Edward Sikes barely noticed the sharp sting of the splintered wood slicing through his calloused palm, as he slid his hand mindlessly across the rotting wood of the holding pen. His mind felt too clouded with a heavy mist of worry, and the pressing weight of a deepening depression. The low guttural moans of the two hundred half-starved Corriente Cattle did nothing to help slow his acceleration toward a dreaded but, in his tired mind, inevitable end. He felt a powerful wave of shame strike mightily against his very soul. A wave of guilt with origins traced to the very depths of his Great Grand Fathers forgotten neglected grave.
In 1922, Mr. Grady Sikes, Edward’s Great Grand Father, emigrated to America from Scotland, with the empty pockets typical of the dreamy eyed immigrant. Through the usual hard work, characteristic of that tough generation, and a tough extra layer of skin forged through the hardships of hard work and sacrifice, he bought his own business. On just fifteen acres of land, he built the necessary facilities for small scale beef slaughtering operations, with just enough room for expansion, in case God heard his prayers for prosperity. Within twenty years, the Sikes Meat Processing Company, just outside the unusual location of Jacksonville Florida, became one of the most profitable operations in America. Despite later calls for more humane, and sanitary conditions, the plant prospered through the roaring twenties, the Great Depression, World War One, The Korean Conflict, Vietnam and the vegetarian hippy movement of the sixties, and all the way up to the current time of two thousand and seventeen.
Edward Sikes, considered the wonderful history of the plant, and its subsequent decline shortly after taking ownership with the death of his Father just five years back.
“I have no one to blame but myself,” he stated sleepily to the two hundred hungry cattle staring at him with hunger, and reproach. “I am a gambler, a drunk, and twice divorced through my own failure to grow up.”
He silently wiped flowing tears from his eyes as he considered the amount of money spent on vices; Money that should have been spent on transforming his Great Grand Fathers plant into a modern sanitized and humane bastion of respectability. Instead, he lamented, “the FDA shut me down. I am finished.”
In his grief, he walked away from the pen of starving cattle toward the thick wood line, just a few yards away. His only decision was how he would finally end his life. Finding a large smooth boulder to rest upon, he wept again thinking of the life he wasted, the people he hurt, and the method he would employ to end his wasted life.
Having decided on using a gun to end his existence, being the quickest method, he guessed, he lifted himself up on the shaky legs of a tired cowardly middle-aged man, far too old inside for his actual age. He felt something smooth brush against the back of his hand, making him pause in his quest for nonexistence. He looked to his side and laid bloodshot eyes upon a large golden colored mushroom with multi colored warts on the crown that hypnotized any individual lucky enough to gaze upon. The color of each bump looked as though individually rainbowed, and glistened brightly, even in the sunless shade of the deep forest. His horror at the thought of all that blood associated with gun suicide, quickly evaporated like a fine mist meeting a slight afternoon breeze, when he remembered the stories he had heard all his life about the dreaded rainbow mushroom. All children growing up in this neck of the woods heard about the rainbow mushroom, he thought, with a smile of peace across his sun withered face. The dreaded rainbow mushroom caused instant death upon ingestion. He slipped the tasteless mushroom into his mouth and drifted off into a dark oblivion of peace.
A Courtroom Full of Animals
Edward’s vision slowly came into focus in unrecognizable stages of colors, sights, and then sounds. As he cautiously opened his eyes, expecting the real possibility of staring hell in the fiendish face, blacks, browns, reds, yellows, and greens, of various shades swirled aimlessly together, like a psychedelic kaleidoscope. His sense of position in space and time was completely off the tracks, not knowing if he was still lying, and dying, in the Florida woods, or sitting in the great afterlife, he never really believed in anyway.
Just as the colors began to take some semblance of the world that he once knew-Edward quickly closed his eyes again, unsure of what he was seeing.
“Please don’t tell me I just saw animals in a courtroom.” “Please, please, wake up Ed.” He repeated these phrases over and over, his voice echoing in his head like a voice from the bottom of a dusty tomb because his ears were curiously blocked.
“Hoo, hoo, hoo, came the distinctive sound of an owl from a distance he could still not judge.
“Hoo, hoo, hoo, the sound came closer until, too his horror, it sounded like the call of an owl, perhaps six feet tall, he considered.
Resigned to the fact that the noise would never end unless he opened his eyes, Edward forced his fear cemented lids wide open toward the awful sound.
The room began to spin, and Edward was forced to muster all his will power to keep from fainting. He still did not notice the other equally surreal surroundings of, what was now obvious, an ordinary looking court room. He remembered his brief encounter with a Baton Rouge court, back in the 80’s, a lifetime ago, he considered, to answer a drunk driving charge. There it all was now, the large solid oak judge’s mantel, the witness box with the polished swinging gate, the two-large dark cherry wood desks for the prosecution and defense, the gallery for the jury of his peers, and finally, plenty of benches for the nosey crowd to his rear. However, in Baton Rouge, these reserved places of honor were occupied by people, not animals.
“Hoo, hoo, hoo,” came the loud, disturbing call of the owl judge.
Edward laughed aloud as his surroundings took on the atmosphere of a bad Disney dream, rather than the fiery settings of the hell he anticipated. He could not help to laugh, looking at the six-foot, seven-inch owl wearing a long black judges robe, staring at him with large round blue eyes.
The owl judge ceased his owl call, as an expression came over his face that Edward could only describe as understanding. No, he thought, deep wisdom is in this owl’s eyes.
The great owl faced his court bailiff, who just so happened to be a gorilla, as Edward guessed, at least seven foot tall.
Edward gasped and closed his eyes tightly as the gorilla bailiff quickly walked toward him with a speed, he thought, even a primate known for agility, should not be able to walk. Edward felt his world of sound muffled once again by two soft cushions placed on each ear. He quickly recognized the feeling as cushioned headphones, he always thought of the kind you would buy in the 1980’s. Everything was bulky, and tacky, in the eighties, he thought with some humor. He opened his eyes once again and focused his attention on the judge, promising himself that he would never force his eyes shut again in an act of cowardice.
“Mr. Sikes, I sincerely wish that you take these proceedings a bit more serious. I would hate to hold you in contempt of this court.”
Edward was beyond the powers that shock could produce on the human brain. How quickly our minds adapt to the unimaginable, he thought, as he made a conscious decision to accept, what he once believed, the unacceptable.
So, he answered as formally as his voice would allow, “yes your honor. I am aware of the gravity of my situation.”
“Good, shall we proceed. Has your client had a chance to review the charges leveled against him, and prepared to proceed with the proceedings?” asked the Judge Owl, looking to Edward’s right.
Edward slowly turned to his right after mustering enough bravery to address, what he knew, was to be another strange site. His assumption was confirmed as he came eye to eye with a large white stallion, sitting on an equally large hard wooden chair. Edward was tempted to ask how he had the required dexterity to sit like a man, but thought better of it as he scanned the other occupants of the room. The jury box was filled with five other animals, also sitting in the erect posture, once thought to be reserved for that animal known as homo sapiens. Edward barely flinched when he observed a dog, a fox, a pig, a sheep, and a wolf, all sitting together as peacefully as a family of blue jays perching merrily on the branch of a great maple tree. Again, his outer countenance showed no observable change as he turned his gaze toward the prosecution table. There, sat a feline, beautifully stripped with grey and black against solid white underfur, unblemished and neatly groomed. What would strike the casual observer as unusual, but not Edward, was the immense size, and now common, human like dexterity of the beast. This cat stood at least five-foot-tall and sat with legs crossed in a position one could only describe as confident, pompous, and maybe just a little bored.
The Trial Begins
“I hereby call this court into order,” stated Judge Owl. “I may also add that I will not tolerate any behavior considered irregular.” Judge Owl looked directly at defense lawyer Horse, without uttering another word. The courtroom was as silent as a tomb, as lawyer Horse stubbornly sat at the defense table looking at Edward.
“Well, aren’t you going to say anything,” asked Edward, in a low whisper and an expression of deep concern wrinkling the skin of his high forehead.
“When I am ready sir,” he replied. “I will not be rushed, Edward. You of all people should know that speed, as well as driving drunk, kills.”
Edward felt another wave of nausea assault his stomach. He barely remembered the drunk driving incident on that dark, rainy night, so many years ago.
“Mr. Horse, you will call your first witness, or you will forfeit your privileges of being the first to examine said witness,” stated Judge Owl.”
“Oh, very well,” he replied with a voice filled with annoyance, like a man rudely snapped back to reality from a pleasant dream. “I call the unfortunate, Mr. Deer to the stand.”
The entire courtroom, including Edward, turned their attention to the large double wooden doors at the back of the courtroom. In walked Mr. Deer, strolling limpidly along the isle, standing upright just as the other animals in this strange courtroom world. As he passed the defense table, Edward could see large patches of his skin missing from his left rib cage. He felt sick as he observed, what his mind at first failed to perceive as, smooth ivory ribs sticking out of his side. Edward turned his gaze to Mr. Deer’s left leg and noticed that it was slightly bent to the rear, making slight cracking noises with each awkward step. Edward felt a wave of pity fill his heart-A heart he thought died a long time ago.
Lawyer Horse walked lazily to within just a few inches of the witness bench, and opened his wide bucked tooth mouth to ask a question. He was interrupted by Judge Owl…
“Wait Mr. Horse. The witness needs to sworn in.” Judge Owl looked to Mr. Deer with an expression of the eyes that Edward could only describe as the deepest feelings of compassion that one creature could bestow upon another.
The Judge began, “Mr. Deer, do you swear today in the presence of all Mother’s wonderful creations, that you will tell the truth concerning this lower form of life, Edward Sikes?”
“I do your honor,” replied Mr. Deer, in a low shaky voice filled with pain and sorrow.
Edward felt himself sink low into his chair as he considered the words, “lower form of life.” He was aware that even in human terms, he was not the cream of the crop. He was a cheater, liar, gambler, and a drunk, but to hear an Owl call him lowly, was an unwelcomed shock to his fragile ego.
“You may continue, Lawyer Horse.”
“Thank you, your honor.” “Mr. Deer, please describe the unfortunate night of your death.”
Edward sank even lower as his subconscious memories resurfaced like a submarine breaking the top of turbulent ocean waves, poised to kill its prey.
Mr., Deer began, “I was walking across what is normally a deserted road at that time of night. My wife and I always walked that particular pathway at night to return home, after a full day of foraging. That night my wife went ahead as quickly as possible. You see, she was pregnant, and I thought it only right that she should cross first. You know, the second deer crossing the road is always in the most danger.”
“So, you admit that as the second crosser, you were already in danger of being hit by a car?”
“I object your honor,” came the shout of Prosecutor Cat. The defense is putting words into the witness’s mouth.”
“Objection sustained,” replied Owl. The jury will ignore this last question.”
“Go on, Mr. Deer. Continue with your story please.”
“Well that night, after my wife crossed, I began to walk across the street.”
“You walked across the street. Why didn’t you run?”
“Well Mr. Horse, I was tired from foraging for apples all day in the old apple orchard which was ten miles away. My legs could not run anymore.”
“Mr. Horse stubbornly replied, “I guess we just have to take your word for that.”
“I object,” stated the Cat.”
Before the Cat could explain his objection, Mr. Horse stated, “I withdraw that last statement.
“Judge Owl replied, Mr. Horse, you are becoming most irregular. Please refrain from your irregular irregularities.”
Mr. Deer continued, “I saw a bright light approach at a fast rate of speed. I am not sure what happened, but I could not take my eyes off the lights. I was, well, I was…hypnotized I guess. Next thing I remember, I was lying on the side of the road with my leg twisted, and bleeding from my side.”
“Mr. Deer, how do you know that the vehicle was moving fast? How fast was the vehicle going?”
“I don’t know for sure, but I think it was going fast.”
“No further questions your Honor.”
“Very well, replied Owl. Mr. Cat, the witness is yours.”
“I only have two questions your Honor.”
“Mr. Deer, did you see the face of the driver of the car that hit you?”
“Yes sir, he replied, and stared straight at Edward, now covering his face with his left trembling hand.
“Mr. Deer, did the driver stop to help you as you lay dying on the road in front of your pregnant wife?
“No, he kept driving.”
Edward peeked through the spaces of his covering hand at the jury box. He was not sure, but he believed that jury member Fox, was staring at him with the purest form of hatred he ever encountered.
Edward quickly regained his composure as he considered the countless hours watching courtroom dramas and drinking his lonely self into oblivion. When I should have been building my business, he thought guiltily. He remembered that objections were always raised when witnesses were called to testify against the accused, for crimes already paid in full to the State, He leaned close to Mr. Horse’s ear and whispered, “why am I being tried for an accident that occurred so long ago. A crime I already paid for?”
“Mr. Sikes, I am getting to that. Please do not rush me.”
Edward winced as Judge Owl instructed lawyer Cat to call the next witness. He realized, to his horror, that his lawyer was just too stubborn to conduct a proper defense.
“Your Honor, I call Ms. Percy Dog to the stand.”
Edward jumped a few inches from his chair when he heard the name Percy. The shock of hearing the name Percy caused his blood to drain from his head, leaving him dizzy and numb. As his blood receded from his limbs, he could feel invisible pins and needles stabbing his shaking hands and feet. Percy was his childhood dog. She was a beagle and lab mix with, as he always described, ugly irregular brown and black patches all over her body. He remembered her as very sluggish, stubborn, and impossible to train. As any spoiled brat, living in the lap of luxury on the profits of a successful meat processing empire, he treated Percy with the upmost disrespect. She was a present for his tenth birthday and, as he treated all his toys, he abused and neglected her. As the memories flooded his already guilt stricken mind, a depression settled upon him, blanketing all emotion, like an avalanche of hard snow covering a lone fragile flower, leaving him numb and without hope.
“Hello, Ms. Percy. My name is Prosecutor Cat. How are you today my dear?”
Percy’s large black beagle eyes were filled with tears as she answered with the slow whisper of a soul completely broken by the sadness of life, “I’m Ok. Thank you for asking Mr. Cat.”
“Ms. Percy, just explain your life with the accused. That’s all, and nothing else.”
Between heartfelt sobs and deep sniffles, Percy began, “I was just a young pup when I was given to Mr. Sikes. The deep sadness of being taken so young from my Mother was quickly overshadowed by the joy I felt when I looked at Edward. He was just a little boy, and even a pup knows that little boys love pups. My joy quickly turned to sorrow, when he looked straight into my face and stated, and I quote, “I don’t want a dog, especially such an ugly one.”
Edward felt warm tears slowly stream from the corner of both eyes. The dam inside was cracking, as he listened to the countless acts of neglect reported by the sad beagle mix, now sobbing uncontrollably on the witness stand.
“Please continue, if you can Percy,” stated Mr. Cat, with a sly grim painted brightly across his majestic face.
“The worst was when I was just two years old,” she replied. “Edward’s parents left for a vacation, and he was charged with my care. I laid by my empty bowl watching the sunlight rise and fall over the edge of the kitchen window, and with each darkening of the suns light, I felt weaker inside, and the pains became too much to bare. Until one day, the pain was gone…just darkness.”
“The floodgates of Edward’s heart burst open, forcing the raging waters of guilt and sorrow to pour from deep within his soul. Loudly he cried, “Please Ms. Percy, I am so sorry. Please forgive me. I was only Ten, and not responsible for my actions. Please, please, please…forgive me.”
Edward placed his head on the large table and cried harder than he ever dreamed, in his worst nightmares, he could cry.
His despair deepened further, as he heard Owl ask Mr. Horse if he had any questions for the broken witness.
“No, your Honor, I have no questions.”
Edward, knew at that moment, that he was alone. This was not like any court to be found in his world. He was alone, and would face the maximum penalty for his crimes. What exactly is the maximum penalty, he thought, still weeping for the sad Ms. Percy. As if reading his mind, Mr. Horse leaned close to Edwards ear and stated, “death by hanging Mr. Sikes.”
The Final Witness
“It would be most irregular to call too many more witnesses,” stated Owl. “I will allow one more before the jury retires to decide on the verdict.”
Edward sat staring straight ahead into oblivion. He no longer had any more tears to release. The large puddles of his sorrow stained the desk to his front, like a series of small and large lakes dotting a wooden landscape.
“I call Mr. Steer to the bench,” stated Mr. Owl.
Edward kept his bloodstained eyes to the front of the courtroom, no longer having the energy to turn his head.
“Mr., Steer, do you mind if I demonstrate to the court the procedure used in the defendant’s slaughterhouse. If the court does not have any objections, of course.”
“This is most irregular, but I will allow this,” replied Owl.
Edward watched in horror as Mr. Steer returned to his normal posture, in the human world, of standing on all four legs. Without hesitation, Mr. Cat produced a shiny red sledgehammer, and hit Mr. Steer on the top of the head, with a loud Thump. Mr. Steer immediately fell on his side with a large stream of blood pouring from the bloody deep created from the impact of the blow. Mr. Steer’s body spasmed violently, as deep guttural moaning sounds, escaped with each dying breath.
“As you can see, he is not dead. So, we must hit him again until he stops moving.”
Edward closed his eyes and vomited as he heard the metal of the sledge contact the shattering skull of Mr. Steer.
“That’s enough Mr. Cat, I think we get the point. Most irregular!” exclaimed Judge Owl.
“I have no further demonstrations your Honor.”
“Mr. Horse, do you have any demonstrations?”
“No, your Honor, I ask that the jury retire, to immediately render a verdict.”
“Very well, the jury will retire to render the verdict. The maximum punishment is death by hanging.”
Edward sat in an emotionless stare, feeling his throat tighten with each ticking of the clock.
“Has the jury reached a verdict?”
“We have your Honor, stated Mr. Fox, looking at Edward with a sly smile formed across his wide pointed mouth.
“Bailiff, please hand me the verdict. The defendant will stand together with his defense.”
Edward stood slowly having to support his weight with the arm of his chair. The emotional draining weighed heavily on his broken frame. He silently wished-for death as Owl passed sentence.
“Mr. Edwards, you have been found guilty of the charges of cruelty, neglect, contempt for Mother Nature’s creations, and most serious of all, the consumption of meat.”
“Now all of you sit down, because I am going to do something most irregular.”
I loud silence fell over the courtroom at the announcement of Owl’s decision to be less than regular.
“Mr. Edwards, this is not your human court. In your world of greed, hatred, and contempt, your pompous sense of justice is a sad illusion. You place your fellow human beings on trial, and merrily carry out your sentences, believing that all is black and white. Here in my court, Nature’s Court, we have more flexibility. You are a despicable character, there can be no doubt, however, I will show mercy. I overturn your death sentence, and will set you free. You will leave this court knowing that animals are superior to humans, because when we kill, it is because Nature deems it to be so. We kill to survive, but never with the tiniest blemish of malice on our pure hearts. I can think of no better punishment than to send you back to your tribe with a cleansed heart, so you may spend the rest of your pathetic days watching your peers commit mass murder against the noble beasts of your sad world. Looking at you now, I know that such guilt will haunt you for the rest of your days. I wouldn’t be surprised if you attempted suicide once again, burdened by the knowledge that every animal you kill, from the whale to the ant, is your superior. How does it feel you pathetic man to know that animals have souls, and that Mother Nature favors us over you? You are a parasite Mr. Edwards, and one-day man will destroy each other, and only we will be left. I so look forward to that day.
A Change of Heart
Edward sat on his green folding lawn chair overlocking hundreds of acres of edible roots, herbs and Bibb lettuce lazily bobbing just above their mineral solution and perlite mixtures. It has been ten years since his commuted sentence of death, but ten years, as he would readily admit, the most productive of his life. After selling his two hundred head of cattle, every possession he owned, and painfully abstaining from all vices, including eating meat, Edward managed to start his new, and currently, multimillion dollar hydroponic farming business. He doesn’t even mind giving over eighty percent of his profits to animal conservation causes across the globe.
As he will tell you, if you are lucky enough to meet him…” Animals are Natures chosen ones. We are mere tenants with the responsibility of our superior’s care.”
Text: Brian Hesse
Publication Date: 11-01-2017
All Rights Reserved