THE BLACK CAT

by Edgar Allan Poe
(1843)

 

Cast:

Narrator Prisoner††††††††††† Voice of Prisoner

Mother††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Father†††††††††††††† ††††††††††† Wife

Landlord††††††††††† ††††††††††† Policeman #1††† ††††††††††† Policeman #2

 

NARRATOR:†††† A young man, perhaps thirty years, sits at a desk in his prison cell, writing.

PRISONER:†† I donít expect you to believe my story.It is true, but itís also so wild that even I have a hard time believing it.Yet, I am not insane, and my story is not a product of my imagination.Tomorrow I will die, so today I am writing down my story to unburden my soul.My immediate purpose is to place before the world, plainly, succinctly, and without comment, a series of mere household events. In their consequences, these events have terrified --have tortured --have destroyed me.To me, these events have brought nothing but horror, but to others they might seem nothing more than spooky stories that one tells at a party to amuse his friends.Perhaps an intelligent reader, someone who has not experienced this first-hand, a person whose spirit is far less excitable than my own, will see things differently.Perhaps the tale which to me is a series of extraordinary and even bizarre events will seem, to a calmer mind, nothing more than an ordinary progression of very natural causes and effects.These events began when I was just a childÖ

MOTHER: What a wonderful child we have.Heís not a rough-and-tumble hooligan like the other boys.Heís so gentle, so caring, especially with his pets.

FATHER:Yes, but sometimes he seems to care for his animals more than he cares for humans.

MOTHER:I can hardly blame him.The other children donít always accept him, but his pets are always faithful.

FATHER: I donít remember seeing that brown puppy before.Where did he come from?

MOTHER:Itís probably a hungry stray that followed your son home.

FATHER:Zounds!The last thing we need around here is another animal!

MOTHER:Oh, but we must let him keep it.After all, the animals bring out such a warm and caring side of his personality.Someday heís going to meet a special young woman, and if he doesnít learn to be a kind and gentle soulÖ

FATHER:I suppose youíre right.But this is the last time Iím going to let him bring another animal in the house.

MOTHER:Yes, dear, thatís what you always say.

VOICE OF PRISONER:My fondness for animals grew with my youth, and in my manhood, I derived from it one of my principal sources of pleasure. To those who have cherished an affection for a faithful and sagacious dog, I hardly need be at the trouble of explaining the nature or the intensity of the gratification thus derivable. There is something in the unselfish and self-sacrificing love of a brute, which goes directly to the heart of him who has had frequent occasion to test the paltry friendship and gossamer fidelity of mere Man.

I married early, and was happy to find in my wife a disposition not uncongenial with my own.

WIFE:I have a surprise for you.

PRISONER:What?Another dog?A rabbit?

WIFE:No, we have plenty of those.This is something a bit more exotic.

PRISONER:But it is an animal?

WIFE: Yes, itís an animal.Now, look up.

PRISONER: Up?

WIFE:Your new friend is on the chandelier.

PRISONER:Oh, my goodness, itís a monkey.

WIFE:His name is Coco, and heís been waiting all afternoon to meet you.

PRISONER: I am so lucky to have a wife that loves animals as much as I do.What other woman would allow me to have birds, rabbits, a dog, a cat, and now a monkey in the house?

WIFE:Well, donít pay too much attention to Coco, or Pluto might get jealous.

PRISONER:(picking up a cat).Donít worry.Pluto knows I still love him the most.

WIFE:I donít know.Thereís something suspicious about that cat.They say that all black cats are witches in disguise.

PRISONER: I know youíre just kidding, but sometimes I think you actually believe that old superstition!

WIFE:That cat has a mind of his own.He wonít let anyone else feed him, and the way he follows you aroundóitís just strange!

PRISONER:Nonsense!This is just a very wise and beautiful animal who is smart enough to show proper respect to his master.

WIFE: If I didnít hold him back when you left for work, heíd follow you into the streets!

VOICE OF PRISONER:  Our friendship lasted, in this manner, for several years, during which my general temperament and character --through the instrumentality of the Fiend Intemperance --had (I blush to confess it) experienced a radical alteration for the worse. I consumed too much alcohol, and gradually it consumed me.Day by day I grew more moody, more irritable, and my wife felt the brunt of my discontent.I suffered myself to use intemperate language to her.At length, I even offered her personal violence.

My pets, of course, were made to feel the change in my disposition. I not only neglected, but ill-used them. For Pluto, however, I still retained sufficient regard to restrain me from maltreating him, as I made no scruple of maltreating the rabbits, the monkey, or even the dog, when by accident, or through affection, they came in my way. But my disease grew upon me --for what disease is like Alcohol! --and at length even Pluto, who was now becoming old, and consequently somewhat peevish --even Pluto began to experience the effects of my ill temper.   

One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence.

PRISONER:Pluto!Come here!Where are you, you miserable beast!Oh, do you think you can hide from me under that chair?Well, Iíll show you who is master of the house!

VOICE OF PRISONER:I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body; and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fiber of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! Even now, as I write this words, I blush, I burn, I shudder, at my damnable atrocity.

The next morning, when the effects of the alcohol wore off, I woke to find my cat once again hiding from me.

PRISONER:Pluto, are you hiding from me again?I canít say that I blame you.What I did was horrible, and I am sickened by the memory of my terrible act.Well, the same wine that sickened my soul light will make me feel better today, for I will drink and then soon I will forget.

In the meantime the cat slowly recovered. The socket of the lost eye presented, it is true, a frightful appearance, but he no longer appeared to suffer any pain. He went about the house as usual, but, as might be expected, fled in extreme terror at my approach.

PRISONER:Alas!The old friend that once loved me now runs away when I walk into the room.

WIFE: Can you blame him?Look what youíve done to him!

PRISONER:Iíd rather not.

WIFE:Has you heart grown that cold?

PRISONER:I suppose it has.At first I felt sorry for him, but with each passing day he seems to irritate me a little more.

WIFE:Listen to yourself!How can you be such an inhuman beast?How could do something so terrible?

PRISONER:Am I really that different from anybody else?Hasnít everybody broken a rule for no other reason than they wanted to break a rule?Thereís a bit of mischief in every human soul.

WIFE:This isnít mischief.Itís perverseness.Itís sinful.

VOICE OF PRISONER:This spirit of perverseness, I say, came to my final overthrow. It was this unfathomable longing of the soul to vex itself --to offer violence to its own nature --to do wrong for the wrong's sake only --that urged me to continue and finally to consummate the injury I had inflicted upon the unoffending brute. One morning, in cool blood, I slipped a noose about its neck and hung it to the limb of a tree; --hung it with the tears streaming from my eyes, and with the bitterest remorse at my heart; --hung it because I knew that it had loved me, and because I felt it had given me no reason of offence; --hung it because I knew that in so doing I was committing a sin --a deadly sin that would so jeopardize my immortal soul as to place it --if such a thing were possible --even beyond the reach of the infinite mercy of the Most Merciful and Most Terrible God.
PRISONER:Whatís going on?Whatís all of this smoke?(Shakes his wife)Wake up!Wake up!The house is on fire!

WIFE: What?

PRISONER:Weíve got to escape.The house is on fire!

WIFE: But our belongings---

PRISONER:Our belongings are gone.There is no time to save anything except ourselves.We have lost everythingóletís not lose our lives, too.

VOICE OF PRISONER:The next day, after the house had burned down, a crowd of people gathered around the ruined building.

PERSON #1:Whatís that?Itís so strange!

PERSON #2:Oh my goodness!How bizarre!

PRISONER:What?Itís the remains of a burned building.

PERSON #1:Donít you see it?

PRISONER:See what?

PERSON #2:That wall.

PRISONER:Itís just an old bedroom wall.Nothing but plaster that somehow managed to resist the action of the fire.

PERSON #1:No!Itís what is on the wall.

PERSON #2:See?Engraved into plaster is the shape of a great cat, with a rope around its neck.

PRISONER:How can this be?(To himself)Some of my neighbors were in my garden watching the fire as it consumed my house.One of them must have come upon the cat hanging in the tree, cut it down, and then he must have thrown it through the window into my room.The plaster on that wall was fresh, and the fresh lime from the plaster combined with the ammonia from the carcass of the cat must have somehow combined to make the impression.

VOICE OF PRISONER: The cat made an impression not only on the wall, but also my mind.For months I could not rid myself of the phantasm of the cat; and, during this period, there came back into my spirit a half-sentiment that seemed, but was not, remorse. I went so far as to regret the loss of the animal, and to look about me, among the vile haunts which I now habitually frequented, for another pet of the same species, and of somewhat similar appearance, with which to supply its place.
††††††††††† One night as I sat, half stupefied, in a den of more than infamy, my attention was suddenly drawn to some black object, reposing upon the head of one of the immense hogsheads of Gin, or of Rum, which constituted the chief furniture of the apartment.

PRISONER:Hello, there, fellow.You remind me of my old friend, Pluto.Youíre just as big and just as black, except for this splotch of white hair on your chest.

LANDLORD: You seem to have made a friend.

PRISONER:Would you sell him to me?

LANDLORD: Happily, if he were mineóbut heís just a stray that found his way here.

PRISONER:Well, at least let me pay somethingó

LANDLORD:No needóIíve never seen him before.Besides, he seems to like you.Just listen to him purr!

PRISONER:What do you think, fellow?Would you like to go home with me?

VOICE OF PRISONER:When we reached the house the cat domesticated itself at once, and became immediately a great favorite with my wife.

WIFE:What a beautiful cat!He reminds me of Pluto.

PRISONER:Yes, thatís why I brought him home.

WIFE:Look, heís missing an eyeójust like Pluto!

PRISONER:†† How strange!I didnít notice that before now.

WIFE:Whatís wrong?

PRISONER: I donít know.I thought bringing this creature home would bring me comfort, but now that I see he has only one eye, well, the cat makes feel disgusted and annoyed.

WIFE:Are you annoyed with the cat or with yourself?

PRISONER:Silence, woman!Iíve talked about this long enough!

WIFE:But he seems so fond of you!

PRISONER:I said I donít want to talk about it!

VOICE OF PRISONER:By slow degrees, these feelings of disgust and annoyance rose into the bitterness of hatred. I avoided the creature; a certain sense of shame, and the remembrance of my former deed of cruelty, preventing me from physically abusing it. I did not, for some weeks, strike, or otherwise violently ill use it; but gradually --very gradually --I came to look upon it with unutterable loathing, and to flee silently from its odious presence, as from the breath of a pestilence.

PRISONER:Drat this cat!The more I try to avoid this it, the more it seems to follow me around!

WIFE:He likes you!

PRISONER:Iím not so sure.Sometimes it feels like heís stalking me.Whenever I sit, it skulks beneath my chair, or leaps on me and covers me with its loathsome caresses.If I try to walk away it tangles itself in my feet, or clings to my clothes with its claws.Sometimes I think I could--

WIFE:Youíre not thinking of hurting the cat, are you?

PRISONER:Not seriously.I feel bad enough about the way I treated Pluto.Besides, if the truth be known, Iím somewhat afraid of this beast.

WIFE:What do you mean?

PRISONER:Look at the splotch of white on its chest.Does it look like itís changing?

WIFE:Changing?

PRISONER:Yes, in shape.Itís been very gradual, so youíd hardly notice, but itís changing.Itís taken a particular form, and now itís the image of a hideous --of a ghastly thing --of the GALLOWS! --oh, mournful and terrible engine of Horror and of Crime --of Agony and of Death!
VOICE OF PRISONER:Beneath the pressure of torments such as these, the feeble remnant of the good within me succumbed. Evil thoughts became my sole intimates --the darkest and most evil of thoughts. The moodiness of my usual temper increased to hatred of all things and of all mankind; while, from the sudden, frequent, and ungovernable outbursts of a fury to which I now blindly abandoned myself, my uncomplaining wife, alas! was the most usual and the most patient of sufferers.
WIFE:†† Where are you going?

PRISONER:Just to the cellar of this miserable house to chop some kindling wood for the fireplace.

WIFE:Iíll go with you and help you carry it back up.

PRISONER:Ouch!Did you see that!The cursed cat jumped one me just as I was walking down the stairs.I nearly feel headlong and broke my neck!

WIFE:Surely, you donít think the cat meant any harm.

PRISONER:I think that cat was trying to kill me.Well, Iím not going to give him another chance.Where is my ax?

WIFE:You canít be serous!

VOICE OF PRISONER:Uplifting an axe, and forgetting, in my wrath, the childish dread which had hitherto stayed my hand, I aimed a blow at the animal which, of course, would have proved instantly fatal had it descended as I wished. But this blow was arrested by the hand of my wife.

PRISONER:Why did you interfere!Iíd have killed the hideous beast if you hadnít stopped me!

VOICE OF PRISONER: Goaded, by the interference, into a rage more than demoniacal, I withdrew my arm from her grasp and buried the axe in her brain. She fell dead upon the spot, without a groan.

PRISONER:Now, what am I to do with the body?I canít remove it from the house, not even at night, without being seen by my neighbors.Maybe I could bury it here in the dirt floor of the cellar.No, someone might detect that the earth has been moved.I could possibly dump it n the wellóno, that wouldnít work.Perhaps I could pack it in a box and pay someone to take it away as if I were sending a package.

Wait!I think I can dislodge some of the bricks here in this old chimney and leave the body in there.Iíll bet I can replace them carefully and no one will be able to tell the difference.

VOICE OF PRISONER:  And in this calculation I was not deceived. By means of a crow-bar I easily dislodged the bricks, and, having carefully deposited the body against the inner wall, I propped it in that position, while, with little trouble, I re-laid the whole structure as it originally stood. Having procured mortar, sand, and hair, with every possible precaution, I prepared a plaster could not possibly be distinguished from the old, and with this I very carefully went over the new brick-work. When I had finished, I felt satisfied that all was right. The wall did not present the slightest appearance of having been disturbed. The rubbish on the floor was picked up with the minutest care. I looked around triumphantly, and spoke to myself

PRISONER:Here at least, then, my labor has not been in vain.Now, where is the beast that has been the cause of so much wretchedness?Here, kitty, kitty.You and I have some unfinished business.
VOICE OF PRISONER:The crafty animal had sensed my rage and escaped.It did not make its appearance during the night --and thus for one night at least, since its introduction into the house, I soundly and tranquilly slept; aye, slept even with the burden of murder upon my soul!

The second and the third day passed, and still my tormentor came not. Once again I breathed as a free-man. The monster, in terror, had fled the premises forever! I should behold it no more! My happiness was supreme! The guilt of my dark deed disturbed me but little. Some few inquiries had been made, but these had been readily answered. Even a search had been instituted --but of course nothing was to be discovered.

Upon the fourth day of the assassination, a party of the police came, very unexpectedly, into the house.

SOUND EFFECT:KNOCKING ON THE DOOR

PRISONER:Who is it?

POLICEMAN #1: The police!

PRISONER:Gentlemen, what can I do for you?

POLICEMAN #2:Weíre here to investigate the disappearance of your wife.

PRISONER:Thank goodness youíve arrived!Iíve looked for her everywhere, waited for her to come back, but she seems to be gone forever.

POLICEMAN #1:You wonít mind if we search the house, would you?

PRISONER: Not at all.

POLICEMAN #2:Fine, then you can join us in the search.

VOICE OF PRISONER:They proceeded to make rigorous investigation of the premises. Secure, however, in the inscrutability of my place of concealment, I felt no embarrassment whatever. They left no nook or corner unexplored. At length, they descended into the cellar. I quivered not in a muscle. My heart beat calmly as that of one who slumbers in innocence. I walked the cellar from end to end. I folded my arms upon my bosom, and roamed easily to and fro. The police were thoroughly satisfied and prepared to depart. The glee at my heart was too strong to be restrained. I burned to say if but one word, by way of triumph, and to render doubly sure their assurance of my guiltlessness.
PRISONER:Gentlemen, I delight to have allayed your suspicions. I wish you all health, and a little more courtesy. By the bye, gentlemen, this --this is a very well constructed house.I may say an excellently well-constructed house. These walls --are you going, gentlemen? --these walls are solidly put together.

VOICE OF PRISONER: And here, through the mere frenzy of bravado, I rapped heavily, with a cane which I held in my hand, upon that very portion of the brick-work behind which stood the corpse of the wife.

But may God shield and deliver me from the fangs of the Arch-Fiend! No sooner had the reverberation of my blows sunk into silence than I was answered by a voice from within the tomb! --by a cry, at first muffled and broken, like the sobbing of a child, and then quickly swelling into one long, loud, and continuous scream, utterly anomalous and inhuman --a howl --a wailing shriek, half of horror and half of triumph, such as might have arisen only out of hell, conjointly from the throats of the damned in their agony and of the demons that exult in the damnation.

POLICEMAN #2:What is that noise?Itís coming from inside of the wall!

POLICEMAN #1:Break down the wall at once!
VOICE OF PRISONER:  In the next instant, a dozen stout arms were tolling at the wall. It fell bodily. The corpse, already greatly decayed and clotted with gore, stood erect before the eyes of the spectators. Upon its head, with red extended mouth and solitary eye of fire, sat the hideous beast whose craft had seduced me into murder, and whose informing voice had consigned me to the hangman. I had walled the monster up within the tomb!