The Middle Toe of the Right Foot
Ambrose Gwinnett Bierce (1842 – 1914?) was an American journalist, author and satirist, famous mostly for his short story “An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge” and an immensely funny and satirical lexicon, The Devil’s Dictionary. (A couple of my favorite definitions from his dictionary – Conservative (n.) A statesman who is enamoured of existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others; Marriage (n.) A household consisting of a master, a mistress, and two slaves, making in all, two).
His style often embraced an abrupt beginning, dark imagery, vague references to time, limited descriptions, impossible events and the theme of war. In 1913, Bierce traveled to Mexico to gain first-hand experience of the Mexican Revolution. While traveling with rebel troops under Pancho Villa, he disappeared without a trace.
In 1890, he published a remarkable and gruesome short story entitled “The Middle Toe of the Right Foot.” In the story two men agree to fight a duel with knives in a completely darkened room. It was based on a true story. While working as the star reporter of the San Francisco Examiner, a William Randolph Hearst newspaper, he noticed an interesting report dated November 14, 1888 with a byline posted from Birmingham, Alabama.
This incident was also reported in The Shelby Sentinel of Thursday, November 15, 1888.
Murder At Montevallo. Saturday was a bloody day in Montevallo. W.W. Shortridge, a lawyer there, was frightfully cut, and young Bob Nabors, son of Mr. French Nabors, was murdered. The following are the facts as near as can be ascertained: Shortridge and Bob Nabors were both drinking. They went to the rear of Cary’s law office, and there got into a fight. No one went in to separate them, and they fought til exhausted. When Nabors came out Shortridge was taken up, and was found to have very serious injuries about the head and neck, one or two arteries being cut, and his head bruised so he could scarcely be recognized. Bob Nabors walked on up the street, and passing a negro store he grabbed at a negro boy named “Muss” Keenan. The negro stepped back into the store and Nabors caught at him again. The negro then grabbed a gun lying on the counter and dealt him a blow on the head, fracturing the skull just above the temple. The negro then run, and was pursued by several and shot and once, but he managed to escape, and has not been heard from. Nabors was taken to a private house and had immediate and skillful attention, but never regained consciousness, and died in a few hours. He was buried on Sunday eveniong.
Mr. Nabors was buried in the Montevallo Cemetery. No word of Mr. Shortridge’s final resting place has ever been reported. Albert Keenan is still missing, as is Ambrose Bierce.
For an online reading of Bierce’s short story go to http://www.classicreader.com/book/1943/1/.