There is a hard chair beneath me, and below that a nondescript concrete floor beneath my prison shoes. I am seated at one of those overly simple tables they take me to when I have to talk to my lawyers. The only thing atop the table is the simple old computer they used to keep in the library. There’s one intense white light directly above me comically illuminating the desk and chair setup, like something out of an old black and white movie. The room is simplistic and bare like a prison surgery room. Doctors give me the spooks, I wonder if that was true before I got on death row or if it was a result? The rest of the room is shrouded in windowless darkness. Why does it seem so familiar? As I try to place the memory something else bubbles up instead. My heart hits a faster stride, my palms go sweaty and I am assaulted by a memory of being struck by a wall of overwhelming force. Of every muscle in my body tensing until my heart bursts. Can I smell the acrid, burning stink? No, one thing an inmate in my situation shouldn’t have to worry about is remembering the smell it makes at the end.
I shake my head and can see the darkened room again. The only sound is my heart still racing. Now I realize why: the idiot guards have forgotten to restrain me. Again? I guess they expected whatever it was that knocked me out to keep me out longer. I stand slowly so as not to attract attention. I don’t expect a guard to run up and clobber me. There is too much bewildering familiarity to expect anything as startling as that. I tense to run for it, hoping to find a wall and then run along it until I find the exit. But, my movements are stalled by a terribly familiar beep as the old computer kicks on.
This is the prison library computer. It comes with a vintage 1993 cathode ray tube monitor.. Intense vertigo loosens my knees and sets me slowly back into the chair. That computer is the Penitentiary’s pride and joy. Dr. Leesing would never allow it to be moved to this forgotten basement. And yet, I feel certain there is nowhere else it should be. Abruptly, a block of words appears on the otherwise vacant monitor and the last thoughts of running scatter to the forgotten corners of my mind.
Baycon, James L, Prizonye Nimewo 2017-13. Fraz te pote soti atravè 1 pentobarbital dwòg sou 17 me, 2017 (Èldè Kalandriye kretyen). Nan dat sa a pral 17 Me 2517 (ansyen Kalandriye kretyen) ka w ap evalye pou libète pwovizwa potansyèl yo. odyans sa a make tantativ senkyèm libète pwovizwa ou yo. ou konsidere tèt ou ranje?
Baycon, James L, Inmate number 2017-13. Sentence carried out via 1 drug pentobarbital on 17 May, 2017(Elder Christian Calendar). On this date 17 May 2517 (elder Christian Calendar) your case will be evaluated for potential parole. This hearing marks your fifth parole attempt. Do you consider yourself rehabilitated?
That’s right, I think numbly, it wasn’t the chair. I remember the feel of the tight wrist wraps. The cold, impersonal hands tapping along my arm for the vein. The lightest prick of the last needle I would ever feel. There wouldn’t have been a smell.
The date slowly sinks in. I’ve been dead 500 years. Reality comes rushing back to me. What I think is me sitting in this chair is actually just stored up leftovers, stashed inside a hard drive. Not a dinged up can of baked beans that looks partly open but is probably just fine, no. I am some crap found wedged between the shelves in the back of the fridge. One of my previous parole computers explained it to me: They scrapped one week of “neural connection mapping” off my brain 73 years after my death using the thin slides of brain matter the docs who killed me made during “my” autopsy. They used that map to push into motion what they call an “emergent behavior pattern,” that’s “me.” Then they shoved me into a dingy Tupperware computer and left me there. They’ve apparently got this special robot just like a person but empty headed to stash me in once I make parole, so I can go live out the rest of my life. I guess it’s really not a bad deal, not like 25 years on death row, day in and day out. The time between these hearings is totally blank. I guess they just turn me off.
I’ve just realized this monitor doesn’t show me the workings inside a computer; actually it’s only a window. Folks are gathered at the other end, craning their necks to see or pretending to look away. Death by doctor is a very claustrophobic event. I remember the pull of the restraints, the dog on a leash feel of being unable to lift my head to bite the hand that bears the needle. All those people chatting among themselves at the window. Living a normal life, whatever that is.
Thinking of anything that happened to me before the week leading up to my hanging feels just like realizing there’s no other food in the trailer, and scarfing down that leftover crap I mentioned earlier. Chase it down with a beer to hide the stink and keep it from turning in my stomach. If I look too closely at the details of my leftover past, not only will I be unable to make any sense of them, but I’ll also get too nauseous to eat. I rub my throat to ease away the raw pain of the noose. Hanging’s a tough way to go. No dignity in it, and there’s still a lot of folks that come to watch. Fast though, as long as it’s done right.
Something blinking on the monitor draws my eye. I can’t remember seeing it during my other hearings. Below the block of text is the little envelope icon from the movie “You’ve got Mail” and a thin line of words: “Avoka avoka a. Attorney’s remarks” To have a bit more time awake I open it.
“Dam ak Mesye, The first problem with determining parole eligibility is the pwoblèm lang. If you ever tried to read “Ale Ak Van An,” once known as “Gone With the Wind” without looking at the modèn tradiksyon on the opposite page you will know what a serious problem language shift is in these cases. The first time a death row inmate comes up for parole is 100 years after their initial pattern discontinuation. Historically, shifts in casual word usage and pronunciation accumulate sufficiently to provide a barrier to communication by that time. This is my client’s fifth time up for parole. 500 years of nonexistence; li dwe difisil pou ou pou w konsidere or, as they said in his time, “it is terribly hard to consider”. In light of this fact I have provided this parole board with a list of words you may hear from my client based on his records. For example, “innocent” is somewhat similar to èkskuz, except in those days the court could only go on the accused’s word as to whether or not the èkskuz was sèman verite. I have also attempted to explain the phrase “wrongly accused” in some depth, for the jounalis present at these proceedings the phrase may loosely be translated to “akize mal” or “yo bay manti sou mwen”. Take a minute to contemplate the etensèl endèskriptiblof, the indescribable horror of the idea that a person could be sentenced to nonexistence without parole based on such cobwebs nan van an, or dust in the wind, as the phrase was spoken during his time. No nanobots to monitor the truth of a statement, no brain scans for motive analysis, nothing but the untested words of those who may have seen something.
The file continues at some length, but I’ve lost interest. It’s too hard to read, peppered with words they’ve forgotten how to translate. I stare at the cursor blinking steadily in front of me. I know they want me to type something. I know that no one will ever come here to look at me eye to eye like the lawyers did. A quick glance and then back to their phones while they mutter about another failed appeal. Do I have eyes now? I can see, but that doesn’t mean much here.
The first time I woke up I typed fervently and excitedly of the horrible lack of justice that existed 125 years ago. I railed against the disinterested public defendant and the overworked judge. They decided I’d murdered the woman next door but what did that matter now? She did not get her brain cut into tiny slices, she’s not here to complain about what I did or did not do. Maybe her brain was in such a shape when I was done with her that there was nothing left to slice? Thinking about it now, I’ll admit I let things get out of hand.
The reply to my long typed up appeal displayed on the monitor after so much time had passed I was confused as to why I wasn’t hungry or thirsty. “We do not feel this information to be accurate based on your last words at time of death, which were “You can kiss my white trash mule”. We understand this to be an extremely insolent and unapologetic thing to say given the circumstances. Parole denied.”
I just realized something: I don’t ever need the bathroom here, either. All the extra parts of life have been cut away. I don’t remember saying that stuff about the mule, but after 25 years in prison and being asked to make a statement while in those wrist cuffs with the tapping tapping on my arm, who knows what I may have said. Like I thought before, I can let things get out of hand.
The second time I didn’t type a thing. Or, wait, maybe it was the third time? Anyway, instead I just bolted, hands stretched out in front of me in case I tripped, with the same plan as I started out with this time. Find a wall, find a door, find the way out. When I found the desk in front of me again I figured I had turned around somehow in the dark so I tried again, and again. Finally exhausted, I came up to the desk facing the monitor and saw this text:
“This simulation does not support free emergent behavior pattern movement. Parole denied due to lack of interest in the board proceedings.” Well, I guess this old piece of white trash has an interest this time. I type slowly into the keyboard in order to drag things out.
“Is this keyboard real?”
“That question contains no relevance”
“Are you real?”
“Mr. Baycon, The purpose of this hearing is to determine if your unfortunately abridged life can now be restored to you so that you may live out your natural days as any other member of society would. You must answer: Did you or did you not forcibly stop the emergent behavioural pattern of one Dr.Jessica T. Malcomb in the Elder Christian Calendar year 1991? If you did, do you consider that you have had sufficient time of punishment to be no longer a danger to society?”
“I don’t remember. Is this Hell?”
“I am sorry, Mr. Baycon, That word is translated as “Lanfè” but it has no meaning to us.”
“What happened last time? After I put the chair through this computer?”
“Your parole was denied based upon “klè demonstrasyon de tandans vyolan. The court system at that time had an extremely low tolerance for violent tendencies, but the scientists of our time recognize your actions as being entirely within the norm of emergent behavior under stressors as extreme as your own. Mr. Baycon, we want you to know that this future is not a dystopi. We are deeply concerned that by the time of your next parole hearing cultural norms and language usage will shift so far from those of your time that there will be great difficulty in communication. We implore you, therefore, to answer the questions as we have asked them.”
“We are given to understand that your guilt was established merely on uncertified verbal statements, taken without Nanobot or genetically engineered viral assistance, and circumstantial evidence. You did in fact have stolen items from your neighbor Dr. Malcomb’s house in your vehicle when you were arrested the day after the murder. We are given to understand that you also could not explain adequately why you were driving at the extremely high speeds necessary to arrive to arrive at the border with those items at the time of the police stop. Furthermore, you could not explain what business you had in the region formerly known as Canada. These are all items that have prevented your parole in previous hearings. However modern science now understands it was entirely within the norm of emergent behaviour for one of your poverty and education levels to take advantage of an apparently unoccupied neighboring house, as you stated you did without seeing the body during your appeals. You had no viral motivation determinators in your system at the time, so how could anyone be expected to determine what was steering your pattern? You are one of only a small handful of intentionally terminated patterns from the 21st century who have still not have obtained parole. Please do tell us your side so that we may all move on from the terrible historical mistake of capital punishment.”
I think I can remember the weight of a gun in my hand. But didn’t they say at the trial the murder weapon was a knife? My memory offers up a knife murder as seen from outside of my body, a shadow hand driving down and down again in time to a sharp repeating noise that everyone back then just knew meant stab stab stab, but who knows what these folks would think if they heard it? That bit is from a movie, I’m certain. My murky mind offers up a dozen possible scenarios as to how I could have killed my neighbor. Funny to think that doctors killed me in revenge for the killing of one of their own.
The one thing my memory won’t offer is a why. What could have been the chain of events, the “motivators” that made me reach for the bayonet 525 years ago? No, wait, it couldn’t have been a bayonet, not a lot of those laying around in 1991 “by the elder Christian Calendar”. Bayonet is actually pretty dignified way to go. Dramatic. Typically nobody is watching except the fellow doing the bayonetting. I think that’s what I would of chosen, if they’d given me a choice.
I lean forward into the keyboard as I type, getting all the force I can from my non-existent fingers. “I don’t know a thing about that murder. It had to have been someone else, someone who died long ago.”
“We are relieved to hear that Mr. Baycon. We will forward your case recommending that your parole be approved. This is a historic day which will be long celebrated.” I don’t know about any of that. I type up a quick reply, “Do you still have beer these days? And how do you say bathroom?”
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Christy is a proud Navy Brat currently wrapping up twelve years of active duty service. She celebrated her 10 year anniversary last year with her husband Ben and 4 year old daughter Kaylee. She lives with her family in Virginia Beach and her inspiration is Alice Munro.