Serpent Box Long Excerpt

Slaughter Mountain

Glory, Glory, Glory. Glory is the power of the Lord. The twins step back and fold their hands in prayer. Their faces are flushed, tears run from their eyes, and they're shaking all over. They both drop to their knees and fall forward, their hands on the ground. They stay that way while the old reverend steps into the pulpit and raises his arms to bring the crowd back to him. He places his hands on the bible and reads from it. He that believath and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believath not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe: In my name shall they cast out devils, they shall speak with new tongues, they shall take up serpents, and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them, they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.

He looks up from his bible as the organ plays, and those anointed with the Spirit raise their arms in praise of his words and shout.
Praise him. Praise him. Praise Jesus.
The reverend bends over and grabs onto the shoulders of the twins and lifts them bodily from the ground. He pulls them to their feet and embraces them both and the three of them stand there, huddled and praying. The Bowsky brothers are sobbing, looking up toward the sky and thanking the Lord. The old reverend lifts his hand and signals to a man standing behind them who begins to bring out the serpent boxes.

The boxes are all handmade, crafted out of solid wood and brought from all over Georgia, South Carolina and Tennessee. Some are simple pine boxes with hinged lids, others are ornately decorated, painted, stained, and carved with bible verses, crosses, and serpent imagery. Each contains a poisonous reptile. There are Copperheads and Water Moccasins, black Cottonmouth snakes, big swamp Massasaugas, Timber rattlers, Pigmies, Diamondbacks Ė whatever folks could find. The boxes are brought to the front of the pulpit and placed on the ground and their locks are removed. Every box is laid out except the large ebony chest, which sits on a table behind the pulpit, flanked by two tallow candles that sputter and spark. The twins roll their shirt sleeves above their elbows. They shake their arms. The close their eyes and stretch their necks. Their shoulder move up and down and they begin to shuffle their feet. The old reverend walks from snake box to snake box, opening lids and poking the snakes inside with a pointed stick. The crowd steps back and those sitting pull their chairs aside, creating an open space in front of the pulpit large enough to park a truck. Charles does not step back. He remains near the pulpit, his eyes closed, his feet moving in the same shuffling manner as the feet of the Bowsky twins a yard or so away from him. He neither sees the crowd move back nor hears the warnings offered by them. The old reverend waves his hand in front of his face and snaps his fingers and Charles opens his eyes real slow and stares at him.

Mister, Earl Bowsky says, you stand now in a pit of live demons, wild and unfed. They will strike you, and they will kill you dead unless youíre with us here under the Lordís protection. Charles walks past the old reverend, bends down at the first box he sees and reaches inside with both hands. There are gasps from the crowd and the Bowsky twins open their eyes. Sylus steps through the onlookers and into the open space. The old reverend holds him and the crowd back with outstretched arms as Charles pulls out a knotted mass of snake, a tan and orange Copperhead curled round his wrists and hissing at the people in the front row. He holds the snake up for all to see, tilts his head back and lowers the snake to his lips. Its mouth touches his own and in that position he begins to sway. The snake does nothing. It hangs there above him, limp, subdued. The Bowsky twins come out from behind the pulpit as if summoned by this act, and they bend to the boxes and pull out snakes, two apiece, and the three men all pray aloud there holding up the reptiles and spinning slowly with their arms raised in surrender to God. The old reverend steps up, between the three snake handlers and he raises his arms high and shouts.

They shall take up serpents and be not harmed, he says. Sylus stands ten feet away from this spectacle, elbow to elbow with the chanting worshippers. He feels himself shaking now. Thereís a tingle in his head and he feels dizzy. But he canít tell if itís the Spirit thatís come upon him or the lack of drink starting to take effect again. He feels the crowd behind him surge and someone pushes him aside and steps up front to see. Itís a boy, panting, with his hands on his knees, and Sylus recognizes him. Itís Tobias Cross. He taps him on the shoulder and the boy turns.

What are you doing here boy?
Iíve come to see, Tobias says.
Sylus kneels and takes him by the shoulder, but the boy is transfixed by the snake handlers and does not turn. Sylus speaks into his ear.
Your Daddy and Momma here with you?
I came by myself.
Do they know youíre here?
I told them I went out hunting frogs.

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