Thomas should have known that there’d be more to the tale than he’d read. The great and mysterious Armadillo of Chachatusco wasn’t going to give up its secrets that easily. Greater men than he had wondered what the Incas had meant in its giant bulk, its nine tons of solid and worked stone in the form of a coiled armadillo. In finding the Quipu of Manyana Capac, the great lost chain of talking-knots held fast by a long-obscure relict population of Incas, Thomas had been sure he had the key to the mystery. Go up to the stony thing, say the proper words in Quechua, and voila.

When the big damn thing thundered down off its plinth and began rolling at him, Thomas came to see his error. Rolling through the built-up streets of Chachatusco, with Thomas only steps ahead of it wailing and flailing, the armadillo threatened to claim its first victim since the Viceroy of New Spain had tried to destroy the thing with a cannonate in 1697. It was some small comfort to be merely crushed instead of decapitated by a cannonball ricochet, though.

Chachatusco was at the edge of a great plateau that sloped down gently into the Atacama Desert; there was nothing to stop the thing once it was on a roll. Thomas was just a few steps ahead of the rolling armadillo of doom and beginning to run out of steam when a laughing Chachatuscano cried out to him.

¬°Debe ejecutar de lado, idiota!” he cried. “Run sideways, stupid!”

Thomas felt very dumb as he took a rolling tumble into a side street. The armadillo felt very large as it took a tolling rumble down the street regardless.

Thomas followed it at a safe distance, commandeering a scooter after throwing a wad of bills at its former owner. In about half an hour, the giant stone armadillo was rolling across the sands of the Atacama Desert toward the sea. Thomas quietly worried that it would reach the brackish waters, submerge, and its secrets would be forever lost to anyone without dive equipment and the winch to rule all winches.

Luckily for him and his lack of dive gear and winchery, the rolling stone armadillo came to rest in a great mass of sand near some mostly buried Inca ruins. Wherever it had come to lie, it was home.

Thomas, approaching it gingerly for fear of a renewed squishing, jumped back as the armadillo shell began to crack open and unfurl with a series of gunshot-like noises. Approaching it, the intrepid explorer was shocked to see that it did not, in fact, contain stony ‘dillo bits on its inside.

Instead, there was a massive pearl, big as a tin of jam, with a cloudy yellow liquid sweating from it in vast quantities. Thomas, who had been without a drink for some time and was further dehydrated from the extreme sport of ‘dillo-fleeing, knelt down and lapped up the liquid.

It was chicha de jora, the famous alcoholic corn beer that the Incas and their descendents had guzzled for centuries. “The legends are true!” Thomas crowed. “The Incan Pearl of Eternal Beer!”

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