There are rope handles on each end of the chest and it hangs between them and they walk slow with it, hunched over, praying aloud. Their lips are moving, they’re saying Jesus, Jesus, Jesus. They place the chest near the pulpit, so close to Charles that he could touch it if he chose. But he has no desire to. Not yet. It is old and black and carved with figures both strange and primeval. There are elongated men with spears, naked but for loin-cloths about their waists, and gravid women with pointed breasts and large protruding lips and the heads of wild beasts with long curving tusks and sharp fangs, and the wood shines like obsidian from hundreds of years of fondling worship in some dark Godless jungle. He shudders then, not at the chest, but at the feeling inspired by it. The feeling that there is power in the room and opposing forces soon to be unleashed. In his bowels he feels a wave swell up, a rush of unbridled joy. The twins have brought the Spirit with them and the crowd can feel it too. Several women have fainted, and men drop to their knees. The rattlesnakes can feel something in the air as well, for behind the pulpit there rises a sound like water spraying from a hose. The snakes shake their tails in unison and the air is filled with gasps and cries of Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.
Dressed in vivid white, the twins flank the pulpit, their hands clasped at their waists, their heads bowed. The old reverend, raises his hands, then lowers them, slow, gentle, quieting the on-lookers but not the snakes. They can still be heard in their boxes, rattling and thumping their tails.
The man at the pulpit is older than the twins, and taller. He resembles them, his eyes, the shape of his nose, he is surely their father, the famous Earl Bowsky who started the Holiness movment in these mountains in 1910. His eyes sparkle too and when he speaks all raise their heads to watch him.
We’ve a crowd tonight brothers and sisters, yes we do, he says.
The on-lookers all draw in. They stand several deep around the outside of the make-shift church and now they step forward, a sea of faces, filled with reverence and wonder. The sun dips below the trees and the lanterns all flicker, casting long shadows on the roof of the tent and lighting the crowd with a pulsing glow like a campfire, their faces half-golden and half-shadowed and the sky beyond a deep shade of cobalt pocked with early stars.
Why have you come here today? Earl Bowsky says. Why have you come? Ask yourselves that question now. To watch the crazy man hold the serpents? To see his brother drink the kitchen lye? There are no miracles here, you will not see miracles tonight brothers and sisters. These acts we do are signs, signs of true believers. Are you believers? Do you believe in the resurrected Christ? If your brother bears witness to the walking Spirit, will you heed his vision? Will you give it credence? It was from the mouth of a whore that we heard the first word of the risen Jesus, and those that followed him did not believe, those close to him did not heed the word of the harlot Mary Magdelene, from whom Christ had cast out seven demons. Even they, the truest believers, would not believe that he woke from the tomb to walk among us. Do you? Ask yourselves, do I believe? If there is a doubt within you, if there is trepidation, if you feel the icy hand of skepticism scratching at your throat, then people we are here today to pull the hood of darkness from your eyes, we are here to open your hearts – not to test your faith, but to grow your love. We are here today bearing the signs of true followers. Not to entertain or bedazzle, not for profit or self-glorification. This may be a carnival tent above us but this is no sideshow. Read your bibles. Study the gospel of Mark. We take these extreme measures so as to break through the logic of man, to shatter his in-born doubt – to open the eyes of a creature who, by his very nature, must see in order to believe.
The old reverend takes a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and wipes his brow. He turns to the twins, and then turns back to the crowd. The lanterns are burning brighter and are besieged by swarming moths. It is so quiet under the tent that Charles can hear their wings tapping at the glass.
Jesus told us we may hold serpents, Earl Bowsky says. And we hold serpents. Jesus told us that we may drink deadly elixirs, and we do, we drink poison out of the jar. He told us to lay our hands upon the sick and to heal them, and we do that brothers and sisters, we have healed many of you. Jesus said that we, the true believers, will speak in the scared tongue of the Holy Ghost, to affirm the living Jesus, and it is His glory that we recognize not our own, and today people, we have brought here to this holy mountain, a serpent as lethal and as vicious as there ever lived on God’s green earth, and Ray Bowsky, my son, will hold this serpent, and Esau Bowsky, my son, will hold this serpent, and some among you may hold this serpent, those within whom the spirit runs strong. But first, first we will pray, and we will invite the Holy Ghost into our congregation, and into our hearts, and when He comes, I can feel Him now, when He comes we will be protected by a living fog of joy and love so powerful that the very fires of Hell will be quenched by it, and Satan and his minions, in whatever form they manifest themselves, will hide, and will run, and those that cannot run for lack of legs and feet will tremble and they will be cowed.
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