Who will be the first to blink?
Not the dead man. He hasn’t blinked once.
Think a retirement community is the last place where someone would commit murder? Think again. Here’s a for instance: The media a while back told of a ninety-nine-year-old nursing home patient who strangled her one-hundred-year-old roommate. Her motive? Jealousy. The older woman was popular and had more visitors. So a nursing home is the last place to commit murder. A retirement community is next-to-last.
Anyhow, here I am at Final Horizons, the retirement community I’ve chosen for my golden years. “Golden years.” What a joke. A euphemism more worn-out than the folks it applies to. If in old age you come across what looks like precious metal, believe me, you’ll soon discover it’s actually iron pyrites—what prospectors call Fool’s Gold. Take my word, the only gold in your declining years is the color of your urine.
My reasons for choosing Final Horizons were twofold. First, it has a good reputation, well earned. The people are friendly and the food is good. Second, it’s an ideal place in which to commit murder.
One of the necessary ingredients for the perfect crime is a little imagination. Something I’ve got a lot of. Would you believe I was once an aspiring writer?
Perhaps you’ve heard of Felix Guirini. Well known for his award-winning short stories. He was my mentor. I didn’t try my hand at creative writing until well into my sixties. Felix was about the same age, but with dozens of stories under his belt and a reputation for imaginative plots and clever endings. Several of his stories have been televised or made into movies. As luck would have it he lived in the town next to mine, where he taught an evening course for beginning writers at the local college. I enrolled as soon as I heard about it.
I learned a lot from Felix, rudimentary things, such as write what you know, show don’t tell, avoid adverbs, use dialogue when possible. I learned about pacing and point of view.
“ ‘Good writers borrow,’ ” he told us, quoting someone famous. “ ‘Great writers steal.’ Your assignment: borrow from Edgar Allan Poe. Take one of his stories and rewrite it. Give it a modern twist. Disguise it, so that it’s unrecognizable.”
After considerable thought I chose “The Cask of Amontillado.” In it, you may recall, the narrator, Montresor, entombs his enemy, Fortunato, alive. As with Poe, the subject of premature burial has always fascinated me. What’s more premature than bricking up a living human being in the recesses of a catacomb deep within the bowels of the earth?
I wonder … did I have a subconscious motive for choosing “The Cask of Amontillado?” Was the embryonic monster within me already stirring? Consider the similarity of the names Fortunato and Felix. Both mean lucky. Hah! How lucky was Fortunato, to be entombed alive? As for Felix …
But I get ahead of myself.
For starters Felix didn’t require from us a full outline, just a brief synopsis.
I spent hours racking my brains for an original plot that would parallel “The Cask of Amontillado” by incorporating the twin motifs of a man seething with hatred, and premature burial. The question most frequently asked writers is, “Where do you get your ideas?” The question is, of course, fatuous, and has no answer. Ideas either come, or they don’t. Suffice it to say that when my idea finally presented itself, I knew I could write a story as good as Poe’s.
I spent so much time and effort into perfecting the synopsis that it is forever emblazoned upon my memory. It goes like this:
A man is held prisoner within an underground septic system, the type constructed for private residences in rural areas where public sewage lines are not available. He is permanently walled in. There is no exit. The only light is from a 15-watt bulb. A steady flow of oxygen is pumped in; duct work provides what little ventilation exists. The stench, of course, is overpowering.
There is a narrow ledge for him to lie upon. A pillow, damp with mold. A thin blanket. Disposal of his own waste is no problem. However, he cannot wash, or brush his teeth. They are rotting. Food and fresh water are flushed to him, through a toilet, in small, water-tight containers. There is no means of disposing of the containers once he has consumed their contents. Gradually, they will accumulate and fill the space that has been allotted to him. But it is highly unlikely, given the conditions, that he will live that long.
Ahhh Bravo!!!! What an ingenious twist of fate! Great story and suspense with a striking ending.