The Trial

What I saw as my consciousness faded out is still just residue. Maybe it can be trusted, maybe not, but what I thought was the sentry suddenly wasn't the sentry at all.  It was the train station attendant.

In the intervening hours (days?), I recall only vague ideas, none of which seem sensational enough to be worth doubting.  There are hallways, offices, leather seats... I have a feeling like I was being escorted everywhere I went, but I can recall no voices or faces.

The buzz remains, but my sight is very clear now.  I stand in a courtroom, faced with a bench so high that only the judge's gavel is visible.  The wooden bench is very old and marked with dents and scratches, but the strike of the gavel is so thick that I conclude the bench must be very solid indeed.

To my right, a jury box is filled with citizens of the island, some of which I recognize from the bar.  They look on with just the appropriate amount of gravity; if they are disposed for or against me, I cannot discern it from their expressions.

Just as I start taking in this scene, someone begins speaking behind me.  The prosecutor, a hard-looking man of 60, monologues in a resonant, doleful tone.  I'm sure he is speaking plain English, but I can't understand his words... they come out clearly, then twist and turn in my mind, like they are being run in reverse through a translator.

It occurs to me during his speech that I am not entirely sure the specifics of what I'm accused of.  My potential crimes are many: an unlawful escape from the village, a conspiracy with a mysterious Brotherhood, and of course arson... I don't know what became of the circus.

Before long, a doe-eyed young defense attorney begins giving a speech on my behalf.

Again, I cannot follow it.  He is less sure of himself than the prosecutor, but none of his words, or even syllables, meet my comprehension.  It is a short speech, and before I know it, it's my turn.

Animation from the Apple II game the prisoner (1980) showing the prisoner's trial.

My instincts tell me to start out with pleasantries.  Act composed and confident and I will project innocence.  I begin, 

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, my lord, thank you for taking the time to consider my case."

But that's not what I say.  What comes out instead is something resembling a mumble, like a conversation heard at a distance.  My mouth and vocal chords contort erratically, and the resulting jumble of sound is meaningless in all but affect.

Strangely, there are no looks of confusion, no sideways glances.  Everyone behaves as if I have said something substantial.  I try to continue,

"The charges brought against me are indeed troublesome, but I wish your kind consideration as I present an explanation for my actions."

Again, my words come out entirely differently.  The jumble of nonsense spewing from my mouth is impossible for my mind to parse, and I begin to panic, knowing that whatever they are hearing is as likely to doom as it is to vindicate.  In an attempt to synchronize mind and body, I start slowly emitting syllables.

"aaaaa... uuuu... ooooo..."

Suddenly, the jury's faces come to life.  With each passing syllable, their countenances fluctuate between sympathy, consternation, interest, disgust; I still don't understand what I'm saying, but now have something to work with.  Whenever their faces show signs of empathy, I hold on the sound until their apparent emotion dissipates.  When they show negative emotions, I quickly change what I'm saying.  The process is entirely trial and error, but over time it seems to be having a net positive effect.  

Finally, my speech seems to converge on an overall effect of sympathy and I decide it best to stop while I seem to be ahead.  

The judges gavel bangs loudly.


He pronounces the word like a sudden discovery and there is a murmur of approval among the members of the jury.


And just like that, the courtroom empties.

I stand stock still in front of the bench, staring up at the now motionless gavel resting at its edge.  What I saved myself from, I don't know, but I can't escape the feeling that my sentence has long since been passed.  There is no relief or excitement, just a realization that I was acting futilely on instincts of self-preservation.  I was already in prison.


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