Author: Bryce Paradis

“Please hold still.”

Why am I here, in this machine? The dim tunnel enveloping me sings crazy, electric birdsong. It twangs like a guitar, screeches like a klaxon, hisses like radio static, and screeches again.

“We’re establishing your baseline. Please try to think of as little as possible.”

I think of nothing except thinking about nothing, which will have to be good enough.

“Okay, now we need you to focus on a poorly performing memory. Something that doesn’t come easy. Anything that feels confusing or hard to grasp.”

When I was a child, I had a church dress that I hated wearing. On my wedding day, I wore a strapless dress that my mother disapproved of. I married Derrek, whom she didn’t approve of, either. We have two daughters. Their names are … The eldest … She’s twenty-five? Is she married, or is that me in the strapless dress? She must be married, I’ve seen her with her husband. She has gray hairs now, little strands of silver amid the auburn. Only, it’s 2055 … We just celebrated our twelfth anniversary. None of this should be possible.

“We’re building the bridge now.”

Precious light blooms inside my head, warming my body and illuminating the world. The year is 2091. My daughters are Melody and Amelia. They are fifty-two and forty-nine years old. Melody has the most beautiful grandchildren, two boys and a girl. Little Skyler is already in high school, and he’s so tall! Amelia’s paintings, oh … Suns rising out of oceans, white-spotted deer in the trees. And Derrek is here! He’s in the other room. They got him to come!

The machine twangs. It screeches.

“Good job, Alice. We got a nice map. We’re going to try a different bridge now.”

I’m in a tunnel, why are they saying it’s a bridge? My hands are cold. Why are there such terrible sounds? Humming and squawking … An electric bird? A snapping guitar? Why am I alone? Where’s Derrek? I want to see my mother. Why did they take me away from my mother?

The light blooms inside my head. My hands warm. I take a deep, calming breath.

“How’s that, Alice?”

“Very good, thank you.”

This rickety brain of mine, it’s done me wrong. Too many poisoned neurons, too many dead wires and frayed connections. It’s been so long now, more than half my life. Everyone has worked so hard to get me here, inside this tunnel, inside this MRI that can talk to nanomachines. It’s such a wild gamble, such a desperate attempt, and so expensive! Then again, Derrek’s paying with his money, so that’s fair. If you don’t stay, the least you can do is pay.

Maybe that’s too harsh. I wasn’t entirely there, either.

“This all looks very promising, Alice. We’re taking you down to baseline.”

The light fades. I’m cold.

These terrible sounds … like a klaxon, like a bird gone mad …

Why am I here, trapped in this machine?