Never Bet the Devil with your Head

Summary: Poe begins his tale by describing how he has come under criticism because his tales do not have morals. In response to his critics, whom he refers to as "ignoramuses," Poe writes "Never Bet the Devil Your Head." The story is clearly a satire directed at these "moral mongers," who lack the intelligence to see the moral in fiction unless the author makes it obvious. "Never Bet the Devil Your Head" is the sad history of the short life of the narrator's friend, Toby Dammit. Dammit had many vices, all of which resulted from a personal defect of his mother. Her defect was her being left-handed. As a result, she flogged her child from left to right, which is in opposition to the revolution of the world. "If each blow in the proper direction drives an evil propensity out, it follows that every thump in an opposite one knocks its quota of wickedness in." 

As a result of these frequent beatings, Toby developed a propensity for cursing and swearing, and for backing his assertions by bets. As he was a very poor boy, Toby's bets were never taken seriously by those around him. As time went on, Toby abandoned all forms of real wagering, and began using the expression "I'll bet the Devil my head" whenever he felt the urge to bet. 

One day, the narrator and Toby were walking across a covered bridge. The bridge had few windows and was therefore quite dark. Near the end of the bridge, the two encountered a turnstile. Toby insisted on leaping the stile and said he could cut a pigeon wing over it. The narrator doubted Toby's ability, and Toby then bet the Devil his head that he could do it. As soon as Toby pronounced the words of the bet, a "little lame old gentleman of venerable aspect" appeared and lay the ground rules for Toby's jump. 

Finally, Toby started running and lept into the air just prior to reaching the turnstile. In the middle of the jump, Toby fell flat on his back, and the old man limped quickly away with something in his apron. The narrator rushed over to his friend and discovered that Toby had lost his head, and it was nowhere to be found. The narrator then realized that a metal bar hanging five feet over the turnstile was responsible for severing Toby's head.

The narrator paid for Toby's funeral and sent the bill to the transcendentalists. The "scoundrels" refused to pay so the narrator had Toby's body dug up and sold for dog's meat.

Cask of Amontilodo

Montresor tells the story of the night that he took his revenge on Fortunato, a fellow nobleman. Angry over some unspecified insult, he plots to murder his friend during Carnival when the man is drunk, dizzy, and wearing a jester's motley.

He baits Fortunato by telling him he has obtained what he believes to be a pipe  of Amontillado, a rare and valuable sherry wine. He claims he wants his friend's expert opinion on the subject. Fortunato goes with Montresor to the wine cellars of the latter's palazzo, where they wander in the catacombs. Montresor offers wine (first Medoc, then De Grave) to Fortunato; at one point, Fortunato makes an elaborate, grotesque gesture with an upraised wine bottle. When Montresor appears not to recognize the gesture, Fortunato asks, "You are not of the masons?" Montresor says he is, and when Fortunato, disbelieving, requests a sign, Montresor displays a trowel he had been hiding.

Montresor warns Fortunato, who has a bad cough, of the damp, and suggests they go back; Fortunato insists on continuing, claiming that "[he] shall not die of a cough." During their walk, Montresor mentions his family coat of arms: a foot in a blue background crushing a snake whose fangs are embedded in the foot's heel, with the motto Nemo me impune lacessit ("No one insults me with impunity"). When they come to a niche, Montresor tells his victim that the Amontillado is within. Fortunato enters and, drunk and unsuspecting, does not resist as Montresor quickly chains him to the wall. Montresor then declares that, since Fortunato won't go back, he must "positively leave [him]".

Montresor walls up the niche, entombing his friend alive. At first, Fortunato, who sobers up faster than Montresor anticipated he would, shakes the chains, trying to escape. The narrator stops working for a while so he can enjoy the sound. Fortunato then screams for help, but Montresor mocks his cries, knowing nobody can hear them. Fortunato laughs weakly and tries to pretend that he is the subject of a joke and that people will be waiting for him (including the Lady Fortunato). As the murderer finishes the topmost row of stones, Fortunato wails, "For the love of God, Montresor!" Montresor replies, "Yes, for the love of God!" He listens for a reply but hears only the jester's bells ringing. Before placing the last stone, he drops a burning torch through the gap. He claims that he feels sick at heart, but dismisses this reaction as an effect of the dampness of the catacombs.

In the last few sentences, Montresor reveals that it has been 50 years since that night, he has never been caught, and Fortunato's body still hangs from its chains in the niche where he left it. The murderer, seemingly unrepentant, ends the story by remarking: In pace requiescat! (May he rest in Peace!)

The Pit and the Pendulum 

......The unnamed narrator laments that he is “sick unto death” after agents of the Spanish Inquisition in Toledo used torture while questioning him. When they unbind him, they allow him to sit while robed judges sentence him to death. Thereafter he cannot make out what they are saying; he can hear only a low hum while their lips move with “immoveable resolution.”  
.......In the apartment where he sits, the slight movement of the black draperies unnerves him, but seven burning candles hearten him, like rescuing angels, until nausea overcomes him as he realizes the hopelessness of his predicament. He begins to long for the “sweet rest there must be in the grave.” Suddenly, the judges disappear, the candles go out, and darkness and stillness prevail. 
.......He had passed out, he says. When he awakens, he remembers that tall figures had carried him down to a place of flatness, dampness, and madness. He is lying on his back in darkness, wondering where he is—in a dungeon to await public execution? On the very day of his trial, an execution had taken place. Rising, he feels around in all directions, perspiring heavily from fear, and looks for a single ray of light. But there is only the darkness. He recalls ghastly stories about the fates of Inquisition victims held in Toledo dungeons. Would he be starved to death—or worse? This much he could be sure of: Death awaited him. His hands find a wall. He wanders around the dungeon on its wet, slippery floor, feeling as he goes and calculating distances, to determine the size and layout of the place. After he stumbles and falls, he does not get up but instead falls asleep. 
.......When he awakens, he finds bread and water next to him. He eats and drinks eagerly. Then he resumes walking and feeling, determining that the perimeter of his cell measures 50 yards. Such information holds no hope of benefiting him, but out of curiosity he continues to find out more. While walking around the cell, he again loses his footing on the slimy floor and falls, ending up at the edge of a circular pit. When he gropes at the edge, a loose rock tumbles into the chasm, sending back echoes after it strikes walls and splashes into water. A door opens and closes overhead, admitting light to the cell for a few seconds. 
.......The narrator is now extremely anxious; even the sound of his own voice frightens him. He crawls back to a wall and remains there, fearing that there could be other pits in the dungeon. After several hours, he falls asleep again. Upon awakening, he again finds bread and water. Terribly thirsty, he gulps down the water. When he feels suddenly drowsy, he assumes the water contained a drug. He sleeps a long time. When he wakes up, a sulfurous light enables him to see his chamber, which is only about half as big as he thought. He attributes his error in calculating its size to unwittingly counting his steps twice. Also, contrary to his earlier conclusion that his cell had an irregular shape, he discovers that it is square. He also discovers that the walls are made of iron plates, not masonry. On the walls are frightful sights: “Figures of fiends in aspects of menace, with skeleton forms, and other more really fearful images. . . .” In the center of the floor is the pit—as it turns out, the only one in the cell.  
.......As he observes his surroundings, the narrator is lying strapped to a board so that he can move only his head and his left arm, which he uses to eat food from a dish set next to him. Because the food is highly salted, he becomes very thirsty. But this time, there is no water provided to quench his thirst. 
.......The ceiling of the cell is extremely high, between 30 and 40 feet. On it he sees a personified painting of Time. But instead of holding a scythe, as in the traditional depictions, Time is holding a pendulum like the ones on clocks. Something strange then happens: The pendulum begins to swing slowly. The narrator becomes frightened at first, but then loses interest in the sight and shifts his attention elsewhere—in particular to huge rats coming up from the pit, apparently after detecting the presence of the narrator through their keen sense of smell. 
.......“It required much effort and attention to scare them away,” the narrator says. 
.......He again looks up and notices that the pendulum is descending and sweeping back and forth at a great speed. The bob of the pendulum is a crescent blade of gleaming steel. As the pendulum swings, it makes a hissing sound. For many hours—for many days—the pendulum descends, getting so close that the narrator can feel it fanning him and smell the odor of the steel. Suddenly, he becomes calm and accepts his fate. 
.......Then he faints. When he opens his eyes, he has no idea how long he has been unconscious.  However, the pendulum has descended no further. Raging hunger overcomes him, and he snatches up a morsel left by the rats. For a moment, he becomes hopeful.  
.......Unfortunately, the pendulum resumes its descent. It is aimed at his heart. When it is three inches above him, he struggles violently. Then he has new hope: Would the pendulum cut the strap binding him? It was a single, continuous length of material enveloping him in all directions. 
.......Meanwhile, rats are swarming around him, apparently waiting for his death. He wonders, "To what food have they been accustomed in the well?" They nip at his left hand, seeking the spicy residue of the food he had eaten. This activity gives him an idea, one that could save his life. He passes his fingers across the food dish to pick up oily food remnants and spices, then rubs his bindings with his fingers. A moment later, the rats are upon him and soon nip and bite through the bindings. He is free!  
.......After he slides off the board, the pendulum stops swinging, and, the narrator says, “I beheld it drawn up, by some invisible force, through the ceiling.” Apparently, he concludes, someone has been watching him. Did he escape the pendulum only to be subjected to another form of torture? 
.......At that moment, he notices that the sulfurous light in the cell is coming through a fissure running around the base of the walls. He also notices that the images on the wall are now staring at him with fiery demonic eyes and that the smell of hot metal has invaded the cell. It is the iron walls; they are heating up. To avoid the intense heat, he moves to the edge of the pit. Because of the glare from the hot ceiling, he is able to see to the bottom of the well. The sight “burned itself in upon my shuddering reason. Oh! for a voice to speak—oh! horror!—oh! any horror but this! With a shriek, I rushed from the margin, and buried my face in my hands—weeping bitterly.” 
.......As the heat in the cell increases, the walls begin to close in, apparently to force him into the pit, and burn his his back. At the edge of the pit, he looks away and waits for the end. Then he hears the blare of trumpets, the hum of voices, and the grating of the walls. They are moving back! Just as begins to fall into the pit, an arm reaches down and pulls him to safety. His rescuer is General Lasalle, of the French army. The French forces—enemies of the Inquisition—have invaded Toledo and taken control.

The Tell-Tale Heart

A nameless person explains that he is and was extremely nervous, but is not and was not insane. Rather, the narrator has a "disease" which makes all his senses, especially his hearing, very sensitive. To prove that he isn't insane, the narrator shares an event from his past. Let's jump into his tale:

The narrator has an idea that he can't shake. He loves the old man and has nothing against him. Except…his horrible eye, which is "pale blue […] with a film over it" . The narrator hates the eye and decides to kill the old man to be free of it.

To that end, the narrator goes to the old man's room every night at 12am, for seven days. Each night the narrator opens the man's door and puts in a lantern (the kind they don't make anymore, with panels that can be adjusted to release more or less light). After the lantern, the narrator puts his head through the doorway, extremely slowly, and then opens the lantern so a tiny beam of light shines on the old man's eye. Each night the old man doesn't open his eye, so the narrator feels that he can't kill him.

On the eighth night, the old man hears the narrator at the door and wakes up. The narrator hangs out there in the dark for a long time, then, with a scream, plunges into the totally dark room, opening the lantern, and shining light on the old man's eye. The narrator drags the old man, who has only screamed once, off the bed, and then pulls the bed on top of the man. When the narrator hears the man's heart stop beating, he removes the bed and checks to make sure the old man is really dead, which he is. So the narrator cuts him up and hides his remains under the floor.

Then three policemen come. A neighbor had heard a scream and called them. The narrator says he screamed while sleeping, and claims that the old man is out of town. After convincing the cops nothing bad is going down, the narrator brings them into the old man's bedroom, and they all sit down to chat. While they are all shooting the breeze, the narrator starts hearing a terrible ticking noise, which gets louder and louder until the narrator freaks out, confesses, and points the police to the old man's body, stating that the sound is coming from the old man's heart.