How the Scorpion Lost His Tail: A Fable by Megan Branning

A messenger encountered a scorpion on the road, while traveling one day to the capital. Having been warned not to trust these creatures, he attempted to walk by without meeting its eyes.

“Sir,” said the scorpion. “It is rude to pass by without a greeting.”

“Then I apologize,” said the messenger. “But I’ve been told never to talk with scorpions.”

“Please,” said the scorpion. “No one ever speaks to me. Why not sit down for a while?”

The messenger seated himself beside a laurel shrub. Now that he’d begun a conversation, he couldn’t very well walk away. It certainly would be rude, and he didn’t care to behave that way.

“Who told you not to speak to me, sir?” asked the scorpion.

“You don’t have to call me sir,” said the messenger. “My name is-”

“No, no! Never tell anyone your real name. I don’t mind calling you sir.”

“Very well. And to answer your question, many people told me not to speak with you. My family, my employer, my friends. They say scorpions can’t be trusted.”

“Have they met many scorpions?”

The messenger had to admit that he didn’t think so. And then, having nothing else to do, he unpacked his supper and began to eat. But it would be ill-mannered not to share, so he gave the scorpion half his bread, and some honey and grapes as well.

“Thank you, sir,” said the scorpion. “I would share with you, if I had anything. But since I do not, I offer you my help instead.”

“What sort of help?”

“You are a messenger. I will help you deliver your message.”

“How?”

“Let me read it. That way, if anything should happen to delay you, I can deliver it in your stead.”

“But I’m not to open it,” said the messenger, casting a glance at his bag.

“And how will you deliver it if you lose it? Or if it gets stolen?”

The messenger considered this. He’d been charged with delivering the letter, and indeed he could not do that if he lost it. “Very well,” he said. “We shall read it together. But I must not let anyone see that we unsealed it.” He opened the envelope with care, but his finger slipped and it tore.

“We might just as well read it now,” said the scorpion, sitting down beside him.

The messenger pulled out the paper. It read:

My dear, I have wonderful news. I have finally saved enough money for our wedding. Please expect me one week from Tuesday, and we will go off and make our plans together. I look forward to seeing you again. Ever yours, Berk.

The messenger shook his head as he refolded the letter. “This is a very personal message,” he said. “And the lady will be able to see by the tear that I opened it. My employer will hold me at fault. I may not receive my pay.”

The scorpion only laughed and clicked its claws together. Tick tick tick.

“Why are you so amused?” asked the messenger.

“You were right not to trust me, sir,” it said. “We scorpions love nothing more than making mischief.”

“Then it must be inconvenient that most people distrust you,” said the messenger. “If you looked like a man, you could play many more tricks.”

They parted ways shortly after that. All through the journey home, the scorpion thought about the messenger’s words. It began to think that looking like a man would be a very fine frolic indeed.

And so it found an axe, and chopped off its claws and its tail. It put on shoes, a shirt and trousers, and for a full week it practiced walking about on two legs.

Soon it looked just like a person, and no one could tell it apart from the next man. Feeling quite satisfied, the scorpion went into the capital with hopes of making trouble. When it arrived, it saw someone familiar in the street.

“Sir,” it said. “I must thank you for your good advice.”

The messenger looked at the scorpion for a moment. “I almost didn’t recognize you,” he said. “What a clever disguise.”

The scorpion smiled. “Yes. Was the lady upset that you opened her letter, sir?”

“She made a complaint. I did not receive any pay.”

“You are taking it well,” said the scorpion. “But I must say good-bye to you now. I intend to find some other poor victims to trick.”

“First there is a question I wanted to ask you,” said the messenger. “What do you do when people get angry at your mischief?”

“They would never try to harm me,” said the scorpion. “They know I would sting them, or pinch them with my claws.”

“Oh,” said the messenger. “But now you have no stinger, and now you have no claws. You are just like a man.”

Only silence followed this. The scorpion could think of nothing to say, and the messenger simply smiled.

And so, defeated and soundly humiliated, the scorpion took its leave of him.

But you should be wary, my friends, for the scorpion now walks among us, and you will not know him when you see him.


Megan Branning is a children’s librarian living in Pittsburgh with her husband. Her fiction has appeared on PodCastle and has also appeared in such publications as Luna Station Quarterly and Lakeside Circus.

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