When I was a child I worked in the pet shop down the street. I grew up in a small town, so the shop itself wasn’t much – a tiny little store with aquariums full of goldfish, and cages with cute little kittens and puppies for the customers to come in and ooh and aah over and but never buy.
The owner was Mr. Ophid, a kindly and rather eccentric Greek septuagenarian. His prize possession in the shop was not the exotic goldfish nor the adorable twin Chow Chow puppies but his boa constrictor, Medusa. The enormous snake was over 15 feet long and kept in a gigantic vivarium sunk dead center in the floor of the back, taking up nearly the entire room. The snake was a legend of sorts amongst the children in my hometown; stories were told in hushed tones of how Mr. Ophid had smuggled her out of Africa and how she had once eaten a hunter who was on Safari.
He only showed the snake to the adults and some of the bigger kids. I was lucky to get to see her because I worked with him at the shop. Sometimes he would even let me watch when he fed her white mice.
One night after the shop closed and I was cleaning up, I saw Mr. Ophid sitting in the back and drinking brandy from the bottle.
“You wanna see somethin’, my boy?” he said, his breath reeking of alcohol.
One of the cats had been sick for months and we’d been keeping it in the back and trying to nurse it back to health. I watched with horror as Mr. Ophid grabbed the unsuspecting sickly feline from its cage and dropped it behind the glass wall of the boa constrictor’s enclosure right in front of me.
Before it could even realize what was happening, Medusa struck and the orange furball was trapped in the snake’s coils winding tightly around it. There was little resistance; the mottled pattern of saddles on the serpent’s leathery skin rippled slightly in waves of the prey’s resistance, and then there was only her turning body, coiling ever tighter. I was horrified but couldn’t tear my eyes away. I watched, disgusted yet enthralled, as the snake’s jaws stretched wider than I had ever seen before and enveloped the cat’s head.
Medusa uncoiled, cat still in mouth, and lay in the sawdust of her pen next to the big rock. Every so often she convulsed and the body of the cat inched slightly deeper, pushing the growing bulge further down her lithe brown form.
Mr. Ophid brought his brandy bottle down and slapped his knee. “Aha ha! Ain’t that somethin’!”
I had nightmares for a week. Little did I know I’d have worse nightmares still.
A month later I was closing up the shop once more and went into the back to finish up. Mr. Ophid had been drinking again; the room reeked of brandy and there were a few empty bottles on the counter against the far wall. His handiwork was there but he was nowhere to be found. It wasn’t until I looked into the boa constrictor’s enclosure that I saw what my eyes had refused to let me see when I came in, an image that still haunts me to this day. Medusa was laid out flat along the expanse of the vivarium, her form bulging grotesquely to halfway down her considerable length. Out of her mouth poked the cuffs of Mr. Ophid’s khakis and his loafer-clad feet. I ran from the pet shop, screaming. I ran home, crying all the way.
The pet shop was condemned shortly after that. None of Mr. Ophid’s family were in America, so there was no one to take over the business. Word got out eventually about what happened, and everyone wanted to talk to me about it, about how the weird old Greek had gotten too drunk and fallen into the snake pen, fallen prey to his own voracious pet. I couldn’t though, I just couldn’t. I never said a word to anyone about what I saw, except my parents, and the police.
There were things I never told anyone about, not even my parents. Like how sometimes when I was closing up the shop I could hear Mr. Ophid in the back behind the door, drinking brandy and softly crying. Or how a few times I heard him drunkenly talking to the snake and pouring his heart out to her. Or about the note I found on the counter and took, the day she ate him. Hidden under the array of empty brandy bottles, it was scratched with a black fountain pen in simple childish printing:
Can’t take it anymore. What’s the point? Only she understands. Goodbye. – Ophid
I am the only one who knows. After watching so many helpless animals disappear down the gullet of the boa constrictor, her master must have begun to wonder just how it felt. I just happened to be there the day he decided to find out.