Pure Slush

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The Punishment

<  Grace

by Berit Ellingsen        At the Reception  >

 

A man did something terrible. He went to a place where many young people were gathered and killed them while he listened to dramatic, classical music with booming drums and blaring trumpets that made him feel like a hero. He was armed with an automatic rifle, they had little to defend themselves with. All they could do was run and stumble away, and hide from him in the grass and the bushes and the caves, but he found most of them. They begged him to spare them, they had so much living to do, but he killed them anyway. After a long and scarring bloodbath, the man stopped shooting and waited for the anti-terror squad to arrive.

 

 

There was no doubt he was guilty. Survivors, witnesses, rescuers, photos, video recordings, all showed the same, he shot those teenagers. A board of experts in forensic psychiatry and clinical psychology was created to advise the judges for the verdict.

“Be aware that we and the verdict will be scrutinized by the public and the media, both here and abroad,” said the presiding judge, a short woman with stern, blonde bangs. “Let us meet again when you have had time to consider the case.”

 

 

A week later we were back in the same room.

“What are your thoughts?” the judge said.

“We may punish the killer’s body,” I said, “but it was his mind that coordinated his eyes and hands and legs as he shot. It planned the attack and compelled him to continue, even when the victims begged for mercy.”

“So we must focus on his mind?”

“Yes, your honor.”

“But the thoughts and nerve impulses that directly made him fire the bullets are in the past and gone now. How can we punish them?”

I had discussed this with the other experts and had the answer ready.

“We must find the source of his intention to kill and prevent those thoughts from appearing again.”

The judge nodded. “Could the source of that be in the killer’s past?”

“Perhaps,” I said.

“You will have full access to his journals and writings, and the interrogation records. You may also interview his family and friends, if they accept it.”

 

 

“Have you found the source of the killer’s intentions?” the judge asked one month later.

“Your honor,” I said. “We have seen traces of the thoughts and ideas that led to the killing in the man’s journals and writings, but they were a result of his intentions, not their source.”

“What about his past, childhood and upbringing? Did the murderous intentions come from there?”

“Not directly,” I said. “We must find where his thoughts come from, in his mind.”

“Then I’m giving you immediate access to psychological and neurological tests, MRI scanning, EEG, pharmacological means, all you need,” the judge said. “Find the source so we can prevent this from happening again.”

 

 

Another month and I was looking at the same faces and the same walls.

“Please tell me you have something,” the judge said. “The whole country is waiting for the verdict, the media thinks we’re afraid to make an unpopular decision and other countries believe our judicial system can’t handle the situation.”

My hands shook and my stomach churned around the cup of coffee I’d just drunk.

“I’m sorry, your honor,” I said, feeling like I was on trial.

“For what?”

“We searched the killer’s mind to find the source of his thoughts and intentions.”

“Yes?”

“We observed many thoughts; angry, fearful, bored, content, happy. But the more we searched for their source, the less we found,” I admitted. “We came to a sort of event horizon which we couldn’t see beyond.”

“An event horizon, like in a black hole?” the judge said, looking at me sideways, the lines between her eyebrows deepening.

“A border where we could only watch the killer’s thoughts appear, as red or blue or green blotches on scans of brain activity, or as quivers in the EEG graphs, or as uttered words,” I said. “We could also prevent some of the thoughts from appearing by using medicines, but when we stopped giving them, the thoughts returned. We couldn’t find the source of the thoughts and the impulses, or a way to punish it.”

“And this is unique for the killer?”

“No,” I said, my voice shaking. “We tested several healthy individuals too. It may be how all minds work.”

“So in short, we have nothing?” said the judge. The fear of public condemnation, a media scandal and international ridicule drained the color from her face.

“We’ll get some interesting research papers out of this,” I said.

The judge snorted. “We can’t just let the killer go because you found nothing!”

“No, of course not.”

The judge sighed. “Very well,” she said. “We shall prevent the thoughts and intentions to kill from appearing by the means we do have. The killer will be made to accept our care and medication for an indefinite period of time. We’ll keep him behind steel doors and barbed wire, and he’ll never be able to think freely or do as the source of his intentions compel him to again. That is the only thing we can do for now.”

“Yes, your honor,” I nodded, and sat down.

 

Editor's Note: this story's counterpoint is The Plan by Jules Archer

 

published 27 January 2012

 


The Plan

<  Grace

by Jules Archer        At the Reception  >

 

It’s always been planned. Before I was born, I could feel the light. Then, when it was time to come out and I was pushed, I really saw it.

*

I strap the Walkman to my waistband. Put in the tape and cushion the oversized headphones against my ears. I push play, letting Wagner’s Ride of the Valkyries take over. The beat is glaring but soothes.  I barely feel myself leave the jalopy, barely hear the door shut. The rifle, some man-made creature, slung over my shoulder, its butt dangling near my waist.

They’re there, in the distance. A group of youth spread across golden white sand, sitting around a bonfire. Guitars strumming, pipes gleaming, laughs echoing across the rolling ocean. I march faster with the music. One – a girl – sees me. Her mouth forms an O. They all half-squat, half-stand, unsure of what I am. I dial the volume wheel of the Walkman to MAX.

They scatter. Some flee into the white cliffs, a group of them into a grove of small trees. My boots mar the white sand. I find them easily. Crying’s hard to ignore. Three of them crouched under the overhang of a cliff; two girls with their arms wrapped around each other and one lone boy.

I remove the rifle and lift it high. I look at them; some blank endless summer light staring down upon their faces. When they blink and raise their faces to the sky, mouthing wondrous things, I look up too.

*

They sit in front of me. Spread out the papers and notebooks and drawings they’ve confiscated from my mother’s home. I want to ask for my Walkman and classical music back but don’t. They stick fingers in my face and yell. Flash badges and ask questions. I answer all of them and wait. “No remorse,” they murmur to each other. “He has no remorse.” That may be true but I did what I believed.

When it comes to the charges they bring them.  I tug at the cuffs around my wrists.

And then he comes.

*

He asks me to mime the 20 shots. Watches my fingers twitch in the familiar motion, although they don’t move with as much ferocity as they have before.  “What do you feel?” he asks. “Any tingling?”

I tell him no, no, they don’t ache.

He jots notes and then asks about my family. “A normal bunch,” I say to the man. I fold my hands together, answering more questions. He keeps a desperate scribble, head bowed, like he’ll find the answers in his writing.

When he’s finished, he raises a red face. Picks up the envelope containing my personal items and stands. Voice shaking, he thanks me.  I see he’d rather not.

He raps on the steel door, waiting for the guard. Confused, I ask, “Why are you here?”

“I’m here for a verdict.”

“It should be easy,” I tell him, and he blinks.

*

She flicks her hair. “I hate you.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

“Why’d do have to do it?” she asks. “Why on my birthday?” My sister wrinkles her nose. Her face looks wavy in the plastic wall that separates us. “That’s all they’ll remember now,” she says. “Not me. Just you and that gun.”

“I’m sorry.”

“You said that already.” She crosses her arms. Exhales. “He came by the house the other day.”

“Who?”

“That guy…the guy who keeps poking his nose into our business. Doing research on you or whatever for the court.” My sister laughs, a little chirping sound. “I think he thinks mom used to beat you or something. It’s pretty funny.”

I put a hand to my temple and watch the light. “Hilarious.”

*

The monitors make beeping and whirring noises. Wires around my face, stuck to my head, only make me curious. “What is this for?” I ask the nervous man standing over me. He’s back. Been coming back, in fact, for the last three weeks, every other day.

“We haven’t found a thing.”

“I did it,” I say, not sure why it matters. Why they’re searching so hard.

“We know,” he says, licking pale lips. He holds up my chart, the films of my brain flopping out. “Nothing has told us why.” He gives me a look, eyes pleading. “Unless you can.”

I’ve been mum. The blank, white light in my brain is just an eye that lets me see into another. I shift on the hard cot. “Explanation is unnecessary.”

He’s aghast. “But—but what about those children? What about their family, friends…?” He paces the hospital room and then sits in a chair in a far corner. Puts his head in his hands. “Give me something. Anything to take back to them.”

I close my eyes for a brief second. He straightens up, readying his pen and paper.

“I was just playing,” I say. I raise my hand, gesturing. “I ask myself, what is it really about? And when I do, it’s always the same answer. It’s that bright white light behind my eyes that leads me.”

“Playing?” he whispers.

The brain monitors continue their steady beep and drone.

 

 

Editor's Note: this story's counterpoint is The Punishment by Berit Ellingsen

 

published 27 January 2012