The Serpent Box and the Poison jar
Charles Flint had for some time been in the habit of consuming lethal doses of strychnine and lye. He had watched the Bowsky brothers do it several years back under a patched canvas circus tent in the hills of north Georgia. They'd brought in huge crowds, daring folks to bring their own poison and offering it up to any who didn't believe. He'd watched a young skeptic taste a small drop of lye and run screaming from the tent. The man had ripped off his own shirt, stuffed it into his mouth and had nearly torn the tent down looking for the flap.
The first time he tried it himself, he mixed half a teaspoon in a tall glass of water and sipped it like wine to see what it would do. He fell over and broke the glass in a panic and heaved up his recent meals before eating grass in the yard like a dog. After that he decided to wait for a sign before trying again to consume poison. He fasted for five days and set the whole family praying. On the sixth day he sent the boy down to Larson's store for a fresh bottle of Red Devil drain cleaner, a bottle untainted by a fool's hand he said. He told the boy to say that they had a hair clog in the drain which required the strongest stuff available.
Charles Flint sprinkled enough lye in a glass full of water to turn it cloudy. He told the boy to dip the end of his pinkie into the glass and lick the very tip to test its strength. The water had a strong acrid smell to it and the boy closed his eyes as he touched the tip of his long tongue to the end of his small finger. It felt like he stuck a straight pin into his mouth and he scraped his tongue with the back of his teeth and spat. His lips and the tip of his tongue felt like they were trying to tear themselves free from his face and he sat on the floor pressing his hands to his mouth to keep them from doing so. Charles Flint, satisfied with the potency of his elixir, consumed the entire contents of the glass with both Rebecca and Magdalene looking on in horror. The liquid dripped from the corners of his mouth and down his neck falling in drops onto his wool Pendleton shirt. He placed the glass down and waited in a silence broken only by his family's prayers and the sharp knocking of the ever vigilant mantel clock. Charles Flint smiled. The poison tasted to him like lemonade. He felt no ill effects despite the fact that the lye had eaten several round holes as sharp and crisp as cigarette burns in the front of the heavy wool shirt. He screwed the top of the jar on tight and fell to his knees in prayer, where he remained for several hours.
The boy had been named Jacob. He had a head like a warped pumpkin and a lazy left eye. Chapped lips and a crusty nose. The child, malformed as he was, walked bent and stood crooked. His lazy eye had a habit of rolling back and looking upwards. His small one opened wide like an idiot’s eye. But he was a smart boy despite all that was said about him. He's a toad, he's a dwarf, he's a carnival freak. Lock him in the root cellar, put a sack on his head, make him wear a blind man's glasses and ride in a pushcart with a blanket over his legs. Send him to the State, drown him in the mill pond, leave him in the woods. But his daddy knew more then his neighbors did. The boy had the mark of the Lord on him and he knew that one day he'd do great things with those awkward hands. The hands with the nails all bit down to the roots. The hands that had never yet held a serpent. The hands with those flat hammer-thumbs. And that eye. That big roving eye. People would laugh and ask him, "Can you see out of that thing?" And he'd answer the same way every time, he'd say, I see you in the way that God does. And they'd stop laughing.
"Daddy says you can't even look." Magdalene stood behind him. 12 years old to
his 10. She had the good looks of his mother, and he had his daddy's gift.
"I'm not lookin'. I'm prayin'."
"Daddy says it's the temptation that'll do us in."
"Daddy says a lot of things."
Magdalene pressed her cheek against the screen and looked inside at the box. She could see it all coiled up like a garden hose. Jacob prayed softly with his eyes closed, the house graveyard quiet but for the ticking of the mantel clock and the distant baying of Baxter Dawe's coon hound. Magdalene dragged her nails down the screen grid. It made a sharp zipper sound. Jacob opened his eyes. The snake moved in its box.
"Why don't you open it then?" she said.
Jacob stepped back and sighed.
"Cause I don't want to."
"You're scared," she said and she turned to him with a smile that spoke of wickedness to come. She had the scaly mark of the screen pressed into her cheek. It made her look like a reptile.
"I'm as good as any of them”, he said.
"If that was true, then you'd have nothing to be scared of."
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