And He Is Trapped Behind the Wall Forever

When I was a nine year old Girl Scout, I once shared a tent on a camping trip with a seventeen year old stranger -- who surprised and enthralled me one night by reciting (from memory) the entire text of Edgar A. Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" with a small lantern held up under her chin.

I had never heard the story before, and only knew Poe through Classics Comics editions; so I thought this strange woman had invented the wild tale of two Italians walking down into the Earth. (The fact that the story was about people who were sloppy drunk seemed even racier and more R-rated to me, than its ending in a murder. My own child's repertoire of ghost-and-ghouly stories seemed chaste and trite by comparison.) I was just sitting there on top of my sleeping bag, on a canvas cot, when she started right off with Edgar's invocation of the mad spirit of Vengeance for "the thousand injuries of Fortunato." At first I thought she might be trying to tell me something, and then, as I gazed at her ugly, scary jack-o'-lantern face, I got hypnotized by the story and forgot about what she might be trying to tell me. I imagined that as the two men went deeper into the wine cellar, the yellow light from their "flambeaux" (which I pictured, of course, as Girl-Scout-issue kerosene lanterns) made patterns on the sides of the tunnel not unlike the patterns of car lights on the walls of a child's bedroom. But then, when they got further down into the place, and the air grew acrid and heavy with rot, the light got sort of fuzzy, like candles seen through mist. At the end, she was screaming "Fortunato! Fortunato!" at the top of her lungs, and kids from the nearby tents were shouting at us to shut up already: "You sound like a couple of queers!"

I never saw that older girl after that camping trip, but years later, I found the Amontillado story again. My delight at having a copy of it was mixed with crisp disillusionment, that the strange girl with the lantern had not, after all, made it up on the spot. But for me, I suppose, she had. Poe simply did a good job of recreating it.

Copyright © Fiona Webster 1995

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