In a secretive Vigils meeting, Archie gives the freshman known as The Goober his first assignment. Archie outlines the preconditions for the assignment—there is nothing personal in it, it is tradition at Trinity for students to complete assignments, and those charged with carrying out assignments must pledge total silence, both about the Vigils and their own role in whatever transpires.
This passage demonstrates that the Vigils have deep and old traditions that structure the way their “assignments” are carried out. They maintain their traditions in order to keep up their “secrets” and move stealthily throughout the school, remaining blameless in anything that goes wrong as a result of their missions.
Archie orders The Goober to get his hands on a screwdriver and, next Thursday afternoon, arrange to be free for the entire afternoon and evening. The Brothers will be off at a conference in Maine, and the school will be entirely empty—there will be no one in the building but The Goober and his screwdriver. Archie instructs The Goober to loosen the screws on every piece of furniture in Brother Eugene’s classroom. The Goober nervously accepts the assignment, and then Archie braces himself for the next step.
This strange and unique prank—essentially harmless, but physically taxing for The Goober and designed to create chaos on the next day of classes—demonstrates the weird way Archie’s brain works, and the mix of psychological and physical violence he enjoys enacting upon his classmates and even his teachers.
The president of the Vigils, Carter, pulls a small black box out of a desk. Inside the box, Archie knows, are six marbles: five white, one black. Someone years before Archie’s time realized that an assigner could go “off the deep end” if there wasn’t some kind of control, and instituted the box. If the assigner draws a white marble, the original assignee carries out the assignment as intended; if the assigner draws the black marble, he himself must take on and carry out the assignment.
The black box is a mechanism meant to enforce control within the realm of potential chaos the assignments create. Because Archie knows that there is always a slight chance he will have to take on his own assignments himself, Cormier implies, every task he gives out is a slightly watered-down version of what he’d really like to do. This allows the reader to see that there are unexplored depths to Archie—and likely very dark ones at that.
Archie has always beaten the black box for three years running, but every time he reaches into it he fears that his luck will run out. Now, he reaches in and selects a marble; it is white, and Archie feels a renewed burst of invincibility. Carter snaps his fingers, and the meeting is adjourned. Archie gets an empty feeling inside. He looks over at The Goober, who looks as if he is about to cry. Archie almost feels sorry for the kid, “but not quite.”
The black box is the only thing that ever trips Archie up—and as he seemingly always beats it, only ever for a moment. Archie, having beaten the box yet again, feels a renewed wave of invincibility, and now begins looking forward to watching the Goober complete the assignment in earnest.