Monday, April 20, 2009

An Alternative Look at Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart"

As one of my harebrained means to get my students interested in Edgar Allan Poe, I assigned them a police report. Basically, they had to take on the persona of a police officer and write the story from that point of view. It sounded like so much fun that I had to join in. Here's my contribution--it was in no ways the best. I have amazing students : )
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"POLICE REPORT: By KLo"

In the middle of the night, the precinct received a phone call from a woman concerned because she’d heard a scream from the dark and foreboding mansion next door to her. The intake officer informed the woman that screams in the middle of the night were hardly worth the time of our illustrious police department, but the woman elaborated as to why she was so very concerned.
She explained that her next-door neighbor was an extremely wealthy retired businessman and, until six months ago, he was the ideal neighbor. “He used to sing while he worked in his rose garden,” she reported, “and we’d chat about birds and cookies. But then, a few months ago, this … guy moved in with him.” She stated that the old man’s houseguest gave her a "hinky" feeling. “He smiles all the time,” she said. “And he won’t let the old man outside. When I brought over my famous chocolate chip cookies to cheer him up, this strange man wouldn’t let me in. He just said in this bizarre, hoarse voice that the old man had an eye infection and couldn’t get out of bed.”
Although the intake officer was skeptical about how seriously to take the woman, he decided to send a couple of officers out, just to cover his butt in the unlikely event that a crime really had been committed. He asked the two officers, myself and my partner Duncan Doughnut, to be sure to bring him back a large coffee with extra sugar on our way back to the station. Duncan and I asked the other officers working the graveyard shift if they wanted us to pick them up a coffee; by the time we headed out to the address in question, we had a request list ranging from those newfangled lattes to hot chocolate.
As Duncan parked the cruiser on the side of the road in front of the house in question, I noticed that there was a light on in a distant room. All was silent and peaceful around the house, but I was glad we’d come. That far-off light, one lone beacon in a sea of darkness, unnerved me in ways that I could not put into words.
Duncan led the way down the driveway and to the front door. I tried to ignore the spooky crispy crunch of dead autumn leaves under my feet. I released the safety on my gun, then knocked firmly on the huge oak door. My petite female hand had virtually no effect on the night’s silence, and Duncan’s hairy knuckles didn’t have any better luck. I shrugged, removed a large stone from the pathway, and hurled it at the door with all my strength. It made a satisfying thud, and I was happy to note that other lights turned on at the sound. The lights prefaced the sound of approaching footsteps, and it was only a matter of seconds before the front door was thrown open.
“Oh, the police, how nice!” I heard the childlike squeal of glee before I saw the man’s face. I’m not sure if it was his appearance that shocked me or the fact that someone seemed genuinely glad to see New Hampshire’s finest in the middle of the night.
He was tall, almost unimaginably so; he literally towered over Duncan. However, unlike my partner who, shall we say, lived up to his name, this man was thin to the point of gauntness. He was incredibly pale, his face and hands so white that they almost appeared to have been dusted with white powder. He was dressed in dusty black pants and a dingy gray t-shirt that had probably once been white. His thin reddish-pink lips drew back from teeth that were yellowed and pointed like a wild animal’s as he smiled, and his eyes were so dark brown that they appeared black, and an elusive spark of something—Joy? Madness?—danced within them.
“Do come in, officers, come right in, don’t worry about a thing, it’s no bother at all.”
“Thank you, sir,” Duncan said, finding his voice before I did. “I’m Sergeant Duncan Doughnut, and this is my partner, Detective Susie Hart.”
I thought for a moment that he jumped in surprise at the sound of my name, but I wrote it off as my imagination running amok.
“Come in, come in, please, feel free to search the house. Go from top to bottom. Come in, come in!”
He danced ahead of us like a marionette, lighting our way through cobwebby halls and dusty walls. Duncan and I exchanged a look, and the thought, “Another live one,” seemed to pass between us telepathically.
“Sir,” I spoke up.
He turned and looked me full in the face; I fancied I saw a small line of drool forming at the corner of his mouth. “Ah, Officer Hart! What can I do to be of assistance to you, dear lady?”
I took out my notebook. It’s amazing how this gesture sends the message that it’s time for a serious talk. “Could we sit down somewhere and chat?”
“Oh, I know just the place!” The little light in his eyes seemed to flare suddenly as though it had been touched with gasoline. “Come, come, officers. Right this way.” He walked quickly to a large staircase and, childlike, ran up the steps. “This house belongs to my … benefactor, Mr. Iris. He is currently out of town visiting a relative, but this is his bedroom. Come, come, officers, we’ll sit right here ... in his bedroom.”