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It was half-past eight at a fancy dinner party when I first laid eyes on Mr. Parris. He was an elderly gentleman with a kind smile and a talent for making pleasant conversation with complete strangers. Dressed in a fashionable (and clearly expensive) suit with a black tie, he sat down at our dinner table and introduced himself.
Until this moment I had been lost in my own mind, attempting to daydream my way through an uninteresting dinner engagement that I had no wish to attend. Sitting at my table, I was surrounded by people whom I had never met and had little desire to speak to. Just as I was thinking that I was destined for a night of pure misery, Mr. Parris pulled out the chair next to me and sat down with a smile.
Extending his right hand towards me, he introduced himself as Mr. Dario Parris, local entrepreneur. He spoke with an accent; it was likely Italian but I couldn’t tell for sure. I took his hand in mine and shook it firmly, introducing myself and noticing that despite his apparent age, his grip was strong and powerful.
“You look bored, my friend,” he said with an understanding look of sympathy on his face. Under normal circumstances I would be hesitant to engage a stranger in conversation, but something about Mr. Parris took my guard down. His whole demeanor was one of sincerity and friendliness. I instantly felt at ease while sitting next to him, and decided to return his offer of friendly banter.
“It’s a fine party and all, but…” I trailed off.
“But you do not enjoy this... this noise. These strangers you are expected to socialize with?” Mr. Parris finished my sentence for me. He had read my thoughts completely, and I was taken aback with pleasant surprise.
“Yes, yes that’s exactly it,” I replied with enthusiasm. “Not that I would have anything against talking with you,” I added. Though I had just met him, if I was to spend the night talking with anybody, Mr. Parris seemed to be the best man to do it with.
I reached for my glass of wine and took a small sip. My face instinctively curled up at the unpleasant, sour taste. Mr. Parris noticed my distress and commented:
“The wine is no good?”
“It’s awful. I don’t know how they get away with serving it,” I complained.
“Then you are… a wine critic, perhaps? You enjoy fine wines?” Mr. Parris inquired.
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a wine critic,” I replied humbly. “Simply an amateur enthusiast.” In fact, I considered myself to have very good taste in the world of fine wines, though I intended to keep myself humble in front of my new friend.
Mr. Parris clapped his hands together in excitement and beamed at me.
“Wonderful!” he exclaimed. “I too enjoy wine. Here, I will show you something, a sort of trick, that will surely relieve your boredom.”
He immediately flagged the nearest waitress and requested that she bring him five glasses of the restaurant’s five most expensive wines. Startled at such a request, the waitress began to speak:
“Our five most expensive wines are…”
“I asked for five glasses, not five names!” Mr. Parris snapped. The shocked waitress stood still for a moment, and then nodded her head and walked off towards the kitchen. Returning a couple minutes later, the waitress presented him with five glasses of wine, each appearing identical.
Motioning for the waitress to stay, Mr. Parris picked up the first glass on the left and examined it briefly. He then swirled the red liquid around the glass and held it to his nose, inhaling the aromas. Finally he brought the glass to his lips and took one small sip, allowing the wine to completely wash over his tongue before swallowing. Nodding in approval, he turned his attention to the next glass.
Mr. Parris continued this process for each of the five glasses, tasting no more than a few drops from each. After he had tasted the fifth glass he looked up towards the nervous waitress and spoke without hesitation. The anxious face of the waitress turned to one of amazement as he named the type and vintage of each of the five wines.
At this point everyone at the table had been curiously observing Mr. Parris as he demonstrated his impressive knowledge of wines, and we applauded enthusiastically when the waitress confirmed that he had identified each glass of wine correctly.
“That was incredible!” I exclaimed. “How did you learn to do that?”
“It’s simply a matter of experience. I have been in the wine business for decades, and have sampled almost every wine to be created. One’s tongue becomes sensitive to such small details,” he replied.
“Incredible,” I repeated. “I’d like to be able to do that someday.”
“Perhaps you shall,” Mr. Parris kindly remarked. His brow curled for a moment as he went into deep thought, and a glint appeared in his eyes.
“Perhaps… you wish to sample some wine with me?” Mr. Parris offered. “I keep a large cellar under my estate, filled with rare casks. There is one in particular, a unique cask that I have been meaning to open. Would you care to visit my cellar with me? I will open this cask just for you.”
I was startled by his sudden offer of hospitality. A man whom I had just met, a virtual stranger, had just invited me into his home to taste a rare cask of wine. I almost declined out of politeness, but as a wine enthusiast I could not let this opportunity pass. Excitedly I took down his address, looking forward to a tour of his personal wine cellar.
It was evening when I arrived outside the estate of Mr. Parris. A cool autumn breeze swept in from the west, rustling the red and golden leaves around my feet and reminding me that winter was just around the corner. When Mr. Parris had used the word “estate” to describe his home, I had not thought anything of it. But now I saw that his property truly was an “estate”. Far out in the countryside on the border of a thick forest, the house (mansion would be a more accurate description) of Mr. Parris stood tall and proud, declaring its dominance over the land. The three story building appeared old and worn, but steady. It radiated an aura of power, as if no force on the earth was capable of brining it down.
Mr. Parris stood on the front porch of his home and slowly waved to me as I approached. He wore a black coat that gently swayed in the breeze, along with a long red scarf wrapped tightly around his neck, bracing him against the chilly November air. He greeted me with a bright smile and a firm embrace, and then led me around the right side of his house where the entrance to his wine cellar lay buried in the ground.
I offered to help as Mr. Parris bent down to open the large, wooden cellar doors, but he would have none of it. With surprising strength Mr. Parris lifted away the heavy doors and descended down the stone steps into the darkness below. Motioning for me to follow, he produced a flashlight from his coat pocket to light our way.
“You must forgive me, my cellar has no electricity,” he explained.
I assured him that I would not hold the lack of proper illumination against him, and followed him down the dark steps. In all honesty, I was somewhat intrigued by the idea of exploring a dark cellar with nothing but a flashlight to light the way. It seemed like something out of a gothic horror tale. Even so, as I descended into the dark wine cellar of Mr. Parris and took my first lungful of the damp, earthy air, something disturbed me. I couldn’t decide what it was, but as soon as I set foot in the cellar I became anxious, and a feeling of dread began brewing in the back of my mind.
Attempting to push away my irrational nervousness, I decided to focus on the business at hand.
“So where is this special cask that we will taste today?” I inquired, adjusting my walking pace to keep up with the long strides of Mr. Parris. His flashlight bobbed up and down as he walked, casting shadows across the numerous barrels of wine that lined the walls beneath his home. Impressed, I concluded there must be hundreds of casks of wine here.
“It lies at the back of my cellar,” Mr. Parris replied as he strolled.
The dim light of the cellar entrance grew smaller behind me until it was nothing more than a pinprick, and the strange seed of fear inside me grew larger with each step. I still did not understand why my subconscious seemed so repelled by this place. I shook my head in nervous confusion and continued to follow the footsteps of Mr. Parris. How large was this cellar? We had easily passed the boundary of his home.
My fretful mind drifted to a story that told of a situation similar to mine. The Cask of Amontillado, by Edgar Allan Poe, in which an unsuspecting Fortunato is led underground by the promise of a cask of wine, only to be buried alive by the vengeful Montresor.
I nervously let out a laugh.
“Say, you’re not planning on walling me up down here, are you?” I joked.
Mr. Parris immediately halted and looked forward with a confused look on his face. The flashlight continued to point straight ahead. After a moment of hesitation his face relaxed into understanding and he continued his walk forward with a hearty laugh.
“I understand, you reference a story, a story by Poe. Yes, quite the amusing tale, and similar to our own,” Mr. Parris chuckled. “But rest assured, I have no intention of burying you.”
I half heartedly laughed along with him. Amusing was hardly the word I would use to describe the disturbing story of a man being buried alive. Nevertheless I continued to follow Mr. Parris, looking forward to tasting the promised cask of wine.
After several additional minutes of walking we arrived at a damp, stone wall. Mr. Parris turned to his right and pointed at a cask laying on its side, stacked on top of two others.
“Here, the cask that was promised,” he proudly declared with a benevolent smile.
Mr. Parris handed me his flashlight, then bent down and placed one hand on each side of the cask. I was about to protest, to warn him that he couldn’t possibly lift it on his own, when to my utter astonishment he easily lifted the cask and gently placed it on the ground in front of me. A cask of that size should have been a struggle for two grown men to carry, but Mr. Parris had lifted it as if it weighed nothing. My feeling of uneasiness spiked to new heights.
“H-How…” I stuttered, amazed and disturbed by his feat of strength.
Mr. Parris did not respond. He simply smiled and reached down to the lid of the cask. After a few second of fumbling he popped the lid off, and it fell to the ground with a quiet thud. Anxiously, I peered into the cask to catch a glimpse of the sweet, red drink that he had promised.
For a few seconds I stared incredulously at the vacant cask. My head turned upwards to meet the eyes of Mr. Parris. He was staring intently at me, wearing a smile that appeared remarkably more sinister than his usual friendly grin. His eyes were fiery, and his breathing was deep and heavy.
Even as the fear that inhabited my subconscious exploded into the front of my mind, I managed a small, nervous chuckle.
“Ha-ha, he-he well done,” I laughed. “A good joke. A very good joke, my friend. N-now where… w-where is the cask. The one you promised…?”
Mr. Parris studied me for a moment, and then spoke.
“I love my cellar. I love everything about it. The quiet, the darkness… the aroma.”
The last word escaped his lips and hung in the air like a heavy fog.
My heart leapt into my throat as my irrational fears suddenly became rational. I realized why I had been so fearful of this cellar. I had been in several wine cellars before, and each had been filled with the pleasant aroma of wines fermenting in their casks. But this cellar contained no hint, not even a trace of the smell of wine.
Terrified, I shakily began backing away from Mr. Parris. My foot caught on something, and with a cry I fell backwards onto another cask. I came crashing down on top of it and felt the damp wood splinter as my weight crushed it.
This cask, however, was not empty, and red liquid splashed upwards and drenched my entire face and torso as I struggled on top of the broken barrel.
I tasted blood - but not my own.
Thick, cool streams of blood ran over my face and into my mouth as I thrashed around wildly, attempting to orient my body and pick myself up. Gallons of red liquid gushed from the sizable hole I had created in the cask, and poured over me in a wave of scarlet.
Rising above my loud wails of terror, I heard Mr. Parris laugh. A heartless, demonic laugh that paralyzed my body with fear and filled me with the deepest sense of dread.
Wiping my face and looking upwards, I saw Mr. Parris standing above me. By the thin light cast by the flashlight that now lay on the ground, I could see that his eyes had sunken into his head and his skin was deathly pale. As he laughed, I observed that his perfect white teeth, ones that had earlier created the warmest smile, were now horribly deformed. His incisors had doubled in length and extended beyond his lower lip.
“There is no joke. I have told no lie,” he gloated. “Did I not say I would open a special cask? Just for you!”
Mr. Dario Parris, the kind, elderly man whom shared my affinity for fine wine, grabbed me by my bloody shirt collar and with inhuman strength dragged me along the ground to the empty cask. He forced my head and neck over the side of the barrel and held me in place as one hand probed the tender flesh around my throat, seeking my jugular vein.
“Your mistrust of me was apparent as soon as you entered my cellar, but your fears of Poe’s cask of Amontillado were misplaced,” he explained with an amused tone. “You would have done better to heed Stoker. His tale of Dracula does me justice.”
With all my strength I attempted to struggle against the hand around my neck, but no human effort could have saved me from the grasp of Mr. Parris.
“Do not struggle, or it will spill. You have already ruined one of my precious casks. Now you must repay me in full.”
His index finger came to rest on the throbbing vein in my neck, and Mr. Parris flashed an evil grin as his mouth opened wide. Bright beams of light reflected off sharp, monstrous teeth, illuminating drops of saliva that eagerly dripped from his fangs.
Mr. Parris brought his mouth to my neck, and I could sense the evil that emanated from his entire being, encasing me in hopelessness and despair.
His hot breath smelled of centuries of horror and death.
And his bite was cold and cruel.
Written by Cdaley