MADELINE USHER WRITES IN HER DIARY
I did escape. I stumbled past the fire
and got free as the roof came crashing through
and the house fell. My brother, insane squire,
was dead already when it slid into
the murky lake behind it. No one saw
me run out the back door. They think I died
in that disaster. Hours I had clawed,
hands bloodied, in the thick darkness inside
the coffin. Then the lid split. I could see.
Wood splintered as I pushed through and arose,
a ghastly Lazarus, Christ of Galilee
emerging from the tomb in bloody clothes,
hands raw, the white smock they had dressed me in
besmirched, my fingernails torn off, my hair
gory, and set to kill the man of sin,
my brother, Roderick, who had put me there.
The flames roared as his last visitor fled.
I came into the room. His friend glimpsed me
(my brother probably told him I was dead).
He turned, aghast, and stumbled frantically
through the front door. By then I had my hands
around my brother’s throat. I strangled him.
Rage gave me strength much greater than a man’s,
and he was wasted—no strength in his limbs.
He fell a victim to a simple maid.
Opium and drink made him insane,
weakened him to a sallow, trembling shade,
less than a man, twisted his wholesome brain,
and poured dark fantasies into his soul,
as cruel and as maniacal as hell.
He read old texts—demonic tomes and scrolls,
of sorcery that bring judgment by bell
and book and candle. He did not resist.
He had no strength and I was mad. He died.
The smoke grew dark and thick and the flames hissed.
I seized Roderick’s purse and ran outside.
The house collapsed just as I got away.
I ran and ran then stopped by a still brook
to drink. I screamed. My hair had turned to grey.
I reached my bloody hands back to unhook
my garment. Naked in the moonlight glow,
Diana turned from killing Acteon,
I stood—a virgin who had come to know
what no virgin should see, and who had done
a deed unspeakable. Yet what I’d seen,
told me my act was right and justified.
I was God’s minister. My hands were clean
of murder and not soiled with fratricide.
I found clothes hanging on a line to dry.
I took them (I left money for this grace);
buried the smock. As dawn came to the sky,
I walked into a town and found a place
to lodge. My hair served well as a disguise,
turned grey, no longer black. A doctor came
and tended to my hands. I told him lies.
I said my nails and fingers had been maimed
in a factory where I worked. “Please, please don’t say
you found me, sir,” I pleaded. “If they hear,
they’ll come for me—because I ran away.
They treat us cruelly. I am in fear
Of what they’ll to do me.” He held his peace.
I stayed there. Once my hands had healed, I left
to seek my fortune. Time has brought surcease
from the dark workings that left me beret
of brother, home, and of inheritance.
Some things are vile and must needs be destroyed.
My past has been consumed. In the days since,
I have seen healing, have been overjoyed
to marry (even though I have grey hair—
“It’s prematurely grey,” I would tell men).
I have born children and left my despair
behind me—though I still remember when
I ran as God rained fire and judgment on
that house—the fire of Sodom, fire of hell,
his punishment. In seconds it was gone,
and only I escaped alone to tell.
RODERICK USHER IMPROVS
I listened, as if in a dream, to the wild
improvisations of his speaking guitar . . .
----Edgar Allan Poe, “The Fall of the House of Usher”
Usher could improv, hit the frets as well
as Byrd or Kessel, take a simple tune
and push it—but there was the breath of hell
in him. In his house, under a red moon
glowing its lurid light, he studied death
and torture. When guitarists start a jam—
like Django Reinhardt or Herb Ellis—breath
is never stilled, no sin occurs to damn.
There’s just the joy of music, music’s surge,
its rhythms, jazz and jism—no one locked
alive in a coffin, and the caveman urge
to kill, to dominate, destroy, is blocked
by beauty. Usher played to ease his mind
but grew more mad with each note he combined.
When someone is so concerned about toilet seat germs, they cover the seat with half a roll of toilet paper, leaving it to appear like it has been mummified.
----The Urban Dictionary
Like King Tut’s curse, a wraith walking the sands,
it spreads its fear. We hang out amulets,
spells, prophylactic charms, our talismans.
The tiles and walls whisper, silence their word.
The mummy stalks, its wrappings trailing down
from sphinx-like shapes, each with its riddle-taunt
and death for wrong answers. In stalls as cramped
as burial rooms, fear treads, dressed in white strips
unraveling with purposeful advance.
THE LAST REFLECTIONS OF RUTH BLAY
Hanged for killing her infant child,
Portsmouth, New Hampshire, December 30, 1768
Today at noon they’ll hang me to a tree.
No doubt the whole town will come out to see
me as I jerk and dance and twist and flail,
gasping for air, eyes popping, growing pale,
then sagging down to die. They’ll get their show;
they’ll come to watch, to see me as I go.
They’ll stand there as the hangman snugs the noose
(just right, not too tight and yet not too loose),
makes sure my hands are tied well; takes the reigns
of the cart-horses and begins my pains
with his Hah, Hah, as he urges them on.
My toes will stretch out for the ground that’s gone.
My neck will break, at best—thought perhaps I
will strangle for ten minutes. I will die
whatever happens, whether fast or slow.
This is the end. It torments me to know
my neighbors who will stand there in the crowd
this winter day of billowing snow and cloud
will go back home—go back to warmth and cheer
and leave my broken body hanging here—
go home to rest and dine once I have ceased
to writhe, and thrash, and choke and kick my feet.
David W. Landrum teaches Literature at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan. His horror/supernatural fiction has appeared in Sinister Tales, Macabre Cadaver, Ensorcelled, The Monsters Next Door, The Cynic OnLine, and many other magazines. He edits the on-line poetry journal, Lucid Rhythms HERE.
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