Mary Haugaard says she woke up at the sound of her alarm clock Friday morning, glanced groggily about her tiny efficiency in downtown Washington and then noticed a 7-foot python eyeing her cat. The cat was paralyzed with fear.

"It was fatter than my cat and it was in various `s' shapes, with its little head poking up," said Haugaard, who was lying on a mattress on the floor within 6 feet of almost anyone's worst nightmare. "I didn't scream. I just stood up in bed, picked up my cat, woke up my boyfriend and got out of there."The gold-and-brown-patterned python apparently had slithered into Haugaard's second-floor apartment from an outside ledge, knocking over her toaster as it entered through an open kitchen window. The 28-year-old hotel desk clerk and part-time student said she shudders to think what might have happened to her cat, Simon, if the alarm hadn't roused her at 6:30 a.m.

Pythons are not venomous, but when hungry, they have a nasty habit of wrapping themselves around their prey, suffocating it and swallowing it whole.