There was a knock at the door. Stan looked through the peephole: two men in suits. It was Saturday. He hesitantly opened the door.
"Can I help you?"
"Mr. Stan Harden?"
"We're with the United States Department of Agriculture."
"Yes, and we'd like to ask you about a purchase of a Burmese Python you made approximately five years ago."
"I thought the USDA inspected meat?"
"Yes, another branch."
"You want to know about my snake?"
"Yes, we're verifying the location of all snakes purchased in this area in the last five years. Do you still have your snake?"
"Do you now where the snake is?"
"Actually, the snake kind of disappeared."
"Yes, he was in his cage one day and then gone. I don't know where he went. I searched the house, looked outside."
"Uh-huh. We think we may have your snake. Could you come with us, sir?"
"What? What do you mean?"
"Sir, our branch of the USDA specializes in reuniting pet owners with their lost pets."
"That's great, but why do I have to come with you. Can't you just drop the snake off?"
"Well, sir, we need you to come down to our office and identify the snake."
"How am I going to do that? I haven't seen him in 3 years."
"Sir, it will only take a minute. We're just 15 minutes away."
"But I don't even want the snake anymore."
"Well, sir, once you identify the snake I'm sure you can turn him in to an animal shelter or return him to the store where you purchased him."
Stan wasn't buying any of this. These guys were obviously a joke. It must be some crazy prank John or Frank was playing on him.
"Okay, really funny. Who sent you? Was it John or Frank?"
"I'm afraid we don't know any John or Frank, sir."
"Right, okay. Let me get my jacket."
Stan followed the men into a big black SUV. It didn't take long to leave Stan's neighborhood and get on the freeway.
"Did you report your missing snake, sir?"
"Well, no. Who the hell would I report it to?"
"Local law enforcement, the SPCA, the pet shop where you purchased it?"
"Did you put up any kind of missing snake posters?"
"No, I thought he would just die, or go live in the everglades."
"That's really unfortunate, sir. These types of reptiles adapt quickly and become a hazard. Your snake is just one of thousands released into the wild each year."
The men remained silent. They were exiting the freeway into an industrial looking part of town.
"So, where are you guys based out of?"
"It's just up the road here, Mr. Harden."
Soon, they stood in front of an unmarked warehouse. Stan was sure that John or Frank would be on the inside. One of his two escorts waved a badge at a reader near the door to the warehouse. There was a buzz and a click. They waited for Stan.
"Yes, sir. You can't be too careful with snakes."
Stan found himself in a room with a table, two chairs, and an overhead light.
"It will just be a minute, sir. We're retrieving your snake now."
Stan sat down. There was a mirror facing him on the other side of the room. He felt like he was being watched. He looked around. There was nothing extraordinary, just an odd door in one corner, probably an access point for plumbing or electrical. He looked back at the mirror.
A voice came out of thin air. It was a speaker or something. He looked around and saw it in the ceiling.
"Mr. Harden, can you hear me?"
"Yes, I can hear you. What's this all about?"
"I just wanted to warn you that your snake has really grown since you last saw him."
"Yeah, so what?"
The small door in the corner opened and the largest snake Stan had ever saw poured into the room like soft-serve ice cream.
"What the hell! Get me out of here!"
"Do you recognize him, Mr. Harden? Mr. Harden?"
* * *
Local resident Stan Harden was found dead today. He had been reported missing by his friends and family. When authorities investigated his home they found a large uncooperative Burmese Python, which was dispatched. Upon further investigation, Mr. Harden had apparently been the snake's lunch. Authorities warned local residents about the rising number of pet snakes being released into the wild each year by irresponsible pet owners and advised residents to take special precautions for their dogs, cats, and small children.