Estimated reading time — 17 minutes
You may have heard of the Farnsworth experiments. My dad was one of the scientists involved. He rarely talked about it, and when he did he always said the rumors were overplayed. The team tried and failed, nothing more to it. He seemed to get annoyed at me asking him about it. When I kept it up, he eventually told me a brief account of what happened. It was the mid 80s and he was living in Albany, New York, pursuing his phD. This was a year or two after I was born. He began work on a government funded research project. The experiments were to be done under absolute secrecy. The goal was to test a 15 year old hypothesis that previous to this point seemed untestable. If it were true, then time travel was possible. They spent nearly a year working on the project, known only by it’s codename Farnsworth. They tried and tried, but found nothing. Then the project ended. There were no deaths or disappearances. There were no strange events around the region. The reason the government denied the project’s existence was purely embarrassment over funding something that in hindsight seemed so ridiculous. It felt good to know the truth. Whenever I heard someone retelling the story, I wished I could tell the real version, but I promised dad I wouldn’t, for the sake of his career. For the next few years, I didn’t really think about it. It was one little story, among many, sitting in the back of my mind. I went off to college, lived life, and never gave it a second thought.
A few months after I graduated, I drove up to Boston for Thanksgiving of ’06. Dad still lived in the same house that we lived in since I was maybe 10. Thanksgiving this year was smaller than years before. I was just me, dad, and my older sister Kate. It was a normal thanksgiving meal. Peas were in short supply, but I never much liked them anyway. Looking around the table, I felt deja vu. We all sat in our usual chairs, clustered around the part of the table not covered in papers and screens filled with incomprehensible equations. It nice to be back. Just when the meal was drawing to a close, there was a knock on the front door. I went to go open it. It was a man, maybe 60 years old. He looked very worn out. His grayish hair was a mess. He was unshaven. My dad came over and said,
“Bill, what are you doing here?”
The man walked in and shut the door behind him. Dad looked over to us and said,
“This is Bill Benson, an old colleague of mine.”
Bill looked at me and Kate, then back at my dad.
“John, is there somewhere we can talk, privately?”
“In my office, are you OK?”
“I don’t know.”
They walked away quickly. Kate and I waited for them to come back, very curious about what was going on. She seemed to remember him, just barley, from back in Albany. She must have been around four or five at the time. We kept looking down the hall to dad’s office, the door remained shut. No words possible to make out. After what felt like half an hour, Kate said,
“I have an idea.”
She led me upstairs to her old bedroom, situated right above dad’s office. She motioned to be quiet and pointed to a vent in the corner of the room. From it we could hear the muffled conversation. They were speaking in jargon. I heard a lot about oscillations. After maybe two to three minutes, I heard Bill Benson shout,
“You can’t hide! You have to face the truth!”
My dad replied, sounding more nervous than I had ever heard him,
“I don’t know why you went back.”
I got up from the floor quickly, hitting my head on a shelf with a loud thud. I heard the conversation stop. As me and Kate walked as quietly out of the room as we could, we heard footsteps downstairs. As we descended the old wooden flight of stairs, dad walked into view.
“How much did you hear?” He asked. I replied,
“We were there for maybe five minutes.”
He told us to sit down at the table. We went back to the dining room. Bill Benson sat too, taking some old notebooks off the seat of his chair and putting them on top of the cluttered side of the table. Dad took a deep breath and started to speak,
“Kate, Robert, I have some things I need to explain.”
He seemed to be very shaken up, but he was pushing through it to the best of his ability.
“You know how I’ve said I worked on the Farnsworth experiments when you both were really little. When I told you we failed, that was a lie. It worked, better than anyone could have expected. But there was a problem. A big problem. And now we don’t talk about it, we think about it as little as we can, and we never go back. That’s why we moved away from Albany. Now Bill’s problem is he went back. He shouldn’t have. We can’t get ourselves back involved.”
He looked at me and my sister.
“For your own good, don’t try any detective work. Live like I live, live like nothing ever happened. Those of us who ignore the past are fine. Now we are going to eat dessert like nothing happened. And we’re going to forget, OK?”
I nodded, though my head was filling with questions. Bill looked over at dad and said.
“I can’t just leave it like this, I tried for years. We have to find the ones they took. Emily might be out there, don’t you want to find her.”
“My wife is dead, she died in a car accident.”
Bill started to speak, but dad cut him off.
“If you want to stay for desert, stay. But if try to dredge things up that are meant to be forgotten, than you’re not welcome in my house.
I had never seen dad act like this before. Bill looked at him and said,
“I’m sorry John.”
He got up and walked through the adjoining living room and out the door, into the light snow. Dad took a deep breath and didn’t speak for maybe a minute. The he spoke,
“I’m sorry you had to see that, there’s nothing to worry about. I’ll get out the pumpkin pie.
We ate in pie in silence.
A few weeks later, after I had gotten over the shock of that night, I did some research on Bill Benson. At first I couldn’t find anything referencing him from within the past ten years. I found an old webpage for a university that listed a William C. Benson as a professor. The photo was definitely him. I ran the photo of him through face recognition and found two matches. The first was old. In it were five people, some in lab coats. Benson was on the left, looking much younger. His hair was neat. He was wearing street clothes, also neat. On the right were two women I didn’t recognize. They were the oldest of the group. In the middle were my parents. Dad, who looked nearly the same as after all those years, and mom, who I only remember from pictures. Above them was a banner saying Happy New Year ’85. The photo was taken a few months after I was born. I saved it. I then opened the second match. This picture of Benson must have been more recent. He looked like he had on thanksgiving, but older. His hair was grayer and longer. The photo had been taken in the dark with a flash, making the background hard to make out. The thing that struck me most about that picture was the look of absolute terror on his face. I closed the photo quickly. I saved it too. I then noticed that they came from the same source. It was a blog with the two photos as the only posts. There were no dates posted on posts. Whoever made the blog must have disabled them from showing.
As the weeks and months went by, I tried to forget all that had happened. Whenever I did think about it, I found myself filled with an equal mix of fear and curiosity. Forgetting over time became easier. I got a job in Tampa Florida. I was in and out of two relationships. Kate was living in New Jersey, working on her residency at big hospital. We never talked about it. I assumed she was trying to forget too. Dad never said anything about it. He was completely normal. I took up photography as a hobby, and was becoming pretty good. Four years after I met Benson, the family got back together for thanksgiving. I flew up from Florida to participate. This time there were more people. My aunt and uncle, a cousin, and Kate’s fiancee all showed up. It felt strange entering that old house. The memories flooded back to me. I was the last to arrive. The large dining room table was cleared of the clutter that had filed much of it in the past. I realized I was later than I thought, as thanksgiving dinner was nearly underway. I sat on the last untaken chair, the same chair Bill Benson had sat on. Any anxiety I felt began to fade after a few minutes. It was nice. I was with family. Dad was chatting about the goings on at MIT, his research, who was getting tenure. The usual things. I occasionally thought I heard some nervousness in his voice, but it was too subtle to really tell. We ate pumpkin pie. The next day I returned to florida. I felt relieved to step back into the warm Florida air.
Two months later I got a call from Kate. Dad had disappeared. He hadn’t been coming into work. He wasn’t at his house. His car was in his driveway. There was a search for him. I flew out immediately. They combed the area.They scoured databases, but even with his name, face, thumbprint, and retina, they found nothing. After a month, they stopped looking. He was presumed dead. I wanted to tell the police everything I knew, but they wouldn’t believe me. Calling the Farnsworth experiments into it would be like blaming his disappearance on a UFO or the Bermuda triangle. I did tell them about Bill Benson. I said that if he was alive and anyone knew where he was, Benson would. I told them he was a professor at a local college around 15 years ago, but I didn’t remember which one. They quickly found it, Bridgewater State University. He taught physics and math there for ten years, before resigning. It was clear he hadn’t had any professorships after that. He’d complete dropped off of everyone’s radar. The one piece of information they could find about him was an apartment he had rented five years ago. It was in Albany New York. They couldn’t get any other information. To them, Bill Benson was a dead end. I knew dad was alive. He must have decided to go back, just like Bill. I had to find my dad and try to pull him out of whatever he was putting himself into.
On February 16, I decided to find Benson myself. In early morning I packed up my luggage and checked out of my Boston hotel. I scraped the ice off the windshield of my rental car and set off towards Albany. I didn’t tell anyone where I was going. The drive was a little under three hours. When I got there I checked into another hotel. I used a fake name. I don’t know why I did it, it just felt like the right thing to do. Later, I made my way to his old apartment, bringing my camera with me. After a short drive I found the building. I parked and walked in. I made my way to the main office and walked in.
“Can I help you? Said the woman behind the desk.
“Yes, can I ask you a few questions about someone who used to live here?”
“Is it about William Benson?” she replied.
“Yes it is.”
“I told the police everything, I don’t know where he went when he moved out. Are you a detective?”
“No, I’m John Bowen’s son.”
She nodded and said,
“You could talk to his old next door neighbors. He lived in apartment 108, the people in 107 still live there. I hope they find your father.”
I thanked her and left. After a quick look around I realized 100s were the basement. I walked down a short flight of stairs and into a long hallway. 107 was easy to find. I knocked on the door. The residents were a couple in their early 30s. A man and a woman named Kimberly and Al. I talked to them for a few minutes. They saw Benson as a bit of nut. They barley talked to him besides greetings in the hallway. As I was about to leave, Kimberly seemed to remember something and told me to wait. She ran into the apartment and came out a minute later with a small taped shut cardboard box.
“He told us if anyone trustworthy came looking for him, to give them this.” She said.
I thanked them both and returned to my car, ripping through the tape key. In it was a ridiculously old looking cell phone, a photograph, and a few pieces paper. I looked at the photograph first. I knew that photo. It was the New Years day photo. The exact same photo I had seen on the internet four years previously. Memories came flooding back. I thought of the day Bill Benson came to thanksgiving dinner, and what he had said. I took a deep breath. I looked at the papers. Sheet after sheet of random notes and equations. I then flipped open the cell phone. It turned on. I opened the list of contact, only one was listed. It was cell phone number under the name “call”. I did. It rang, once, twice, three times, then I heard a voice.
“Who is this?” Said the phone.
“It’s Robert Bowen” I replied.
“Good, meet me in half an hour in Washington park, I’ll be by the fountain.”
The call cut off. I knew it was Bill Benson. I remember his voice clearly. I put the contents of the box in my camera bag and the made my way by foot to the park. After a bit of walking, I saw a fountain in the distance. Snow lightly fell. As I got closer to the fountain I realized it was off, presumably for the winter. I brushed the snow off a bench and sat down waiting. After about 10 minutes, I saw someone walking towards me out of storm. It was him. Bill Benson sat down. He looked older than when I last saw him. His hair was completely gray. It looked like he hadn’t cut it for a while. He finally said,
“Have you seen my dad?” I asked.
“No, but I’m trying to find him though.”
“What happened to him, where is he?”
Bill took a long pause then said,
“I don’t want to get you involved. I’m sorry I brought you into this, and I’m sorry I brought your John back into it. He was the only one of us who made a clean break.”
“What happened with the Farnsworth experiments, what is it that everybody has been trying to hide from me for my entire life?”
“It’s for your own good that I don’t tell you. Do you have the photograph from the box?”
I pulled the picture out. Bill took it and pointed to the woman on the far right.
“Disappeared, insane, disappeared, disappeared, oh and there’s me. I’m trying to find these people, not send more off.”
And with that he left, running away without another word. I snapped a picture of him as he disappeared over a hill. I looked to the ground and saw his footprints in the snow. I started following them before they were filled in. It felt like I had been following those footprints for an hour. They just kept going. Faint, but not quite filled in. I finally stopped to catch my breath. I was thinking Bill Benson must be keeping in great shape. He, in his 60s, was easily outpacing me, a 26 year old. Then a more unnerving thought came to mind. Washington park was less than half a square mile large. But I had been going straight for what must have been well over a mile. I wasn’t going in circles, was I? I also hadn’t seen the road in a long time. I began to look around. I was in the middle of a snowy wilderness. I was just in a city. How could I be here. The snow was starting to get pretty light. I pulled out my cell phone, no reception. Bill’s cell phone, no reception. I looked at the footprints. They were almost gone, but not quite. I kept going for maybe 20 more minutes until I found where they were going to. They stopped at an old building made of sheet metal. It looked to be two stories. It had one window and one door. That building gave me the creeps. I pulled out my camera and snapped a picture of it. I walked the perimeter, but saw no other ways in.
My head hurt like crazy. It was dark. Night. What the fuck just happened. Night. I was lying in the snow. I tried to think back. The last thing I could remember was the strange building. I took out my phone and looked at the time. 2:28 AM. I used the glow of my phone as a flashlight, illuminating only a few feet in front of me. The only thought in my head was get the fuck out of here. I didn’t know how to get back. I was shivering. I touched my head, feeling a sharp pain. I shined the phone light on my hand and saw blood. I decided just to start walking. I couldn’t stay in one place. Every time I stopped I felt like I was being watched. Eventually I saw a light in the distance. I felt a tremendous feeling of relief. It was civilization. As I grew closer, the light grew brighter. Only one light. It certainly wasn’t downtown Albany. Maybe it was a farmhouse. Somewhere warm and safe. I began to run, cellphone outstretched. I felt a sinking feeling as the source of the light grew more apparent. It was the sheet metal building. The light was coming from the one window. Then it turned off. The only light coming from my cellphone. The woods were completely still. I was frozen in place. I didn’t want to make a sound. The one door began to open, and I heard a familiar voice. It was Bill.
“Robert! Is that you?” said Bill as he stepped outside. I felt relieved.
“Get inside before you freeze to death!”
I walked in and following Bill. It was warm inside. The room was large and devoid of any furnishings. There were two flights of stairs, one going up and one going down.
“What is this place”? I asked.
“This was our home base, back in the 80s.”
“Is this where the experiments happened?”
“Yes, exactly”, said Bill, “Our lab was downstairs. Everything down there has been broken for a long time though.” “How did I get here from the middle of a city?” I asked.
“It would take me days to explain, just think of it as a result of the experiments.”
“Somebody knocked me out, how do you know we’re not in danger?”
“I’m sure it was a tree branch. This place has been calm for years. We’re safe.”
I was beginning to settle down slightly.
“I’m gonna get some coffee” said Bill. “You want some coffee?”
“Yeah, sure” I said.
He walked took flight of stairs that led up. After a minute or two I walked over to those stairs. I could see Bill boiling water on a wood burning stove. I walked over to the other staircase. I shined my phone light down the stairs, revealing an old wooden staircase. I flicked a light switch, causing the room to fill with light. It was a laboratory, with many devices I didn’t know the purpose of. I nervously walked through it. On the other side of the lab was another door. I tried it, it opened without resistance. I flicked another switch and saw another lab, very similar to the first, but a little bigger. I noticed a banner on the far wall. It was old and faded, but I could still make out what it said. Happy New Year ’85. I noticed on one table was an old notebook. I picked it up and opened it. It was lab notes. I began to read. A lot of it I didn’t understand, but one section was relatively clear. It was a series journal entries by one of the scientists. I don’t have the notes, but I’ll try my best to summarize what I read. Early entries are calm and optimistic. Lots of technical stuff. They ate pizza one night. Then there are the next few entries, more spaces out. They are mostly talking about an issue with oscillators. The tone is wearier. Then there’s a three month gap. The next entry was the last, and I remember it clearly word for word. It said “We’re being watched, I know it. I hate that hole”. I didn’t know what exactly it meant, but all my nerve seemed to leave. I wanted to go back upstairs. But first, I would take some pictures of the journal. It would only take a second. I took the camera out of my camera bag and turned it on. On the screen were flashing words, “out of memory”. That was strange. To fill my memory card up you would need a ridiculous number of photos. It was barley 7 percent full when I’d last looked. When did I last use the camera? Before I blacked out. I heard faint footsteps from far away.
“I’ve got coffee” shouted Bill.
“Be there in a minute” I shouted back.
My mind was now focused on this new peculiar problem. I began to scroll through my photos. Each picture had a number, the date it was taken, and its size on the screen around it. There was the picture of Bill’s old apartment building. There was Bill running over the hill. There was the metal building. There it was again, and again. How many pictures of it did I take. I must not have blacked out. I lost a portion of my memory. I Kept clicking through the pictures. I must have been taking them like mad. In the pictures, I walked back into the woods. There were ten or twenty of snow and trees. Then one of a man, Bill. He looked mad. I couldn’t remember any of this. I’m guessing he was mad that I followed him. He calmed down in the next few pictures. We then showed up back at the metal building. I had no idea why we went back. Bill opened the door and we went in.
“Coffee’s getting cold!”
“I’m almost done with something!”
The next few pictures were of the ground floor of the metal building. But it was filled with furniture. All of it looked like it had been falling apart for a long time. Where did it all go? I felt a chill go up my spine. The next photos were of the first lab. I must have been trying to document every machine. Finally I got to a photo where Bill reached for the door to the second lab. The room I’m in now. I must have gone through the same routine. Photographing everything. There was the banner. There were the lab notes. Then, one photo showed up that confused me. It was of another door. One I didn’t see anywhere in the room. The file size on this photo was 15.3 gigabytes.
“Are you coming? Don’t stay down there too long!
The file sizes were expanding with each image. The next was a look at the door from farther away. Then one of Bill opening the door, obviously straining himself. The screen on my camera labeled this photo as the fourth from the last. Three more. I pushed the button to see the next. It was Bill. He looked terrified. And then it hit me. This was the same photo I saw online four years ago. The background was too dark to make out what was in the third room. Whatever it was it was horrible, I could see it in his eyes.
“I’ll just bring the coffee down to you then!” Bill shouted calmly from two rooms away.
How could he be so calm after what he saw. How could he say everything was safe. My fingers shook, but I managed to move on to the next picture. It was a hole. Going deep deep down. The instant the light from the photo hit my eyes I felt a horrible feeling. I knew something was out there. Watching me. I felt it. I felt watched from every angle. I quickly pushed the button, I could’t stand looking at that picture for another second. The camera started loading the last picture. What flashed onto the screen shocked me more than anything in my life. Bill’s dead body, lying next to the whole. He was covered from head to toe in scratches and wounds. A pool of blood had formed around him, dripping down into the hole. The same expression from the previous photo locked on his pale dead face. I almost threw up. I pulled the batteries out of the camera. I felt too week to move. Then another thought came to mind. If Bill Benson was dead, who was it I had been taking to the last few hours. Who was it whose footsteps were coming from the second lab. I felt the watching return.
There was nowhere I could hide. I heard the footsteps grow louder. Bill, whatever thing was impersonating him was standing in the doorway. I could see through the disguise. The form I once saw as Bill was composed of grey wisps and tendrils, somehow forming one creature. Now I could see what was watching me. More and more of them Became clear. They moved in on me from all directions. They seemed formed themselves into millions of arms each grabbing me. I struggled with all my might, but I was helpless. They felt cold and horrible. Then they started to pull me across the room. I managed to get one glimpse of where they were pulling me, an open door. They were pulling me towards that hole. I struggles as they dragged me through the small doorway, past Bill’s body, closer and closer. Then they stopped. I don’t know how long I was held there. All I know is eventually I passed out from exhaustion.
I woke up in a field. I was alive. I still felt watched, but I was alive. Today, I’m back to living my life, the best that I can. They spared me. I don’t know why. Now I’m under a sort of house arrest if you will. I’m somewhere where I can’t make trouble. I’ve been here three years. It’s now 2013. I have a job, an apartment. They’re always there in the corner of my eye. Watching me. Every day. I haven’t told anyone. I don’t know why they do different things to different people. Some they watch, some they kill, and to some they do much worse. I’ve now concluded that the The Farnsworth experiment sought to find a means of time travel by drilling through another reality. But nobody considered what inhabitants it might have. I’ll end with a brief statement to the people who were in my old life.
My name is Robert Lawrence Bowen. I was born in 2084. I’m 29 years old. Dad, if you’re reading this, take your own advice. Kate, don’t come for me. That also goes for everyone back in Florida. By the time any of you read this I’ll be dead. Don’t try to save me. Don’t try to change the past, they won’t let you. The Farnsworth experiments have had many victims, don’t let yourself become one.
Credit To – James N.