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Outside of his love for the Torah and his time spent in the Synagogue, his concern for family and closest friends, Rabbi Jacob Weiss regarded fishing the single greatest passion in his life. Indeed, over the course of many years, he had come to regard the river as one of those friends, as a member of his family. Jacob had taught both of his sons and all seven of his grandsons to fish in those waters; their bounty had provided for his table
innumerable times. Since his wife’s death, Jacob and his old friend had grown even closer, and Jacob spent every idle hour in pursuit of the quiet joy and peace he had found nowhere else. In truth, Jacob never felt closer to the presence of God than he did when alone on that river, though he thought it best not to speak of this. The Temple would soon empty on the Sabbath if all the members thought it a viable alternative to spend the time fishing.

But today wasn’t the Sabbath, and Jacob intended to head home only when the
largemouths stopped biting. Jacob had learned through experience that success could be found when the backwaters of the St. John’s were high and muddied, as they were this morning, the storms having passed on during the night. Thus far, the sun had yet to crest the horizon and burn off the thick morning mist. Jacob cut the outboard motor, the little boat gliding to a stop in the rolling waves.

Jacob flipped open his tackle box and prepared a lure, then sent it buzzing out over the deeper water with an expert cast. He cranked the reel, filling his lungs with the damp perfume of the backwaters, and sighed. He began to hum, the boat rising and falling as he tried again and again to coax one of the river’s monster bass to strike. A few minutes passed before Jacob noticed something bobbing up and down in the water several yards distant. He tugged on his beard, frowning.

“Littering bastards.” Jacob grunted his displeasure as he reeled in his line and started the outboard. “Maybe I’ll have better luck over there anyway.” Jacob steered the boat into position alongside the object, which he could now see was some kind of small box, bound with some sort of black cord or maybe electrical tape. Leaning out over the edge of the boat, he reached for the box, then jerked his hand back in reflex.

“Damnation!” Jacob had spotted the snake just in time, its undulating form almost imperceptible in the murky water, its head jutting right above the surface. Only the flesh of its mouth as it opened its jaws to strike had alerted Jacob to its presence. White as a puff of cotton. Water moccasin.

Jacob reached down into the boat for his cane. Water splashed on his face as he struck at the wedge-shaped head. Jacob waited for the snake to bob back to the surface, then he hooked his cane underneath it and, with one deft motion, hurled the sinuous form towards the far bank.

Jacob sat back, let out a breath and wiped his palms on his jeans. Remembering the box, Jacob used the cane to maneuver it closer, the waves having sent it moving away from him. Using his cane, Jacob held it in place against the boat’s fiberglass hull, lifting it out of the water with his other hand.

And dropped it, springing back with an exclamation. What Jacob had taken to be a cord wrapped around the box was, in fact, another snake, its three-foot body coiled around the box in a squeezing embrace. The box itself, an old shoebox, sealed with clear package tape, had saved Jacob from being bitten. The snake had thrust its head under the box’s lid, trying to force it’s way inside. Now it freed itself and drew its length into a coil in the bottom of the boat, jaws agape, tiny black eyes frozen on Jacob.

Jacob put his cane to use again. The snake sought to bury its fangs in the cane as Jacob clubbed at it, blow after blow, until its head became a flattened pulp and its white mouth frothed pink with blood. Jacob, wheezing with the exertion, flipped the dead, twitching snake back into the water.

That’s when Jacob heard, weak and muffled, the mewling emanating from the shoebox.

“What on earth?” Jacob dug his pocket knife from his jeans and set about removing the tape from the box. He opened the lid. “Merciful God!”

The baby inside could have been no more than a few days old. Freed from the cardboard tomb, the infant filled his lungs and began to wail in earnest. Jacob lifted the naked baby from the box, cradling it to his chest.

“Who did this to you, little one?” He gave the child a quick examination: a boy, Caucasian, with a tuft of dark hair. And uninjured. The infant quieted, staring up at Jacob
with gleaming blue eyes.

“God be praised,” Jacob said. “God be praised.”

TheCheezman • January 15, 2020

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