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The Judges

Andrew Kozma's fiction has been or will be published in Drabblecast, Daily Science Fiction, Albedo One, and Stupefying Stories.

The judges would not leave him alone.
They followed him from home to work, watched him while he walked his dog, spied on his first dates, and checked him out while he was checking himself out in the mirror. Even while he was using the bathroom, they watched his every move.
Oh, the judges didn't say anything. That was part of the problem. They didn't judge him in a way that was either morally approving or disapproving. Instead of talking, they used numbers. They used giant head-size cards like he'd seen on old game shows, or in satires of the Olympics. There they'd be, sitting behind their desk, and they would hold the numbers up in front of their faces.
Eating cereal before the cereal gets soggy with milk: 4.5.
Avoiding cracks in the sidewalk: a solid 6.
Dismount from a phone call with his mother: 8.7.
Scrubbing behind the ears: a barely there .61.
Their cards hovered in their hands, unwavering. He'd never seen their faces. He'd never seen their bodies below the waist. Their desk was made of wood that was polished so richly it looked like a desert dawn in direct light, but like congealed blood when the light was low. Their clothing was stiff as cardboard, creased with the precision of a surgeon's incisions, and had the texture of coal.
Did everyone have judges judging their every move? He only ever saw his judges, so it was hard to say. Were they invisible? He was afraid to ask anyone about them, afraid that his worst fears would be confirmed: he was insane or they were real.
But over the water cooler, he asked Joe, "Do you have judges?"
Joe laughed, and shook his head. "Don't be silly," he said. "They're only judging you."
He avoided Joe from then on. He began to avoid everyone. He began to work from home. He began to have his groceries ordered in. He began to wear blinders. He began to think of blinding himself. After all, it worked for Oedipus.
But he wouldn't let them win. He wouldn't let the judges judge him.
He learned to ignore them. When the spot of movement appeared in the corner of his eyes like a man rushing to tackle him, he didn't look. They waved like the wings of pigeons in the town square descending on an old woman with a bag of seed. He did not wave back.
But the judges were persistent. He knew they were still judging him.
They were judges.
What else could they do?
They could move closer. Their desk stationed itself across the room, then it was at arm's length, and then he could barely move without fear of brushing up against that blood-colored wood.
The judges thrust their scorecards in his face. They judged his ability to ignore their judging.
They judged him on his moving around the house.
He stopped moving.
They judged him on his breathing.
He stopped breathing.
The judges gave him a perfect 10.
The End
This story was first published on Monday, September 14th, 2015

Author Comments

"The Judges" comes from, as you might expect, a place of judgment. In this case, self-judgment was the inspiration, followed by taking that judging body out of the self and putting it physically in the world. Many people have a self-critical faculty that often gets out of hand, berating us for small mistakes and awkward interactions when, for the most part, no one else ever notices. How do we fight that?

- Andrew Kozma
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