The New Generation of Classic Short Stories

Vol. 17, No. 2

The Black Book of Conscience

by Chris Adrian

Though it would be easy to do one and might be quick to do the other, Ben could not hang himself or cut his own throat for the yield of grief either might bring his father. He had rehearsed the one act with a crude noose in the barn, leaning gently away from a hook where he'd tied the rope, thinking this method must be A GIFT FROM THE DEVIL TO THE DAMNED—it seemed as simple to choke himself as go to sleep. But leaning there he could see, in the same imagination that illustrated all of each day and half of every night, THE MISERABLE CONDITION OF HIS SPIRITUAL ESTATE, his father's long face disfigured with sorrow and rage, the entire household weeping mortified tears, the towns of Roxbury and Boston and even the whole Massachusetts Colony AFFLICTED WITH SHAME. If he did cut his throat it would be shame not blood that would pour out, but it would stick and cover just the same. And already he could read the pamphlet his father's and his uncle's enemies would write far away in England: A REPORT on the DEATH of One BENJAMIN WELD, CONGREGATIONALIST, BOY, SUICIDE.
     Instead he subscribed to accidents. First he lost himself deliberately in the woods, walking westward behind his house in the afternoon, carrying honey and bread, meaning to go deep enough to be lost but not so deep as to never be found. He wanted it known he was dead, not presumed that he had run away to ruin. He closed his eyes and went touching the trees and reaching with his booted toe until he was sure he must have reached someplace totally wild and strange. The bread had been to fortify his strength, the honey to make his whole head a tasty morsel for the BLACK BEAR THAT MUST DEVOUR HIM. He anointed himself and lay down and waited. Yet no creature but a woodcutter disturbed him. Mistaking Ben for a truant servant, he gently told the boy to go home to his master.

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