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That this tale will be met with disbelief, I have little doubt. Yet, I am forced, by conscience and duty to recount, as best I can, the details of my downfall and my lurid descent into infamy.
My hope, is that by making this confession I may find some measure of forgiveness for my transgressions. For I assure you, dear reader, that though they may test the bounds of credulity, the things I have written are in all regards faithful to the truth.
I was there, I did do these things and I am, as penance for my sins, cursed forever, to remember.
It was in a small, Baltimore Inn, a dive of the species often frequented by those for whom intemperance is a habit and alcohol a close, but capricious friend, that I first met Albert Wynne. Having handed over any measure of self-control with the dollar I used to purchase my ale, I had become the worst type of raucous and loose-lipped drunk and was complaining loudly of a lover by whom I felt I had been hard done, she having accepted the affections of another and left me unceremoniously bereft.
I swore revenge on the man who had left me a cuckold. This sermon was not directed to anyone in particular, but was rather a cathartic lament addressed to everyone and no one in equal measure. Only Albert was listening.
He sidled up beside me with the slithering ease of a serpent and with a sly smile every bit as reptilian. In appearance, he was toad-like, squat, with a head like a misshapen pebble. His eyes, which seemed somehow to swivel and turn as if unattached to the rest of his head, were wide and shone with an energy that was in equal measure as alluring as it was malevolent.
“If you wish to do harm or rekindle your love, those things are within your reach,” he hissed. “Though you must be aware that the price of such service is high.”
Initially, I thought he was offering to take action against my usurper personally, and whilst I had myself, on many occasions, considered and even dreamt of offering violence to her new lover, I had long ago rejected the notion as futile. I thanked my new friend but assured him that such an undertaking would be impossible.
“My love’s new flame is none other than the Alderman Kane. An official of high enough status and regard as to be untouchable. Far beyond the reach of a back alley hiding or a discouraging threat.” With this I turned and ordered yet another pint of ale, considering our brief conversation to be over.
Albert Wynne thought differently.
“Nobody,” Wynne insisted, “is beyond reach.” With this, he moved his glass, filled with green opaque liquid I instantly recognised as absinthe, into the path of the candle so that it cast a long shadow across the surface of the bar.
“Every man has a shadow. A piece of the dark from which he cannot escape, which he cannot remove nor ever cut away. It is attached as firmly as our skin to our bones, it is and always will be with him. No one is untouchable, as long as their shadow touches them. It is a pathway to his soul, for those willing to follow it.” As the barman laid my drink before me, the stranger all at once, lifted it and moved it into a new position, so that this receptacle also cast a shadow.
“These objects, for now, do not touch.” With the slow deliberate movements of a stage magician, he extended one bony finger and gently pushed the glass so that it slid closer to me. The shadow of my glass merged with the shadow of his own to form a single, solid black puddle. He then traced the line from my glass up the side of his own. “Now,” he proclaimed, “Perhaps they don’t touch, but they are, doubtless, joined. A bridge from one to the other, from him to you.”
Over the next two hours, during which time I abandoned my fidelity to ale and joined my friend in embracing La Fée Verte, he explained his business and his intent. He could, he assured me, by means of signs and incantations scribed in lore forgotten by most, bring harm to anyone he wished, and could, if I so desired, sharpen my ill feeling toward the Alderman to a fine invisible point that would, without my ever needing to be within reach of that fellow, damage him irrevocably.
Much aroused by this talk of esoteric magic, if not a little by the absinthe, I loudly enthused about the possibility, declaring that I, with my new sorcerer friend, would vanquish my enemies by magical means, tear his very heart from his chest, and wielding malifice as my new weapon, bring him to his knees as I reclaimed my lost love. Oh, what folly! To have made sport of such things!
At length, Wynne extended to me an invitation, suggesting that I accompany him to his home. An invitation which I readily and drunkenly accepted. As he paced and I staggered through the chill autumn night toward his abode, I did, I blush to admit, consider for an instant the wisdom of my actions. Before I could pay more heed to my mind’s warning however, I found myself outside a grim old brownstone and being led hurriedly inside.
At first, still shaking off the residues left by my moment of doubt, I was comforted when I found myself in a modest but perfectly ordinary kitchen. We shared yet another drink, after which I felt my apprehension begin to dissolve.
It was only when Wynne, seemingly far less inebriated than myself, paced toward a door on the far side of the room that I again became apprehensive. Opening the door, he beckoned me to follow and led me down the stone steps toward a small and dimly lit cellar, in which my companion had amassed an expansive library, stuffed with books on all manner of dark and unsavoury material. The floor of this room was scrawled with symbols and runes in a language I did not recognise. Surveying the scene, I again began to regret my impulsive nature. I turned, determined to make my apologies and leave, only to find that I was alone.
The room, I realised at once, had become oddly still. Not only quiet, but seemingly, undisturbed. As if the very air itself were ancient, trapped long ago, like stale breath inside a crypt. I turned again, searching for my friend, who had, so I thought, been close to my elbow. I had not heard him leave, nor seen him ascend the stairs, and yet, now I could hear and indeed sense, that I was the first to move in this stillness for days, years or centuries. Then, just as quickly as the stillness had come, it began at once to retreat and I watched in abject horror, as the shadows began to melt.
From behind every object, from upon every surface, the shadows at once became unstuck, bleeding and dripping downward, seeping from the walls and across the floor in slow, syrupy movements. I cried out as the pooling dark crept toward me, forming a puddle that slowly advanced, forcing me backward toward the corner. In panic, I grabbed at the candle, thrusting it forward in a vain attempt to halt the shadow’s progress, and in doing so, swung it recklessly sideward and dropped it. Terror, like frozen pins, jabbed at my insides as the light went out and the entire world was shadow. For a moment I stood, listening, only to the sound of my own breath, when, from out of the darkness, someone or something reached out and touched me. My mind, unable to cope, succumbed to the black.
When I awoke, I was in the hospital. At first, my blurred recollections and the fanciful nature of these events, led to me to consider whether they were not in fact the product of some strange dream or reverie. A fabrication, which I, wound up in a web of sin delicately spun by that fabled green fairy, had hallucinated.
Later, I was told that I had been found in the gutter, raving and bleeding and that I was brought in by some considerate soul who to this day I have never met. My only clue as to my actions after being swallowed by the darkness, was a note I found in my jacket pocket. Above a line of those same curious runes was the name ‘Alderman Kane’, the words ‘I agree to pay the price’ and my own scrawled signature.
Upon first waking however, I was less concerned with the details than with my injuries, for I could sense instantly and to my infinite horror, that my right hand had been removed.
Unbeknownst to me, a few floors below in the morgue, the body of Alderman Kane was being laid out upon the slab. I only know this now because of reports of the strange discoveries made during his autopsy.
For you see, when the cursed Alderman’s chest was opened up, his breastbone was found to have been shattered, and around his very heart, clasping the organ in a vice like grip, was a perfectly formed human hand.
Interview with Eleanor Sciolistein, Author of “The Heart of Alderman Kane”
What inspired your story?
I have been a huge fan of Poe since I was a teenager. One of things I particularly liked about his writing was the way he would use his instincts as a poet and rhetorical devices to create effects for the reader within his prose fiction. Think of the way he uses alliteration to make you ‘feel’ the narrator’s breath at the start of The Tell-Tale Heart or the use of repetition to increase the sense of claustrophobia in The Black Cat. I loved the idea of trying to imitate Poe’s style in a short word count, ending on striking image.
What’s the significance of including absinthe in your story?
Absinthe has always been a drink with a ‘reputation’. Whether as a liquid muse for poets and artists like Rimbaud, Lautrec and Van Gogh or as shorthand for debauchery and wickedness, just the word itself is very evocative. In Poe’s time it was even considered to have hallucinatory properties.
I wanted to include the drink in the story for a number of reasons. Firstly, to play upon this notion of hallucination and offer the possibility that the events in the story might be the result of some intoxication. I also wanted to include the association of alcohol with sin as it is a motif in Poe’s own work.
Poe himself struggled with alcohol addiction throughout his life and was writing at a time when ‘temperance narratives’ were in fashion. Poe often included references to ‘the fiend intemperance’ in his stories, sometimes offering drunkenness as a partial explanation for wicked acts (most notably in The Black Cat).
The conclusion of “The Heart of Alderman Kane” was also partially inspired by the suspicious circumstances surrounding Poe’s death, itself linked with alcohol abuse, when after a bout of heavy drinking he was found incoherent and rambling in a gutter wearing someone else’s clothes.
I also admit to enjoying an absinthe or two on occasion, though if The ‘Poe Toaster’ is to be believed, Edgar would have preferred cognac.
What’s your favorite gothic story or poem and why?
Obviously, I am a huge fan of Poe’s work so pretty much anything from his oeuvre. One story of his that I don’t feel gets enough attention is ‘The Facts in The Case of M. Valdemar.’
Aside from Poe, I think M.R. James truly mastered the art of suggesting the horror and allowing the reader’s mind to fill in the rest.
In a very similar style to Poe ‘The Power of Darkness’ by E. Nesbit is a personal favourite alongside many of the more sinister short tales by Saki.
What else would you like people to know? Where can people find you online?
I have contributed to a number of horror and Sci-fi anthologies and hope to have my own collection of short horror fiction available on Amazon by Halloween.
You can find my non-fiction work on horror simply by searching my name online and I have profiles both on Facebook and Twitter if you’d like to get in touch.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy the story. It really is an honour to be included in this collection.