Originally Written Short Story, January 2023 for NYC Midnight Short Story Competition

“This is precisely why nobody in their right mind hires a Boa constrictor to perform at a five-year-olds birthday party,” his brother Marty hissed beside him.

Presently, the magnificent animal was winding its way up the absurdly muscular arm of its trainer, a very tall, burly man named Herc with a black goatee. Ben didn’t know a lot about snakes, but he had to admit that this particular one looked like a miserable son of a bitch.

            The group of kids seated on the grass under the mid-day California sun were loving the performance and thankfully seemed cheerfully oblivious to any immediate threat to life.

“You think he’s alright?” Ben murmured, surveying the scene intently.  

Herc’s default expression was fairly angry, but Ben thought that he could detect something else on his face as the snake wound its way up his arm.

“I don’t know man, I –” Marty was abruptly cut off by an answer to the question at hand.

“Get – this – thing – off – me,” Herc grunted, his eyes bulging. He lunged forward in the direction of the children and fell to his knees.

The party erupted in a sea of pandemonium, parents swiftly darting across the lawn for their children, shrieks of terror permeating the air.

Ben’s wife Leah made it to their son Oscar in the front row, and was now looking at Ben, her eyes wide with a unique combination of malice and horror.

“Come on!” Ben grabbed Marty by the arm and dragged him up to where Herc was now vigorously grasping at the snake with his free hand.

“Get – the – bottle,” he groaned, gesturing erratically towards the black duffel bag resting on the grass about ten feet away.  

Ben dove for the bag and rummaged through it frantically, emerging with a plastic spray bottle crudely labeled “RUBBING ALCOHOL”. Without much thought, he began vigorously spraying the snake in the face.

It didn’t like that. With an almighty hiss and aggressive flick of its tail, the snake unraveled itself, cascaded into the tall grass, and began to slither away from the party at impressive speed. The pandemonium escalated.

            “Grab it!” Marty bellowed at Herc, who was intently massaging his now free arm. But as quickly as the chaos had broken out, the snake was gone, disappeared into the thick shrubbery separating Ben and Leah’s house from their neighbours.

            “Okay, it’s alright! Everybody in the house now!” Ben exclaimed in his cheeriest possible voice, escorting his traumatized party guests in through their sliding back door.


Once the backyard had been suitably evacuated, he returned to Marty and a hysterical Herc.

“You’ve got to help me man, I have to get that snake back, or it’s my life on the line!”

Marty looked murderous.

“I’ll have your life myself, you overgrown sausage. We call the police, or animal control, or whoever the hell deals with this shit.”

“No! No police, or animal control, you can’t call anyone!”

For such a physically intimidating man, Herc looked so small and terrified that Ben exhaled deeply and vigorously rubbed his eyes.

“Listen Herc, I don’t know what’s going on here, but we have to get that snake back before it hurts someone; there are lots of kids in this neighbourhood. If we can’t call anyone, then what do you propose we do?”

Herc looked up at him with a glimmer of hope in his eyes.

“I’ve got some stuff in my car. Bait. And some tools we can use to grab it.”

            “Well, I guess that’s as good enough a place as any to start,” said Ben.

The three men made their way between the houses up towards Ben’s front yard, a steady stream of protest from Marty punctuating every step. 

“Ben, are you out of your mind? This isn’t an episode of the Crocodile Hunter, we don’t know shit about snakes, one of us is going to get killed by this thing, if we can even find it.”

As they rounded the corner, Ben paused, and Herc made an audible noise that sounded like he was being strangled. A tall, well-dressed man wearing mirrored sunglasses was leaning up against a rusty gold Honda Accord. Something about his demeanour made Ben uneasy.

“Ah, Herc. You’ve made some friends I see.”

            Ben and Marty both looked at Herc, but he stood frozen to the spot, his eyes as wide and terrified as they had been when the Boa constrictor had been squeezing the life out of his arm.

            “I’ll fix this boss. I just need some time.”  

            The man took three brisk steps across the grass so that he was within a foot of them. When he spoke this time, his voice was low and thick with venom.

            “I knew that you would screw this up. That’s why I’m here; to remind you that we’re overdue as it is. And also, to tell you this: I’m heading to the airport right now. If that snake isn’t safely on my plane when it takes off, you’ll wish that slithery fucker had killed you this afternoon. And if you had a brain in your head,” he glanced between Ben and Marty, “You’d find a way to deal with these two as well.”

“Alright dude, here’s the deal. Ben and I don’t go one step further until you explain what in Gods name is going on here,” Marty said folding his arms across his chest.

            Herc was sitting on the plush green grass despondently, his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands.

            “It’s all a front. I work for him, for all of them. We transport drugs across the border. The birthday party gig is all just a cover, gives us somewhere to funnel the money.”

            “Hey! I paid you almost $300 for this party!” Ben exclaimed righteously.

            Marty shook his head and continued,

            “Okay… and a shipment is… overdue?”

            Herc nodded.

            “This job was going to make up for it. Security’s so tight at the airport now. A whole shipment got busted last week, thought they were gonna kill us all. We got some extra shit for them in this shipment. Really good quality. We were gonna send it to them, no charge to make up for being so late.”

            “Okay, well why can’t you still do that? The airport’s not far from here?”  

            “It got away,” he said, his voice breaking.

            “What do you mean, how did a shipment ‘get away’…?” Ben paused, his mouth dropping open in sickening realization. “You’re not serious? In the snake?”

            “In the snake,” Herc confirmed, dropping his head into his hands.


“Am I on a TV show right now? There’s no way this is happening.” Marty leaned up against the siding of Ben’s front porch, shaking his head in disbelief. Ben nodded, wordlessly.

            “What are we going to do, Ben? We can’t go on some crusade with a drug lord to hunt down a drug-stuffed Boa constrictor, for the love of God. We’ll end up in jail, or with our throats slit.”

            “He’s in a jam Marty. The guy’s a mess, he clearly can’t solve this on his own, and they’re going to kill him if he can’t. Not to mention, there’s a damn Boa constrictor that just escaped from my kid’s birthday party, roaming around my neighbourhood. I say we find the snake and try to save this guys life. It can’t have gone too far.”

            Marty closed his eyes and took a deep breath.

            “Where do we start?”

            “Well, I would think that all we need to do is follow the screaming.”


   Regardless of the rather grave circumstances, Ben had to admit that it was somewhat amusing to see his brother creeping around the shrubbery of his backyard holding onto an empty Boa constrictor cage. Somehow, Ben had drawn the short straw and had ended up with two pairs of menacing-looking tongs. His job was going to be to grab the snake and get him into Marty’s cage. Herc was in charge of the bait and had a sack of dead rats slung over his shoulder. Maybe it was him that had drawn the short straw.

            “Okay, so we know that it went under these shrubs, and our neighbours have a fence on the other side. So, it’s got to be in their yard.”

            The three men slipped through the dense shrubbery separating the two houses like they were entering hostile territory.

            “Let’s get some of those rats on the ground Herc, try to get him out in the open,” said Ben in a low tone, as if the snake would hear them.

            Herc shook the sack of rats out and four or five of them tumbled out onto the grass. Herc and Marty gingerly picked the rats up and tossed them in the direction of the shrubs on the outskirts of the yard, while Ben started pacing around the perimeter with his pincer tongs at the ready.

            “Alright, you slippery little devil, where are you?” he murmured.

            Herc and Marty had backed into the corner of the yard, giving the rats some space to draw the snake in. As Ben circled around, his gaze steadfastly trained downwards, he suddenly had the distinct feeling that he was being watched…but not from below.

He slowly, cautiously, raised his gaze and drew a breath in sharply. There, not six inches from his brother’s head, was the magnificent snake curled around the branch of the tree, perfectly camouflaged into the deep mahogany tones of the bark. A shiver of fear ran down his spine.

            “Marty, come towards me, right now,” he said, trying for all his might to keep his voice flat and emotionless.

            “Do you see it?!” Marty’s eyes widened and he immediately side stepped the wrong way, taking him closer to the tree, his eyes trained intently on the ground.

            Herc stepped towards Ben before turning around in the direction of the tree. His eyes widened.

            “Holy shit!”

            “Herc, don’t!” Ben shouted, as Herc impulsively reached for the snake with his bare hands.

            The snake reacted swiftly, baring its impressive fangs, and sinking them deep into the leathery skin of Herc’s forearm. He let out a bloodcurdling scream.

            “It got me!” he collapsed to his knees, clutching his arm desperately.

            “Ben, the snake!” bellowed Marty, as the snake began to slither up the trunk of the tree.

            Ben’s eyes darted between Herc on the ground and the snake, who was making steady progress disappearing into the foliage of the tree. Deciding that a wounded forearm would pale in comparison to what the drug lords would do to him if the snake got away, it was a fairly simple choice.

            He gingerly stepped into the garden shrubbery, clutching the pincer tongs.

            “Stay close Marty,” he said in a low tone, “Keep that cage ready.”

            The two of them inched their way closer to the tree, Herc providing a soundtrack of low moaning in the background. The snake continued its slow, methodical ascent.

            “You’ve got to get one near his head, and one near his tail, otherwise he’ll go apeshit, and you’ll lose control of him,” coached Marty, as if he had experience in this particular endeavour.

            Ben could feel a bead of sweat trickling down the back of his neck. He cautiously reached up high with the pincers in his left hand in the general direction of the snake’s head and positioned the pincers in his right hand near his tail.

            “Steady…steady…” Marty murmured.

            Ben said a silent Hail Mary and proceeded to gently close the tongs around the top and bottom of the snake.

At the precise moment that he made contact, there was the rustling of a sliding glass door, and his 80-year-old neighbours crackly voice rang out across the yard.

“Ben? What are you…my goodness! Is that a snake?!” the woman shrieked frantically.

            The noise shattered the tense silence abruptly, causing Ben to lose focus and jerk backwards; reflexively closing the pincers on the snake with full force. The snake erupted in what could only be described as utter indignation and emitted a furious screech as it launched itself off of the tree and backwards towards the three men.

            Ben stumbled backwards out of control and toppled off his feet and into the garden, while Marty dove in the opposite direction with a stream of profanities. The snake had landed wrong-side up on its back and erratically thrashed around in the shrubbery trying to right itself. By the time Ben had made it back to his feet, it had succeeded in this regard, and was now slinking across the open grass, not far from where Herc had jumped to his feet. Ben could see the wheels in his head turning.

            “No, Herc!”

            Before he could get the words out, Herc had abruptly launched his body in a full-frontal belly-flop on top of the snake in an attempt to stop it.

            “Jesus!” Marty thundered, as he landed on the belly of the snake, who once again emitted a terrible hiss of fury, before beginning to wind itself around Herc’s torso, with a particularly nasty glint in its eye.

            “Here, take this!” Ben tossed one of the pincers to Marty and the two of them raced across the yard and over to Herc, who was struggling against the snake.

            Ben made it to Herc first and reached out to take hold of the snake’s head with his pincers.

            “Get it’s tail, Marty!”

            “Shit, shit, shit,” Marty swore as he gingerly extended the pincers and took hold of the snake’s tail.

            “We’ve got it! Get the cage, Herc!”

            The furious snake thrashed viciously between the two pincers. Herc jumped to his feet and ran for the cage, opening the wire door and extending it towards them. Marty thrust the tail of the snake in and with one last ferocious hiss, Ben pushed the head in to follow. Herc closed the door, and the three men collapsed down to the ground, gasping with adrenaline.

            Ben came back to reality first, and turned back towards the house, where his elderly neighbour was still standing, her mouth ajar and eyes wide in shock.         

            “It’s all good Mrs. Federman, we’ve got this under control!”


“Man, do I ever owe you guys one,” Herc said, his voice thick with appreciation as they packed the cage up into the backseat of Herc’s Accord.

“So, what now?” Ben asked with a rueful smile. “I want my $300 back, you know.”

            Herc smiled ruefully and looked down at the cage.

            “I guess they’ll have to kill him to get the dope out, right?” Marty said, with an almost undetectable hint of sadness in his voice.

            “I guess that’s the plan,” said Herc. “But I was kind of thinking…maybe instead of Mexico, we’ll head for the Caribbean or somewhere else where they can’t find us.”

            “We? Us?” Ben asked, his eyebrows raised.  

            “Yea, we. Guess I’ve grown kind of fond of the slippery little bastard.”


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