Fortunato had always been a funny man. It came as no surprise that he emerged from the crowd in a full jester’s costume, adorned with bells and red and blue sashes that fluttered in the warm breeze as he strode to meet me. I was severely underdressed—it was ignorant of me to dismiss warnings of costumes and chivalrous contesting. I resorted to lifting the end of my cape to hide my face—like that Nosferatu fellow.
I smiled at my friend (of whom had ingested three barrels-full of wine). He’d never heard of sober fun. Not Fortunato, as his favorite hobby was wine. He didn’t own a cellar, but he was surrounded by wine-rich people of whom he visited often, and I was one of those people.
“How goes the night?” I asked. His attention was hastily grabbed by the darkness that swirled in my cup. I shook my head, warning him not to try anything.
He frowned, “Less than keen because of your sourness toward me.”
“You certainly don’t mistake my heroism for sourness,” I replied, “This wine is terrible. You wouldn’t enjoy it. Benedick of Italy was bragging of his Amontillado by the banister, and you know him and Beatrice!”
“Amontillado!” Fortunato’s eyebrows disappeared into the creases of his forehead.
“I have my doubts. It tastes as if they crushed grapes with their toes after gamboling in the flowerbeds.”
“Amontillado,” he hummed, “It tastes new?”
“Born yesterday.” I nodded, “If you would like it, you may have it. I feel dizzied over the crowd and plan on going home soon.”
“You do look pale.”
“The false Amontillado?”
We conversed for minutes until the emergence of an old ‘friend’ bid me to leave. The walk home was a blur; I could only recognize the regulars that were perched in their normal places.
After the struggle to get inside, I shed my lazy costume, and threw myself into the arms of my comfortable mattress. My nausea was nearly gone but still present—like motion sickness from a restless ocean. My stomach rocked inside me, convinced that the crew of my body was thrown into the abyss of a storm.
I rolled onto my back; I felt the moonbeams of a glare. A dismissible presence, sure, but one nonetheless. It crept around the perimeter of my chamber, shadow hidden amongst shadows.
As soon as my eyes closed, I was taken into the dark. Prisoner to my own bed as the comfortable arms constricted my waist. My room was different, things moved around. Illumination seemed to come from the rafters, yet had no source all the same. I was being abducted by my own subconscious.
From the furthest corner of my room, the darkness seemed to take on a familiar form. I could hear the bells, bells, bells of a jester costume and there he was. Fortunato, my good friend, an empty wine glass in his left hand. He crept to my bed, seeming to skip a few steps in the process.
I wanted to ask the meaning of this. My lingering hope suggested it was a jest, though it wasn’t likely.
“Montresor,” his voice was the personification of gravel, “I love wine.”
I knew. He had made this clear many years before. But why, at that moment, did it seem a good idea to restate the obvious and irrelevant?
“Do you know how long the French age their Bordeaux?” He answered himself immediately, “25 years. 30, if they’re patient.”
An interesting fact, sure, but his cadence dripped from his mouth in a way that hardly settled my stomach.
“I, myself, prefer a nice, aged red.”
I didn’t care. I had always listened to his tangents about wine, however I never understood the obsession. But as he spoke, his voice grew louder, as if each individual word he spoke was a drop of wine in his glass. And he, the ambitious sommelier, savored it.
It felt as though I was filled to the brim with sand. He spoke of his friends and their cellars; “wonderful cellars,” he said. While the topic of his one-sided banter was innocent enough, I had never felt so threatened in my own home. The ultimate insult: manipulating a friend, good friend, into a state of vulnerability.
My pride refused to accept it, but my reason forced him into it.
I could hardly breathe. Fortunato’s voice echoed around the scaffolding, louder and louder. I wanted to blame this torture on a fever dream, perhaps it was the false Amontillado—no. It was all too real. No fever dream could ever be this loud.
He screamed upward the name of a foreign wine that I could never pronounce, and with that, I felt a spark in my toes.
I jolted forward, taking the chance that a little feeling in my foot may mean that I was free from his spell.
He was gone. My ears rang with the sound of Fortunato’s babbling. The room was dark and empty, save for myself and the ghost of noise that was now replaced with silence. Heavy silence.
“If this is what happens in my sleep,” I thought to myself, out of breath, “I’ll never sleep again!”
This was easier said than done. The regret and sleep deprivation settled into my head around one week in. My pride was withering. I wasn’t sure of anything but this: Fortunato would pay for my misfortune. And the single thing he loved the most would be his downfall.