The story is about a man who suffers from madness, fear, suspicion and inability to control his urges. He is sensitive to sounds and images and is capable of doing anything when triggered by them. He has few friends and one of them is an old man who lives in the same building as him. They both share a cordial relationship and get on well with each other. However, the narrator is peeved by the man’s pale eye and finds it ungainly. He finds it unnerving whenever it is open and is driven crazy whenever he stares at it. Moved to desperation, he orchestrates a plan to end his suffering by putting the man to death.
His plan is simple; disturb the man is in his bed, make him open his eyes and then attempt to close it forever by killing the old man. He uses stealth and tiptoes inside the man’s bedroom and executes his ploy. He arranges a lantern and squeezes it through the man’s bedroom door. He then opens the lantern and carefully focuses a light beam at his face. The lantern works well in a room full of darkness.
However, the man is in deep sleep and refuses to wake up. The narrator does not want to kill him in his sleep and relents. He can muster enough courage to do the deed only when he is staring at the evil eye. However, he still sticks to the same routine religiously for few more days without finding any breakthrough. In the daytime, he engages in friendly banter with the gullible victim and at night breaks into his bedroom to execute his murderous plan.
After a few days, while entering the room, the narrator finds the moment he was waiting for. Unwittingly, while opening the lantern he makes some noise and startles the old man. The commotion wakes up the old man who sits up and stays like that for a few minutes. Seized with doubts, the narrator bides his time and lets him go back to sleep. However, he can still hear the old man’s heart beating out of fear and suspicion.
After a brief spell, he goes back to piercing the man’s face with light from his lantern and this time it works as planned. The light falls on the man’s eye which is already open. The old man’s heartbeat goes through the roof and lets out a single scream. However, before he could cry for help, the narrator moves into action and assaults the man. In his fit of fury, he forces his victim to the ground and drops the bed over his frail body. The man’s heart starts to beat even faster but eventually it gives out. The man dies without a whimper. Carefully, the narrator proceeds to erase the signs of crime. He butchers the corpse into pieces without spilling any blood (does it in the washroom).
The night moves on uneventfully before there is commotion near the front door. Some policemen arrive at the scene to inquire about the complaints of a scream and some foul play. The narrator plays cool and collected and ushers them inside. He builds a story about the old man’s sudden trip overseas and reassures the cops that it was he who let out the loud cry due to a scary nightmare.
Feeling assured and confident, he strikes up a conversation with them and invites them to sit in the bedroom which the scene of the murder. In fact, they end up sitting in the same spot as the dead body, buried beneath the floor. However, the narrator cannot shake the constant hub dub noises. As they grow louder, he loses his calm and begins to doubt the sincerity of his guests. He feels that they are aware about everything and are just playing dumb to mock his cover up. The narrator tries to stay composed but is perturbed by the incessant noise of the old man’s heart.
The noise amplifies enough for him to lose his nerve and calm. Driven to insanity, he makes a confession of his crime as he could no longer endure the noise and the cops’ perceived ridicule.
The policemen dig up the place and discover the old man cut mercilessly into parts even though there is no beating heart.