Synopsis: Our storyteller starts into a story he doesn't expect us to believe. After all, he can barely believe it and it is his life. He begins in his childhood. He was a different boy, one who was sensitive and found solace in animals. As other children picked on him for his differentness, he spent more and more time with animals, who didn't judge and offered unqualified affection. He married young and, fortunately, his wife likewise had a deep affection for animals. Their home quickly filled with dogs and cats, birds and goldfish. His favorite pet was a large, black cat he called Pluto.
Pluto was in every sense a devoted pet. And while at first this devotion was welcomed and returned, over time, the man began to despise it. The continual demands the creature made for his time, for his attention irritated, then infuriated. His intolerance of the animal grew in proportion to his drinking. One night, he came home and the cat crossed his path. The man struck out, grasping the cat, blinding it in one eye.
The man felt horrible. He truly regretted his action. The cat healed and, showing good sense, kept his distance from his master. For a time, a normalcy returned. Cat and man co-existing, together but separate. Until a night came where the drink was again upon the man and the cat was in his sights. He pulled the creature from his home and strung him up from a tree.
That night, the man's house caught fire. It was all he and his wife could do to get out with their lives. All was lost. The next day, the man inspected the ruins. All walls save one had collapsed. On that wall, in an odd type of relief, was the shape of the black cat. His mind raced, looking for rational explanation in the face of irrational sight.
Ruined, the man and his wife took up residence in a basement apartment. It was a sad and empty place, a constant reminder of what had been lost. The man's moods eased though and he felt more like himself. He remembered with affection the cat who had adored him and with shame his treatment of the animal. After some time, he began to seek out another cat. He did not have to look very far as one found him. Large and black, he reminded the man of Pluto. He even was blind in one eye. The man took the cat home and his wife welcomed the addition of the cat, especially endured by the state of his eyes.
As the days passed in to weeks, melancholy beset upon him again. The beast seemed to constantly weave between his feet, tripping him. Or digging claws in as he gained purchase. Or the thousand other things the cat did with the sole intention of angering him. One particular night, the man and his wife returned to their home. As he walked down the stairs, the cat wove between his legs, nearly sending him tumbling down. He grabbed an ax and made ready to bury it between the infernal creatures ears. As his arm came down, his wife's hand stopped him. He turned on her, burying the point in her head. Determined, he looked for the cat but couldn't find it.
He came back to his wife and realized he had a problem. He couldn't remove her body, day or night, without being seen. Looking around the cellar he regrettably called home, he noted a place where a false chimney had likely stood. He attacked the bricks and found they did come away easily, revealing a hidden cove. In it, he placed his wife's body and then worked to restore the wall, paying attention to the color and detail so there was no telling it from the original.
That night, he slept.
The police investigated his wife's disappearance. They questioned him; they came to his home. He welcomed them in, allowing them to search. There was nothing they would find. As they climbed the stairs, taking their leave, he called out to them about the sturdiness of the building. He praised the structure and its builder, going to far as to rap his cane against the wall where his wife was buried.
One mistake. It was one single mistake that took him to the end of the hangman's noose. What was the mistake? For that, you'll have to read.
Okay. Wow. This was a sharp left turn after two intellectual mysteries.
The man implies, in the telling of his story, that some force was at work bringing him to his end. Fate? Karma? Perhaps something darker?
Being a person who values free will and choice, I have a difficult time with the concepts of fate and karma. I explored this in my upcoming mystery, WIDOW'S RUN, when the widow in question, Diamond, feels like she is fighting karma on her way to the truth of her husband's death. In her case, she feels like some greater power is working against her, while in the case of Poe's unnamed man, he is perhaps paying the price for his transgressions.
The Black Cat is short and maybe more disturbing for its brevity. A true master work of horror.