A bit of flesh dropped onto the bench with a thunk!
The judge eyed the defendant. “Mr. Pierce, when I said approach the bench, I meant all of you, not one piece at a time.”
“Errrr,” he groaned.
Mrs. Pierce gripped her handbag. “My husband has a skin condition,” she explained.
“Is that what you call it?”
A disgruntled murmur spread through the courtroom, which had been packed with with people not adverse to calling themselves “townsfolk.” It was a sunny day and the wooden benches glistened brightly. They were hard and the backs shot up at an angle not designed by an expert on ergonomics, but no one goes to a trial in Cedarford County expecting comfort.
Mr. Hartfort had worn corduroy. He was a man familiar with hard things and unpleasant truths and he always knew it would come to this. His wife, haphazardly decked in silk and ruffles, still couldn’t accept the truth. “Drive a stake through its heart,” he had said. “Grab the petrol and let’s set him on fire,” he had suggested when the creature was first discovered. But, no one had listened to reason. Now, half of the town was assembled in order to justice from the most unlikely source, the Cedarford District Court.
Someone handed Judge Nash a moist towelette and he wiped bench clean. No blood. Just flesh. It was nearly lunchtime. There was Chinese noodle takeaway waiting for him in his office.
“Madam, your husband does not have a skin condition. He is undead.”
“No, he’s always been the silent type. His mother said he hardly talked at all until he was in grade school,” said Mrs. Pierce who worked as a bookkeeper for the local mill.
“Mr. Pierce is charged with killing seven children on the night of June 12th.” A muffled wail escaped from Mrs. Hartford who was silenced by her husband. “And, on the same night, it is reported here that he then ate their brains.”
“BRRAAAINS!” said Mr. Pierce.
A flurry of handkerchiefs took to the air like a disturbed flock of cloth birds, drying tears, covering eyes and catching the drips from running noses. Mrs. Hartfort resumed wailing.
“It’s just his wicked sense of humor. Doesn’t know when to stop,” said Mrs. Pierce.
“He’s a zombie, Mrs. Pierce,” insisted the judge smoothing out a loose strand of hair meant to conceal his bald spot.
“It’s a tragedy what happened to the kids,” said dainty bookkeeper and she started to sob quietly. Mr. Pierce just stood there with one eyeball dangling from a rotten socket.
“Your honor, if I might interject, my client is a pillar of the community!” interrupted the defense lawyer, Mr. Roberts. He was large man in a brown suit who stank of either gin, absinthe or a combination of the two. “And we have yet to hear any evidence that zombies even exist!”
Mrs. Pierce looked sorrowfully at the marble tiles on courtroom floor.
“Mr. Roberts, there are seven dead children at the morgue still waiting to be buried by their grieving families. In front of me is a man with green skin who can barely speak for himself, but who apparently has a rare skin condition. This man, this Mr. Pierce, formerly an account who enjoyed an occasional game of golf on the weekends, was seen by many eyewitnesses on a murderous rampage. Does he look like he can use an adding machine without loosing a digit? I don’t need proof that there are zombies. I need someone to execute this man and burn the remains! Bailiff!”
The bailiff, Johnny, took the handcuffs from his belt and rushed to Mrs. Pierce’s side to restrain Mr. Pierce who was gnawing on his wife’s carefully arranged coif. Dead or not, the man was unnaturally strong for a person his size. While Mrs. Pierce tried to straighten her hair, Johnny wrestled the cuffs onto Mr. Pierce’s mottled wrists. Mrs. Pierce cleaned up the resulting bits with a moist towelette Johnny provided.
“Your honor, has it really come to this?” said Mr. Roberts dramatically strolling across the courtroom. He was a perfect parody of an arrogant TV lawyer and not by accident. As a young law student, he had studied the stereotypical trial lawyer mannerisms and spent countless hours in his apartment puffing out his chest and shaking his finger. The effort had paid off. Even his accent was honed to perfection. He was the lawyer everyone expected to hire and no one seemed to remember that he’d been born and raised in Cedarford.
“If we deliver my client to his death with no trial, then we are the barbarians and not this man. Since when does a verdict precede the evidence? Has a lynch mob become an agent of justice? The children in our community grow up safe and secure, not because bad things don’t happen. They do. Ask the good folk assembled here today.” Mr. Roberts glanced sympathetically at Mrs. Hartford who nodded at him. He continued raising his voice. “It’s our duty to our children to maintain the peace through peaceful means.” Mr. Roberts wondered whether he should slap the table for effect, but decided instead to pull his finger out, which he pointed directly at Mr. Pierce who, at that moment, was being chained to one of the chairs on the far side of the room. “I demand due process for this man and any man charged with a crime within our great community.” Sounds of approval washed through the courtroom.
The first witness was called while the bailiff cleaned up the mess that resulted from restraining Mr. Pierce. The witness was slender and known throughout the community as a man prone to collecting bottle caps. He was one of the neighbors who had seen Mr. Pierce leaving his house on the most frightful day in question. He described for the court what he witnessed.
“Mr. Pierce headed out into the street. He-he grabbed seven children, and then, he did the unthinkable.”
“Which was?” asked Judge Nash.
“He ate their brains,” whispered the witness. The crowd nodded their approval.
“Is this your badge?” asked Mr. Roberts. It was fashioned from a metal alloy, round, and the relief clearly read “Zombie Protection League.”
“Yes,” said the man.
“So, you’re looking for zombies to fight?” asked Mr. Roberts turning the badge over disdainfully.
“Not as such. It’s just a hobby.”
“Do you believe there is such thing as life after death?”
“I don’t have strong opinions about it either way.”
“How about the undead? Are you convinced that a corpse can be revived by witchcraft?” said Mr. Roberts tossing the badge on stand in front of the witness and eyeing him thoughtfully.
“I couldn’t say.”
He was dismissed. The second, third, fourth, and fifth witnesses called were all revealed to be members of the “Zombie Protection League.” Originally a community book club, they’d been inspired to expand their functions as organization by the March book of the month, Lost Souls: Tales from the Caribbean 1800-1820. After one too many pints at the book club’s traditional post meeting get together at the town’s least reputable pub, they wrote a charter for the “Zombie Protection League” and ordered badges from a figurine hobbyist who was working a late night, as usual, in his shop across the street. He too joined immediately along with half the people in the pub, including the bar tender.
It was the most fun figurine maker had had since a consignment of antique elf figurines arrived from a local estate. By April, the book club meetings had been abandoned, but zombie league gatherings had drawn unprecedented attendance largely due to the fact that the neighborhood watch, the local fantasy football league, and a community knitting group all scheduled to meet at the same locale on the same night. By the wee hours of the morning, they found common purpose and each had ordered badges from the figurine maker.
“So, you’re some sort of knitting fanatic?” Mr. Roberts asked Bob Dean, the last witness called by the prosecution.
Bob was a solid guy with an unkempt beard, a foul temper and a ratty old football jacket his brother had given him. “I just recently took it up,” he tried to explain setting down the blue mohair football helmet protector he was working on.
The afternoon heat was beating down the door and taking residence in every corner and on every surface of the courtroom. They adjourned for lunch. Judge Nash always enjoyed his lunch privately in his office for an hour, where he listened to early Bob Dylan and watered the cacti his wife had given him. Today was no different. Johnny, the bailiff, however, was sitting in his car listening to the popular music station with Claire, the older sister of one of the victims. She was wearing a stripped tube top. The rest of the crowd had scattered to various dinners around town. Mr. and Mrs. Hartfort ate burgers at a shop across the street.
Mrs. Pierce remained attentively with her husband during the break. She wiped up all the loose bits that were coating his jacket and even had time to apply more hairspray, a dab of eye liner and coral colored lipstick before the trial resumed. A friendly transcriptionist brought her a weak cup of instant coffee in a Styrofoam cup.
“I just don’t understand why this is happening to me,” she told the woman.
Only a small part of the crowd had reassembled when Dr. Blaine was called to the stand, but they continued to slowly filter in as the questioning begin. Mr. Hartfort had been the first one to return. He sat with his arms crossed looking forward at nothing in particular, but Mrs. Hartfort had decided to buy groceries before returning. “Just as well,” he thought. Neither Johnny nor Claire returned from their lunch break, but Judge Nash had long since given up reprimanding his nephew for any reason other than eating his leftover takeaway and riffling through his office for spare change. Life was full of compromise.
“A terrible case of necrotizing fasciitis,” stated Dr. Blaine as Mr. Roberts questioned him about Mr. Pierce’s strange appearance. The doctor hadn’t examined Mr. Pierce very closely, but any one could see that the man needed treatment.
“And he appears to be suffering from aphasia,” added the doctor. Mrs. Pierce sobbed. The judge handed the inconsolable woman a box of blue discount tissues the transcriptionist had bought from the local warehouse.
“Thank you,” said Mr. Roberts smugly.
Then Mrs. Pierce was led to the witness stand. The transcriptionist swore her in and closed the wooden gate behind her with a gentle shove, but it bounced open again.
“Have you noticed anything different about your husband lately?” the prosecution, who had largely been silent until this moment, asked in a reedy whisper. He was well read, but not lawyer material in Mr. Roberts’s opinion.
“Do you know what aphasia means?”
Mrs. Pierce shook her head and grabbed a fresh tissue.
“It’s an inability to speak. Do you know what causes it?” Mr. Roberts was certain he could detect a slight lisp in the prosecution’s voice.
“This has been a very traumatic experience for us both,” said Mrs. Pierce.
“Right. Were you with your husband the day the children were murdered?” continued the prosecution while riffling through a set of papers in front of him.
“Where were you that day?”
“Doing the laundry,” said Mrs. Pierce weakly.
“Were there any blood stains on his clothes?” questioned the lawyer with a flourish of his pen.
“His skin condition has been severe.”
The prosecution leaned over and rubbed his temples. “Do you know what happened to the children in your neighborhood, Mrs. Pierce?” he asked.
“They were murdered and someone…” Mrs. Pierce sniffed. “…ate their brains.”
“BRAAAAINS,” groaned Mr. Pierce. He appeared to be starring at Judge Nash’s bald spot though the judge didn’t notice. He was reading a document about another case scheduled that afternoon. Mr. Hartfort checked his watch. His wife hadn’t returned.
“So, tell me again, exactly what happened to the children?”
“My husband was framed!” She wailed and sobbed into what was left of the most recent tissue. She pointed an accusing finger at a man in corduroy pants and pale yellow button up shirt. It was Mr. Hartfort. “He has been trying to kill my Gerald!” yelled Mrs. Pierce. A few people gasped and those sitting closest to next to the corduroy clad man scooted away. Out of the original crowd of forty, only eighteen had returned to the sweltering room.
“Why do you believe Mr. Hartfort would want to kill your husband?”
“Our dog keeps getting loose and digging in his yard,” Mrs. Pierce explained.
“So, what you’re saying is that Mr. Hartfort killed the neighborhood children and blamed it on your husband?”
“So, you would have us believe that he killed his own children and several others, then ate their brains to get revenge on your husband for not being able to control your family dog?”
“BRAAAINS,” said Mr. Pierce.
“Yes,” said Mrs. Pierce.
It could have been the heat, a rotten burger, the death of his children or may be even the damn dog, but Mr. Hartfort couldn’t take it any longer. He pulled a pistol out of his pocket. It was a Colt SCAMP and it caught the sunlight and gleamed with the force of a thousand flashing cameras bulbs. A single blast tore through Mr. Pierce’s chest and was visibly imbedded in the wall behind him.
While huddled underneath the bench, Judge Nash ordered Mr. Hartfort into custody and with no bailiff present, two men in from the crowd volunteered to oblige him. Cuffed and dejected looking, Mrs. Hartfort’s husband was led away shouting about “justice” and “due process of law.” He would not be enjoying the stuffed peppers she had planned to prepare that evening.
“Are you alright Mr. Pierce?” the Judge asked.
“Oh, he’s fine, your honor,” said Mrs. Pierce. “That scoundrel shot him seven times yesterday.”
“Yes, um,” said Mrs. Pierce readjusting the brass flower pinned to her jacket. “It’s my husband’s Sicilian blood.” She squirmed a little in her seat. “He gets it from his great grandfather. You know, after all those years of Mafia warfare, they’ve developed a remarkable immunity to lead.”
Down the corridor, the vengeful shouts of Mr. Hartfort were silenced. The pistol was fired again and once again a moment later. A piercing scream erupted and was silenced just as abruptly. Judge Nash, Mrs. Pierce, the transcriptionist, the wide-eyed prosecution, Mr. Roberts and sweaty crowd on the uncomfortable benches all turned to look at the court room door. An unpleasant stench, a combination of road kill and aftershave, wafted in.
“Close it will you?”Judge Nash asked the transcriptionist while Mrs. Pierce straightened Mr. Pierce’s tie.
“BRAAAINS!” came the sound of a hundred voices behind the door.
“On second thought,” said the Judge. “Lock it.”
But, for residents of Cedarford, it was already too late.
Like many writers, Carrie Bailey needed something to do while drinking copious amounts of coffee at her local shops, so she started writing dystopian and satirical science fiction. Carrie lives in New Zealand where she actively researches different ways to eat pineapple and edits Peevish Penman. Her latest publication is a Reptilian Personal Finance and World Domination guide.