“What happened?” Ethan croaked.
Relief washed across the faces looking down on him. Doctor Stewart said, “You gave us quite a scare. Your heart stopped.”
“Four times. We defibrillated you and then you were back. We need to run tests.”
“My heart stopped?”
“Yes. How do you feel?”
“Just weak. How long was I out?”
“Not even three minutes.”
Dolci leaned forward. “Did something happen out there? Something different?”
“You might say that.”
During his debriefing the next day, Ethan explained where he had been and that he had actually inhabited a body. He’d found that lying was easier if he told the truth about everything and then held back certain bits. He withheld the part about the killing. And how long he had been there.
As part of his new freedoms, they installed a computer in Ethan’s room. He had internet access, but special software blocked email and messaging capabilities.
Ethan dug deep into the online archives of The Washington Post. Sure that he had seen a 1932 Packard he started his search in that year.
The search engine listed nine articles with the name Crenshaw. In the fourth article Ethan saw the photograph of a disheveled corpse nested under the headline, Victim of Brutal Beating Found. A sidebar showed a photograph of the ivory-handled knife found next to the body. Under that he saw a photo of Crenshaw, the black and white image showing the stream of blood across his chest as black.
A sickening heave surged through Ethan’s guts. His memory shot to those moments when he could smell the onions on the breath of the man he was choking. When he stopped smelling the onions, he knew he had cut off Crenshaw’s air. He remembered specifically the little tick of sound as the cartilage in Crenshaw’s throat gave way.
Ethan stared at a blank wall of his room. A shiver of fear ran through him. He remembered the feel of the night and the smell of the river. I killed a man. I changed something.
Ethan now had hard evidence that he had been in the past.
He had no qualms about the future. It didn’t yet exist, so what he might bring back as information to use in the present seemed of no consequence. But the past terrified Ethan. What if he changed something that somehow affected whether Beth was ever born? What if his quest for her resulted in her never existing? What would that do to the world? What would it do to him? And would he even be aware of it if he made a change that drastic?
Ethan knew two different pasts: one in which Crenshaw killed the black man named Hobie and one in which Hobie killed Crenshaw. How can I do this? How can I straddle two different awarenesses? Only one event exists now.
The two different versions of reality existed only in Ethan’s thoughts. This seemed significant. Did he stand outside reality when he traveled through time? But then what reality did he inhabit now? How many realities existed? Had he come back to the same reality he had left or one slightly different?
He had read that in quantum theory cause and effect did not exist. If that were so, then all kinds of paradoxes could occur. How could he unravel how he did what he did? He shook his body like a wet dog and set aside these thoughts for now. He would push on and hope that understanding would come.
One thing had become clear, though. Once he inhabited a dying body and reenergized it, he could not leave it unless the body died.
Ethan clenched his hands into fists. What is happening to me? Good Lord, what am I becoming?
Like a storm-tossed survivor of a shipwreck, he felt as if he had been washed up on the shore of an unknown land, naked and alone, with nothing but his will to sustain him.