#fridayflash: burden of proof

I like it here. The walls are grey, and so are the table and chair. The table and the chair are bolted to the grey concrete floor, and the grey-painted steel door is locked. Far away I can hear someone yelling, but I can hear it's too far away for them to be yelling at me.

The jumpsuit they gave me to wear is orange. I don't like that, because it looks like shrieking. But if I stare at the far wall, I can only see a little glow of it at the edges, like an echo.

I like staring at the wall. I wish my cell was this nice.

The lock on the door clicks open, SNAP like the smell of a candle that's just gone out. And then guards are coming in the door, and they say "STAND UP AMOS", and I start to cry, because it's so loud it's making my vision tremble. I want to squeeze my hands to my ears, but I can't because they put handcuffs on me already.

"HEY!" says a new voice like a hot pepper. That's my lawyer. Usually her voice is like cold lemonade, but she's shouting at the guards to stop shouting at me. "BORN ASH HEAD. SECTION 32, GUYS."

Born because my parents were addicted to ash, and I got addicted to it before my mother gave birth to me. Ash head means you take ash all the time. But that's not true. You can't get ash in prison. I've tried. Ash makes all the colours and sounds act like they do for other people. But I can't get it in prison, so my head mixes everything up.

"Sorry," one of the guards whispers. He sounds like just after you swallow a hit of ash. Icy.

"Sorry nothing," the other guard says, but his voice doesn't hurt anymore. "Another burnt-out loser."

"Just speak in a low voice," my lawyer says in her lemonade voice. "Amos, it's okay, they're going to follow the rules now. Look at me."

I peek over my hands. She's wearing a grey suit, and I smile a little.

"Amos, the police need to ask you some questions. About what happened at the pharmacy."

"And you're going to get replaced by a machine, counsellor," says one of the guards. He's the same one who called me a loser. 

"That machine is going to create jobs for criminal lawyers, not destroy them," says my lawyer. 

The guards tell me to stand up, then they put shackles on my ankles, then all four of us walk down the hall to a room near the prison entrance. The yelling has stopped. 

The room has a woman in it. She's wearing bright pink, and I scrinch my eyes shut because it hurts.  

The guards are on either side of me, and they lead me into a room and sit me in a chair. They adjust the handcuffs and shackles so I'm strapped to the chair, and when I feel them step away I open my eyes and look at the floor. 

"Tell him to lift his head," says the bright pink woman. "He needs to so you can get the detector on." 

One of the guards forces my head up, and the other straps a cap onto me, with a buckle under my chin. I can feel something cool and wet on my temples, like leftover soup.

"Okay," says one of the guards, and the woman flicks a switch on the machine in front of her.

The cool wet things vibrate against my skin. They feel like the bright pink of the woman's dress. I feel my brain shake. I feel my skull rattling apart.

"It hurts," I say, trying not to scream because I know the guards will get mad. "You have to turn it off. It hurts."

"I told you," says my lawyer, hot pepper splashed into the lemonade.

The rattling is turning into a roar. "Make it stop."

"The sooner you tell the truth, the sooner we're done," says the bright pink woman. "Amos, where were you on THE NIGHT OF 25th June?"

"IT HURTS!" I yell. I can hear my voice bouncing off the walls like popcorn. I pull at the arm straps, but the guards did a good job.

"Just one or two words," says the woman.

My brain wants to dribble out past my eyeballs. "I DID IT!" I say. This is what this is all about. They need a reason to keep me in jail.

"You need to answer the question," says the woman.

"He's obviously in distress," says my lawyer. "What do you expect to get from him?"

They're not listening to me. "I DID IT!" I yell, loud as I can.

The bright pink woman shakes a hand at the screen. "It says he's lying," she says. "We can't get any good data if he refuses to answer directly."

"Then turn it off, " says my lawyer.

The woman does something, because it stops hurting. My skull and brain feel wobbly.

"It can't hurt," says the bright pink woman. "The contacts just pick up brain signals."

My lawyer sighs. "Am I the only person here who's done the reading?" she says. "His nerves have been jumped up from birth. If he's not high on ash, then nearly everything is too much stimulus. He can feel the contacts transmitting his brain signals. And yes, it would hurt."

"Like burning?"

"Like ANYTHING UNPLEASANT," says my lawyer. "Sorry, Amos. His nerves are so burnt-out, he gets neurological cross-chatter. He told me bright colours are noisy," she says, and I see her point at the woman's pink dress.

"So what do we do then?"

"Forget about getting a confession out of him — since the one you just tortured out of him is inadmissible — and hold a new trial," my lawyer says. "And stop thinking machines are going to do your cross-examination work for you."

"But the technology WORKS," says the woman. I figure out that if I tilt my head back I can just see the ceiling. It's white, which isn't as quiet as grey, but it's quieter than her pink dress.

"It works sometimes," says my lawyer.

"83% of cases never go to trial."

"And 15% are dismissed during the trial because the prisoner's treatment is so poor," says my lawyer. "See you in court, Amos. I'll be in touch."

Someone — it smells like a guard — undoes the chin strap on the cap. I keep staring at the ceiling, just in case.