They Shall Take Up Serpents: Chapter 4

This work is being posted in an incomplete form for instructional purposes. I believe it is useful and illustrative for new writers to see how messy a first draft is, so I am posting this piece of writing without even a second reading. 

If you would like to peek in on me while I’m writing, you can find the live Google Doc at this link and leave comments on the story. 

Connor didn’t normally read the Paw Paw Press, but today William Gregory was on the front page. The headline read “Snake Handling Charismatic Preacher Hosts Tent Revival.”

Connor didn’t remember there being any snakes at the tent revival, but Connor did remember Gregory speaking about signs and serpents and poison. The newspaper article explained that Gregory landed in Paw Paw after being chased out of Western Maryland where his religious practices were deemed illegal. “West Virginia’s constitution guaranteed my religious freedom, and I am glad to now be living in this great state,” Gregory was quoted near the end of the article. The newspaper stated that Gregory was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ with Signs, a Christian denomination that handles snakes as part a display of faith. The group also believes in prophecy, and among other things, drinking poison. But the newspaper also noted that no parishioner was required to participate in the signs against their will. Gregory would be hosting services at the tent revival every night this week to encourage the townspeople to attend his new church.  

Dave Miller caught Connor reading the paper as he was loading them onto the shelf and he told Connor that his store “wasn’t a library” and that Connor “wasn’t being paid to read the paper.”

Yesterday, Connor would’ve grumbled something hateful under his breath and allowed his entire day to be ruined. But today Connor put the paper on the shelf and smiled as he went about the rest of his morning duties.

Connor could already feel the difference his new attitude was making. It was as if the world was reflecting his inward change back at him. When Connor woke, he straightened his room and made his bed. Jorge and Eloise were already awake. His grandmother had toasted an English muffin and covered it with jam and left it on the counter for him next to a fresh pot of coffee. Connor warmly greeted his grandmother with a kiss on the cheek, and the old woman seemed initially startled by the display, but she smiled sweetly and gently slapped Connor on the side of the face. “Well good morning,” the old woman said. “Connor took his breakfast to the coffee table and exchanged small talk with  Jorge, whose temper seemed much improved from the previous day. It was as if they all just agreed to forget about last night’s nightmares and start today anew. Jorge didn’t even ask where Connor ran off to last night after the fight.

Even Connor’s daily exchange with Susie Fairmont was pleasurable. Connor bagged her groceries and made triply sure not to smash her bread, and he enthusiastically helped her to her car.

The entire day, Connor could not wait to get home to start writing. He bounced ideas around in his head while he went through his menial tasks. He was going to scrap the zombie book. It was too muddled, and too cliche, and too ambitious. Connor decided instead that he would write a self-help book for children struggling with the sudden loss of a parent. There would be an audience for such a book for certain, and Connor was uniquely suited to write such a book. In the first few chapters, Connor would write his personal story, and he would dedicate the book to his grandparents.

Connor presented the idea to Jorge and Eloise when he got home from work. Eloise thought the book sounded like a lovely idea. Jorge, however, grumbled that Connor still needed to “find a real job” and that a “book like that won’t pay the bills.” Connor refused to let his grandfather foul his mood though, and turned the conversation away from Connor’s career, or lack thereof.

Jorge had the newspaper folded on the coffee table in the living room and Connor pointed it, “that’s where I went last night.”

Jorge turned from the television, “you went to a tent revival? Thought you didn’t believe in all that.”

Connor shrugged, “not sure that I do, but I ended up there all the same.”

“That guy,” Jorge pointed to the newspaper, “seems like a slimy con artist. Back in my day we used to have new preachers in here once a week with their tents. Saying they were gonna heal everyone and all that. Never worked out. Those people gave to the offering plate, and when they left they were just as sick as when they came.”

“I know pap. Mom and Dad took me to a couple of those, and I never got anything out of it. But this William Gregory- there’s something about him. He talks like God is going right through him.”

“Well, son if whatever happened last night at that revival helps you get your shit together, then I’m all for it,” Jorge took a swill of his coffee and Connor nodded his head.

“I think it’s good for Connor to go to church. It’s good for people to have community.” Eloise pattered into the living room and sat down with a pair of crochet hooks and a half-finished scarf. “Just make sure you’re careful and don’t give him all your money.”

“Well, and what’s this about handlin’ snakes and all that?” Jorge leaned forward in his chair and grabbed the half folded newspaper. “Did you see any snakes last night?”

“I didn’t, but I got to the service a little late. The preacher seemed like a good guy. Not like he’s out to rob anyone.”

Jorge chuckled, “the ones who will rob you always seem like the ones who won’t.” He tossed the paper back onto the table, “but I agree with your grandma. Seems good for ya. Just don’t let it get outta hand. Who knows, maybe you’ll meet someone there who can give you a halfway decent job.”

“Maybe I’ll become a preacher.” Connor grinned.

“And maybe I’ll sprout wings outta my ass and fly to Maui,” Jorge replied.


Connor walked to the tent early in the evening, and he arrived before anyone but the two men who were readying the tent for the night’s services. Connor started to introduce himself, but as he offered his hand to the first of the two men, he called him by name, and said “William Gregory told us you were comin. I’m Charlie Thacker, this here’s Mike Conch, but everyone calls him Cooch.” Charlie was furiously overweight. He wore grey sweatpants with scrunchy elastic around the ankles. The soles of his shoes were crushed flat and worn through. His plain colored tee shirt was threadbare and undersized, not large enough to cover the man’s entire belly. Cooch, on the other hand, was tall and thin, dressed neatly in a cotton flannel and black jeans. “We’re the elders here of the church. You only get to be an elder if you perform one of the later signs, like prophecy or snake handling,” Charlie explained.

“Anyone can perform the signs if your faith is strong enough,” Cooch clarified.

“How did you all know my name? I never told it to William Gregory or signed a guest registry or anything.”

Charlie just shrugged, “William Gregory just knows things sometimes. You’ll get used to it.”

“But you can’t just no things,” Connor blurted before he thought better of it.

Cooch patted Connor on the shoulder, “you better get used to things you cain’t explain if you’re gonna be hangin’ around William Gregory. He says your special, says you’re gonna be ‘an asset to the kingdom’ or something like that. Says you’ll be performing all the signs, just like him.”

“How though? I don’t even know what the signs are?”  Connor couldn’t believe that he was even considering for a moment that William Gregory had supernatural powers. There were a dozen explanations for how William Gregory knew everything he knew about Connor. Someone from the town could’ve told Gregory Connor’s name. Names weren’t exactly a secret in Paw Paw. Everyone knew everyone. And even though Connor didn’t realize that Eloise was in the early stages of dementia and Alzheimer’s, in retrospect it should’ve been obvious and probably was to anyone who was paying careful attention. Gregory could’ve even easily heard that Connor’s dad died and that his mom abandoned him and that he was at odds with his grandfather. But what Connor couldn’t figure out was how did William Gregory know to ask about Connor in the first place. Connor himself didn’t even know ahead of time that he would end up at a tent revival. But for now, Connor took Cooch’s advice and accepted that there was no obvious explanation. “You guys can perform signs?”

“Well, let’s get these chairs lined up and we’ll tell you about it.” Thacker bent down and scooted one of the steel folding chairs into place, “I got the gift of prophecy.”

“Like seeing the future?” Connor followed the big man’s lead and began maneuvering folding chairs around the tent, ordering them in neat rows.

“Well,” Thacker pulled up the waistband on his grey and tattered sweatpants. “It ain’t like being a fortune teller or nothing like that. It’s more like God chooses when to tell me something, and then I just pass the word along. I can’t really choose when it comes. It just does sometimes.”

“How do you know when it’s God though?” Connor asked.

“Well, my rule of thumb is that if it ain’t something good, then it ain’t from God. But even that’s hard cause sometimes there’s bad things someone needs to know about. But they need to know about it first before they can do something about it. William Gregory is still helping me learn. Cooch here, though- he’s the guy you see if you need healing. I had a gallstone the size of your head, Cooch laid hands on me, and praise God that thing disappeared.”

Connor raised his eyebrows in disbelief.

Thacker recognized the expression. “I wouldn’t a believed it either if it didn’t happen to me. Confounded my doctors and everyone here. But Cooch is a healer. It’s his gift.”

Cooch didn’t say anything or acknowledge that Charlie and Connor were speaking about him. He only nodded his head slightly.

Charlie grabbed another chair and shoved it into place, “You’ll have to forgive Cooch, he don’t like talking about his gift too much, but once you get him going, he’s laying hands and praying over everybody.”

Cooch laughed, “I just don’t see need to talk about it all that much. Ain’t nothing to be excited about. God does all the work.”

“Is that all the signs? Prophecy and healing?”

The two laughed, “Lord no.” Charlie answered, “there’s baptism in the holy spirit and speaking in tongues. Most folks can do those. Then there’s prophecying and healing. They’re a little bit more rare as far as gifts in the spirit go. Then there’s snake handling, poison drinking, and snake commanding.” Apparently the paper was right. This was one of those snake handling churches that Connor had always heard rumor of. Charlie said the last of the signs as if they were normal, everyday things that people did.

“Are the snakes poisonious?”

Charlie snorted, “ya hear that Cooch, boy wants to know if them snakes are poisonous.”

“Well,” Cooch chuckled, “if’n you consider a rattlesnake poisonous, then I reckon the answer if yes. But don’t worry. Not everyone performs the signs. You only give it a shot if you think your faith is strong enough to grab a demon. That ain’t nothing to be taken lightly.” Cooch’s eyes glazed over for a moment in thought. “Yep. Grabbin a demon ain’t nothing to be taken lightly.”

The trio put the last of the chairs into neatly ordered rows and stood at the front of the sanctuary for a moment to admire their handiwork. Cooch let slip, “Charlie here has been flirting with the idea of attempting the snake handling sign.”

“Yep” Charlie agreed. “You have to really believe God will protect you.” Charlie nodded, “If you doubt for a second, then that snake will whip around and bite you.”

“What happens if you get bit?” Connor asked.

“We pray.” Charlie replied.

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