Saturday, July 9, 2011

What I Like to Think Happened

A piece of speculative fiction
by Tycho Alhambra.

The foreman gathered up all the papers, looked over them.
"Okay, it looks like we're unanimous. All guilty. That didn't take very long at all."
Silence around the table. They all knew what they had done.
"The question, he continued, "now is, is this FOR SURE what we want to do? Speak now or forever hold your peace."
Silence around the table. No one dared to even breathe.
"Alright, then, let's go out there and deliver the news."
They rose as one, headed toward the door. All except one, who remained seated. Just before the Foreman opened the door, the young man at the table spoke.
"Has anyone read "Murder on the Orient Express?"
Everyone stopped in their tracks, turned and regarded the young man.
"Seriously," he said. "Anyone?" Three voices replied they had.
"For the rest of you, I'm going to spoil it. Sorry, but it's necessary for what I have to say. At the end of the book, it turns out that everyone in the car had killed the guy. They all knew him, had had previous experience with him, and they all knew he was a cruel evil man. They had all planned their revenge on him, as well as the cover story for how they were going to get away with it, except they didn't plan on Hercule Poirot being there. He of course unravels the mystery, and figures out that everyone did it."
"What does this have to do with anything?" one of the other jurors asked.
"I'm coming to that," the young man replied. "Poirot comes to the conclusion that even though it isn't right, sometimes justice is better served by not following the law. Sometimes things have to be righted in a different way than it is intended they be. So everyone gets to go free and the official story becomes the guy was killed by a stranger who disappeared into the night and who, it is assumed, died of exposure in the mountains."
There was a moment of silence, and then "Wait, what are you saying?"
The young man shrugged. "What if we didn't declare her guilty? What if we declared her not?"
"We'd be raked to the dogs and back," one replied. "We'd be the laughingstock of pretty much the entire world. Everyone's been watching this. They all know. They're all expecting this. "
"The entire world," the young man repeated. "That's true. But follow me on this- follow it out to it's logical conclusion. What happens if we declare her not guilty?"
Another pause, everyone considering if this is some sort of trick or not, but then one replies, "Well, she goes free."
"She's absolved of the crime and we can't try her again," another said.
"Yes," the young man said. "Now, keep going. Where does she go from there?"
"Well," a third said hesitantly, "probably back home. Though I can't imagine her husband would want to stay with her. There will probably be a divorce. Her mother and father will be ashamed of her, and she gets on with her life."
"Keep going," the young man said. "What does she do then?"
"Well, in going on with her life, she'd... I don't know. She'd go for walks in the neighborhood. Go grocery shopping. Maybe go to church. She'd do all the things she did before. Book club, quilting bees, whatever the hell she did before."
There was a pause, while everyone took in the commonality shared between those activities, and then slowly, it dawned on everyone.
"...with other people," one said quietly.
"Who know who she is," said a second.
"And, more importantly, WHAT she did."
"They'll know, and she'll know, and they know she knows, and she knows they know."
"How long before no one wants anything to do with her? How long before everyone she associated with stops associating with her?"
"She'll be... what, an outcast? A pariah? She'd have to leave. She'd have to move."
Another pause, as the phrase "The entire world" floated through the room.
"But everyone's been following the trial," another said.
"And her face has been in newspapers, on the internet, her name is known by everyone."
"So, even if she moves," said another, "her new community will STILL know, and it'll start all over again. Everything will be the same, except she won't even be able to fall back on anything. How long until the anonymous harassment starts? Eggs at the windows, maybe rocks? Notes in the mailbox. Phone calls."
"She'd have to move again, and even then, the place she moves to will know who she is, and even if they don't realize it, it won't be long before someone figures it out, and the whole cycle starts all over again."
"She'll never be able to make friends, because no one- married or single- would want to be friendsm or even trust her after what she did."
"She'll never find a lover, because if she did it once, she'd do it again."
"She'd be outcast and alone, if not for the rest of her life, at least for a very long time."
Silence descended over the group as everyone considered this.
"We declare her guilty, she maybe gets life in jail, maybe gets the death penalty. Everyone in the world will know we did our job, but she'll be getting out of it relatively easily."
"But if we declare her not guilty..."
"We get called a stupid bunch of idiotic retards, everyone hates us, and she goes free, but only physically. Her guilt will hang around her, and everyone will know, and she will know, and it will eat at her for the rest of her natural life."
"One more thing," the young man finally said. They all turned to regard him. "This is a national trial. You're the jury. No one knows your names, no one knows your faces. You may be ridiculed as a whole, but once you get out, no one will know it was you."
Another silence as everyone considered, then they all sat down again, and pulled out some paper.


  1. Wow. I really like that. Even if that's not how it went down, that *is* her life now. Very well written, Tycho!

  2. Some asshole on the jury wanted to make a story.

    If they declared her guilty (are we trying to pretend we don't all know who the 'her' is?) she would be given the justice she deserved, and the news would quickly find a new subject to latch on to, but by finding her not guilty, the press will still focus on the big why for, dare I say it, another month or so.

    Sadly, she will get on with her life, people have a tendency to forget, maybe move to someplace far away, use a false name, stay out of the spotlight for a year, and few will remember her face. She'll get a job- if somebody refuses to hire her based on the trial her lawyers will have a payday- and slowly rejoin normal society.

    Great error in justice has occurred, and the jury members who knew this will, in the end, be the ones who feel the most guilty for this for the longest, imagine having to deal with the knowledge that you had to sit there and watch an guilty women get away with murder just because one or two (and I doubt it was more then that) rubble rousers in the jury decided they wanted the fame. It would be effing awful.