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“It’s not really a question of daring…” Joel tried to explain, but the man seemed somewhat out of control all of a sudden.
“I dare you to bite me! I dare you to dare! But you’re too chicken, aren’t you? You’re all mouth! Ho! Ho! Ho!”
“I may be mostly mouth,” Joel admitted, “but my fangs…”
The man calling himself Santa accompanied this with even louder clanging than before. “Ho! Ho! Ho!”
This was getting out of hand.
“I dare you! I dare you! I dare you!” Santa repeated not very imaginatively.
All right, if that was the way he wanted it.
Quicker than most human eyes could see Joel BIT Santa in the bit of neck showing between his beard and red cap.
“Ho! Ho! Houch!” Santa managed to utter before he collapsed next to his pot on the boil. Ho-ho-ho indeed, and after one last CLANG it was the end of that too. Quiet at last.
Joel crawled back to where he had come from, but if he had hoped the quiet would last long, again he was sorely disappointed.
Perhaps not entirely surprisingly some people in the crowd had actually seen Santa’s collapse if not the reason for it. A few of them now came onto the ‘island’ and apparently tried to revive Santa.
Good luck with that, Joel smiled to himself knowing how instantly deadly his poison was. He stuck his tongue out for a possible indication of which direction his next meal was in. Biting someone always gave him an appetite, as if he wasn’t hungry enough already.
Before he could do anything however a very determined-looking young woman made her way through the crowd of curious people. (Human beings’ fascination with other human beings just because they were dead had always puzzled Joel).
“Excuse me, Merry Christmas, have a nice shopping day!” the woman kept saying finally making it to the ‘island’, where she quickly managed to shoo away the people who had gathered around the collapsed Santa.
“Everything is fine! I’ll take over from here! Thank you all very much! I’m the manager! I’m in charge! Thank you again! Have a nice shopping day! Only a few more shopping days till Christmas! Merry Christmas!” she went on.
The manager kneeled beside Santa listening for a heartbeat and breathing of which there of course were none.
“Well Santa, looks like you finally did it, you old drunken fool. I told you so, didn’t I? I told you the old ticker couldn’t take it in the long run. By the way, old timer, you STINK!”
She got up and addressed the people:
“Everything is a perfectly fine, shoppers! Nothing to see here. Santa’s just taking a little nap! Have a nice shopping day! Merry Christmas!”
Most of the people had had already resumed their frantic rush to who knows where, when they once more had to give way for a young man making his way towards the ‘island’.
“Sir, didn’t you hear me? I said there’s nothing to see here!” The manager of the department store sounded not a little annoyed when the young man joined her all the same.
“I did, but…”
“Then there’s nothing more to say!”
“I’m afraid there is. I’m with the police.” The young man pulled out his wallet and showed the manager something in it.
“So, what? We don’t need the police here. There’s nothing for you to investigate!”
“If there’s been a crime…”
“Shhh! Will you be quiet!”
The manager took hold of the policeman’s coat and dragged him away from possible curious ears, in fact she pulled him quite close to where Joel lay curled up thinking about what his next step should be concerning his ever-rising hunger.
“Do you want to start a panic?” the manager asked the policeman.
“Of course not, but…”
“Then be quiet!”
“I still have to…”
“You will do nothing to upset my shoppers! Business is bad enough as it is! I need to stay open all the way through Christmas!”
“I understand that, but the law says that whenever someone dies…”
“The old fool drank himself to death! All you have to do is smell him! It’s an open and shut case!”
Joel was tempted to interfere. After all he didn’t like to see someone else, not even the victim himself, take credit for his work, but really he couldn’t be bothered. Besides he was too hungry.
“That may very well be, but I still gotta do what I gotta do,” the policeman insisted.
The manager seemed finally resigned:
“Oh, alright then, but try to be discreet when you cart him away. The last thing I need is a lot of flat-footed cops disturbing my trade!”
“I’ll do all I can,” the policeman promised.
“This is all I need!” The manager threw her hands up in the air. “On top of everything else now I gotta find another Santa for this post! And believe me, they’re all drunks!”
Joel had heard enough. If another Santa was coming here he might as well leave before that happened. After all he had only so much poison in his fangs at a time. Still, he didn’t see how there could be more than one Santa, but if this manager-person said so then it probably was so.
So when she had left and the policeman was bent over the dead Santa, Joel slid up the wire he had used before, but this time he followed it as it ran the length of the store, most of the time hidden by the green stuff that was wrapped around the wire to create (Joel supposed) the illusion of one long winding branch. Why someone had gone to this trouble was beyond him, but of course now it was quite useful for reasons of concealment.
After a while of crawling Joel got tired. It was so long since he had eaten last that he was quite weak, not at all the tightly wound body of pure POWER that was his usual self. Something eatable had to turn up soon or else…
Well, he didn’t know what else, didn’t much like to think about it either.
Once in a while along the way certain smells had come his way, but never any really appetizing ones. The situation was beginning to be desperate.
As always when that happened Joel trusted his luck. It had never let him down so far, and neither did it this time.
As Joel was coming to the end of the wire in the far end of the store he simply let himself fall, and as luck would have it he landed in a shopping cart that was just about to be pushed into an elevator.
The landing wasn’t too uncomfortable, but as Joel had never been in an elevator before he got a little giddy in his stomach on the way up. Enough so that he popped up his head to say “Hmf!” which was noticed by another passenger in the elevator, none other than the child from before:
“Look mom, there’s that snake again!”
“Yeah right,” the mother sighed, “and for your information: What wasn’t funny the first time is REALLY not funny the second time.”
“But mom, he’s right there!” The child pointed to the shopping cart, but just then the elevator doors opened and Joel dove quickly to the bottom of the shopping cart, that’s how excited he had gotten by the smell that had greeted him at that moment: The delicious smell of ‘small rodent’, otherwise known as MOUSE, and lots of them!
“What did I tell you about pointing? Again?” the mother asked.
“Yeah, but mom…”
By this time Joel had already found a way through the grating in the bottom of the shopping cart and was long since on the floor making his way as quickly (under the circumstances) as he could in the direction of the wonderful smell.
No indeed, Joel’s famous luck hadn’t let him down. He could hardly believe it when he arrived at the source of the smell. If it hadn’t been for his deeply rooted loyalty to his big tree in the big park he might seriously have considered moving in here permanently.
It was like any snake’s dream come true. Ho-ho-ho, Joel might have said out of sheer contentment. Not only were there all the mice and rats and guinea pigs anyone could ever ask for, there were also various kinds of frogs and toads as well as an endless (it seemed) assortment of birds so that you could supplement a healthy diet of meat with the occasional egg should that fancy strike you.
Yes, Joel was going to like it here, at least for as long as it took for him to get his strength back before he returned to the park for his winter nap. Just HOW he was going to get there he had no idea, but of course a solution to that problem would present itself in time.
First things first however. Joel quickly located the large enclosure with glass walls where the mice were held in a sort of natural environment with dirt for them to dig in and bits of grass and bush for them to nibble on.
Speaking of nibbles, Joel wasted no time climbing over the top of the glass wall curling up in the dirt with a sigh of relief and much to the surprise of the terrified mice.
“Hello friends, did you miss me?” Joel asked politely before he made a lunge at the nearest and slowest mouse with his usual uncanny precision.
While he swallowed Joel watched the rest of the mice scurrying about in a state of panic making little squeaky noises. Why they bothered Joel would never understand. Why not do as he did instead and take it easy while digesting? It seemed the sensible thing to do, the only question remaining whether he should have another mouse while he was at it, a small one perhaps, he was after all rather famished.
Decisions, decisions! Oh well, he might also wait a little.
While making up his mind he still preferred his food to remain fresh and juicy (Joel had never seen the point in killing just for the sake of killing) until he needed it.
Joel decided to find a nice warm place where he could not only digest in comfort but also keep an eye on things. Luckily to that double purpose he discovered that also on this floor there ran the same kind of wire as on the ground floor with green stuff the full length of the room going right through even this department.
Already drawing from the strength of the mouse moving through his body Joel calmly climbed up to the wire and, making himself comfortable, he fell asleep.
And thus over the next few days, in what he found out was called the ‘pet department’ of the department store, Joel settled into an agreeable routine:
Whenever he felt a twinge of hunger he simply dipped into the various ‘dishes’ of wildlife below him, ate his fill, making sure he had a varied diet, and slipped back up to his perch.
He was surprisingly undisturbed by the people who came to the department. Only once was he a little worried. That was when a sales-person remarked that there seemed to be less of the Brazilian rainforest mice left in their glass-enclosure than she thought there should be.
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