A Rapping at the Door

October 31, 2013 § Leave a comment

I had scarcely laid the first tier of my masonry when I discovered that the intoxication of Fortunato had in a great measure worn off. The earliest indication I had of this was a low moaning cry from the depth of the recess. It was not the cry of a drunken man. There was then a long and obstinate silence. I laid the second tier, and the third, and the fourth; and then I heard the furious vibrations of the chain. The noise lasted for several minutes, during which, that I might hearken to it with the more satisfaction, I ceased my labours and sat down upon the bones. When at last the clanking subsided, I resumed the trowel, and finished without interruption the fifth, the sixth, and the seventh tier. The wall was now nearly upon a level with my breast. I again paused, and holding the flambeaux over the mason-work, threw a few feeble rays upon the figure within.

Edgar Allan Poe, “The Cask of Amontillado” (1846)

When I was in tenth grade, we were assigned Poe for Halloween. Mrs. Baletsa always assigned us more reading than I could manage to fit in with my other homework, but they were good books: To Kill a Mockingbird; Steinbeck’s The Pearl; Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

At the time, I wasn’t an avid reader. I read for the assignment, for the answers to the questions. This was where I always had difficulty; in retrospect, I think I was so interested in language that the oddness of words often distracted me from the story I was being told.

We had elderly neighbors who were still rather sprightly (they had a yellow Lab they walked themselves) living next door. On Halloween that year, their granddaughter went into labor. Since they wanted to be at the hospital to meet their new great-grandchild, they asked me to house-sit for them and hand out their candy.

I had nothing else to do but my homework.

So it was in an unfamiliar house, on Halloween night, interrupted by neighborhood kids every three minutes, that I attempted to read “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” “The Cask of Amontillado,” and “The Tell-Tale Heart” for the first time.

It was not an old or drafty house, no strange hideaways or player pianos, no unannounced lightning storm, but I think I left the TV off (they didn’t have cable), and against Poe’s description of voices buried deep within walls, hearts beneath floorboards, bodies shoved up into chimneys, the irregular settling creak managed to make itself known.

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