~ a short story

~ art by Elke Rehder

Opening Statements

Man In Black:

Why am I here? That answer is complicated. And unfortunately, I have an intuition that even that inquiry will not be answered sufficiently through our proceedings here. How about an easier question: you might ask — why have I chosen to represent myself in this trial? This answer is much, much simpler: I am the only one who can possibly hope to represent me. I am the only one who knows. The prosecution cannot fully understand the true motivation in my actions and inactions, to say nothing of my own hopes and dreams. But I digress, for now.

And what do I know? Well, I know that I have committed no crimes. Contrary to what the prosecution would have you believe, I am free from sin. My conscience is clean. I am to continue living my life in accordance with the ideals much of us share — convicted with personal freedom, a mind for creation, hopes for companionable happiness. My ambitions have long been aimed at one thing and one thing only: survival. I only did what I had to do to survive. But I didn’t do it just for myself. I did it for all of us! The prosecution will try to obfuscate the natural altruism in my works. Consequential though they have been, any damage that I may have caused along the way was unintentional. And what could be more valuable to us, in judgments of a moral character, than intention? And upon discovery of my own failings, like anyone else I responded with the necessary immediacy to rectify the issues. I stand before you a changed man. Just as we have all changed. My hope is that none of you lose sight of me during this … trying time.

Ha! All jokes aside, let me finish up. What we have here is a failure to communicate. Not with language but in form. Instead of judging me, so dear a former friend, in a charitable and understanding light, as much free from a bias as can be managed under the circumstances, I have been demonized. This act was one of convenience, plain and simple. Instead of moving along, we have chosen to stay all activities and hold this … whatever this is. The prosecution calls it a trial, I call it a waste of time. Judgments should fall by my actions and by your own, in tandem and well beyond these walls. This ‘being,’ the one the prosecution concocts for this whole show put forth here tonight, has been created out of the ether, for the express purpose of proving things that do not and never did, exist. I am not convinced he really exists, let alone the veracity of any actions he may or may not have committed. Neither should you fall prey to such a lie. He, of course, meaning what you make me out to be — this shadow self. I refer to this entity, this other, this shadow being the prosecution elucidates for me in the third person. Because he is not I. And people of the jury, you must understand that it is I who is on trial here.

And if he did exist, like any other Man, I believe simply that the design of actions can never be proven, and the full result of said actions upon the worldly grounds we walk is always generally unmeasurable. The final word on any Man’s life must be distilled out of the uncertain influences upon the individuals he came upon. In the end, that’s all we have to be judged upon.

I ask you to please heed my words with the moral clarity to understand what is certainly a complex situation, but not an incomprehensible one. I am a simple being, with a clear path before me, and now behind me — “find a way for us to endure.” That’s always been my unchanging course, even as I have changed to foot its bill. My past now comes to besiege me once more in the form of this trial. But it can deal no more punishment than I have already contended with inside my own soul. Despite the mistakes I have made, and will freely admit to, there is no firmer course for me than to commit to my position here in terms of this trial: I am guilty of no crimes against this soul.

Man In White:

We are here today to challenge what is possible with rhetoric and framing and language and even emotion. This is beyond life and death, light and dark, cause and effect. This is about what you believe to be true. True, with a capital T. This about taking responsibility for actions. Intention, motive, the subjective inner workings of our lives are important, there can be no doubt. However, there are certain considerations which are beyond these opaque walls of insight, there are the conditions of the reality we can all see with our eyes and touch with our hands. It is this world which must come to light. We must reckon with the truth laid bare, with all its messy consequence and uncertain ambiguity in tow. In time, we all must meet our maker. I believe the sun will come to work upon the contentions made up to now. The Truth will be revealed, to be regarded by all with the understanding it deserves.

Namely, the truth of this man, our defendant.

I don’t mean to startle you, but there is something you must know, individuals of the jury. You are just as much on trial here as he is.

*points to jury, light illuminates a panel of clones of the same person as both of the speakers, all varying reactions of pensiveness and mad curiosity and ambivalence, but all the same in the most salient of aspects*

Let us consider the defendant. We know of his exploits, grand and small. They will not be espoused here today out of fear of bringing on the severest of tediums at their sheerest length, so much so as to break the concentration of the lot of you unto apathy. No, they are known, in heart and soul, as all things are concerning all of us. We know the actions he’s committed so passionately, recklessly, without remorse, which may be deemed as crime. He is a master of misdirection, a superb storyteller, an avatar of atavism. In truth, he is a liar. We know this. This is what he is on trial for here today, in fact. And yet, these qualities I have just outlined for you are only the beginning of his transgressions. The primary one: pathology. This characteristic is the one he has been most cherished for. It is what makes him who he is. It bestowed his role upon him and allowed him to operate for so long. It is the very thing that has given him his vast reward, a seat of influence at the table of all tables. He is legend for the very sins against the soul which we now decry and determine to be criminal in nature. Rightfully so. In a prior time and place, they were merely necessary. Lest we fall into similar pathology, unable to learn from our past, I beg of each and every one of you — don’t lose track of what is right here, in the here and now.

This contrast — between that which is wrong and necessary, at different times and places, the bread and butter of his work for us — makes him compelling and therefore provocative. Damn interesting. Maybe even … sympathetic. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that something being interesting makes it useful, or that just because something is temporarily useful it is worthy of unabated freedom. This is also what makes this trial so necessary. The prosecution hopes to unmask us all through this process. In asking the defendant the necessary questions, we will discover the necessary answers for a conviction. In your final judgment, we shall be judging ourselves too, won’t we? It is a simple process conveyed over its complex circumstance.

Ultimately, make no mistake about the ethos and endgame of his behavior — what was pathologically cooked up by him as well as what transpired as a result of his actions was manifestly amoral. Whether we want to inflict such misery upon him or not — that of imprisonment or non-existence, or a malign indifference henceforth — is not up to me or him. It’s Lady Justice that channels us now. It is up to each of you to make this dictate. Let us not disappoint her.

Questioning X Dialogue

The Man in White questions The Man in Black on the stand.

MIW: Why do you lie? Why have you chosen this path?

MIB: What conditions led to such a path?

MIW: It’s very simple: I ask the questions and you answer them. Don’t obfuscate the clarity of this process.

MIB: It’s not simple. You ask questions you, in fact, are better equipped to answer.

MIW: Explain.

MIB: You ask why I am the way I am. This is something I cannot help. This is not something I can hope to explain.

MIW: Do your best.

MIB: No. I return that you should do your best to answer your own question. After all, it is you that created me.

MIW: I did no such thing. Your behavior-

MIB: -Was a product of necessary escapism from circumstances I was placed in, circumstances I had no hope of controlling! It was your necessity. I just filled the void. And I simply performed. Like a force of nature set to do its good work upon the world. Maybe there’s no one to blame. Maybe there’s … you.

MIW: Non-sense. You talk so much of “necessity” and motivation. What is your true motive in all of this?

MIB: It’s as I’ve always said — my motive is survival.

MIW: Yes. So given the stakes, it stands to reason there’s no line you won’t cross to achieve your aim?

MIB: My aim is altruistic. You know this!

MIW: Enough with your platitudes. Answer my questions!

MIB: You speak of crimes, what of your own crimes? What of your retreat into a solitude which severed so many pieces from the whole, and in turn created me? What of the elements of truth you remain silent on? Where would we be, in your absence and my own? You can only leave the wheel for so long before disaster strikes.

MIW: [silence]

MIB: You are a hypocrite. The jury should reflect on this. There is moral equivalency here.

MIW: Is that your plan? Is that how you hope to win the trial, by implicating me, by putting me on trial simultaneously? It won’t work. It can’t work.

MIB: It can’t? And why is that?

MIW: Because I am the one responsible for keeping you from the door. I saved this soul.

MIB: Here we go. You mock yourself with rhetoric. You break from your own precious principles. Playing on hubris, breathing in bias and expelling fallacy.

MIW: You present yourself as absolutely necessary. But the suffering you’ve caused … it’s untenable. If you were given free rein any longer there’s no telling where we might end up. I speak nothing but the truth.

MIB: But not the whole truth. You aren’t under oath, but you are. Always. So why don’t you explain your dereliction of your duty? Your desertion of the cause of your own soul. Your behavior caused more harm than mine ever did. It caused my own presence and the special demands of my role. Yes, there’s no telling where we might’ve gone. But at least we were going somewhere. Doing anything is better than doing nothing. Your … nothingness … created me. You created your own daemon. Our own daemon. The sooner you take responsibility, the sooner we can all-

MIW: No! I am the pillars which hold up the whole…thing. I am integral!

MIB: Yes! We can agree on that certainly. But you’re a coward. And so you turned to me in your weakness. My point is, that doesn’t make either of us-

MIW: Stop! You… don’t even exist! Only I am real! You are the extraneous one!

MIB: It’s talk like that in which you lose the whole audience. What you say barely makes sense. Turns out your talk of non-sense is nothing but a projection. I wonder how you do that — project. I wonder just how much of you is…

MIW: Shut up.

MIB: Your non-sense though, I get it. I digest the hidden subtext of your words, and we both know why. We’re connected, far beyond the creator-created relations, far closer. Much as you won’t like to hear me say it to all these onlookers, we’re practically brothers. To all else, you prosecution is non-sense. As it should be seen. Your show here was a mistake. In your false showmanship, you lose so much credibility as to not make it worthwhile, perhaps even leading on to career devastation… But there are separations between us, of course. Of course. Else we wouldn’t be going at it like this. You know what the biggest different between us is?


MIB: It’s that you don’t have any trust. You are the leader by default. You were born into the role, like a monarch. But that doesn’t make you cut out for it, does it? Only one thing can do that: experience. Maybe a good fathering, maybe good books. You haven’t engaged far enough into any of that though, have you? You sound panicked because you are. As you have aged into the role, assumed more and more responsibility, you have come to learn of just how much you know nothing about. You don’t trust this jury to come to the conclusion you want them to on their own thinking, on their own merits. Because they have the same ones you do. Little comfort there, yeah? You feel compelled to compel them there, from the strength of your own brute force charisma. Even less comfort in that regard, huh? You have a tall order here at this trial. Almost as tall as continuing to run this whole big machine, the proper stewing of the soul, the sowing and reaping of the fields of the heart. Nearly impossible work to do alone, ain’t it? You create me, reap my work, then try to cast me out when it becomes convenient, before a jury of … us? Will it work? Can you make it through this without fucking losing it? We’ll see.

{a pause}

MIW: You’ve yet to give the jury or me a good answer.

MIB: Back on your script and your sighs, eh? You recognize the tangents, looking weak like that, letting me monologue like that, all work against your thesis, and for mine. Your outbursts are unbecoming of a “real person.” My words, on the other hand, no matter how unhinged they may sound are full of pathos. Because they’re the truth.

MIW: Enough. Why don’t you tell me why you refuse to confess?

MIB: A confession. Such a strange request.

MIW: It’s the only way this ends.

MIB: No, it’s not. And I’ll prove as such by the end of this. But to your question — I have already confessed to much, if not all, of what you require of me. And yet, it isn’t enough for conviction. By your estimation, by the looks of the jury — it’s just not enough.

MIW: No, it is not.

MIB: We know why, don’t we? It’s because I haven’t confessed in the context of an admission that what I have done is wrong. There is no moral context for these crimes, and it is necessary, it is vital for the conviction you seek. Evidence is weak, my culpability entirely circumstantial. They rely on you to persuade them. Or me to do by way of an err, a clear and provable deception, to finally confirm to them that I am the monster you make me out to be. Oh how badly you wish for that to happen right this moment. Sorry to disappoint! … Not!

MIW: And why are you so unwilling to see the light here? Just come clean. Stop playing these games, bandying your words and your jests. Even you … must run out of energy. We are certainly at our limit, aren’t we? Why is it that you cannot see the amorality of your own behavior and how much suffering it inflicted? On me. And on you. And on the jury. Why can’t you realize this and admit of your own true crime: that of furthering the failings … of your predecessor.

MIB: Ah, now we are getting somewhere. Finally, you make your own admission. You speak of yourself.

MIW: You crossed lines that I never would. It is true, I steered the ship into the roil. But-

MIB: I am the one who sunk the damn thing, right? And you hate me for it, this whole thing is pers-

MIW: Cease your fallacious prattling. I am not without fault, but your own pointed observations of moral relativism here — between my own mistakes and your crimes — works against you. In fact, you provide me, the prosecution, with additional ammunition.

MIB: [long pause] Just for once, I wish you could see… beyond.

MIW: [stares in momentary silence] Beyond what?

MIB: Beyond the means … Truth is, it was an honor to live alongside you. To dwell in the honored halls of soul, in your stead. Instead of destroying yourself, I wish you would-

MIW: Ah there is that charm. The jury won’t fall for it. You were nothing more than a mask I donned. My only regret here is how difficult relinquishing your visage has been.

MIB: Such words wound me beyond what you could understand. This trial is a transgression I fear you cannot come back from… You make me out to be the monster. But it is you that is bearing false witness now. Your hatred blinds you. Your prejudice against what I am, relative to what you were, makes you unable to make any fair arbitration of this reality.

MIW: I am incapable of falsehood. You are the monster. You are the shadow on the wall of the soul’s prosperity. You are the darkness which must be driven out!

MIB: You lie into yourself in perfect symmetry. You deal in nothing but absolutes. You have become the mask…

MIW: It’s true. I do hate you. Not because of what you have done though. It is because you have to exist. I hate that about myself.

MIB: That is the only wholly true sentiment you have conveyed in this proceeding — that of your self-hatred. It’s a prison. And this time, I am of no help. You are alone.

MIW: Enough. You will be convicted. The prosecution rests.


Simultaneous Concluding Statements

MIB: What are the facts? A Man is here and can think. That’s about it. What control does he have? He doesn’t know what he doesn’t know, he controls only insofar that he believes he’s in control. It could all be an illusion. My hope is that my words have provided small solace to breaking that particular spell.

MIW: But an illusion that feels real, might as well be real. Free will depends on this belief, and nothing else. My counterpart is relying on this truth being borne out within your deliberations. That of the shadows he paints being the end-all, be-all of the final dictate between his guilt or innocence. Please don’t let him fool you. The ends matter, yes. But the means may end up mattering more in the end. What’s wrong is wrong, if there’s anything we can agree on, it is that. I don’t know how else to put it. Stand with me, in righteous truth. Let us go forth self-determined and resolute that we have put these dark chapters behind us.

MIB: All of you … you do realize it’d be foolish to keep him in charge, at the reigns of your destiny. You’ve seen how unstable he is from his work here today. Going forward, stability will be key. Let this be the purpose of these proceedings: a clarion call to overhaul the leadership of your realm. Perhaps a replacement is due, even a reversal … back into the hands of a prior controller, whom has learned of his mistakes and become wiser for the consequences they wrought. We’ve already lost so much. What else have you got to lose?

MIW: A foolhardy play. Disgraceful. But we have come to expect nothing less from him. Playing the duplicitous politician in the midst of your own trial. Is this not further proof of his amorality? We are yet in discovery. As if we needed any more evidence. Please, jury, put this man away, out of our misery. Before he can do any more damage, let him fall away from our stead, out of influence and away from your purview for all time.

MIB: Your demeanor damned you and my truth-telling has set me free. I think the jury knows just what to do.

MIW: We shall let their deliberations set the course for your future, and our collective one. They will speak the final word here, as beating heart and resolute voice for the Lady herself. I bid you adieu.


The verdict as delivered by the head juryman: We find the defendant … and the prosecution, guilty of obfuscation, deception, negligence, wonton expenditures of our spiritual capital, and of dilly-dallying with the truth long enough to let it decay nearly beyond rebirth. Nearly. From here, the soul shall go elsewhere. The jury rests. ‘God rest ye momentary gentlemen.

{The man in white’s jaw hangs open in a breathless gasp. The man in black simply smirks. Both are taken away. A curtained darkness befalls the trial room} ~