The Wine Cellar That Wished
1046 words long
The walls have ears and a guilty conscience.
Notes from the author:
Did you know that a buttery has nothing to do with dairy products? OK, well, I didnít. But thatís cool. Correcting misapprehensions and learning new vocabulary is all part of this daily writing thing. (Thatís right. I promise you process and I deliver.)
Anyway, I finally learned that a buttery is not a place where butter is made, but rather a place where bottles are stored. Itís a wine cellar. Itís the place where the butler does the buttling. Itís also the scene of the crime in Edgar Allan Poeís famous short story, ďThe Cask of Amontillado.Ē
The wine cellar felt terrible about what had happened. It felt in some way responsible. Its very body, its own walls, had been fashioned into a murder weapon. The house of which it was part sheltered a murderer. The wine cellar was helpless to intervene; still, its very stones flooded with shame each time the poor man shrieked to Heaven to save him.
It would have to be Heaven. Though each of the victimís cries asserted that life yet remained, and therefore hope, he could hope for no help from this particular witness. Architecture may feel guilty, but it cannot move. It cannot act. It cannot even hasten the crumbling of its own mortar.
The wine cellar was struggling with problems of agency. Why, it thought, should its body be used without its least consent to store drink and the occasional dying man? Simply because its physical frame had no power to move and its wishes no voice to speak, did that make it right to treat it as a mere object? Was that just?
The manís screams were dying away again. They came and went as the hours passed. It took time for a man to die of thirst. Suffocation would have been quicker. But the killer had not succeeded at sealing out the air. He had mortared in haste, that he might be nearly done his ruthless task by the time his victim recovered from intoxication. The wine cellar simultaneously wished, and didnít, that its owner had been less slipshod in his crime.
If only the wine cellar could do something! If only it could collapse its walls by means of willpower, or scream out for some passerby to help, or simply transport one of its bottles within reach of the manís free hand to relieve his thirst. If only its brick-made skin could shiver, like that of a horse irritated by a fly, and eject the rude spikes that held the manacles to its walls. But in absence of a well-timed earthquake, stone cannot shiver.
The wine cellar appealed to the house. The house told the wine cellar that it must make the best of it. It, the house, didnít get a say in who lived within nor what they did to walls and roof and floor. The wine cellar likewise had no say in what got stored inside it. Such was the lot of a dwelling place. ďNow, if we were but made of flesh, my friendóah, how different things might be!Ē
Flesh! The idea took swift hold of the wine cellarís imagination and filled it with longing. Admittedly, flesh was fragile, as the plight of the imprisoned man made clear. But it gave humans such power over their destinies! Only things made of flesh could choose their direction and act upon their choices. Only things of flesh could speak their desires. How the wine cellar wished to be made of flesh!
It wished fervently. It wished the hours through. It wished voicelessly and hopelessly, but oh, how it wished! And on the third day of the doomed manís captivity, its wish came to be heard when a Blue Fairy chanced to pass by.
A Blue Fairy has an ear for wishes. It can sense every wish burning in any heart. And if the wish burns brightly enough, it may move the Blue Fairy to grant it, for this and much more is within its power.
The Blue Fairy might have granted the imprisoned manís wish for freedom, or his murdererís wish for carnival entertainment. It might even have granted the wish of a small, homely spider for better luck in its web, for flies werenít populous in the wine cellar, let alone in the newly bricked-up alcove. Thousands of wishes begged for its attention as it passed that place, but for some reason known only to itself, the Blue Fairy granted the wish of the wine cellar.
Its brick and mortar became skin and muscle. Its wooden frame became bone. Blood moved through its walls where the small things once burrowed, and the air that touched its surface fed its cells. Warmth suffused the wine cellarís physical being. New sensations tickled its newborn nerves. The spikes anchoring the prisonerís manaclesóhow they itched! The wine cellar gave a shudder, and out they came. How thrilling, to be able to shudder! How lovely to shed the new-mortared wall like dead skin sloughed off the old! It laughed with delight, and heard itself laugh, and laughed even more at the sound.
But flesh, unlike stone, knows hunger. And what flesh typically hungers for is flesh. On becoming flesh, the wine cellar had absorbed every rat and fly to be found within its bodyóyes, even the poor starving spider that had been the prisonerís cellmate. Tiny things, all; the wine cellar hungered still. And there was the prisoner, cowering in a terrified heap in the center of the floor, shrinking from the touch of those unnatural walls.
There was a convulsion in the prisonerís alcove. The wine cellar couldnít help itself. It swallowed.
It felt a pale sort of guilt over this first substantial meal, but guilt did not trouble it long. More keen was the satisfaction of having fed. Flesh is ruled by needs of which stone knows little, and has not the same degree of luxury to pity edible creatures when it is starving. Self-control and restraint can be learned, but the wine cellar had not had time yet for a lesson.
The house disowned the wine cellar. It could not distance itself physically, of course, but it declared itself without outbuildings and refused to speak to the transfigured buttery. The man who resided in the house, however, having found his first murder all too easy, began to plot his next. He had no shortage of rivals and lesser friends who had incurred his ire. When the mood for murder struck him, as it did quite often now, he need only invite one over, treat him to a sumptuous dinner, then, after inciting an argument on the subject, allow him to visit the wine cellar and see for himself whether the disputed cask contained genuine Amontillado.
In fact he kept his wine somewhere else now.
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