The Perils of Mantis

Mantis was helpless, though he gnashed his mandibles and lashed his baggy sleeves. The thunder godling plucked him like an unguarded aphid and swallowed him into an airless belly ripe with twisted light.


"Daddy," said the nine-year-old, "today I caught a mantis. They're very rare. I put it in a tin with some leaves and a weevil, but it hasn't eaten yet."

"Hmm," said the father.

The sky sieved a torrent, drip by drip.

"Let's go downstairs to the parking lot and get umbrellas, then we'll go on to the school."


The great mouth opened and a weevil began crawling among the leaves. Mantis snubbed it. He was not hungry and he was not a scavenger. Whatever afterlife he had won, he would starve like a hunter rather than feed on used flesh.


The rain bounced off the umbrellas and sidewalk tiles. The father and son walked Indian file to the schoolyard. As they drew together at the T-intersection across from the school gate, the man asked, "Do you understand what I said about the mantis?"

"Yes," said the boy.

"What did I say?"

"You said it would be better to put it back where I got it, because it will probably just die if I keep it."

"That's right."

They climbed on the jungle gym for a while, because the rain had slackened. Then the rain stiffened and they walked on, skirting the track and the sandbox.

"The problem with people," the man continued, "is that we like to touch things and have things. Imagine you had painted a nice picture and put it up in church and people started touching it. How would you feel?"

"I wouldn't feel anything unless I wanted the picture for a competition."

Sound Irish logic, thought the man.


Mantis found a porous, dark cave to brood in. The weevil hid under the leaves.


In the elevator, umbrellas folded like chitinous wings, doubled in unyielding glass, the man and boy regarded each other.

"I won't tell you what to do. I won't force you to do what I think is right, but I think you should take the mantis back."


Mantis stood waiting, but the weevil did not come.

For children to learn, things must die.
Magic realism
Flash (1 to 1,000 words)
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