by Andrew Kozma
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?"