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The Pit & The Pendulum

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This is an extract from "The pit and the pendulum" a short story written by the master of horror tales Edgar Allan Poe.

It is a story of the Spanish Inquisition, a religious court of law, The Spanish Inquisition's work was to find and punish people whose religious beliefs and practices did not agree to those of the church. Their punishments were often extremely cruel and severe. In great fear, I saw that the lower end of the pendulum was formed of a blade of shining steel shaped like the new moon and about a foot in length from point to point. The ends of the blade turned upwards and the lower edge looked as sharp as a razor. Like a razor also, it seemed heavy and solid above.

It was fixed to a thick rod of brass, and the hole whistled as it swung through the air. I could no longer doubt the death that had been prepared by mere accident, and I knew that, it had been prepared for me by the human devils of the Inquisition. I had avoided the pit by a mere accident, and I knew that surprise was an important part of the cruelty of these prison deaths. As I had failed to fall, I was not simply to be thrown into the well.

A different and a milder destruction was made ready for me. Milder! I trembled as I thought about the word. What use is it to tell of the long, long hours of suffering that followed, during which I counted the swings of the steel? Inch by inch it fell down, and still down it came! The downward movement was extremely slow, and it was only after several hours that I noticed any increase in the length of the brass rod. Days passed it might have been many days before the blade swept so closely over me as to fan me with its bitter breath.

The smell of the sharp steel came to me in waves. I prayed for it to reach me quickly. I struggled to force myself upwards against the razor sharp edge as it swung across my body. And then I grew suddenly calm, and lay smiling at the shining death, as a child smiles at some bright jewels For a short time I lost consciousness. When my senses returned I felt sick and weak but in spite of my suffering I wanted food. With painful effort I reached the few pieces of meat beside me.

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As I put some of it to my lips a half formed thought of joy of hope rushed into my mind I struggled to make it complete but it escaped me. Long suffering had killed all my ordinary powers of mind. The swing of the pendulum was across my body directly across my heart. In spite of its wide blade (which was now thirty feet or more), and its great speed, it would not kill me for several minutes but cut into my flesh. At this thought past I dared not think further.

I watched the blade as it flew above me Down steadily down it crept. To the right to the left far and wide with the terrible whistle of death down certainly down, within three inches of my chest I struggled evidently to free my left arm I shook and turned my head at every swing. I opened and closed my eyes as the bright blade flashed above me. Oh, what wonderful relief, if I could die.

(From "'The Pit and the Pendulum" by Edgar Allan Poe, in Tales of Mystery and Imagination, edited by Roland John).



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