In Contempt

Image of Long Story Short Award - 2022
Image of Short Fiction
"-ll rise, court is now in session."

The room spun as she opened her eyes and her vision slowly returned, like a very bright light burning into her eyes after staring into darkness. Her surroundings swirl like a kaleidoscope, gradually gaining color and form, yet never fully losing their distorted, watercolor edges.

"The defendant comes before the court on charges of crimes against being, crimes of unimaginable horror that defy principle, morality and understanding."

Her memory is slippery, sliding through her fingers and ever elusive. How did she get here, what happened? Images of shattered stained glass, stone, and shadows dance across her consciousness, yet she is unable to grasp them or discern any meaning from their ghosts.

"These crimes are unforgivable, in contempt of righteousness and beyond salvation."

Was she drugged? She imagines that this is what LSD feels like. She can tell that she is being watched, watched by hundreds of eyes just beyond her vision. She can hear them murmuring, their indistinguishable whispers stinging her ears like thorns, sharp pricks of awareness breaking through the dense, looming haze.

"What does the defendant plead?"

Silence. She casts her gaze around, fruitlessly trying to locate to whom the question was directed.

"Guilty, guilty, guilty," the whispers hiss

She finally identifies the oppressive feeling crushing her chest and spreading like ice through her veins: Dread.

"Defendant, what do you plead?

She turns towards the origin of the question and is overcome by a wave of nausea. She fights against herself, trying to look directly at the speaker– the judge?-- but cannot. It hurts too much.

"Defendant." She stumbles backwards, pushed by a force she cannot identify. "ANSWER."

"Me? I don't–"


"Not guilty? But what–"

The whispers grow louder, crescendoing to a deafening level. Still indistinguishable, but now mocking, crawling with derision. The sound reminds her of thousands of bugs skittering on the walls. Are they even speaking English? She doesn't know, can't tell.

"The defendant claims to be not guilty. Not guilty when the evidence of her crimes stains her soul and corrupts her mind, desecrating the foundation on which this court stands."

"Guilty, guilty, guilty," the whispers taunt.

The skittering bugs are now crawling throughout her skull, muffling any rational thought. She casts her mind frantically around for any defense, but any remnants of thoughts, memories, once elusive, have fled. She doesn't even know what she did, what she is accused of. Yet, however hard she tries, she cannot recall a time before this courtroom. Wait— what is her name again?

"The court has deliberated."

The bugs skitter down her throat, into her lungs, pushing aside tendons and bone to bury into her veins. Shadows creep at the edges of her vision. She deliriously wonders where her lawyer is. Weren't trials supposed to last longer than this?

"Guilty, Guilty, GUILTY"

The shadows surge at her feet, pulling her down, down, down. The whispers now seem to be high above her, rising as she is dragged lower and lower. Feeling escapes from her body, numbness spreading throughout her limbs and choking her. As it reaches her neck, she hears the verdict.

"The defendant is guilty on all charges."