Persephone reached into the opening just like last Sunday, and so many Sundays before. But this week, one of the serpents inside—probably old Zachariah with the stunted rattle and one scraggly fang—nailed her real good.
“Occupational hazard for my line of work,” she told Eunice Hatfield, the take-charge receptionist at East Appalachia Walk-In Clinic and Gun Shop. Persephone noticed her nice smile for a change. “Guess it’s her day to wear the family teeth.”
“Does anyone know? Anyone in the front row notice?” Eunice’s smile seemed baked on.
Persephone tried not to wince. “Course not! I always keep a straight face when it happens. Mustn’t let the congregation see when things go sideways, but damn! That’s three times this year and it’s only June.”
Persephone, Sister Persephone, finished the sign-in form with her one good hand. OCCUPATION: Pentecostal Minister. “Maybe I shoulda reached in with my other hand,” she muttered.
“Can’t fool God.” Eunice showed her into Dr. Bennett’s exam room #2, the one with the heartworm poster and DVM diploma on the wall. “Oops, wrong room. Follow me.”
Sure enough, exam room #1 was set up for people. Doc Bennett breezed right in, slipping off the gloves he used with caution kitties. His Adams Apple bobbed up and down like a cork float with a fish on. “Mmm, what do we have here?”
“Snake bite,” said Persephone.
“Test of faith, that’s what,” Eunice said. “If she really believed, they wouldn’t bite. The good book says so.”
Doc Bennett treated the wound and gave her a shot of antivenin. “Sister, you need to give up snake handling altogether, despite what the good book says. It’s against the law hereabouts anyway.”
Eunice shot him a look but the doctor was unfazed. “Besides, a couple more bites and you could go septic. Saint Mark may have talked a good game about serpent handling, but nowhere does the gospel say he actually done it. Sometimes you gotta take them prophets with a grain of salt.”
Only Persephone heard Eunice’s hiss of dissent.
Next day, the good Sister consulted with wise old Father Methuselah Hatfield-Coy about her crisis. His nickname, Father Meth, may explain why so many of his calls aren’t pastoral. Truth be told, he rather enjoyed them. She was rangy and he was shriveled and bent over. Side by side, the pair looked like Mutt and Jeff.
“Am I gettin’ bit because I’m losing my faith or is it the other way around? You’ve handled serpents for eighty-three years and never got poisoned, never once. What’s your secret?”
The old man had to lean way back to look up and meet her gaze. He took his time, maybe for effect. “Look here.” He opened his snake box so Persephone could see inside. “Worry not about the faith part, my child, lest thee lose sight of the practical.”
Before the next Sunday, Sister Persephone swapped all her rattlers for harmless corn snakes.
Doc Ardrey enjoys writing more today than in his previous seventy years, dating back to sixth grade. His career credits total more than 5,000 published articles in global business and technical publications—plus ESQUIRE, NY TIMES and the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD. He gravitates toward edgy short stories and topical poems with quirky characters. His short stories have appeared in CONCEIT, FABULA ARGENTA, TROUT (a fish story), ULTIMATE WRITERS QUARTERLY and local anthologies. One story received a GLIMMER TRAIN honorable mention. Recently he completed a novel about police violence and systemic racism.