This is a story about a snake, a snow shovel, and a tropical island. And a hardware store. And the impressibility of others. And bells, lots and lots of bells. The story ends on a Christmas day, but that’s not where it begins.

The bells were displayed at the hardware store next to inflatable Santas, lawn reindeer, artificial trees, lights, wreaths, nativity scenes, and a snow shovel. The shovel had been at the store for several years. The then new manager on the island learned the lesson that you can’t just order what “all the other stores” with similar population areas order. Not “all the other stores” are on a tropical island where it will never snow.

The snow shovel had become something of a joke in the store, and even on the island. For the last few years it had been dutifully displayed next to the Christmas decorations in the hope that it would be scooped up in some shoppers prefestivity purchasing frenzy. The snow shovel never sold, and this year it looked like the bells were going to suffer a similar fate. Sleigh bells were as useful and as desirable as a snow shovel on a tropical island.

The bells and the shovel didn’t fly off the shelf, true, but they were carefully carried away by an optimistic father attempting to impress his children. The father asked the manager of the hardware store for something unique, and unforgettable. The manager, who had been hearing it about the shovel for years, and was now beginning to hear it about the bells, sold them cheap, and helped the father carry them out of the store.

When he showed the bells to his wife, the mother of his children, the love of his life, she was not enthused. A few is fine. But thousands and thousands of bells? To give to young children? Noise and noise and noise. He didn’t show her the snow shovel.

The young father, saying he had more Christmas preparations to take care of, went for a walk in the jungle. He spent the afternoon in thick humid green pondering the inimpressibility of so many. Staring up into the jungle canopy, he felt the ocean breeze whisper through the vines and branches, and considered local legends about the spirits in the trees, and how you must ask permission to enter the jungle around them. If you listen, locals claimed, you could hear them answer.

That night, after dinner, and the night before Christmas, the father read stories to his children.  His son had questions about the necessity of conflict. Why does something scary have to happen in a story? Why are there bad guys? Why can’t a story just be like Christmas morning where you just keep unwrapping presents? The father tried to explain, and ended the evening reminding them that tomorrow was Christmas morning, and that some gifts can’t be wrapped.

The next morning, the kids unwrapped books, cars, a doll, and even a few bells. The father kept saying that it was time to get going, that he had something else to give them. The family hopped into the car, kids clutching their bells, and drove to an entrance of the jungle. “Maybe we’ll find some papayas, mangos, or who knows?” said the father.

On the radio, there was a jingle about the Brown Tree Snake. It went, and still goes “Don’t give snakes a break…” and keeps repeating it. Many island residents roamed around with this tune in their heads, or on a sticker on their bumper with a red x and a hissing snake. If you saw one of these snakes, you were duty bound to kill it and then alert the authorities. Neighboring islands have seen their bird populations all but wiped out by this snake.

It was a tropical Christmas day in the jungle. All days were tropical here, but this one seemed even more so. The kids watched giant hermit crabs and frogs and lizards and joked about being hit on the head by a coconut. Mom and dad held hands. The air was still, the birds were chirping, and the father kept making comments about the ocean breeze, and how he hoped that they could all feel it soon.

You don’t know if you are allergic to some particular food until you eat it. You don’t know, not really, if you are afraid of something until you face it. The birds stopped their songs, and the family learned that they were afraid of snakes, as a family of brown tree snakes jumped out of the jingle and began to descend from the trees. Some were high in the canopy, some climbed down trunks, some approached on the ground. “Dad, this is the part in the stories I don’t like,” the young son said. The young daughter, clutching the bell she received for Christmas, started to shake, and with it the bell. The bell rings. The son rings his bell too. The snakes pause, notice the sound, and begin to slither closer.

What does not giving the snakes a break mean in this situation? The father and mother grabbed sticks and pull their children close. But what was to be done, had already been done. They glanced up at the blue sky through the giant trees that did or did not have spirits in them, and saw the snakes approaching. They told the kids to stop ringing the bells, the tiny jingle in the still jungle air only heightened the curiosity in the snakes.

The ocean breeze, as if on cue, began to blow. The parents barked at the kids to stop ringing the bells. The kids answer in unison that they’re not. The wind blew harder and the jungle canopy only a feet away began to jingle. Thousands of bells had (only the day before) been tied to branches and leaves and trunks and vines. The wind blew and blew and the bells rang and jingled.

To the snakes, two bells was a curiosity; thousands of bells was terrifying. The snakes scattered and hid. The family walked a few feet further to be directly under the bells. The birds, still undestroyed by snakes, began to sing in accompaniment. The sun shone through the jungle canopy, bright jungle flowers dripped from recent rain, and the bells jingled, and they jangled. The father, the mother, the son, the daughter, the snakes, and the birds were all impressed by this impromptu Christmas concert.

On the drive home, the father couldn’t stop from wondering what he could do with a snow shovel.


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