One of the first winters that Joel the poisonous snake lived in the big tree in the big park in the middle of the big city he woke up one morning to find everything covered with cold white stuff.
“Hmf! What’s this?” Joel sneered. If anything could make Joel grumpy it was cold things. “Hmf!”
Joel put out his tongue to sniff the white stuff more closely. Nothing. No smell or taste at all. Only cold, cold, cold.
“Hmf!” Joel repeated.
Even being of the cold-blooded persuasion Joel preferred heat to cold, the hotter the better for him. And now this instead? This white stuff, this…SNOW! Yes, that’s what the cold white stuff was called if Joel remembered correctly.
He vaguely remembered last year when a bird mentioned the word to him just before getting bit and eaten by Joel. After that Joel had felt pleasantly full and content and had crawled into the deep hollow of the tree where he had gone to sleep not to wake up until the following spring. Ah yes, those were the days!
This was different and Joel didn’t like it, he didn’t like it one bit.
He was cold, hungry and grumpy, and with good cause. This was what happened when suitable food didn’t present itself in sufficient amounts at the appropriate time: You woke up one morning and it was still winter! Disgusting!
Impossible to sleep with an empty stomach and being a snake Joel had a very LOOOOOONG stomach.
Joel knew that feeling sorry for yourself and being disgusted never filled ANY stomach, so something had to be done, but what? How? And with all this white stuff, this SNOW everywhere? It certainly didn’t make it any easier to find food.
Joel wasn’t exactly worried. From experience he knew that things had a way of turning out all right in the end. At least for him. Maybe he was just born lucky, but he didn’t think that was the whole explanation. Joel had a lot of confidence in himself and his resourcefulness. Something would turn up.
Hadn’t he made it off the island that had disappeared from the face of the earth because of an erupting volcano? Sure he had. This situation was peanuts compared to then. All he had to do was trust his luck.
Speaking of peanuts and luck just then a vendor of peanuts as well as freshly roasted chestnuts on his way through the park pushed his cart right under the branch Joel happened to be lying on.
Without any hesitation at all Joel let himself drop onto the passing cart at exactly the right time and in this way not only got nice and warm from the hot nuts but also got a free ride all the way out of the park.
Already at a distance Joel could tell that was where he needed to go because of the clouds of STEAM coming up through the grates in the sidewalks of the street closest to the park.
Where there’s steam there’s HEAT, Joel knew, and above all Joel needed to be where it was HOT!
The vendor who hadn’t noticed Joel yet stopped his cart in front of a big department store.
“Ho! Ho! Ho!” he said putting on a red cap instead of the brown one he had worn until then.
“I’m a-gonna make-a lotsa money today! Ho-ho-ho! In this kinda weather people just-a crazy for hot peanuts and chestnuts roasting on an open fire!”
Joel couldn’t see any open fire and didn’t care to either. He wanted to be warm but not THAT warm!
“That’s-a right!” the vendor went on, and then louder: “Getta your peanuts here! Getta your chestnuts! Fresh roast! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Joel noticed steam coming out of a grating in the wall of the department store. Obviously, that as where he had to be and the sooner the better, because now the white stuff was even beginning to fall out of the sky for some reason.
“Hmf!” Joel said sticking his tongue out disgustedly.
“What?” The peanut-vendor only now saw Joel and froze in his tracks as if it wasn’t cold enough already.
Joel would never, even if he lived to be a hundred years old (and he intended to, at least), understand the way people, human beings, reacted when they first saw him.
Some started screaming hysterically right away, some immediately ran away even before he had shown them his fangs, and some, like the vendor, seemed to become paralyzed. Only with a few you could have a sensible conversation, and even with them it more often than not ended badly.
Not because of anything Joel did, mind you. He always only acted in self-defence of course. It was just that these people failed to respect his personal integrity and then of course Joel HAD to bite them, it was their own fault.
Anyhow Joel didn’t have time for this now.
“Thanks for the ride,” he told the vendor, who just nodded and as soon as Joel had slipped off the cart onto the sidewalk frantically started to push the cart down the street away from the department store.
Oh well, that wasn’t Joel’s affair. Apparently, the vendor wasn’t interested in making ‘lotsa’ money today after all.
Feeling the cold from the sidewalk on his belly Joel made his way as quickly as he could towards the entrance of the department store from where he immediately sensed the heat coming at him in waves each time the automatic doors opened for in- or outgoing traffic.
Perhaps because nobody really expected to see a snake in this place at this time Joel managed to slip inside the department store unnoticed when some people were coming out. At once he felt better thanks to the very agreeable temperature inside.
“Hmf! That’s better!” Joel remarked appreciatively.
Now all he had to do was find something to eat and he would slip back to the park and his tree for a nice long nap until spring. Alas, if only things could have been that simple!
Joel’s first problem was simply finding a place where he didn’t risk getting stepped on. It seemed as though all the people in the entire city HAD to be in precisely THIS department store precisely today, and nobody paid any attention to anybody but them self once they had gotten there. Everybody seemed to know exactly where they wanted to go and determined to get there as fast as possible.
Joel might have bitten any number of the ones who came closest to stepping on him but didn’t see the point: There were simply too many of them.
It wasn’t until he had finally almost made it to a kind of green ‘island’ in the sea of people in the middle of the store that someone actually spotted Joel. A child stopped and pointed to him:
“Look, mom, it’s a snake!”
“Hmf!” was all Joel said before he disappeared behind what looked like a small tree.
The child’s mother like everybody else had no time for this kind of nonsense but tried not to show her impatience.
“That’s nice,” she said, “now come along.”
“It’s true!” the child insisted still pointing. “Over there!”
“It’s not polite to point. If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times.”
The mother pulled the child along and they were gone.
Meanwhile Joel explored the ‘island’. In many ways it LOOKED like it might have been a part of the park as it was in the summer, which was nice, but on closer examination, especially by the sense of smell in his tongue, Joel quickly discovered that it was actually nothing like it at all:
What looked like trees and grass felt nothing like the real thing, and above all they SMELLED absolutely awful, of some material Joel couldn’t remember ever having sniffed before.
Well, at least it was quiet apart from the continual hum from the many human voices talking at once and then of course the sound of ‘music’ which came from everywhere without actually seeming to come from anywhere specific.
Very strange, but Joel had over the years gotten used to many of the things that humans seemed to like.
The relative quiet didn’t last long. Of course, one might say, and Joel certainly wasn’t surprised knowing people as he did.
No sooner had Joel curled up under what looked like a tree to consider his next move than a big bearded man in a red suit stepped onto the ‘island’. In addition to the suit he wore a cap not unlike the one the peanut-vendor had put on outside.
Immediately upon his arrival the man picked up a metallic thing that made a terrible clanging noise whenever he moved it which was all the time. As a kind of accompaniment to the noisemaker the man in red proceeded to shout at the top of his voice:
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Keep the pot boiling! Merry Christmas! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Only now Joel noticed a metal pot at the edge of the ‘island’ that the red man pointed to and into which the people passing put bits of metal and small pieces of paper both known (as far as Joel could remember) as ‘money’, something which humans otherwise were very reluctant to part with.
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Keep the pot boiling! Thank you, sir, thank you madam, and a very Merry Christmas to you! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
There was that ‘ho-ho-ho’ again. What did it mean? Not that Joel cared, but it was starting to get on his nerves, that and that infernal clanging of metal against metal!
Joel noticed that a wire, which seemed to hold up his ‘tree’ also ran a bit above the red man’s head, the wire sometimes hung with the same kind a phoney green stuff that the ‘tree’ was made of.
Partly hidden by that same green stuff Joel soon after was hanging by his tail, his head level with that of the red man.
“Excuse me,” Joel said politely, “but could you keep the noise down, please?”
It took the red man a while to locate where the words were coming from, but once he did it actually stopped his infernal clanging for a moment while the two of them looked into each other’s eyes.
Maybe this was one of the rare someone’s one could reason with, but to make sure the man understood this was serious Joel stuck out his tongue for emphasis.
The smell that emerged from the man’s mouth was on the strong side:
“Forget it, Jack,” the man in red said, “I work alone.”
He immediately turned back to the mass of passing people resuming his clanging and his ho-ho-ho-ing.
If it’s possible for a snake, Joel heaved a sigh of sadness. This wasn’t going to be as easy as he had hoped.
“First of all, my name isn’t Jack, it’s Joel, and second…”
“Beat it, Jack, you’re starting to annoy me,” the man in red rudely interrupted Joel in a low voice. Then he went on, louder:
“Ho! Ho! Ho! Merry Christmas!”
The clanging seemed to have gotten louder as well, but then Joel was a little closer now too.
Joel tried again: “You don’t understand. When I ask someone something I’m actually TELLING him or her. It’s not up to discussion.”
He was simply stating it like it had always been: It was Joel’s way or no way.
“Tough luck, Jack,” said the man in red and added to a passer-by who had just put some money into the pot: “Thank you, sir. Merry Christmas. Keep the pot boiling! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
Joel was getting a little impatient if not slightly annoyed with this man calling him Jack and clanging away to wake the dead. Speaking of the dead, Joel decided to give this very irritating man one last chance:
“I don’t want to bite you, but…” he started.
“Is that so, Jack? Are you going to bite me now?”
“No, I just said I didn’t want to have to…”
“Big old snake come to bite old Santa to death, is that it? Well, I’m not afraid of you! No sir! Bite away if you dare! Go on! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
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