The Tell-Tale House of UsherWakefield Stowell / Horror
House of Usher
Copyright 2012 Wakefield Stowell
Table of Contents
A Spill of Secrets
The Tale of Hatotep
The very pages you hold in your hand, reader, are horrors of contamination. For words joined in unholy unions become incantations with the power to strike when spoken and though you may never utter them, you talk in your mind as you read them, in that voice you speak only to yourself and your God. Though no sound escapes your lips, your tongue murmurs in your mouth with the tentative motions of the young in utero, giving names to new evils. Say your prayers if you have them; I have said mine thus – Let these pages absorb all my sins and the sins of Usher as they absorb the ink from my pen and let the ink flow like blood from an opened vein until I am drained of all memory.
When anxieties rattle the windows of my soul, I make not for the medicine cabinet but for the palliatives of the library. An oft-opened book calms my mind with the familiar orders of grammar and the printer's set type. How like bricks the words are in their placement, their cantilever from left to right with such architectural precision, laid end to end in this mortar, this paper of rags gathered by indigents, washed clean of their dirt and poverty.
God spoke the Word, the seed of life. The clay by the hand of God made Man and the clay by the hand of Man makes the brick so that he may build monuments to God. Word for word, brick by brick, page upon page, these walls have been built and something evil, neither of God nor of Man, has been sealed inside.
There is a House in my mind in which my soul is imprisoned. I will not allow the House to see me alone to the grave in the chains forged in its fires. I will have you, reader, know every link of my tethers; I will have you finger them like a Papist his rosary. May your God protect you from the terrors I have known; I am beyond his aid and I call him not.
As the House stands in my mind, so too does a fire rage there. This fever of the brain has boiled my blood; perspiration has breached the pores of my skin, run o'er my brow and salted my eyes with the brine of torment. I long only for snow and its smothering hush, pure snow sucked from winter's banks, rubbed on my burning cheeks. I remember the snows of that particular season, when nature and my own heart still beat in the flush of innocence, just before the corruption to come……
A Spill of Secrets,
ambiguous signs and marvelous acts
The blood seeped, in little places melting the fresh snow, which failed to cover the stains. The snow continued to fall, flakes of something so pure, perfect and remote, it vexed her to contemplate. The bloody dribs and drabs followed her footfalls as she crossed Boston Common. And though the moon was full and had all day outshone the sun before it set, she was neither menstruous nor wounded; the blood flowed toward her from the ground or, at least, from that direction. It had been a mere few hours earlier that night that suddenly the slightest touch of her fingers to an object or her soles to the ground drew from them fresh, warm blood, droplets that pooled no larger than a penny, when pennies were larger than now.
If science hasn’t yet permitted our transcendence of energy and matter, the black arts have – in this sense Madeleine was an artist; alchemical formulas and assays of objects imbued with spiritual meaning were her youthful obsessions. The Ushers had amassed a collection of relics after the dissolution of the Roman church in England and she would subject these bits of bone and wood and metal to intense study.
When I say that Madeleine led a cursed life, it is not said in a fit of theatrics but merely as a statement of fact, for she showed me the very document, inked with human blood, that had sealed her fate in vellum and wax. She knew evil as something familial – touching and painful as it squeezed into the interstices of her nerves. She knew melancholy, too, for communications from beyond this world are often sad and desperate, post-scripts to last appeals.
So the blood was not something she would fundamentally doubt the reality of, not something that would drive her mad – not yet. The world now bruised and bled easily at her touch and it panicked her, not for fear of demons but rather that it would ruin her linens. She would have cause enough later to be frightened by these first signs of torment in another world and the mortal danger it represented but for now she merely made note of this threat to her truce with normality.
The mistake people often make in their mis-understanding of a supernatural phenomenon, if they don’t dismiss it entirely, is that the spirit wants something specific from the object of its haunting, or that it even has an object to haunt – one might merely be in the way. Both Madeleine and Roderick insisted that much of the spiritual activity that swirled around them was indistinct and meaningless and that ghosts themselves are often confused and without focus. “Like Americans on the Grand Tour,” Roddy had said and so he called them tourists. “Oh, it’s just the tourists stuck in a pensione in the rain – such a bore,” is the sort of thing he’d say when a psychic disturbance caused alarm. Through him and Madeleine, I would experience the tendency of much supernatural phenomena to avoid the tight plotting of melodrama.
It was the year 1841, my twenty-first, some months after my uncle’s bank had failed at the tail end of the depression and I’d been forced to return to Boston in straightened, if not exactly difficult circumstances. We had weathered the Panic of 1837 and its aftermath only to succumb as others began again to profit, yet I was grateful for the economic catastrophe: working in the money houses and cotton exchanges of New Orleans with my uncle and father had been for me a remunerative prison sentence but my father supposed cotton to be as good a stuffing as any for the empty spaces between a young man’s ears. The collapse had provided me with the excuse to pursue a scholar’s life at Harvard with the eventual goal of becoming an architect, my true vocation. Returning to Boston on a bracing autumn day from a clime of sweat and slavery, I felt cleansed.
A return to New England would also mean I could re-ignite what had been an intense friendship with Roderick and Madeleine Usher, brother and sister, who had been my boon companions from age 5 to 11, when children are high priests in a religion of secrets. For many years I scarcely believed certain memories of that time, so fantastic were they. I had dismissed them as the faulty perceptions of a still growing brain impressed with so many new images and experiences that were hard to categorize.
We have all, I’m sure, experienced the confusion that can beset us when first waking from a profound sleep, when the external reality and still fresh sensations of our dreams are hopelessly tangled. We can all remember, too, the fanciful nature of children and the waking dreams that make childhood timeless. No doubt the reader will be incredulous of all the mysterious happenings I shall relate.
Once, during a game of hide-and-seek in the woods, I counted aloud with my hands splayed across my face in a show of covering my eyes but I was in fact “peeking”. I saw Madeleine scurry behind a large boulder as Roderick, some twenty yards away, went over the crest of a small hill. With all speed I finished my counting and then made movements indicating I had no idea where they might be before making my way to the rock where Madeleine had hidden. To my great surprise I found Roddy there waiting and as I stood speechless in amazement, I was scared so thoroughly by something at my back that I screamed, running out to the clearing whence I started to find Madeleine sitting on a low-lying branch of a tree. I must say that neither the topography of the forest nor the brief span of time in which this occurred could possibly have allowed for the positions they came to hold.
On another occasion, we had picnicked by a brook and I, depleted by our exercises, had fallen asleep. After a nap of no more than an hour or so, I began to revive and as I fully regained consciousness I was unable to open my eyes – unable to open my eyes as though they were sewn shut! I could hear a devilish, internal laughter and above me the voice of Madeleine incanting some gibberish I could not understand. I panicked and attempted to get up and on my feet only to find that I was pinned down by the brute strength of Roderick. I blacked-out and when I had awoken again, I was dripping in my own perspiration and blood. When I demanded of them what had happened, they told me I’d fallen asleep and had a terrible dream.
There are many such memories of dreams and terrible they may have been but reader, know with certainty now, as I speak from the