Habeas Corpus Callosum by Jay WerkHeiser


Jay Werkheiser

Jared stared at the paper without comprehension. “Man, I don’t understand any of this legal bullshit.”

“It says that, since your life sentence was handed down before the immortality treatments, it’s tantamount to cruel and unusual punishment.” Prescott pulled the paper away from the Plexiglas divider and placed it neatly into his briefcase. Jared still had a hard time thinking of the young face on the other side of the glass as the same old man who had been arguing his case for too many years.

“Nothin’ about raping and killing that girl?”

Prescott shook his head. “This isn’t about your conviction. We’ve exhausted all our appeal avenues on those grounds long ago.”

“So none of that even matters any more. Huh.”

“What matters now is getting the sentence overturned. No one has challenged a life sentence based on the immortality treatments yet. I think we have a good shot.”

The man really believes that, Jared thought. He wished he could, but every night he relived those moments of terror, heard her desperate screams. Oh, it mattered.

“You don’t look very happy for a man given a chance at freedom.”

He laughed without humor. “I just want out of this place. There’s too many ghosts here.”

Prescott nodded, but Jared knew he didn’t understand. “You’ll be transferred to a holding cell at the courthouse until the hearing is over.”

“I’m sure it’s a damn sight better than the pen.”

Prescott packed up his notes and stood. “See you at the hearing, then.”

A couple of guards escorted Jared from the meeting room. Since it was past evening lockdown, they took him straight to his cell. Manuel looked down at him from the top bunk. “How’d it go, bro? You gettin’ sprung?”

Jared collapsed onto his own bunk. “I don’t know, man. Lawyer seems to think so. Moving over to the courthouse tomorrow.”

“That’s great news, bro. You’re gettin’ out of this shithole.”

“It’s just some bullshit hearing. Been there before.”

“Think positive, bro. You’ll be on the outside soon, young and fresh again, while I’m still waitin’ for them to get around to delivering the meds to this dump.”

“If you say so.”

The buzzer sounded and the gate at the end of the block latched with a metallic clank. Lights out. He spent the night staring at the bottom of Manuel’s bunk and listening to him snore. Why should tonight be different from any other?

Maybe the immortality treatments would make things better. The aches and pains of too many years on the inside would go away, for sure. They said the treatments affected the brain too, re-growing lost cells or some mumbo jumbo, so maybe he would go back to who he was before.

A cocky young son of a bitch, the kind of prick who could get strung out and then—

No, he wouldn’t go back there. That he knew without doubt. The man who’d committed that crime was dead and gone. Jared was just the asshole left to serve his time.

He drifted off at last, only to be jarred out of it by the morning wakeup call. The last face he saw before his eyes snapped open was old, with lines carved deep around her eyes and mouth by grief. She’d probably taken the immortality treatment by now, but he knew the sorrow lines would never vanish. And that he was the man who’d put them there.

How do I say I’m sorry for taking away your daughter?

The bunk above him stirred. “Hey, wake up, bro.”

Jared blew out a long breath. “I’m up.”

“Big day for you. You should be all smiles and sunshine.”

“Yeah. Let’s go chow down some slop.”


It was a sunny morning, so after breakfast the guys were let out into the yard. A couple of guards intercepted Jared on his way out. He put his hand on Manuel’s shoulder. “Looks like this is it.”

Manuel clasped his hand firmly. “Luck, bro.”

The guards escorted him to processing, where he waited while some paper pusher filled out forms. Finally, the paperwork was finished and two new guards took custody of Jared.

“Aw man, you really need the manacles?”

One of the guards, the bigger of the two, laughed. “Strappin’ old man like you, who knows what damage you could do if you was to get loose.” The other guard grinned.

He waited again while they chained him up, suffered the indignity in stoic silence. “All right,” the big guard said. “Let’s move out.”

Jared shambled out into the bright sunlight. He paused to shield his eyes as best he could with his wrists shackled together. The guards prodded him toward an open car door. They flanked him on the back seat and the car took off through the main prison gate.

A dozen or so people moved to block the roadway outside the gate. Jared watched them burst into action when the car approached, shouting and waving signs.

Kill the killer.

No immortality for murderers.

Fry Jared.

“The hell is that?” Jared said.

The big guard chuckled. “That’s nothing. Wait ‘til you see the courthouse.” His little side kick snickered wickedly. Big guy’s all talk, Jared thought, little guy’s there to laugh at his jokes. He dubbed them Penn and Teller.

Prison guards moved to clear the protesters from the road, and the driver accelerated as soon as he had an opening. Jared leaned back in his seat and blew out a shaky breath.

The ride was long and silent, giving him time to think. He didn’t like that very much either. Never happy, are you, old man?

He did his best to put his brain in neutral and enjoy the scenery. It had been quite some time since he’d seen anything beyond the walls of the pen. But the driver stuck mainly to highways, which were perhaps more monotonous than the prison yard. Cars looked sleeker than they had a few years ago.

That all changed when the car moved onto surface streets. “Where’s all the traffic?”

“They cordoned off our route.”

“You gotta be shitting me.” He held up his hands and rattled the chains. “I’m that much of a danger?”

Penn laughed. “You got it ass backwards.”

Shouts from ahead caught Jared’s attention, and he craned his neck to see past the driver. Swarms of protesters lined the street ahead, held barely in check by cops in full riot gear.


Penn and Teller laughed again. The driver tapped the brakes and Jared looked back at the road ahead. Some protesters had managed to spill into the street partially blocking the way ahead. Their chant, muffled through the car’s windows, grew louder each time through.

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1 Comment on Habeas Corpus Callosum by Jay WerkHeiser

  1. There was a short story by Gene Wolfe about life sentence and immortality treatment: “The doctor of dead island”, I think.

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