I Judge Thee Not | By: Dallas Releford | | Category: Short Story - Horror Bookmark and Share

I Judge Thee Not

I JUDGE THEE NOT By Dallas G. Releford The scorching summer heat remained well over one hundred degrees for weeks and rarely dropped below a cool eighty degrees at night as the little southern town baked beneath the sweltering sun. The last time Ryanville had seen such weather was in 1837, seven long years before the onset of the trauma they were now facing. Jason Claiborne suffered in the fields just as the rest of the little community did. Being the son of a poor sharecropper wasn’t one he had asked for, nevertheless, it was the life he had received, no matter how unfortunate it was. Standing nearly six feet tall, Jason towered over his brothers and sisters as they hoed what was left of the corn and the other plants they grew in their garden. They were almost entirely dependent on the garden, the livestock they raised and what little money they were paid for the work they did for the farmer that rented them a place to live. The farmer kept most of the money they earned to pay the rent leaving them barely enough to buy the essentials such as flour, lard, sugar and salt. As the days went by, the crops and the gardens completely failed. The chickens and other farm animals perished by the thousands leaving almost everyone without a source of food. Many of the farmers had wells and access to water that their tenants didn’t have. They could provide water to some of their livestock that allowed them to live a little longer. They also had access to surplus hay and grain with which to feed their livestock. Few farmers were willing to give up those precious resources or even to share some of it with their tenants. Jason had four sisters, Cathy, Linda, Tracy and Amanda. They were all younger than Jason. His father was barely able to put in a full day’s work without getting sick so it was up to Jason to bring most of the bread home for the rest of the family. They canned the food from the garden and processed the meat from the hogs and other animals to get them through the winter, except this summer, there would be little to be stored for the oncoming winter. They’d be lucky if they made it through the summer and fall, Jason thought as he stood looking over the dead vegetables in the garden. With most of their food sources gone, the family was slowly starving. Jason and his sisters found themselves going from farm to farm begging for food. Most of the time, they returned home empty handed. “I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Jason’s mother said one morning as they sat around the breakfast table eating the last of the bacon and eggs. “I don’t know either, Ma,” Jason said glumly. “Maybe I can go up north and get a job? I could send half of my money back to you,” he suggested. “I hear jobs are hard to find anywhere,” Mr. Claiborne said, “and besides that, you don’t have a lot of education, Jason. How would you get there? What would you live on until you get paid? I’ve tried to borrow money. Nobody has any and those that do are holding onto it.” “Then just what are we going to do Pa?” Jason asked, bewildered. “I’ll think of something,” his father said, except Jason knew better. His father dreamed a lot and did little. He had been dreaming all his life and never worked to make his dreams come true. It was true that he worked hard except he had never gone back to school or done anything else to improve himself so that he could do better. That was the ingredient that really worried him. “Things will get better,” his mother said staring off into empty space with a blank look in her eyes. “Things will get better.” Jake remembered that she had been saying that all her life too. The situation had only gotten worse. * * * That night, hungry and desperate for food, Jason slipped out his upstairs window, climbed down the big oak tree from the roof above and stole into the dark night. After a visit to the old barn, he had a bucket in one hand and a cloth bag in the other. There was food somewhere and he intended to get some of it. As quiet and sneaky as a fox and as cunning as a weasel, he made his way through the forest and the fields until he had found the landlord’s house. He opened the door to the chicken house and filled the pale with eggs. Jason quickly stuffed four prime hens into the bag thinking that someone was going to walk in on him at any moment. Nobody did, so he took a smoked ham from the farmer’s smoke house noting that the farmer, Mr. Johnson had plenty of everything to see him and his family through the long winter. None of his family questioned him next morning about where the food came from. They didn’t care how he had managed to bring the fresh eggs and ham to the table. They were too hungry to worry about it. They all were so starved that they were just happy to have it no matter where or how it was obtained. That night as they sat around the fireplace trying to figure out how they were going to survive, there was a loud knock at the front door. Jason got up to answer it. “Now I wonder just who that could be paying us a visit at this time of the night,” his father asked. “Jason Claiborne, I have a warrant for your arrest,” the sheriff said as Jason opened the door and stood frozen to the floor. Jason had known Sam Myers all of his life and to be arrested by him came as quite a shock. “I’m sorry Jason. Someone saw you stealing chickens from Mr. Johnson’s place last night. I’ll have to take you in and I’m indeed sorry about that.” Jason stood frozen to the old plank floor of the rundown shack that he and his family had called home for so long. “I did it because we’re starving,” Jason stuttered. “I’m sorry, Jason. You’ll have to make that point with Judge Henderson and you know how he is.” Everyone in the entire county knew how Judge Samuel Henderson was. He was, without a doubt, the meanest, cruelest judge in the country. Jason spent the night in a cold cell thinking about what he’d done and wondering what was going to happen to him. Next morning, the sheriff took him to the courthouse where the judge would conduct a hearing to see if he would stand trial. Jason shivered as he was led into the courtroom in irons. Even though his poor mother pleaded to the judge to let Jason go, the judge ignored her and kept Jason in jail for a week before the trial. Jason prayed two or three times a day because he was a god-fearing and mostly an honest man. No matter how much he prayed, he knew that nothing had changed. Nothing had changed at all. He sometimes wondered what kind of god would let babies starve to death, old men and women die horrible deaths and helpless cattle freeze to death in the fields. Sometimes he didn’t understand why the world was so full of so much evil and so little good. He vowed that he would never bring any kids of his own into the hopeless world to suffer. That was his choice and one of the very few choices that he had in life, to create or not to create, to add to the misery or not to add to the misery. His father once said that he didn’t have a choice in being born and the only other two choices that he had was to choose his own method of dying and whether to recreate or not. Jason supposed that he had just about said it. Since Jason could not afford an attorney, the state paid Joshua Kidd to defend him. Kidd stayed drunk most of the time. On the day of the trial, Jason was relieved to discover that Kidd was actually sober and did his best to defend him. Nothing Kidd said impressed the judge. Judge Henderson sent the jury into an adjoining room to reach a verdict. Jason and his family waited patiently as they deliberated dreading the time when Jason would have to face them to find out what his fate would be. The jury returned a verdict in less than two hours. When they marched into the courtroom with serious expressions on their faces, Jason felt his heart race and his mind go numb. They said he was guilty. Jason braced himself for the worst that was to come. He would be sentenced that afternoon. Jason thought the judge delayed the sentencing to make him suffer. His mother cried while his father attempted to console her as the sheriff led Jason to his cell. * * * The hour finally arrived and Jason stood before the judge awaiting his sentence. Jason and his appointed attorney expected a lenient sentence because many people who were starving themselves—and could symphonize with him—had testified on Jason’s behalf. His mother and sisters had pleaded for mercy for Jason, except the stern-faced old judge hadn’t even smiled or said a word about how he felt about the matter. The jury could do little else except return a guilty verdict with a recommendation that Jason be released since Mr. Johnson had decided not to file charges against him. “Jason Claiborne, you stand before this court accused, tried and convicted of theft.” The judge told him, coldly. “Theft or any other crime will not be tolerated in my district. It is the sentence of this court that you serve thirty days in the county jail and that you serve thirty days at hard labor in the service of Mr. Johnson.” Even though the sentence seemed harsh, Jason relaxed a little and looked at his family. They too seemed relieved that he wouldn’t have to go to prison. Many in the courtroom smiled knowing that he would only have to suffer for a short time and not for years as some others had supposed. “And just so that you don’t forget your lesson, Jason,” the judge continued as the voices in the courtroom died down, “after you have served your thirty days in jail, you Jason Claiborne will be taken to the public square in the center of the town. You will receive thirty lashes on your bare back while tied to a whipping post. Don’t ever let me catch you back in this courtroom again.” The crowd in the courtroom went wild. Voices that never were heard now protested the sentence. Their protests fell on deaf ears. Such a thing had not been done in the little community for as long as most of the old timers could remember. Many called the judge bad names except none of them spoke loud enough for him to hear them. The judge just ignored them as he walked away to his chambers. * * * Jason waited out his thirty days in jail in stark terror dreading the terrible whipping he would have to endure. Worst of all, his family and all the people in the little community would have to watch and suffer along with him as each horrible lash was cast upon his bare back. The whipping almost killed Jason and turned him against life forever. A few days after the whipping, he hung himself from a tree in the judge’s front yard rather than face the humiliation that he could no longer live with. Judge Henderson’s popularity dwindled even more after that incident except he really didn’t care how the townspeople felt about him until he decided to run for state senator that fall. It was then that he began to worry that word of his mistake would spread and keep him from gaining the important position. So while Jason’s family mourned his death and starved, the judge set about planning his new venture. He didn’t stop his brutal sentencing as he continued condemning lawbreakers to whippings, brandings and even bodily mutilation. Before the winter came, the citizens had had enough. There was talk of lynching the judge while others talked of doing the same things to him that he had done to them. “Do unto others,” some were quoted as saying. The judge finally heard of the their plans and decided to get out of town for a spell until things quieted down. It seemed like a good time for him to visit friends in the state capitol. There was some question as to whether he had any real friends there or anywhere else in the civilized world. On a cold, crisp November night, the judge said goodbye to his family, got into the buggy that was as black as his heart and rode away. “Justice is black and rides a black horse,” the judge had once commented. Everyone knew that almost everything about the judge was black including his robes, his suit, hat, horse, buggy and just about everything else that he owned. He had explained that he wanted to instill terror into the hearts and minds of wrongdoers. Most people in the town agreed that he had been successful in that endeavor. As the judge traveled north down the long, dirt country road sleet began to fall. When it seemed that it couldn’t get any darker, a bright blue light appeared in the west. The judge watched it for several minutes as it grew closer and closer to him. He wondered if the Lord was finally coming for him to reward him for all his years of faithfulness and devotion. Had he not been a good judge instilling fear and terror into the hearts of those people before they even had a chance to break the laws? Had he not used every device at his disposal to carry out the Lord’s wishes? He had used the whip, the knife (as if it was the sword of the Lord) and the branding iron to carry HIS message to sinners. What other judge had been so loyal as he had been? The light got closer and the night was lit up like it was noon on a sunny day except for the fact that the light was blue. As the judge stopped the horse and shielded his eyes from the light, everything went black. The light appeared again illuminating the frozen, snow-covered landscape. The judge wasn’t in his buggy. He was somewhere else, in a large room and other people were in the room with him. At least, he thought they were people, except they didn’t look like people he had ever known before. He was guided down the center of the huge room by a hand on each of his arms. He was being led toward a tall bench that slightly resembled the bench from which he himself dispensed justice. Everything was so bright. He had never seen such bright lights in his entire life before. Yes, it was true, he was finally in heaven and the Lord himself sat on his glorious throne right in front of him. When he finally reached the huge chair where the being sat, he fell down on his hands and knees and paid homage to him. The huge table behind the chair where the being sat had many lights, buttons, knobs and even little windows that had curious writing and numbers in them. None of the scrolling figures meant anything to him even though he could read Latin and speak French. The Lord moves in mysterious ways, he said to himself. The Lord spoke, however, he couldn’t understand what he was saying at first. The Lord’s angel reached back and applied his glorious hand to one of the buttons on the panel behind the Lord and Judge Samuel Henderson was brought into the light of the written and the spoken word. He could understand every damn word the being said to him. “Sam Henderson, stand up so I can inform you of a few things,” the creature said to him. When Sam stood up, he became more aware of his surroundings and the creature. The creature did look a little like a human except he was bald and his eyes were much larger than most human eyes. Those two large black globes stared right at Henderson. His ears were small and he had nothing more than a long slit for a mouth. His lips were almost nonexistent. Sam was horrified because of the strange appearance of the Lord. Ben considered himself fortunate when he remembered a passage from the bible. NO MAN CAN LOOK UPON THE FACE OF GOD AND LIVE He was gazing upon the face of the almighty and he had lived. He was even more amazed at the two Angels that stood on both sides of the Lord with drawn swords. He could see other beings running around in the little “windows” on the wall of the ship. What marvelous intelligence the Lord must have to be able to reduce creatures to such small sizes, he thought. “Stand up man,” the being ordered. Sam Henderson didn’t waste any time getting on his feet. “Yes Lord, your wish is for me to obey,” Sam said trying not to reveal the fear that was inside him. “I am Lord Tudor, Lord of the High Council of Agar. We travel around the Galaxy aiding developing worlds in their quest for Law, Order and Justice. We seek out those like yourself that are an impediment to the rightful, orderly development of social values and laws and we deal with those beings so that things may develop in a more natural manner. We restructure, remove or retrain those that are causing too much trouble or may cause too much trouble in the future development of the planet. Can you understand what I’m saying, Sam Henderson?” “Why yes, Lord,” he replied thinking that the being was giving him a complement. “I’ve always done everything that you have told me to do Lord.” The Lord totally ignored his statement and then made a statement of his own. “We have watched you for years, Sam Henderson. We have recorded each and every day of your life. You will be forced to watch many of your own crimes before I pass sentence on you. We do this so you understand what you have done wrong. Now, watch the screen and learn.” The being pointed one of four fingers at a huge window on a far wall. Sam looked at the window and saw himself passing judgment on Sarah Nelson who had a baby and didn’t have a husband. He watched without remorse as she was stripped and tied to the whipping post. He watched as each bloody streak appeared on her delicate, warm, white back. As she screamed, he was still unemotional. Judge Henderson showed no remorse because what he had done was right. He was merely following the commandments of the Lord. Spare the rod and spoil the child, the Bible said. He watched as people had ears savagely removed, hands cut off, teeth pulled, toes chopped off and even feet removed with a chopping axe. He clapped his hands when Mrs. Smith had her head chopped off because she had shot her husband. It didn’t matter that her husband had raped and killed their youngest daughter. He watched as his finest work was flashed before his eyes. He laughed out loud like some mad man when Old Man Jake Long was branded on his buttocks because he had whipped his poor old Mule. Sam thought that the Lord would be really proud of him since he had cast the sinners into Hell for him, even if it was only for a very short time. He still didn’t realize that he had done any wrong even when all the screams blotted out everything else in his mind. Everything went dark. Gone were the Lord and all his servants, the mysterious windows with all the little creatures in them, the two angels with the golden swords and the Lord himself. I must have fallen to sleep and I was just dreaming, he thought as he reached down to pick up the reigns. He was horrified to see that his right hand was missing. He screamed as he felt the pain and remembered the sharp axe that had been used to remove it. Sam quickly looked at his left hand trying to remember if it had been removed too. To his surprise, the hand was still there. He screamed as more unpleasant memories invaded his terrified mind. Images of having his four fingers removed, one by one flooded into his mind and the horror was burned so deeply into his memory that he couldn’t stop thinking about them. His feet felt cold and he soon discovered that they had taken his boots. He cursed them using every word that he knew would be repulsive to them. He reached down to rub his left foot and discovered that it wasn’t there. He quickly reached for the other foot only to find that it was still there. Henderson almost passed out from horror when he discovered that four of his toes were missing. More images of the torture entered his throbbing mind and he screamed so loudly he lost his voice. He tried to scream some more as he recalled all the other horrible things that he had endured and couldn’t. How could anyone do such terrible things to him, he wondered. Had he not always served the Lord and now that same Lord was angry with him. Sam couldn’t understand. Sam Henderson was in more pain than most of the other people on the earth. He couldn’t sit in the buggy because of the many applications of the branding iron on his buttocks and he couldn’t stand because he didn’t have anything to stand on. One of his feet was missing. An old farmer found him a week later still wandering up and down the country road unable to handle the reins to control the horse that pulled the buggy. He couldn’t tell the farmer his problems or pronounce sentence on anyone else because his tongue had been removed. He had only imagined that he was screaming because it was part of his mad mind. He imagined many things during those days he wandered around aimlessly unable to do anything except go where his horse took him. His Lord had dictated that he would relive every terrible thing that he had done to others. The bad things that were done to him would always be fresh in his mind for eternity. Sam was taken to a nursing home where he lived to the ripe old age of a hundred and one years. He lived every one of those days in severe pain and suffering. Everyone wondered what had happened to him and many more wondered what the letters “EPP” meant that were burned into his forehead. Nobody on Earth knew that it was the symbol, the trademark of the Evil Prevention Police from the planet Agar in our own galaxy. The End
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