A woman and a giant praying mantis walk into a bar...and then what? A bug and a beauty patronize the same watering hole in this week's Concept Art Writing Prompt. Will you write about cross-species strangers sharing wisdom over a stiff drink? A first date the parents won't be thrilled about? A pre-Halloween tale of terror? Or some combination of the above?
This is just one image in artist bijijoo's The Arthopod Companion series (via Ian Brooks). This particular piece is titled "Maija and the Mantis (Mantodea) at the Secret Society Lounge during Happy Hour." The Secret Society Lounge is, for the record, a real bar in Portland, although I can't guarantee you'll find any basketball player-sized bugs there. As always, please post your story in the comments.
Cora slipped onto the bar stool beside Daphne as stealthily as she could, but the human woman saw the quiver of her mandibles out of the corner of her eye. "You're late," said Daphne.
Cora's antennae waved backward. "Temple," she said.
Daphne rolled her eyes. "Such a stereotype."
"Well excuse me." Cora tilted Daphne's cocktail glass in her tarsus. "Would you like me to quit my bookkeeping job, too?"
Daphne swept back her bangs. She realized she should have showered after work and was suddenly grateful for Cora's insectoid odor preferences. "I'm sorry. Work was crap today and I got no drawing done."
Cora's antennae returned to their upright position as she slid a tibia over Daphne's shoulder. "Aw, sorry, nymph. Anything I can do?"
Daphne shook her head. "I just need another drink." She ordered a pair of Manhattans, then leaned into Cora's thorax. "I'm so glad you're here."
Cora stroked Daphne's arm, relishing the involuntary shudder of her warm body. "Maybe it's time to get out of dodge."
Daphne laughed her least pretty laugh. "What, leave Portland? And go where?"
Cora gave her best approximation of a shrug. "Anywhere. We could go to some nowhere town in Montana and live cheap. You could draw and I could, I don't know, practice my camouflage."
"I'm sure they'd love a pair of interspecies lesbians. We couldn't even get married out there."
Cora let the spines of her femur press into Daphne's back. She was never quite sure what the big deal was; insectoids couldn't marry anyone in thirty-nine states, and mantids never were much for marriage. "Since when do you want to get married?"
As the bartender slid two cocktail glasses in front of them, Daphne lifted Cora's foreleg from her shoulder. "It's the principal of the thing."
Cora slurped the curled lemon peel from her glass and spent a moment masticating thoughtfully before replying, "You always say this place is like the First Circle of Hell."
"Yeah, and the further away you get, the closer you are to Lucifer's mouth"
If Cora could have smiled, she would have. "You just think of that?"
"I don't get why you're so keen on leaving Portland all of sudden."
"I'm not keen on it. You just seem so down lately and I thought we should have a discussion—"
Daphne cut her off. "Discussion over. If I leave this city, it's in an urn."
"Well that's mature."
Daphne swiveled on her stool. "That I don't want to uproot my whole life because I'm in a slump? Yeah, it's mature."
Cora's antennae flattened until they were nearly parallel with her back. "Christ, I'm not even allowed to have a goddamn opinion."
"Nice words for someone who just came church."
As if on reflex, Cora's head shot forward until it was nearly level with Daphne's. "For the last time," she heaved, "it's a synagogue!"
"Well Jesus, Cora. Don't bite my fucking head off."
They both froze. Daphne's eyes went wide as the full impact of her words sank in. "Oh, Cora," she whispered. "I didn't mean…"
Cora stood up, shaking her head far beyond the range of human motion. "Just perfect," she muttered before heading out the door.
Working at the Bar
You get a lot of weird people at 3:oo am.
The strangest yet happened a few nights ago, and I still can't get it it out of my head. I was working the bar like usual when a dark-haired woman walked in and sat down at the bar.
"I'll have an appletini, and a glass of water for my friend."
"Your friend?", I asked as I prepared the drinks.
She chuckled quietly, "Oh, right. I almost forgot."
She reached under her shirt and pulled out a small necklace. It was a strange piece of jewelry, a silver chain held a small bottle of some black liquid (maybe ink?). The woman opened the bottle and poured the black liquid onto the bar.
"Pendleton!" She shouted at the black blob, "I grant you one night in the mortal world!"
With that, the black liquid began to boil and bubble, growing larger and larger, until it formed a giant, six-and-a-half foot tall praying mantis.
As if that weren't strange enough, the mantis opened its mouth and swore, "Damn, Marina! It's been a week and a half! This is, I believe you'll agree, a clear violation of you role as protector."
"Oh, quit complaining, you big bug. Be happy I ordered you a drink."
The mantis stared at the glass of water before him, and back to the woman, "Water? Are you kidding? I need a real drink. Barkeep! Gimme your oldest scotch!"
Before I could uncap the bottle, the woman shouted to me, "Don't even think about it! Pendleton, I was specifically charged to keep you safe. Letting you get drunk AGAIN and rampage through the city is the exact opposite of that. Drink your water, then we have to go."
The mantis begrudgingly sipped at his water and crunched a few peanuts that were sitting on the bar. Once the woman and the mantis were done with their drinks, they stood up, paid (nice tip), and walked behind the bar toward the mirror.
The woman winked at me, "You might want to cover your eyes."
She then took a small blade out of her pocket and cut her thumb, drawing some strange symbols on the mirror, which then began to produce waves.
The woman and the mantis walked through the mirror, and just like that, everything was normal again.
I've never seen them again, and still don't know what the mantis was, but I do know one thing:
You get a lot of weird people at 3:oo am.
"Come on Tim, what's yours?" one of the regulars asked, raising her voice above the din of the Thursday night rush.
It was a few days before Halloween and Timothy was a 76 year old systems technician in Portland, Oregon trying to extend his social security benefits. He was squatting rather painfully behind the bar's refrigerator trying to pull some cables out. He really didn't have time for this.
"I'm sorry, what?" He grunted as he dropped the fiber for the third time forcing him to mash his face up against the refrigerator door once again. He had to assume she learned his first name because he'd been struggling with the bar's new network for two days now and, being there in an official capacity, his business card was in the bar's public feed. It was a common gambit among young people now to assume that level familiarity without preamble.
"Your skin, beng! Your Halloween skin. Everyone here has one!"
He grunted to his feet, put on a distant smile and tapped his glasses into cursor mode. He selected the bar's shared social feed, signing on anonymously. Suddenly nearly everyone there was transformed into magical and strange creatures. Walt Preston, the bartender, was Tim Cassidy at his most cadaverous. The three young men sitting at the middle of the bar were Larry, Curly and Moe. He saw a few obvious vampires and Frankenstein creatures as well. The woman, whose name, the social feed informed him, was Patricia, was sitting next to her girlfriend, Gillian, now a giant moss green mantis. For various technical reasons, Timothy was especially impressed with the mantis costume.
Augmented reality made Halloween easier. One could just buy, or more impressively, render their own costume in an editor, wear specialized clothing and jewlery for body tracking, and then, depending on privacy and social circle negotiation, others could see this skin in their glasses or contacts.
Timothy was standing in this menagerie looking exactly as he felt: an old man, in the future, in a bar full of college students. And maybe he would of lingered in this sad feeling if it weren't for his lifelong hobby. It was a hobby that at first he was ashamed of many decades ago in high school but, thanks to computers, it grew in power and scope until it was multibillion dollar industry that had warped planetary culture for nearly 50 years now. As such, he was well prepared for this.
"Well, actually, I think I may have something. Give me a few minutes, I need to copy a few files from my home network and then sign into the bar's circle. Let me get back to work here but the next you look my way, you'll see it." He squatted to mash his face into the refrigerator and fumble for cables again.
Two minutes later he suddenly transformed into a Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 that apparently was having trouble talking to the bar's main router.
I'd been working at the Goblet for a couple of weeks, and I was starting to get a feel for the patterns. Right after work on week-nights was always the busiest. Around eight-thirty or nine it emptied out, then filled up again around ten, then quieted down as midnight rolled around. The last hour before we closed was pretty quiet, so the boss let one bartender go home and whoever was left could run the place single-handed. I was happy to take the last shift: the tips weren't as good, but I didn't have to make a lot of smalltalk and I could even get some studying done.
It was a Thursday night and the place was nearly empty, just a few of the late-night regulars working on their pints in silence. She came in and settled herself at the end of the bar, propping her elbows comfortably on the polished wood. I put down my book and went over.
"What can I get you?" I asked. She looked me up and down.
"You're new here," she said. I nodded.
"I started about two weeks ago."
She stretched out a hand.
"I'm Emma," she said. Her hand was small and soft.
"Tad. So what would you like, Emma?"
She glanced up at the array of spirits behind me.
"I'll have a Clarity," she said. I hesitated, and she pointed. "Top shelf, second from right."
I took the bottle down and looked at it. It wasn't a brand that I recognized and I'd have been hard put to say what kind of spirit it was. The glass of the bottle was a greenish-yellow and the black label contained only the word 'Clarity', written in an old-fashioned, rather ornate script, surrounded by scrolls and curlicues.
"I don't think I know this one," I said as I poured her a shot. "What's it like?"
"Tastes like piss," she said.
"So why drink it?"
"It makes you see things."
I capped the bottle and set it down on the shelf at the back.
"Hallucinations? Like absinthe?"
"No," she said. She took a sip. "It makes _you_ see things." She pointed at me as she said it.
"I don't understand," I said. She grinned impishly.
She didn't seem inclined to say more, so I went back to my book. From time to time, I sneaked a glance at her. She wasn't precisely pretty, but there was something about her that caught your attention. She looked like a woman who knew how to have fun.
She finished her shot and called for a martini, so I mixed that for her and then I took up my book again and didn't look up for about ten minutes. When I did, it was there.
It was sitting or perhaps standing beside her, one foreleg laid almost companionably across her shoulders. Its eyes were the size of soccer-balls, its heart-shaped head crowned by long whip-like antennae. As I watched, it raised its left leg and neatly speared a couple of cut lemon wedges.
I froze. It was impossible but real. Another limb, rising above the bar for an instant, caught a bar-towel and tugged it aside. Then it turned towards her, that horrifying mouth barely a foot from her slender neck, the mouthparts already pulling apart with a scissor-like motion.
My first day on the job, the manager had shown me where he kept a baseball bat clipped under the counter as a weapon of last resort. I reached for it without looking, flipped it into my right hand and came down the bar in a kind of extended lunge, the bat stretched ahead of me. There was no room to swing without either decapitating Emma or wiping out our entire stock of spirits, so I simply held it in front of me like a rapier, jabbing at the creature's thorax like a demented fencer.
The instant that I touched it, it was gone. One moment it was there, the next there was nothing. My ribs hurt where I'd slammed into the end of the bar. Emma was leaning to one side, her face showing a mixture of alarm, amusement and admiration.
I looked around the bar. The other patrons were all watching me, grinning.
"What did you see?" asked one old soak. "Dragon? Octopus? Or that big insect-critter?"
I didn't answer. I stalked back to my stool with as much dignity as I could summon and slammed the bat back into its clips with enough force to rattle the pint glasses in their trays.
"He's got spirit, Emma," one of the others put in. "Didn't even hesitate. Remember that kid who just curled up under the bar and cried?"
I scowled and stared at my book, willing my heart-rate to return to normal.
When I closed up, Emma was waiting by the door, looking contrite.
"I'm sorry," she said. "I shouldn't have done that."
I glared at her. My ribs still ached.
"I'll make it up to you," she said, giving me a smile that left no doubt about what she had in mind. She nodded towards the bar. "Bring the bottle. I can show you things you might like better."
I slipped the bottle into my coat pocket, turned out the lights and followed her out into the night.
I knocked back my Manhattan and looked to the end of the bar, where I saw Zzz'trak, with his arm (or foreleg or whatever) around the shoulder of that archly wry barista who always rejected Marcus' requests for a date. Leave it to Zzz'trak to date not just out of his league, but out of his phylum. She gave me a quiet little smile and he gave me a slight twitch of his head. Figures.
I dropped money for my tab on the bar and stumbled out into the now surprisingly cold night without making my goodbyes, wondering where I was going to find to sleep. I really wasn't in the mood to put up with the sounds of human-pseudoarthropod sex, (which, if you're morbidly curious, sounds a bit like someone periodically spinning the rear wheel on a bike with a particularly loud click to its freewheel, and moaning as she does it), but was also at something of a loss as to where to go instead of our apartment.
'-I'm just curious, is all.' Maya swirled her scotch glass, a couple fingers of Paddys left from what had been an order making even the jaded bartender of the Tooth and Thimble raise an eyebrow. '-Its just, well, you come in here and see me at the bar, minding my own business.'
She took a gulp, giving the bartender a warning glance. Quit standing there gaping, moron. Also, you needed to go to the bathroom about 30 seconds ago.
'-Here I am, a girl all by my lonesome. Could be a waitress or an ER nurse or any type of hardworking Joe just taking the edge of what could probably have been a real shit day at work.'
'-I guess, though, a nurse would not have these tattoos. Nor these talismans. The inverted pentagram is always a giveaway, especially if it glows, like mine. But hey, you might be nearsighted. Not a good judge of character, I guess that could be excused.'
Maya drained her glass and shoved it across the bar, giving the bartender a meaningful stare. He had progressed into the whimpering and collapsing to the floor stage of blind panic, so hopes of a refill were not good. Wimp.
'-Now what I can't excuse is you coming up to a total stranger asking me if i know Jesus. The fact of the matter is, I do. Met the man. Didn't like him. Cast me down. Sore point.'
'-So if you look down at your hands - well, technically they're called tarsii now - you'll see that you now have a shape i deem more suiting for a being of your moral stature. A fucking insect that peddles religion. Mantis religiosa, is what you're called in latin. Now as you adjust to your new existence as a giant bug, I would advise you to quit pestering women at bars.'
"Hi there handsome."
"Good evening miss."
"Bartender - get this guy a grasshopper."
"But really miss I don't..."
"I'm just fooling with you. But let me get you a drink. You're new round here. It's always good to see a fresh tall face."
"Well OK. Actually that grasshopper sounds good. I've been on my feet all night."
"And you have so many. So what brings a tall green stranger to our part of town?"
"I'm looking for my brother. He's out on the town with his shipmates. He just landed on a shuttle ship from the Dog Star."
"Surely you can't be serious?"
"Yes I am, and don't call it Sirius."
"There was a bunch of spacers in here earlier on. Maybe he was with them."
"Did you see him?"
"I don't know. What does he look like?"
"Here. I've got a picture in my wallet. That's him on the left."
"No I'd have remembered a face like that."
"Well, thanks for the drink. I shall have to look elsewhere."
"I can't tempt you to another drink?"
"No I'm sorry, I must go. Goodbye."
"What a mantodea."
Getting slurred. My vision anyways. Cant take my eyes off the brunette across the bar. Dim light bleeding in from the street,reflecting off've her hair. And his carapace. Huge mantis man looking guy, just staring back at me. I glance away. Glance back. n he's still staring at me. The brunettes wearing this smirk one eyebrow cocked as if to say"So how you doin?" I order another drink,whisper low to the barkeep,"what's with the mantid?"
He's polishing a glass, living up those stereotypes,rumbles out his words at me.he's terse,
"you wanna stay away from 'em.he'll cut you.right up,he done it [before.you] want another?"
I nod,slug back my drink,pull my coat on. get up to leave and hear this low chittering.
I head for the door but the guys already moving,four legs just hitting the ground running, his arms?front legs? Dunno what they're called but they look sharp, and he's waving them like swords. I take a step outta the door and pivot on my heel,my vision all slurred,reeling. Reach into my coat, feeling my hand close on familiar wooden grain.
This poor guys dead before he even knows what's hit him,my service revolver holing him straight in his torso?thorax? Brunette slapping at me, until I pull my badge out,shouting over her screaming over the sirens of incoming backup. God damn this town's gone to shit.
The bar was dimly lit. The hole in the wall smelled of old wood and stale beer and cigars. Cones of light emanated from recesses in the ceiling and illuminated the curls and billows of smoke rising from the stogie I had parked in a big crystal ashtray. Some of the half-light, the light that had the moxie to fight its way down through the murk, reflected off the cut facets of ashtray and dented copper bar top.
The barkeep stood in shadow. In his hands were a martini glass and a bar towel. The glass and towel danced in one of the columns of smoky light; it was a small independent production, avant-garde I think, about a dirty, chipped glass and his lover. To the swirling majesty of Pink Floyd's "One of These Days": she polished his rough edges, her stained white dress spinning in the light. In the end: he glittered like a new glass. He took a proud place on the top shelf; she flung herself into a mottled heap on a black bar mat.
The only other customer in the bar was Praying Mantis, sitting three stools down.
I risked a sidelong glance in her direction. Praying (Preying?) Mantis was watching me. I racked my brain for words I might employ to break the uncomfortable silence. "Christian much?" I asked, finally.
Maybe, Ellie thought, looking at the form lying beside her, she was partly to blame. Just partly. Her twenties were long gone, and even then she'd never been supermodel material. Yet, whenever she went drinking, she held out for someone a decade younger, devastatingly handsome, and fabulously wealthy. By the time she decided to set her sights more realistically, those men had looked elsewhere.
Then, invariably, as closing time approached, bringing with it the dread of returning alone to her cold apartment, she grabbed at whatever vaguely male choice remained, even if like last night, he was a giant insect.
Billy Buehler's story:
So I was standing there, getting a drink after spending the afternoon trying to hunt down Kal'Falnl C'ndros's nest for a bite to eat, when this crazy old man cut some mad Doctor's arm off with a laser sword.
Local law enforcement showed up soon after but, as usual, those Stormtroopers aren't very good for anything except causing traffic. Soon as they left, some smuggler fried a runty Rodian in cold blood before paying off the barkeep.
Ladies Night Out
Wanda and Louise had knocked off work late on Friday. Goddamn Franklin account had to be straightened out. Well, it's not like they were in a rush to get home. Nobody was waiting for them since they gnawed off Ryan and Jon's heads early on during the courtship.
Yeah, sure, the family might disapprove, but at least Marjorie wouldn't do him in on the honeymoon...