One bright, fall afternoon when my BYU classes were over, I was rummaging through the freezer, searching for something microwavable, when I heard footsteps tromping up the iron staircase just outside the front door.
With three tremendous blows and before waiting for a reply, Paul swung open the door.
Paul lived in the apartment directly below mine. He was one of those professional study types who always had some interesting project going.
“I’ll be feeding the snake in about five minutes,” he reported.
Here I was at college where I thought everyone was supposed to be studious and intellectual, and this guy was asking me if I wanted to watch a python named Monty devour a live rat.
“I’m on my way,” I announced. I was only 18. I figured I was entitled.
I followed Paul down into his apartment. Five or six other guys were already huddled in a circle like a football team waiting to get the next play. The subject of their attention was a large aquarium about the size of a bathtub. There was some sand and a few sticks propped up against the glass walls, and a winding, multicolored figure piled in one corner. This was Monty.
“Are you sure he’s hungry?”
“Yeah, just wait,” Paul reassured us.
He armed himself with a thick ski glove and reached for a wooden box sitting on the desk. Gently opening the lid, Paul slipped his gloved hand in, grabbing the rat by the tail. Nobody said a word during this procedure.
As Paul let the rat dangle over the serpent, I felt almost disappointed in myself for being so anxious to witness such a gruesome thing. But I kept on watching.
“Here it goes,” he said. As the rat bolted to the opposite end of the cage from the snake, our huddle squeezed a little tighter in anticipation of a terrible struggle.
One of the spectators shook the cage a bit, another blew on the snake in hopes of arousing it. Still nothing.
I could feel the disappointment of everyone as Monty remained motionless. A small murmur of dissatisfaction grew into loud exclamations of “he’s not even hungry!” and “I knew he couldn’t eat that big rat!”
“Be patient!” Paul said. “It takes time.”
So we dug in, watching and waiting. The huddle broke up. Some sat down on the bed, others on the floor.
Finally, after about ten minutes the python showed signs of life. The rat remained in the opposite corner trying to jump out, but the walls were too high. Slowly, Monty raised his head and turned smoothly toward the rat. With his forked tongue working methodically, the serpent began inching his way to his victim.
The audience’s interest was again piqued.
When the python had come within a foot of its prey, the rat dashed to the other end. We again formed a circle, thinking that now the real chase would begin.
But Monty was patient. He slithered around so he would again be facing his goal, and with determination made his serpentine way at a slow, calculated pace toward the defenseless rat.
This continued for about the next 20 minutes—the snake would advance until the rat was sufficiently threatened to bolt to the other end. I noticed though that each time the python advanced, the rat would allow it to get a fraction closer. Because Monty did not appear violent or vicious, but gentle and soothing, the rat seemed almost hypnotized into believing that the snake wasn’t so bad.
Some of the guys began to leave, claiming to have studying to do or papers to write. But I was fascinated with the drama. It was no longer just the violence of watching a snake kill its prey. There seemed to be something personal about the whole encounter.
Forty-five minutes had passed from the time Paul dropped the rat into the aquarium. Monty was now getting within an inch of the rat’s pink nose before it scampered away. Each time, with unrelenting patience, the serpent turned and followed. His forked tongue still lashing, Monty went right up and touched the rat, nose to nose. It had made a new friend.
ZAP! In a split second, he seized the rat’s throat, twisted around its body, and squeezed out its life. We watched in awe as he swallowed it whole.
Not much was said when the group broke up. Some thanked Paul as they went out the door. I was the last one to leave, still watching the lump in the snake’s side.
As I made my way up the iron staircase, I didn’t feel like eating much any more. The whole thing had been so devious and crooked. I thought about it the rest of the day. In bed that night, I began to draw some parallels between the rat and some of my friends—and more frighteningly between the rat and myself.
When I started high school, my friends and I all had the same attitude about drinking and wild parties—we stayed away. But some of them were slowly enticed to experiment and would tease the rest of us for being so obedient. When we got to be juniors and seniors, several others had fallen into the same trap—they allowed “Monty” to get too close, thinking that he was their friend, when he really wanted only to destroy them.
I thought of times in my life when I allowed Satan to get closer to me than he should have. If I had jumped and run each time I saw the “very appearance of evil,” I could have saved myself a lot of grief. I thought of occasions when I, like the rat, rationalized my way through compromising situations, knowing initially the danger involved, but then slowly telling myself that I could handle it.
I can understand now why Satan is so often referred to as a serpent in the scriptures. Even though I still stumble sometimes, I am more alert to Satan’s method of attraction. I can see it coming and run before it’s too late.