"Oh, I just thought that...well you all were..."
He squinted and ran his untrimmed fingernails across his forehead. "Oh, you mean the dark clothes we were wearing. We just do that as an act of humbleness before our maker; we don't believe in fancy clothes or costly things that aren't necessary," he explained.
I couldn't help but feel somewhat guilty about the large flat screen TV that lay ten feet away from us. As my emotions swirled together into convoluted ideas about the present conversation, I caught from the corner of my eye a long mass of blackness that maneuvered quickly from opposite side of the room. I must have appeared startled as my wife took our daughter from me with a look of concern on her face.
"Are you alright Mr. Cooper?" Ezekiel asked.
"Yes, I think something is over there though" as my heart began to suddenly palpitate. The preacher hastily advanced to where I pointed and began to examine the area. He slowly turned to his left and moved into a crouch-like position while he curled the long fingers on his right hand into a claw. In a split second, his arm threw down violently as he let out a low guttural grunt. As he slowly and carefully began to raise his body, the writhing and slapping form became visible from his clenched fist. A three or possibly four foot snake hissed with discontentment at its capture
"Oh my God," my wife screamed as she turned away and sheltered Liza's head in her neck. “How did that thing get in here?"
The preacher grabbed the reptile’s winding tail with his other hand and abruptly marched it through the front door as we watched him from one of the windows. He stopped midway on our lawn and turned toward the house with a sudden change in direction, as he pulled an old rusty pocket knife from his top coats’ inside pocket. He then unmercifully and swiftly severed the serpents’ head from its body. Its’ writhing and convulsing body twirled in a corkscrew motion that sprayed blood across the lush grass as well as Ezekiel. He gave a satisfied grin as he slammed his right shoe onto the motionless head.
“It’s all over folks. It’s safe to come out.” Ezekiel walked toward the porch, and put his foot on the bottom rest while he breathed a deep and grievous breath.
I stopped at the top step as he placed the knife back into his pocket. “Can I get you something, would you like a drink? I think I have some cold soda in the cooler” I said awkwardly. I must have appeared to be in a mild form of disorientation from the strange look on his face.
“No Mr. Cooper, I’m fine, I'm fine.” He then looked at me with an earnest intensity as if I were about to be presented with a sermon. “The thing about snakes is that they’re very subtle. You don’t know they’re there until it’s too late. It’s a good thing it came out before you found it accidentally cause copperheads are very poisonous, especially with the young one and your wife."
I shook my head in agreement and attempted to find an explanation that would satisfy both he and myself. “Thank you, I don’t know what to say…that thing must have came in during the move somehow and has been in there since."
"Could be. This is the country and things are little different out here. No matter now, it's gone and you can rest easy tonight. Doubt you'll find another in there." He wiped several beads of sweat that had run down his leathery cheek as a rumble to thunder echoed in the darkening background.
He squinted and gazed skyward as he unbuttoned his inside collar. "Well, I must be going along now, looks like we’re in for a little storm. It was a pleasure meeting you folks," the preacher said, as he tipped his hat forward.
"Perhaps under better conditions next time and thank you so much!” my wife added, as she entered the porch with our daughter by the hand. He winked at Liza and turned back to the driveway.
As he made his way back to the road under the willow trees, their arched branches gave the perception that they were bowing to him with the storm's building winds. An icy burst of rain fell like bullets across the pavement and moved rapidly toward the house.
"We'd better get inside before it really kicks up,” I said, as a flash of vivid lightning shattered above us.
"Hopefully, it will cool things off, Maria added, as she lifted our tired daughter into her arms and we both hurriedly ran back into the house. The windswept rain furiously pelted the house, while Liza ironically, lay almost asleep in her mother's arms. Our boxes and belongings still lay disheveled about as I began to realize a sudden sense of urgency to make things as normal as possible and as quickly as I could. I walked to where Ezekiel has stood several minutes before and stared at an empty space on the floor.
"It probably came in with the movers like you said, and besides, it's gone now," Maria said in a hushed peaceful tone, that I was certain was meant to calm herself as well as me.
I shook my head and held back from kicking at one of the boxes. Putting my two clenched fists behind my neck, and letting out a long sigh, I felt a rush of frustration begin to seep into my spirit. "I know... it's just a really bizarre kick-off, obviously not what we had envisioned, you know? I just keep thinking about what if Liza had gone over to this side of the house. I can't even think about it."
Maria smiled and walked toward the window facing the driveway. "Yeah, but she didn't. God was watching over her today by sending Ezekiel."
I paused for a few seconds and bit my lower lip while I watched the steady downpour from where I stood. "I don’t know about him...he seems kind of... weird. There I said it!"
My wife quickly drew her index finger to her lips for me to lower my voice. "He just saved our daughter's life and maybe ours too!" There was a slight touch of anger in her voice which somewhat surprised me.
I shrugged my shoulders as I slowly made my way over to join my family. "I know, I know....and I'm very thankful. I just think he reminds me of somebody you'd find in the house of wax or something."
Maria chuckled hesitantly as a crash of thunder mildly shook the walls. Liza turned her head to the opposite side but thankfully, remained asleep. "Really James Cooper, you are unrelenting!" Laughing hysterically to myself for some reason, I let my body fall into one of the boxes. I then emphatically gazed at the dropped ceiling with a silly grin and slowly forced myself up to begin work on my daughter's room.