Stories that Uplift the Spirit and Broaden the Mind

So Help Me God

Testifying in court requires courage, even when the murder suspect can only see you on Zoom...

“You got nothin’ ta worry ‘bout, long as you tell the truth,” your mother says as you log into the Zoom call. “Jus’ tell ‘em what you seen.” She may be fifty-five, but she’s as naïve as your two-year-old daughter banging on a rainbow-colored xylophone in the kitchen. Your mother doesn’t see it, or maybe she doesn’t want to see it, but the war zone crossed Jefferson Boulevard into your neighborhood years ago.

In the Zoom waiting room, the seal of the Great State of California sits above a message that says the court clerk will admit you soon. Your heart quickens as your clammy hand moves the mouse, circling the cursor over a red button that offers escape. It’s not too late to click “leave” and run back into the shadows where it’s safe. Nobody would blame you if you did, except maybe the parents of Sheila Jackson, but she’s dead and there’s nothing you can do about that. Nothing nobody can do.

Just as you decide to bail, the screen switches to a bunch of little video squares that look like a perverted Brady Bunch grid with Judge Harris taking the place of Alice the maid. You don’t recognize anyone except the District Attorney and Jake P, the gold-toothed gangster who’s been raping your dreams for the past eight months. For the first time you see his real name is Jacob Peterson, but it’s a detail you’d rather not know. The creep gives a slight smile and a wink, and you shrink back with the realization that he can see you too. His smile widens at your reaction.


Once upon a time you were fearless. As a teenager, you drove in the dark without headlights, picking unlit stretches of road near the oil derricks at the edge of town just for fun. You and your friends once crossed into Mexico and spent the night drinking, then slept on the steps of the Tijuana bus station waiting for morning to come so you could buy four-dollar tickets to Rosarito Beach instead of paying thirty bucks for a cab. Someone stole the Corona hat off your head while you slept. Lucky that’s all they did. And then there was the night, working that crappy job downtown to pay for community college, you ran out to help a woman whose boyfriend was ready to beat her with a hammer. That guy was no gangster like Jake P, but he was still a head taller than you, and you stood your ground until he backed off.

Now here you are, expected to do what’s right again, but with each sour note of your daughter’s xylophone you become more and more afraid.


“Do you promise to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth?” asks the dour-faced judge who looks from his little video square to yours. As you promise that you will, you complete the affirmation in your head and wonder when the words changed. Or maybe the movie writers were just making it up. So help me God, you think, hoping God is paying more attention to you now than he was to Sheila Jackson on July 16th.

The District Attorney asks you questions and you offer bits of truth you’ve been holding onto since that horrible night. No, you didn’t know Sheila Jackson but you’d seen her walking a dog from time to time in the neighborhood. Yes, you were coming home from the Keystone Market just after sunset. Yes, there were four gunshots, not just the two that hit Sheila in the neck and cheek. Yes, the muzzle flashes drew your attention to the shooter. Then, when your pulse is racing so fast you swear your heart will explode, the DA asks you to provide the most important thread in the tapestry he’s weaving. Yes, you can identify the shooter, and you do. Jake P gives you a cold stare but it’s the only thing he can do.

On cross examination, the attorney for the defendant tears into you, makes you look like a liar, an opportunist, a fraud. He’s as cold-blooded as his client, and his words are so convincing that you start to believe him. Thank God he’s only a little man in a little video window, not a full-sized opponent attacking in person. Nobody, not even the fearless younger you, could withstand that attack. Mercifully, he runs out of questions and you’re released from the witness box before he can damage your psyche any more.

“The court thanks the witness for your time and attention,” Judge Harris says, giving you permission to escape. Just before you click the red button to leave the Zoom call, you notice a woman nodding in gratitude as she wipes away tears with a Kleenex. The video square identifies her as Maricel Jackson, a name you recognize from the news reports: Sheila’s mom. As you log off, you think about your own daughter and can’t wait to scoop her up in your arms.

“You done jus’ fine,” your mother says. “That boy ain’t gonna hurt nobody else.”

You hope she’s right. Maybe tonight Jake P will let you sleep in peace. You share this hope with your mother in case saying it out loud will make it come true. You’ve carried a heavy burden a long time and now it’s time to rest.

“Like I always say, the truth will set you free,” your mother says. What she doesn’t know is that freedom will come for you tomorrow in a warm embrace from Sheila Jackson’s mother in the dairy section of the Keystone Market.



Author’s Note: One of the interesting things about working at a cutting-edge technology company is that there are always people out to steal your intellectual property. As an executive trying to fight off a hostile takeover during the COVID-19 pandemic, I was involved in a legal battle with courtroom proceedings conducted by Zoom. I was fascinated at seeing the Brady Bunch squares of the judge, multiple witnesses, and a battery of lawyers. I wondered how such trials were playing out across the country, with even greater stakes involved.

Like? Share it with your friends


Explore more

Winds of Change

Winds of Change

Arches National Park dazzles with natural sculptures millions of years in the making



A Texas-sized water park to make you happy as a clam at high tide

A Las Vegas Yankee in Amsterdam Court

A Las Vegas Yankee in Amsterdam Court

Crossing off a bucket list item on nobody's list

Sunset on the Ridge

Sunset on the Ridge

You never know when and where inspiration will strike. Even an iPhone photo delivered by email can wake up the muse.

Thank you for your submission

It’s being routed to the appropriate person
and we will get back to you shortly.