Shelby, a praying mantis with a knack for making ornaments out of melted beads, could not believe his luck. Here he was at Queen Penelope’s castle, waiting to be let in to meet her in person. What had begun as a childhood conviction that he was an actual prince switched in the ootheca had become a reality when he had won the Be Prince 4 A Day contest in Egg & Nymph--A Glossy Magazine for Glitzy Guys, as it said on the cover.
Shelby was now second in line to see the Queen. Three others had already gone in and hadn’t come out, but Shelby wasn’t worried. He knew that his strong raptorial forelegs and shiny bulging eyes were more enticing than anyone else’s in the whole queendom. It wasn’t until the male in front of him, a stick-like fellow named Bruno, called his mother to say goodbye that Shelby remembered the special sex ed being taught behind the boys’ bathroom at school. If that illicit information was accurate, Shelby had some soul-searching to do; was it really worth his life to be a prince? Yes, Shelby thought, yes, it was worth it. He had come this far, and he had to see it through.
Mere minutes after Bruno had been waved in, a fire ant in a paper hat appeared in the gilded doorway and said,
“Shelby Manolo Kristensen, Queen Penelope requests your presence.”
“Oh, okay,” Shelby said and scrambled onto his four hindlegs while adjusting his new fringed vest. Then he followed the fire ant into the room.
The Queen stood on a raised golden platform in the middle of the room, bright green, big yellow eyes, and flawless, long antennas. If it hadn’t been for her still chewing on one of Bruno’s legs, Shelby would have said she looked magnificent and regal.
“Howdy,” said Shelby, “how you doing?”
“Queen Penelope doesn’t talk to subjects,” the fire ant announced. “The Queen requires you get up on the podium to begin the courtship.”
Shelby thought for a second, then said,
“Not that it doesn’t sound flattering, but could we maybe get introduced first?”
“This is Queen Penelope,” the fire ant said, “and the Queen knows who you are. Now get up there.”
The fire ant stepped closer to Shelby and opened its mouth to Shelby’s legs.
“Woah, there,” Shelby said, ”what’s the hurry? I haven’t even told you about my yeast infection yet.”
“Queen Penelope requires--” the fire ant began but was stopped by the Queen raising a long foreleg.
“What yeast infection?” the Queen asked Shelby in a small, squeaky voice and squinted four of her five eyes at him. “I ain’t getting no yeasty on me!”
“Well,” said Shelby, “it’s a bit of a story. It all began when our neighbor’s dung beetle ran away last summer. His name was Brian, and he was my best friend. We used to eat kumquats and do crossword puzzles under the neighbor’s porch because our house doesn’t have a porch, so there’s no place to do puzzles, neither jigsaw nor crossword. My dad has talked about getting one, a porch that is, not a dung beetle, but then he went and spent his bonus on a Camaro instead. My mom got so mad at him because she doesn’t drive, but she does swing though you can’t really do that in a Camaro, so what was she supposed to do with that? Then she went and stayed with her sister for a bit to cool down, and also because her sister needed the company after her husband died in an unfortunate umbrella accident. Crushed her, it did, and him for that matter, too--”
“The yeast infection?” The Queen squeaked and tapped a hindleg with impatience.
“Yes, yes,” said Shelby, “I’m getting to that….”