He turned and looked into my eyes. "Tombs?" he said. He began to cough.
The silver bells on his cap jingled.
"My poor friend," I said, "how long have you had that cough?"
"It's nothing," he said, but he couldn't stop coughing.
"Come," I said firmly, "we will go back upstairs. Your health is important. You are rich, respected, admired, and loved. You have a wife and children. Many people would miss you if you died. We will go back before you get seriously ill. I can go to Lucresi for help with the wine."
"No!" he cried. "This cough is nothing. It will not kill me. I won't die from a cough."
"That is true," I said, "but you must be careful." He took my arm and we began to walk through the cold, dark rooms. We went deeper and deeper into the cellar.
Finally, we arrived in a small room. Bones were pushed high against one wall. A doorway in another wall opened to an even smaller room, about one meter wide and two meters high. Its walls were solid rock.
"Here we are," I said. "I hid the cask of Amontillado in there." I pointed to the smaller room. Fortunato lifted his candle and stepped into the tiny room. I immediately followed him. He stood stupidly staring at two iron handcuffs chained to a wall of the tiny room. I grabbed his arms and locked them into the metal handcuffs. It took only a moment. He was too surprised to fight me.
I stepped outside the small room.
"Where is the Amontillado?" he cried.
"Ah yes," I said, "the cask of Amontillado." I leaned over and began pushing aside the pile of bones against the wall. Under the bones was a basket of stone blocks, some cement and a small shovel. I had hidden the materials there earlier. I began to fill the doorway of the tiny room with stones and cement.
By the time I laid the first row of stones Fortunato was no longer drunk. I heard him moaning inside the tiny room for ten minutes. Then there was a long silence.
I finished the second and third rows of stone blocks. As I began the fourth row, I heard Fortunato begin to shake the chains that held him to the wall. He was trying to pull them out of the granite wall.
I smiled to myself and stopped working so that I could better enjoy listening to the noise. After a few minutes, he stopped. I finished the fifth, the sixth and the seventh rows of stones. The wall I was building in the doorway was now almost up to my shoulders.
Suddenly, loud screams burst from the throat of the chained man. For a moment I worried. What if someone heard him? Then I placed my hand on the solid rock of the walls and felt safe. I looked into the tiny room, where he was still screaming. And I began to scream, too. My screams grew louder than his and he stopped.
It was now almost midnight. I finished the eighth, the ninth and the tenth rows. All that was left was a stone for the last hole in the wall. I was about to push it in when I heard a low laugh from behind the stones.
The laugh made the hair on my head stand up. Then Fortunato spoke, in a sad voice that no longer sounded like him.
He said, "Well, you have played a good joke on me. We will laugh about it soon over a glass of that Amontillado. But isn't it getting late. My wife and my friends will be waiting for us. Let us go."
"Yes," I replied, "let us go."
I waited for him to say something else. I heard only my own breathing. "Fortunato!" I called. No answer. I called again. "Fortunato!" Still no answer.
I hurried to put the last stone into the wall and put the cement around it. Then I pushed the pile of bones in front of the new wall I had built.
That was fifty years ago. For half a century now, no one has touched those bones. "May he rest in peace!"
You have just heard the story "The Cask of Amontillado. " It was written by Edgar Allan Poe and adapted for Special English by Dona de Sanctis. Your storyteller was Larry West. For VOA Special English, this is Shep O'Neal.