By Lisa McCourt Hollar
Judge Radcliff stepped into the courtroom and sat down behind his bench. Everyone waited as he put his glasses on and read the papers in front of him. That’s the way the judge liked it. He hated to have to slam his gavel and yell “Order in the court!” There was a time when he liked that kind of excitement, but now when he was so close to retirement he preferred the easy cases. By the looks of it, this wasn’t going to be one of them.
“Let me get this straight,” he said, looking up, “the defendant is accused of eating his neighbor’s face?”
“In a very brutal attack,” Meganne Lawson, the defense attorney said.
“Well he ate his face off. I guess you don’t get more brutal than that.”
“Allegedly ate his face off,” the defense attorney said.
“Allegedly,” Judge Radcliff grunted. He hated it when people spoke out of turn. Squinting, he looked at the defendant. The man looked, well, putrid. There was also an odor of rotting meat and a look about him that reminded the judge of a feral dog. He was glad to see the man in chains. Clearing his throat he addressed the defendant. “Well, we are just here today to determine if there is just cause to take this to trial. I am first going to have the charges read into evidence. You will answer the charges guilty or not guilty… or if you choose you can plead no contest and I will make a decision at this time based upon the evidence. Do you understand what I’m saying, son?”
“Speak up when talking to the court. I didn’t catch that.” Judge Radcliff looked towards the court recorder and shook his head.
“If you’ll allow, your honor,” Mark Lawson said, putting his arm on his client, “my client can’t speak yes, no, or no contest.”
“Does he speak English?”
“Yes, he does,” the prosecutor said.
“He did at one time,” the attorney said. “He no longer does.”
The judge looked over his glasses at the defendant. He was drooling at the mouth and sniffing his attorney. “Is he retarded? Can he assist in his defense?”
“He’s not retarded,” the prosecutor said.
“He’s not alive.” the defense attorney, glared at the prosecutor. Judge Radcliff shook his head. The prosecutor and the defense attorney were married. It would probably be a chilly evening at home.
“Your honor,” Meganne Lawson said, “clearly the defendant is moving around. The dead do not walk... or hit their heads on tables”
“They do if they are zombies,” Mark said, pulling out a stack of papers to present into evidence.
“What do you have there?” Judge Radcliff asked, staring disapprovingly at the client as he continued to bang his head. He didn’t like the way the proceedings were going. The talk of zombies belonged on late night horror shows, not in a court of law.
“Statements from the defendant’s doctor stating that he died a week ago, the coroner’s report, a statement from the undertaker and pictures taken at his funeral. Mr. Wilcox is no longer among the living and therefore not bound by our laws.”
“Is there precedent?”
“No your honor,” both Lawson’s said at the same time.
“Your honor, clearly the doctor made a mistake.” The prosecutor said.
“Guuuuhhh…. Uuuugggg,” the defendant said, leaning towards his attorney. Mark Lawson stepped a bit farther from his clients reach and turned towards the prosecutor.
“And the coroner? He performed the autopsy. Mr. Wilcox was an organ donor so his heart and liver were removed, along with several other organs. His brain however had shown deterioration and was considered unsuitable for use. It is his brain that has reanimated Mr. Wilcox.” The attorney held out the paperwork for the bailiff.
“You say he has no organs in his body at all?” The judge looked over the paperwork. Ms. Lawson, there is a photo included. I can see for myself that the defendant is cut open, his organs on the table next to him. How do you explain this?”
“Your honor, there are many people that walk among us that have been said not to have a heart. That does not mean they are not alive. For death to be determined, there has got to be no brain activity.”
“That is not true,” her husband interrupted. The judge shuddered. It was going to be a truly cold night in the Lawson home. “They only have to prove that there is no detectible brain activity. My client has none.”
“He has some.” The prosecutor held out a paper for the bailiff to take. “At my request, an EEG was performed on the defendant. Though barely detectible, there is some activity at the hypothalamus.”
“And not able to be detected by any other machine. He met the legal definition of death, your honor. An EEG is not required for determination.”
“It should be.”
“Meganne, you cannot change the law,” Mark said. “My client is legally dead. You have no right prosecuting him.”
“He ate a man’s face!”
“Order in the court,” Judge Radcliff yelled, banging his gavel.
“GUUUUUHHHH!” Ignoring the judge, the defendant pulled against his restraints, leaning hungrily towards the prosecutor. In her anger she had crossed the room and was standing nose to nose with her husband. There was sexual tension between the two of them and Judge Radcliff wondered if it might prove to be more steamy than chilly in their bedroom that night.
“I said, ORDER IN THE COURT!” Judge Radcliff continued pounding his gavel but no one seemed to be paying attention. While the prosecutor and defense attorney seemed to be locked in some kind of silent foreplay, the defendant worked to free himself from the restraints. The judge winced as the man’s skin flayed, revealing muscle and bone.
They bailiff moved to subdue the defendant, but quickly returned to the bench when he was nearly bitten. Judge Radcliff was at a loss as to what to do; he had clearly lost control. It was at that moment that the doors to the courtroom banged open and a figure in black entered the room.
“Excuse me, I’m here for Bob Wilcox.”
The defendant stopped his struggle and turned, as did the two Lawson’s. Judge Radcliff stared, his jaw hanging open.
“There you are, Bob. You are in a lot of trouble. Khronos has been yelling at me for an hour straight and I’m late for dinner with Hecate.”
“Who are you?” Judge Radcliff asked.
“Oh, I’m sorry, where are my manners? I’m not used to dealing with the living, just the dead. My name is Grim. Grim Reaper.” He held out a boney hand, presenting identification and a white form to the bailiff.”
“What is this?” The judge asked.
“Papers releasing Mr. Wilcox into my custody. He was supposed to have been delivered to Hades. I put him on the boat with Charon. I tried explaining this to Khronos that it was Charon that lost him, but he still insisted I ‘do my job and collect him.’ Always more difficult once they’ve turned.”
“I told you he was dead,” Mark said. Meganne just made a face and waited to see what the judge would do.
“Well, it would seem I have no jurisdiction over the case,” he said, looking over the paperwork.
“But your honor, he killed a man.”
“I’m sorry Ms. Lawson,” the judge said, “but it’s out of my hands. I know this is your first murder case. You’ll get another one, I’m sure.”
“Come on, Bob.” Grim said, taking hold of the restraints.
The former defendant sniffed at Meganne, a look of disappointment crossing his face. “Guuuuhhh.”
‘Down boy,” Grim said, “I agree, she looks delicious, but you can’t go around eating people. At least not without permission.”
“Well, it looks like this is over,” Judge Radcliff said, once the Reaper was gone. Lifting his gavel he brought it down. “Case dismissed. Now if you’ll excuse me, the missus has an apple pie waiting for me at home.” He stopped and sniffed the air. “Someone get the cleaning lady in here.”