generous, just, penalize
Most people hated the Judge, quietly, under their hurried breaths — but Carly didn’t feel that was very fair.
Was it his fault they kept breaking the laws? No. It wasn’t even his fault the laws kept changing, daily in some cases; judges hadn’t been in charge of that for years now. Decades.
It wasn’t that he wasn’t just. He was more than just. He was also the only Judge. And there were so many lawbreakers, so many people to penalize, so many people to hang in the square, or to tie to the Rock to have their eyes pecked out by hungry birds. He was overworked. Tired. Carly saw it in his eyes when he came home, felt it in his aching body as it rested next to hers.
She had always felt safe with him. Even if she wasn’t, it wouldn’t be his fault.
So even now she didn’t hate him, didn’t feel it would be fair to. Perhaps it was her own fault; letting herself go unescorted in the evening. Stupid, she knew. She’d only wanted cigarettes, but those were illegal now too. For her, at least.
She couldn’t keep up. She should have made more of an effort to – she really should have – but she was so tired. Work in the textiles factory wasn’t dangerous, but the hours were long and conditions worsened with each new maternity leave. Fewer girls, same amount of work.
She couldn’t even form a thought, an emotion when they dragged her, cuffed, into the courtroom and she saw her beloved’s face staring down at her, no longer kind and full of misplaced affection, but stern, forbidding.
“Carly Stevens,” he boomed, setting her bones to shaking and her heart pounding, “You have been found guilty of walking unescorted and trying to buy cigarettes, both forbidden to someone of your status as a potential birther and punishable by death. Do you have any last requests?”
Tears sprang to her eyes, though what sentiment brought them she could not say. She looked up at him, pleadingly.
“Please,” Love. She dared not finish the thought out loud; dared not drag him down with her.
His expression never wavered as he doled out her fate.
“Let it never be said I am not generous. 20 years hard labor in lieu of the death penalty.”
Before she could speak they dragged her out on her heels, rough hands digging into the soft flesh of her upper arms. Her head fell to her chest and she wept openly, a deep black despair swallowing her whole.
That night was spent in a holding cell. Carly sat and pondered ways to off herself before they came to take her to her sentence. Either way she would die; at least suicide would be kinder.
It wasn’t long before he came for her. Or perhaps it was; she had no timepiece.
She looked up, barely daring to hope he was here to rescue her.
After the guard left them in the growing dark and silence, he spoke: “That was a very foolish thing you did.” Carly felt despair take her again at the sound of his quiet voice.
Silently she obeyed, trying to hide her trembling hands. It was useless; they were cuffed in front of her and no longer her own. They joined her body on the isle of lost things that had once been hers; so long ago now it may have been a dream.
The Judge stepped close, towering over her. The scent of old books and ink filled her nose; she breathed deeply, trying to remember a day out of their past together: curled up in the sunny library, reading while he worked. Was it only last week? A lifetime had come and gone since then.
He leaned, then, putting his lips to hers. Hope rushed back into her heart and she tumbled forward, eagerly trusting herself to his embrace.
It was a moment of pure heaven. And then she felt his warm hand close around her cool neck. He squeezed, crushing her windpipe, and soon the only sensation she could register through her deadened panic was skin pressed against skin and her encroaching demise; somehow morbidly erotic.
In her last moments, panic gave way to relief, and then relief to grateful adoration. She tried to whisper thank you but there was no breath; she hoped he heard it anyway.
And then all was brilliant light.