“It’s okay, angel,” Mr. Crowley said softly.
Rylee was standing among the bookshelves in Mr. Fell’s bookshop, looking for something to give her administrative assistant for his birthday, when she heard what sounded like someone softly crying. She peeked around a shelf to find that it was Mr. Fell.
“I’m sorry, my dear,” Mr. Fell was saying to his husband, wiping a tear off of his cheek. “I just had a bit of a feeling that something would happen today, something bad, and I—”
Mr. Crowley pulled him close. “You had a panic attack. It’s all right, angel.”
Rylee decided that the best thing to do would be to give them their privacy, so she started to leave. Toward the exit, she caught up with Audrey and Lloyd, a couple of high schoolers who were bookshop regulars.
“They came for me here once—” Mr. Fell’s voice came from the back.
“They won’t be back, we made sure of that. Remember? Us and Adam. Took us a while, but it’s all worked out now. Come on, now, you need to rest. Curl up with me, grab a book. That’ssss it. Maybe you’ll even fall assssleep,” Mr. Crowley said, in a strange sort of hissing voice.
“I don’t sleep,” Mr. Fell protested.
“You can sleep, angel, you just don’t like to. Don’t worry about it. I’m here, and I’ll keep you sssafe.”
“I’m sorry, I shouldn’t—”
Mr. Crowley’s voice grew darker. “Azzzzziraphale, I don’t want you to ever apologize for what they did to you.”
There was silence for a few minutes, and then Audrey said, “We should probably just go.” Her friend nodded. But rather than leave, they grinned at each other and sneaked back into the stacks.
“I don’t think—” Rylee started, following them as well, until she nearly ran into the back of Lloyd’s legs as he stopped. “What in the name of all creation is that?” Rylee gasped.
used with permission
“Uh—pet snake,” offered Lloyd, in a whisper.
“Pet snake, yeah,” Audrey confirmed, just as quiet. The two of them had delighted looks on their faces.
Rylee didn’t quite feel that way. “No,” she said, attempting to keep her voice down as well, as neither Mr. Fell or that thing appeared to be awake. “That’s not a pet. That’s like an escaped zoo animal. That’s the biggest snake I’ve ever seen.” She crossed her arms over her chest. “That can’t be legal, owning an animal like that.”
“Oh I don’t know that he owns him,” Audrey whispered. “They’re probably just...friends?”
“It’s going to eat him!” Rylee exclaimed.
Both teens shushed her.
“No, of course it won’t,” Audrey said. “See, look at Mr. Fell. He’s so happy. Let’s just go.”
Whatever it was, it wasn’t actually her problem, Rylee decided. Mr. Fell did look awfully peaceful even while wrapped securely in the coils of a huge black snake, and given he’d had a panic attack (something with which Rylee was unfortunately familiar herself), she hesitated to disrupt his sleep.
It wasn’t like Mr. Fell’s Bookshop was not a weird place to begin with.
“Fine,” Rylee whispered, and they all moved back toward the entrance.
But just around the corner, a man in a ski mask was blocking their way. “You work here?” he demanded.
All three of them immediately shushed him.
The man pulled a knife out of a pocket. “There’s nothing in the register. Where does he keep the money?”
The first thing that Rylee did was to step in front of the teenagers. Because she was the adult. Not because she had any idea of what to do. It immediately became apparent that none of the four of them seemed to have any idea of what to do. For a moment, they all stared at each other, and then Audrey spoke up from behind Rylee. “Let’s just go ask Mr. Fell.”
Not wanting to turn their backs on the knife, the three of them took a few awkward steps backwards and the man took a few steps forward, until he caught a glimpse of the scene on the couch.
He gave a little cry and they all shushed him again.
“I wouldn’t wake him up,” Rylee warned.
“Yeah, that thing will eat you,” Lloyd whispered. “Like, it will totally eat you.”
“I heard it ate a guy last week,” Audrey said.
“I heard it was two guys.”
Rylee caught the thief’s attention. “Look, just get out of here, man.” When he hesitated, she said, “If you don’t, I’ll scream.”
With one last look at the snake, the man turned and dashed out the front door.
The other three were about to follow him, when Mr. Fell stirred. Immediately, the snake slithered along the couch, curling its black body around Mr. Fell’s feet and lifting them off of the floor, settling him carefully in its coils. Mr. Fell’s book slipped from his grasp and somehow landed neatly on the floor with a bookmark inside of it. One of the massive serpent’s yellow eyes opened for a second, but Rylee wasn’t sure if it really saw them or not before it closed again.
What she was sure of was that the snake said, “Back to ssssleep, angel,” before resting its head on Mr. Fell’s stomach.
The three of them were sure to lock the bookshop door behind them as they left. As they stood on the street, Rylee said, “That snake just said something.”
“It’s...well trained,” Audrey offered.
Rylee crossed her arms over her chest. “That’s Mr. Crowley.”
“Ah, poss—prob—ah, I imagine so, yes,” Lloyd said.
Rylee gave the shop a look. “You don’t think he really eats people, do you?”
“Well,” Audrey answered, “I mean, I wouldn’t try to rob the place.”