Ambrose Lincoln and the Dead Man
July 10, 2017
Caleb Pirtle III
They were seldom apart, he and the dead man. They had never spoken. Their eyes had not yet met. Death was the only thing they had in common.
Same old story.
Same old feeling.
The story’s over.
The feeling isn’t.
I don’t miss writing.
I miss telling the story.
The Muse wandered up as I was writing the final sentence of the final paragraph for Night Side of Dark, which is unusual for me. Most of my paragraphs don’t have more than one sentence.
“Did Lincoln make it out alive?” the Muse asked.
He was talking about the strange man who occupies most of my novels, Ambrose Lincoln.
Maybe he’s even demented.
I’m afraid to get close enough to him to find out.
Lincoln’s mind is a vacant landscape.
The government erased it with electrodes and shock treatments.
The government changed him. They may have ruined him.
But still they send him into war-torn Europe to do things that no one talks about, not in public anyway.
Lincoln is secret.
His life is secret.
His mission is secret.
And when it’s over, the government sends him to an out-of-way little hospital that doesn’t exist in an out-of-the-way little town that doesn’t exist and removes what’s left of his mind again.
Who Lincoln was no longer exists either.
He’s a dangerous man and doesn’t know why.
“How many novels have you written about Lincoln?” The Muse asks.
“Three,” I tell him.
“Planning to write another one?”
“But now you’ve changed your mind.”
“Lincoln wants me to go along with him to Mexico?”
“He’s searching for a religious artifact that can forever change the face of Christianity.”
“What’s the relic?”
“Don’t know,” I say. “Lincoln hasn’t found it yet.”
“So the novel has a religious overtone?” the Muse says.
“Most Ambrose Lincoln novels do.”
“But they’re not Christian novels.”
“I doubt if there’s a Christian in the whole story,” I tell him.
“Does Lincoln get the girl?” the Muse wants to know.
“He’s with a girl.”
“Does he love her?”
“He doesn’t know.”
“Does she love him?”
“She says she does.”
“But you doubt it.”
I shrug. “She planned to kill him,” I say.
“But she didn’t.”
“Well,” the Muse says, “maybe she really loves him.”
“In time of war,” I say, “it’s hard to know what love is. You take it where you can find it and hurt when it’s gone, and war almost always takes it away.”
“The second World War.”
“Is Ambrose Lincoln working alone?”
“The dead man’s always with him.”
The Muse raised an eyebrow in surprise.
“What’s the title?” he asks.
“Place of Skulls.”
I had written:
Ambrose Lincoln watched the ragged edges of night paint the streets below and waited for the dead man to step from the shadows. They were never together, he and the dead man.
They were seldom apart.
They had never spoken.
Their eyes had not yet met.
Death was the only thing they had in common.
Often Lincoln had wondered which of them had really survived and which was destined to roam the earth in search of an empty grave.
The air around him was always thick with the acrid smell of gun smoke when the dead man was near. It burned his throat. His chest hurt. He screamed the first time he saw the man whose chest had been torn away with a hollow point slug from a 9mm handgun, his 9mm handgun. The screaming was no longer necessary.
The past held its secrets in a tightly closed fist, and only on rare occasions did the fingers of another time, another place, loosen their grasp long enough to provide faint glimpses of what was, what might have been, and what did or did not happen on the landscape of a man’s faith or his memory.
“I only want to know one thing,” the Muse says.
“Does the book have a happy ending?”
“It was war,” I tell him. “There are no happy endings.”
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