When he spoke, the crowd was not unmoved. Faithful and cynic alike sat frozen and willing. His words completed the task his eyes had begun. The becalming and the kneading of the soul. The preparation for transcendence.
"When you feel the spirit inside you brothers and sisters, there is no greater
bliss. Mere words cannot describe it, so I will not attempt what is impossible."
Ladies fanned themselves with prayer booklets, the gallery stood still. Torches sputtered and spit orange specs that arced like miniature fireworks.
"I can only show you the glory of God through acts of faith, not magic mind you, but faith. For when you live the clean life, the good life, as prescribed by God, the Holy Spirit will find in you a home to reside in, a place to dwell, and when you have him there, when you're anointed by him, a joy of indescribable dimension overtakes you and you can perform miracles of faith as told by Jesus to the apostles. You can give God's gift to the world, you can deliver faith to the lonely and the sick."
His eyes lit up and his feet began to shuffle. He began to dance. He teetered from side to side and shook himself like a dog come out of a lake. He held up his bible and chanted and he smiled. Folks in the front row began to stand and sway and a small group of regulars began to hop and bounce around like Indians trying to coax rain down from the heavens. People standing around the outside began to stir as well. Some snickered and turned to each other whispering with their hands held to their mouths. Those people did not dance. They did not chant or move. They showed no sign of emotion until the boy came down the aisle with the box in his hands. The boy teetering on crooked legs. The boy with the whammy eye and the pumpkin head. Jacob parted the crowd at the back of the arbor holding the big awkward box out in front of himself with both hands. People moved back. Some shouted. The box wobbled in the boy's arms. It was alive with the snake inside. Jacob put it on a small table near his father and unlatched the lid. Charles Flint swayed in a trance before it, blind to his son but aware of the box. He raised the hammered tin lid and the crowd gasped. Charles Flint blindly placed his arms inside and withdrew a knotted mass of serpent. The thing raised its head and opened its mouth and it let out a sound like a punctured tire. Chairs crashed over, and people stumbled back as he held the snake over his head. It rattled its little corn cob tail and Charles Flint began to dance with it. The snake's flat stupid head bobbed, its tongue flitted towards the crowd and a woman near the front row fainted. She pitched forward over a chair and crashed to Flint's feet at the foot of the pulpit. Nobody touched her or tried to help.
"It's a fake." Someone yelled from the back.
"It's fixed, he trains them snakes." Two young men stepped through the crowd. Big corn fed boys with flat topped hair and mongoloid eyes. They held before them a wooden dynamite box with rope handles on either side. Charles Flint was oblivious to them. He danced with the snake as they dropped the box in front of him and kicked it for effect. There came a rattle from inside. The crowd stepped back. The men began to laugh and Charles Flint smiled. He put his snake back into its box and went to the other one. He opened the lid as Jacob closed his eyes and began to pray. The congregation murmured as he reached inside and grabbed hold of the strange new serpent brought in by the unbelievers. It was a huge, black snake, a flat-nosed rattler thick and long like a slash of darkness, like a crevice in rock. Charles Flint pulled the snake from the box and held it near his face. A wind of fear ran through the crowd and they fell over themselves around the outside to flee. The men who brought the snake stood in the back jeering.
"Bite 'em, " they said. "Give 'em a kiss."
The faithful prayed with their eyes closed, chanting from the bible. Charles Flint shook the big black snake, taunting it. Pulling it like bread dough. The creature remained calm. Jacob was still holding the serpent box when he felt a rush of bliss and joy wash over his body like rain. He shivered and he smiled. He opened the box and stared down at the snake inside. It stared back at him, head bobbing, eyes alight, and Jacob felt his hands around the reptile and he felt it rising up, hovering above the box. It wrapped around his arm, and he danced with it. Strange words came from his mouth and his flesh felt alive with the surge of the spirit.
"You've got the light in you. That's for sure." Charles Flint bent over his son and pulled the blanket up around his neck. He tucked him in. He kneeled down by his side and whispered to him.
"Remember this, it takes more than light and faith to be a good man. " He looked into the eyes of the boy and swept the hair from his forehead.
"Only through the purest of hearts will he protect us," he said. Moonlight shined in through the trees outside the window and cast broken shadows on the wall above the bed. The shadows danced across an oil portrait of Jesus. A suffering Jesus, with the crown of thorns pulled down around his head, rivulets of blood running from his scalp and a pained, tortured expression of pathos on his face. Jacob had long been afraid of the picture. It was a portal into a world he did not understand. A world much darker and sadder than his own. A place of suffering and death. He found himself both drawn and repulsed by it.
"Why didn't the snake bite me?" he asked. Charles Flint stood, also looking into the eyes of the portrait.
"That's the Lord speaking to you. Telling you that the path is narrow. That each day is its own and that pride goes before destruction. Today was the first test of many. You're young yet. One day you'll understand. Now go to sleep and pray, give thanks for what you've learned."
Charles Flint left his son to ponder in the dark and the boy did not sleep. He laid awake above the serpent box and below the crying eyes of Jesus and felt upon him a weight and an ignorance beyond both his tolerance and comprehension.
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