As I look upon the faces of my loved ones, a sense of satisfaction washes over me. It is incredibly soothing to have them here with me in this moment, especially considering my current circumstances. My life of 88 years will soon draw to a close. I have had plenty of time to come to terms with this fact. Being confined to a bed for the past month has given me more than enough time to reflect upon the life of Don Neilson. Fighting my cancer-ridden colon has certainly been a struggle. Nevertheless, despite my illness, I have decided that my life was more than rewarding. Thus I am ready to move on. Besides, the disease has now worked its way into my liver, giving me little choice in the matter.
I lie here now unable to communicate with anything more than a slight smile. It is of no matter though, as this is not a time for words. I understand that from an external person’s viewpoint I probably seem rather incoherent. On the contrary, I feel more alert now than perhaps I have ever felt. This is how I know that my death is not far off now. The colors in the room have been steadily growing brighter and more vibrant for the past hour. They continue to steadily increase in vivacity as I gaze. As this clarity enhances, however, the sounds perceived by my ears have almost completely departed. This saddens me, but only a little. I never had issues with hearing during all my years, so it is a bit disheartening to lose it now. Nevertheless, I feel my eyes widen as they stare in awe at my changing environment. I’ve lost all connection now with the people in the room. They are merely memories now. I shall miss them just as they will undoubtedly miss me. I laugh slightly to myself as I experience the clichéd white light that I always heard about surrounding the death experience. I think about how surprisingly peaceful my death is turning out to be and I feel a sense of happiness. The light escalates to embrace my entire setting. My senses expire and I am left beholding nothing but silence and light.
Then, from out of the silence, I hear the slight hum of a machine…
My misplaced senses begin to return gradually. Feeling a bit claustrophobic, I notice that I am now standing, tightly bound within whatever environment I now inhabit. Through the all-encompassing white light appear various vague colors that grow more and more lucid until they ultimately form shapes. A few seconds later I begin to recognize the shapes. I now see the three unknown men that stand before me. To add to my now apparent confusion, one of the men speaks. “Welcome back, Dr. Graham,” he says.
I simply stare in genuine bewilderment.
“He should rest. Let’s get him to a bed,” another one of the men asserts.
I am lead into a small room. There is nothing here but a simple bed, a chair, and a mirror. As the men direct me towards the bed I glance over into the mirror. The man I see is not Don Neilson, but a younger and taller man with fiery red hair and a full beard. I stare into the eyes of this stranger and realize that the stranger is me. This overwhelms me far beyond the threshold of my mentality. My eyes shut and I instantly lose all awareness.
I regain my lost consciousness stricken with a perplexity that would best the bravest of souls. Memories float their way around my psyche. I think of my family whom I’ve just left behind, I remember the cells that betrayed my body, and I also reflect upon my own death. How is it that I can recall myself dying? I start to think about that name they called me. Dr. Graham? It’s familiar in a strange manner. I can’t even begin to place any sort of rationality on this state of affairs. A knock at the door startles me slightly. One of the men from earlier comes in and sits in the chair by the bed.
“Brian…” he says.
“Why do you…?” I start to ask. Then I suddenly realize something. My name is Brian Graham. This revelation seemed to come from somewhere deep within my mind, previously unconscious to me. The confusion within me thickens. “I don’t understand any of this,” I confess weakly.
“It seems that there was a problem,” he declares. “The experiment wasn’t a failure by any means, but there was a problem that we didn’t account for initially. You were only supposed to have a week’s experience. There was a distortion of time on your end.”
“I have no idea what you are even talking about.”
“You have some temporary memory loss, but it should return in time,” he explains.
“Where am I?”
“This is the facility that was built to house the machine.”
I become a bit frustrated. “Can you please tell me what the hell is going on?” I say a bit too loudly.
“I’m very sorry, Brian. I understand that this is quite confusing for you. I know you don’t remember right now, but we’ve been friends for a long time. You’re going to have to trust me.”
I sigh and rest my head back down on the cool pillow.
“It will be easier for you to remember on your own. We’re afraid that simply telling you might put you into an overwhelming state of shock. You passed out earlier, remember? We should try to prevent that from happening again.”
“How long is this going to take?” I question.
“We’ll take you to your house soon. That should speed up your recall,” he says.
I nod at the man. All I can do is surrender to my increasing uncertainty of this situation.
I am driven to a familiar house, lead to the familiar door, and left alone to walk inside. I carefully and slowly march down the hall and into what is apparently my bedroom. My fatigue swiftly requires me to lie down. My eyes shut shortly thereafter.
I awake abruptly from a dreamless sleep in devastating tears. The memories flood my brain in an extremely selfish fashion. I am Dr. Brian Graham. I remember the ambition that previously drove my life. I remember the tremendous success of my career and the instruction that made it possible. I remember the machine: the machine that I created, the machine that I so arrogantly volunteered to test on myself, and the machine that has now plagued my existence with terrible ruin. It was meant to be revolutionary. It was going to change everything. The idea was to feed an experience, any experience, to an individual. The machine fabricates an illusory reality, much like a dream, except unmistakably identical to waking life. It would enable the blind to see and the crippled to walk. There were endless possibilities. I remember the scenario that I had drafted for my test run: a week’s worth of time perceiving through the eyes of Don Neilson, a simple 64-year-old man planning his retirement. What I received instead was an experience of 24 years, although my time spent in the machine only added up to approximately 6 ½ days. I have also been presented with the memories of an entire alternate life. I had not initially accounted for this implantation of counterfeit memories and I deeply regret this misconception here and now. My trial run was a success and a failure at the same time. The result of which has wounded my being with two conflicting identities and personalities. This duality of self now eats away at my sanity. I am Brian Graham, but now I am also Don Neilson. I have a sick feeling when I recall the memories from Don’s life. To now understand that these are all false is mind-numbing. These recollections seem every bit as real as my now recovered memories of Brian Graham. This is all thanks to my overconfidence in this project. The pain within my mind grows exceedingly unbearable. No, that is an understatement for sure. I hastily make a decision and open the drawer next to my bed. I take out the object that lay hidden within.
I taste the cold metal now inside my mouth as I position my hand and finger to the appropriate location. Still cursed with my aching despair I shut my eyes and draw a deep breath. No human should live in this manner. I must end it. Another deep breath enters my lungs. The exhale is accompanied by a rather strong trembling sensation. I think to myself that the time is now. I just have to complete it. I take one last breath and then I contract my finger. The gun fires and abruptly ends all perception, leaving nothing but silence and a white light.
Then, from out of the silence, once more I hear the slight hum of a machine…