The Jaunt (short story)

The Jaunt (short story)

Infobox short story |
name = The Jaunt
author = Stephen King
country = United States
language = English
genre = Science fiction short story
publication_type = Periodical
published_in = "The Twilight Zone Magazine" (1st release),
"Skeleton Crew"
publisher =
media_type = Print (Magazine, Hardback & Paperback)
pub_date = 1981
preceded_by =
followed_by =

"The Jaunt" is a short story by Stephen King first published in "The Twilight Zone Magazine" in 1981, and collected in the 1985 anthology "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.

Plot summary

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 serendipitously discovered it quickly learned that it had a disturbing, inexplicable effect on the mice he "sent through"--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 also doesn't mention that since that time, 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 not technically dead.

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 in order to experience the Jaunt while conscious, and has been rendered completely insane. Hair white with shock, corneas yellowed with age, clawing out his own eyes, the boy reveals the terrible nature of the Jaunt: "longer than you think". While physically the process occurs nearly instantaneously, to the conscious mind it lasts an eternity and beyond.

Intertexual references

* The premise of the work is loosely taken from Alfred Bester's "The Stars My Destination", which is mentioned by name.
* The story references both Hubbert peak theory and the water crisis, as well as general concerns about air pollution and nuclear energy. Exxon (now Exxon/Mobil), along with most petroleum corporations, become water purification corporations after a supposed oil crash in the early 21st century. Before the Jaunt's supposed invention in 1987, the planet's air was polluted with coal smoke, gasoline was rationed to the point where people could only drive two times a week, thousands of people in America alone had frozen to death the previous winter due to a lack of heating oil, and a large portion of the California coast had been rendered uninhabitable for "at least sixty years" due to a "nuclear excursion".

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