A man found himself tormented by a strange, inexplicable force that compelled him to act against his own best interests. This force, which he called the "Imp of the Perverse," seemed to drive him to do things simply because he knew he should not do them. He became obsessed with this idea and found it impossible to resist the urge to act on it.
We perpetrate them because we feel that we should not. Beyond or behind this there is no intelligible principle.
One day, the man read about a woman who had nearly died from a poisoned candle. This gave him the idea to commit a murder using a similar method. He carefully planned the crime, ensuring that there would be no evidence to link him to the deed. The victim was found dead in his bed, and the cause of death was ruled as a "visitation of God."
The man inherited the victim's estate and enjoyed a life of luxury for many years. However, he eventually became consumed by thoughts of his crime and the fact that he had gotten away with it. He would constantly repeat to himself, "I am safe," as a way to reassure himself of his security.
One day, while walking through the streets, the man caught himself saying, "I am safe, if I be not fool enough to make open confession." This thought terrified him, as he knew that he was prone to giving in to the Imp of the Perverse. He tried to shake off the thought, but it only grew stronger and more persistent.
In a fit of panic, the man began to run through the streets, attracting the attention of the townspeople. As they pursued him, he felt the overwhelming urge to confess his crime. Unable to resist the Imp of the Perverse any longer, he shouted out his confession in the middle of the street.
The long imprisoned secret burst forth from my soul.
The man was arrested and sentenced to death for his crime. As he awaited his execution, he reflected on the power of the Imp of the Perverse and the strange, irresistible force that had led him to his doom. The story ends with the narrator contemplating his impending execution and the uncertainty of what lies beyond death, saying, "Tomorrow I shall be fetterless!—but where?"