Suggested Reading: Edgar Allen Poe, The Cask of Amontillado

With the coming ghouls and ghosties, that new chill in the air, pumpkin flavored everything, and nature dressed all in her best colors, I thought that this month I’d give you a truly creepy tale from the grand master of horror himself.  But when I looked at the sheer number of amazing stories on offer, I was overwhelmed.  How do you pick ONE great story out of so many?  Then, I remembered my very favorite story by our lovely Poe.

“For the love of God, Montresor…!!”  Ah!  Wonderful.  It’s got costumes, dark catacombs, and murderous intent.  Perfect for Halloween!  Sure, it might not be the scariest Poe story, but I think it’s one of the very best.  If you’ve never read it, you must read it this instant!  If you have read it before, wallow in the nostalgic awesome with me.

This was actually the first Poe story that I ever read myself, when I was about 12 or 13.  If I’m perfectly honest, reading these masterful, dreadful, brilliant words had a huge influence on me.  Young little me, my eyes alight with true wonder, vowed that day to write something even half as good, even if it took the rest of my life.  And I’m still striving for that same goal today.  Enjoy!

THE CASK OF AMONTILLADO
by Edgar Allan Poe

  THE thousand injuries of Fortunato I had borne as I best could,
but when he ventured upon insult I vowed revenge. You, who so well
know the nature of my soul, will not suppose, however, that gave
utterance to a threat. At length I would be avenged; this was a
point definitely, settled --but the very definitiveness with which
it was resolved precluded the idea of risk. I must not only punish but
punish with impunity. A wrong is unredressed when retribution
overtakes its redresser. It is equally unredressed when the avenger
fails to make himself felt as such to him who has done the wrong.
  It must be understood that neither by word nor deed had I given
Fortunato cause to doubt my good will. I continued, as was my in to
smile in his face, and he did not perceive that my to smile now was at
the thought of his immolation.
  He had a weak point --this Fortunato --although in other regards
he was a man to be respected and even feared. He prided himself on his
connoisseurship in wine. Few Italians have the true virtuoso spirit.
For the most part their enthusiasm is adopted to suit the time and
opportunity, to practise imposture upon the British and Austrian
millionaires. In painting and gemmary, Fortunato, like his countrymen,
was a quack, but in the matter of old wines he was sincere. In this
respect I did not differ from him materially; --I was skilful in the
Italian vintages myself, and bought largely whenever I could.
  It was about dusk, one evening during the supreme madness of the
carnival season, that I encountered my friend. He accosted me with
excessive warmth, for he had been drinking much. The man wore
motley. He had on a tight-fitting parti-striped dress, and his head
was surmounted by the conical cap and bells. I was so pleased to see
him that I thought I should never have done wringing his hand.
  I said to him --"My dear Fortunato, you are luckily met. How
remarkably well you are looking to-day. But I have received a pipe
of what passes for Amontillado, and I have my doubts."
  "How?" said he. "Amontillado, A pipe? Impossible! And in the
middle of the carnival!"
  "I have my doubts," I replied; "and I was silly enough to pay the
full Amontillado price without consulting you in the matter. You
were not to be found, and I was fearful of losing a bargain."
  "Amontillado!"
  "I have my doubts."
  "Amontillado!"
  "And I must satisfy them."
  "Amontillado!"
  "As you are engaged, I am on my way to Luchresi. If any one has a
critical turn it is he. He will tell me --"
  "Luchresi cannot tell Amontillado from Sherry."
  "And yet some fools will have it that his taste is a match for
your own.
  "Come, let us go."
  "Whither?"
  "To your vaults."
  "My friend, no; I will not impose upon your good nature. I
perceive you have an engagement. Luchresi--"
  "I have no engagement; --come."
  "My friend, no. It is not the engagement, but the severe cold with
which I perceive you are afflicted. The vaults are insufferably
damp. They are encrusted with nitre."
  "Let us go, nevertheless. The cold is merely nothing. Amontillado!
You have been imposed upon. And as for Luchresi, he cannot distinguish
Sherry from Amontillado."
  Thus speaking, Fortunato possessed himself of my arm; and putting on
a mask of black silk and drawing a roquelaire closely about my person,
I suffered him to hurry me to my palazzo.
  There were no attendants at home; they had absconded to make merry
in honour of the time. I had told them that I should not return
until the morning, and had given them explicit orders not to stir from
the house. These orders were sufficient, I well knew, to insure
their immediate disappearance, one and all, as soon as my back was
turned.
  I took from their sconces two flambeaux, and giving one to
Fortunato, bowed him through several suites of rooms to the archway
that led into the vaults. I passed down a long and winding
staircase, requesting him to be cautious as he followed. We came at
length to the foot of the descent, and stood together upon the damp
ground of the catacombs of the Montresors.
  The gait of my friend was unsteady, and the bells upon his cap
jingled as he strode.
  "The pipe," he said.
  "It is farther on," said I; "but observe the white web-work which
gleams from these cavern walls."
  He turned towards me, and looked into my eves with two filmy orbs
that distilled the rheum of intoxication.
  "Nitre?" he asked, at length.
  "Nitre," I replied. "How long have you had that cough?"
  "Ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh! --ugh! ugh! ugh!
--ugh! ugh! ugh!"
  My poor friend found it impossible to reply for many minutes.
  "It is nothing," he said, at last.
  "Come," I said, with decision, "we will go back; your health is
precious. You are rich, respected, admired, beloved; you are happy, as
once I was. You are a man to be missed. For me it is no matter. We
will go back; you will be ill, and I cannot be responsible. Besides,
there is Luchresi --"
  "Enough," he said; "the cough's a mere nothing; it will not kill me.
I shall not die of a cough."
  "True --true," I replied; "and, indeed, I had no intention of
alarming you unnecessarily --but you should use all proper caution.
A draught of this Medoc will defend us from the damps.
  Here I knocked off the neck of a bottle which I drew from a long row
of its fellows that lay upon the mould.
  "Drink," I said, presenting him the wine.
  He raised it to his lips with a leer. He paused and nodded to me
familiarly, while his bells jingled.
  "I drink," he said, "to the buried that repose around us."
  "And I to your long life."
  He again took my arm, and we proceeded.
  "These vaults," he said, "are extensive."
  "The Montresors," I replied, "were a great and numerous family."
  "I forget your arms."
  "A huge human foot d'or, in a field azure; the foot crushes a
serpent rampant whose fangs are imbedded in the heel."
  "And the motto?"
  "Nemo me impune lacessit."
  "Good!" he said.
  The wine sparkled in his eyes and the bells jingled. My own fancy
grew warm with the Medoc. We had passed through long walls of piled
skeletons, with casks and puncheons intermingling, into the inmost
recesses of the catacombs. I paused again, and this time I made bold
to seize Fortunato by an arm above the elbow.
  "The nitre!" I said; "see, it increases. It hangs like moss upon the
vaults. We are below the river's bed. The drops of moisture trickle
among the bones. Come, we will go back ere it is too late. Your
cough --"
  "It is nothing," he said; "let us go on. But first, another
draught of the Medoc."
  I broke and reached him a flagon of De Grave. He emptied it at a
breath. His eyes flashed with a fierce light. He laughed and threw the
bottle upwards with a gesticulation I did not understand.
  I looked at him in surprise. He repeated the movement --a
grotesque one.
  "You do not comprehend?" he said.
  "Not I," I replied.
  "Then you are not of the brotherhood."
  "How?"
  "You are not of the masons."
  "Yes, yes," I said; "yes, yes."
  "You? Impossible! A mason?"
  "A mason," I replied.
  "A sign," he said, "a sign."
  "It is this," I answered, producing from beneath the folds of my
roquelaire a trowel.
  "You jest," he exclaimed, recoiling a few paces. "But let us proceed
to the Amontillado."
  "Be it so," I said, replacing the tool beneath the cloak and again
offering him my arm. He leaned upon it heavily. We continued our route
in search of the Amontillado. We passed through a range of low arches,
descended, passed on, and descending again, arrived at a deep crypt,
in which the foulness of the air caused our flambeaux rather to glow
than flame.
  At the most remote end of the crypt there appeared another less
spacious. Its walls had been lined with human remains, piled to the
vault overhead, in the fashion of the great catacombs of Paris.
Three sides of this interior crypt were still ornamented in this
manner. From the fourth side the bones had been thrown down, and lay
promiscuously upon the earth, forming at one point a mound of some
size. Within the wall thus exposed by the displacing of the bones,
we perceived a still interior crypt or recess, in depth about four
feet, in width three, in height six or seven. It seemed to have been
constructed for no especial use within itself, but formed merely the
interval between two of the colossal supports of the roof of the
catacombs, and was backed by one of their circumscribing walls of
solid granite.
  It was in vain that Fortunato, uplifting his dull torch, endeavoured
to pry into the depth of the recess. Its termination the feeble
light did not enable us to see.
  "Proceed," I said; "herein is the Amontillado. As for Luchresi --"
  "He is an ignoramus," interrupted my friend, as he stepped
unsteadily forward, while I followed immediately at his heels. In
niche, and finding an instant he had reached the extremity of the
niche, and finding his progress arrested by the rock, stood stupidly
bewildered. A moment more and I had fettered him to the granite. In
its surface were two iron staples, distant from each other about two
feet, horizontally. From one of these depended a short chain, from the
other a padlock. Throwing the links about his waist, it was but the
work of a few seconds to secure it. He was too much astounded to
resist. Withdrawing the key I stepped back from the recess.
  "Pass your hand," I said, "over the wall; you cannot help feeling
the nitre. Indeed, it is very damp. Once more let me implore you to
return. No? Then I must positively leave you. But I must first
render you all the little attentions in my power."
  "The Amontillado!" ejaculated my friend, not yet recovered from
his astonishment.
  "True," I replied; "the Amontillado."
  As I said these words I busied myself among the pile of bones of
which I have before spoken. Throwing them aside, I soon uncovered a
quantity of building stone and mortar. With these materials and with
the aid of my trowel, I began vigorously to wall up the entrance of
the niche.
  I had scarcely laid the first tier of the masonry when I
discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure
worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning
cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man.
There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier,
and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations
of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that
I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my
labours and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking
subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption
the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly
upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux
over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.
  A succession of loud and shrill screams, bursting suddenly from
the throat of the chained form, seemed to thrust me violently back.
For a brief moment I hesitated, I trembled. Unsheathing my rapier, I
began to grope with it about the recess; but the thought of an instant
reassured me. I placed my hand upon the solid fabric of the catacombs,
and felt satisfied. I reapproached the wall; I replied to the yells of
him who clamoured. I re-echoed, I aided, I surpassed them in volume
and in strength. I did this, and the clamourer grew still.
  It was now midnight, and my task was drawing to a close. I had
completed the eighth, the ninth and the tenth tier. I had finished a
portion of the last and the eleventh; there remained but a single
stone to be fitted and plastered in. I struggled with its weight; I
placed it partially in its destined position. But now there came
from out the niche a low laugh that erected the hairs upon my head. It
was succeeded by a sad voice, which I had difficulty in recognizing as
that of the noble Fortunato. The voice said--
  "Ha! ha! ha! --he! he! he! --a very good joke, indeed --an excellent
jest. We will have many a rich laugh about it at the palazzo --he! he!
he! --over our wine --he! he! he!"
  "The Amontillado!" I said.
  "He! he! he! --he! he! he! --yes, the Amontillado. But is it not
getting late? Will not they be awaiting us at the palazzo, the Lady
Fortunato and the rest? Let us be gone."
  "Yes," I said, "let us be gone."
  "For the love of God, Montresor!"
  "Yes," I said, "for the love of God!"
  But to these words I hearkened in vain for a reply. I grew
impatient. I called aloud --
  "Fortunato!"
  No answer. I called again --
  "Fortunato!"
  No answer still. I thrust a torch through the remaining aperture and
let it fall within. There came forth in return only a jingling of
the bells. My heart grew sick; it was the dampness of the catacombs
that made it so. I hastened to make an end of my labour. I forced
the last stone into its position; I plastered it up. Against the new
masonry I re-erected the old rampart of bones. For the half of a
century no mortal has disturbed them. In pace requiescat!

                         -THE END-

(credit:  Text from http://www.classichorrorstories.com/texts/poe/amontillado.txt)

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