The Tell-Time Heart

(With thanks to Dave Morris and Wes Lord, and apologies to Edgar Allan Poe)

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous my tweets have proven I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? Apple had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of touch acute. I felt things across the Internet and in the earth. I felt many things beyond. How, then, am I mad? Harken back! and observe how healthily — as indeed my fitness app proves — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain, but, once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I liked @Old_Man_49. He had never blocked me. He had never given me downvotes. For his Apple Watch Edition I had no desire. I think it was his tapping! Yes, it was this! He had the tapping of a woodpecker — a constant updating notification of his heartbeat. Whenever it fell upon me, my wrist vibrated incessantly; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the early adopter, and thus rid myself of the tapping forever.

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_49 than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it — oh so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient to peer through, I sent him an iMessage, all caps, caps and symbols, that no sense could be made of it. Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I crafted a plausible “pocket text”! I typed it slowly — very, very slowly, so that I would not long disturb @Old_Man_49’s sleep. It took me an hour to press my fingers to “Send” so that I could see his Watch light up as it lay upon his wrist (its position was unusual, indeed, for he charged it during his morning routine rather than at night). Ha! Would a madman have been so wise as this? And then when his screen was lit I covered my iPhone cautiously — oh, so cautiously — cautiously (for the sound was on), I watched the rays of light that filled the room. And this I did for seven long nights, every night just at midnight, but he always stirred to check the notification, and so it was impossible to do the work, for it was not @Old_Man_49 who vexed me, but his heart rate sensor. And every morning, when the day broke, I stumbled into the kitchen and spoke quietly to him, calling him by name in an afflicted tone, and lamenting the alcohol-fueled misadventures of my evening prior. I even had the audacity to inquire how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been very profound, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in sending my message. A Watch’s minute had moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers, of my wise retweets. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. I nearly updated my Facebook status then and there. To think that there I was conditioning him to ignore notifications, and he not even to dream of my private posts or hidden tweets. I LOL-ed softly at the idea, and perhaps he heard me, for he moved on the bed suddenly as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back — but no. His room was as black as a Watch in Power Reserve mode with the thick darkness (for my iPhone had auto-locked), and so I knew that he could not see the glow of my screen.

I had my eyes fixed on where I knew his Watch charged, and was about to unlock my iPhone when my thumb slipped upon the mute button causing the cacophonous vibration, and @Old_Man_49 sprang up in his bed, crying out, “Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle (even when I felt the taptic feedback indicating that I had been still too long), and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in bed, listening; just as I have done night after night harkening to the Internet after two celebrity deaths — desperate for news to confirm the third.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief — oh, no! It was the low stifled sound that arises from reading the comments on news articles. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what @Old_Man_49 felt, and I pitied him, although I LOL-ed at heart. I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself, “It is nothing but an odd YouTube video down the hall, it is only a Netflix-binge session from my alcoholic housemate” or “It is only fingers quietly typing political arguments on Facebook”. Yes, he has been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions; but he had found all in vain. All in vain, because a Memorialization Request approaching him was awaiting with its tearful goodbyes and gloomy laments from distant relatives and long-forgotten schoolmates. And it was the mournful influence of my ready yet-unwritten eulogy update post that caused him to feel, although he neither saw nor heard, to feel the presence of my Apple Watch within the room.

When I had waited a long time very patiently without hearing him lie down, I resolved to send a message — a very, very innocuous completely blank text. So I unlocked my iPhone — you cannot imagine how stealthily — until the dim brightness of the Home Screen shot out from my hand and communicated with the Apple Watch.

I saw the notification arrive on his screen, and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness — all a dull flicker with a sapphire crystal screen over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones, but I could see nothing else of @Old_Man_49, for I had habituated him to ignore precisely this activity from his damned Watch.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over-acuteness of the senses? Now, I say, there came to my wrist a tap so fine and faint, such as a cotton balls makes when it falls against one’s skin. I knew that feeling well, too. It was the beating of @Old_Man_49’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drummer stimulates moshers in a pit.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held my iPhone motionless. I tried another notification upon his Watch. Meantime the hellish tapping of the heart increased. It grew faster and faster, and harder and harder, every instant. @Old_Man_49’s exercise ring must have been filling rapidly. It grew faster, I say, faster every moment! — do you mark me well? I have told you that I am nervous: so I am at 180 BPM. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of Facebook at 4am, so strange a feeling as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the tapping grew faster, faster! I thought the heart must burst. And now a new anxiety seized me — the tapping would be felt by a neighbour. @Old_Man_49’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I sent one last message and leap into the room. He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then sent myself a gaily smiling emoji, finding the final item on my To Do list complete. But for many minutes the heart beat on against my wrist with subdued taps. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be felt when his body was hidden in the wall. At length it ceased. @Old_Man_49 was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon his Watch and I took one last selfie with him (but did not dare upload the image, even to my private Instagram account). There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. Yet to be sure I removed the Watch from his wrist and placed it upon his chest, knowing that he would not be able to unlock the device. His taptic heartbeat would trouble me no more.

If you still think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The moon was in the waning gibbous phase and it was 9°C, and I worked hastily with my music on shuffle.

I took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all within the opening. Before I had began my work I had meticulously photographed the lumber, making sure to capture its details with perfect accuracy. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no image comparison software could have detected anything askew. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of any kind — no bloodspot whatever. I had been too wary for that.

When I had made an end of these labours, my iPhone battery was at 1% — but it still told me that it was 3:59am and still dark as midnight. As the minute changed to a new hour, the smartphone hitting 0%, powered down, and there came a ringing at the front door. I went down to open it with a resting heart rate — for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with badges on display, as officers of the law. A shriek had been heard by a neighbour during the night; #ScaryScreech had been trending locally; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; emergency services had been contacted; and they (the officers) had been dispatched to search the premises.

I smiled and allowed their entrance without warrant — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was from a particularly violent episode of Game of Thrones. @Old_Man_49, I mentioned, was absent in the country — and they could check his Facebook profile for proof, if they so desired. The boldness of my lie was persuasive. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his 12-inch Space Grey Retina Macbook, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. They assured me that they had no need to electronically confirm @Old_Man_49’s whereabouts. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar memes. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a tapping on my wrist; but still they sat, and still chatted. The tapping became more distinct; it continued and became more distinct. I gesticulated more freely to get rid of the feeling, but it continued and gained definitiveness — until, at length, it felt no longer to be an electronic simulacra of @Old_Man_49’s life. I found that the tapping was stronger than any prior notification, and was certain that his heart itself pulsed against my wrist — though I dare not look at my Apple Watch lest it give them reason to reconsider my innocence.

No doubt I now grew very pale; but I talked more fluently and shared complex stories that required many gestures for their full effect. Yet the tapping increased — and what could I do? It was a fine, faint feeling — much such a sensation as cotton balls falling upon the skin. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers felt it not. I motioned wildly — more vehemently; but the tapping steadily increased. I arose and argued about religion and politics, in high key and with violent gesticulations; but the tapping steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? Was their favourite coffeeshop not yet open? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the ideological positions of the men — but the tapping steadily increased. O God! What could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the tapping shook my entire arm and continually increased. It grew firmer — firmer — firmer! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. They even had the audacity to pull out a selfie-stick and take a photo for their inane novelty Twitter account. Was it possible they felt it not? Almighty God! — no, no! they felt! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were 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 taptic feedback. I could bear their duckface no longer! I felt that I must scream or, like totally, die! — and now — again! — hark! faster! faster! faster! faster!

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the tapping of his hideous Apple Watch Edition!”

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