Will Waltz
8 min readMar 31, 2020

As it happened one of my wealthier friends was leaving town on short notice- something about a chemical plant in the northeast, poisonings perhaps, it sounded quite serious- and I was instructed to check on his property nightly. This is one of the benefits of absently wealthy friends, the occasional use of their property for social gatherings, stress release, roleplaying.

We reviewed the perfunctory notes. A cat fed two different kinds of food twice daily. Where to walk about the grounds, check for fallen limbs, breaches in the fence; a short tour of the home I had already been to two or three times but under too much a drugged-and-partied haze to remember perfectly. Besides, it gave him an opportunity to show off a few pieces he’d recently liberated from elder wretched antique dealers and dead once-mentioned relatives.

I was about to take the spare key and return home for the night- the matter wasn’t so serious that it required his physical presence immediately, it seemed- when an ornate cabinet he hadn’t breezily mentioned caught my eye. It seemed well-kempt, polished almost, but with clear layers of dust settled before the doors. The windowed shelves concealed rows and rows of multicolored bottles, what I assumed to be liquor, though obscured through a means I couldn’t pick out- the vision inside the cabinet was hazy even with the glass unglazed or shaded. I asked casually about the nature of the wood, as to assure him I had no business in its contents.

“White oak, I think,” he replied, refusing to touch or display the furniture. “My grandfather’s old liquor cabinet, which he stocked, and then my father’s inheritance in more ways than one. It’s on the property as part of a deal with my mother.” His vision shifted from the bottles to my eyeglasses. “I’ve moved on to other vices. Feel free to look through the catalog while I’m gone, but most of them are sealed or have gone rancid by now, I’m sure.”

I mumbled something about being interested in it purely as a photography subject, which also gained his assent. I followed him outside to his car- he was headed to his apartment in the city to be closer to the airport- and, I thought wryly, surely to indulge in those “other vices” he touched upon.

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The first night. I vividly recall the drive out to the estate, how the light became less ubiquitous and more pocketed, the road-noise petering off until only the occasional freighter drove past and one plaintive bark of a lone dog. I had remarked to this wealthy friend once that the noise of the highway by my apartment, if I closed my eyes and focused hard enough, could be transformed to the rough crash of waves on a beach, and myself disguised as a carefree beach bum, at ease. He smiled toothlessly and said they were nothing the same.

The feline fed, I turned my attention once again to the cabinet. My fascination I could not put words to then- it was the same as any other object that announced its intention with its naming. Ironing board. Coffee table. But “liquor cabinet”- the phrase was already hand-tremblingly pregnant with opportunity. I’ll admit that I touched, but not quite stroked, it with some amount of passion. Its doors were locked with some old grey iron keyhole, as I discovered when I tried to pull its doors apart and was met with only a resistance and rattle from the windows and obscured contents.

Yes, I spend the first night fruitlessly searching through the home- if you can call it that. The junk drawer, medicine cabinets, midsize ornate boxes scattered artistically in the reading room. All keyless. Empty, as in, not possessing the thing I desire. And I am not ashamed to say I searched the bedroom, used a flashlight to look under couches- we were friends, he and I, he would have opened it for me had I asked! I, his trustee, undertook the favor in his stead while he attended to business, the business of keeping multinational businesses afloat. I was in some ways an employee, one off the payroll, causing no trouble at all. I only wished to collect my pay.

I left around one in the morning. I had to work the next day, and I was strictly forbidden from spending the night there in case I frightened the maid, who came daily and early to dust and tidy. She would not notice my search- I had been scrupulous.

I apologize, I am told it is uncouth to call cleaning staff “maids” in this day and age.

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The next night I arrived around six. I had one dream the previous night- a woman, dark and slim, in a rich ruby-red dress instructed me to check her back, for something itched and irritated her. My hands trembling again before I was asked to look at, before even a touch, this lady’s back. She turned slowly and obligingly before my inspection. Where flesh should have been, only twisting bronze gears and spilling black oil, splatting over both of us- I tried to speak and warn her of this, but the oval of her mouth, the horrible noise from her face twisted grotesquely to look over her back, about to pop off like a champagne cork, a horrible siren blare- my alarm. I woke up.

A soggy cheeseburger bought on the journey there, and my hands washed free of its grease in an exquisite freestanding-bowl ceramic sink, I gingerly lifted down a portrait of the woman of my dreams- my acquaintance’s mother. Her smile seemed sad and did not match the liveliness captured in the woman’s eye and brows. To the back of the portrait, taped to the brown canvas paper, a slim iron key.

I had control, then. The first barrier was breached, no more- the slope left ungreased- I allowed myself only to cooly touch each one, every one, remove each object like the cool coroner after a long-dead bloated corpse. What was this but care for the dead? In each, held as if a sommelier’s careful selection for the table, the sudden expert of the contents within. The smell of dust and ancient varnish. The bottles ranged from familiar ones- Whiskey, bourbon were names I knew, gin, and illegal seeming amount of absinthe, then containers in strange pebbled shapes and textures with writing either indecipherable or foreign. Some, I note with repulsion, with whole preserved animals inside- an enormous serpent coiled corkscrew in what was a wine bottle no longer containing wine. I kept my promise and photographed them. None of them left the house- again- I am no criminal. But I did stay very late, holding each one up to the lone light from the lamp whose beam I permitted.

I’ll leave a morsel for readers who sustain themselves on these things- not a bottle opener or corkscrew in the entire house. Not that I looked until the next time.

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The third day. I called in sick- wasn’t I? When consumed with a singular desire, psychiatry calls this condition of man “monomania” — but really what psychiatry does is bring into sharp relief the virtues of great men. And I had been made great thru this gift of my friend- thrust upon me- a secret greatness for the both of us.

All day I read about the beasts of the field- the grapes, the wheat, the botanicals, the yearning bloody fruitbasket- very special old things. I practiced self-denial, sure- for the day at least- the only thing I ate or drank was the cool colors of the photographs I had taken earlier- and I wanted to taste the liquor in full- this as my only appetizer.

At the house now before dark even. Everything still pristine, more abandoned even, just as I left and intended it, sans the jangling naked key in my empty pocket.

The rest of the night- how do I explain this. Imagine yourself a camera of the cinema, starting at the plush floor of the room you can familiarize yourself with at a glance- it is the movies after all- the lower legs of a low table, slowly rising to reveal bottle after bottle strewn across the top, bourbon dripping down, tantalizing and golden enough you expect the camera to pan back down and reveal a young red mouth catching every drop. But we continue our upward journey- myself comatose on the plush leather couch, a single sinning spotlight shining down on me, nothing else in that beautifully wealthy empty room except in one dark corner, the liquor cabinet, arms wide open just for me. Until you look directly downward at my face, in ecstasy, the world spins around me in a spiral.

Total silence, for a long time. Then a piercing scream. The maid.

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I will not speak of the consequences of this revelry- no, it is not of interest to you. I will let you imagine what flights early-booked my wealthy friend was forced to take, the extra cleaning fees, the thousands of dollars of ferment poured down my unworthy throat. I will instead speak of a second dream that explains everything that happens in great detail.

Imagine me, still, splayed. The maid (still in scream). An ambulance arrives, the red and blue lights glancing off the glass of windows and bottles. Two paramedics walk in, place me on the stretcher, remove me comatose and load me back into the ambulance. We take off, at speed. Lights blazing again, sirens echoing off the clear country road. And then- the lights dim- the siren sounds die. I am sedated- I don’t know this. And we drive quietly away from the city hospital.

I am taken to a derelict warehouse on the edge of town, the hums of all-night machinery carried by the humid salty air like a plucked bass string. And I am one of the goods delivered that night. The junior of them, left outside a particular rolling door to keep watch, the older wheeling my fast-fading corpse inside. A nod and a proffered laminated card to a solitary attendant, who marks down not a name and time but an undecipherable squiggle in a foreign language- then the dissemination of my personal belongings, my clothes are the next to be removed, gently cut off and piled into a bin to be incinerated on a lower floor.

My body, then- as the now-lethal dose of anesthetic takes its final hold- carefully positioned in a kind of rack similar to the stretcher that held me- but now its intention was equal parts supportive and diabolical. I am lifted into a complicated series of rollers, machinery, designed to crush every drop of liquid from me. The pain, if I could have felt it, would instantaneously break any conscious mind. Imagine a wet towel rung, imagine as a child, watching a mesmerizing taffy puller in the candy store window- these actions — but for men! For me! The sole object to rob me of any moisture and to assure my notified family that I was given a swift burial, so embarrassing was my corpse after my automobile accident.

This extract is distilled into a pale pink liquor said to taste of sweat and mad love. Bottled, it exists only in a tiny, ridged, unlabeled glass, tucked into one of the untouched corners of that liquor cabinet.



Will Waltz

I am a brother to dragons, and a companion to owls; my skin is black upon me, and my bones are burned with heat.