(apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)
TRUE! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How then am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily, how calmly, I can tell you the whole story. It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved playing chess with the old man. He had never wronged me. He had ever been a perfect gentleman over the board. For his grading points I had no desire.
I think it was his chess clock!
Yes, it was this! One of the dials was off-centre and the whole device was encased in a dark wooden box, carved into which were ghoulish representations of kings and queens, with bulbous eyes which seemed to follow you about the room. Whenever I looked upon it my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the clock for ever.
Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded -- with what caution -- with what foresight, with what dissimulation, I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. Every night we convened in the drawing room, set the log fire ablaze and played until well into the early hours. And each night, though a thousand winning lines begged to be played, I always found one which allowed the old man the most satisfactory way to win. You would have laughed to see how I, like the worst patzer, allowed sacrificial wins, smothered mates and king hunts. Often it took him several moves to see the chance, so I was forced to sit there, boiling with rage inside, waiting for him to catch on. He would then admonish me in a fatherly way and reset the pieces. Most evenings ended with the old man fast asleep in his chair wearing a contented smile, his whisky glass still in-hand. Truly I had never seen him happier.
Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this?
And this I did for seven long nights, but the old man kept his clock locked away, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the old man who vexed me but his evil clock.
And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had slept. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect my intentions.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually devious. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was throwing game after game in brilliant fashion, and he not even to dream of my secret plan. I fairly chuckled at the idea.
Then the old man sealed his own fate - he brought out the clock! The second I set eyes upon it my blood began to boil and bile rose in my throat.
We played, and within eight moves I had removed one of his rooks. This was followed quickly by a knight and finally his queen. No doubt putting this down to pure luck, he quickly reset the board and we played again. This time I rapidly forced a position where a cascade of sacrifices ended in the unlikeliest of mates, delivered by my last remaining piece. This clearly shook him, and deep furrows appeared on his brow as he hastily and silently replaced the pieces. In the third game I forced every one of his major pieces back onto the back rank, then set up a full board zugzwang, where each of his many possible moves would lead to a different checkmate. He stared wide-eyed at the position for an age, and I noticed his hands beginning to shake. Then he fell back into his chair and looked up at my fevered face. Now he understood!
Presently, he let out a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief -- oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him although I chuckled at heart. His fears had been growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not.
And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? Now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well too. It was the beating of his vile clock. It increased my fury as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage. But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I tried how steadily I could maintain my gaze upon the clock. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the tick increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder, every instant. The old man's terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! -- do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now, amid the dreadful silence of that room, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and did nothing. But the beating grew louder, louder! Till I thought the clock must explode! The old man's hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw over the board and leaped upon him. He shrieked once -- once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy rug over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But for many minutes the clock beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex. At length his frail hand reached out, searching, until it rested upon the vile clock and stopped it. Then I knew the old man was dead. I removed the rug and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon his heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His clock would trouble me no more.
If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. I rolled the old man and his damned clock in the rug. I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly so cunningly, that no human eye could have detected anything wrong. There was nothing to wash out -- no stain of any kind -- no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that.
When I had made an end of these labours, it was four o'clock -- still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, -- for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises. I smiled, -- for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent at a tournament in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search -- search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim. The officers were satisfied. My MANNER had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears; but still they sat, and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct : I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness -- until, at length, I found that the noise was NOT within my ears. No doubt I now grew VERY pale; but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased -- and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, QUICK SOUND -- SUCH A SOUND AS A WATCH MAKES WHEN ENVELOPED IN COTTON. I gasped for breath, and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly, more vehemently but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why WOULD they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men, but the noise steadily increased. O God! what COULD I do? I foamed -- I raved -- I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder -- louder -- louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly , and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! -- no, no? They heard! -- they suspected! -- they KNEW! -- they were making a mockery of my horror! -- this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! -- and now -- again -- hark! louder! louder! louder! LOUDER! -- "Villains!" I shrieked, "dissemble no more! I admit the deed! -- tear up the planks! -- here, here! -- it is the beating of that hideous clock!"
adapted from Poe's 'The Tell Tale Heart'