The Cask of Amontillado: Fortunato Strikes Back
With apologies to Mr. Poe: this was written in extreme admiration of his hyper-aware genius, as it was a challenge piece to continue "Cask"'s story. This will give no one nightmares, as "Tell-Tale Heart" did me at age thirteen, therefore it is rated:
PG for the possibility of its original ending coming true.
Summary: Fortunato reaches new levels in his underground tomb. Or ... does he?
The last brick is up, it's up! I would have mere minutes, perhaps a full hour if Fate were kind, before air became scarcer and I would weaken and die, swooning first because of asphyxiation. How long would I lie in a stupor, half alive, half dead, before blackness claimed me in a strangling grip? And what was the wrong I had done him? Was it the Barnunni incident? The investment in which I was almost certain. That miscalculation could have happened to any broker. But it had happened to his broker, namely myself, Fortunato, and I laughed that day in my mahogany-paneled office, a snicker really, at his utter foolishness in investing all his funds in the ill-starred venture. He had taken it to heart, I knew he had, even though he showed it by a simple momentary iciness in his demeanor before joining me in our general laugh at fate.
There! The alcohol that I had imbibed earlier had left my mind clearer than ever before, while the certain danger of my predicament added sharpness to my thoughts. He had not fastened my hands, only my waist, in chains and so first of all I rummaged in a pocket for a treat that I had pilfered from the buffet table: a hard-boiled egg. Cracking it oh-so-gently in my hands, I peeled the shell and nibbled on the white until all the white was devoured. Part one of my put-together scheme was complete. I lay the yolk on the ground by my left foot, willing my mind to picture its placement in the dark dreariness and my feet to refrain from treading upon its yellow softness.
Part two. With my outstretched right foot barely reaching the next part of my plan for life, I strained to the end of my chained confinement and reached, reached with all that was within me for the fallen source of light. The light source had flickered out, but what was left was vital to my scheme. I gathered up the fallen torch, cradling it to my chest, and flaked off its charred end with scrabbling fingernails. Soon a pile of charcoal lay by the egg yolk; I could feel its shape and knew that the charred stuff was griming my hands terribly. So much the better! It would be a souvenir of my superior brainpower to Montresor's, one that I should wave in his face when I saw him once more. I should like to smear it on him as Our Lord did to Cain, to mark him as a murderer. Or better yet, attempted-murderer.
The third and final part of my plan lay on the walls behind me, and to the left of me, and to the right of me. Nitre dropped and dripped in soft white clumps all around me; it was the work of a moment to gather some in eager fingers, molding it, crumbling it into another small pile beside the other two. Nitre, also known as saltpeter, was indispensable to my desperate plan. Did I recall the proportions correctly? I remembered my chemistry tutor, his bald head nodding in the mid-afternoon heat of late spring, warning me that all chemistry knowledge was key to understanding how the universe was shaped, in elements and their reactions to each other. "Each element has its beauty, and when they are combined, beauty transcends into truth." His flowery sentiment rested in my skull until this very moment, when I perceived the verity of his statement.
For the part of my plan that lay outside the counting of the three piles, and upon which depended the entire success of it all, I gave thanks to the spirit of joy that had inspired me to don the jester's cap and bells this evening. I bobbed my head in a testing pattern. The bells jingled most satisfyingly. All was in place. Now for the execution.
Was I growing short of breath? Was it the diminishing of air in my projected tomb or my own highly-charged state of nerves that made my chest heave and my throat tighten? Heedlessly, I tore my nails as I shredded part of the doused torch into thin matchstick shapes, using the rest of the torch to form a small corral, if you will, for my untamed elements in their mounded heaps. I placed the matchstick shapes in my pocket for the time being. For the completion of my plan, all piles would combine and to that end I pushed with my foot until the outermost toe touched the bricked-up wall. Yes, I could reach it! Pushing carefully, I sculpted one side of the small holding corral with the torch fragments, then the other side; now it was ready for its wild inhabitants. I reached down for the nitre first, palming it all in my left hand. Then I gathered the smashed egg yolk, pressing it into the nitre until I was sure all bits were blended. Finally, I molded the charcoal into my left hand, squashing the elements together until they were well-mixed.
Now for the placement of my fierce wad of power. Gauging the distance to my utmost mental ability, I placed the ball of compressed elements in front of my right foot and kicked it into the corral made of broken torch fragments. From my pocket came the matchstick shapes and I threw them in front of my corral. How important they were! And how much more important was the spark I planned to make next!
"Here I come, Montresor, ready or not!"
Measuring the time that I had left, I went over my scheme a final time: the egg yolk for sulphur, the torch end for charcoal, the nitre for the saltpeter, the classic recipe for gunpowder. Adding the matchstick tinder waiting for its igniting spark, and my plan was complete. Picturing all things in my mind in the black dungeon, holding tightly to my hope of life, I removed my cap with its hard metal bells, fingering its checkered material, grasping one bell in one hand and its opposite number in the other. Leaning as far forward as I could reach until the chain bit cruelly into my abdomen, I struck the bells together. Nothing happened. I felt the bells for a tiny bit of rough edge and nearly cried when I found one on the bell in my right hand. Fortunato, you are indeed fortunate! I struck the bells together again.
All my senses left me as a tremendous thunderclap split my eardrums and I fell as far as the chain would let me fall in my faint. Upon regaining consciousness a minute or two later, as I could best estimate, an inrush of foul air --- but how sweet to me was the air of freedom! --- blasted my face and the smell of my improvised gunpowder bomb wafted to my nose. I heaved my chest; I could not hear my gasps for air because of my broken eardrums and had some few minutes to wriggle free of my chains. I had vomited up my large dinner in my first moments of panic after Montresor walled me in and this helped considerably in my squirming free. After a final feel around for that blasted cask that he said was in my chamber, I climbed over the pile of broken bones and made my way to the outside, and freedom.