This story was written for a competition, but did not win. As the format borders on plagiarism, I do not feel comfortable trying to publish it. Nonetheless, I feel it illustrates my talents well.
Read the original story “The Tell-Tale Heart”.
The Tell-Tale Heart Retold
I owe my present condition, for better and worse, to a madman. He was a normal young man at first, and I depended upon him to help me with my daily needs. I was never unkind to the boy, and I paid him well for the services he provided. At first, he was almost as the son I never had, but there came a gradual change in his demeanor. I was unwilling to admit the truth at first, and told myself it must be the paranoid fancy of an aging mind.
As the months went on, my lodger’s use of smelling powders and that cursed green liquor grew quite alarming. At length, he had taken to staring at me when he thought I was not looking. The young always assume the old are as feeble in mind as they are in body. Not so! For my mind was much sharper in my last few years than it had been in my youth.
I was afflicted with blindness in one eye in my fading years, and it was clear that my lodger found the matter increasingly unsettling. What drug-induced fantasies he held, I know not. It was clear that he thought the eye more than useless. He would often shudder as his sanity slipped, and leave the room if I turned upon him the wrong way.
My lodger had become recluse, and saw me only when duty required. With the knowing wisdom of the old, I was assured he was slipping into madness. At times, I would find him sitting in our drawing room staring. What horrid fantasies he imagined I cannot know, but his actions began to unnerve me. It length, I decided I must confront him.
“What are you doing?” I yelled crossly. I fear that my reaction may have made matters worse, but I was truly alarmed at his slipping sanity.
“There is a mouse in the wall,” he said absently. “I can hear its feet scraping as it climbs.”
“Nonsense. I would have seen droppings. We have no vermin in this house,” I scolded him like a child. I saw then the knife in his hand, and asked, “Why do you have my kitchen knife?”
“I mean to impale the horrid creature when it dares to show its head,” he said with a smile that made my blood run cold. He looked as if he wanted to say more, but he suddenly shuddered when he looked at me. Gazing directly at my unseeing eye, he dropped the knife and backed from the room.
His horrors and madness did not manifest only in the daytime. At night, I would hear him awake screaming. I would hear the shuffling of his feet, or the moving of furniture. I assume he was blocking the door to his room to keep his imagined horrors away. This unnerved me, but his room was always in the same, clean and orderly state in the morning. Upon seeing his well-kept dwelling, I would convince myself that it was simply the nightmares of an intoxicated but otherwise normal man. However, each night I feared that he would find the surcease of his madness at the cost of my blood.
In the weeks before my brutal murder, I watched for nearly an hour—though I cleverly pretended to be ignorant of his actions under the guise of reading some book—as he gazed at the clock. I could see a great malice in his eyes as if the machine’s steady tick-tocking was a personal injury to him. In one hand, he had a vile of that horrid, green liquor which I blame for his madness. With the other hand, he tapped his finger in time to the clock. His breathing seemed labored and rapid as if he saw some hideous evil taunting him in the inevitable sounds and movements of the great timepiece. I do not think he knew that his hand was moving, and it began to annoy me after a time.
I fear my reaction was disproportionate to his crime, but I veritably yelled at him, “Stop that infernal tapping!”
For a second, he paused, and turned to gaze at my chest. I thought he was simply avoiding my blinded eye that seemed to give him horrid fantasies until he began to tap his finger once again. It was out of time with the clock, and I wondered what his actions meant. With near-crippling fear, I realized he must be trying to copy the beating of my heart. Although I told myself this was simply his insanity wearing off on me, my heart raced all the more. I could hear it pounding now in my ears, and the tapping of his finger matched its time. A smile of pure evil spread on his face, and it was I who left the room fearfully.
That night, my lodger did not repeat his normal night terrors. He appeared to have slept quietly, though I tossed and turned. When morning came, he greeted me joyfully as if we were old friends, and as if his madness was an imagined fantasy. For a moment, I was hopeful that he had given up his powders and drink, and his insanity would therefore vanish.
At the time I knew no reason why his extreme solicitudes unnerved me more than the madness in the previous weeks. I did not believe that a man could truly regain his sanity in one night. I fear I was unpleasant and difficult with him. I told myself that my paranoid fantasies of harm were nothing more than his madness working its evils on my mind. He no longer shuddered at the imagined stare of my blind eye, and for the whole day I did not see him in any act of madness or with that cursed vial of liquor.
When night came, he must have slept soundly for I heard no noise from his room. It seemed that his nightmares had transferred to me, for I had hideous dreams of death. When morning finally came, the young man was again upon me with his newly found kindnesses. He again took the tactic of being overly solicitous. I suppose it is my perverse nature, but I made an attempt to reignite the madness that had ceased to manifest itself. I knew instinctively that this apparent sanity and kindness was simply a new and dangerous manifestation of his inner torment. Alas, I could not draw the malicious actions from him no matter how I tried.
For a week, the horrid dreams continued as did his more horrific false sanity. I knew it was a false sanity and an act, and I knew not what I could do. I had feared he might injure himself when he had formerly taken the actions of a madman. Now, I feared for my own life despite the outward acts of the lodger that were meant to disarm me. I wondered if he meant to poison me, but I discounted this as fantasy. It seemed that as he grew sane, I grew mad.
On the eighth night of his newfound and false sanity, I slept poorly due to constant dreams of my brutal murder. These dreams had been my nightly torment since my lodger had seemingly ceased to have them. Perhaps his waking fantasies of murder had replaced his sleeping fantasies of horror. I heard a sound, and was instantly awake. My room was pitch black, and I could see nothing despite my best efforts.
By some acuteness of the senses, I truly felt that someone was in my room. I tried to discount this as nothing but the remnants of the nightmare, but it was no use. “Who’s there?” I yelled. I fancied I could hear breathing, or the beating of a heart, but I convinced myself they were simply my own.
Nonetheless, I was frozen sitting on my bed. I felt as if I was waiting for some unnamed evil to fall upon me, but nothing came. I know not how long I sat there in growing horror. I told myself aloud that I was imagining things and that it was simply a mouse, a cricket, or the wind that had woken me. Even to my own ears, my voice sounded strained and terrified. Its timbre only unnerved me more, and my horror increased despite my efforts to dispel it as childish fantasy.
Suddenly, a ray of light pierced the darkness. It was not quite enough to see by, but I knew instinctively who it was. For a second, I told myself that my lodger had heard me cry out, and come to see if I was okay. I truly wanted to believe this. For what seemed like an eternity, he simply stared in at me. The ray of light must have fallen on my blind eye because I could not make out any objects in the room. I heard the young man’s breathing quicken and become heavy. He whimpered too as he gazed, and I knew certainly then that his sanity had left him once again.
Suddenly, he dropped the lantern and yelled. I saw pure hate on his face in the flash of light. He rushed towards me and I screamed. He smiled at me, but there was nothing but malice and murder here. The young man threw me to the floor with the strength reserved for madmen and the young. He threw the bed on top of me and I fought to breathe. It was no use; the young man was too strong for me. I heard my heard my heart pounding, pounding, and then nothing. As if from a distance, I saw him place his hand on my chest. I wondered if he felt remorse for his actions, but I could not stay to watch.
I found myself in a darkened, icy wood wandering among ghouls. Across half-frozen lakes I wandered in the light of dim stars. I was stuck in the confused state I now know is common to the recently dead. I could not understand where I was, and I doubted even my identity. As I wandered aimlessly past ghosts, demons, and monsters, I felt my own horror growing by the minute. They whispered to me:
“Thou art lost in extremes of coldness and fire
By Bacchus you walk in the lands of the lost
By Ares and worm you’re cursed to the dust
In extremes of the climes of Auber and Weir:
The dark, curséd woodlands of Auber and Weir”
Read the poem that inspired this verse: “Ulalume”
I saw then a tomb in my path far in the distance. I did not want to travel to it, but I was impelled to the quest despite growing fears. Closer I came and greater my horror with each passing minute. I stopped and gazed at the unintelligible writing on the stone in front of me. As my fear to read the name grew, the words became clear. I was impelled by some outside force to read the name of the dead–it was my own name on the ethereal tomb.
When I saw the name, my confusion and horror began to pass. What had I to fear now? Fear of death is the domain of the living, and death had already come to me. I remembered the acts that had sent me here, and the madman that had stolen my life. As I resolved to find a way to punish this evil, I found myself once again in my home.
The young madman held my corpse over a tub as he began to dismember the parts. It seemed that I had been gone for hours or days, but I saw it must have been only a few minutes. I hated him now, and even more as I saw him rip up the floor to hide my dismembered remains. This hideous creature smiled as he hid my corpse—perhaps assured that the act would forever remain a secret—and I sought some manner to make him pay for his crimes.
As I pondered my next action, the bell rang. Two policemen were outside asking to be let in. I rejoiced in assurance that the men would quickly learn of my brutal murder. Then I could revenge myself after my lodger took a drop on the gallows. The madman told them laughable lies, but the incompetent men believed him.
I screamed in anger as I saw them sit and talk peacefully with my murderer. The madman was laughing and joking with the men. His calm demeanor infuriated me. I watched him set his chair in arrogance on the very board where my dismembered body lay!
Still the policemen did nothing. I could not make myself heard no matter how I tried. I screamed in anger to think my death would go un-avenged—for I had quickly become fond of the thought of a noose around my lodger’s neck. It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps the unhealthy mind of my lodger would be more susceptible to my hauntings. Remembering his horror at the sound of my clock, I decided to use this sound to infuriate him. The method is hard to explain to the living, but it is second nature to the dead.
At first, I saw little effect, but this soon changed. He began to become agitated as he heard the steady beating, and his breathing quickened. He sprang to his feet and began to pace. I was sure that the policemen would see this and question, but they were lost in selfish conversation. The madman feigned passion about the mundane police issues the sane men discussed. Still, they did not see, and I had nearly given up hope.
Finally, my lodger began to scrape his chair across the floorboards in a strange manner. Though the policemen did not cease their conversation, they now cast a suspicious eye on the young man. I intensified my efforts, and finally saw his false sanity break.
“Villains! Dissemble no more! I admit the deed!” he screamed.
The two men were shocked to silence, but my madman of a lodger was not finished. Falling to his knees, he began to claw at the floor like the animal he was. He screamed again, “Tear up the planks! Here, here!—It is the beating of his hideous heart!”