-guns on either side of his ribcage, feels them pulse with the residual orgone energy built up by a healthy round of ruttin’ with Puck minutes previous.

It takes one randy vigilante to wield literal sex pistols.

Jack flicks two fingers along the arms of his Moonglasses, activating their HUD. From his perch on one of the skyscraper’s broken windows he steals a glance back at Puck who’s fast asleep, devil’s lock all disheveled, Bio-Synth butterfly wings curled around his chest.

Hope the explosions won’t wake him, Jack thinks. Then leaps.


As the mantis walked he came to a clearing in the forest that was coated with snow and battered by chilling wind.

Enchanted, remember.

At the edge of that clearing he saw a king snake, coiled up and nearly frozen solid. It looked down its lack of a nose at him, and somehow managed to hiss in a British accent.

“Hi,” said the mantis, “I know this is probably someone else’s fabble, but might you want some help getting where it’s warmer?”

“You? Help me?” the king snake scoffed. “You’re a commoner.”

“You’re a twat,” the mantis said, then left.


The detective enters the bar. He slips the cops’ sketch from his folder, looks at one man who’s seated at the corner, studies him for a moment. Sure as anything that would have to be the notorious Guy Renard, a gentleman thief with a reputation for charming his way out of armed custody in several Romance-language-speaking countries.

The detective slips onto a barstool beside Renard, looks him up and down. His attention’s focused on the crossword folded in front of him.

“They say you’ve got a silver tongue,” says the detective.

“Aye,” says Renard without looking up. “Other organs, too.”


Shortly after passing the snake, the mantis found a river cutting through the forest, one too wide for him to leap across. Fortunately there was a fox seated on the riverbank, rolling a cigarette.

“Pardon me,” said the mantis, “do you think you might be able to help me get across the river?”

“Sorry,” said the fox with a shrug, “I’ve already got everything I need on this bank.” He gestured to the hill next to him, on which the mantis saw a blanket, a bottle of scotch, and two tumblers. “Unless ye know where I can find some ice?”


The silvered skylight shatters beneath Jack’s heels as he descends, landing in what would be a three-point stance were his arms not out to either side, ki-guns drawn, fired, two blackshirt guards sent to a swift little death.

The three remaining guards draw their guns as Jack rolls forward into a crouch, pegs another two blackshirts (if only metaphorically) then clicks his heels together, launches himself towards the third who certainly wasn’t expecting a cyberpunk anarchist to shoot him twice in the face with bolts of magical sex energy.

Jack nicks a pass-card while the Nazis are still in afterglow.


“No offenshe intended,” slurred the mantis, frozen snake chunks clinking together in his glass, “but I jusht can’t be having a relationship with anything that hash a tail.”

The fox reached back to grasp the root of his tail with both paws, hiked it up his back until it was attached just beneath one arm, then wrapped the tail around his shoulders like a stole.

(Once more: enchanted.)

“You shouldn’t get caught up on technicalities,” said the fox, “it ruins the milieu.”

“That’sh quite a vocabulary you have,” said the mantis.

“All the better to ply you with, my dear.”


Like many a guard and private security contractor before him, the detective is soon overwhelmed by Renard’s… force of personality, let’s say.

Drinks lead to stage-whispers and raised eyebrows, which lead to discussion of what they’re doing with the rest of the evening, which leads to an exit through the bar’s closed kitchen, which leads to a nearly private alley lit by a lone lamp, which leads to the rustling of clothing, leads to clinking of latches, leads to fingers on shoulders guiding gently, leads to the taste of scotch and smoke soon saltily swept from tongues, twice in turn.


Commandant Josef steps out onto the catwalk above the factory’s rapidly-overheating turbines as a flame-headed figure springs up from the machinery, landing with a clatter just ahead. Before Jack can regain his balance the blackshirt is upon him, sword unsheathed from his cane. Jack whips out a pistol just in time to parry the incoming blade, the force of the swing knocking it from his hand just before the butt of Josef’s cane drives hard into his ribs.

Jack falls to his knees but tumbles backward, coming up in time to stare down the point of Josef’s blade as he-


“Are you sure?” said the mantis, wishing he had eyebrows to furrow with concern. “You’re, well, you’re fox sized,” he opened one pincer fully, “and I’m just-” opened another smaller.

“You act like you don’t know what ‘enchantment’ means” laughed the fox.

“Fair enough,” shrugged the mantis. “Game on, then.”


-thrusts his palm out, meeting Josef’s sword, blade piercing wristbone and forearm, then a quick desperate twist traps it between radius and ulna.

Josef has but an instant to consider his locked weapon before he feels a ki-gun’s barrel below his chin, and then he feels. Does he ever feel.


“Mostly I just tell fabbles,” says Renard, exhaling, passing his last cigarette. “They’re like fables I can just babble until I’ve thoroughly captured their attention, have them eating out of the palm of my hand.”

“Other organs, too,” says the detective.

Renard smirks. “Now, I don’t know what they’re paying you to recover this Book, but I could probably stand to part with double that if you might want to help me with its delivery.”

The detective ponders this a moment, then slips the sketch from his file and uses it to sop up the coffee spilled on their table.


After a post-coital nap, the fox paddled across the river with the mantis perched atop his head so that he’d stay dry.

“Thanks for the ride,” the mantis said, dismounting on dry land, “and for the… y’know.”

“Think nothing of it,” said the fox, “as originally written, I think this fabble was supposed to end a lot worse for me. Might I be seeing you again?”

“Who knows,” said the mantis, being rather aloof, then continued on into the forest.

Soon enough, he came to a clearing in the forest that was coated with snow and battered by…

“Oh dammit.”


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