Welcome to Easy Stories in English, the podcast that will take your English from OK to Good, and from Good to Great.
I am Ariel Goodbody, your host for this show. Today’s story is for intermediate learners. The name of the story is The Black Cat. You can find a transcript of the episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cat. That’s EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cat. This contains the full story, as well as my conversation before it.
Today’s story is another story by Edgar Allan Poe. The last story on the podcast from Edgar Allan Poe was The Heart That Told the Truth. You can listen to that episode at EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Heart.
If you’re not aware, Edgar Allan Poe is a famous American author in the genre of gothic horror. I described a bit about gothic horror last time. Basically, scary things in an old, gothic, Victorian setting.
So, when I was looking for stories to adapt for the podcast, I saw this one. I saw “cat” in the title and I thought, “Oh! I like cats. So maybe this will be a nice story.” But no, Edgar Allan Poe is a very morbid author, morbid meaning he loves things like death, murder, skeletons, things like that. So the black cat in this story is unfortunately not very nice.
And consequently I have a warning for all of you today. Today’s story does contain murder, that is, killing, and violence towards animals. I know some people are very sensitive about violence towards animals. They really don’t like hearing or seeing animals being treated badly. So if you are within this group, I really recommend you do not listen to this episode because it’s got some quite nasty violence in it.
OK, I’ll just explain some words that’re in the story.
Superstitious is someone who believes in very specific things. They believe in a kind of magic. They believe in superstitions. Superstitions are, for example, “If you see a black cat you will have bad luck”, “If you open an umbrella inside a building you will have bad luck”, “If you say something and you don’t want it to come true… For example, you say, um, ‘Oh, wouldn’t it be strange if I died tomorrow,’ then you should knock on wood. You should find something wooden and tap your hand against it”; “If you break a mirror you will have seven years’ bad luck”, “If you walk under a ladder, you will have bad luck”.
These are all superstitions. So they’re these kind of old beliefs that are a bit magical and that aren’t really proven by science. I wouldn’t say I’m particularly superstitious myself, but I do really enjoy hearing about superstitions from other cultures and other countries. One of my friends, when she was younger, used to look up Slavic superstitions in books and write them all down in a notebook. So, if you have some interesting superstitions from your country I would love to hear them. Go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com/Cat and write in the comments what strange beliefs people have where you live.
The next word is “witch”. A witch is basically an evil woman who does magic. The male equivalent is “wizard”.
Purr is a lovely sound that cats make. And, rather than try to imitate it, I will just play it for you here:
Ah, isn’t that really nice and relaxing?
OK, the next word is “despise”. Despise means to just really hate, to absolutely hate something or someone.
A patch of fur. So “patch” is P-A-T-C-H and “fur” is F-U-R. So fur is the hair that animals have on their body and a patch is basically just a part of it. So cats sometimes have patches of fur that are a different colour. Humans may also have bald patches. This is a part of their head where they have no hair, and it can be quite embarrassing. Finally, if you get a hole in your trousers, you might decide to patch it up. You might decide to take a square of fabric and sew it onto the hole to cover it up.
Cut firewood. So firewood is wood from trees that is used to light a fire. Most people these days don’t have fireplaces in their house, but sometimes in old-fashioned houses you might find them, and in order to have firewood to burn you need to cut it. And again, this is something that most people these days won’t have experienced. I’ve certainly never cut firewood. I’ve put firewood on the fire in my grandparents’ house, but I’ve never cut it myself.
However, if you were going to cut firewood, you would need an axe. So an axe is a big, uh, weapon, or tool, let’s say, that you use to cut wood. It has a long handle and a large, sharp blade. Again, I have never held or used an axe before but I do think they look rather cool.
Banister. So when you walk down the stairs you put your hand on the banister. So the banister is like the railing and it also includes the wooden sort of poles that hold the railing in place.
Tap your knuckles. So knuckles are the parts of your hand where your fingers connect to the hand. So when you punch someone, the knuckles, I guess, are the first part that hit them. When you tap your knuckles on something, it means to make this kind of sound:
You might do it to get someone’s attention. You might do it ’cause you’re bored. You might do it to test out the strength of something. Or you might just be, you know, knocking on a door.
A corpse is a dead body. So when you die your body becomes a corpse. And if you leave a corpse for a long time it starts to rot. So it starts to fall apart. Rotting also happens to food. If you leave an apple too long in the fruit bowl it will start to go brown, maybe it will grow some fur, and it will be very nasty.
See, I told you this story was a bit horrible! We haven’t even started and we’re talking about rotting corpses.
OK, just a reminder that if you would like some one-to-one classes with me, I do online classes on iTalki. So go to EasyStoriesInEnglish.com and click “CLASSES” at the top, and there you will be able to book a class with me. In our classes we will be making stories together, just like in the podcast, and if they’re good stories, maybe we’ll even put them on the podcast. It’s really up to you.
I’ve had a lot of fun teaching students in this way, and I would really love to teach some of the listeners of this podcast. I think that would be really great.
OK, so listen and enjoy!
The Black Cat
I don’t expect you to believe what I am going to tell you, but hopefully you will understand. I’m not sure I believe or understand it myself. I’m not mad, and this is not a dream—it is stranger and more horrible than any dream I have ever had. But maybe a clever reader will see my story, and find an answer to the madness. That is all I can hope for.
I’ve always been soft at heart. People made fun of me at school for it. I was especially soft for animals, and my parents got me many pets. I spent all my time with animals, and I was happiest when I was feeding and playing with them. This didn’t change as I grew older. In fact, my love became stronger. If you’ve ever had a faithful dog, you’ll understand what I’m talking about. No matter how big or rough a dog looks, there is always a soft, loving heart underneath. Much more loving than any human heart.
I married early, and I loved my wife. Not as much as my pets, but that was true of everyone. She saw that I loved animals, and allowed me to keep many. We had birds, goldfish, a fine dog, rabbits, a small monkey, and a cat.
The cat was a very big and beautiful animal, and it was very clever. So clever, you might think it was human. My wife was a superstitious woman, and she always spoke of the old superstition that black cats are witches in disguise. She wasn’t serious, of course, but the idea always made me nervous.
Pluto was the cat’s name. He was my favourite pet. I was the only one who fed him, and he followed me everywhere around the house. He even tried to follow me outside, and it was hard to say no to him.
Life could not remain this perfect, though. Over the next few years I began to change. My Problem was making me into a terrible person. Every day I grew more angry, more bitter, more cold towards others. I said bad words to my wife, and sometimes even hit her. You can probably guess what I am speaking of. It was the worst of all bad things: alcohol.
My pets felt my change as well, of course. I was cruel to them. But Pluto was different. I could not hurt him. Instead, I spent my anger on the rabbits, the monkey, and even the dog. But as my Problem grew, so did my anger, and I started hitting Pluto as well.
One night I was coming home from a bar. The cat seemed to be avoiding me. For some reason, this made me furious. I grabbed him, and he bit me, and I shouted and swore. I pulled a penknife out of my pocket and slashed one of the beast’s eyes, cut it right out. I go red writing this now, but I could not stop myself back then.
The next day, I felt terrible, from the alcohol and my crime. I saw the cat without his eye, and a smear of red blood where it had been, and I turned to the red drink, wine, to forget what I had done.
The cat recovered quickly, and whenever he saw me, he ran away. I had loved him so much, and my heart ached at this treatment. But as it continued, it began to annoy me. And finally, I felt a sick desire to hurt him again.
You know what I’m taking about. Humans are stupid creatures. We do things we know are stupid, are wrong, because we know they are these things. It was this feeling, this sick desire, that filled me whenever I saw the cat. I had hurt it, but I needed to kill it to complete the task.
So one day, I pulled a rope around its neck and hung it from the tree in our garden. I cried as I did it, because I knew what I was doing was wrong, but it was too late. I know God said that animals do not have souls, but I think even he would reject me after what I did.
That night, I was woken by fire. The whole house was in flames, and my wife and I barely escaped alive. The circle was complete. Everything was destroyed. I had nothing left.
Now, you may think I am cruel, and you would be right. But so far, there is nothing to suggest that I am truly mad. However, what came afterwards is so hard to believe that you may think just that. I will try my best only to present the facts, and it is up to you to decide whether you believe there was a cause and effect.
The day after the fire, I visited the ruins of the house. All the walls had fallen in, except for one. It was an ordinary wall, and not a particularly thick one, in the middle of the house. Just where my bed had been. A crowd of people were stood around it, pointing and whispering, “How strange!” and “I can’t believe it!”. So I came near and saw, in shock, the shape of a gigantic cat burnt onto the wall. There was a rope around its neck.
Fear filled me. I tried to come up with an explanation. Perhaps a neighbour had seen the cat hanging in the garden. When the fire started, he cut the cat down and threw him through the window, to wake me up. Somehow, the other walls had fallen on the creature, and along with the fire and the chemicals in the air, it had burned its image onto the wall.
Unbelievable, isn’t it? But the other possibility was worse. That is, that the cat had been a witch, and it wanted revenge.
I felt so frightened, and so awful for what I’d done, that I wished for the cat to come back. I looked for a similar cat wherever I went, hoping to replace it.
One night, in one of those awful bars I went to, I saw such a cat. He was sitting in a dark corner, making him hard to see. But when I got closer I could see that he was almost exactly the same as Pluto. The only difference was a large spot of white fur on his chest.
As soon as I touched him, he stood up, purred, and rubbed against my hand. I asked the barman who the cat belonged to, and he said it had come off the street, so I took it home without delay. When we got home, the cat made itself comfortable very quickly, and was just as friendly with my wife.
However, over the following days and weeks, a hate for the cat grew inside me. I had expected the opposite, but the way it treated me made me despise it. I avoided the creature. I could not hurt it, because I still felt guilty about my previous actions, but slowly I came to completely hate it, and ran away whenever I saw it.
But as I hated the cat more, it became ever more friendly. When I sat down, it would sit under the chair, or jump onto my lap, rubbing itself against me. When I walked it ran between my legs, almost making me fall, or it would use its claws to climb up my clothes and onto my chest. I wanted badly to hit it, to kill it, but I feared it at the same time.
My fear grew from one thing mainly: the white patch of fur on the animal’s chest, which had been small at first, grown slowly, and taken shape. It was shaped like a rope—the rope that I had hung the cat with! Every time I saw that rope, it was as if the cat itself was calling me a murderer!
I couldn’t rest day or night. During the day, the creature would not leave me alone, and at night, I had horrible dreams, and would then wake up to find the thing sitting on my chest, breathing in my face like a nightmare monster.
I began to think evil thoughts. I was hateful and violent towards everything and everyone, and my wife was the most common victim. I shouted at her, hit her, threw at her all the awful feelings that burned inside of me.
One day, she told me to cut firewood in the cellar, and when she saw my face of anger, she said that she would help me do it. We lived in a poor house now, and I hated the dark cellar almost as much as the cat. We climbed down the stairs together, and the cat ran between my legs, making me trip. Luckily, I grabbed the banister in time, but I felt such a rage that I could not control myself.
I picked up the axe, aimed it at the animal, and threw it down. But my wife’s hand caught the handle. Full of demonic rage, I pulled away from her and raised the axe again, burying it in her brain.
She fell dead without a sound.
You must think that I was sad, because although I showed my rage to my wife, I did still love her. But at that time, all that I felt was a determination. I had to hide the body.
I couldn’t remove it from the house without the neighbours seeing. I considered cutting it up into small pieces, and burning them, or digging a grave in the floor of the cellar. I even considered packing it into a box and having it delivered somewhere. Finally, I thought of the right idea; I would hide it within the walls of the cellar.
It was the perfect place. The walls were loosely built, and soft. One of the walls had an empty space where a fireplace had been, and the walls were particularly weak there.
I pulled apart the wall and placed the body inside, and then replaced the bricks one by one. I worked through the night. When I was finished, I was satisfied with my work. Nobody would know that the wall had been changed. I cleared away all the equipment and said to myself, ‘Well, I succeeded in this, at least.’
Next, I had to find the monster that had caused this. Because now, I was determined to kill it. But it was nowhere to be found. The animal had seen my anger and run away. I felt both annoyance and relief. It did not show up the next day or night, and I slept well for the first time in months.
Over the next few days, the cat still did not appear, and my happiness grew. Some people asked about my wife, and searched the local area, but she was equally hard to find. I felt guilt at my action, but only a little. I was too happy about my future, without the damned cat, to worry about it.
Four days after the murder, the police came to the house unannounced, to search the place. I was confident in the way I’d hidden my wife, so I showed no sign of worry as I showed them around. They examined every part of the house with extreme care. They went into the cellar several times, and I followed them around every wall. Eventually, they said they were satisfied in their search, and got ready to leave. I felt a joy in my heart, an evil joy at my success, and I couldn’t resist showing off.
‘Gentlemen,’ I said as they walked up the steps. ‘I am happy to help you any time. I wish you all the best. It is a pleasure to have you in my well-built house. It is well-constructed, is it not?’ I was talking without thinking, saying whatever came to my lips. ‘Brilliantly constructed. These walls—are you heading off already?—these walls are well put together.’
And then, a joyful madness taking over me, I tapped my knuckles against the part of the wall where she was buried.
The devil works in cruel and mysterious ways. My knock was answered—by a voice! It was the sobbing of a child, which grew into an unending scream, an inhuman sound. It came from Hell itself, the cries of hundreds of demons.
I fell against the opposite wall. The policemen stood there for a moment, frozen in terror. And then, they launched themselves at the wall, and tore it apart brick by brick with their hands. The corpse, which was already rotting in a most horrible way, stood before their eyes. And on its head, with a bloody red mouth and an eye of fire, sat the terrible monster that had led me to murder.
I had walled the monster up with her!
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