She was standing down front on that little stage when Chambliss lifted it out of the crate, closed his eyes, and prayed over it. He wasn't more than forty-five years old then, his black hair cut close and sharp like he'd spent time in the army, and he might have for all I knew about him. I don't think a single one of us knew for sure where he came from, and I figure anyone who said they did had probably been lied to. Once he finished praying over that snake, he handed it to Molly. She took it from him just as gentle as if someone was passing her a newborn baby, this woman who'd never had a child of her own, a widow whose husband had been dead for more than twenty years, his chest crushed up when his tractor rolled over and pinned him upside a tree.
But like I said, she held that copperhead like a baby, and she took her glasses off and looked at it up close like it was a baby too, tears running down her face and her lips moving like she was praying or talking to it in such a soft way that only it could hear her. Everybody around her was too wrapped up in themselves to pay any attention, dancing and carrying on and hollering out words couldn't nobody understand but themselves. But Chambliss stood there and watched Molly. He held that microphone over his heart with that terrible-looking hand he'd set on fire years before in the basement of Ponder's feed store. I'd heard that him and some men from the church were meeting for worship down in that basement, drinking lamp oil and handling fire too, and I don't know just how it happened, but somehow or another Chambliss got his sleeve set on fire and it tore right through his shirt and burned his arm up something awful. They said later that his fingers were even melted together, and he had to pull them apart and set them in splints to keep them separated while they were healing. I didn't ever see his whole arm because that man didn't ever roll that right sleeve up, maybe the left one, but not that one. I reckon I can't blame him. That right hand was just an awful sight, even after it got healed.
Like I said, Chambliss stood back while Molly handled that snake and he watched her catch hold of the Holy Ghost, and when he felt like she was good and filled up with it he went to her and put his good hand on her head. Then he took up that microphone and prayed into it. I remember just exactly what he said because it was the last time I ever heard that man preach. It was the last time I ever stepped foot inside that church until now. He said, "O dear, sweet Jesus, take this woman and fill her up with your spirit from head to foot. Fill us all, sweet Jesus, with your good Holy Ghost. Lift us up in your name, dear Lord." And when he said that, he put his good hand under her elbow and helped her lift that snake up over her head. He moved away real slow, and she just held it there above her like she was making sure God could see it, her eyes closed tight, her feet running in place, her mouth alive and moving in a prayer she probably hadn't ever prayed in her life.
When she lowered that copperhead is when it happened.
The first time it struck it caught her just under her left eye, right along her cheekbone. And when she went to pull it off her face it got her on her right hand, right in between her thumb and her finger, and it wouldn't let go. She hollered out and cracked that snake like a bullwhip, but it was too strong. Chambliss dropped his microphone, and him and two of the deacons laid her down right there in front of the church. They held her still and finally got that snake's fangs to turn her hand loose. You could tell by the way they handled it that they didn't want to hurt it, and they didn't want themselves to get bit either. Chambliss picked it up just as gentle as he could and then opened the top of that crate with the toe of his boot and let that thing slide right back inside. Everybody stopped their dancing when they heard Molly hollering, and soon the music stopped too. That church was quieter than it had ever been until Chambliss got down on his knee beside Molly and put that microphone up to her lips like he expected her to say something. "Go ahead," he said to her, but all you could hear was the sound of her panting like she couldn't catch her breath. Somebody brought her a glass of water, and those two deacons helped her raise herself up and take a drink. When they sat her up, you could see that her cheek had started to turn blue, and they had to tip the water glass into her mouth because her lips were almost swollen shut.
Excerpted from A Land More Kind Than Home by Wiley Cash. Copyright © 2012 by Wiley Cash. Excerpted by permission of William Morrow. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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