Skill Focus: Author's Purpose & Craft
Episode #8: 8th Grade Wing
The 8th grade wing is just as desolate as the 7th. Quickening their pace in a heated race, the echoes of Zolivia and Arty’s charge ricochet off empty lockers to build into a stampede. Like a herd of antelope, they leap over obstacles without breaking stride.
Arty is the first to explode through the door with Zolivia close behind him. Morgan is already rummaging through a crate of various single-serving bags of chips and crackers. They give an inviting nod to their friends, directing their attention to a small fridge on the counter.
“Help yourself,” Morgan says as they uproot a bag of chips from the bottom of the crate. “My mom brought all this stuff up here for us today. She made sandwiches too.”
The trio settles into bean bags chairs with a feast before them. After a few minutes filled with only the sounds of wrappers crinkling and contented chewing, Arty chimes in with an update.
“OK, I feel so much better now,” he sets aside his sandwich crusts and opens the notebook he and Zolivia found. “We discovered another clue, Morgan.”
He continues to read “One Summer Night” aloud to Morgan while they eat.
Read the short story again on the americanliterature.com website before proceeding
When he finishes, Arty dives right back into a bag of spicy Doritos. Zolivia is the first to speak again to get conversation going.
“Arty, didn’t you say you know about this author?”
“I mean, I don’t know about him, but I’ve heard of him,” Arty replies. “That story was written around the same time as the Count arriving in and establishing Pearland. Ambrose Bierce doesn’t have anything to do with Pearland though. So I dunno …”
He pauses for a moment to collect his thoughts before continuing.
“He, like, put together things that didn’t go together. Like, they’re stories about death, but they’re kind of funny. It’s like he’s poking fun at the darkness, finding humor in the melancholy universal experience of man. Only, with everything that has happened to us today, I think this is the ghost of Captain Mark Belt mocking us, taunting us, threatening us.”
As Arty speaks, his tone takes on an ominous tone of apprehension.
“OK,” Morgan interjects, “but Mark Belt didn’t write it. Ambrose Pierce did.”
“Bierce.” Arty corrects, mimicking Morgan’s self-assurance from earlier.
“Very funny,” Morgan rolls their eyes. “You’re so far off base. That story mentions a horse twice, and horses have been a theme in these clues all day. That is, all the clues that lead to Count Witold von Zychlinski. His statue is gone. This story is about a guy rising from his grave. It’s so obvious!”
Zolivia takes the notebook and reads the story again, mumbling the words in rapid order to herself.
“OK, yes, I see it,” she says. “It talks about a horse in paragraph 5 and paragraph 10. But it doesn’t necessarily say they are black horses. I dunno. Both theories seem far-fetched to me.”
They all three sit pondering and quietly munching on snacks. In the heat of their race and subsequent literary discussion, they had drowned out the sound of people starting to come back into the building. Down the hall, disembodied voices carry the epic tales of survival in the oppressive heat.
“Oh no,” Arty exclaims as he glances at his phone. “It’s already 3:30! We better get to cleaning before Mrs. Paisley comes looking for us.”
“Ooooor … ,” Morgan flashes a mischievous eyebrow wiggle. “We could craft a carefully investigated and written argument to prove our innocence! Never give up; never surrender!”
“You’re ridiculous.” Arty and Zolivia are the ones rolling their eyes now.
“I’m brilliant! Why should we have to clean up? We didn’t do anything wrong! Plus, my mom will be here any second.”
Zolivia asserts herself. “You have 10 minutes. Let’s go to the computer lab, so I can type it.”
Zolivia holds up her phone to show the clock.
“We have to have time to revise and edit!” Morgan shrugs with a grin.
Visit ambrosebierce.org to learn more about Ambrose Bierce and read his works