Ambrose Bierce Has Left the Planet
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January 11, 1914
The stranger walked into the small, dimly lit Cantina and waited for his eyes to adjust to the light. Seeing the old, white haired man, with a thick mustache and beard, sitting by himself at a corner table the tall man in the black Stetson and dusty chaps walked over and stood no more than twelve inches from the other.
It took a few seconds for the man at the table to recognize the stranger, and then with a wan smile, put his pen in his shirt pocket, and began collecting and folding the papers spread out on the small table.
“Is it time to go already?” The old man said, more as a statement than a question.
“You leave in ten minutes.” The stranger flipped open a pocket watch to verify the time. The digital display was out of place in the turn of the century Café, but so was the ballpoint pen in the old man’s pocket, and his silver framed Ralph Lauren reading glasses.
“I haven’t even finished this story yet.” The old man replied.
“You’ll have to take it with you. Which one is this?”
“The Death of Frayser Halpin.” He continued to organize the hand written manuscript. “It doesn’t matter.” He said slowly. “This will do. It’ll give people something to talk about after I’m gone.”
Once all the papers were in an envelope the old man stood up on unsteady legs. It had been a long life and the years and miles had taken their toll. Today he was supposed to fight with Pancho Villa just outside of town against the Federales, who were set on taking the Mexican bandit alive, but that would not be. His time was over in Mexico and he was being recalled, as the stranger had phrased it.
Before the two men walked out of the Cantina the old man stopped at the bar and handed the bartender the envelope and a twenty dollar gold piece.
“You know what to do, Manuel.” The old man said in a hoarse voice.
“Si, Senor Bierce. Mail this to your agent in the morning.” The Mexican took the coin and stuffed it in his pants pocket. “Via Con Dios.”
“Via Con Dios Manuel.” The old man returned as he walked out into the early morning sunshine.
“You told him?” The stranger asked.
“Only that I was meeting Villa. He said there wasn’t much chance of me coming back.” A wrinkled hand shaded his dark eyes from the sun.
In his youth Ambrose Bierce had been called brooding and intellectual. Now he was just tired. For over fifty years he had moved through time, reading the works of others and then adopting their styles to his own. In his way he was the father of at least a dozen literary genres and conceits but today none of that mattered. The stranger, whom he had met during the Civil War, and nursed back to health from a Union bullet wound, would take him someplace better. After living this time for seventy-one years he was looking forward to something new again.
In the middle of the street the tall stranger in the black hat reached for the activation device in his pocket. Out of the corner of his eye he saw the two young Mexican boys chase a puppy across the street in front of them. Rather than move out of the way he allowed them to bump into Bierce. Bierce then fell into the stranger and in the stranger’s pocket his thumb activated the recall process. The two boys continued to chase their dog, oblivious to the fact that the old gringo in front of them had just vanished.
Continuing across the street the stranger walked into a narrow alley between two stores. What was to be could not be changed. He thought. There had been over thirty people on the street and some would later describe how the American writer had disappeared from plain sight. Others would swear he died in battle later that afternoon and was buried in a mass grave outside of town. No one would remember the stranger or the two boys and the dog.
Pressing a second button on the activation device the stranger spoke slowly and without emotion.
“Ambrose Bierce has left the planet.” He said.
As he disappeared from the alley the tall man in the black hat thought how appropriate it sounded. He’d have to remember that for later but right he had to see some kid that played guitar in Memphis.