“is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth, so help me God.”
“You don’t deny you wielded the axe, severing his head from his body?”
“Was the victim known to you?”
“I am the victim.”
“Was the other party known to you?”
“Not until the night of the incident.”
“Yet you share the same surname.”
“It is a common enough name.”
“I understand you are a stranger in these parts?”
“My parents moved away. I returned the day of the incident.”
“I inherited the house, I wanted to see it before selling it.”
“You found the victim there and sought to enjoy yourself at his expense.”
“Yet he lies now in the morgue with no head. No further questions.”
My court-appointed counsel rose, the other end of a seesaw as the prosecutor sat down. He smiled a weak smile; the smile of someone who will not push himself.
“You say you are the victim? Please explain to the jury.” He looked at the twelve as if a beggar seeking coin. This is the tale I told.
My parents left because their house was haunted. They would not speak of it. The house was empty for fifty years. The man was waiting for me, coming to the door just after I arrived. He was my great-great-grandfather, he explained, and he had roamed the garden for a hundred years, unable to enter the house. Long ago, when he was young, newly married and the happiest person on earth, he came home early one day and found his bride, my great-great grandmother, in bed with his best friend. They fought and the friend was killed when my great-great grandfather struck him with an axe. He was hung for this crime. But he told me he could not rest these hundred years. His wife had cursed him as her lover was beheaded.
“You will never rest until your head is likewise severed,” she had cried.
I asked my great-great-grandfather into the house but he could not enter. Instead, he pleaded for release from the curse, begging me to strike off his head. I spent hours remonstrating while he pleaded. He passed me the axe. Finally, I raised it and struck his head clean off. I remember his smile of relief as the head toppled to the ground.
“Can you explain why, if he passed you the axe, the only fingerprints on it were yours?” It was a good point. But I had the answer.
“Ghosts do not leave fingerprints. They are not of this world.”
“Foreman of the jury please stand.” The judge looked tired, like he wanted a pot of tea and a bun. “Have you reached a unanimous verdict?”
“Have you reached a majority verdict?”
“Yes but only by seven votes to five.”
“How do you find the defendant?”
The judge placed a black cap on his white powdered wig, turned to me and pronounced sentence.