The Dangers of Anthropomorphism

By Chloe Aust

The weather of late had been particularly... British. As spring made it's slow slump towards summer, it took a familiar, passive aggressive pattern of sunny spells during the working week and drizzle at weekends.

Eventually the first non-wet warm weekend arrived and was greeted with panicked joy as everyone rushed to the nearest outdoor space to bask in the balmy 17 degree heat.

It was in this spirit that Jane found herself in {{park}} searching for a space on the grass, which was completely obscured by a patchwork of picnic blankets.

Wandering along she spotted a notice board in the bushes near the gates. Some official looking council things that no-one ever read, a notice for some upcoming yoga classes, a lost dog. She looked at the picture of the missing pet with a pang of sympathy. As a child she'd had a dog herself: a mongrel, medium sized, a bit of terrier in it somewhere but mostly just reminiscent of a big ball of wire wool. When she was seven he'd got out the front door and was never seen or heard of again. She'd been heartbroken and her seven year old self swore off pet ownership forever.

However, since breaking up with Dan a few months ago she had been thinking of reconsidering. The flat felt lonely. Even after all this time though, she still couldn't quite face another fluffy escape risk.

To the left of the lost dog sign was a bright yellow piece of paper with a poorly printed picture on it. Even though the image had come out badly from a battle with a near empty toner cartridge Jane thought its subject looked magnificent. Her eyes drifted to the words below: 'Snake For Sale'. She took note of the number.

'I am a snake owner,' thought Jane. 'I am the sort of person who owns a snake. A really, really big snake.'

Over the past week Jane had been accustoming herself to the new piece among the parts that make up Jane - snake ownership.

The serpent in question was called Doris. Who had named her Doris was a mystery. The man who sold Doris hadn't known a huge amount about her. The snake had belonged to a recently deceased relative who hadn't been the snake's first owner. That's all he knew, apart from the fact that Doris gave him the creeps.

Jane had wondered about the sale. Surely you shouldn't be able to sell a big snake, for cash via a flyer in a park? Surely there should be some kind of snake census?

However, as soon as she saw Doris the deal was done. Doris was beautiful. More than five foot long and not done growing, her yellow green scales gave off a healthy gleam. Jane looked Doris in the eye and imagined she could see intellect as the snake stared back, her forked tongue delicately flicking in and out.

A month later and Doris was settling in very well indeed. Initially Jane had mainly confined Doris to the sort of tank one expects to keep such a snake in. Reassured by Doris' former owner she let Doris out for short periods to explore her new abode - a reasonably sized two bedroom flat in {{park street}}. Over time Jane began to greatly enjoy the company of her new friend and Doris' time outside the tank increased.

Jane worked from home and spent a lot of time sat at her computer, which was set up in the flat's tiny second bedroom. The working from home life had begun with a 'laptop, sofa, film on' sort of set up but as time went on Jane resigned herself to the fact that having an actual desk away from the telly was much more conducive to productivity. She bought a proper computer and kept her desk surface tidy. Clean space, clear mind. (Ignoring the jumble of wires and plugs that were arranged underneath. Out of sight, out of mind.)

One morning, during Doris' early days as a resident of {{park street}}, Jane, with a jolt, felt something brush her ankle. Doris had escaped her tank. Jane, distracted by a looming deadline, assumed she hadn't shut it properly. Doris explored the space under the table, her forked tongue tasting the air and her angular head appearing to investigate all the corners before curling up near Jane's feet. Jane smiled at this almost loyal doglike gesture.

'This is nice,' she thought, before returning to her work.

On the days Doris needed feeding Jane would eat her own breakfast first. She found getting Doris her dinner ruined her own appetite otherwise. After breakfast Jane would prop open the hatch to Doris' tank before going and getting settled at her desk. After a bit Doris would come and curl up at Jane's feet.

Every so often Jane would have to clean out Doris' tank, which was a bit of an arse, but that, the slightly macabre feeding time, and cleaning up the occasional snakeskin were the only downsides to Doris as far as Jane was concerned.

One day, mid-morning, Jane noticed that something felt wrong. Doris was nowhere to be seen. Turning in her chair she realised she had accidentally shut the door to the study behind her, shutting the snake out. Just as Jane rose from her chair she heard a click and the door swung open. The snake's top half landed on the floor with a thud.

Doris could open doors.

A quick Google search returned various videos of similarly massive snakes opening doors. Jane felt relieved to know that this wasn't an unheard of snake ability, while also disappointed at the thought that Doris could have become an online celebrity, had Jane only got in there first.

'You're mad,' her brother Richard pronounced when he saw Jane's new {{park street}} flatmate. 'Raving'.

Over a takeaway Jane explained to Richard the joys of snake ownership, they tested Doris' door opening abilities and discussed the downsides - namely Doris' dinnertime - before moving on to other subjects.

Far too many glasses of wine later Jane saw Richard out, staggered to bed and passed out. At some point in the night Jane became aware of a slithering under the sheets. Doris stretched out alongside Jane, as if she was sleeping in the other half of the double bed. Too pissed to properly comprehend her snake's presence Jane simply passed out again.

Jane drifted slowly awake, her vision blurry and her head pounding. She sat up to get a drink of water and assess just how bad the hangover was when she spotted Doris stretched out on the other side of the bed. In her drunken state Jane had forgotten to shut her back in her tank the previous night.

Jane was strangely touched by her pet's desire to be near her at night though, before rushing to the toilet due to a wave of hangover induced nausea.

After a few more late night escapes, each ending with Doris taking up the other side of the bed, Jane gave in and just allowed her companion the continual run of the flat.

Each night, after Jane had gone to bed, she'd hear the sound of Doris smoothly making her way across the floorboards before entering under the duvet at the foot of the bed. Doris would make her way up to the top, poking her head out at the pillow end and stretch her full length straight down the bed.

Jane found the fact that Doris wanted to sleep next to her night after night charming, although she tried to remind herself that the snake probably just preferred the warmth under the covers.

Doris drifted around the flat filled with anticipation. Finally her length comfortably surpassed the human's height.

Jane went to bed and the flat was in darkness. Working her way under the duvet Doris stretched herself out alongside the sleeping Jane one last time, just to check. Confident, Doris got into position and slowly began to open her huge jaw as wide as it would go.

Uncomfortably full, Doris moved to her favourite spot, under the desk curled over the warm plugs, while she waited for the digestion process to be complete. She calculated that she had a few days before anyone would notice Jane's disappearance. The human very rarely had visitors or even left the flat. When the too-full feeling had subsided and Doris felt up to moving again, she slithered out from under the desk, leaving a shed skin among the electrics. Doris moved slowly towards the front door and began to wait.

Richard was surprised to find two policemen on his front step. They were, they explained, 'the bearers of bad news'.

There had been a fire at Jane's, completely gutting the flat and destroying everything inside. Firefighters were investigating the cause but as CCTV from the foyer of her building showed that she had been in the flat at the time, and all other residents had been accounted for, there was no doubt she had been killed.

Richard reacted in the same way anyone would when finding out their only sibling had died in a fire. The police officers, used to delivering such information but still uncomfortable about it, reeled out the standard issue, supposedly comforting phrases.

After a while the older officer cleared his throat. 'There is something we have to ask,' he said. 'It appears the deceased... Jane, I mean. Is it correct that Jane had a pet snake? A rather... large pet snake?'

Richard looked up. 'Doris,' he said, in affirmation.

'Well,' the officer said, seeming nervous, 'it appears the snake managed to escape the fire. Must have gotten out the front door, no idea how. Firefighters found it down the hall. Gave them quite a fright, unsurprisingly.'

'Doris can open doors,' Richard offered in way of explanation. 'Does that answer your question?'

'Well... no. Actually we were wondering if you could take it off our hands? Now.

'As her closest next of kin and as the snake is the only thing to remain from the fire we thought it right that we pass it on to you. There are papers and formalities, of course, but we'd like you to have it sooner rather than later.

'Gives us the creeps to be quite honest.'

Later that evening, as Richard sat at a desk in his living room browsing the internet, he felt an unusual sensation. Doris had escaped her tank and was curling up by his feet.

Uneasy as he was about having the snake around, in some ways it was like having a piece of his sister still in his life. As Doris coiled near his feet Richard smiled at this almost loyal doglike gesture.

Doris, meanwhile, was making a mental note of the layout of this new flat and its resident. She still had some growing to do.