|Genre(s)||Science fiction short story|
|Published in||The Twilight Zone Magazine (1st release),
|Media type||Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)|
|This article does not cite any references or sources. (October 2008)|
||This article's tone or style may not reflect the encyclopedic tone used on Wikipedia. (October 2013)|
"The Jaunt" is a short story by Stephen King first published in The Twilight Zone Magazine in 1981, and collected in King's 1985 collection Skeleton Crew. It belongs primarily to the genre of science fiction rather than King's customary horror, but is quite characteristic of King in probing deeply the minds of its characters when they are placed in incredible circumstances.
The story takes place early in the 24th century, when the technology for teleportation, referred to as "Jaunting", is commonplace, allowing for instantaneous transportation across enormous distances, even to other planets in the solar system.
The term "Jaunting" is stated within the short story to be an homage to The Stars My Destination, a science fiction novel by Alfred Bester. King also includes a reference to two "American heroes... President Lincoln and President Hart," presumably meaning Abraham Lincoln and Gary Hart. King supported Hart's 1984 and 1988 campaigns for President of the United States.
As a family prepares to be "Jaunted" to Mars, the father entertains his two children by recounting the curious tale of the discovery and history of this crude form of teleportation. He explains how the scientist who discovered it quickly learned that it had a disturbing, inexplicable effect on the mice he "sent through"- the mice would either die instantly or behave erratically before dying moments later, eventually concluding that they could only survive the "Jaunt effect" while unconscious. That, the father explains, is why all people must undergo general anaesthesia before using the Jaunt.
The father spares his children the gruesome semi-apocryphal account of the first human to be Jaunted awake, a condemned murderer offered a full pardon for agreeing to the experiment. The man "came through" and immediately suffered a massive heart attack, living just long enough to utter a single cryptic phrase: "It's eternity in there..."
The father doesn't mention that since the inception of the technology, roughly thirty people have, voluntarily or otherwise, jaunted while conscious; they either died instantly or emerged insane. One woman was even shoved alive into eternal limbo by her murderous husband, stuck between two jaunt portals. The man was convicted of murder; though his attorneys attempted to argue that he was not guilty on the grounds that his wife was technically still alive, the implications of that argument only served to secure and hasten his execution.
The father then reveals the nature of why any conscious being goes insane or dies after being Jaunted: it is theorized that while physically the process occurs nearly instantaneously (the condemned man traveled two miles between two portals in 0.000000000067 seconds), to a conscious mind it lasts an eternity and beyond; one is simply left alone with their thoughts in an endless field of white for an unthinkable length of time (suggested to be possibly anywhere from hundreds to billions of years). If one is stuck in this horrific limbo, their mind will either shut itself down or be driven insane from the lack of external stimuli. However, the father is careful in his wording to keep from scaring his family.
After the father finishes his story, the family is subjected to the sleeping gas and Jaunted to Mars. When the father wakes, he finds that his inquisitive son held his breath while being administered the general anesthesia in order to experience the Jaunt while conscious, and has been rendered completely insane. Hair suddenly lengthened and white with shock, corneas yellowed with age, the boy (though hardly resembling one by now - having experienced "an eternity and beyond") cackles like a lunatic and confirms the terrible nature of the conscious Jaunt, shrieking "Longer than you think, Dad! Longer than you think!" The boy then claws his own eyes out.