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The Tell-Tale Heart
By: Edgar Allan Poe
TRUE!-NERVOUS–very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am! but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses–not destroyed–not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily–how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
It is impossible to tell 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 loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture–a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees–very gradually–I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.
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 the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it–oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly–very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha!–would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously–oh, so cautiously–cautiously (for the hinges creaked)–I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. And this I did for seven long nights–every night just at midnight–but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.
Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. 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 was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back–but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers), and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.
I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in bed, crying out: “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 him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening;–just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.
Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or 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. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself: “It is nothing but the wind in the chimney–it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he had been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions; but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him. had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel–although he neither saw nor heard–to feel the presence of my head within the room.
When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little–a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it–you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily–until, at length, a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and full upon the vulture eye.
It was open–wide, wide open–and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it 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 old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray, as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.
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, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.
But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! 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 night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me–the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once–once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye 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 body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.
I then 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 his–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. A tub had caught all–ha! ha!
When I had made an end of these labors, 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 the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night: suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police 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. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search–search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. 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 singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted 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:–it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definiteness–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. Yet the sound increased–and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound–much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath–and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly–more vehemently; 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 observation of the men–but the noise steadily increased. Oh, 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! I felt that I must scream or die!–and now–again!–hark! louder! louder! louder!
“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed!–tear up the planks!–here, here!–it is the beating of his hideous heart!”
– THE END –
Free short stories Free Download – The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe book PDF
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- reedsy.com – Free short stories
My date was a lovely young woman whose name I can’t remember. What I do remember is that her dress was blue the way Southern debutantes in movies always wear blue dresses. At least from the movies I’ve seen. It was blue, but not puffy, and I was grateful for that. I’m resistant to puffy. Puffy and poofy. I can’t tolerate either.
We attended her senior prom together, because her boyfriend had just broken up with her the week before and she was heartbroken. The big night was a week away and the non-puffy blue dress had already been purchased. What did young women in the early 2000’s do when they were lacking a prom date?
They went with a homosexual.
Unfortunately for her, all the good gays at her high school had already been taken and so her best friend (whose name I also don’t remember) reached out to a friend at my high school and asked if any of the gay men there would be interested in going to a senior prom in another town an hour away. Word was put out. Offers were considered. Somehow while sitting in the cafeteria eating a parfait I was made aware of the opportunity and I grabbed at it like a carnival ring. Far be it for me to turn down the chance to get dressed up and act foolish in front of strangers my own age I would never see again for the rest of my life.
2. penningtonlibrary.org – Free short stories
Below are a collection of online articles featuring free online short story recommendations that you can immediately read. Please check back as we will continuously update.
18 Great Short Stories You Can Read Free Online – by Sarah Ullery (March 19, 2019). Book Riot Online. The creator of this list has compiled her own short story collection onto a phone app to read, which she compares to a music playlist created to “match a mood.” Ullery also offers suggestions for finding great stories online.
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Short Story Month: Best short stories to read online for free – by Tracy Mumford (May 15, 2015). Minnesota Public Radio® (MPR). MPR News celebrated Short Story Month with a collection of six free “sensational” short stories that includes preview quotes from each story as well as an estimated read time.
13 of the Best Short Stories You Can Read Right Now – by Michelle Hart (July 17, 2019). The Oprah Magazine. “Thirteen of our favorite short stories, from irrefutable classics by Jamaica Kincaid and Flannery O’Connor to newer additions to the pantheon—spanning crime, magical realism, and snackable tales you can devour on the beach.”
28 Short Stories You Can Read for Free Right Now – by Jennifer Martin and BookBub Editors (Updated March 11, 2020). BoobBub Online. You’ll need to create a free login to BookBub and answer several questions about your reading preferences to access. “These stories are by contemporary authors. If you’ve never read these authors before, their free short stories will give you a taste of their style before you commit to one of their longer works. There’s something for everyone, with genres ranging from science fiction to historical fiction to horror.”
3. bookriot.com – Free short stories
Free short stories “THE LOTTERY” BY SHIRLEY JACKSON
This used to be my favorite short story, and I might only think that because I read it when I was a freshman in high school and I remember being shocked by the ending. It’s always stayed with me.
“A GOOD MAN IS HARD TO FIND” BY FLANNERY O’CONNOR
Another story with an ending that you won’t forget anytime soon. O’Connor was a master. If you’ve never read any of her work I would start here.
“IN THE PENAL COLONY” BY FRANZ KAFKA
It’s a chilling story. A man known as the Traveller is visiting a foreign penal colony where he is shown a special machine used to execute prisoners. The machine inscribes the prisoner’s crime onto their body until they die (kind of sounds familiar if you’ve read the fifth Harry Potter book). It takes twelve hours of torture before the prisoner dies. I told you it was chilling!
“THE DEVIL IN AMERICA” BY KAI ASHANTE WILSON (TOR)
Kai Ashante Wilson has quite a talent. This ties present day police brutality towards African Americans to post-emancipation America and a family of freed slaves that are living with the Devil that followed them from Africa.
“THE CITY BORN GREAT” BY N.K. JEMISIN (TOR)
Cities, once they are old enough, must be born. New York City is ready to be born, and must be led into the world by a reluctant midwife.
“SPIDER THE ARTIST” BY NNEDI OKORAFOR (LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE)
Okorafor is a wonderful storyteller, and if you’ve never read her books, this would be a great place to start. And if you like this short story, Binti: The Complete Trilogy was released in February!
Free short stories “EXHALATION” BY TED CHIANG (LIGHTSPEED MAGAZINE)
Oh, you’ve never read Ted Chiang? Well, you must go out now and read this story and then read Stories of Your Life and Others and his new collection Exhalation: Stories, which comes out in May. I was shocked by how good and complex his writing was. I had no idea that the movie The Arrival was based on one of his short stories.
“THE DAUGHTERS OF THE MOON” BY ITALO CALVINO (THE NEW YORKER)
I don’t know. It’s either Zadie Smith’s “The Embassy of Cambodia” or this story that is my favorite on the list… I can’t decide. I think it’s this story. A story about the people of Earth deciding to throw away the Moon. It’s a story of consumerism. Luckily, I own “The Complete Cosmicomics“, so I can continue reading Calvino’s magnificent short story collection.
Free short stories “THE EMBASSY OF CAMBODIA” BY ZADIE SMITH (THE NEW YORKER)
After you read “The Devil in America” read this story and see if you can find the parallels. This was my first time reading Zadie Smith because I’d always heard mixed reviews, but if her longer fiction is anything like this short story, I’m in love. If you need help figuring out where to start with Zadie Smith’s books, check out our Reading Pathway guide to Zadie Smith.
“SWEETNESS” BY TONI MORRISON (THE NEW YORKER)
A prelude to Morrison’s book God Help the Child, this is the story of Bride’s mother, and her rationale for raising her daughter in a loveless home.
“GIRLS, AT PLAY” BY CELESTE NG (BELLEVUE LITERARY REVIEW)
“This is how we play the game: pink means kissing; red means tongue. Green means up your shirt; blue means down his pants. Purple means in your mouth. Black means all the way.”
The first four sentences of this short story sent chills down my spine. A superbly told story of the extremes of girlhood and adolescence; the pressures girls face as they get older.
“ON SEEING THE 100% PERFECT GIRL ONE BEAUTIFUL APRIL MORNING” BY HARUKI MURAKAMI (GENIUS) free short stories
Love at first sight, if you believe love is predestined rather than a choice. Fated love, to me, no matter how hard my heart becomes, still seems ridiculously romantic. I haven’t read Murakami in a long time but now I’m itching to pick up one of his books (I really want to read 1Q84, but it’s soooo long!).
“CHECHNYA” BY ANTHONY MARRA (NARRATIVE MAGAZINE)
This was Anthony Marra’s first published short story, and works as an outline for his novel A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon. It’s the kind of story you read while holding your breath.
“THE FRUIT OF MY WOMAN” BY HAN KANG (GRANTA)
This story was written in 1997 before the publication of The Vegetarian. The two stories share many of the same themes, and it’s evident that this story served as a blueprint for the later book. In “The Fruit of My Woman” the wife is slowly turning into a tree (something that also comes up in The Vegetarian). The allusions to Daphne turning herself into a laurel tree to escape the advances of Apollo are hard to miss, but there’s no clear indication that Daphne was an actual influence on either story. Han Kang can do no wrong in my eyes.
Free short stories “A LADY’S MAID” BY SARAH GAILEY (BARNES & NOBLE)
I love Sarah Gailey. This is a great introduction if you’re unfamiliar with her work. It’s Victorian London with androids—so much to love!
4. theshortstory.co.uk – Free short stories
We believe that the key to writing good short stories is reading good short stories.
Below, we have provided an ever-expanding selection of old and new short stories that are free to download.
Short story writers are listed alphabetically.
In 2020 we’ll be adding a wide range of new stories to read online.
Recently added stories will be fund at the top of the page.