Strumming guitars, jangling tambourines and a susurrant rattle shook the walls of the clapboard church. The electric air was suffocating, but Enoch stood still and silent. Eyes fixed on the pulpit, he watched as his father, Pastor Josiah Telly Burns, lifted a writhing Timber Rattler and proclaimed, “Glory! When God’s in it, they ain’t no harm in it!”
“Amen!” the congregation returned, their bodies swaying, spinning, jerking – some of them convulsing on the floor.
Enoch saw none of this, for he stared only at his father. A bead of sweat slid beneath the collar of his shirt, stinging the hidden lacerations that bloomed brightly on his back like newly-opened Columbines.
That morning he’d dropped three eggs and required his father’s correction. He’d clenched the familiar beam in the basement, trying not to cry as the whip broke his skin, opening old wounds, creating new ones. Showing weakness earned three extra lashes.
His father stared, unblinking, into the eyes of the serpent. It zigzagged closer but did not strike, as if Pastor Burns could charm the beast with only his cold zeal. The snake obeyed him. The congregation adored him. White foam flecked his lips as he shook and howled, “The Lord, he’ll let hurt, or he won’t let hurt. If you believe in the word of God and he moves on you, you’ll be unharmed! He protects the righteous!”
When Enoch was younger, he’d prayed the snake would strike.
But his father had never been bitten. His father was a righteous man in the eyes of the Lord.
The singing congregation seemed to interrogate Enoch: “Are your garments spotless? Are they white as snow? Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?”
No, Enoch thought, his eyes bleak and certain. I ain’t spotless.
Children were forbidden to handle the snakes, but Enoch knew that in six years, when he turned seventeen, he’d stride to the front of the sanctuary, seize the serpent, stare into its eyes and await the Holy Spirit’s decision.
— This story was written in response to a Trifecta challenge to use the third definition of the word Charm: “3: to control (an animal) typically by charms (as the playing of music)” in a written work of 33 – 333 words.