An excerpt from my someday novel Sarvice or maybe a stand alone short story.
The Hearing, Wiley Adkins Speaks, So Does Marilyn
Wiley Adkins patted the briefcase propped against his chair leg. Marilyn glanced a worried look at the briefcase every time Wylie touched it. It was waiting there just a few inches from her leg. Wiley was one of the first to sign up to speak but he ended up being near the last. As it became obvious he wasn’t going to give testimony early, he comforted himself with the thought that the Bible says the last shall be first and the first shall be last.
Wiley was a deacon in the Church of The Almighty God that stood on coal company property and would be bulldozed or burned and then its site covered with five hundred feet of rocks and dirt. The Church of The Almighty God and The Church of the Lord Jesus in Jolo were the last two churches in West Virginia that believed Jesus had commanded them to handle snakes. Everybody else believed the scriptures weren’t calling for people to test themselves unnecessarily and preferred to interpret it as not to mean to handle them as public sport but that if one accidentally crawled up your arm you would be so serene in your faith that the snake would not bite.
If a snake bit a handler there was some explaining to do. One faction believed the bite revealed the person wasn’t right with God, was hiding some secret sin. God, through His serpent, knew this and let the sinner have it. Another group believed the bite meant that it was the person’s time to be tested by God. If a person had faith and was right with God the snake wouldn’t bite–unless God wanted to test faith and obedience. A bitten true believer refuses medical treatment and lets the Lord judge. It was a chance to get right with God and if you succeeded the bite wouldn’t kill. True faith would bring you through.
There is a third school of thought that believes if it is your time to die it doesn’t matter where God finds you or what you are doing. At the time of creation your beginning and end are scheduled. God knows when and how you are going to die. It doesn’t matter much what you do. If it is your time you are a goner. Get the medical treatment or let the poison run its course–either way you die if it’s your time to go. Faith and obedience to God doesn’t matter. There is no need to worry about anything. Walk right out into traffic and you are safe if it’s not your appointed day. Shoot yourself in the head and you survive if it isn’t your time to go. God could, but usually didn’t, change his mind about one’s time to be called to judgment. If it is a person’s time the snake doesn’t matter. If not a snake then something else will do the job. Two jet planes hitting right on top of you could do the Lord’s work. So could an overweight coal truck. This argument is hard to refute because if you die from the snakebite then it is your time to go and if you don’t then obviously it isn’t–it works every time.
There was a fine theological difference here. One line of thinking seemed to say that God could kill you for your sins any time He got tired of your sorry ass. Another kind of believed that God set it all in motion, checked off dates and times for everything to happen and let it roll on to its predetermined end. The list for the birth and death, and every action in between, for every living organism that ever lived or would ever live is a long list. It was hard to know whether to be good and miss out on all the fun the sinners were having or go ahead and join the fun, because it might not matter. You might already be condemned to hell. So why not go for it?
Wiley Adkins was a lot like Abraham when God ordered him to knife Isaac and set him on fire. Abraham was going to do as the voice told him. He passed the test and God let him off. Wiley had always passed the test with serpents. He survived two bites with prayer being his only treatment.
Wiley’s brother Bob Adkins died from God’s will to have the snake bite him. Wiley preached at the funeral that God had called Bob home. It wasn’t Bob’s faith that had faltered and it wasn’t a sign of Holy disapproval. It was simply the time that God had ordained for Bob to go home to heaven. Some folks figured Bob had enough alcohol in his blood that it was a wonder the snake hadn’t died.
“It would have happened in the K-Mart parking lot if that was where God found Bob at the appointed time. The snake had nothing to do with it.” Wiley assured the funeral congregation. Junior wondered what God would have thought if he had caught Bob between the thighs of his buxomly neighbor when it was his time to go.
There was skepticism. The bible said that with faith a person could handle serpents. So it appeared to those of a logical bent, that Bob didn’t have faith. But maybe his faith had nothing to do with it since nobody died without God ordaining it. Bob could have all the faith in the world but if God decided to kill him that was it. God, being all powerful, omnipotent, omniscient didn’t have to play by any rules. He could suddenly decide to turn gravity upside down and things would start falling up instead of down. If he wanted you dead he killed you.
Even to the clear minded it was a confusing issue. All views agreed that one way or another God cares about what happens to every person. It was comforting to know that God was right there all the time and if a person figured it out just right what would be better than having God, the creator of everything, the boss, by your side and on your side.
In West Virginia, one or two people die every year from poison snake bites and they are almost all religious snake handlers who refuse medical treatment. Cars, coal mines, abusive husbands, drunken deer hunters and maybe even lightning are more dangerous than poison snakes.
Wiley walked to the podium, identified himself as a deacon in the Church of The Almighty God and placed the briefcase by his right foot. His dress revealed nothing unusual. He was five inches bigger around the waste than was healthy and he was dressed in a white shirt and tie and neatly pressed dark slacks. He was scrubbed and clean-shaven. Wiley was a Grandpa, a retired disabled underground miner, a respected, sober, member of society, a man known for his honesty and charity. He had a gentle face and a reputation for being a good father and a faithful husband. He looked like a man dressed for church.
Marilyn waited in her seat looking unforgiving and tight as Dick’s hatband. She wasn’t more than five pounds heavier than when she graduated from high school. Under her sexless clothes was a handsome well-formed body that bore four children. Gloria of Gloria’s Beauty Parlor fixed Marilyn’s hair that morning. She looked like she was afraid to move her head. Her fastidiousness was so inconsistent with her sexual nature that it nearly drove Wiley mad with desire. He loved to see her come apart and utter lewd commands when he aroused her to climax. Two different people, this Marilyn. Both Wiley and Marilyn were relieved that God sanctified sex and indeed they were commanded to go forth and multiply. How else could they do that except by what they loved most to do? Marilyn didn’t, but Wiley wondered why they were still allowed by God to continue their privately wanton ways even after his vasectomy. Wiley was fond of gazing upon his wife in public, relishing the fact that only he knew she was the best lay in the county.
Wiley began his Testimony. “Heaven is going to destroy our church. They are going to cover God’s holy site with five hundred feet of rock and dirt. We have no choice in the matter. They claim to own the property but we think God owns it. We think God was here before Heaven. God looks at this hearing board and by simple math, that he invented, ciphers that half of you are in the hip pocket of the coal company. God knows your evil ways, knows that you are going to take the pay off, put it in your billfolds and let Heaven destroy God’s own church and God’s own mountain.”
Chairman Little rapped his gavel and instructed Wiley, “Mr. Adkins, Please refrain from personal attacks.”
Wiley nodded agreement. “Excuse me and forgive me, I apologize. But if the shoe fits you can go ahead and wear it.” He continued with a mischievous grin. “I prayed on this. I tried to understand Heaven’s viewpoint. I asked God for guidance. I went into a trance. The holy ghost made a visitation on my soul.” Wiley was starting to preach, his voice went from very soft to a bellow. He punctuated his sentences with, “And uh God said,” and “And uh brothers and sisters.” Was he going into a trance? He danced a little jig and shouted, “Praise God! Glory! ” The young coal miners snickered. Junior looked on with wide-eyed concern.
“Konta go ser higa, konta go hadda gabo olondo quo.” He had white eyeballs. The colored part rolled back behind his forehead. The hearing board members stared in amazement. All eyes were on Wiley, no one saw anyone else. The transformation was startling–Wiley went from the gentle, humble looking, neatly dressed grandfather to a soul possessed by the spirit. Bobby Joe Saint was the only person most of them had ever heard speaking in tongues and that was on television.
Marilyn rushed to prevent Wiley from falling and shouted, “Yes, praise God honey, praise God, yes God, speak to us now in our time of great need, in the presence of mine enemies.”
Wiley passed out. Marilyn broke his fall, her glasses fell to the floor and a strand of hair came loose and stuck out on one side of her head. With help from a hearing board member and two miners she lowered Wiley gently to the floor.
Marilyn was transformed–her face was no longer dark. Her squinted eyes had a glint. She bordered on voluptuous. She picked up her glasses and went to the podium, bent over–revealing her well-formed breasts to the board members and her backside to the audience, and opened Wiley’s briefcase. Marilyn was in a trance. She did not feel that all eyes were on her. She reached inside the briefcase.
The whole room gave out a sound of terror like they were all going to swoon, a sound made when everyone inhales at the same time, the sound immediately after lightning strikes an airliner lost in a storm cloud. Folks near Marilyn fell back over chairs trying to get away from her. She held up a fat, four foot long, timber rattler.
“Praise God.” She squeezed the hellishly frightened serpent just behind his head. The snake’s mouth opened wide with fangs showing and rattlers singing. His body writhed and wrapped around her arm. The snake had never experienced the danger that was conveyed to its small brain. At turns she held the snake in the face of the board members and then swung around to discourage any foolish state cops. Her eyes glazed over. People in the back, seated in folding chairs on the gym floor, stood up to see. The two state cops, with a hand on their guns, took a step toward Marilyn and backed off when she turned toward them with her snake. The hearing board members were trapped, they could only back up against the wall. Wiley was in convulsions on the floor. He was having one of his epileptic seizures. Chairs fell over, people tripped over one another, the ones near the snake tried to get out, the ones farther away wanted to see better. People in the bleachers stood on the seats and watched the confusion. Everyone forgot about mountain top removal.
Chairman Little Floyd Johnson stood his ground, stayed in his seat and pounded his gavel and shouted, “Order, order, we must have order.” No one could hear him over the pandemonium, the screams, the crashing chairs and the shouts. Fear and excitement were thick enough to cut. Two men stood in their chairs just in case the snake got loose on the floor, one laughed uncontrollably, bounced up and down and tears ran down his face. Junior, still seated in the bleachers, put his face in his hands and thought once again, “Oh shit, this is all we need.”
Marilyn, alone had faith. She had asked Wiley to leave the snake at home. She never handled the things herself and was scared to death of snakes. But somebody had to do the Lord’s work and Wiley was on the floor communicating with God through his holy twitches, his dog-like growls and his vomit. She had to do it. She had to complete Wiley’s plan, the Lord’s plan. When Marilyn stuck the snake in Little’s face, he fell over his chair and crawled toward those cowering against the wall. She turned again and pointed the snake’s savage head at the state cops. They backed off, all with one hand on their holstered guns. Again she turned toward Little Floyd and the committee. The television cameras got everything, even a front view of the fangs as grandmotherly Marilyn, in her best suit, with the one strand of hair out of place, pushed the snake’s head in their direction. “God sent this serpent to warn you, that what you are doing is an abomination in the eyes of the lord.”
Marilyn dropped the snake and went to Wiley who was coming back into exhausted consciousness. The serpent was on the floor trying to figure out how to get away from the madness. Once the snake was loose on the floor, people still standing on the gym floor were almost trampled in the stampede to get out. Sirens sounded outside. Three patrol cars with blue lights flashing, a fire engine with yellow lights flashing and an emergency vehicle with red and white lights going were all askew in the parking lot, doors open and engines running.
The cops rushed into the gym with their guns out, one had a shotgun. The six state cops and the six fat deputies on duty at the hearing had their guns out. Fifteen guns were pointed at the serpent, which was just in front of chairman Little.
“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot” Little Floyd shouted, holding his palms out toward the cops. The serpent found an air duct and disappeared into the guts of the building. Little pounded the gym floor with his gavel and declared the meeting adjourned.
The paramedics put a neck brace on Wiley who was regaining consciousness. They cinched him onto a gurney and wheeled him out, down the elevator and into the carnival in the parking lot where the emergency vehicle awaited to speed him off to the hospital. They wouldn’t listen to Marilyn’s pleading, “He’s ok. He’s ok. I can take care of him, he’s my husband, god damn it!” Wiley was shocked. Except in her sexual frenzies he never heard her curse. Neither did he know that she smoked an occasional cigarette and had once got drunk with a sailor when she was in the waves.
…they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents…