Fiction Issue - Second Place: How Superconfederate Smashed Into the Side of Big Rock Mountain and Became Petrified
Superconfederate wore a grey cotton uniform modified for flight. He added a cape of Stars and Bars and sewed a St. Andrew's Cross on his chest. Humble St. Andrew, legend has it, wished not to die on a + lest he be compared with the Savior, so his crucifiers agreed to tip him to the side. Superconfederate liked to fly in the morning. Mist and fog breathed through his strong Southern cotton as he surveyed the land. The Southern land. The land he was from and must protect from all invaders, usurpers and scalawags. Honor demanded as much. Superconfederate placed Southern honor above all else. By honor he lived and for it he would kill. He was an unnuanced man forever dressed in shades of grey.
The secret to flight is rebellion. Gravity must be defied. Superconfederate first flew when his horse was shot out from under him at First Manassas. No one else wanted the white palomino — never ride a white horse into battle — but Superconfederate saddled him up and charged. When the whinnies and whales keened and the great steed fell earthward, Superconfederate thrust his pistol toward heaven and fired. Somehow he followed his ball's trajectory up and away as men all around him dropped to their deaths.
"Maps and Legends"
Superconfederate gained his superpowers during a lightning storm. He'd camped alone in the woods one evening and was discovered by a small contingent of Union troops. They meant to sneak up and surround him, but the spectacled one's bundle of Natty Bumppo novels slipped from his sack and broke a twig alerting Superconfederate — who wasn't yet Super. The rain dissolved his gun powder like sugar into sweet tea so Regularconfederate fixed his bayonet just as lightning struck. He became an iron horse for electrons traveling from sky to ground, his grey figure illuminated amidst the dark. The Union men looked toward the light and fired. Their balls descended impotently. Not one could penetrate the force of grey. When the lightning stopped, Regularconfederate was now Super. The Union troops scattered from fright.
He spent the rest of the war fighting every battle he could get to. When he learned to fly he would soar from one front to another: Virginia to Tennessee, Mississippi to Georgia, wherever blue crossed grey. But his powers decreased the further he flew from home. In Gettysburg, they failed him completely and he had to retreat on foot like a great bird speckled by buckshot. He was Superconfederate, not Pennsylvaniapowerguy.
The South still lost. No one man can win a war. Not even a Super-man. War is won through hearts and minds and when too many hearts are broken the collective mind wanders. There are only so many piles of bloody grey and bluish-blood bodies the land can take before it becomes overfertalized. And who will remain to clear the field? The dead can't bury the dead. Let the graveyard remain fallow.
When the railroads were rebuilt spurned suitors began tying damsels to the tracks. Superconfederate didn't care for this line of heroism, but he'd scoop down and fly them away just in time. It all seemed beneath him. Like he was aiding the spurned villain's dishonor. To be alone in a land of war widows must eat at a man. Here he is in flesh and blood with a long, thin mustache for her to twirl if only she'd let the dead be forgotten. Instead he must find rope and rail and cackle and menace as she screams out for Superconfederate to hear. In impoverished gratitude they could offer only marriage which Superconfederate accepted. Ten women rescued and 10 marriages, but none lasting more than a year.
Superconfederate had amazing powers of secession. He divorced 10 times when even once was rare. Any union could be dissolved if either party wished to nullify. And it was always the wives that left, fed up by his late hours terrorizing black farmers and freedmen. "Can't you let them be? Must it matter whether the hands that till the land are shackled or free?" "This is not their land. It is the land of cotton. Pure and White. Thorny and hard to gin. Susceptible to infestations and the fashionable class's preference for silk." "Huh?" "I must do my duty." "Then I must leave."
"Life and How to Live It"
The Tradesman had pulled himself up from slavery. He learned masonry and engineering, architecture and accounting and enough reading and writing to continue self-educating all his life. He believed in work, industry, discipline and aspiration. It was an ideal good for himself and his people. And for all peoples. When a man learns a trade does not everyone benefit? When a whole race advances can't all see the progress? But here was this Super-tyrant knocking down his buildings and harassing all his students. Even the most practical aspirations were crushed. Something must be done.
The Poet-Scholar disliked the Tradesman. His disdain for poetry left all his work ignoble and empty. Where was the soul and spirit? A newly freed people deserved both work and wonder, industry and art. Alongside factories, Odes and obelisks must also arise. But meantime, a maniac of flight and fury made looking skyward a vision of doom. The only dreams were nightmares. Freedom was not yet free. Something must be written up and done.
"Old Man Kensey"
"It's a sour mash I make with corn. Nothing fancy, but it's pretty potent. I wouldn't fly after too much of it. Mind the XXX on the jug. That's meant to be a warning, not a tribute to you and two of your friends."
Superconfederate brushed aside the Old Man's warning. "I can handle my whisky. It is a mere balm to my broken heart. When unions end there is always an aching, no matter how mutual the dissolution."
"Blow into the mouth after each draught. The lower the pitch the more distilled your own spirit is becoming. Sip it slowly, for the most mournful notes come from an empty jug."
"Can't Get There From Here"
"We could devise a large cannon?"
"He seems impregnable by balls."
"Perhaps some kind of well-forged blade might pierce him?"
"I suspect that only his own force can destroy him. We must instigate his self-destruction. But I think I know the place. If we can lure him toward Big Rock Mountain during one of his drunken flights he might smash into the side."
"An object of his super-force would become embedded."
"At one with the Southern land."
"I shall make a study of Vesuvius and petrified woods. Once he's stuck we will use the powers of Natural Science to turn him into stone."
"Can it all be done?"
"You have the vision. I have the skill. All that remains is funding for the means."
"Green Grow the Rushes"
The Newspaperman came to Superconfederate and asked him to retire.
"Your terrorism is bad for commerce. The war has ended. It's time to build a new South. Let yourself retire. I will publish your memoirs and arrange a speaking tour. You'll outdraw Buffalo Bill."
"A man of honor never surrenders."
"But will you destroy the hopes of the whole Southern people?"
"It is for their honor I must fight on."
"On my lapel is the pin of the Chi Phi fraternity. The X and bisected O of the Greek alphabet. I am now the first National President from the South since the war. Brother has embraced brother again. Next to the kiss of St. Andrew we can add the bisected hug of ... uh ... whomever. It is the bisected hug of reunion. Of opportunity and investment. Let us abandon the kiss of secession for the bisected hug of success."
"You are a businessman and booster. I am a Southerner. I shall remain unreconstructed."
Superconfederate's last wife was a Yankee. She'd come South with a carpetbagger who died of rug burns when his furnishings warehouse caught fire. Nothing survived but his toupee. Widowed and weary, she caught sight of the grey comet in the sky and wanted to fly. "Save me," she exclaimed before jumping from the highest trestle. He could rescue a Northern woman, but marry her? She was pretty and smitten by him. But marry a Yankee? Even one born after the war? Too young to have cheered for Lincoln or written a fan letter to Harriet Beecher Stowe. Could he consent to such a union? But must he always stand alone?
The first months were bliss. He'd show her the South as he saw it, flying above the pine trees with her eager body on his back and her dainty hands crossed tightly against his chest. But the land was changing fast. More trains, more people, more reasons to forget the past. Freedmen wore suits and ran colleges. They had students who had always been free. The war receded from living memory to once upon a time. His honor felt forgotten.
He joined the Klan and led the lynch mobs. He covered his grey in sheets of white. His wife grew distant. She wanted flight but not fury; the South's temperate weather but not its tortured past. She longed for carpet. "I must save myself," she exclaimed before leaving for Boston with a friend.
Superconfederate felt lonelier than ever. He sipped from his jug until it played nothing but bass notes. One evening he flew above the Newspaperman's office and relieved himself on the windows. The Newspaperman agreed to meet the Tradesman.
"I will give you whatever funds you need. He is no longer a hero to the South, but a menace to us all."
"Then will you shake hands with a Negro? If not in friendship than in agreement? A contract to our mutual progress."
Their hands met at angles, each determined to be the firmest. The flesh between their thumbs and index fingers grew taut against each other's will. Here they paused before their cascading fingers down gripped each other. Two solemn pumps confirmed it all.
The Tradesmen explained the balloon controls to the Poet-Scholar as best he could. "Let your spirit soar. I must wait atop the mountain with molten metal to rain down upon him."
"From what spot should I launch?"
"Cast your bucket up from where you stand."
The Poet-Scholar caught sight of Superconfederate and began to taunt him. "You are not the only man to master flight! Look, up in the sky! It's a free man of color! Soaring above the pines! Soon to top the Big Rock Mountain! As limitless as my imagination!"
Drunk and dishonored, Superconfederate flew fast toward the balloon. It was rising both up and away in a diagonal line from the ground. Superconfederate followed an opposite trajectory and missed the Poet-Scholar by inches. He could only turn to see the balloon still rising as he slammed into the Mountain. The impact caused an earthquake throughout Dixie. He was unconscious and perhaps already dead. The Tradesman poured his special molten mixture down on the embedded figure with its legs spread open and his arms stretched out above. The actual petrifying took time. But time passed.
The laser show begins at dusk. Superconfederate's outline isn't even animated until the very end. Local sports figures bat baseballs and shoot hoops. A truck with enormous wheels cruises across a map of the South to upbeat country pop tunes and "Sweet Home Alabama." Once "Dixie" does play, an X is drawn around Superconfederate's mangled, petrified corpse and he is brought to life. He is seen in full uniform galloping on a horse. Then an American flag appears and Superconfederate breaks his sword of war forever. He shakes hands with an animated Abraham Lincoln and poses for a picture with Lincoln and an animated Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The photo is being taken by an animated Thomas Edison, whom the laser animators mistakenly believe invented still photography. A burst of fireworks indicates the photo flash and we see the picture on the front page of a newspaper with the one-word headline: Friends! Lincoln is poking two fingers up from behind Superconfederate's head. Then, as Elvis sings the final "Glory, Glory Hallelujah," the animated Lincoln, Dr. King, Edison and Superconfederate all enjoy a Coke.
Brian Bannon is an Atlanta comedian and writer. His story "Awkward Racial Overtones" took third place in the 2007 Fiction Contest. He performs regularly at the Star Bar and has a forthcoming album of live recordings titled Rolling Stephen Hawking Up A Hill. Once in a drunken, opium haze, he shot a Breathe Right strip off the nose of William S. Burroughs.