I happen to have a girlfriend, Tana, who collects reptiles. She particularly loves beautiful snakes, and one day she lucked into a real prize: a fine big reticulated python that had been raised since egg-hood as a pet. The snake was very tame and liked to cuddle with nice, warm humans. It never bit punched people with its nose and never squeezed hard, but it did like to cuddle and explore sleeves.
Tana was delighted with her python, but she had a small problem: nowhere to keep it. She asked me to babysit her new pet for the rest of the day, and possibly overnight until she could buy and set up a proper cage for it. The snake wouldn’t be any problem, she insisted; it had been fed a few days before and had just had water, so it wouldn’t need any particular care for awhile. I agreed to babysit the snake since I had a cold and wasn’t going anywhere. I intended to spend the rest of the day and night wrapped up in warm pajamas and a warm wooly robe, doing nothing but sitting in an easy-chair, watching television and swallowing cold pills.
This arrangement was fine with the snake, who was happy to wrap around my waist under the wooly robe and enjoy the cuddling. So there we both sat in the easy-chair, myself and the python, watching TV and keeping warm. After a while, the snake felt at home enough to do some exploring: up to my side, across my shoulder and into the left sleeve of the robe. I didn’t particularly mind since there was plenty of room for both of us in the loose sleeve.
And then somebody came knocking on the door. I let my roommate answer it, which was a mistake because he was a mild-mannered soul who couldn’t say no when the — you guessed it — pesky religion-salesmen insisted on pushing their way into the house. He just pointed the religious pests at me, gave me an apologetic look, and fled.
I was trying to think of a polite way to tell them to go away when they started into their spiel. About then I felt the snake inch its head past my elbow, and that gave me a better idea.
“Hold it,” I said. “Thank you, but I already have a religion that suits me just fine. I’m…a witch.” Well, I knew some people who were, anyway.
This being in California, where the witch-religion — called Wicca — has legal standing, the religion-salesmen at least had better sense than to claim that I was going straight to hell. Instead, they tried insisting that their religion was a better deal and offered far better benefits.
Meanwhile, the snake was working its way down to my wrist.
“But my religion,” I put in, “Teaches me how to do magic — real magic.”
What sort of magic, they wanted to know.
“For one thing, transformations,” I said, as I clasped my hands and pulled the ends of the sleeves together. “I can change into creatures other than humans.”
Of course, the religious pests expressed doubt that I could do this.
Meanwhile, out of sight, I pulled my left arm back up the loose sleeve so that my hand was covered by the cloth. Now the python’s head came poking out of the sleeve-end and began poking into the right sleeve.
“Oh, but I can,” I insisted, and then started chanting the names of various goddesses from ancient mythology: “Astarte, Diana, Hecate, Demeter, Kali, Innana — Isis!”
As I reached the last name, I pulled my hands — and the sleeves — apart and raised my arms. Yes, there was my right hand, the same as always…
But where my left hand should have been, the python’s head and a good six inches of neck stood out of the sleeve. The snake added to the effect by flicking its tongue at the religion-salesmen. Well, they left rather quickly. I had to call my roommate to come to close the front door after them.
After that, I tucked the python’s head back into the waist of my robe, swallowed another cold-pill and went channel-surfing until I came across a rerun of “Star Trek”. Tana showed up before the show was over, having found and set up a good snake-cage a lot faster than she’d expected. We unwound the snake from me, wound it around her waist instead, and she put her coat on over it.
As she headed for the door she thought to ask: “Was Snakey any trouble?”
“Oh no,” I grinned. “He was very well-behaved.”
Needless to add, pesky religion-salesmen didn’t come knocking on my door again.