“The Smoking Bun” by Lucinda Dupree

This story won honorable mention in our Summer 2011 fiction contest.


I was more curious than shocked when I heard the first guttural rumble under my feet. Dawn was breaking in auburn and purple waves, but from my position by the fountain in Five Points, the ridge that comprised 24th through 21st Streets blocked my view of the sun itself. I was setting up my easel to do some sketches as I do most mornings, ignoring the transients that were always asking me for change and cigarettes. People right away were saying earthquake.

Well, you have to understand a little bit about how the town is laid out, if you aren’t from here, which most people aren’t. I mean what Birmingham looks like just isn’t famous like New York or Chicago or Los Angeles… Anyway… Dig. The main thing is there is that downtown is just north of Red Mountain, and on the other side are the suburbs. At the peak, there’s that statue of Vulcan, the Greek god of ironworks. You see, Red Mountain is full of iron ore, which is why it’s red.

As I said, it was nigh early, and there weren’t many people other than me on the street. Just a couple of joggers with earbuds, a garbage truck, a couple of street people who were still sleeping in the church doorway with blankets pulled up all the way over their heads. After the initial tremors, those men came out of their cocoons in a hurry.


Now, I ain’t no bumpkin, and I didn’t believe any of the nonsense that preacher had been saying about the end times coming on the twenty first of May. But after what happened, I don’t know. I had to think about it. There was an old boy that had been standing around the fountain the last few days with signs saying to repent before it was too late, marching in circles.

And I distinctly remember seeing him a few afternoons before and thinking about Maggie, and about what I’d done to her. Sure enough if I didn’t start to feel sorry in a way that I never felt before that moment. A deeper, more aching kind of sorry, that felt like a cracked rib.

After… the event… I called Maggie, of course. I called her a dozen times if I called her once. She ain’t answered. Matter of fact, nobody’s heard from her a’tall. Not her sister. Not her mother. I have to tell you, I’m worried as a warthog. We all are.


Sure, I’ll talk to you. Yeah, I was one of the first people on the scene in Homewood. That’s where most of the damage was. Well, no, I wasn’t an official first responder. I’m not a fireman or an EMT or a policeman. I’m a volunteer. I have this asbestos suit that I made and a gas mask and a particularly powerful fire extinguisher. I live nearby, and I figured I could help somehow. I parked my car on the corner of Valley and Greensprings and just started making my way down the road.

The swath of death and destruction was straight out of Hades. Cars were crushed and covered in rubble. Buildings leveled. There were isolated fires all along Valley Avenue, and all those businesses along the ridge were just gone. A thick cloud of dust still hovered over the area and would stay that way for weeks after.

Through the Plexiglas goggles of the gas mask, it felt like something between real and television, like one of those virtual reality games, not that I’ve ever seen one of those, but it seemed like maybe that’s what it would be like. Virtual tour of Hell.


Maggie, you came. Thank you. Do you have the… excellent. Thank you so much. You don’t know what this means, or maybe you do. But how did you get it? No, don’t tell me. It’s better if I don’t know. I’ll have everything ready by Saturday.

Yes, we’ll do it first thing in the morning on Saturday. What? No, I can’t be sure it will work, but it’s our only hope of getting out of here before… you know. I have been building it for more than a decade, and I’m reasonably confident in my work. You haven’t told anybody anything, right? Anyone at all? I suppose it would be difficult to explain even if you did. Your people wouldn’t understand, obviously. How could they?

Believe me, I wouldn’t have believed it possible myself if you’d asked me six months ago. I didn’t think I could have these feelings. Not for a… I hate to even say the word. It sounds so… A human. An Earthling.


The gas mask had a little scratch up the side of the right eye goggle. It compromised my view to some extent, but I knew I’d manage. I was also dialed into the emergency radio channel, and I was trying to keep up with the activity, but it was altogether too chaotic. I couldn’t keep up. So I was just feeling my way through that, as I said, underworld of flames and debris.

One of the neon palm trees that used to light up the parking lot outside of El Sol was lodged in a car windshield. Up ahead, I could see the red and blue lights. I figured I’d be most useful around the periphery, not getting in the way. So I started walking up the hill toward what had been Sammy’s, which was, you know, a gentlemen’s club. Something had smashed right through the western wall of the building.

I couldn’t resist taking out my phone and snapping a photo when I saw the flaming hot, still smoking, bare ass of Vulcan right there next to the stage. The stripper pole was still standing.


I missed the stupid things about her like the crap TV shows she watched every night and her terrible snorting laugh. She had this burn scar that cascaded from the lower part of her right jaw down to her shoulder, where some scalding water splashed on her as a kid, but it never made her any less beautiful to me. She also had a scar on her pelvis from some surgery she had a few years ago. I remember long nights, caressing it with my head rested on the inside of her thigh while she watched Dancing with the Stars or some other crap.

I made a lot of mistakes. I wasn’t nice a lot of the time. And she always wanted me to have more ambition. I drove her away. Drove her right into the arms of that damned weirdo epidemiologist from the research lab where she works.


You see, I knew. I knew something was going on up there. I couldn’t tell you what it was though.

About ten or twelve years ago, they took Vulcan down for renovations. It was down for a while. I guess that’s when it happened. In the 1940s, they replaced Vulcan’s spear this torch, and he held it up toward the sky, you know, just like the Statue of Liberty, in this sort of Superman-like pose. The torch used to light up either red or green. The story is that the city lit it up as red when there’s been a fatal accident on the highway. I have no idea if that’s true. Anyway, during the renovations, they removed the torch and put the spear back, for some reason.

But I’d forgotten all about that because damned if I didn’t see that spear light up just like a torch. I saw it light up, there in the breaking morning, bright fucking red, but then it wasn’t just the spear head; it was the whole fucking thing. The whole fucking statue lit up bright red, like a hot coal, and then the fucking thing began to elevate–the statue, the tower it stood upon, all of it–just shot up into the sky like a goddamn rocket. It went up I don’t know how high into the air, and then it tipped over toward the suburbs south of the mountain and fell again toward the ground.

And then a beam of bright fiery golden light streamed up from the ground into the sky as far as I could see.

Lucinda Dupree is a dental assistant from Warrior, Alabama. This is her first published short story.

“Mulciber” by Sean Hogan

This story won honorable mention in our Summer 2011 fiction contest.

The grey over-head blushed white from sunlight; normally, when it wasn’t so bright, you could see Mister Simmons’ balding reflection even from the back of the bus, but today you only saw the meticulous but telling tufts of combed hair. Rows of little heads—brown, blonde and black— swayed to the jostles of the road in rows of blackish grey seats. Ansel in the back, bending his head and timidly raising his hand up to his red hair to make sure the generous amount of gel his mother combed into it hadn’t come undone. With care, he touched the hardened autumn streaks as if briefly tapping the face of a drum. Good, it was still in place.

If Mother was here


And my hair was messy


She’d start fussing


Kneeling then combing and combing


Purple plastic claws tearing at my scalp

“Hey, Antsy!” Bringing his head back up, Ansel wondered what he had done this time. Randy’s face, wide and rude, sat on his crossed arms atop the back of his seat, his lips curving into a lopsided smile. “Checking the carrot salad?” Randy’s smile peeled back into laughter, turning rows of little heads around looking at Ansel, laughing at him. Ansel tried to look them in the eyes, but they kept turning to the person next to them and laughing harder. Looking at Randy, who didn’t turn away, Ansel’s face was burning and his chest twisting in on itself. He wanted to say something mean, needed to say something to make Randy sorry for what he’d said. But his mind was blank; all he could think of was how much he hated Randy. “You’re stupid!”

Randy, still grinning, simply turned back into his seat. Ansel felt small and stupid. At least Elenie up in the front hadn’t heard and laughed at him. He didn’t want to see the other children or be here with them anymore, so he looked out of the window at the cars passing by him on the highway. They weren’t cars, not anymore: they were space shuttles.

Shuttles flying across the darkest stretch of pavement


Their huge fiery engines setting them Free


Free of everything blending together


Where Wonder never hides


Wonder vivid and full with nothing around to dim it


Only the black stretch of freedom

They were coming closer to a big lump of trees trying to get closer to the skies. Ansel’s father told him it was called Red Mountain once when he had to bring Ansel along for business at the University. The highway had cleft the mountain in two, and to the right, standing above the trees, was a length of grey, slightly smudged by the blue sky. That must be the Vulcan they’re going to see. Ansel’s shuttle passed the dark grey and rustic scars of Red Mountain, running alongside the highway.

After the bus was parked, they were standing at the ticket booth waiting for Mister Simmons’ to pay for everyone. Up the cement pathway a sandy-stone tower reared up the statue of Vulcan. Everyone was making fun of the statue’s uncovered butt. It was strange, but Ansel didn’t care.

Anvil, Left, and left side, burning white

His arrow, right, and right side pale blue and darkest blue

He doesn’t care what they think

His legs, his butt, his back and arms are naked and unprotected

And he is unafraid

While Ansel was staring at the statue, he suddenly became aware of how hot it was. His face felt thick with sweat. Elenie and her friend Melissa were sitting off to the side of the walkway, in the grass. The back of Elenie’s blonde hair was white from sunlight and her eyes were in the sky. She was laughing at something Melissa said. He wished he’d heard it and knew what she thought was so funny. They both looked at him. His heart went into action, racing away before his mind could start. He smiled, they started giggling. Some of the others around him were laughing too; Randy now was also laughing, something was wrong. Between breathes Randy managed to say “look at Antsy’s hair!” Running over to the ticket booth and looking at his reflection, Ansel saw his hair had come undone and had puffed out like an orange fur ball. In the reflection Ansel saw the children laughing behind him. His cheeks burned again, with his eyes joining them. His shame held him in place. “That’s enough.” Ansel looked and saw Mister Simmons alternating his glare between Randy and the others. After they quieted, Simmons said “That’s better. Now follow me, we’re going to head to the top of the statue.” As Ansel fell in with the others he saw Elenie looking at him, smiling and looking away. She was probably thinking about how stupid he looked. He wasn’t sure if that smile was beautiful or ugly.

A handful of students crammed in with Mister Simmons into the elevator that leaned against Vulcan’s tower. The rest of the class had to take the stairs. Ansel, getting in first to make sure he was closest to the window, wanted to see the Birmingham area as they rode up into the sky. Seeing the ground flying away from him sent a trill through him. He was riding up the iron cocoon of scaffolding wrapping around a shuttle. The elevator stopped and opened up. Ansel ran out onto the observer’s platform and looking down saw the slits in the platform that made it seem see-through. Ansel’s heart leapt up at the sight, but soon settled. No one else had fallen through it yet, so why should he worry?

The other classmates were starting to come up the stairway and hesitantly walking out onto the platform. He heard laughter again from the children and became angry; he was getting tired of them. But they were laughing at him. He turned back to the elevator and Mister Simmons’ was holding the elevator door while Randy stood with his back again the glass window. He was glad Randy was now being mocked. Then Ansel looked at Randy’s face. It was twisting and riving as his eyes grew red and puffy while the others laughed at him. Ansel felt sorry… for Randy and himself, and he was tired of feeling like that. He walked into the elevator and said “come on!”  Randy shook his head. Ansel stood next to him and said “close your eyes.” Randy gave him a mean look, then softened and closed his eyes. Ansel put a hand on Randy’s shoulders, which were large for a 13-year-old’s, and started walking him out of the elevator. When they got out Ansel put one of Randy’s hands on the railing. “Don’t open your eyes yet.” Randy firmly nodded. Ansel walked him around until the whole city was in view. “Alright, open your eyes. Go on, open them!” Meekly Randy opened up the tiniest view with his eyes and then they flew up. “Wow,” he said letting go of the railing. He looked down, stumbled and put his hands back on the railing. He turned and gave Ansel a weak smile and a shrug.

Ansel looked out on the city himself, seeing the greens and browns and greys wrapped in a thin blanket of blue, underneath the toes of Vulcan. A whip of wind blew through Ansel’s hair and it felt so good. The sight of Birmingham from here gave his heart wings and up-lifting air to make it soar higher than any bird or ship ever could.

Have I lived in Wonderful place so long?


Looking for Wonder when Wonder was here


Looking on bearded face above, arrow pointed high


 Pointing back where he and his mountain-ship came


Out from black weave of Wonder in the sky


Landing, leaving the stars, to weave new Wonders

They were boarding the bus to leave. Heading for the back of the bus, Ansel sees Elenie in one of the front seats alone. Looking at her made him aware of his frizzy red hair again. He wanted to sit next to her, but he didn’t know what he would do after that, and she might not like him sitting next to her just like that. She looked up at him and smiled and he sat down next to her.

“Your hair is messed up,” she said, still smiling.

“Could you help?” Ansel said.

She reached up and smoothed some of his hair out.

“There, that’s a little better. You have nice hair.”

“Thank you.” He wasn’t sure what to say as he smiled and looked into her blue eyes.

“I wanted to tell you… you have beautiful blue eyes, like the sky.”

She smiled again, “Thank you.”

As the bus drove off Ansel and Elenie both looked out the window at Vulcan, standing on top of his tower, pointing forward.

Sean Hogan is a twenty-one-year old living in Leeds, Alabama. He works as an editor, photographer, and graphics designer for Herald News Media Services, which he helped found with his father and brother. His hobbies include writing, reading, painting, filming, editing, and playing saxophone.

Issue #6, August 2011

Table of Contents, Issue #6

Editor’s Note

2011 Summer Fiction Contest

Fiction contest winner: “Consider the Gap” by George Sawaya

Fiction contest honorable mention: “Mulciber” by Sean Hogan

Fiction contest honorable mention: “The Smoking  Bun” by Lucinda Dupree


“Jackpot” by Lindsey Walker

“Switchback” by Roger Real Drouin

“Meet Me by the River” by Nels Hanson

“All the Right Notes” by T.R. Healy

Flash Fiction

“Tore Up” by Dale Wisely


“Monroe County Line” by L. Ward Abel

“District Court as Community Theater” by Al Maginnes

“If I Rise” by Amit Parmessur

“Summer Girls in Pale Chiffon” by William Childress

“The Fabulists” by William Childress

Prose Poetry

“Incurable” by Howie Good


“Regional ‘Othering’ in Hershell Lewis’ Two Thousand Maniacs!” by William Matthew McCarter


Photography by Molly Hand