BY ELIZABETH HICKSON AZOCAR

A bright light flashed and filled the room with a warm glow. I felt my body spin and turn into a sitting position, as if propelled by invisible hands. Blindness met me and my eyes struggled to adjust to my new surroundings.

Nothing. There was nothing but blackness to adjust to. Surroundings simply didn’t seem to exist here.

Here? Where is here…

I looked around at the emptiness and felt alone.

Two flashes of light filled the void, first blue, then red.

Suddenly a friendly, robotic voice echoed from the void.

Hola, bienvenidos a la máquina de los recuerdos!

I froze, my eyes wide, my heart hammering as if it were attempting to escape from my rib

cage. Leaning slightly forward and looking around, I said, “uhm... I don’t speak Spanish?”

Two flashes of light filled the void once again, this time red, then blue.

Hello, and welcome to the Machine of Memories! If you would prefer to continue in English, please say, English. Para continuar en Español-

“English!” I cut across, very confused.

There was a pause.

Your request has been registered. Name please?

“Er...Isabel…”

Registered. Hello, Er...Isabel. Here in the Machine of Memories you can replay any of

your memories.

“Did I die? Am I in heaven now?” I asked, starting to feel panic seeping in.

Let’s start with a happy memory, shall we?

“Wait hold o…””

The lights flicked off with a snap.

I’m standing in a bathroom stall with a friend I had not seen since college. I looked down and saw we were both wearing shiny heels and nice formal dresses. We must be at some formal event. She was clutching an armful of miniature vodka bottles in her arms and said, “Here, do you want caramel, toffee or root beer?” She extended the handful of nips out to me for my selection, but they all sounded equally horrible. I struggled to remember if I had a fond memory that started with standing in a bathroom stall, getting tipsy off sickly sweet vodka nips.

“Uhm sure yeah, the caramel one I guess.” I heard myself say. I took the cheap plastic

bottle and recalled how I had promised to take shots with her if her date didn’t go well that night.

Several shots later, we returned to the ballroom just as an upbeat dance song was coming to an end. I wandered back to my table looking around for my date. The DJ’s voice echoed over the music as he informed the dancers on the floor that the next song would be a slower, and encouraged people to grab a partner. Spotting my date, we came together on the dance floor.

I remember how I used to be awkward during these dances but I could feel the liquid courage of vodka pumping through my veins, even in this weird replaying of the moment. Bruno Mars’ “When I was your Man”, flooded the room as sappy couples drifted to the dance floor and swayed there like swaying trees with no wind.

“Are you sure this is a happy memory?” I asked the Memory Machine as me and my

partner moved slowly across the dance floor.

Affirmative. The feeling registered in this moment is happiness.

“But we broke up. I don’t think of this as happy anymore.” I said, turning my head sideways and resting it against my partner’s chest. My ear soon filled with the sound of his rapid heart rate.

Future events don’t change that.

I stole another look up at my date, then fit my head back into the warm place on his chest.

We swayed together slowly in the dimly lit ballroom.

The dim light flickered on with a snap and the air grew cold. I found myself in the void

once again.

“What happened?” I demanded, slightly upset.

I detected feelings of melancholy, which is not the same as happiness.

I scoffed, “Like you would know...”

Yes. My database informs me of such human emotion. You may now choose the next

memory. Here are some options:

From my left, a bright light suddenly shone and I jumped. It illuminated an entrance to a

hallway, beckoning to me with its light and bright colors.

Go on, the machine aided.

I took a cautious step, then ran to the light.

The hallway was unlike any space I had ever seen before. Mostly due to the walls not really being walls. Some were mirrors, large, velvet blue curtains, and one that looked and smelled just like a high school locker room. As I walked further down, the hallway expanded and I saw there was a small patch of snowy evergreens, some zoo themed shower curtains with the water running behind them, and a TV screen advertising the latest miracle drug, for some obscure, never heard of disease. In the midst of all this, countless doors ran down the corridor on either side.

“So, do I just enter one of these doors and see another memory?”

Affirmative, the primary functions of a door are entering and exiting.

“Great, very helpful.”

I continued down the hallway but came to a stop not a moment later, gazing up at an enormous body of water, frozen in the shape of a towering wall. It was stiff in its vertical boundaries but it’s sparkling green current could be seen floating freely inside its depths. I felt the moisture on my face as I got closer and smelled the crisp scent of sea salt.

“What the…”

Looking up from my low-level view, I could see people’s legs kicking and treading in the water, their upper halves mostly obscured by the bright surface. Deciding it couldn’t be anything too horrible, I reached out to the watery wall and it let my hand pass through. Taking a deep breath, filling my cheeks with air, I stepped into the warm ocean.

My head broke the surface to meet a dazzlingly bright summer day and I bobbed in the green tide of the sea. I noticed my usual long black hair was a short bob, barely making it past my shoulders to the red bathing suit I wore, back when I was working as a lifeguard.

“Hey! Isabel! Heads up!” A foam football went soaring inches past my head and hit the water several feet to my right.

Childhood friends I hadn’t spoken to since high school bobbed in the water around me. I dipped down to see if I could touch the bottom but it was too deep. The shore wasn’t too far away, although it never felt that way until you had to swim back in. One of my friends challenged me to race out to Titanic rock, named so for its reputation of taking down sailboats whose captains were unaware of its submerged wide base. The flat top was shallow, less than a foot under the ocean surface and good for standing on. This gave the amusing impression from far away that someone could “walk on water.” At a different time of day, the waves would have been stronger and dangerous to tackle going out to the rock, but now they were smooth and rounded.

“You’re on,” I laughed, knowing that he didn’t stand a chance. I was an endurance swimmer for my team in those days and Titanic rock was a good distance out. Sure enough, on the last legs there my friend had fallen behind and was panting to catch up. I reached Titanic and inhaling salt air deeply, clambered onto the top. I allowed myself to rest on its smooth surface and let the cool waves roll over my legs and sway me slightly. The sun was strong on my dark tanned face and I looked out to see the shrunken shore. The only sounds were that of my breathing and the ocean lapping at the edge of the rock. The salty water extended its emerald hair far out on either side, out to other shores I couldn’t see. I don’t remember ever feeling so free.

I dove off the rock and found myself in the strange hallway again. I impulsively reached up and felt my hair was long again. I was completely dry but the smell of sea still lingered. I walked further down.

I walked to one of the mirrors which began to glow slightly blue. Who I saw in the mirror however, was not my own reflection. I found myself looking down at a young child. A girl, with smooth black hair and deep brown eyes. I knew right away it was me. I staggered back a bit, away from the reflection but the child stayed still. Then she plopped down and began playing with her barbies. She made them move around as if they were in a shop and gave them all different names and voices. Crouching down next to the mirror and the girl, I searched the rest of her reflection for another person nearby. It was just her playing by herself. There didn’t seem to be a door to enter but I felt I needed to reach her somehow…

“Where is the entrance for this one?” I asked frustrated. Maybe I should try smashing it

with something to get in, I thought to myself.

Please do not cause any damage to the memory machine, the voice chided.

I guess the machine could also creepily know what I was thinking.

“Okay so just tell me how I get in this memory. I won’t break it,” I bargained with the

voice.

You cannot enter this memory. Only observe from the outside.

“What? That’s bullshit! I’ve been in every other one.”

There was a pause, like the voice was considering this.

You cannot enter this memory. This is the first time you realized you are alone. You are

prevented from entering this memory.

“Hey, FUCK YOU!. Some shit machine this is!”

I punched the mirror anyways and regretted it instantly.

“Fuck” I breathed, cradling my fist.

Nothing happened except the girl dropped her dolls from boredom. She looked around as if hoping someone would come and bring her a new fun toy to play with. Realizing this was not the case, she returned to moving her barbies around, although less enthusiastically. This time the setting was a hospital and Ken doll was attending to the patients in a British accent.

I got up angry and defeated. Looking around, I spotted something I hadn’t seen before. A clean white door just steps down the hall, standing slightly ajar. It was dimly lit, the light above it flickering slightly, like a candle. I drew closer and which each step I took, the light grew stronger and steadier.

“What is this one?” I asked with an air of hesitance, although I was dying with curiosity.

My hand curled around the door knob, the light shone brighter and stronger. Without waiting for an answer, I pulled it fully open and stepped through.

Nothingness met me in this memory. Maybe I been returned back to the void? But the voice was silent. Maybe the door was faulty? I searched the area behind me but the door from the hallway wasn’t there. No light shining above, just pitch blackness.

“Ahem.” I said trying to wake the silent robot.

Nothing.

“AHEM.” I coughed louder this time. “I don’t know if you realized but this one’s empty. Nothing here, so um, what’s next?”

This is not a memory. The voice was ice cold.

I felt a jolt of terror.

“What do you mean? I don’t understand, where is this?”

You are here now, this is the present.

“...No? What do you mean?” I half screamed, half whimpered.

You may exit…la máquina…memories…salir.

The machine sounded like it was breaking down and a loud beeping had started.

It’s time to wake up. The voice was shifting, less robotic and more commanding. Almost, human like. More voices were speaking now and I heard their murmurs.

“Please… please don’t leave me...”

“It’s up to you, you can choose.”

“I’ll understand...”

The voices were overlapping, different people talking all at once.

“I don’t know what you want me to do!” I screamed into the void. “Make it stop!”

Someone was crying, the voices grew louder along with the beeping, more insistent still.

It’s time to wake up. This one spoke the clearest of all the voices and was absolutely human.

A white light shocked the air around me, leaving my hair on end and as it faded I waited

to see the void return. Instead, this time I lay on a bed, in a real room. The room was sterile and

white.

“She’s awake!” a voice nearby cried.

Welcome back, Isabel.

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