The Slaughter Mountain church is too small for the hordes descending upon it on this night. They've come to see the King Cobra and the twin brothers drink their lye beneath a patched up circus tent staked out in a field behind. The cars park along the side of the road for more than a mile downhill. People are walking up to the Church, whole families, tired and poor, their eyes set upon the peak of the tent poking up out of the trees with a flag on top, hanging limp and tattered. Charles and Sylus join the procession of gaunt and ragged hill-folk making their way up the dirt road and trailing behind them their emaciated dogs, and their barefoot young ones all covered in scabs and dirt with the Chinese eyes and flattened faces of incest children. There are granny-women shuffling along in the dust and long-bearded geezers on twisted willow canes. Some are singing hymns together, their fingers joined in prayer, as they gather outside the Slaughter Mountain Holiness Church In Jesus’ Name.
Charles leads Sylus through the large crowd of devotees, some reading from bibles, others holding wooden snake boxes. They pray aloud, holding hands with their eyes closed or rolled back in their heads, their lids fluttering. Near the steps, an old man is holding a bottle-torch, running his hand back and forth above the flame. He steps aside to let them pass, his hand blackened by soot but not burned. Someone has posted a sign on the church door, a sign with a crudely rendered picture of a hooded-snake below which reads these words:
King Cobra: The World’s Deadliest Serpent. Join us today to see this demon subdued by the SPIRIT OF GOD. All welcome – NO PICTURES.
Sylus turns and looks out at the crowd, counting heads with his finger.
Five-hundred I figure, he says. What’s that sign say?
You can’t read?
All you need to know is that we’re in store for something big.
I knew that soon as I seen all them cars.
They make their way through the crowd, around the back of the church, to a large circus tent raised up on tall wooden poles and staked out with guy-ropes. Charles peers up under the dome. It’s patched up with red and blue swatches of discolored canvas and strips of tanned rawhide, all sewn together with thick black stitches that run up the sides of the tent. The chairs beneath it are already filled with worshippers and people are taking up positions around the outside perimeter. Two men carry snake boxes up the aisle and lay them near the pulpit, another is lighting kerosene lanterns that hang from the tent poles. Sylus ducks his head to fit underneath.
Well? He says.
It’s almost time, Charles says. You just watch and stay back.
Where you going?
Closer. I feel it coming on me.
Feel what coming on?
The Spirit is strong here tonight. You just wait.
Charles wades through the crowd, stepping on chairs and over folks bent in prayer. An older man stands at the pulpit, his eyes closed, his hands resting upon an open bible. A reverend maybe. A preacher. Charles sits down in front of him and opens his own bible. The crowd hushes. There’s commotion coming from the little church behind them. A low murmur, then voices raised together in song, moving closer, a procession of believers chanting the name of Jesus. A woman shouts out.
He’s here. The spirit is come.
Those seated beneath the tent stand, and Charles stands with them. All heads turn and the on-lookers part. The crowd steps back to admit two men clad in white suits, bearing a large chest made of ebony. In all manner of dress and appearance the two men are the same. They are clean-shaven and their shoes are polished and their suits are bright and stainless. Their hair is slicked over identical bald spots that show pink through strands of greased black. They call them the God-loving twins, and they are small men with scarred hands, thick, twisted fingers distorted by nerve-wrecking venom. Their eyes shine like wet stones.
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