All Rise for the Popular Verdict


“Woe unto Babylon!” The man in black stood atop a fiberglass boulder, pointing an accusatory finger towards the painted horizon. “You have given yourselves to carnal pleasures and bloodlust!”

I ran past a thatch hut. With luck, this clueless preacher would distract the audience just long enough. “Twenty seconds,” the producer announced in my earpiece. Fleeing toward the fake jungle, I counted each footfall. “One… one… thou-sand… Two… one… thou-sand…”

“Revel not in immorality! Reject this Hollywood gaud and gore!” This was criminal reality TV: only one contestant survived each episode. As a murder suspect, I was surely the underdog. If I survived the first commercial break, I could plead innocence and play for audience sympathy. A million dollars could buy a decent attorney.

“Fifteen… one… thou-sand…” Then I crashed into another contestant cowering behind a plywood log prop. She was a woman, just a girl, but eight months pregnant.

Agonizing wails came from the village: the preacher, whatever his crime, had met his fate. Tears filled her eyes when she heard the man’s screams.

I sighed and raised my hands. “Oh, fine. I confess!” As the hidden dartguns targeted me for execution, I wished the woman luck.

Written for Flash! Friday vol. 3-41. The novel prompt was Alan Paton’s Cry, the Beloved Country, with characters including a young man accused of murder, a pregnant woman, and the setting of a wealthy city in moral decline. Image: View in Village of Adarranu near the Black Volta, 1890s. CC photo. National Archives UK, “Africa Through a Lens” project.

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