Excerpt from InviroTech Laboratory Report dated 11 Mar 2014.
The Mental/Epochal Displacement System will serve two functions. First, the apparatus will implement an O.B.E. (Out of Body Experience) by stimulating and opening all body chakras via electrode contacts, thus artificially producing prime conditions for the projection. Secondly, MEDS will produce a microscopic vacuum as powerful as a black hole, enabling the mental projection to travel to a pre-determined destination in our timeline for a pre-specified duration. The unit is programmed for a retrograde restoration, causing the subject to return to the body at the precise second of departure. Effects on the psyche, both short- and long-term, are as yet unknown.
Standing in MEDS for the third time.
Hands on the grips, white-knuckled.
Green Light on.
Julianne flipping the console switch.
The hum, coming hard.
The lights flickering.
The hum, continuing.
Red Light off.
Red Light off.
Green Light on.
Hal sagged against the inside of the MEDS unit. He clawed at the window.
Julianne’s voice, her sweet voice, her lovely voice crying, “Hal, are you okay?” He’d forgotten what it sounded like.
Hal tried his own voice. It sounded bizarre in his ears. “Jules, get me out of here.” And then MEDS opened and he was falling forward.
The last thing he heard before passing out was Julianne’s shriek: “Oh God, Harold, your hair! What happened to your hair?” He didn’t have to see it to know it had gone ghost white.
He awoke on the floor. Julianne was kneeling beside him, crying, her long auburn locks swinging, having escaped her makeshift bun. She stroked his head.
Hal reached up to let his fingers trail down her cheek. “Jules. You’re much more beautiful than I remembered.”
“Harold, thank God you’re all right,” she wept. Her fingers never left his hair; they wound into it, curled it around their slim widths. “Harold, what the hell happened?”
“Something went wrong,” he rasped. I set the computer to send me to 1963, the year I was born. I was only supposed to be there three minutes.”
“You were only unconscious in the MEDS for a second,” Julianne said, sniffling.
Hal nodded. “In real time it would appear that I was asleep for a blink of the eye. Because of the…” he frowned, trying to recall. “Because of the retrograde restoration.”
“Yes,” Julianne nodded. “You were only gone a second.”
“No,” Hal said. “I wasn’t gone for a second and I wasn’t gone for three minutes. I was gone for thirty years. My God! I wandered the planet for thirty years! The things I saw! The things I did! I learned how to manipulate the environment with my thoughts!”
Hal pushed himself up. He was beginning to remember what it was like to have a body. It felt hot and tight on him, like a leather glove on a sweaty fist. He shook himself and focused. “Julianne, did you change the settings? When I…” his eyes glazed, remembering an event that to him had occurred thirty years prior. “When I went to the restroom? Did you touch the program at all?”
“You know I wouldn’t do that.”
“Then it’s what I feared,” he said. “Come on, Jules. We have to destroy MEDS.”
She blinked. “Destroy it?”
“I’ve got good news that’s going to help your research,” he told her as he yanked the power supply on the MEDS. Green Light and Red Light blinked out forever. He reached for the wrench and began disassembling the time machine he’d spent his life creating.
“What is it?” she asked.
“I can tell you anything you want to know about ghosts. What they are, where they come from, how they came to be. I should know. I was one for thirty years. Now help me break this down. They’re all around us, so we have to hurry.”
“Why, Hal? Why do we have to destroy MEDS?”
“Don’t you understand? The dead phone, the lounge lights. The alteration of the programming to keep me out of my body thirty years. Don’t you see? They’re here right now, come back from a time when MEDS is commonplace. They’re trying to scare us off to make this research their own. For credit and profit.” He turned and looked her in the eye. “We’re the ghosts, Jules. We, the living. The dead have nothing to do with ghosts. The dead are dead.”
Julianne stared at her husband as understanding dawned. She scrambled for a nearby hammer and began prying at the panels.
They worked for half an hour, ignoring the incessant ringing of the lab phone and the ominous flickering of the lights. A harsh rapping began at various points in the room and the computer keys clicked untouched, spelling out warnings and portents of doom. Hal gathered his research — reams of hard copy, boxes of jump drives — and tossed it all in the steel trash can by the console. He lit a match and touched it to the edge of the papers, and watched flames lick away everything he’d ever accomplished. Lick away his life.
Somewhere along that nonlinear plane of time, a connection broke. The phone stopped mid-ring. The lights resumed their steady luminescence. The computer keys rested. All was silent.
Except for Harold von Ende. He slid, still naked, to the floor and wept into his hands. His wife Julianne knelt by him and held his head against her until he quieted.
Excerpt from InviroTech Laboratory Report dated 15 March 2014.
Research on the MEDS project ceased. Experiments into mental and/or epochal displacement deemed unstable and unsafe for further analysis. Unit disassembled and research discontinued. Remainder of funding relinquished to InviroTech Laboratories. Resignation of researcher and assistant signed and delivered to InviroTech Board of Directors. Any inquiries pertaining to the nature or details of MEDS research will be absolutely and unequivocally rejected.