THE SNAKE BIT CASE (Part 3)
“Is the name of Pastor Falk’s church listed?” Jen asked.
The Director glanced through the file and finally said, “The Appalachia Pentecostal.”
“Can I have a copy of that file?”
“Not without a court order,” the Director answered. “I may have shared too much already.”
Jen got directions to the town cemetery and the approximate location of the graves of unknown bodies. It was nearby and not hard to miss. She walked over to the corner of the graveyard and found a grave and headstone without a name with the proper. It said, “Known only to God. Rest in Peace.” The date of death was fifteen years ago. Jen took some pictures and drove back to Atlanta.
The next Sunday…
According to the webpage of The Appalachia Pentecostal Church, Pastor Falk was still the pastor there. Jen made a note of the times of the services and, drove over for the service. The church was an older building that had seen better days. The roof sagged in a couple of spots and the handrail leading up along the front steps was loose. A couple of windows were cracked but not broken. Much of the white paint was peeling.
As Jen approached the church, she could hear loud organ music blasting. The church was nearly filled with people. She noticed no one was wearing a face mask, so she removed her so not to be conspicuous. On a low table next to the altar were several glass cages containing snakes. Jen cringed. People in the congregation were passing around several snakes. Many people were dancing and shaking their arms and shouting, “Halleluiah and praise the Lord.” Behind the alter was a man that looked to be in his late forties. He wore a black suit with a white dress shirt open at the collar. He also was dancing with his eyes closed. A snake hung from his neck.
A teenager walked up to Jen and said, “Hello, and welcome. From the look on your face, this must be your first time to visit.” He was dressed like the pastor. He was a thin young man a couple inches taller than Jen. He had a nice smile and black hair tied back in a ponytail. Jen thought he was handsome. Then Jen noticed around the teen’s neck was a large snake. She stepped back quickly. “My name is Isaac. I’m the greeter today. I’ll answer your questions.”
“Hello, Isaac. And who is this?” Jen asked, pointing to the snake around the teen’s neck. She didn’t bother to whisper since the music and singing was so loud.
“This is Matthew. He’s a timber rattler. He’s quite friendly. Would you like to hold him?”
“I think I’ll take a hard pass,” Jen answered. “Actually, I was hoping to meet with Paster Falk.”
“He won’t be available until after the service. He’s my step-father.”
Jen observed the service for a few minutes and then asked, “Don’t people get bitten?”
Isaac smiled. “Sometimes, but that’s not a problem.”
“I would think it would be,” Jen shot back. “They could sue you.”
“True believers don’t get bitten and if they do, they don’t die. The Good Book says, ‘They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them.’--Mark 16:18.”
“You drink poisons too?” Jen asked.
Isaac pointed to the altar. On the alter was a large glass pitcher filled with a dark liquid. Next to it was another glass pitcher with a white liquid. “The darker stuff is poison, and the white stuff is milk.”
“So, if someone drinks the poison, do they drink milk to dilute it, so they don’t die?” Jen asked.
Isaac laughed. “No. The poison tastes terrible. It can make you vomit. The milk helps to keep it down, but it’s optional. I recommend it.”
“So, members of the congregation handle snakes and drink poisons as part of the service?”
Isaac smiled again. “I’ll let you in on a little secret.” He held up his pet snake and forced the mouth open. The fangs were exposed. Isaac pointed to a spot in the mouth. “I removed the poison glands. We’ve had problems in the past.”
“Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?” Jen asked.
“As my dad always says, if it helps people in their walk with God, does it matter?”
Isaac moved on to welcome another person while Jen continued to watch the service. People danced, passed around snakes and shouted. Finally, an old man walked up to the altar, took a paper cup and poured a half-cup of poison from the pitcher. He then poured a full cup of milk. He drank the poison with a milk chaser and returned to his seat. A second woman was waiting her turn. She poured herself a half cup of poison and drank it down without milk. She then reached under the altar and retrieved a large plastic bucket. She held her head over the bucket until she vomited into the bucket. She took a handkerchief from her pocket and wiped her mouth and cheeks.
Isaac walked up behind Jen and leaned closer. “I told you the poison tastes terrible. It will make you throw up unless you drink some milk.”
“What is it, if I may ask?”
“Mostly rat poison. Dad mixes it up himself. He won’t let me or anyone else help. Won’t tell me the formula. He says if anything happens, he alone will be responsible.”