“It’s alive!”

Two people who are very close to me have asked if  “A Snake Tale” is a true story. The short answer is: NO!

On the other hand, a lot of the story details were drawn from life. Most significantly, all the gory information in the story about how snakes are fed is absolutely true…These details gave a framework to the story that struck me as a good way to explore some interesting ethical questions.

Here are some other things that are true:

  • Our landlord’s daughter in Carrboro, NC had an albino snake named Orangina that she asked us to take care of, but it was an albino corn snake rather than a Burmese python. I insisted that they find someone else to take care of her, because I couldn’t bear the thought of having to feed her. All that year I kept accidentally pulling out dead frozen mice in Ziploc bags that had been tucked away into the back recesses of the freezer.
  • I was a docent at a science museum when I was in college. There were two boa constrictors on display at the museum. In the basement of the museum was a tankful of mice who were fated to one day become dinner for these snakes. In my head I can still hear the squeak of their wheel as they endlessly ran by the harsh yellow light of a bare bulb. A coworker told me that she came to work one morning after the snakes had been fed the night before, and she saw that they hadn’t eaten one of the mice. The mouse was nestled comfortably, fast asleep in the coil of one of the snakes. I’m not sure what actually happened to that mouse, but I think we can all agree on what should have happened. If there is even a shred of justice in this world, that mouse would have been shipped off to live out the rest of its natural life vacationing on some breezy, warm isle with a frozen margarita in one paw and a trashy novel in the other, and being waited on by attentive cabana boys.
  • In Carrboro we had a kind, but slightly kooky neighbor (this could describe a large percentage of the population of that lovable town, by the way). One Sunday afternoon he knocked on our door. He told us that he had just killed a copperhead snake and that the kids should come over to see it so that they would know what to look out for. As we crossed the street to his house he explained to us that to make sure it was a copperhead and not an innocuous look alike, he had held out a leather gardening glove toward its head. It had struck at the glove and he saw venom dripping. At that point he whacked it with a shovel, almost but not quite decapitating it. He warned us in advance that it was not going to be a pretty sight. In his backyard we saw the bloody remains of the copperhead. I didn’t want to go anywhere near it, but our neighbor cheerfully said, “You can touch it, kids!” To my absolute horror, all three of my children rushed up to pet the bloody dead snake. Suddenly, my son Nicholas shouted, “It’s alive!” I shrieked as I saw that the snake had indeed started to wriggle. The neighbor assured me that it was in fact dead, and that it was a primitive nerve reflex that kept the snake’s body moving even after death. I was telling this story to a friend, who told me that he had once completely severed the head off a snake and its jaws continued to open and close for a few horrific minutes. I’ve since learned that you can get bitten by a dead snake!
  • Burmese pythons are often kept as pets. They have become an invasive species in the Florida Everglades, probably because pet snakes were released or escaped into the wild. They get so large they have been known to eat prey as large as alligator or deer.
  • My sister called to tell me that after reading my story she thinks I’m a creepy sicko. Hello?! FICTION?!
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