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Just say it, you silently reminded yourself. 

You knew you'd regret it if you didn’t. Still, you said nothing and hated yourself for every second of your silence, that wall.

Just go ahead and say it. Nothing will happen if you do, and a lot will happen if you don’t.

“I don’t want to.” You said, out loud this time. There was nobody to hear it, nobody to hear your squeaky voice, nobody to care what you thought.

You cried when you realized that. You cried really hard. Still, you said nothing. Your lips quivered, your shoulders moved up and down, as if you were sobbing, and maybe you were. That didn’t mean you could blurt it out. You were well aware of that. Not that. You couldn’t say that. Not in a million years. No. EN. O.

You had to remain silent, your lips sealed, because you remembered all too well the countless times you had blurted things out and regretted it afterward. You were always an impulsive person. From the moment you were born. Not impatient, just impulsive. You were incapable of ‘keeping a lid on it’ until it was time to speak. Now you know you are caught. 

Between Scylla and Charybdis you are. Maybe you should change your name to Odysseus and sail away, fight some battles, return home safely, be famous. You need to face the fact that you never will escape from the Maelström, that old Dutch term popularized by Poe and Jules Verne. Maybe if those two meddling writers had left it alone, you wouldn’t find yourself ‘twixt the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea’, as your mother used to say. (She never said Scylla and Charybdis because she knew zilch about Greek mythology and probably had never heard of Homer.)

“I can’t say it,” you complained and at this point it didn’t seem likely anything in the whole world was going to get you to open up about it. But you should, you knew you should. You just couldn’t. There was too much at stake. 

You know you’ll regret it. That thought didn’t help you feel any less petrified of saying it. You had such a bad track record, remember. Words would pop out of your mouth and spew all over you, dribbling down your chin, splattering anybody within a few feet of you. You were determined never to let that happen again. It was always unpleasant when that happened, and you didn’t know how to clean things up when the words had created such a drippy mess. It was quite sad because under different circumstances you tend to get along fine with words. 

You heard something now, and suspected that the one who has come to either push you into the vortex or pull you back from it has had a harrowing experience. Just say it, you heard, the syllables tugging at your tongue. 

You suppose me a very old man — but I am not. It took less than a single day to change these hairs from a jetty black to white, to weaken my limbs, and to unstring my nerves, so that I tremble at the least exertion, and am frightened at a shadow.

“Listen, Poe, I don’t need you to shame me into speaking up. I can tell my story just fine.” Or maybe you won’t tell it at all. You had absolutely no idea who this person was, but he seemed pretty traumatized and unlikely to get you to say what you weren’t going to say. If this was the maelström guy, he was the last person who could convince you to open up. However, Poe had his claws in you and he was going to wrestle those words out. He was going to show you how risks - and maybe even vortices - are part of life, that we can’t go around all the time as if the cat’s got our tongue. 

The very old man who wasn’t that old after all, was a survivor. He had gone to the brink and returned. It simply required courage, persistence, craft, experience, valor, and maybe a few other traits. Surely, you thought, if you just said it, you would not get into trouble. Just look at what happened to Poe’s man: he survived real hell. Surely you don’t think your situation is as bad as his?

The “little cliff,” upon whose edge he had so carelessly thrown himself down to rest that the weightier portion of his body hung over it, while he was only kept from falling by the tenure of his elbow on its extreme and slippery edge — this “little cliff” arose, a sheer unobstructed precipice of black shining rock, some fifteen or sixteen hundred feet from the world of crags beneath us.

Well, you had by now decided that Poe was obviously not listening, because he was an expert at using words and he didn’t care a bit about the feelings of a person who might fear speaking up. He was all about having weird characters who walk into your brain and tell a story. Often it’s a story you’d prefer to unhear, but you can’t. 

The drunken, possibly diabetic writer knew, because he was a really good writer and probably because he’d lived a pretty crumby life, that we all had a Scylla and Charybdis in our lives, no matter how we tried to avoid the depths of indecision and danger. He didn’t care about the woes of others, however, because, really, look at how he lived his own life. He had, sadly enough, ended up in the gutter, literally. You pitied poor Edgar, you really did. However, that didn’t mean you wanted him to be badgering you.

“Poe, I need you to shut up and let me figure this out myself!” That’s what you said, and you meant it. 

***

Poe never listened to anybody, because he was used to being listened to. 

***

You know you need to say it. Those words again. Your fear of putting your foot in your mouth or worse would not go away. You grew tense, feeling Scylla and Charybdis on your heels and really wanting to escape. You cried again. You really felt caught up in the vortex of water and oily sea, even though it was all in your head (and Poe’s). None of this matters, because you still couldn’t talk, still couldn’t speak up. 

You were going to end up in a very dark and deep place and nothing would change. You were not an old man with hair turned to snow from sheer fright. You were not even in a boat in a northern sea. All you needed to do was speak up, say something. Your little cliff was not like Poe’s. No sucking whirlpool, no danger of drowning. Yours was simply the problem of breaking out of silent corridors and you needed to get over it. 

I told them my story — they did not believe it. I now tell it to you.

Poe insisted. He really did. It was getting aggravating. He was bent on getting others to feel the depths of despair, the dizzying movement of the vortex, the winds of depth, the bitterness of loss.

Here the vast bed of the waters, seamed and scarred into a thousand conflicting channels, burst suddenly into phrensied convulsion -- heaving, boiling, hissing -- gyrating in gigantic and innumerable vortices, and all whirling and plunging on to the eastward with a rapidity which water never elsewhere assumes except in precipitous descents. 

This was just too much. It was maddening. All of that heaving and hissing was just Poe’s imagination. It wasn’t real. He liked to scare people. He had a reputation for doing that. You were not going to get sucked into his way of thinking. 

(Oh dear, did you really just say that?) 

You were going to think for yourself. You were going to say it. You’d given it a lot of thought and you felt that this time you could open your mouth without getting word lava all over your chin. Besides, what was the worst that could happen? You knew you weren’t a character in some horror story from 1841. You knew you had gumption, just that it had gotten misplaced because of a few wrong moves in the past. That blurting out thing you did sometimes. That was in the past, though. You could do better. You would do better.

You thought long and hard about why you had to say it, what words to use, and what tone of voice. You considered the dangers of silence. People had started insisting that if you saw something, you had to say something. No walking away. 

Just say it. Stop worrying about some writer from back in the 1800s.

It was true, and you knew it. You were letting somebody make your decisions for you. However, there is something of value in these words:

After a little while I became possessed with the keenest curiosity about the whirl itself. I positively felt a wish to explore its depths, even at the sacrifice I was going to make; and my principal grief was that I should never be able to tell my old companions on shore about the mysteries I should see.

If you never said it, your friends would never know how you felt or what you had done. You were the only one who could tell them. At the same time, you weren’t sure if you had any friends left or if they’d all abandoned you because you were so submerged in your own thoughts.

You were still uncertain as to how to take the final leap. You knew you’d been dealing with a person who was unable to draw you out of your silence, bring you back from the brink. If you fell into that silent hole now, just as you were about to speak up, you would be lost forever, condemned to the depths of the wordless, those who have lost all hope of telling the world what they think.

Was there any way for you to get out of this alive? You were starting to wonder. Maybe your hair hadn’t turned white from shock and fright, but you were no closer to speaking up than you had been at the beginning. The next thing you knew, Poe was going to have you by the hand, leading you down to the basement of the little house where he resided in Philadelphia. You knew which basement it was, because you’d read about it in “The Cask of Amontillado.” You were more concerned now, because you realized you’d seen how silence was like a wall around you, a wall that kept you apart from the world. 

Apart, maybe, but safe! You said that to yourself, not out loud.

You could not let him get the better of you. If anything, he was the one to be buried alive, drinking himself silly with all that good Amontillado sherry. You weren’t that cruel, though. You didn’t want him to die, not really. You just wanted him out of your hair so you could concentrate on getting past the wall of silence that surrounded. That was of utmost importance and he was just a distraction.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him

You looked around to see who had just said that. It couldn’t have been you, because you have not yet decided to speak, to confess. This must be Poe’s narrator, who was terribly unreliable and, as such, was prone to lying. You knew it was better to say nothing, not one single word, than to lie. Liars have an immoral streak for sure. If you thought I was the one talking about the old man in that paragraph above, you were wrong. You couldn’t be blamed for that, because Poe didn’t live to be an old man. He died young, penniless, in a gutter (as was already pointed out).

Just say it, you silently reminded yourself. Just say it. You knew no law could convict you for the murder of a writer who had been dead a century and a half, at least, before you were born. You were just angry that he was still stalking you. You wouldn’t harm a fly. You were a totally reliable narrator. You didn’t talk a lot, but you would. Eventually. You were just overly sensitive and were really concerned about making a mistake. If you said the wrong thing, people would know. The truth.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? 

You were fit to be tied. There you were, carefully guarding your secrets, all of them, and this interloper… Who would clearly have to die now, because he had pushed you to your limit. You didn’t like to be pushed, not one whit. You were going to have to take care of this situation, no matter what it took. You were a survivor. You too could come back from the maelström.

You had always had very keen senses. You were even, possibly, hypersensitive. Hence the aversion for blurting out like you used to do. You were goin to keep it all bottled up for as long as you wanted. Maybe forever. Then you saw them coming.

They came from everywhere, from every story by Poe you had ever read (and you’d read them all). They crawled out of the woodwork, they shimmied up the bannister, they nudged their way inside your collar. All because you wouldn’t speak up, wouldn’t confess. Slithering and creeping, edging themselves inconspicuously in your direction. You, the cautious, were losing your grip on your precious silence. No matter how hard you struggled to be free, you knew you were in the grip of the others, the ones from centuries past, from the present, maybe the ones from the future. They were all tugging at you, trying to to get you to say it.

You knew the end was near, that the ultimate sacrifice would be yours. You had reached the point of no return, the moment when you could only talk, because your actions did not speak louder than words. You would use have to use words - at long last - to confess. Nothing else would work. Nothing else would quell the burning desire to rid yourself of all those influences, the brainwashing by so many, the surrender you had fought so hard not to accept as your destiny.

You knew who the biggest culprit was. You always knew. You knew he would never let up until you answer him, told him what he wanted to hear. You knew he was your dead Muse and that you would finally just have to say it. You would reveal how he had haunted you and turned you into what you had become. Surely he had to die?

“Villains!” (you shrieked) “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Hello Scylla. Hello Charybdis. Hello Maelström. 

There. You’ve said it.

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8 comments

Shirley Medhurst
07:08 Jul 02, 2020

What a brilliant use of the 2nd person ! - Was very effective in the tormented mind of this narrator.

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Shirley Medhurst
07:10 Jul 02, 2020

& I do like Praveen's suggestion for an alliterative title: "Poe's Persuasion Prevails"

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Kathleen March
12:16 Jul 02, 2020

I think it’s a funny title. The concern would be that the alliteration makes it too funny, and the story is a descent into madness. Not funny at all.

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Shirley Medhurst
14:19 Jul 02, 2020

Ahh ok I see your point

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Kathleen March
12:14 Jul 02, 2020

Poe was the master of mad narrators. I give him credit.

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Praveen Jagwani
03:38 Jun 22, 2020

A tremendous ode, Kath! Poe's persuasion prevails ? or Poe's peculiar presence ? Loved it, even though it got a bit too heavy for my simple mind at times. I was waiting for the Raven to make an appearance. This 2nd person POV is a nightmare, my personal vortex. I'm agonizing over my story, here at work :)

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Kathleen March
14:15 Jun 22, 2020

Haha! The raven almost did, but I sent him away because I was only working with Poe's fiction. He really was my favorite writer in high school, then came back to haunt me when I was studying Latin American short stories because he had such an influence on those writers! Well, guess you never are free of Poe. Too late for me.....

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Praveen Jagwani
01:53 Jun 23, 2020

Percussive Persistent Poe ? I have a weakness for alliterative titles. Have another one out.

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