Michelle Stewart is snowed-in with a hungry python...
|Michelle Stewart watched with dawning horror as Alexander, her new boyfriend’s nine-foot-long reticulated python undulated, just as nicely as you please, into the bedroom.
Panic took hold of her, insistent and all-consuming. Her heart threw itself against her ribs; her breath caught in her throat. The urge to do something, to do anything, was nearly overwhelming. She wanted to run, but there was nowhere to run. Jack’s bedroom, like most, had only one door, one way in or out.
Jack. There was a part of Michelle that was bitterly angry at her new boyfriend right now, and yes, maybe it was a bit early to be calling him that. Last night had been their fourth date, and the first evening she’d spent at his place. She’d almost gone home.
“What…the hell…is that?”
“Who, Alexander?” He’d feigned hurt, and she’d smiled in spite of herself. “Alexander is a reticulated python. And quite the handsome one…” Jack leaned in close, lowered his voice to a conspiratorial whisper. “well, he thinks he is.”
Michelle had shaken her head, made a show of rolling her eyes. “Well, I suppose this is what I get for going out with a zoology major.”
No, she thought now, this is what I get.
Because hadn’t she stayed the night against her better judgment? Hadn’t some small part of her known that something like this might happen?
The snake meanwhile busied itself crawling up the inside of the doorframe. The giant reptile seemed to defy gravity as it supported an ever-increasing portion of itself on a small, muscular coil of its tail. The nightmare’s giant head reached the top of the door. It continued to stretch toward the ceiling.
Michelle had a sudden vision of the serpent propelling itself off of the doorframe. She tried not to think about how long it might take the snake to coil itself about her. One second? Two, at the outside?
She watched the snake, studied it. She willed herself pick up on any minuscule clue as to the creature’s intent. Every muscle in her body tensed for action. For the time, though, the giant vertebrate seemed content to explore the frame of the bedroom door. It hadn’t yet, she suspected, detected her presence in the room.
The alarm on her cellphone, which she’d snoozed moments before, sounded once again. Startled, Michelle made a sound that was part cry and part whimper. She reached out and silenced the device, never taking her eyes from Alexander the Terrifying. The serpent turned its head and licked the air in her direction. An icy ball of terror coalesced in the pit of her stomach.
Please don’t come over oh God please, don’t come over here
For a heart-stopping few seconds, Michelle and the snake regarded one another. A thought occurred to the young woman then—weren’t serpents reputed to hypnotize their prey? She thought so. Of course, a snake’s usual victims had brains the size of dinner-nuts. It was hard for her to imagine that a snake could enchant a human brain in such a way.
On the other hand, she hadn’t been able to look away from the snake since she’d opened her eyes just over ten minutes ago. She did so now, turning her head just enough that the creature was still visible at the limits of her periphery.
Another thought then, hard on the heels of the first: Had she seen Alexander undulate into the bedroom, or back into the bedroom? Had he been free all evening, since Jack left for work?
Michelle grimaced against a wave of nausea. An image of the snake sliding out from underneath this unfamiliar bed sprang to mind. The idea of Alexander having been beneath the bed as she slept was, for some reason, more terrible even than the idea of the snake being up on the bed with her. The thought of the snake beneath the bed made her imagine what it would be like if that were the scenario now…how it might grate on her nerves as she waited for the creature to rear its head, never knowing exactly where or when it would happen. She wondered if her heart would survive such an ordeal.
The snake, and damn was it a big one, hadn’t moved much. It was still looking in Michelle’s direction, though.
With each passing second, she resented Jack a little more. Mister “look at these latches, there’s no way Alexander can get out of this tank.” Again, Michelle chastised herself for staying the night. Yes, it had started snowing earlier than had been predicted, and yes, the roads had gotten bad quickly. Still, she’d known Jack had a side-hustle driving a plow with his sister’s husband. She’d known he would leave her alone in a strange apartment with a ten-foot python. If ever, she mused in silence, she’d experienced a what in hell was I thinking? moment this was it.
Okay, stop and think for a minute. The situation isn’t as bad as it looks, probably.
Right, that was likely true. Michelle forced herself to take a deep, ragged breath. Things, she knew from experience, were rarely, if ever as bad as they seemed. A gigantic snake had crawled into the bedroom in which she’d slept—terrifying, yes, but it wasn’t as though she’d awoken to find herself stranded in a burning house. Alexander was intimidating-looking, but it wasn’t as though he was a wild snake. He was a pet snake, a tame one.
A tame snake, right. There’s a phrase you hear everyday…
Okay, so maybe not a tame snake, but a snake that’s accustomed to being fed regularly, at least. How regularly, she realized, was the question. She tried to recall whether Jack had mentioned when he’d last fed Alexander. The panic made it hard to think.
Out of the corner of her eye, she could see that the giant reptile had returned its attention to exploring the seam between the wall above the doorframe and the ceiling. She turned her head a few inches in that direction. If she were to simply stand and walk through the door, stepping over the creature’s base of coils as she passed, what, she wondered, would be her odds of getting by unmolested? Better than half, she guessed, and likely closer to seventy-five or eighty percent. Still, it was one hell of a big snake.
As she considered more seriously the prospect of getting out of bed and walking over and past the snake, Michelle felt her fear edging toward panic. Fear was okay, necessary even; panic, she suspected, may prove fatal in a situation such as this.
A thought occurred to her then, a troubling one. Some animals, she knew, could sense fear. Or was that only dogs, that could do that? Michelle concentrated on trying to project an aura of calm, of confidence. To her surprise, it helped a little. She was still terrified, but she felt better able to assess her situation.
It had snowed (how much she couldn’t guess; the forecasts had called for anything between a foot and twenty-inches of new snowfall) and she was stranded in a strange house with a giant, possibly hungry and/or stressed snake. So far, she had to concede, the situation didn’t look any better with a clear head.
You have to find out how much snow fell.
Yes, yes that sounded right. If she could get past the python, after all, it would be good to know whether she had somewhere to go. The idea of sitting alone in another room, waiting in a state of alarm for the disgusting thing to slither silently into view was almost too much to think about. The only thing worse than having to watch the enormous reptile was the idea of knowing it was in the house, but not knowing where. The thought of it appearing next to her, from out of nowhere, sent gooseflesh down her shoulders and back.
Jack, when I see you, I’m going to kick you right in the balls.
Without taking her eyes off of Alexander, Michele reached out with her left hand. Taking care not to make any fast movements, she took her cell-phone from the bedside table. If the snake noticed, it didn’t seem to care.
Her eyes darting between the reptilian interloper and her touchscreen, Michelle called up the news on her device. She found her answer, right at the top:
SNOW BURIES NORTHEAST. NEW SNOWFALL TOTALS OF UP TO TWENTY-NINE INCHES REPORTED.
Michele’s stomach fell along with her spirits. Over two feet of snow had fallen. Last night, as she and Jack had driven along the dark and winding dirt-roads toward his home, she’d noted the sparse placing of the houses. She’d commented on it, in fact, joking about how nice it must be not to have to see your neighbors every day.
A quarter mile, maybe closer to half, she guessed. That’s about how far she’d have to sludge through over two feet of snow to reach the nearest neighbor. She spared a glance to her left, at the bedroom window. It had fogged over.
Two things happened then, one following so closely after the other that the events might well have been simultaneous. The heat in the apartment kicked on, causing Alexander the Snake to discover and start to explore the heating vent just above and to the left of the doorframe. Michelle, seeing the creature's attention focused so, shocked herself by rising and taking a tentative step toward the door. Not allowing herself time to think consciously, she confirmed that Alexander was still enamored with this new and unexpected heat source. Her heart blasting in her ears, Michelle ran.
It was two steps to freedom. One foot came down just before the coil of the snake’s tail and the other propelled over it, landing outside the bedroom and in the hallway.
There was a terrible thud from behind. Michelle was unable to contain the scream that boiled up from within her. She ran toward the living room and small kitchen, trying to convince herself that the loud sound she’d heard hadn’t been a spooked Alexander reacting to a potential threat.
The bathroom was the only other room in the house (that she knew of, anyway) that had a door. She didn’t stop until she was inside the small lavatory, and a good thing that. As she spun to slam the door she caught a glimpse of the orange-hued behemoth gliding with alarming speed in her direction.
There was a sharp bang then, and Michelle cried out. She felt hot tears on her face. Had the snake struck at the door, meaning to deliver a bite? What other explanation could there be for the violent noise she’d just heard?
Michelle caught her reflection in the full-length mirror that hung on the inside of the bathroom door. The sight was sobering. The young woman in the mirror was straight out of an eighties low-budget-horror-movie. Her eyes bloodshot and her hair a tousled mess, wearing only one of Jack’s oversized RED SOX shirts, Michelle noticed that the woman in the mirror was shaking. She looked down at her hands and confirmed what her eyes had told her already.
Lacing her fingers together in an attempt to quell the trembling, she took a step backward. She located the toilet, put the seat down. She sat.
For a scattering of seconds, the only sounds Michelle could hear was the rushing of blood in her ears and the ragged flow of air in and out of her lungs. She squeezed her eyes closed; hot tears rolled down her cheeks. She concentrated on her inhalations, willed them to be smoother, more efficient. Slowly, the hitching breaths subsided.
Blindly, she reached over and spun off a fistful of toilet-paper. She wiped at her eyes, blew her nose. There was a fan running, she realized in an off-handed way. The bathroom’s exhaust fan was on the same circuit, apparently, as the lights.
She opened her eyes. A blur of blue and white coalesced, after a blink or two, into Jack’s bathroom.
Fuck you, Jack…
It wasn’t lost on Michelle that her situation wasn’t much improved. In fact, when she thought about it, her actions may have made it worse. True, she was no longer in the same room as the giant python. Still, she was trapped in a strange house with a spooked snake. There was no way of knowing when Jack (and oh, just wait Jack) would be back. She didn’t even know whether the snow was still falling. If that were the case, he might not be home for days. Michelle reached for her cell-phone.
Oh, God...my cell-phone!
After having read the snow-totals, she’d put the smartphone back on the end table beside the bed. She could see it there now, in her mind’s eye.
What am I going to do? She didn’t think this, not in so many words; she didn’t need to. Every cell in her body felt it. Despair bubbled up from the depths of her person. It spilled up and out of her in great, frame-shaking sobs.
The crying helped. There was no clock in the bathroom; Michelle had no way of knowing how long she’d been sobbing. At least ten minutes had passed, she would swear to that, and possibly more.
When the worst of it had passed (for the time, at least) Michelle found she felt more centered, more at ease. Her spirits hadn’t been lifted any, nor had her situation improved, and yet somehow she felt better able to assess and possibly deal with this insane situation.
She stood. Once again she rolled off a handful of paper and cleaned herself up. She reached for the toilet seat...and paused. Her mind flashed back to a story she’d once heard. A story about a snake climbing up and out of a toilet. She hadn’t believed a word of it when she’d been told...but now?
You’re being insane.
Yes, she realized, that was true. Even if snakes were able to navigate plumbing in such a way, hell, even if they utilized mankind’s network of pipes as a virtual python-subway system, Alexander had far too much girth to fit inside pipes of that size.
Of course, he did. Still, it was with an effort of will that Michelle bent and lifted the lid of the toilet. She tossed in the balled up toilet-tissue and started to close the lid. On second thought, she lifted Jack’s (and don’t forget, fuck you, Jack) shirt and sat. Images of orange-hued pythons squeezing through piping and up out of toilets haunted her as she relieved herself, as quickly as she could.
After what felt to be the longest pee of her life, Michelle closed the seat and sat, this time on the edge of the tub. She looked to her right and eyed its drain warily. No, she concluded, too small.
She eyed the window over the tub. It wasn’t huge, but Michelle was certain she could squeeze herself through it. Only then what? Trudge a numbing quarter-mile in two feet of snow, wearing only an oversized t-shirt? How long would it be before frostbite set in?
No, leaving the house was out, for now. It might be a different story if she had pants, a jacket, and shoes, but she didn’t.
With a newfound sense of determination, Michelle looked at the bathroom door. Where, she wondered, was Alexander right now? Might he have returned to the bedroom? A flicker of hope blossomed within her. If the python had returned to the bedroom, she’d be able--in theory--to close the door on it, trapping it inside.
What were the odds, though, that the giant snake had returned to the only other room in the apartment with a door on it? Not at all good, Michelle conceded to herself. Still, there was only one way to find out…
She stood; she was that determined, at least. Actually walking the step-and-a-half to the bathroom door, though--that, apparently, was going to take a little more time…
Though she had no way of knowing, it took Michelle more than twenty minutes to step to the door. She’d spent the next ten with her ear to the wood, listening for any discernible noise from without. Another few minutes and she’d placed a hand on the knob. Now, she swiveled the locking mechanism to the “unlock” position. She closed her eyes, inhaled deeply.
You’re just going to have a look, just a very fast look.
Yes, okay. She could do that. She exhaled, turned the knob. She positioned herself so that, once the door was cracked just a hair, she would be able to peer through with her left eye.
Of course, if Alexander was right outside, and if he put his muscle into opening the door the rest of the way, there would be nothing at all she could do to prevent him.
But what are the odds that he’s right outside the door? He’s got the whole apartment to explore.
Not entirely convinced, but unwilling to accept defeat, Michelle opened the door a crack…
She screamed. Alexander, who had been laying in wait just outside the bathroom door, lunged forward the instant Michelle laid an eye on him. The gigantic reptile’s speed amazed her, hypnotized her. Her conscious mind overwhelmed, her subconscious seized control. With far more effort than was required, she pushed the door closed. As she fumbled for the lock through a kaleidoscope-prism of fresh tears, there was a terrible slam-BANG against the door. Michelle jumped, screamed.
Her hand found the lock, turned. She stepped back from the door, hyperventilating and crying. Again, there was a terrible bang from the other side of the door. If Michelle wasn’t mistaken, if her terrified mind was playing cruel tricks on her, a wooden crack had accompanied the last bang. She tried to convince herself that wasn’t the case.
Once again, Michelle saw her reflection in the mirror. She was hugging herself, she noted, either hand on the opposite shoulder. She waited, shaking, for the next bang to come. She tried not to think about how many licks it might take Alexander to get to the center of this particular Tootsie-Pop. One more strike at the door? Two, before it splintered and he was through?
The next bang never came. Seconds stretched into minutes; slowly, Michelle got control over her breathing. She reached down and placed one shaking hand on the side of the tub. She sat.
For a long time (how long, of course, she did not know) it was impossible to turn her attention to anything but the bathroom door. She poured frantic, panicked energy toward the thing, willed it to remain intact. It was hard not to picture the nightmare of a snake just outside the door, waiting with inhuman patience.
Eventually, the sparse natural light coming through the frosted-over bathroom window waned, heralding the coming night. Michelle was both surprised and not surprised that so much time had elapsed since she’d run from the bedroom this morning.
With night coming, it seemed suddenly important that she get a look outside. She knew that two feet of snow had fallen overnight, but she didn’t know if it had continued to snow throughout the day. If it had, there was no telling when Jack would be home.
Michelle stood. She swayed on her feet a little and reached for the top of the toilet for support. When the dizzy spell passed, she turned her attention to the window. Her stomach cramped; it let loose an angry gurgle.
The lock on the window was one of the old-fashioned types that swivel in a semicircle. Michelle turned the mechanism, which slid easily. She reached with both hands and took the window by the bottom wood-pane. She lifted.
An electric shock of icy pain traveled the distance of Michelle’s spine; it splintered and branched out into the muscles of her back and shoulders. The window was frozen closed.
She balled one hand into a fist; this she hammered, sideways, onto the wooden frame at the window’s base. The sound was louder than she’d expected. She paused, afraid that perhaps she’d aroused Alexander’s attention.
Again, she tried the window. Still, it refused to budge. Michelle stepped into the tub and took the window in both hands. She crouched slightly, the better to pitt both her arms and her legs against the obstinate frame.
She stood and pulled upward simultaneously. This time, the window slid open about half an inch. At the same time, there was a noise from the bathroom door. Michelle’s breath caught in her throat. Had it been Alexander? Had the snake resumed its assault on the beleaguered pressboard?
A blast of cold air gave Michelle her answer. The noise had been the bathroom door compensating for the sudden change of air pressure in the room. In her parents’ house, she reflected, you couldn’t open one bedroom door without the other two rocking in their frames. They joked about it being the fault of the family poltergeist.
Hold it together…
Michelle took a deep breath of the crisp air coming in from outside. She bent over and looked through the open crack. Snow was still falling, she could see. That wasn’t good. Of course, just because it was snowing now didn’t mean it had been snowing all day. Perhaps this was no more than a late-afternoon squall that had followed a few hours behind the storm?
It was hard to tell just how much snow had fallen, given the landscape. Other than the trunks of some trees and the odd splash of green where the evergreen branches had dipped under the weight of snow and dropped their payload, there was little to see but white.
A particularly cold blast of air whistled through the sliver of open-window. Michelle shivered, felt gooseflesh rise on her shoulders. She reached up to close the window. There was little to see, at any rate.
Again, the window wouldn’t move. Michelle placed both hands on the top of the pane; she pulled. Nothing. She shivered, more violently this time.
Oh, for...can’t I catch a break today?
“Come on,” she said. She bent her knees until most of her weight was pulling on the window. “Come on, come on, come ON!” Before she realized she’d intended to, Michelle balled her hand into a fist and hammered it against the side of the window-pane. A jolt of pain shot up her arm and into her shoulder.
Again she tried the window; it didn’t budge. Michelle looked over her shoulder at the bathroom door. What, she wondered, was Alexander doing now? She shivered. The temperature in the small bathroom had dropped significantly.
She looked around. There was a bath-towel draped over the shower-curtain rod. Michelle pulled it off and rolled it into a long, tight cylinder. This she wedged as tightly as possible into the open sliver of the window. She ran a hand along the seams, making adjustments until she was satisfied no more cold air was getting in.
This done, she sat down on the edge of the tub. She hugged herself, rubbed each shoulder with the opposite hand. It was now cold enough in the bathroom that she could see her breath. She exhaled into the collar of Jack’s (fuck you, Jack) oversized t-shirt, trapping a bit of the warmth against her chest and stomach.
Michelle heard a sound, then; a sound that caused hope to well up within her. It was the front door. She was almost sure of it.
“Jack!” She called out. Her voice was shaky, nearly unrecognizable to her. “Jack help! I’m in the bathroom!”
She waited. “Jack?” There was no response. Had she imagined the sound of the door opening?
No, she decided. She’d heard the sound of a door; she hadn’t imagined it. Could it have been another trick of air-pressure, she wondered? She supposed it was possible. Still, she’d covered the open window. If there was air getting in or out of the apartment, where was it doing so, and why hadn’t it been doing so all along?
Her shoulders slumped, along with her spirits. “Jack?” She tried one more time, but her voice, she noticed, had lost both volume and hope.
Maybe you did imagine it. You’ve been in a state of panic all day long, and you haven’t eaten anything…
Michelle didn’t want to acknowledge that idea. Yes, it had been an extremely stressful day, and no, it didn’t show signs of improving anytime soon. All the same, she knew what she’d heard.
“Fuck you, Jack.” She looked at the bathroom door, through and past her reflection in the mirror. And fuck you too, Alexander the Disgusting.
Michelle awoke, confused and aching, in a green bathtub she didn’t immediately recognize. It was cold, extremely cold. She examined her bedding and saw the problem, namely that there was none. The one hand-towel in Jack’s bathroom she’d rolled into a cylinder and used as a makeshift pillow. Other than that, it was just the Red Sox shirt.
She shivered violently, rubbed her hands together to get the blood flowing. It was coming back to her. Dreading what she knew she’d see, she rose into a kneeling position and looked to her left.
Jack’s bathroom door. It hadn’t been a nightmare, then.
The heat was on, she realized; she could hear the whir of the cycling air. She stood on unsteady legs. Placing her right arm against the wall to support herself, Michelle lifted one leg, and then the other over the tub and onto the bathroom floor. She walked the step to the heating vent, which was located close to the ground, about a foot from the door.
She knelt in front of the vent, placed her hands, palms-out, less than an inch from the heater. She looked over at the window. There was light coming in, which meant she’d slept--albeit fitfully and not at all well--through the night.
A cramp seized her midsection, gave a vicious twist. This was followed immediately by an angry growl from her stomach. Michelle couldn’t recall ever having been hungrier. It was an insistent, disruptive sensation that bordered on painful.
And still, no Jack. Where the hell, she wondered, could he be? How long could it have possibly have snowed for? Michelle had a disturbing thought, then. What if Jack had been involved in an accident? What if he was in for a long hospital stay, or even dead?
What if he was never coming home?
Michelle turned her hands over so the sparse heat could warm the backs. Her breath, she realized, was coming more quickly. She tried her best to calm herself.
Okay, so what if he isn’t coming home? What will you do in that case?
That was the real question, wasn’t it? Her hands now somewhat warm, Michelle sat back and leaned against the vanity that supported the sink. She raised one foot at a time and held it to the heating vent. Even if it had snowed all day yesterday (on top of the previous night’s, forecasted snow storm) Jack still would be home sometime today.
Sundown, She thought, I’ll give it until the sun goes down.
If Jack wasn’t home by the end of the day, Michelle decided, she would do something. What, she wasn’t at all sure, but she would do something...
The window was still fogged-over, so Michelle removed the towel in order to get a look outside. After confirming that it hadn't resumed snowing, she replaced the impromptu insulation. She stepped out of the tub and sat on the floor, her back against the corner between the tub and the wall. Again, her stomach rumbled angrily. She winced against a coinciding cramp.
Michelle didn’t remember nodding off, but then whoever does until they’ve awoken? She took in her surroundings. This time it wasn’t as much of a shock to realize where she was. She looked over her shoulder, at the fogged-over window.
It was dark.
Jack, she thought, too worried now to be angry, Where are you? Why aren’t you home?
She’d promised herself she would do something if Jack hadn’t come home by dark. Now, she hesitated. Was she giving him enough time? This had been a huge snowfall by the area’s standards, and Michelle had no idea how long it took to clear the roads. Jack had implied it took days, sometimes.
Michelle looked around the bathroom. She tried to reassess her physical state. She was tired, maybe even more tired than hungry--but she was very hungry. That, she knew, was not an immediate concern. People could go weeks without food, far longer than they could without water.
Maybe I should wait, give it the night?
It was tempting, but then what? Wake up, find out Jack still wasn’t home and postpone taking action until dark again? How long, she asked herself, was she willing to play that game?
She looked at the bathroom door. “One more night,” she said. “One more night, Alexander…”
The night passed slowly, as sleepless ones tend to do. Michelle would curl up in the bathtub until she started shivering; then, she would get out of the tub and do some push-ups. The first time she did ten. The next time twenty. She told herself, as she exercised, that it was to get her blood moving and hopefully create some body-heat. That was true enough, of course. At three-thirty-four in the morning (though she had no way of knowing the time) she did thirty pushups and acknowledged to herself that she was training, sort of.
When her chest and arms burned too much to continue doing pushups, she started doing squats. She watched herself in the mirror, making sure she kept her back straight as she moved up and down. She noticed a small crack in the bottom-left corner of the glass, wondered if it had happened when Alexander threw himself against the door yesterday.
Michelle had an idea, then. She went to the tub, picked up the hand-towel that had served her so poorly as a pillow. She wrapped the cloth around her hand twice. Drawing back as though she were a big-league pitcher winding up, she hammered the bottom of her hand into the center of the mirror.
The sound of the glass breaking reverberated through the bathroom. It hit the floor with a terrible splash-like noise. Michelle jumped, her eyes moved from the bits of broken mirror on the floor to the door itself. She waited, not aware that she was holding her breath, for a response from Alexander. When she was satisfied there was none forthcoming, she crouched down and examined the scattering of jagged glass. Her eyes fell upon the perfect shard; she selected the reflective dagger, inspected it.
Michelle had no illusions about actually using the makeshift weapon on the python. On the other hand, she wasn’t about to leave the bathroom without a least some modicum of protection.
With renewed determination, Michelle turned and ripped the shower-curtain from its rod. This she tore into strips of varying width.
A sound caused her to start, pause. Had that been the sound of someone trying the front door? Or perhaps the mailman making a delivery?
Disregarding the shower-curtain, Michelle stepped into the tub and pulled the rolled-up towel from the window. “Hello?” She bent, her face close enough to the open window to feel the freezing air on her face. “Is someone there? I need help! Please, is anybody there?”
She turned her head, the better to hear a response. There was none. Warily, she eyed the bathroom door. Now that the mirror was gone, she could see a large crack along the width of the flimsy door’s surface. She turned to replace the towel, thought better of it. She folded the cloth in two, used a narrow strip of the shower curtain to affix the cloth to her forearm.
Twenty or so minutes later, the better part of her arms and legs wrapped in wide strips of nylon shower-curtain, Michelle reached with her free hand for the doorknob. In the other, her makeshift dagger of glass. She was hungry and angry. Exhaustion blurred the edges of her vision.
Her heart drumming in her chest, Michelle turned the knob. Keeping one knee against the door, lest Alexander should once again throw himself against it, she reached down and selected the largest intact fragment of the mirror. This she held up, shield-like, in front of her torso.
She drew a deep, cleansing breath. It came out in a ragged gust. She lifted her right leg, used her toe to pull the beleaguered door in and open.
It was all she could do, as the flimsy door swung open, to keep her eyes from closing. The idea that the enormous snake was right outside and that she was about to die was almost too much to bear.
The door opened, revealing an empty kitchen. Michelle realized she’d been holding her breath; she sighed. She willed herself look at the room harder, more carefully. Surely Alexander was still there, and she’d missed him.
How do you miss a ten-foot python?
Less than convinced, she took a tentative step forward. Her eyes swept the kitchen, low to high and back again. She tried to look everywhere at once. An image of the snake, climbing the inside of the bedroom door and licking the air in her direction sprang into her mind’s eye. She shuddered, directed her attention to the hallway leading to the bedroom and the apartment’s front door.
It seemed a betrayal of sorts, to turn her back on the kitchen. Though she couldn’t imagine where a ten-foot snake would hide, she nonetheless felt certain it had, and that she’d overlooked it.
Then she saw the flash of orange snakeskin at the far end of the hallway--orange snakeskin and something...else. Her mind had a hard time processing what she was seeing; it searched her memories for something with which to associate the absurd, unnatural looking sight. It found something, finally--a half-remembered scrap of a video she’d seen on television some years ago.
Oh, my God…
Her makeshift dagger slipped from suddenly slack fingers. Now that Michelle understood what it was she was seeing, it was only a matter of getting herself to believe it. Both fascinated and horrified, she stepped closer.
The far end of the snake hadn’t exploded, or been crushed (which had been her mind’s first feeble attempt at an explanation.) In fact, Alexander had unhinged his jaws, deforming himself in order to stretch his mouth around the head and shoulders of a felled human being.
Michelle found it hard to take her eyes from the horrific spectacle. She wanted to mourn for Jack, or at the least feel pity for him. She was unable to feel anything but fear, though-- fear, repulsion and a growing sense of urgency.
She was already going. As disassociated from her environment as it was possible for her to be (without actually tripping over the macabre tableau, that is) Michelle picked a path around and past Alexander and Jack. She pressed herself as hard as possible against the wall as she passed the stomach-turning junction of snake and prey.
Finding and pulling on her clothes was a matter of seconds. She retrieved her cell phone and checked her jacket pocket for the spare keys Jack had given her when he’d gone off into the storm. Without thinking (because she knew that was the only way this could happen) she walked out into the hall. She stepped over Jack’s knees and to the door.
Michelle surprised herself, as she walked out of the apartment and into the cold evening; she turned back for one last look at her would-be-boyfriend and his pet python. She surprised herself further by saying out loud:
“Fuck you, Jack.”
J Robert Kane
East Northport/Sound Beach