The room was small and oppressive, with a large mirror that a healthy diet of television shows about police investigations would suggest was secretly a window. There was a table, and at it sat two people, across from a detective.
‘As you know, this morning the world’s most popular Youtube star was found murdered by, according to a note left at the crime scene, their biggest fan,’ said the detective. ‘After looking into what a Youtube star is, we’ve determined that while we all consider this largely a good thing, it’s still technically illegal, and the two of you are the only witnesses.’
The detective took a sip of something in a mug. ‘As you may not know, your accounts are wildly at odds. I mean, outrageously so. Simply no similarities at all. We’ve determined that you both believe you’re telling the truth, but one of you is insane, so we’ve devised a simple test to determine which of you to believe.’
The detective now placed a folder on the table and withdrew a laminated rectangle. ‘I’m going to show you a series of images, and I want you each to tell me what you see. Here’s the first image.’
‘I see a couple,’ said the first witness. ‘They’re in love, but the man hates himself and thinks being with him will ruin the woman’s life, so he’s about to break up with her out of love and anticipated guilt. The woman, who has known only rejection until she met the man, and was on the verge of suicide before they met, believes he is about to propose.’
‘I see,’ said the detective. ‘And you?’
‘Corn,’ said the second witness.
‘On to the second image.’
‘An old woman about to die,’ said the first witness. ‘She thought she was alone all her life, but she’s just realised that her body is home to billions of bacteria and other microscopic life. She is their universe, they her constant companions, and she has never truly been alone. Now she’s calling out to anyone who will listen, begging for them not to cremate her and end the lives that depend on her, but nobody hears.’
‘Corn,’ said the second witness.
The detective held up another image.
‘A new ice age,’ said the first witness. ‘A man with an axe. He stands before the very last tree. In the distance, his family huddle in a cave around a fire that’s about to go out. If he cuts down the tree, he buys only time. The fire will still go out eventually, and his family will still freeze to death, but there will be no more trees. He knows the decision he will make, but he hesitates anyway.’
‘Corn again,’ said the second witness.
‘I’m going to show you a final image now,’ said the detective. ‘I want you both to concentrate, really have a good look and a think before you answer. Here it is.’
The witnesses considered at length. They furrowed their brows, stroked their chins and generally fidgeted in ways that implied deep thought.
At last, the first witness spoke. ‘A sunrise after the longest, darkest night of the year. People gather on a cliff and watch as the warm light reaches out from behind the horizon to embrace them, and they know that however bad it gets, the sun will rise, and people will be happy again, even if only for a moment. They know that joy is as much a part of us as sadness.’
‘More corn,’ said the second witness.
Calmly and precisely, the detective put away the images. ‘And how do we think we went?’
‘I think that’s pretty obvious,’ said the first witness.
‘I’m worried there are different types of corn, and I wasn’t specific enough,’ said the second witness.
The detective watched them for some time before turning to the second witness. ‘You’re free to go.’
‘What about me?’ said the first witness.
‘You’re under arrest for the murder of someone who’s rich for reasons I don’t understand.’
‘You mean, you really were just showing us pictures of corn?’
‘Jesus. If I can find a picture of corn that interesting, then maybe my appreciation of Youtube stars is just a symptom of serious psychological delusions.’
The detective nodded. ‘That’s the only explanation we can think of.’