REDEMPTION, n. Deliverance of sinners from the penalty of their sin, through their murder of the deity against whom they sinned. The doctrine of Redemption is the fundamental mystery of our holy religion, and whoso believeth in it shall not perish, but have everlasting life in which to try to understand it—Ambrose Bierce, The Devil's Dictionary, 1911.
Dear Giant Squid:
Something I read online led me to believe that I may be spending too much time on the internet. How can I tell if I should cut back on the time spent reading internet news sites and editorial columnists?
My Dear and Beloved and Devoted and Besottedly Drunk Reader,
I am reminded of something my dear, undead friend Ambrose Bierce once said while crouching over me in a Mexican tent. I was accompanying him on his trip south into Mexico. I had approached him some months earlier about writing his definitive biography, and he agreed on the condition that I help him with an important journey. At that moment, in the tent, we had been talking about his long career as a writer of published opinions, and although it bore not upon my mind at the time, I can say now that this conversation has since fundamentally influenced how I approach my own craft.
"Eloquence," he said, using a jeweler's loop and battery-operated miner's lamp to confirm his suspicion that the primary transmission for legs 3 and 5 was irreparably fouled with Sonora grit, "is the art of orally persuading fools that white is the color that it appears to be. It includes the gift of making any color appear white."
He then proceeded to extrude podules across the spine ridge of his epidermis.
But when one of Pancho Villa's men burst into our tent looking for a place to rape a local indian girl, Ambrose drew in the jocular display and resumed the appearance to which he had grown accustomed: that of a 72 year old gringo in Mexico.
"[Why does your machine have to look at me, Gringo?]" the thug moaned.
The girl, already pale from her many ordeals, fluttered and then fainted open meeting my optically perfect eye.
"[Begone, Julio. I am fixing the mechanical horse!]" Ambrose barked.
In an attempt to maintain the ruse, but to protect all from my gaze, I shuddered slightly, and released a valve on one of my vents so as to make a mechanical hissing sound. This had the added benefit of shifting the oversized sombrero Ambrose had affixed to my crystalline velocitator dome such that it obscured most of my offending eye.
Cursing in an ancient dialect unknown to me, the soldier dragged his young prize from our abode. The final curse was so black that it triggered one of several protective amulets had welded to the inner carapace of my mechanical drive assembly.
Ambrose returned to his cot and covered his eyes with those two appendages he had grown accustomed to calling "arms".
But just then, Enrique burst in, distracted and dragging several splintered crates which rattled and clanked. As always, he remained blithely unaware of the tribulations of our existence. Nonetheless, his timing was impeccable.
"[Professor!]" the boy exclaimed, persisting in his belief that all old white men were 'Professors', a belief that was justifiably reinforced by the fact that Bierce was very learned and kept as his companion what appeared to be a giant steam-powered crab that occasionally devoured coyote in the night. Enrique rightfully esteemed the U.S. University system to be a truly fearsome cabal. "[Union Cavalry scrap!]" Enrique exclaimed proudly, pulling open the boxes to reveal one crate of broken rifle parts and another of twisted steel cutlery and flatware. Both crates were scorched and mangled, as though they had survived at the periphery of an exploded artillery magazine.
Given Pancho Villa's raids north out of Chihuahua into U.S. Territory, and given his ambivalence to certain international customs and niceties, it was likely the crates were exactly as they appeared to be.
All was well, though, for with Enrique's help, Bierce was able to translate several of my instructions and amass enough tools to transform much of the scrap into working replacements for the damaged worm-gear and rotor assembly.
By the end of a long night, my anti-bathysphere was serviceable.
After finishing our work, he and I squatted in our tent listening as the bandits and soldiers snored. Having been undead for nearly half a century, Bierce had long sense lost even the vaguest inkling of how to fake sleep, and I, as a long-lived Squid (longer lived, even, than the Hart, the Raven, or the Angela Lansbury) had no call for sleep at all.
Bierce's once-human body was supple and boneless; in lieu of sleep, he rested himself by deflating and inflating each limb in succession.
More than anything else, Bierce reminded me of a captive and irritable Octopus.
When the Chihuahuan sun finally rosed the canvas of our tent, Bierce mimicked sounds of being roused and then leaned close to me."Come, my friend," Ambrose said, pounding amiably upon the dome of my suit, "let's charm these serpents and be gone."And out we went into the camp.
Villa had established his residence above the camp, at a palatial Hacienda on plateau overlooking the deepest parts of the Copper Canyon. The newly awakened soldiers and bandits grimly stared as Ambrose rode me like a librarian on a steel spider up the hill to the gates of the hacienda.
At the Hacienda, Bierce joined Villa for breakfast while I lurked outside, gazing down into the befogged depths of the canyon where our real prize lurked. Villa's artificially hearty laugh echoed out across the hacienda's terra cotta piazza, leaving me confident that Bierce had presented his proposal before the caudillo.
"We spend all this time together, Profesor," Villa said with ersatz jovial astonishment, "And now, all you want is to go down into the canyon and find yourself some little statue that any clay digger from here to Ciudad Juarez could make twice so good for half the price?"
"You misunderestimate me," Bierce began and, this being our signal, I made my way inside, "I'm not interested in an effigy of Mictlantecuhtli, I seek the man himself."
Villa's new laugh, even more forced than the last, echoed down the hall. Little Enrique, hearing the clatter and wheeze of my approach, jogged down the hall in my direction, wide-eyed with glee. I hailed him silently, then skewered him upon the frontmost leg of my velocitator, where the smile lingered on his lips long after his pierced lung's whistle ceased.
"Why would I wanna waste men and tire horses to chase wild geese in a dry canyon?" Villa asked Bierce.
I held the leg aloft afore me, like a knight's lance, and added to its kabob two bandoleer-clad banditos and an ancient scullery in a dusty black fedora.
"In the first part," Bierce began as I passed through the breezeway and into Villa's open courtyard, "If you agree to do so, then my friend will stop killing your house help at once."
I punctuated this remark by crushing, beneath a rear velocitating leg, one small, lustrous chihuahua dog. Villa looked upon me with something that, I fear, was far from holy dread. Still, he blanched and pursed his lips, although he did not blink, nor did his lacquered mustachio even twitch. His men in the courtyard began to mutter in growing agitation, which he silenced with a single sharp whistle.
"And in the second part," Bierce continued, likewise unperturbed and gazing idly at Villa beneath steepled fingers, his elbows solidly set in his slouching wicker chair, "If you'd like to see New Mexico in flames and Woodrow Wilson wailing and gnashing his teeth, then you could have no better boon companion than my little friend." Bierce sipped his morning julep, "As an added bonus, he has a strong track record for impressing Germans."
Villa raised an eyebrow and, for all intents and purposes, the deal was set before Enrique's eyes had even gone glassy.
Maintaining the Suspense Until Next Week,
Your Giant Squid
Love the Giant Squid? Buy his first book.
Share on Facebook
Tweet about this Piece
Poor Mojo's Tip Jar:
Copyright (c) 2000, 2004, David Erik Nelson, Fritz Swanson, Morgan Johnson