Monday, September 27, 2010

Amontillado

I have a punishment cell in my basement.

It's not something I ever expected to have. I live in a fairly ordinary ranch house in the 'burbs: green, grassy yard, a garden and clothesline out back, kids' toys cluttering the driveway. Very tidy, very domestic. Not the kind of place where you'd expect to find a punishment cell. And yet... there it is.

To be sure, there's bondage equipment to be found at my home, but it's camouflaged so kids and visitors won't suspect what it is. For instance, the basement already contains a Roman cross, which spends most of its time broken down into two innocent-looking boards that can be bolted together fairly easily and then held upright by fitting the crossbeam into slots on some very sturdy shelves. In that context, a punishment cell is not entirely out of place, though its arrival was a surprise to me.

It's a recent addition to the home. My husband and I decided that now would be a good time to build an extra room. We don't actually need it yet, but with the kids a short hop from becoming teenagers and our parents getting on in years, one day soon we may find ourselves needing some additional space. We figured that it would be better to have it before we need it rather than scramble when the time comes.

So we hired the man who originally built the house fifteen years ago to put a new room on the back. He drew up some plans, we approved them, and he got to work. He told us that he would need to put a crawl space underneath - not a full basement that you can walk upright in like the rest of the house has, but just a small area that someone could get into when wiring or ductwork needed to be repaired. "OK," I thought. "No big deal."

Now it's built. The room above it isn't finished yet, but the crawl space is. And, really, the only suitable words to describe it are "punishment cell". It's the sort of place where you'd throw recalcitrant prisoners, much like "the hole" in the HBO series "Oz".

It's square-shaped, about 14 feet on each side. The only way to get into it is through a 2-foot-by-2-foot hole carved through the foundation wall of the main basement. If you're standing in the basement, you can walk right up to the hole and see that its bottom, at about the height of your chest, is flush with the floor of the crawl space. With a little effort, you can hop up (being careful not to bang your head), slide through the hole, and be in the crawl space. Or you could stand on a box to climb in; we have plenty of those lying around.

Inside the crawl space, there is no room to stand. The joists supporting the floor overhead are less than three feet above the concrete footer, making "crawl space" an accurate term. A smallish man could sit up, but only if he slouched. If he straightened his spine, even a smallish man would be apt to bump his head into the wooden beams.

There are two lights in the crawl space. They are there to make life easier for anyone who goes in to repair the aforementioned wires or ducts if and when it's ever necessary to do so. The light switch is located on the basement side of the foundation wall, not inside the crawl space.

There is a door covering the hole in the foundation. I'm not certain what the rationale for needing the door is, but the builder installed one. I mean, I know what reason I would have for putting the door there, but I don't know what the reason would be if your purpose is something other than to seal a man inside.

Because really, what better purpose could such a space be put to?

It's perfect. The walls are cinderblock; the floor is concrete. There is no way anyone could dig a tunnel through either of those. I'll probably have to fix the ceiling up to be a bit stronger because a man could pick his way out through wood, given time. Perhaps some sheet metal screwed into the joists would do, although I'll have to insulate it lest it reverberate like a drum when struck.

With the door closed and the light switch outside, the hapless victim would be left in an utterly lightless place. He would be alone. He would have no idea what my plans for him might be, but he would have plenty of time to imagine them, for I would leave him there for at least two days.

Two days of no light, no ability to stand up or walk or even sit comfortably. Only the cold concrete floor, the metal-plated wood overhead, the stench of the urine he could no longer hold rising up from the puddle he made in the corner. The hunger and the thirst. And, of course, his relentless imagination, wondering how long it might be before I come and get him. If, indeed, coming to get him is part of my plan at all. He would not be sure which is worse: to be left to die in underground blackness or to be pulled out and made to... well, he doesn't exactly know what, but none of the possibilities are pleasant.

I know who I would like to have as the first occupant of my new punishment cell - one of the framers who helped to create it. His name is Alya. Or perhaps Olya or Elya, I'm not sure. He is from Brazil and speaks English with that beautiful accent that Brazilians have. The lilt of Portuguese to me sounds halfway between Spanish and French, with the musical rhythms of the former colored by the distinctive nasal vowels of the latter.

He is a beautiful man, trim and fit. I was able to watch him through the window while he labored under the hot sun, lifting wooden beams and carrying them into place, picking a hammer out from the heavy tool belt he wore around his waist and using it to pound nails into submission. Despite the heat, he sadly remained clothed during the entire few days he was at my home. His boss, the crew foreman, was eager enough to shed his shirt, but he was an older man, balding and with an ample pot belly - not my type.

Alya, on the other hand, is in his 20s, dark blond hair under a baseball cap, tight bronze skin unmarked by any visible tattoos. He wore a baggy shirt and shorts that left his arms and calves visible, but watching them flex as he moved only frustrated me because I couldn't see more of him. The evening after his first day of work I fantasized about having him tied to the empty spot where the window will go. At the time, the framing for one of the three new walls was up, with a gap left where the window would be installed. I climbed up into the gap to check the sizing - Alya is about my height.

He would have fit well there. I would have tied his wrists out to the beams at the upper corners of the window frame and stretched his ankles out to the lower corners. He would have had to bend his head forward because of the window's top edge behind his neck. His legs would have been under some stress because it's a wide space, about five feet across. He would have pulled on the ropes, looking at me with puzzlement in his eyes and asking in his musical accent "why are you doing this to me?" I would have told him that it was because he is so beautiful to look at and yet he hid that beauty from me all day long, tantalizing me with glimpses of taut abs when he reached up over his head to pound a nail but never showing me the whole package. It is only fair that I get to see what he kept hidden.

Then I would remove his clothing, slowly and with careful deliberation, admiring the powerful muscles of his chest and the way his massive thighs strained to pull his legs together, until all that was left on his body was his tool belt, and I would remark upon the similarity between the heavy tools hanging from the belt and the pendulous tool hanging front and center, and then I would...

But I digress. The punishment cell.

I would love for Alya to be my cell's first resident, but it's just not likely. I would need to manufacture some excuse to get him back to my house and, once there, get him into the crawl space. I can't imagine how I could do it. He is, after all, a laborer on this job, not the man in charge, so presumably if I fabricated a problem with the construction, it would be Alya's pot-bellied boss, not Alya, who I would take up the issue with. I can just imagine the conversation running swiftly downhill if I were to insist that Alya - yes, it has to be Alya! - come by himself to do the imaginary repair for me. Not to mention the mile-wide trail of evidence it would leave behind...

So that has to remain just a fantasy. But there are other possibilities, other men I could lure to my home and into the crawl space, preferably at a time when my husband has taken the kids away for an extended visit to, let's say, the theme parks of Orlando, Florida. Surely such a lure can't be too difficult to invent?

Getting someone to visit my home would be easy enough - there are chat systems all over the internet that allow gay men to hook up with one another on very short notice. I could probably even manage to find someone with an interest in bondage. Perhaps we could arrange to start around supper time - I'm a tolerably good cook - and I could drug him? Then lug him down the stairs and into the cell, where he would wake up and...

No, the drugs really aren't my thing. I know nothing about dosages and delivery methods and could very easily screw it up. Wouldn't that be a waste if I accidentally snuffed my very first victim, sending him peacefully off to permanent slumber before having a chance to hurt him even the tiniest bit?

Perhaps I should simply overpower him. He arrives at my house, we strip out of our clothes, start getting it on, and then I put him in a hammerlock, maybe slip some cuffs on him, and gain control of him that way? It might work. The main hitch to that is that my favorite fantasies involve bringing big, strong men - men like Alya - under my control, and I'm not very big or strong myself. I have a slender build, so it's unlikely that I could physically overpower the sort of man I would want to capture.

So what does that leave? Subterfuge is probably the best option given my nature and physical attributes. I could tempt someone over by dangling the promise of something wonderful in front of him, something that he can only obtain by climbing through the small door set high in the basement wall. What sort of thing could I tempt him with?

Perhaps it could be a rare bottle of wine. That space would make a good wine cellar, after all. It would be quite plausible for me to suggest that the right complement to the meal I've prepared would be a nice vintage amontillado, only I've strained my back, so would you be so kind as to climb in and retrieve it for me? Ah, thank you, that's very kind. Right this way, here, step up onto this box. In you go, now...

What's that, dear reader? This sounds suspiciously like the plot of a short story you know of? You're a literate man, you've read Poe and recognized echoes of your own dark desires reflected in his writings. Poe wrote horror at a time when these sorts of appetites were kept deeply hidden, but if you read his works, you can see that this was a man with a wickedly vivid imagination who would be right at home in today's more permissive climate where he could push a few more boundaries... although perhaps not. It could be that Poe would find the blatant gore of the "Saw" and "Hostel" franchises to be too unsubtle for his liking. After all, sometimes the suggestion... the anticipation... of torture can be more disturbing than the pain itself.

But I digress again. So you've recognized the story in which Poe's sadist lures his victim down into the depths of a gloomy catacomb with the promise of a fabulous cask of the most exquisite wine awaiting him in the deepest, darkest corner. Alas, poor Fortunato finds no wine there, but instead finds himself chained to the wall of that deep, dark corner, unable to stop Montresor from steadily building a new wall out of fresh bricks and mortar, sealing him permanently inside. It's a horrifying way to go, if you think about it. Spending endless hours in a tiny, lightless, airless space, with no choice but to bide your time until your body finally depletes its reserves and fails. That would take days. All the while, your killer would be back up in the sunlit world above, clinking glasses and making small talk with people who have no idea of your plight, a secret smile on his face.

Of course, if I had been Montresor, I would have wanted to spend some time enjoying my victim before closing him off for good. It seems wasteful to seal him off completely so soon. Perhaps I would have built a partial wall, then stepped inside to join him in his vertical coffin. I would disrobe him, taking his limp and shriveled genitals in my hand and toying with them for an hour or four before sealing them in a prison of their own using shards of brick and liberal daubs of mortar... but listen to me, talking as if Poe's work needed to be improved upon, as if I could possibly be the one to do the improving. Such hubris!

So the wine idea is out. Ah, well. My victim would have seen through such a ruse, anyway. Perhaps it's best to simply appreciate my new punishment cell for its fantasy value and abandon any idea of actually using it for real.

Perhaps.

But what if I were to tell you, dear reader, that I had actually succeeded in luring a man into it? What if I were to say that right now, as I type these words, I can hear a muffled thumping noise as my victim - not as hunky as Alya and not as massively powerful as I would like, but an attractive young fellow all the same - pounds on the metal ceiling with his fist? Brian - that's his name - has been at it for more than five hours now. I'm just killing time writing because there's still another forty-three hours to go before I let him out and we get started in earnest.

Every once in a while Brian grows tired and takes a break from his pounding, but within ten or fifteen minutes he starts back up again. I imagine he thinks someone will hear him. They won't. The construction workers won't be back soon. They're waiting on delivery of the windows before they can continue, and Anderson (the window manufacturer) has said they'll be on next Tuesday's truck - eight days from today. My husband and kids are, indeed, off to Orlando with their cousins and aunt and uncle, visiting some ocean-themed park. Sea World, is it? I didn't pay attention; theme parks are not my thing. Who needs to travel to Florida when they've got their own theme park right downstairs?

It didn't take much subterfuge at all to get Brian into the cell. I picked him up in an AOL chat room - good old AOL, still chugging along! - and invited him over earlier this afternoon, having spent this morning screwing those metal sheets into place to cover the floor joists. Brian is, like me, into bondage, and was intrigued at the thought of being shut up in a dark hole. He stripped off his clothes and climbed into the cell totally of his own volition. Of course, he thought I was going to let him out after a few minutes or at most an hour. Instead, I came upstairs to start writing this. The pounding started up after maybe 45 minutes. I can hear him shouting a bit, too, but I can't make out any words. That insulation is pretty effective.

I think at the 24-hour mark I'm going to open up the door a crack and toss a pair of handcuffs in. I will tell him that I'll let him out once I see that his hands are cuffed behind him. Then, when the cuffs are on, I'll seal up the door again and let him stew for another day. A delicious little trick to play on him, don't you think?

I've got a bit less than a week to work with. It's Monday now; my family returns next Sunday night. I'll have to have finished with Brian by Saturday to allow time to seal him behind a false wall, for that's what I plan to do. Once he's too weak to be fun any more - but still alive - I'll build a fresh wall of cinderblocks with him behind it, just like in Poe's story. In the future, careful measurement would reveal that the crawl space is about 18 inches narrower than the room above, but who's going to be taking such measurements? The construction in the crawl space is finished, and my new wall won't block any wires or ducts. There will be no reason for anyone to suspect that the rear wall of the crawl space is a fake that conceals a narrow gap, much less to suspect that the gap hold the remains of a once-attractive young man. But I'll know.

Would you like to come over and see him, dear reader? Check the date of this posting. If you get in touch with me before Saturday, I'll be happy to send you directions and you can come for a visit. I'll either be playing with my toy when you arrive or he'll be shut inside the punishment cell. If the former, then I'll invite you to join in and add your imagination to mine. We can think of things to do to poor Brian together. I definitely plan to have him ride my cross a few times. I can't wait to watch him torturing himself in the way that only that cruel device can make him do.

If the latter, then I'll be happy to open up the door to the cell so you can take a peek inside. I'd rather not turn the lights on, if you don't mind - the effect is so much more dungeon-like if you leave them off. He's probably in one of the two near corners - they're marginally warmer than the rest of the cell because they border the house, not the ground outside. You'll have to poke your head inside to see him. Just climb up on this box. Can you see him yet? I know it's hard in the dimness. Poke your head in a little farther. A little more...

Shove. Slam.

By now, of course, you've realized that there is no Brian. You pick yourself up off the cold concrete floor, forgetting about the low ceiling and cracking your head against it, cursing yourself for a fool for allowing me to prey upon your lust and greed. For Fortunato, it was wine; for you, captive man-flesh. We all have our weaknesses.

You try to orient yourself in the utter blackness. The fear begins to swell up inside you, sending adrenaline surging through your veins. Your imagination churns, conjuring up visions of the suffering you know I will make you endure, wondering if it will ultimately be your fate to forever rest beneath my floor.

But you don't have to worry. As hot as the concept in "The Cask Of Amontillado" is, I would never plagiarize that Poe story and seal you in to die in an underground cell.

No, "The Pit And The Pendulum" is much more my thing...