fire I knew it was bad but I was too drunk to tell how bad when Barry raked back the receiver of the AK-type rifle I kept in the closet. He laughed, the bastard. Sure, I kept it close by with a full mag, but not one in the chamber. I'm not one of those rednecks.

There was a fire outside. Donny and Jason, calmest of us, stood before it drinking the good whiskey Donny had brought. Across the fire from them, Jake passed his arms through the yellow flame. He claimed he would walk on the coals. “I will master the fire,” he said. About four of us stood around him, asked why. “As the great George Mallory said, ‘Because it’s there.’” Then Jake added, “ . . . bitches.” Laughter roared like the fire we built and built, the sparks from each new log spinning into a summer sky, so bright it hid the stars. We pulled old wood pallets onto the fire. We pulled the junk from my lumber shed into the fire. We pulled the yard scrap pile into the fire. Jason had brought his pistol that shot four-ten shotshells and he discharged it into the yard scraps in case a snake was there. He was probably the soberest among us.

We found the body of a snake and hoisted it. I swung it above our heads, slinging droplets of serpent blood onto faces and shirts. The shirts came off. The fire was large, the fire was huge. I pitched the snake’s body into the fire. We gloated as it curled on itself. The smell made us crazy. Someone started the dance as a joke, and then we shuffled, we kicked, we raised hands around the fire. Circled, shouted. Yelled the names of our fathers, our mothers, our wives, our children. Sang them. Jake cursed the snake, his chest tight in the flame light as though he drew every bit of venom from his marrow to spit it back. Jake kicked the fire. He beat the ends of logs with his hands. While we danced, having forgotten who we were, Jake leaped across the fire. Jake danced across the fire. He was in it, around it, its priest.

And then Barry came out spraying tracers into the sky, trying to shoot God.


About the Author: Jackson Culpepper grew up in south Georgia and now lives in Colorado with his wife, Margaret, two dogs, and two horses. He recently got the Death card in a tarot reading about his writing, but it's about rebirth more than flat-out ceasing to be, so that will be interesting. His website is

Story Song: "Where the Devil Don't Stay" by The Drive-By Truckers

Photo Credit: Elisabeth Clem/Poppy and Pinecone