I have a tonic for those of you who suffer from triskaidekaphobia–that is, fear of the number 13. What you should fear more is gin-addiction, mental illness and black cats, not some silly number. Edgar A. Poe’s brilliant horror story, “The Black Cat”, illustrates this with guile, craft, voice and lurid prose:
‘One night, returning home, much intoxicated, from one of my haunts about town, I fancied that the cat avoided my presence. I seized him; when, in his fright at my violence, he inflicted a slight wound upon my hand with his teeth. The fury of a demon instantly possessed me. I knew myself no longer. My original soul seemed, at once, to take its flight from my body and a more than fiendish malevolence, gin-nurtured, thrilled every fibre of my frame. I took from my waistcoat-pocket a pen-knife, opened it, grasped the poor beast by the throat, and deliberately cut one of its eyes from the socket! I blush, I burn, I shudder, while I pen the damnable atrocity.’
I can’t even imagine how shocking this must have been to readers in 1843. But what makes this truly great, is that it’s not gratuitous, not the pornography of violence: everything in this brilliant story is carefully crafted: the tight prose; the unreliable narrator; the building tension; the emphatic denunciation of alcoholism disintegrating into a paradoxical embrace of its madness; and the rhetorical brilliance of its shock ending. This is my all time favorite Poe story, and horror and thriller writers have been copying it for more than a century.
The image is a great movie poster from the 1934 movie of The Black Cat, which has virtually nothing to do with the original story.