The Bottomless Bottle of Beer: "Sad instrument of all our woe"?
The artist Terrance Lindall has recently sent me two masterful illustrations for my short novella, The Bottomless Bottle of Beer, both of which appear near the onset of the action and in sequence. Here's the first, showing Mr. Em, in the presence of a deceptively 'small' feline called "Behemoth," inviting our naive young hero down to the cellar for a 'bottomless' bottle of beer.
Our nameless hero initially hesitates, puzzled at the offer of a 'bottomless' bottle of beer, but then acquiesces:
[Mr. Em] seemed to understand my visible perplexity. "Come," he beckoned. "We have several below, down in the cellar." He turned toward the door to the left, and I followed into a narrow hallway lit by candlelight. As we passed through the doorway, he said, "Behemoth, close the door behind us, please." I looked back and from the dim, yellow light saw that the huge cat was following close behind. The creature appeared to be dropping down onto four feet, as though it had been standing fully erect on its hind legs to pull the door to. That was surely an optical illusion, but how had the cat tugged the door shut?
"Watch your step," cautioned Mr. Em, drawing my attention from the cat.
The narrow hallway began a steep descent by stone steps as the left wall abruptly ended in darkness, leaving the steps to descend along a narrow ledge. I followed carefully, keeping to the remaining wall, but glancing fearfully into the abyss of darkness to my left. The steps continued their descent, growing darker, then brighter as we ventured from one candlelit spot to the next. I found myself wondering who maintained all the candles. Mr. Em had mentioned others responsible for the shop sign, but that number would surely be small, no more than two, maybe three. Far too few for the scores of candles. "What the hell am I doing here?" I muttered, considering whether to complain. A prospective customer surely ought to be served, not made to wander dangerously along the margin of such utter darkness, where a single false step would send one plunging confounded from the light, however dim.
I had just opened my mouth to express my reservation when Mr. Em announced, "Ah, here we are."
I looked and saw that while the ledge kept descending, we had stepped down onto a landing, a pause in the descent. The wall to our right was hollowed out into an unilluminated room whose entrance was blocked by a massive portcullis.
Mr. Em gestured with a downward motion. "Would you please open that for us?"There, that excerpt will suffice for these two images. Readers interested in the entire story with some 50 illustrations will have to wait until at least March next year. For the images alone, this is worth the wait, for I'm impressed by Terrance's use of details, e.g., the Milton image, the apple, the memento mori, the aqua morte . . .
I naturally assumed he was speaking to me, but as I prepared to protest that I knew nothing of such infernal devices, I heard chains clanking and gears grinding, metal against metal, as with impetuous recoil and jarring sound, the portcullis began forthwith to screech its way rapidly up. I looked behind me and saw with astonishment that Behemoth was pulling down on a great chain, the large cat's claws hooked into two of its links. At that very moment, I began to think of Behemoth more as person than cat, like a short, stocky fellow in a catsuit, and I watched as he quickly drew the chain down, unhooked the lower claws from their link and reached high to rehook those same claws into another link, all the time continuing to pull as he alternated paw over paw. When the heavy grating had been harshly and completely raised, Behemoth caught one of the chain's big links onto an iron hook set firmly in the stone landing, and the portcullis remained open.
For better viewing, click on an image . . . and again.