True! –nervous –very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses –not destroyed –not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily –how calmly I can tell you the whole story.
DING DONG. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a ringing at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, –for what had I to fear?
“Well, Seymour, I made it,” the Superintendent began, digging his barbs in. “Despite your directions.”
“Ah, Superintendent Chalmers!” I bade the Superintendent welcome, meeting his disdain with a smile. “Welcome. I hope you’re prepared for an unforgettable luncheon!”
“Yeah,” he groaned, entering my abode. I left him in the dining hall, and checked the oven.
“Oh, ye gods!” Smoke, billowing forth; the meat: burned. “My roast is ruined!”
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! There was the answer: out the window, across the street.
“But what if I were to purchase fast food and disguise it as my own cooking? Delightfully devilish, Seymour!” I lifted my leg, about to climb through the window. Ha! would a madman have been so wise as this? But, lark! The door opened, and there he was.
“Superintendent, I was just- uh,” I froze. I think it was his eye! Yes, it was this! He had the eye of a vulture –a pale blue eye. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold. “Just stretching my calves on the windowsill. Isometric exercise. Care to join me?”
“Why is there smoke coming out of your oven, Seymour?”
“Uh- Oh,” I thought quickly. Would a madman think of a lie like this, with no preparation? “That isn’t smoke. It’s steam. Steam from the steamed clams we’re having. Mmm. Steamed clams!” He scowled, and left me. “Whew.”
And so I fled, flew to the Krusty Burger, my plan in mind, perfect. Never before that day had I felt the extent of my own powers –of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, running from my own home, the Superintendent still there, believing me, believing I was in the kitchen, while I ran to Krusty Burger. He did not even dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me as I returned, for I heard his chair move as I entered, bag in hand. Now you may think that I drew back –but no. For where could I draw back to? Krusty Burger? Mother’s room? No, there was only one way: Forward. And so, my vision a little hazy, from my staggering plan, mayhap, I prepared a platter, and presented to the Superintendent.
“Superintendent, I hope you’re ready for mouthwatering hamburgers!”
He looked at me, with the eye. It was open –wide, wide open –and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness –all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones.
“I thought we were having steamed clams?” If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for such a question.
“Oh, no!” I placed the platter on the table, forcing a laugh. “I said steamed hams. That’s what I call hamburgers.” I took my seat, opposite him.
“You call hamburgers ‘steamed hams?'”
“Yes,” I smiled, –for what had I to fear? “It’s a regional dialect.”
“Uh-huh,” he glared, the eye glistening. “Uh, what region?”
“Uh, upstate New York.”
“Really? Well, I’m from Utica, and I’ve never heard anyone use the phrase ‘steamed hams.'”
“Oh, not in Utica. No. It’s an Albany expression.”
“I see,” he finally relented, and took a bite. The Superintendent was satisfied. My manner had convinced him. I was singularly at ease. In the enthusiasm of my confidence I took a sip from my drink. Would a madman drink champagne with burgers?
“You know,” he removed the top bun, and examined the patty. “These hamburgers are quite similar to the ones they have at Krusty Burger.”
“Oh, ho ho ho, no,” I had thought of this, planned well ahead. I couldn’t help myself, and laughed at the poor Superintendent, so easily fooled. “Patented Skinner Burgers! Old family recipe.”
“For ‘steamed hams.'”
“Yes, and you call them ‘steamed hams’ despite the fact that they are obviously grilled?” He held up the patty: the top seared with grill marks. But, did my eyes deceive me? I saw him take a bite, and yet… The patty was whole. No bite, no teeth marks –perfectly round, succulent, greasy… How? How did this fiend manage it?
“Ye- You know, the- One thing I should…” But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished him gone. My head ached, and I fancied a crackling in my ears: but still he sat and still stared. Waiting for my response. The crackling became more distinct: –It continued and became more distinct: My vision became hazy again. Was it getting hot? This time of year? No; not this hot. Though I felt it, the heat. But it continued and gained definiteness –until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears. No doubt I now grew very pale; –but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. “Excuse me for one second.”
“Of course,” he remarked.
I did not wait, and flew to the kitchen, where I was met by a blaze, a fire, roaring high surrounding me. It was not my vision getting hazy, for only a madman would think that, it was smoke! Blast, the oven, I hadn’t turned it off! Yet the sound and flames increased –and what could I do? I returned to the dining hall, so fast I left the door swinging behind me.
“Well,” stretching to feign tiredness. Would a madman have thought out that detail? “That was wonderful. A good time was had by all. I’m pooped.”
“Yes. I should be-” The Superintendent gasped, jumped from his chair and pointed to the door, still swinging, flames glowing outward. The low crackle now a roar as the flames grew larger. “Good Lord! What is happening in there?”
Almighty God! –no, no! He saw! –he suspected! –he knew! –he was making a mockery of my horror!-this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear the hypocritical smile no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! and now –again! –hark! louder! louder! louder! Louder!
“Aurora Borealis?” I spake the first words that came to my mouth.
“Uh, Aurora Borealis? –at this time of year? –at this time of day? –in this part of the country? Localized entirely within your kitchen?”
He knew, I could tell, he KNEW it was a lie, that eye, the vulture eye, staring, dead, straight into me, he knew, it knew, THE EYE KNEW, but what could I do? Only a madman would admit defeat now.
“May I see it?”
Oh, the fool, you beautiful fool, you believed me!
I led him out, to the front porch, happy to see the villain and his eye leave. So I could deal with the inferno. About to bid farewells, I heard a scream above.
“Seymour! The house is on fire!” Mother! Sticking out the upper window, calling down, screaming, yelling, that shrieking howl! No, my plan was not to be dashed now, when victory was in hand!
“No, Mother,” I forced a laugh. “It’s just the Northern Lights!” I turned to the Superintendent, that fake mirth still on my lips.
“Well, Seymour,” he began. “You are an odd fellow but I must say: You steam a good ham.” He smiled, and turned.
“HELP!” Mother, blast you, not now! “HELLLP!”
The Superintendent turned, but I smiled, and gave him a thumbs up. Behind me I heard the crackling again, felt the heat growing close, but he just left. And my plan. Brilliant; flawless. He never knew.
“And I tell you again, would a madman concoct such a scheme?”
“Sir,” the fire chief sighed. Behind us, firefighters hosing the charred remains; Mother chewing them out for not arriving fast enough. “Your house just burned down.”
“You think I am mad, don’t you?”