Courtship Rituals

Disclaimer: Neverwhere and its characters belong to Neil Gaiman, with possibly some rights belonging to Avon Books and/or the BBC.  Please go out and buy the book and the newly US-released dvds.  You will appreciate the investment very, very much, and if you don't, you can mail your copies to me, because a girl really cannot have too much Neverwhere merchandise.

The following story is rated PG-13 for Croup and Vandemar being, well, Croup and Vandemar.  I think that should tell you everything, really.


"The world of animal courtship rituals is a bizarre and complex one, my dear Mr. Vandemar. Observe, for instance, the common garden snail, helix aspersa." Mr. Croup gathered up the box of rusty nails from the workbench, and scoured the basement for his hammer. Ah, there it was, where he'd left it next to their late client. Mr. Croup and Mr. Vandemar were sticklers for punctuality, especially when it came to payment.

"Never could get into snails. Too crunchy. Give me a nice juicy slug anytime."

"You misapprehend me.  I was speaking of their mating rituals. To wit, the snails, once having reached sexual maturity, secrete a calciferous dart within their bodies." As he spoke, Mr. Croup carefully positioned a nail between the third and fourth metacarpal on Mr. Vandemar's obligingly outstretched hand.

"A what?" The hammer flashed down, once, twice, three times quickly.

The nails bristled out from Mr. Croup's mouth like an unpleasant sea creature as he smiled. "A spike." He walked around to the other side of Mr. Vandemar's outstretched body on the former dissecting table, and plucked out another nail from his maw. "When the snail spies a mate of its liking, it expels the dart, impaling its lover on a sharpened barb."

Mr. Vandemar gave an experimental wiggle of his hands, testing the holding power of the rusted nails. Satisfied with their grip, he eased back. "Yeah? What else they do?"

"The snails? Oh, then I assume they mate in the usual way. Quite boring after that. But the female praying mantis! Now there is a lady after my own heart." Mr. Croup waxed poetic, abandoning nails and hammer for a razor keen knife. He began cutting apart, delicately, because good tailoring was hard to come by down here, Mr. Vandemar's black suit.

"Haven't got a heart," Mr. Vandemar pointed out.

"I was speaking metaphorically," Mr Croup snapped, but then resumed his patient slicing. "Metaphorically, she is a creature after my own heart.  For, after all, did not the eminent American entomologist Dr. Leland Ossian Howard, remark upon her behavior that 'it seems to be only by accident that a male ever escapes alive from the embraces of his partner'?"

" I don't know," replied Mr. Vandemar, shrugging against the knife blade, and dislodging a nest of millipedes from the underside of the table. "Did he?"

"Yes. He also described the process by which she devoured her mate. Would you like to hear it?" Not pausing for the other's reply, which would surely be in the affirmative, since there was nothing Mr. Vandemar liked better than hearing about eating, unless it was eating itself, Mr. Croup continued onward with his narrative. "'She first bit off his front tarsus, and consumed the tibia and femur.' That would be the wrist and arm, for us." He leaned down hard on the knife point as he mapped out the appropriate limbs for Mr. Vandemar.  "'Next she gnawed out his left eye.'" He doodled a small eye on Mr. Vandemar's chest out of whimsy, and studied the drawing critically. 

"I like eyes.  They pop when you bite into them," Mr. Vandemar contributed.

Mr. Croup ignored him and climbed on top of the table.  Better access, that was the key.  He resumed his story.  "'The female next ate up his right front leg,'" he shifted down to sever a few tendons and ligaments lovingly, "'and then entirely decapitated him, devouring his head and gnawing into his thorax.'" Mr. Croup had by now crawled his way back up to face Mr. Vandemar, his breath hot against Mr. Vandemar's ear, the knife cold against Mr. Vandemar's throat. "A most amusing courtship ritual, don't you agree?"

"Here," said Mr. Vandemar, thinking aloud, "do we have any courtship rituals?"

"Well," said Mr. Croup, "I did offer you a rat-king, once."

"Huh," breathed Mr. Vandemar, as the knife slid in. "So you did."



Author's Note: Many thanks to Neil, first off, for creating this world and these characters.  Also, I offer tons of thanks to Pyro, for putting up with my insanity.  In case anyone was wondering what a rat-king is, it is a group of 3-30+ rats whose tails have become glued and entangled to such an extent that they cannot extricate themselves.  Occurrences of these rat-kings in northern Europe, sometimes found with the members still alive, have been reported since the Renaissance ages.  They are said to be quite a terrifying sight.  As to their taste, we will have to ask Mr. Vandemar.