Fortunato’s twisted words had always remained a thorn in my side, but I bore myself with grace
and compassion; for all his charms and his wiles, his lack of history, of family, of true relationships,
was one that elicited either horror or sympathy, and I endeavoured to set my best foot forward at
all times. Fortunato’s increasing teases and taunts shrouded in well-wishes, were not enough to
push me over the edge, but his direct barbed insults; well, that I could bear no longer. For those of
you who know me, you will know that I am not a violent person, that I shudder at the face of gore
and misery, but Fortunato forced my hand. Though I am merciful, I am just, and evil words
demand some sort of redressal if only to maintain my own self-respect.
Though I have known this vile man for a long time (a testament to my patience), I knew little
about him — his past was shrouded in mystery, and I only knew him to be an outcast, a freak of
nature, one rejected from his clan, whoever that may have been. His present is like his past, what he does for sustenance, I do not know, nor do I care to find out. After much deliberations, I stumbled
across what Fortunato himself claims to be a connoisseur of, and I devised my strategy. Though I
do lean towards a few vintages myself, I had not come across one with such a refined palate as
Fortunato, who could accurately guess the wine without even glancing at the glass — a mere sniff would do. It is a testament to the strength and ingenuity of the human species; despite all odds, I found myself admiring — and even envying — his unique skill.
It would be a fair time before I set my eyes on Fortunato in person, at the carnival’s closing
ceremony in the town square. A masked event throbbing with people from towns over, I spot
Fortunato in his usual posture, bent over a barrel, swirling a glass of wine, mask crookedly covering his face, as he wooed a local lady. As I thought of a way to approach my friend, Fortunato — as though reading my mind — turned to me and smiled, half-seen through his ill-placed mask. “Well, if it isn’t my dear friend,” he drawled, pulling me closer and introducing me as a ‘fellow connoisseur’ to his companion. “Isn’t the evening so delightful?” he continued, slightly slurring his words and leaning on my shoulder. Resisting the urge to shrug him off, I smiled at his companion and bent to whisper of the rare vintages waiting in my cellar, including — and I lightly chuckled here — a small cask of Amontillado, ill-retrieved, but none could be the wiser. He stood up straight, all traces of inebriation vanished at the thought of getting his hands on my precious wine.
“Amontillado — is it true?” he asked, half-whispering. I shrugged, indicating that it would take our
combined efforts to discern whether or not I had succeeded in my efforts. Fortunato turned to his
companion and bowed his head, before charming her with his wit for a few more moments, and
eventually, taking his leave. Again, I was forced to admire his quick tongue, noting that I myself
would not have been able to walk away so smoothly.
“Come, my friend, forget these festivities; if what you are saying is true, a merrier affair waits in
your cellar!”, he said, gliding through the crowd with me in tow. It was odd how his charm oozed
out, resulting in the crowd melting away. I firmly kept his insults in mind as he continued to lead
me back to the manor, striking casual conversation as he did so. “Well, you sly dog, will you ever
tell me how you managed to get a hand on a cask of Amontillado?” he asked, sharply digging his
elbow into my ribs. I grunted, shaking my head; I went through far too much to obtain it, and the
fewer people knew, the better. “I wouldn’t have pegged you for an immoral type,” he mused,
smirking. “Well, it just goes to show that you can’t really know someone, no matter how long
you’ve been with them,” he proclaimed, before falling into a heavy silence. I knew this to be true; I
myself knew close to nothing about Fortunato, except that he was once rejected by his community; apparently, his charms were not good enough to save himself.
The walk to my manor was long, and Fortunato seemed uncomfortable with silences; his soft voice carried through the night as we slowed to an easy pace. “Amontillado, eh? I haven’t tasted the wine since — oh, I can hardly remember,” he said, half-whispering, eyes unseeing of the path ahead, as though he was in a different time, a different place. “My father owned a vineyard, you know,” he added. “Nowhere here, but he did own one. The grass was soft and green, and when the grapes ripened, you could practically smell the wine; taking deep breaths would make you heady. It was easy, oh, so easy to stay, drink wine, meet women, and make merry.” He chuckled softly. “Of course, no different from how I live now.” I silently nodded in agreement, for he often brushed off his abrasive insults as ‘making merry’, but I could bear it no longer. “I had a sister,” he added, his long legs taking easy, graceful strides while I struggled to keep the same pace; I was tired, but he was oddly talkative tonight, and a mix of curiosity and thirst for vengeance kept me going — we were a long way yet, and it seemed apt for at least one man to hear his story before his end.
“Her name was, funnily enough, Tyche; my parents were firm believers in luck and all its forms. It’s how we maintained our vineyard, we managed to stay lucky in spite of it all.” He fell into a brooding silence, while I walked beside him, silent and attentive.
He continued, his voice soft and almost musical, telling me about his family history, his time on
the farm, and his idyllic life near the vineyards; he seemed to have spent his days doing nothing of
serious consequence, but admiring every minute of it. His eyes were glazed over; I saw that he fully lost himself to his past, the wine bringing forth old, long-forgotten memories. I seethed inside, for this man who so casually rebuked my interests and insulted me on numerous occasions was also blessed with an easy life, with charm and wit to boot. I realised later that he was still speaking, almost wistfully, about his older days.
“My sister and I fought, long and often, but we were family, you see,” he said, half-whispering. “I
was naive, and foolish in my thinking that families stuck together. Oh, we had fun times, and when the sun shone, it seemed like nothing could go wrong. But we were good at sensing when the trouble began and good at ignoring these signs too; we loved it at that quaint little village in Kent. Tyche would love to spend long summers in the farm, alone with nature, while I — well, people knew where my tastes lay,” he chuckled, seemingly forgetting that I walked past beside him, though our footsteps echoed loudly on the stones below. “It started slowly, and crept up on the townsfolk, and on our neighbours, but of course, we never truly fell ill. It began to get worse, and people dropped dead like flies, and the ones that somehow managed to survive either left or chose to die where they were born. The ones that stayed, they brought on the true plague,” he spat, the venom sounding odd on his smooth voice.
“They raised questions, they wondered how we stayed so healthy, and when they tired of asking questions, they begged for our remedies, for our health, for our secrets.
Of course, questions soon gave way to torments. I still remember the fire,” he whispered. “I
remember feeling warm on that cold, wintry night, and I turned away. I couldn’t help myself, I
instantly turned away,” he sighed, still lost in his own history. “My dear, sweet Dowde,” he
moaned, and I almost halted in my footsteps, confused — Dowde was an old, old village, gutted by the plague and abandoned nearly three centuries ago. I shook my head, noting that he must be confused in his drunken sorrow.
“My dear Tyche, do you still haunt your little church?” he whispered, staring up at the heavens,
looking for answers. We walked in silence for a time, Fortunato staring up as he walked, confident that nothing would cross his path. “The stars are so different now, are they not?” he said, addressing this to me, as he turned and faced me with bright eyes, forgetting his drunken
melancholy and wretched history. I forced myself to smile and murmur in agreement, pushing
down various feelings — confusion, guilt, remorse for a man who lost his family, determination to
right the wrongs I had faced — and we continued, moving the discussion to safer grounds,
including the various types of wine I had in my cellar.
In the distance, I spotted the manor, seeming to rise from the ground. “Ah, it looks like we finally
made it,” he said, quickening his pace in excitement. We entered the mansion undisturbed, for the
staff had taken leave in lieu of celebrations, and the manor seemed dark and imposing in its silence.
“Come, come, my friend, show me the Amontillado!” So saying, we walked to the entrance of the
cellar, a vast, cavernous place built over the centuries to house what is now an impressive collection of wine. Silently, we picked up two wine glasses and descended. We walked along the halls, stacked to the brim with vintages, but he sensed that the true prize lay at the end, and I could feel his excitement growing.
“I wonder how you managed to lay your hand on this cask, my friend,” he
laughed. “You truly are full of surprises.”
Our footsteps echoed around the caves as the shelves emptied, becoming sparse and disorganised, eventually fading into cave walls as the cellar connected to a series of caves underneath the manor.
We stopped, catching our breath and lighting a torch. “I’m impressed, your cellar is truly
magnificent,” he added, swiping a finger on the cave wall and studying the moisture on his hand. “I did not realise how deep your cellars ran,”
I murmured a small response, before guiding him further in. The torch began to splutter as a slight
breeze drifted from behind us; I must have left the cellar door open. A few metres later, and I could
see a dusty box, awaiting in the gloom. I had asked the butler to hide it well, for it had the potential to be true Amontillado, and I see he fulfilled his duty. The cask was hidden amongst other boxes, and a little way off, past a natural turn in the caves, lay Fortunato’s final destination. Pleased, he hurried towards the box, uncorking the unlabelled wine bottle and taking a deep breath. “I have to hand it to you, you’ve achieved a difficult task,” he laughed, pouring a generous glass for himself, and a slightly less generous glass for me. “Drink,” I said, and took a deep sip; I must admit, the wine was otherworldly in its taste and its scent. Fortunato needed no further urging, and soon polished off his glass, and began pouring another. His greed disgusted me, and I forgot his earlier charms, my hatred growing — I was surprised he could not see the anger on my face, but I assumed that the torch-light cast my visage in shadow. “Will you not have another?” he asked, having finished his second glass and pouring a third; his hand was already slightly unsteady, and I assumed his earlier drinks had resulted in Fortunato becoming fully inebriated. I shook my head, delighted in watching him lose his senses, while I was firm in keeping my own.
The cask was quickly finishing, and I sighed as I watched him take the last few drinks, knowing
that Fortunato — in all his selfishness — would never realise that I had but one glass, while he had the rest. He stood up, shaky on his legs. “Well, my friend, that was a good, nay, a great evening spent here in your cellars. I want to inquire, were you lucky enough to procure another?” he asked, eyes shifting to the now-empty cask on the floor. I grinned, nodding slowly, turning the torch to face me so he could see the pleasure on my face, knowing he would mistake it for more
Amontillado, his one weakness. “Ah, beautiful,” he said, stumbling before holding himself
upright. “You truly are a man of honour,” slightly slurring his words, as he grabbed my arm and I
guided him around the corner, where a cask of, unfortunately, Medoc, and not Amontillado, but I
was hoping he would be unable to tell the difference now. The torch light flickered on the tunnel
walls, randomly throwing the hanging manacles into stark relief against the hard cave walls, and I hoped that Fortunato was too inebriated to focus on his surroundings; my assumption rang true,
as Fortunato made straight for the cask of Medoc, magically walking in a straight line despite his
earlier inebriation. He poured out a glass for each of us and smiled as I took his arm and discreetly lifted it up, to wear the manacles lay. “Are you a dancing man, my friend?” he inquired innocently, his first drink downed. I chuckled lightly and shook my head. “I’m afraid this isn’t Amontillado,”
he said, frowning into his glass. “Won’t you have another?” I whispered, and encouraged him to
take my glass; no, of course, I don’t mind, after all, he was my dear guest. The glass was gulped
down in mere seconds; thankfully, I had practised on my butler, and was adept in quietly shackling his arm; Fortunato, in his inebriation, seemed not to have noticed that his arm was loosely hanging
up. Before he attempted to pour himself a third glass, I reached down and poured out two more.
“How kind of you,” he murmured, taking the glass and raising it to his lips.
I turned, noting the bricks and mortar laying past the corner, and began slowly laying down the
foundations of the first wall. I heard his inane, drunken chatter with half an ear as I slowly and
methodically laid the bricks and built the base for the wall — making it a solid ten inches thick; no
one, save God himself, would be able to go through this without any tools. As I progressed, his slur progressed; his speech went from slightly articulate to soft moans, asking for me, begging me to step into the light, please, step into the light, how he feared the dark! His voice was high-pitched and childish in his fear, and a part of me froze. Forcing myself to keep moving, I continued to lay the bricks down, slowly spreading mortar in between, having learned to build a firm, sturdy
structure by watching my father, a mason, do the same. I worked quietly and methodically, noting
that Fortunato’s cries became more….aware, more conscious, as he truly noted his surroundings;
his cries became urgent, demanding.
I was tempted to pass him another drink, to drown out his sorrow, but I knew he deserved to stay
aware of this, to note that his wiles had resulted in such a desultory end; that nothing would save
him, not even his smooth tongue. The wall had reached the height of my nose, and the wall caves
were a few inches above my head; there wasn’t much time left. Fortunato had stopped shouting; he saw that his cries had no effect. He fell into a soft silence, broken by feet shuffling and bricks and mortar being slapped down. As the wall went past my head, I heard his chain clank, and a deep, throaty laugh a few moments later. He laughed long and loud for minutes on end, before
stuttering to a soft wheeze. “Is this your doing, Father?” he cried, voice echoing off the walls. “Is
this how you punish me for leaving? By trapping me here, with this fool, forever? Is this how you
repay my efforts?!” he roared the last question, and I heard the chains strike against the wall as he struggled to pull himself free. I stood back, admiring a job well done, as Fortunato continued to
scream and rave within a prison of his own making — though it may be the last thought he’ll have,
he will truly understand the fact that pushing a mild-mannered man like myself to anger has
disastrous consequences. Oh, he continued raving about his father and the irony of this
punishment, but I walked away, a long-forgotten spring returning to my step. In pace requiescat,
my dear Fortunato.
He often crossed my mind the first few weeks, but I was determined to ignore the cellar below; I
requested the servants to avoid the recesses of the cellar as well, choosing to cull my consumption of wine and to store bottles above-ground. As the years passed, I thought of him less and less, my life whisking me to new places, new people, new friends — ones that didn’t confuse and anger me.
For the first time, I felt lighter in my heart, and I left my home — my father’s manor — in order to
experience a new adventure overseas.
It has been approximately a half-century since I left the warm hearth of England to the territories
of the New World. The weather was harsh here, but the food was plentiful, and Nature outshined
herself here; the mountains seemed to scrape against the sky, and the trees were lush, thick, and
vibrant. I feel myself getting old, and I see it in the mirror, but I also see a calmness, a sense of peace
within — I hardly dream anymore.
The only thing I fear is my mental instability. I seem to suffer from hallucinations, from delusions
where I see ghostly apparitions, faces from the past — well, just one face, in particular. Fortunato’s ghost haunts me; yet his ghost has not plagued me before, so what changed? It started when I saw him at the bar I typically frequent, talking in low tones to the bartender. I could not get myself to move, but then he turned — he winked at me — I left immediately. I saw him time and again, at the town’s square, at the market, and in my neighbourhood; always accompanied by a young woman, and his face — oh, his young, vibrant, unchanged face! That face haunted my dreams, plagued my memory, and finally left me in peace, only to follow me here, to the New World! After a few months, I decided a change of pace would suit me, and I retreated to the woods in order to let Nature herself comfort me; hopefully, Fortunato’s ghost will not follow me here. I went to the bar to have one last drink, and lo and behold, he was there! I shook my head, deciding to avoid the
wine to save my obviously-deteriorating cranium. I heard him whisper to his latest belle, who
commented on his luck at being such a wealthy merchant in a small town (his wealth had somehow
followed him to the afterlife), and I could see that grin from the corner of my eye; that cursed grin.
“Don’t you know, my dear?” he purred. “I hold Fortune in my hand.”