The Tell-Tale Voice

True! nervous, very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why WILL you say that I am mad? I am a political junkie after all. This election season has been like no other; can’t you see that? The feverish election had sharpened my senses, not destroyed, not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the blue states and in the red. I heard many things in the battlegrounds. 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 tolerated the woman. She had never, as a white male Christian, wronged me. She had never given me the insult she lavished upon my neighbors. You know, those people? For her oil rebates I had no desire. I think it was her voice! Yes, it was this! Her voice resembled that of a vulture — a thin-pitched shrill, hovering high and sticky with a toxic sugar. Whenever it crawled in my ear, my blood ran cold, and so by degrees, very gradually, I made up my mind to rip the speakers from my television, and thus rid myself of that voice for ever. But… for a time, I could not bring myself to do it. I was a nighthawk of political televised commentary. It drove my wife bonkers. But not as bonkers as you might say it drove me. Yet you would be wrong. As I have told you, it was my super-sensitivity rather than any deviant lunacy!

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 her ideas or her supporters than during the whole week before I silenced her. Around the office water cooler, I coolly praised her and her feisty running mate. And every night about midnight I turned the television on ever so softly! And then, when I had made an adjustment of volume just sufficient for my ear, I closed my eyes so that no sound could be heard in the silence but her words in a tiny piercing voice like that of a droning mosquito. Yooou Betcha! The voice would buzz in my ear alone, in the silence, in the darkness. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I listened in! I tuned it slowly, very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb my wife’s sleep. It took me an hour to hear an entire ranting rally. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when her strange messages were ringing in my ears, I tweaked the treble ever so cautiously — oh, so cautiously — cautiously (for now her voice sounded like a jigsaw through a pie tin), I tweaked the sound just so much that a single thin whine sliced through my brain, frying several synapses. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight. But, when I tried to dismantle the box, I found it was quite complex and the speakers difficult to separate, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not the woman who vexed me but her evil message and that piercing piercing voice. Her r’s could make a pirate cringe and give up the sea. Yet every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the office and spoke courageously to her followers, calling her by name in a hearty tone, and praising how marvelously she’s riled her latest crowd. So you see they would have been a very surprised gaggle of loons, indeed , to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I fried my brain with her cackling accents, as I contemplated disemboweling my televisions sound system.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in tuning the sound. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than that knob did. 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 sat, focusing her voice little by little, and she not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea, and perhaps she heard me, for if she could see Russia from Wasila, perhaps she could hear my thoughts from Virginia, or even Ohio. Now you may think that I drew back — but no. The room was as black as pitch but for the blue glare from the screen (for the shutters were close fastened through fear of terrorists), and the slicing whine of her voice that sautéed my ossicles and pounded my eardrum like Tito Fuentes gone bongo-berserker! And yet I kept fine tuning it on steadily, steadily.

I had her voice reeling, and was about to completely melt my brain, when my thumb slipped upon volume knob, and my wife sprang up in the bed, crying out from the bedroom, “Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear her lie down. She was still sitting up in the bed, listening; just as riled perhaps hearing the whirring of a horde of flies buzzing in a distant field in another state.

Presently, I heard from my darling wife 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. The thought of her in the White House. I say I knew it well. I knew what the woman from Wasila felt, and pitied her although I chuckled at heart. I knew that she too had been lying awake ever since the first inception on the national stage, when she had accepted a duty she had no claim to. Her fears had been ever since growing upon her and that of her maniacal base. She had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. She had been saying to herself, and frothing fans, “It is nothing but the darrrrned Liberrrals in the chimney, it is only a pesky terrrr’rrrist creeping around,” or, “It is merely a Gotcha Jourrrnalist with her probing microphone.” Yes she has been trying to comfort herself with these sustaining fears; but she had found all in vain. all in vain, because Truth, in approaching her, had stalked with its glowing light that enveloped the victim. And it was the hopeful influence of the unperceived light of Truth that caused her to feel, although she neither saw nor heard, to feel the presence of the real “real America”, that could stomach neither her spiteful words nor that piercing, piercing voice.

When I had waited a long time very patiently, finally my wife had gone back to sleep. I resolved to turn up the volume a little — a very, very little tweak of the knob. One half-tick higher on the dial – this one goes up to eleven. So I turned it — you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily — until at length a single dim wavelength like the thread of the spider shot out from the speakers and shot straight into my brain.

It was a spoken shriek, cackling, whirring open like speedboat on blocks, and I grew furious as I listened upon it. I actually saw the tone with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing else of the woman’s face or person, save that lipsticked mouth that spewed forth such sibilant sound!

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, slow sound, such as a mad dog makes when cornered. I knew that sound well too. It was the humming of the old television’s speakers. It increased my fury as the buzzing of fluorescent tubes incite the clerk into insomnia.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the volume knob motionless. I tried how steadily I could to maintain her tone upon my ear. Meantime the hellish hum of the speaker increased. It grew longer and thicker, and louder and louder, every instant. 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 at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this from a near-silent darkness sent me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the humming grew louder, louder! I thought my heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me — the sound would be heard by a neighbour! Or worse yet, perhaps a supporter of the shrill woman! The time had come! With a loud yell, I threw open back panel of the TV and lunged at its innards. It shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged it to the floor, and pulled the heavy speakers from the trunk. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But for many minutes the sound wailed on with a muffled reverberation. A remnant of her voice entwined with the electric hum of the speaker. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The television was dead… and with it, the voice. No pulsation. Tone dead. This sound 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 appliance. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. And my wife never stirred.

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 — not even my perceptive wife’– 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 Republican headquarters. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night, and he’d woke to discover a yardsign vandalized; suspicion of terrorists had been aroused; information had been lodged at the 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 and my wife had slept soundly though. I took my visitors all over the house, even showed them my Country First campaign posters. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to a chamber, where I showed them more campaign treasures, secure, undisturbed, and virulent. They seemed particularly pleased with my postered socialist puns! 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 a supporter and not in fact a communist nor a terrorist, but a God-fearing capitalist of blind allegiance to the morals and values of the Party. 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. I supposed that I was likely sounding much like her. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was A LOW, DULL, SLOW SOUND — MUCH SUCH A SOUND AS A MAD DOG MAKES WHEN CORNERED. 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, as if I were in attendance of one of the rallies; 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! For those too reminded me of her! 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! From my television, from these speakers! — it is the incessant shrillness of her hideous voice!”

Needless to say the Republicans left my house quickly. They’ve not returned or bothered to call anymore. Not even robocalls. My wife was peeved about the television, and the floor boards. But we got new carpet out of it. Also, we decided not to replace the television. That was a great decision. It has been exceedingly good for our relationship. I sleep so much better. I’m not up late every night “taking in the news”. Best of all, I don’t hear that voice all the time. That voice. That piercing, shrieking voice! That insidious sound…

At least I don’t hear it as often.

Behold! A great animated version of Poe’s original Tell-Tale Heart: