Serpent Box Short Excerpt


Magdalena sees the shadow. It breaks the blue light of the moon below her bedroom window and drifts across the yard. The window is cool against her face, and on the tips of her fingers. She drags them through the fog that her breath creates on the glass and she makes five parallel lines. The shadow moves between those lines and there’s a moment when she’s not sure it’s him and then there’s a moment when she is. She sees him as he squats down near the root cellar doors and pulls something out of the weeds. A sack. He opens it and prepares it for its cargo. He moves the serpent box into position, arranging it just so, as if all this had scripted. He waits. Maybe he’s praying but she cannot see his mouth. He’s on his way then, she thinks. When he returns in the morning he will have eclipsed her in his spirit.

He runs his hands along the sides of the serpent box. It is a container fashioned with great love and devotion by the snake hunter Baxter Dawes, who makes each box unique to the serpent it’s designed for, each with it’s own personality like the snakes themselves who he claims to know as well as people know their dogs. There are words carved on the sides of the box and his fingers trace the letters. He can feel each bite of the tiny chisel. He reads the words in the dark like a blind boy reads braille.

Go ye into all the world…Preach the gospel to every creature. ..He that believath shall be saved, he that believath not shall be damned… these signs shall follow them that believe… He runs his hands up the sides and to the top where he finds the latch and opens it. The snake does not move. He opens one half of the lid. The snake still does not move. He slips the mouth of the sack around the opening of the box. No movement. When he tilts it the snake slides neatly into the bag. He ties it of with a buckskin cord and hides the box in the weeds.

The old woman sings to herself in the dark and rocks gently on the balls of her feet. Jacob can smell her pipe smoke long before he catches sight of her. In the glow of the moon she appears like a statue made of glass, small and precious, still as stone, with a dull shine to her skin and a strange nimbus of light about her head that is the diffusion of moonbeams in her wispy unkempt hair. She has her corncob pipe in her mouth and something in her hand, a bone or a stick, that she holds out and passes to him without so much as a word as he walks by. He takes it. It’s not a bone but a scroll of some kind, a scroll of leather rolled up and tied with a string. He looks into her eyes for a moment and sees two tiny lights there, two tiny moons.

Go with God Jacob Flint, she says. Go like smoke. When he gets to the end of the road he turns to wave but she’s gone. He turns off into the woods.

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