“It’s been seventeen years since our people were last plagued by murder.” The hammer pounds down on the wooden block and rattles through my bones.
“We thank our Government for peace.”
My eardrums tremble as the chorus rises. Chairs scratch across the floor from under the long desks. We’re all desperate to stand for our leaders as they enter the room.
We’re all desperate to not be singled out.
“It’s been two years since our last criminal court session.” The hammer goes down once more as the judge sits high on his throne, staring over us through hardened eyes squinting under white curls.
The Mayors and their families, decked in their scarlet cloaks to match the scarlet rubies straining their necks, sit on their tall seats upon the purple platform at the front. The youngest child’s feet can’t even touch the floor.
I manage to stifle the laugh I always subdue when seeing the children of our superiors being coaxed into getting involved in politics. He could barely spell his own name yet let alone overlook the conviction of a criminal. I just wish they'd let him play with his train set rather than play with our lives.
“We thank our citizens for obedience.” Mumbled from underneath the fluffed up wig, the judge hadn't looked up from his papers at us once. I quickly silence the thoughts I’d hate the judge to hear.
Grey eyes sinking backwards into his wrinkles, the judge moistens his cracked lips. They've been bent into a permanent frown for too long to ever go back to a smile again. At the wave of his hand, our chairs scrape back once more. We were all grateful to our judge to let us be seated.
Well, apparently we are...
“The case of the murder of Kaseko Pulisa will be closed today.” The judge coughs and straightens up his royal blue robe, pretending to be doing something important.
I resist the urge to bite my nails and try to slow my breathing to calm myself. What scares me the most right now is the fact that I don't feel a thing. I feel absolutely nothing despite "murder" and my own brother's name being in the same sentence.
“So,” The coughing of the judge breaks through the buzzing silence, “Ernie Harmlos, you are here as the sole suspect in this case. May I have your thoughts please?”
Ernie stood shaking on the floor right below the judge’s pedestal. The cracking of his knuckles rings through the hall. His eyes never settle on one spot, dashing across the floor below him like the water bugs we used to catch together in my garden when we were children.
The judge looks at Ernie like he was fresh meat hanging in the air for the wolves to catch. The only reason Ernie and I had become good friends in the first place was because this judge and my brother, may he rest in peace I suppose, along with the rest of their pack used to hunt him down every day just to prod him like he was some weird experiment. An experiment where they had to see how far they could push his patience.
I try to silence the racing thoughts of my past again, but I knew the judge would be concentrating on Ernie and not me at this time.
“Ahem!” The judge clears his throat, making Ernie finally jerk his attention to the judge's pedestal.
The judge continues, “I was trusted by our leaders to handle the law properly. There is no reason to be nervous as long as you have nothing to hide.”
Ernie gives a slow, almost indistinguishable, nod. He wrinkles his nose and shuts his eyes tight, his mouth muttering something.
All the so-called “criminals” who have stood in this court do that whilst the judges shift through the drawers of their mind. We rely on them to sieve through the dissonance of all of our thoughts as they shout out together to find the truth.
Only a selected few can hear all the noise. Only a selected few are given the privilege for scientists to invade their brains. The treatment gives some the abilty to enter everyone's heads with one quick thought themselves.
Although the selected have to go through countless "trust" tests, I don't know why they bother with such "courtesies" anymore. Everyone knows if you're from one of the founding families of this city you'll get it.
Closing his own eyes, the judge doesn’t even bother trying to stop the smirk climbing up his cheek, “Nothing can hide from me.”
The crowd quietens. I can only imagine the cacophony of thoughts created by us all whilst the judge has to concentrate on just one mind.
A click of some metal shatters the sustained silence. All eyes snap to the back of the room where our police stand, their hands caressing the glistening bodies of their guns. Apparently these weapons are so precious they must be treated better than a new born child.
I crane my neck to see the tall black helmet of the Head of Police at the back of the hall. Belonging to my dad, his greying hair and deep wrinkles were hard to miss amongst the fresh faced, young boys of the police force. Oh, and the massive machine gun he always got to hold made him stand out a little too. His eyes contain vines of red I can see even from across the room, wary from countless tears; wary from the strain of having to hold that damn gun all the damn time.
“Ernie Harmlos, you have been accused of the murder of Kaseko Pulisa, a young apprentice of our town’s police force. What do you plea?”
Ernie stammers. Empty air falls from his mouth.
“Speak up boy!” The judge snaps.
The metal clicks once again and makes me jump. My hand instantly goes to my left inside pocket. My brother used to keep his gun in there when he was training in the police. He was well on the way to proving himself ready for the big guns and to becoming involved in the “real” crimes that supposedly never happened.
“What do you plea?” The lion stares down at the mouse trapped within his claws.
“N... n... not guilty.” Ernie manages to gulp.
I let out my held breath but can’t relax. He may be speaking the truth, but Ernie’s not out of the woods yet.
“I have seen your thoughts, Master Harmlos, I have seen you were at the scene of the crime at the time the murder was carried out. Why?” The judge spoke in such a monotone that all those who aren’t mindless zombies could tell he isn’t really listening.
But no-one questions the judge.
“I...” Ernie begins, but the judge hadn’t quite finished his piece.
“Explain yourself. You had no reason to be at the scene.”
“I was visiting the household because-"
What? My thoughts stammer.
“It is well known and is well backed up with evidence that you and the victim never got along. It is well known that you made sure the two of you didn’t get off on the right foot and that you never made the effort to mend your ways.”
I grit my teeth even harder. Liar.
“And don’t try and deny it. Especially not in front of me, your judge and a dear friend of Master Pulisa. I was one of the very witnesses of this aggressive and hateful behaviour you showed towards him. You’re not possibly going to try and admit that you were friends with him and that you were visiting his house for a nice cup of tea and a catch up?”
Ernie gulps once more. “I... I wasn’t friends with him... I was friends with Parivita...”
“Why on Earth would his sister of all people betray him and parade around with the likes of you?”
The judges lets out a long sigh, “Ernie Harmlos, I have spoken to Parivita,”
When has he ever approached me? Liar.
“Who is in fact sitting right here in this hall watching you weave your web of lies,” The judge points to where I was sitting. My glare doesn’t falter.
“And she has denied all claims you have made to this “friendship” you have imagined with her.”
Liar! Liar! Liar!
The urge to stand and say my piece right that second was hard to suppress, but the coolness against my chest plants my feet to the floor.
The judge still had a chance to make the right choice.
“I have had access to your thoughts and have come to my own conclusion that you, Ernie Harmlos, are a liar."
The judge might still make the right choice...
"You, Ernie Harmlos, are the murderer of the innocent Kaseko Pulisa.”
The loud ticking of the clock seemed to slow for a moment.
“I'm not!" Ernie's face flashes from white to red, "I was a witness to the event. I wasn’t involved!”
“Then who was involved in this bringing of his death, hmm?” The judge raises an eyebrow mockingly.
It takes all my strength to not scream at the top of my lungs the truth. That the judge was the liar. That he knew he was lying. That he knew he was putting his old childhood enemy to death despite the fact that Ernie Harmlos never retaliating the remarks. Despite Ernie Harmlos never retaliating the punches or the kicks or the cuts or the bruises the judge and my brother gave him.
Despite the fact that he had access to all of our minds in this room including my own and that the judge knew Ernie Harmlos was innocent.
Someone had to retaliate for Ernie.
And it had to be his one friend in the world that he didn’t actually have to imagine.
But I couldn’t just stand to my feet and let out my cries. I couldn’t let my thoughts be heard to someone who refused to listen to them. I couldn’t object to the power of the judge and the Mayors and all their stupid, soup-brained servants.
I had to do something more.
Ernie's lip wobbles and a whimper escapes. I hear the stomp of my Father’s angry boots coming through the crowd. The stomps I recognise so well from when he comes home after a night in the pub discussing politics from the police staffroom.
The judge’s chair creaks as he leans back and relaxes. “Master Ernie Harmlos, I hereby sentence you as guilty.”
I had to do something more now.
"You are guilty of the murder of Kaseko Pulisa."
Was it my fault that Daddy’s little Kaseko needed to be punished?
“Your punishment will be your immediate death.”
Was it my fault that it sent him to his immediate death?
“For the crime of,”
He put his head too close to that piano; hit it too hard when he fell down. He was too busy kicking Ernie to the floor to watch me. It was all too tempting.
“Murdering Master Kaseko Pulisa.”
I always wanted to just glide my fingers over that damn piano; just for one moment. But I'm not as precious as Kaseko. I'm not as perfect as Kaseko.
“Whose blood was found along the keys of the family heirloom piano,”
I never meant for death to come. It was just no-one in this world would ever listen.
“Concealing the body underneath the porch.”
And couldn’t see what was right under their noses. Couldn't see that Kaseko wasn't perfect. That no-one can be perfect.
“You are guilty.”
They didn't even listen when I cried out the truth about the crime.
"Guilty of murder."
Even with the blood still lingering on my hands.
“And your death will be carried out swiftly.”
At least it was quick. Like mine will be.
“That is the end of this session.”
The hammer goes down and I reach for my top left pocket. Finally, the judge takes notice of me.
I lift out what I was hiding behind my thoughts.
The police couldn't lift their own heavy guns as quickly then mine. Father especially couldn't lift his swiftly.
The bullet pierces right through the gap in the curls of his wig. Slouching back in his throne, a stream of blood falls down the judge's forehead. Ernie's legs finally buckle underneath him. The crowd jump up in shock. Even the police freeze for a moment.
"Our judge was a liar. Kaseko Pulisa was a bully. He was a disgusting human being. And so am I.”
I have the whole audience’s attention. The children look up at me with their bright eyes. The Majors all scowl as I take up more of their precious time.
“Can none of you see that this whole system is corrupt? That all humans are corrupt? Listen to me now because I'm the most corrupt of all. I am the murderer of Kaseko Pulisa.”
I raise the gun again just as my Father stops gawking. All eyes are on me. All guns are on me.
"And the murderer of Parivita Pulisa."
The cold gun tingles between my lips.
I pull the trigger.
My thoughts are silenced.