THE WAY-BACK MACHINE
Walter R. Milton
I still recall her face: the softness of its lines; the creamy caramel of its color; the delicacy of its features; the purity of its eyes. Eyes which to this day implore me to do anything other than what I did so long ago. They want me to do something.
I did nothing.
Even now as I slowly die, those eyes plead with me. Do something, they say. Help me, they cry. Save me, they beg. But it is well too late to act. She is gone—unaided and finally consumed and destroyed by the evil which had gripped and taken sway of her pious soul, corrupting her, funneling her into depths from which she could not save herself. But for a hand—my hand—she could have been led back to a heart which so desperately needed her. But for pride—my pride—she was lain to waste.
My death draws near. Time and guilt have exacted terrible retribution against me. It is almost as if my love was the child of time and of memory, two of the most vindictive parents that a former suitor of a daughter can face. There is no defense against either and their bond is so tight, so all-consuming that a lowly mortal like myself has not a prayer of withstanding their onslaught. I have braved it for the last six decades, but all is futility. They have beaten me down at last.
I am not dead yet, however. There is still one battle left in me and I think—I pray—that it will, in fact, be the last. I have marshaled my waning energies for one final assault against both forces simultaneously. My previous attempts to assuage those forces and be left to die alone and with a clear conscience were directed at either of the forces, though never at both at once. And all were complete failures.
This time, however, my plan, though complex beyond reason, is quite simple. I shall change time by changing my recollection of those things gone by. I shall erase those bitter memories and replace them with something sweet. The recollection shall be tailor-made so that in my final days upon this forlorn world I will have nothing more than the recollection of a righteous, fulfilling life, no regrets and no unfulfilled wishes to anchor my soul's passage. I shall die in peace.
The erasure of my memory and its substitution by a more favorable one will not be a traumatic experience. It will not be amnesia. It will not be hypnotism and thought-suggestion. No. I subjected myself to the latter several times with almost devastating results to my psyche. Dreams of people I did and somehow did not know. Holes in my life which yawned abysmally and made me beg to know what secrets they held. Eyes staring beseechingly through the darkness of my room and in my ignorance I knew not their significance. Potions and amulets. Witchcraft and shamanism.
Never again. Time is too short for that now.
I have constructed a machine which will reconstruct my memories to the design which I have chosen. This machine will alter, or, more precisely, reconfigure each individual biochemical element comprising my memory and orient them such that my memory is the one I wish to possess. In a matter of seconds, I will consciously manipulate my memory until it is as I wish. Anything I desire to remember will be maintained and everything I have ever experienced will be stored in the machine. If the process fails and I cannot undo what I have done—what I remember doing during the course of my life—then I will at least have a way back to where I am now. I will then be content to die with my regrets, guilt, and failings intact, knowing that I tried everything within my power to reconcile them the only way I possibly can at this late date. If only I had faced them when I could....
As I stare at my aged eyes, I see my best friend and greatest enemy. I see a man I know best, yet so very little. And I see, perhaps most importantly, someone who I will never see again. I am going to totally eradicate what has been forged over the course of eighty torturous and hard fought years and replace it with a fantasy creation—a fairy tale. I will slay the me I know and find myself resurrected as the man I always wanted to be. It will not matter, for when I see my eyes again, I will know no other me. I will have been that person all along.
But in the event that it fails, I will find a man totally bereft of the hope of dying at ease with himself.
I am scared. The contraption upon my head is so reminiscent of an electric chair's skull piece. Wire harnesses surround me....
Even as I key the master control button, second thoughts run rampant through my mind. Was my life so bad as to want to erase it? Isn't guilt and regret an integral part of life? Won't there always be guilt and regret?
Won't there always be pain?
I still recall her face: the softness of its lines; the creamy caramel of its color; the delicacy of its features; the malice in its eyes. Eyes which to this day taunt me endlessly, urging me to do what I had to do. Something I did not want to do. Something I did not think I could do.
I killed her.
Even now as I slowly die, those eyes ridicule me. I betrayed you, they swear. I despise you, they sneer. You are weak, they mock. I could not stop myself. But she is gone—strangulated and completely mutilated by the evil into which she transformed me. It became my pleasure to cast her into the hell which she made my life.
For a second, I am cursed with two conflicting memories. One is real; the other is fabricated. Neither is appeasing or appealing, but one has me performing an act of which I dare say I never was capable. I never killed anyone, but to even suggest that I murdered and disemboweled my love is ludicrous. But if I had helped her in the manner in which I had wanted to, the logic of my mind proposes that that would have been the eventual outcome of our relationship. I would have slain my love if I had helped her.
I thought that if I could change just one aspect of my memory, all else would fall into a more favorable order, but such is not the case. Therefore, a complete renovation of my memory must be done. I press a button and the new memory washes away. My old memory is the only thing I recall....
So the machine doesn't work. I still stare into my aged eyes, hoping against hope that this machine which I spent thirty lonesome years trying to perfect, will prove to be my soul's salvation. But it doesn't work. My memory is unchanged. And to think that I actually thought I could alter my very memory. How foolish I have been!
It seems as if I will be forced to die with my regrets and guilts intact after all. So be it. If nothing more, I am at last forced to realize the somewhat gratifying fact that even though my life was not perfect, I did have love in it. I would not want to remember anything other than that.