By Stephen King
Background: First published in 1981 in The Twilight Zone Magazine, “The Jaunt” delves into a different genre than King’s usual fare: science fiction. But it still maintains enough horror elements to get your skin crawling when you find out the secret of “jaunting” or teleporting, which King uses as an homage to the novel, The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester.
What it’s about: A family in the future is getting ready for their jaunt to Mars, where the father is going for business to mine for water. To soothe his children’s nerves for their first jaunt, he tells them the story of how teleportation was discovered. The story starts innocently enough, until the rats used in the experiment mysteriously die after teleporting from one place to another. The scientist tries several things, eventually using human test subjects (criminals on death row). The results are horrifying: death or madness.
The scientist concludes that a living creature must be unconscious in order to successfully teleport, and the happy ending of the story is that it has now become a common commuter transportation, like airplanes. Of course, the person making the jaunt must be put out before sliding through the machine… otherwise, as one criminal who went through awake said upon coming out the other side, “It’s eternity in there.” (This before he promptly died). Of course, the jaunt was used for more insidious purposes on occasion… one man shoved his wife into one portal and turned off the one on the other side so she would be stuck in limbo forever.
Curious, the son decides to hold his breath while the medicine is being administered, so he can experience the jaunt fully awake… the results are not pleasant.
Why it will keep you up at night: Apparently, experiencing the jaunt is like experiencing an eternity of nothingness. As your body vanishes from one location and reappears in another, your brain perceives a very, very, very long time passing, to the point where there is no way a person can emerge anywhere close to sane. When the son comes out, his hair is white, and his eyes are yellowed with age; he is now much, much older than any human has any right to be.
Can you imagine an eternity stuck in your own head? It certainly makes death seem like a better option. What was a split second for the family ended up being forever for the son… forever and ever inside his own mind…