"They don't know exactly what got her," the woman said. She tore a stamp from the sheet the postman had just given her, and she licked it and smoothed it out on her letter before handing it over to him. "But they reckon a snake must've been hiding in them tomato plants. By the time they found her on Wednesday her right hand had turned black, and she had a black lump under her eye too. It was just as round and hard as it could be," she said. "Shiny too, like a ripe apple but for the blackness."
They buried Molly that Friday, and Chambliss preached her funeral.
After that I understood that my church wasn't no place to worship the Lord in, and I realized I couldn't stay. I'd been a member of that church in one way or another since I was a young woman, but things had been took too far, and I couldn't pretend to look past them no more. If having Molly Jameson die right in front of that church didn't convince Carson Chambliss to stop his carrying on, who's to say that somebody setting themselves on fire and burning down the church would change his mind? There wasn't no amount of strychnine that could've got him to stop; wasn't no kind of snake that man wouldn't pick up and pass around.
Even though that newspaper in the windows kept folks from seeing inside that church, I figure everybody in town knew what was going on, and it wouldn't be long before they had the law down there trying to break it up. I didn't like none of it one bit at all, and I knew if it wasn't a safe place for an old woman, then there wasn't no way it was a safe place for children, and so I prayed on it and I prayed on it, and that's when God laid it on my heart. Addie, he said, just as clear as day, you need to get out of that church, but you know you can't leave them children behind. And I knew then that I'd have to stand up to Carson Chambliss, that I'd have to tell him that what he was doing was wrong.
I got down to the church early that next Sunday morning, the week after Molly Jameson was killed, and I pulled up just as Chambliss and Deacon Ponder unloaded the last of the crates out of the back of Ponder's pickup truck. I got out of my car and stood there watching them. Chambliss must've had some kind of premonition about my business because when he saw me he stopped what he was doing and looked at me, and then he handed his crate over to Ponder.
"Would you carry this inside for me, Phil?" he asked. "I'm going to stay out here and visit with Sister Adelaide for a bit." He slammed the gate on the truck bed, and Ponder nodded his head and smiled at me and walked on inside the church. Chambliss dusted off his hands and walked over to where I was standing by my car. "You're here awfully early," he said. His eyes narrowed to keep out the sun, and then he lifted his good hand to shield them from the light. His face was ruddy and weathered like most men's faces up here who've spent too much time working in the sun or smoking too many cigarettes, or maybe both.
"I wanted to get here early because I need to talk to you about some things," I said.
"About what all has happened," I said. My voice was shaking, but I tried my best to hide it because I didn't want him knowing I was scared of crossing him. "I want to talk to you about what happened to Molly last Sunday."
"What do you need to talk about?" he asked me. "You were there. You saw it. She stepped out in faith, and the Lord took her home."
"But it ain't right," I said. "It ain't right what y'all did to her." "What do you mean, 'It ain't right'?"
"It ain't right what you done with her after church," I said. "Taking her home and laying her out there in the yard and just leaving her, hoping somebody would find her before the animals started eating at her. People got a right to know about these things."
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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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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