Exquisite Corpse - Issue 3
HomeSearchSubmitCorpse CafeArchivesCorpse MallOur Gang
EC ChairCritical UrgenciesBurning BushFiccionesSecret AgentsStage and ScreenLettersGallery
Burning Tuscaloosa
by Christopher Chambers


April Fool's Day. Bill Gasper lights a contraband Cuban with his daddy's 101st Airborne Ranger Zippo, and slips the battered lighter into the pocket of his authentic Civil War reproduction Confederate officer's coat. A fine day for a reenactment. Nearby, Union and Confederate soldiers mill around a new four-wheel-drive Ford that sports a chrome brush guard and a diamond plate tool box, Lynyrd Skynyrd on the radio. A stars and bars battle flag decal in the window with the motto Forget, Hell. They drink Lite beer and thermos coffee. Bill teaches American history at the high school, born and raised in Walker County, educated at the Capstone. The men talk like they like to do. Moonlight, magnolias and the South rising again, conveniently disremembering, Bill notes, that the antebellum South was hardly a goddamn picnic for most. The talk moves on to the Braves, Crimson Tide football, the fishing at Lake Lurleen. They finish their beer and toss the empty cans into the ditch between the parking lot and the open field where on April 1, 1865, Croxton's Union raiders, on their way to sack the University of Alabama, encountered a unit of Confederate militia. The men stroll to their places in the clearing, smoking, talking, priming their replica cap and ball rifles for the 134th anniversary of the Battle of Vance. Tourists and families and local history buffs have assembled behind a yellow ribbon that says "Do Not Enter" strung between two folding chairs. Bill leads an attack of plumbers, architects, accountants, and car salesmen in grey on a group of their neighbors and colleagues dressed in blue. Rifle shots percussion and hoarse yells like cheers. Gunsmoke hangs thick in the humid air. Bill Gasper lies mortally wounded on cue once again in the coarse grass, his sweat trickling onto hard-packed red clay while the battle whirls around him. His stomach lurches and he wishes he'd had breakfast. The sun climbs burning. His neighbors begin to fall. Simpson, a barber from Northport, takes a Minie ball in the stomach and lies moaning horribly. A boy from the University drops suddenly, awkwardly, onto his back, a black hole in his face. Ronnie, the shortstop on the Shiloh Lounge softball team is curled up on the ground screaming for his mother, his right arm shattered. Bill can no longer see the tourists, the parking lot, the rental tent and the picnic tables laden with the First Baptist Ladies Auxiliary's sweet tea and barbecue lunch. The battle intensifies. Small arms fire and the occasional thump of a mortar. The field is littered with the dead and the wounded. Bill sees a Ranger in the heat-shimmered distance struggling to drag a wounded soldier to cover when an AK-47 opens up from the tree line beyond the ditch and both men are cut down. Bill closes his eyes against the heat and the noise and realizes he is weeping. When all is finally quiet he knows only his own body, stiff and sore on the ground, his dirt-caked hands and burning neck, the wool uniform soaked through, the sharp pain in his chest. His ears ring. His knee throbs, an old football injury aggravated by a slide into home plate in last Monday night's league softball game. He lies motionless and the world spins around him. The Federal troops, less 32 men, are on their way to burn Tuscaloosa. A local farmer digs graves for the Confederate dead. Bill's father begins the long journey from Southeast Asia home to where his widow will hold a neatly-folded American flag and her young son's hand, where they will watch him lowered into the red dirt of Alabama in the shadow of Denny stadium, the echo of a 21-gun salute still ringing in their ears.

Cadavar Exquisito
ec chair | critical urgencies | burning bush | ficciones | secret agents | stage and screen | letters | gallery
home | search | submit | corpse cafe | archives | corpse mall | our gang


Exquisite Corpse Mailing List Subscribe Unsubscribe

©1999-2002 Exquisite Corpse - If you experience difficulties with this site, please contact the webmistress.