The Face of Salem [A Short Story Written from the Old Man’s Perspective in Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’]




My sweet and beautiful daughter Becca, I miss you, darling. I am writing in regards to the nice young man who you told me about. You know the one who you thought might make a good housemate. Well, I considered the offer well enough, but at the end of my considerations and just as I was about to send for him I met another man named Mr. Salem Wolf. I found him outside of the chapel conversing with Mrs. Wesley who was quick to introduce us and before you know it this Wolf fellow and I became quite acquainted. He would come for tea in the afternoons some Tuesdays and Thursdays and tell me of a new fable or story that he read; you know how I enjoy a good tale. Well, a few weeks passed and this fellow announced amongst the congregation at church that he was losing his home as his father had gone missing and as such was no longer able to pay the mortgage on his family home near the forested hills. You know me Bec, I just couldn’t let the lad take to the streets and the room with the good window was all prepped and ready for the prior arrangements so I offered him a roof. Please forgive me Bec I know that you wanted to vet this man but I do have some wits left. I know that you believe that loneliness burdens my heart but I still feel full from the unmatched joy that your mother gave to me throughout the years. It’s all part of the process Becca and the last thing I want in my final days is for my daughter to worry, you and I both know how keen John is and the last thing that young man needs is to worry about his mother’s fallen countenance when he and the twins come to visit you this holiday. I am a strong old dog after all and still have my senses you know.


With love,



How foolish I had been and for how long? Who can tell? I don’t know if it was because I was already at the end of my mortal wanderings that I let myself turn a blind eye to what was going on within the very walls of my own home but whatever it was it cost me the end of my days. As the months went on, the fire orange trees shed leaves with red vascular patterns. The leaves littered the ground and got stuck in between the dark grey cobblestones on the path from my home to the street. It was at this point when I was out for a morning walk that I was struck with the revelation that I was deeply troubled in regards to my relationship with Mr. Wolf.


I was always taught that one should take in the sick and the wounded and the beggar because one never could tell if it was an angel in disguise. Whether or not an angel would make snide remarks concerning the way I cut an onion or the way I poured the tea wasn’t mine to say as a legitimate disguise requires it to synthesize with good acting as well, I suppose. But it was something else. It was many something else’s in fact, and all of these moments crept up on me in the darkness of my consciousness until I was quite literally living in a web of unrest.


I remember one morning I went for a walk just as the sun was rising. My preferred path takes me northward about a block and then wraps around into the alley; I end up back at the rear entrance, and if I’m lucky I’ll sit and watch the sky change as the sun rises. I never walk south because I am blind in one eye. I tend to be very particular about where things are in relation to my bad eye like roads, carriages, and crowds; it’s just something I have developed over time. As I was walking along, taking in the crisp air of the beginning of winter, getting lost in my usual reveries, I saw that one of my neighbors had left some onions in their wagon on the right back corner. This was a signal that I could take as I pleased. The Walter residence knew me well, and they knew how much I loved onion soup. They would leave me onions every now and then, sometimes carrots. Once, they sent their daughter Olivia to invite me over for holiday ham and boiled apples. They knew that I was usually alone and that it was very difficult for my family to visit me from out west. I have a tenderness in my heart for these people and am deeply grateful for the kindness they’ve given me over the years. Anyway, there was a moment as I turned toward the onions that I saw a figure standing as stiff as a board in the alleyway past the house, glaring at me. He had a face as hard as marble and dark eyes. The morning fog made my vision hazy, but as I glanced up while pretending to search through the onions in the wagon, I realized that it was Salem. I wouldn’t have been too surprised under usual circumstances but he seemed to not be wearing any trousers, and his face was perturbed. I gave him a wave and called out but as soon as I went for the gesture he swiftly walked away. I quickly gathered a couple of onions, and in my shock, I hurried on down the path. Further on down the street and propelled by my uneasiness about what I had just witnessed I did a hard glance behind me. As my gaze was passing back toward my destination, I saw something again that startled me. It was Salem’s face peering out behind one of my neighbor’s apple trees. He was much closer. His face immediately disappeared, and as my gaze passed, I was able to perceive a look of grave annoyance on his face. Almost immediately after I saw him, I felt a sting on my wrist; a sort of insect had bitten me, and from the mark it left it seemed like it was a spider. The rest of my walk was spent uneasy and tense; what was he doing out in the cold with only his undergarments? I guessed that some people may practice such pants-less walks in the crisp morning air as a form of therapy or perhaps meditation- maybe even some form of eastern discipline practice- and given that Salem was as eccentric as he was, I resolved to let things lie. The way he was looking at me was what bothered me most. Had I done something to displease him? I told him that I saw him that morning and invited him to come along with me as he pleased; he denied that I had seen him and told me that it must be the fault of my “ugly disability.” I decided to continue my walks alone.


Another time I was awakened late at night by a crashing in Salem’s room. I took a lamp and went to investigate. As I was going to Salem’s room, I could see mud tracks leading from the front entryway. The old house creaked in a ghastly way as if the house was letting out small gasps and whispers, displeased from being disturbed outside of the usual routine. I approached Salem’s room and shone the lamp light into a gap that was left in the door. The light beamed gently on my friend’s eyes and revealed that they were as wide as prey. He was lying directly on the floorboards. I positioned the light further in. The beam flushed over his features, revealing that Salem’s cheeks were wet with tears. My senses heightened and I thought that I perceived a trembling that seemed to rattle the floor as I got closer. My words seemed to get lost in the grim scene and my voice was such a mix of emotions that it canceled out any power that my speech would’ve had otherwise.


“Salem, is that you lad?”


“Leave me be, Jacob.”


He said these words in what I can only describe as a hysterical whisper that heightened my senses even more and put me on the peaks.


“Salem, I am worried. I heard a noise, has something happened? There is mud outside in the hall. Should I send for a medic?” … “Salem” … I pushed the door open but only managed to send it a couple of inches. It all happened in a flash and I am still unsure about what I had witnessed. My housemate was stark naked on the floor, his body was a shade of purple. I guessed that he had just come inside from the frigid darkness. Sitting next to him was an object about the size of a melon that I was unable to identify completely, but part of it looked almost hairy. I caught a putrid scent that smelled of darkness. As soon as Salem heard me touch the door his body writhed into an erected position, and lunged forward toward me. The door crashed with the sound of a gunshot. His body causing the whole house to shake as if it were hit by a carriage.


“You ignoble wretch! Can’t you mind your own, you shoddy vulture?!”


Salem, cried these words in such rage that they seemed to call forth from hell itself. It was as if there was another voice mimicking his own in a harmonization that was inhuman. I stumbled back and almost toppled over with such fright, but managed to catch myself on the wall. I hasted back to my room unsure of what to do. I could send for my neighbor who had medical knowledge- though Salem seemed fit enough as to be able to move in such snappy ways. Exhausted and achy I resigned myself to listen for him as needed. The night passed without further incident. I was too tired to go on my morning stroll. Late into the morning, Salem knocked at my door bearing a cup of cider and a plate of bread. Through the door, I heard him say:


“Jacob, I am sorry about last night… I had a fit of grievance; I suppose I haven’t fully recovered from the death of my father.”


At these words I recalled that his father had only been said to have disappeared. I concluded that I was in the dark concerning this issue. The last thing I should do is question a man’s grief. We were soon to be in the depths of winter.


There were many other incidents over the next few months that gave me rise similar to these that I have laid out for you dear reader and one in particular that I will recount here in a little while. As I reflect upon these instances more and more, I wonder if I should have sent him away. I was always taught that there is nothing nobler than to show the weak and downtrodden the love of Jesus, and I have tried to live my life in such a way. I took Salem upon me as if being charged by God himself to look after his suffering lamb. With each unnatural event there was a temptation to see only the unpleasant. I knew that if I focused on these things, I would become blind to a wholistic and fair vision of his person. This I needed to retain if I was to continue in compassion. There were good times despite the underlying tone of malice that would seep out of his expressions, and if I ignored them thoroughly, I was able to enjoy his company. But as time went on this became exceedingly difficult. He would take one of his many books and read me stories by the fire until it was time to retire to sleep, but his reading would be riddled with uneasy glances and long pauses in which he would stare at my bad eye. He helped me around the house when I needed it but would mumble obscenities under his breath in fits of anger. Once, he called me a “God damned carpetbagger” when I asked him if he would like some of my onion soup; he looked at me and smiled immediately following the insult, and ate his soup in grave silence. He would fetch me services from town as needs arose, but sometimes wouldn’t come back till late at night, and I began to find old tools like saws, and shovels, standing up next to the entrances of the house; he even installed a lamp hook at the back door, presumably to aid him in his nightly activities. Who was I to judge a man’s nightly wanderings, especially a man who had lost his home and father just months prior? I could see that as the days went on after the incident in his room, that his countenance became exceedingly twisted in his suffering, and it was as if my very presence alone magnified this darkness that surrounded him.


It was the dead of winter. The darkness of the season was in a state of full dominion over the little town. All colors seemed faded into grey. The lamps on the streets bobbed slowly up and down in the heaviness of the chill, and gave off a heavy, whisky-orange glow. The cold air froze time and replace it with a passing of constant suffering. People scurried across the streets with stiff gazes fixed on the next warm space that would give a respite from the elemental pressures of the dead season. When they walked out into the chill, they became numb to the passing of hours, and began bearing the frigid, persistent bite that drew their mind to the passing of seconds. The cold that lingers on the nose and skin and attacks the hands like an astral predator, invisible to the eyes but ever-present and unrelenting is what drove Salem and I into the chapel. This was the scene of the incident that led up to the separation of my spirit from my body. I was pleased with the prospect of Salem attending the chapel with me. I believed that all a man needed was to be touched by the holy spirit just once, and it would send him on a journey of spiritual transformation. My heart was hopeful that The Preacher would choose a sermon that would speak well to Salem, and possibly spark some conversation about the gospel in our home.


The congregation shuffled into their familiar pews and seated themselves with a reverence and gentleness that was subtle found in the bustling day-to-day routine. the choir sang “Nearer my God to Thee” with an amateurish charm that was followed by a stark silence. The light inside the chapel was warm and the light from the dark steel lamps reflected off of the large stained-glass mural in the front of the chapel, which produced a deep red glow that seemed to float above the heads of the congregation, like a fog. The mural was a depiction of one of the apostles but the frost and snow that clung to the outside of the glass darkened the face and made the impression sinister. The Preacher had a deep voice that echoed inside of the chapel, the reverberations gave off a gentle, unremitting tone that caused the listeners to fall into a daze as if taken by the heart by some ancient, unseen specter. Eyes fixed. Breathing steadily, the congregation hummed in a silent stillness that was wed with heaviness of spirit. The Preacher warned of daemons that had been prowling in the depths of the woods; apparently, there had been disappearances. He spoke about the disease of evil and encouraged us like a father to avoid sin; lest we be taken and changed into something unseemly. There were periodic, solemn expressions mumbled by the congregation that was an amalgamation of words of agreement and approval. It was indiscernible in dialect. The congregation’s emissions were pulled from their lips by The Preachers’ reverberations; like an instrument of music; and it was this process that caused the church to breathe and sway. I broke from my trance and looked at Salem and saw an expression of pure horror on his face. His eyes seemed to be flushed of color and were lifeless in the subtle glow of the holy atmosphere. I put my hand on his shoulder and asked him if he was well.


“Yes”. He spoke this word almost imperceptibly and seemed to relax, but his gaze remained fixed on The Preacher, who continued along with his ancient tones.


“Darkness is a vigorous, internal, quiet rage, that draws its ghastly limbs continually toward your third eye, the seat of your soul. It craves the moments of sorrow and misery and seeks to make them last forever. It is by very nature conscious of your deepest suffering and greatest desires; so that as you starve yourself of light, there it is, waiting to take forceful advantage of the most intimate spaces of your heart; and thus, takes control of your body like a plague…”


Salem’s frame tensed. His eyes hollow.


“… It’s promised land is the spirit of mankind and the paths to your heart are numberless. It is a force that doesn’t show itself in obvious, terrifying forms, but rather, draws the curious into its dazzling, illusory rays until you are lost in a grim confusion. It is in this process that you will find yourself looking into the mirror, searching for some semblance of yourself; but it will not be there. Instead, you will see in your eyes the hollowness of hell and realize that the flesh looking back at you is nothing but a husk; and that Lucifer himself, in all his rage, is the new captain of your earthly vessel.”


I glanced to the side at a sudden commotion and saw Salem seizing uncontrollably, his body writhing in unnatural contortions. There was a subtle gasp from the congregation. “He’ got the spirit.” One man said. The Preacher’s gesticulations increased in intensity and the esoteric melodies of his speech echoed loudly. This tonal ambiance invigorated the crowd and The Preacher’s words were directed toward Salem.


“The spirit of the Lord will swell our souls with his spiritual gifts if we but allow Him to lead us to the light my tender lamb!”


Salem, was shaking vigorously and began to make a guttural noise that penetrated The Preacher’s archaic resonance. The feelings of the congregation were a blend of dismay and innocent joy. This confusion was manifest in the congregation’s collective face which manifested itself in an anxious, terrified smile that was swaying on the precipice of madness. Sundry expressions wrapped in dark winter coats swayed, and danced slowly around the scene. Nobody knew if this was the working of the devil himself or the power of God. I didn’t get to see the climax. In a panicked glance toward The Preacher from my young friend, I saw something that gave me a jolt.


It wasn’t there physically. But I knew that it was there. It resembled a Spider but I knew in my heart of hearts that it was something else, and I knew that it wanted to kill me. It was perched in place of the apostolic mural above The Preacher. My consciousness was lucid but I felt distant as if I had been pulled away, inwardly, toward my mind’s eye. The peripheral of my vision was darkened until the red glow of the chapel was slowly replaced with an unknown land that was all-consuming. I was looking down upon a barren field from the height of a tree. I saw the spider creeping silently toward something with a fervency and purpose that was frightening, until it reached a pale blue expanse that looked like a vast blue lake. The spider crept out onto the deep blue land, its mannerisms calculated and clever; suddenly, it started twitching, hissing, and began sinking into the blue surface. It was enraged. A ray of light flashed across the surface, making the surface glow with a heavy azure. The spider was unable to contain its passion. After writhing some more it sunk its fangs deep into the surface. Black liquid quickly swelled from the wound and surrounded me until I was overwhelmed with darkness.





The sound of my name pulled me to my senses. I opened my eyes and saw Salem there holding me upright in the pew. He looked perturbed. There were a few others with concerned faces around me. People were already shuffling out into the frosty air while a few mingled together. After insisting that I had my wits I pressed Salem to explain what had happened to him. He recounted the experience to me. He said that he had gained “heightened senses”, and that The Preacher “set him free through the spirit.” We walked toward the house in the cold, colorless afternoon, and all the while I watched him. He looked changed. I hoped that he had experienced some sort of spiritual healing, and though his countenance showed that something had happened I was skeptical as to the nature of this transformation. After that day I had the same vision every night until I died.


It was the spider. The first night it was the same vision that I saw in the chapel but it became more vivid and intense as the week went on. I was hovering over the event like a bat caught in an upward draft. The vision enthralled me in such a way that I couldn’t passively participate in the scene. I had to feel the terror that the arachnid’s shape brought to my heart. I had to endure the rise as it stalked its prey, and the climax of its rage until the fangs sunk deep into the soft blue surface. I was consumed with the black liquid that burst forth from the surface like a geyser. I would wake up as if I was on the edge of a cliff, and there Salem would be to comfort me. He spoke confidently now and was well-mannered. He was kind and gentle. He truly seemed to have experienced a change of heart a few days ago in the chapel. My heart on the other hand was troubled. I was consumed with ill thoughts. Something inside of me was in a constant state of alarm. I felt as though I was living among demons and other unseemly things. In the light of the day the feelings abated, but the more I pondered upon the things that happened at the chapel, and my housemate’s change of character, the fear only quickened.




It was the night of my death. I had sat looking out of the window in my bedchamber as the veiled sun descended. I watched the dull brown glow of the lamps float down the street as my neighbors tended to the cares of the evening. It was mystifying as I watched the rotted-orange lights lead their bearers along down the darkened street, and around their homes. As soon as the last lamp was taken from view, the street was dark, and my mind was peaked into crippling anxiety. I felt feverish. A few hours after dark had fallen, I was lying in bed; consumed by a frenzy of thoughts that were interwoven with the sturdy web of the all-consuming spider. There were no good explanations for my mania, and there didn’t seem to be a way to escape it. The stalking spider with its promised land of blue. The flash of light. The fangs and the drowning in darkness. I was lying in bed on the verge of suffocating. I couldn’t get the image of Salem’s eyes out of my mind; they were familiar and terrifying. I remembered sitting in the chapel, seeing those pitch-black eyes staring at The Preacher. The fits and violent convulsions had broken me and caused this mental break. Was it a mistake to allow this madman into my home as an honest show of alms? I don’t reckon that it’s farfetched to think that an excitement like the one that happened in that chapel would shake a man’s wits, and cause him some sort of mania. I have heard of these things, and read about them in books-no it doesn’t seem absurd. My mind flashed back to all of the unseemly incidents that had happened over the last few months as if I was scanning the pages of the book of my heart, and I wondered if the culmination of Salem’s activities had slowly degraded my wellbeing. But then I thought about the loss of his father. He was just a troubled man struggling with the vicissitudes of life like anyone else. He needed somebody to look after him and care for him. I made this decision- and besides- Salem has had a massive change of heart ever since the incident at the church, and maybe by some miraculous divinity, I had paid for it with my spiritual wellbeing. My mind felt as if it were breaking.


During my panicked phantasms, I was taken into a vision. The lucidity set in and the environment was damp and weary. The spider- only no, it wasn’t the spider this time. It was a man, and this man was creeping along the vast plain where the spider was supposed to be. I followed him for what seemed like days and floated effortlessly above him like a vulture. I could see his eyes. They were black as pitch, and filled with passion. The rage inside of him was illuminated by the glow of the lantern that burned blood instead of oil, and the deep blackness of his gaze glowed red. This man was determined. He looked transformed. He had recently accepted who he was, and decided to fully embrace who he had become. I could see something hanging from his waist, it was a severed head. A man. I gazed into the eyes of the dead. It spoke to me, but the words croaked and bubbled, and I didn’t understand. The man drew close to the pale blue surface, he readied a lamp as if to open it wide, and then just as he was about to flood the landscape with his ill discerning light, I heard a terrible chuckle behind me. It was a harmonization of horror. A sick tone. It echoed out across the landscape and I found myself startled, shaking in my dark bedchamber. I waited there for what seemed like a very long time scanning my room for movement. I was wound up in an ever-present state of unrest that grew stronger as time passed. Next, I heard the sound of a metallic click, somewhere in the darkness. I sprang up in bed, trembling, and belted with all the confidence I could muster:


“Who’s there?”


I was shaking, and it felt like my heart was about to burst. I could see the room closing in on me despite the darkness. There were splotches of invisible violet and blue swirling around my dizzying blindness; like specters in the deep. The bedchamber was still. I could hear the death watches in the walls. During the next hour (which seemed like an eternity) their crawling and the faint ticking of their legs became loud like a shrill horn; as if the herald of death itself was sending message of my imminent demise. I couldn’t focus on the room; I began to fear that this distraction would keep me from seeing it. Whatever it was. The creeping darkness. My heart beating out of my chest, I felt a swell of terror rise from within the deep recesses of my soul. It couldn’t be contained. I groaned out loud in my panicked stupor, and the self-exposing noise fed my fear to bursting. My heart pounding loud as if in a metal cage. I followed the pounding with my inner eye across the room as it bounced off of the walls, and imagined that the walls were cracking under the pressure of the deep blare. And then, just as it seemed to be as loud as a war drum, it boomed across the pale blue surface. I could see the man looking up into the sky; he was looking at me, as if I was the source of the loud, rhythmic death gong. He turned from the heavens, and determined to use his lamp to satiate his gaze upon that which he most desired. The lamp opened and shone a bright and brilliant light across the pale blue surface. The azure reflection that the smooth and frosty lake produced filled his blackened eyes with indignation, and he grew feverish. The blare grew to a constant roar with a force that started to crack the surface of the blue expanse; all was in commotion. The man looked up at me with fearful anticipation; he was smiling. Then, a deafening noise like a daemon cry pulled me back into my bedchamber, and there it was; wrapped in a reddish glow. Ravenous. Contorted. Turbulent. It was the many beaded eyes of the spider, set into the face of the man I knew as Salem.