The herd instinct: Short Story

The defense attorney presented his argument to the court: “These kids may not be a good example of anything; they may be complete imbeciles, but they’re innocent.” There was a deep silence in the audience, which was protracted by the attorney’s lack of words to transition back from these words into his formal line of defense. The herd had raised their heads synchronously, as if a sign of alarm had just been sounded. They all stared at their attorney as if they had just realized that this rancher was actually leading them to the slaughterhouse. “We’re not imbeciles,” they thought. “We all think and act by ourselves.”

Two years before, when they’d been arrested and interrogated, the five of them had given the same exact testimony. They hadn’t done this deliberately but they just had the same thing to say because they’d all had the same exact experience. Their testimonies were so homogeneous that it was suspicious, but no one had advised them better and they wouldn’t have deviated from the truth anyway, even if they were harmed by it.

The prosecution was having trouble refuting the defense’s arguments because they were so candid that the public opinion had been swayed in their favor. They argued that they had not seen the young man come and when they had realized it, there was already a threatening figure in front of them. The alley was too dark for them to see that the young man was unarmed, so they had attacked preemptively. They had also testified that they didn’t remember who had brought the knife and how it was passed from hand to hand. The prosecutor tried, with heated and vain attempts, to make the judge understand that the young man had died from fourty stabs and that this could not be classified as self defense. The judge had already pronounced that he’d seen worse cases in preemptive attacks to terrorists countries, but that this didn’t mean they were less of a threat.

The prosecutor had argued that the young man was just passing by and that he’d needed to come that close to the herd because they were blocking the narrow alley. The judge had rolled his eyes hen he heard this, and as soon as the prosecutor had finished talking, he’d added the mordant comment: “If you shit in a clogged toilet, whose fault is it if you end up full of shit?” Everyone in the courtroom had laughed at that instance of the judge’s wittiness.

The strongest evidence the prosecutor had was that the herd carried a knife which they had all made us of to stab the victim by turns. They had all confessed that they had stabbed the victim eight times, which added up to fourty stabs. However, they did not recollect whose knife it was or how it had been passed from hand to hand. The most strange thing is that none of them saw each other stab the victim to death. They only recollected they had had the knife in their pocket and they had drawn it to stab the victim eight times. They assured the court, bathed in tears, that they had had no intention to kill the victim but just to prevent him from getting closer and that’s why they had stopped at eight stabs. The judge had sustained all the objections from the defense whenever the prosecutor had wanted to ask why eight and not four or twenty and whether the last of them hadn’t seen that the victim was already on the floor and that he represented no threat to anyone. When the prosecutor, in a heated reaction, addressed the judge directly by saying: “It’s of utmost relevance to ask these questions”, the judge interrupted: “Do you ask a dog why it barks eight times?” and the prosecutor’s voice was drowned in the audience’s laughter.

In his conclusion, the prosecutor argued that: “They hadn’t passed each other the knife; they had all held the knife together, because they didn’t think as human do but as animals from a herd, and they should be treated accordingly, that is, they shouldn’t be allowed to run free among humans.” However, the judge could not conceive of the possibility of a knife being held and used by five people at the same time, so due to the lack of material evidence, he ruled in favor of the defendants.

After the trial, the heard declared unanimously that they held no grudge against the court or society for having being wrongly accused and incarcerated. They were given back their knife, which they put in their pocket. Even when they went to sleep in their respective homes that night, they felt safe because each could feel the knife in his own pocket, although no one could’ve produced the knife until the group gathered again.


I'm a writer born in Argentina, but currently living in Poland. I work as an English and French teacher, translator and copywriter.

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