She pulled a bobby-pin out of her hair and it fell across her face like a stage curtain. She straightened the pin and looked at Jacob. His good little eye watched her pop the hook latch. His big lazy one saw the bible open and a thousand years of history flip by in an instant no longer than the beat of an insect wing. The door to the bible room swung open slowly with a loud squeal and the serpent stirred in its pine box. Without thinking, without knowing, he was there, at the pulpit with his hands on the cold tin lid. Punctured all over with holes for air, it had hinges at the center and it opened from either end like the wings of a butterfly. On each end his daddy had installed hasps secured with brass locks whose combinations were set to Bible verses. It had words burnt into the wood around it. Jesus Saves on one side. Lord Jesus on the other. His father lined the bottom with linoleum tiles ripped from the kitchen floor. Curled on top of the tiles was the big trap jaw water moccasin that Baxter Dawes brought in from the woods just yesterday. It had yet to be handled.

The serpent lay still and Jacob prayed out loud while his flat headed thumbs turned the lock tumblers. 1616, from Mark. "He that believath not shall be damned," he said as he raised the lid. Magdalene stood frozen at the door with the bobby-pin in her hand. Her jaw hung open as he reached inside and placed his hands around the serpent. The flesh of the thing was not slimy but smooth and cool. He felt it move. The long undulating muscles beneath its skin twitched. He felt the life and the power inside of it. The head of the cottonmouth cocked robotically as he raised it up out of the box, spitting forth its tongue like a red spark in search of fire. It stiffened in his grasp and hissed with its mouth agape, bearing scimitar fangs and showing its insides snowy white like the meat of a cooked lobster. That's when Magdalene sucked in air and the bobby-pin hit the ground. The screen door squealed, and clattered shut. The big cottonmouth struck him like a shotgun blast.

Magdalene waited by the side of the bed during his three day coma and was there with his father and mother when he opened his eyes. His left cheek itched terribly and when he reached to scratch it he found that his hands were restrained by strips of torn burlap jute. Their eyes were closed and they prayed quietly, their mouths moving fast.
"Momma, can I have a drink of water ?," he said.
Their eyes popped open and they looked at each other before his mother began to cry.
"Thank you Jesus, of course you can," she said and she sent Magdalene after it.

She wiped his brow and untied his hands and his Daddy closed the bible, laying it on his son's chest. Charles Flint was a narrow man with burning black eyes. The eyes of a mad prophet. Eyes which never blinked. Eyes that had seen God and Satan. He had a thin crooked smile that stayed crooked all the time and he spoke in a song-like manner as if his words had been chosen by a higher power.

"You're one lucky boy. The Lord is truly in you for that was a bite from the devil himself," he said and he sat on the bed.
"I'm sorry daddy. He called me."
"Well he almost took you. That was a foolish thing you did and there will be punishment. But that'll wait. I want you to read the chapter I marked for you and get some rest."
He rose and walked to the door where Magdalene stood with a full glass. She looked up at her father and he allowed her to pass in front of him. He turned and watched Jacob drink the water. It was the worst bite he'd seen in all his years and he'd seen plenty. Including the one that took his brother. Paul had swollen up like a corpse, turning yellow and then brown, like rotting fruit. He'd died the morning after. They never called a doctor just as they hadn't called one for Jacob. God would heal them if they had faith. In Jacob's case they had. Despite his prayers, Charles did not believe the boy would recover. The face bite he took would have killed a man three times his size. He wondered at that and then turned to leave.
"Daddy?" Jacob said. Charles did not turn.
"Where is it?"
"Baxter put him in the freezer with Paul's rattler and the rest of the demons.
Now you get some rest", his father said.

The sky looked like gun metal and the air felt thick as smoke. Some stars still twinkled above him as he walked on the dirt road through the holler which led to the house of the snake hunter. He hurled stones at the trunks of twisted oaks and he hit them all. The dawn broke quiet and he ate stale cornbread from the pocket of his red and black hunting coat. The bread had small pieces of lint stuck to it but he spit that out and let his saliva soften it. It made his mouth dry, but Baxter would let him drink coffee out of the speckled tin cup he hung from a nail above the stove and that made him feel like a man.

A black and copper coon hound came galloping down the road before the house came into view. It was Spider, Baxter's best and now only dog. A black bear took one of his ears off but he was the lucky one. The bear killed all three of his brothers before Baxter shot him through the neck with a deer slug. He had carried Spider home in his arms and bought him a T-Bone steak. Spider sniffed Jacob up and down and licked his face where the snake bit him. Together they walked into the yard passing the hulks of the rusty Chevy's which Baxter would one day consolidate into a single functioning pick-up that would take them both up to Lost Lake where Baxter said the bass grow big as lap dogs.

continued - 1   2   3   4   5   6




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