More Than Conquerors

snake-silhouette-mdby Aaron Spangler

As soon as the snake bit him, Jack hit the dirt floor faster than I’d seen Jack do just about anything, but he always was something of a lazy son of a bitch. 

I tried to rush over to him, screeching some disappointing, high-pitched noise—the kind that I’d hoped I wouldn’t make when shit hit—but the parishioners held me back. They talked all at once, something about the Lord’s work. I figured if this passed for work then the “Lord” was a lazy son of a bitch too, and if Jack was on his way to see him maybe they were meant for each other all along. 

The crowd swayed back and forth and called into the air, pulling me from side to side. I watched Jack writhe on the ground in front of us. His whole body was growing smaller by the second, as if someone had pricked him with a pin and he was deflating. His skin had become a sickly green, and it looked even worse in the yellow light reflected by the tent over our heads. I looked at Jack’s eyes and they were black pinpoints; it reminded me of the time we tried junk for the first time. He was different after; said he was meant for “great things.”

I called out to the preacher to do something you fucking nut, but his eyes were closed, hands raised to the cloth ceiling. He thanked the Lord loudly, thanked him for showing this young boy the way to salvation through the conduit of the serpent’s bite. Handling them was a stupid idea, but Jack seemed so sure of himself; the pills had finally kicked in and he felt positively holy. I told him that the phony priests probably take the venom out of them anyway.

I pushed back against the crowd’s swaying. I was trying to part the sea of maniacs, but they had locked arms, encircling Jack and the preacher who stood over him with both hands held high like a goddamn sacrificial touchdown had been scored. “And it was Good.” The parishioners were singing some song that went: 

More than conquerors, more than conquerors,
Through the cleansing blood of the dying Lamb,
More than conquerors more than conquerors,
Through the power of grace and the precious Name.

I saw the moment Jack croaked. His eyelids kind of jumped and then lay limp on his big glass eyes that held a swirling cocktail of amphetamines and snake venom. The crowd sang louder; some were crying. I couldn’t tell if it was from pride or fear in a God that would let a kid do something like that. The weird bit was that I swear Jack died with the biggest, friendliest smile on his face that I’d ever seen. The crowd kept singing, but Jack wasn’t a Lamb; he died like he lived—in the dirt with the creeping things. Maybe he was smiling because he knew the only way was up.

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Aaron Spangler is usually in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. What killed John Henry won’t kill him.
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