Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

Happy Birthday Edgar Allan Poe

     The solitary figure dressed in black stands over the grave, shoulders slumped, hat-wearing-head hung low. Motionless for several moments, they appear as statuesque as any tombstone within the cemetery. Silently, they raise a cup half filled with cognac. The glass disappears into the shadow created by the wide brimmed hat, and the glass returns with a finger left of the alcohol. Placed on the cold granite before them, the mysterious stranger leaves the drink. The gathered crowd each believe they hear words of solemn, but no one can say for sure what was said, if anything at all. The shadowed mystery produces three red roses and lays them on the grave one by one. Aided by a silver tipped cane, they calmly walk away from the grave, not to be seen again for a year. 

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Every year during the early morning hours of January 19th, a mysterious unknown person (presumed to be a male) toasts a drink to the grave of Edgar Allan Poe for the author's birthday. The tradition continues even after the grave and tombstone were moved to a new location. Next to nothing is publicly known about The Poe Toaster, but here's the secret truth.

    "I understand you're upset Cody, but this tradition has been in place for over seventy years, we're not going to change it now because you didn't get picked." In her years of wisdom, Fran knows not to talk down to the younger redneck, but she also knows he's not in mental state to listen to reason regardless. 

     As the eldest member of the group predicted, Cody's fury will not be soothed so easily. "Yea, I get that, but he's only been in the group for two years and he's already been picked to be the Toaster both years. No offense Bryan, but I don't think you should have even been given the spot year one."

     "I get it." Is all Bryan has to offer in his own defense. Truth be told, he actually agrees with Cody, but there's no way he's willing to give up an opportunity at being the Toaster again this year.

     Since The Poe Toasters formed in 1949 the group of dedicated Poe-aholics have rotated who would get the honor of sharing a drink with the deceased scribe. After a member was chosen at random, they were removed from the running for the remaining years until all members had an opportunity. After which, the random cycle would start over. Cody's complaint that a newcomer has been chosen twice in two years, is an unprecedented situation, but as Vince pointed out earlier, "Tradition is tradition."

     At a constant count of five individuals, the Toasters are members for life, and each recommends their replacement after joining ranks. Bryan was passively upset when he heard news third or fourth hand that his college professor, Mr. Jin Wang, passed away, but was surprised to receive an unmarked letter in the mail. The black envelope with light grey writing, contained a similarly patterned card with a simple message. 

Welcome to The Poe Toasters: Meet us at the grave in three night's time when the clock strikes 12.

     Of course, as a lifelong fan of Edgar Allan Poe, Bryan has heard of The Poe Toaster and was appropriately intrigued by the plural state of the title. Curiosity getting the better of him, he canceled his first date plans with a girl he had been courting for months in order to travel across the country to Baltimore, Maryland. 

     That night two and a half years ago, Bryan’s excitement was tempered by the fear that he was walking into an elaborate ruse. He was delighted to find his excitement, not his fear, was justified, and he has been a Poe Toaster since.

     Now he gets to ‘do the honors’ for the second time in his short time as a ‘Toaster’. Last year was the final name in the cycle, and being that Professor Wang was the only remaining name in the running, Bryan received the privilege out of default. This year, being the start of a new cycle and all names returned to the running, Bryan was handed a most fortunate lucky hand, by being selected again.

     Of the group, Cody was against gifting Bryan Prof. Wang’s entry, and proposed it go to a vote of restarting the selections, even willing to include Bryan in the selection process, but the two eldest members, who were also the most tenured members, vetoed the idea, opting to stick with tradition. Final member Marcus agreed with Cody, but voted in favor of tradition not wanting to upset Fran and Vincent.

     The matter sat quietly resolved for a year, until tonight, one month before the scribe’s birthday and Bryan is luckily chosen again. “Tradition be damned, this ain’t right, and you all know it!” Cody’s voice reaches a new crescendo. Vincent tries to argue, but the angry toaster isn’t having it.

      “Easy, easy now.” William’s outstretched hand is the only thing to give Cody pause in the moment. “Think of it this way, Bryan can’t be picked for four years now.” The thought does please Cody, but only partially.

     Fran decides to try one last tactic to bring the angry member to his senses. “Besides, about 15 years ago, before your time, something similar happened, and no one made a stink about it.” Vincent looks at Fran, confused, knowing full well this hasn’t happened in either of their time as toasters. She ignores the glare. “Why should this be any different?”

     Cody folds his arms over his chest in defeat, “Thank you Cody, we’ll see you at dinner?” Fran’s pleasant tone settles things back down. He nods in the affirmative. “Good, then I guess meeting adjourned.”

     Fran, Cody, and Marcus all live in the Baltimore area, and while their lives are fairly separate, they make it a point to interact more frequently during this time of year, even occasionally having a “Friends-giving” on Black Friday. Next week is Fran’s birthday, the dreaded too-close-to-Christmas-overlooked birthday time of year, and she always extends an invitation to the other Toasters for a celebratory dinner, and warmup to the big night. Vincent lives in Florida, and doesn’t make it very often, but this being the 70th anniversary of Poe’s death, he’s making a long trip out of it.

     Bryan still lives in California, but is making plans to relocate to the east coast. He claims it isn’t for the group, but he can’t deny it’s a large part of it. He had never before been a part of a group, no matter how insignificant, and he can’t bear to let it go, even slightly.

 

***

 

     “We’re waiting for one more, but you can take our drink orders, please.” Fran lets the waiter know, as they wait for Bryan to show. Once the waiter walks away, she clarifies to the group, “I know he had a meeting with a realtor, he’s looking to move locally. Maybe it’s going well?” The group agrees, and resumes their small talk, and perusing of the menu.

     Several minutes later Marcus decides to call Bryan, hoping to get an ETA. “Hello, who is this?” The voice speaking to him was not Bryan’s, and they were not polite.

     “Is Bryan there? Tell him it’s Marcus. Who is this?” The awkward exchange has thrown Marcus off. “Why do you have Bryan’s phone?”

     “Marcus, was it? This is Officer Maran; how do you know Mr. Bryan Ward?” Marcus was not comfortable with the direction of the conversation and passed the phone to Fran, apologizing for ruining her birthday dinner.

 

***

 

     “I can’t believe you killed him, just to take his spot.” Were the final words Cody heard as he was being escorted away by the police. Bryan was found dead in his apartment with several stab wounds throughout his body. A knife, fitting the incisions, was found in Cody’s home. The arrest and trial was quick. Although throughout the entire ordeal, Cody proclaims his innocence.

     The resulting media uproar dies down quickly as the world at large doesn’t pay too much attention to the Poe Toasters, but for the lives of five individuals, things will never be the same.

***

     A week before The Toast, the two newest members of The Poe Toasters are brought into the fold, and told the rules. There was debate of bringing Cody’s choice as a replacement, due to the means of his dismissal, but as Vincent is want to say, “Tradition is tradition.” As such Doyle, Cody’s childhood friend, is a Poe Toaster.

     Along the traditional lines, Bryan’s nomination, Elisa, is automatically selected to do the honors this year. Before a debate could be brought against it, Fran warns, “If we recast our pick, Cody will get his way, even though he’s no longer around.”

     There are no counter arguments, but Doyle is still in shock of it all. The realization The Poe Toasters are real, that he’s now a member, and mostly the circumstances that unfolded for this to happen. “Cody and I haven’t talked in years, not since our middle school English class, but there’s no way I could believe he’d kill someone so he can make the toast this year. He could have been picked next year, or the year after?”

     “Oh, I believe it.” Elsa’s response throws the rest off, before she continues, “I mean I don’t know Cody, but it’s his 210th birthday, that’s a big deal.”

     Before anyone could follow up with a question, Doyle questions the significance., “I didn’t know that was supposed to be a big deal.”

     All the while as the conversation continues, Fran watches Elisa’s eyes. As the topic turns to favorite Poe stories, Fran is concerned to hear Elisa say, “I was never a fan of ‘The Raven’ or ‘The Tell-Tale Heart’. They feel like stories of weak willed people. ‘The Mask of Red Death’ on the other hand, that’s my favorite. A nice strong story.”

     Unable to voice her concerns, Fran allows the week to proceed as planned, but in the pit of her stomach, she knows something is wrong.

 

***

 

     The night of The Toast as Elisa makes her way to the cemetery, Frank tells Vincent and Marcus her fear that Cody may in fact be innocent, but things can’t be stopped now.

     The solitary figure dressed in black stands over the grave, shoulders slumped, hat-wearing-head hung low. Motionless for several moments, they appear as statuesque as any tombstone within the cemetery. Silently, they raise a cup half filled with cognac. The glass disappears into the shadow created by the wide brimmed hat, and the glass returns with a finger left of the alcohol. Placed on the cold granite before them, the mysterious stranger leaves the drink. The gathered crowd each believe they hear words of solemn, but no one can say for sure what was said, if anything at all. The shadowed mystery produces three red roses and lays them on the grave one by one. Aided by a silver tipped cane, they calmly walk away from the grave, not to be seen again for a year. 

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Available now! "I Know we Kept you Around for a Reason" - digital print

Available now! "I Know we Kept you Around for a Reason" - digital print

I'm Back Bitches!

I'm Back Bitches!