Nita Bryant, one of our Scottsboro, AL Writer’s Group, answered the challenge to take a well-known story and retell it from a different point of view. She has taken E.A. Poe’s story, The Tell-Tale Heart and tells it from a new angle. Enjoy!
A HEART FOR THE HEARTLESS
By Nita N Bryant
“Oh dear God what a night! What an unbelievable, horrible night!” the young police officer told his wife as he slammed shut the door and locked it behind him. “You won’t believe what a case we had in the wee hours this morning-I don’t believe it myself!” he said. Edward dropped his body into the closest chair, and his head into his trembling hands.
“What’s happened, Edward? What’s wrong?” Beth asked. She hurried over to her husband and knelt down beside him. In the three years they had been married, she had never seen her husband so distraught.
“I don’t know if I can tell you, Beth. It’s so sad and gruesome,” Edward said with a low moan, his head still supported by his shaking hands. “I fear that the story will give you nightmares. No doubt I will not be spared the terrible dreams. Why should you suffer them as well,” he said, dropping his hands from his face. His wife was shocked by his paleness and the still frightened look in his blue eyes.
“Darling, I want you to tell me.” Beth grasped her husband’s thick, muscular hands and squeezed them gently. “Perhaps talking to me about it will help keep your nightmares at bay. Please dear.”
Edward looked down at his wife’s delicate hands steadying his own. “Are you sure, Beth?” He looked up again, gazing into her eyes—eyes that were willing him to lean on her strength for solace.
“Yes. Tell me everything, Edward.”
“Well, you see, it’s a case we have been watching for about a week. An elderly, well-to-do fellow, Mr. Maxwell, had taken in the grandson of an old friend about six weeks ago. This old friend asked the favor because his grandson had been acting strangely of late. He thought that the move into the city might inspire a better mood.
“Mr. Maxwell felt that all was well until this last week. The young man had taken to creeping surreptitiously into his host’s room around midnight every night. Maxwell lay perfectly still with his eyes closed. The first night he thought the young fellow was simply satisfying himself that all was well with the old man. After all, the two men had become fast friends rather quickly, Maxwell believed.
“But after the third and fourth nights, the lad seemed to grow bolder and entered the bed chamber with more of a sense of purpose.”
“But,” Beth interjected, “how do you know these things?”
“Maxwell sent his new friend on an errand one evening at precisely the time he knew we usually make our rounds near his home. He kept watch by the window, and intercepted us as we passed.
“He was adamant that he did not want us to speak to the lad about it, but at the same time he felt compelled to discuss the matter with us. Officer Douglas, having the most experience of the three of us, suggested to Mr. Maxwell that he continue to be vigilant, and sound the alarm if the need arose. Douglas seemed to agree with Mr. Maxwell’s original assessment—that the young fellow was most likely checking on his new friend’s well being before retiring himself for the night.”
“But, he had already been living there for several weeks,” Beth said. “Why would he start such a ritual only this last week?”
“Douglas thought of that,” Edward replied. “He suggested that as the weeks passed, the young lad eventually came to feel closer to Maxwell, and thus more protective of him as well.”
Edward hesitated and dropped his face into the palms of his hands again. “Ohhh,” he moaned. “If only we had done something more, Maxwell might still be alive.” He raised his head and looked his wife directly in her wide green eyes, “Beth, I don’t know how I will ever forget what happened to that poor man.
“But I will finish my heart-wrenching story. We three officers kept watch over Maxwell’s home, but we heard no more from him. We did see him give a friendly wave from a front window yesterday. That makes what happened last night even harder for us to bear.” Edward looked down at his hands, grimacing as if he saw blood on them.
“A little before four o’clock this morning a neighbor heard a shriek coming from within Maxwell’s home. We were notified at the police office and Douglas, Richard and I set out immediately to find the source of the terrified utterance.
“Upon our arrival at the front door, the younger of the two inhabitants met us with an almost jovial demeanor. When we inquired as to Mr. Maxwell’s whereabouts, we were told that he was spending a few days in the country.
“Of course we knew this to be a lie! We had seen Maxwell waving to us from this very house only a few hours prior.” Edward seemed to rally as he related the officers’ encounter with the suspicious houseguest.
“Oh,” Beth’s right hand flew to her chest. “Why was he lying? What happened?”
“He had his reasons—vile, hateful reasons. We asked that he show us through the entire house even though he claimed to be the only person present. After all, we told him, we did get a report of screams coming from this very abode. The shriek, he easily explained away as the result of nightmares on his own behalf.
“But, my dear wife, here is where the sordid details become beyond belief. Our host placed chairs about for all of us and asked that my fellow officers and I have a rest for a few minutes. We agreed in hopes that the young man might slip up and give us a clue as to the true whereabouts of Mr. Maxwell.
“We talked of various topics and as the clock ticked, our young man grew more and more pale. His words came louder and faster. It was as though he was trying to speak over a deafening noise that only he could hear!”
“How strange…” Beth murmured, shaking her head.
“Finally he jumped up from his chair and began pacing and swearing. All of a sudden he grabbed hold of the chair he had only just vacated and slammed it right back down onto the wooden floor.
“He then shouted, ‘I admit the deed! I can take it no more! Tear up the planks—here, here—it is the beating of his hideous heart!!’
“Beth, I tell you, he was a wild man, shrieking and pulling his hair and laughing all at once. He insisted that he could hear Maxwell’s heart beating louder and louder from beneath the planks of the floor where his chair sat. He admitted to us that he had placed the heart there only an hour or so earlier, along with the remaining disassembled parts of the poor man’s body.”
Beth’s face paled and she swayed a bit as though she might fall out. Edward reached for her. “I’m alright,” she said. “I… it is just more than I expected. Go on.”
“I will spare you any more of the terrifying details, my dear. I fear I have already said too much. We were able to confirm his story. We will never forgive ourselves for failing to meet with Maxwell’s houseguest prior to his commitment of this heinous crime.”
“But darling, you couldn’t have known this would happen,” Beth said. “What do you think caused the young man to attack Mr. Maxwell so viciously? Is he evil in disguise? Did he simply lose his mind?”
“We told our superior that we believe the fellow may belong in a mental institution instead of the jail. Of course that decision is not up to us. The lad overheard us talking, and he was still screaming when we left him at the police office about how he is not insane. He was shouting that there is no way he could have planned such a murder if he were insane. Oh, and he kept ranting and raving about how he would never have been caught if it were not for Maxwell’s ‘damned tell-tale heart’.”