Estimated reading time — 4 minutes
Just a little, in the right kind of way, kids enjoy being scared. They don’t find loud and horrific things fun, but if something gives off a vibe of the perfect proportion of creepiness, it will turn a child’s head and instead of triggering his uneasiness and cause him to back away, it instills in him a sense of adventure so that he may find out for certain if there really is anything from which to back away.
Candle Cove did that for me. Maybe it was the weird puppets. Maybe it was the themes of haunted caves, murderous pirates and skin-grinding skeletons. Maybe it was the weird camera and sound quality. Whatever it was, I was five years old in 1971 and caught the pilot one day while mom was out running errands, and thus the dial was mine to turn. I came upon the show and was instantly hooked.
I’ve been reading up recently, my curiosity re-ignited and my caution diminished, about this theory that the show was just weak signal static, and these rumors about this “screaming episode” that apparently earned the Laughingstock and her crew an abrupt pull from the seas and the Channel 58 airwaves. I can tell you right now, it wasn’t just dead air or snow. However, I can’t confirm the existence of episode 2-12, because I didn’t get a chance to see it, or for that matter, any of the episodes in the second season. After all, they only aired once. This is the story of why I missed them.
On Tuesday, September 21, 1971, I came home from school in my mom’s clunky Volkswagon. Since there was nothing particularly interesting on in mom’s eyes, she would forfeit the television to me for an hour whilst she rode on her exercise bike in the basement. And, of course, that day, just like several weeks leading up to it, the dial turned right to 58.
Episode six of season one, I would later find out, was called “Ship Crash.” Appropriately enough, the premise involves Percy musing about the lovely song of the “singing dolphins” (a woman is heard rhythmically cooing in the background) and winds up falling asleep at the helm of Laughingstock, and apparently sleep-steering, crashing her into a large, jagged rock jutting out of the waters in a corner of the Cove. The rest of the episode involves Janice and Poppy frantically trying to repair their ship before it sinks, all the while fighting sleep.
Eventually, they spot a strange tree growing near the peak of the mountainous rock and decide it would make great torch wood for distress beacons, so Janice goes to fetch it. On her journey, she begins to sleepwalk, which is how she comes across Susan Siren.
Susan, like most of the other characters on the show, had a cheap but almost-intentionally strange design: She was not a puppet, but an actress, with her body and face painted a sea-greenish pallor, her lips a vibrant orange to compliment it. She was dressed rather, well, inappropriately for a children’s show, her breasts only obscured by a metallic brassiere, small chains (possibly intended originally for necklaces) serving as the straps. Her bottom piece was also fashioned in this way, with a large (obviously paper mache) chain attached to her “iron” panties and the rock behind her, meant to shackle her there. The top half of her head, including her eyes and nose, was concealed by a headpiece fashioned to make her look more “cartoonish”, but it also had a pale-green skin, as well as orange hair and large, spherical orange eyes to match the lipstick.
Susan Siren explains to Janice that she was condemned to “Lullaby Rock” centuries ago, when a fleet of ships almost crashed due to her hypnotic, sleep-inducing singing. Janice laments that she cannot free Susan, but promises to return to visit if Susan promises to lure another ship (without crashing it) to the rock to rescue them. Susan agrees, and sings a peaceful song about “your hard work at sea” and how “it’s earned you a nap”.
That day, I came home from school especially drained. I remember that much. What had happened in kindergarten that would leave a five-year-old so exhausted is lost to time, but I remember being tired. So, taking Susan’s advice, I switched from a sitting position on the couch to a laying one and let my heavy eyes sink. Only seconds after my eyelids made everything dark, I heard the song end, and Susan boast to Janice:
“Now, watch this.”
My eyes fluttered open, eager to see what had happened. But I was somewhere else: The room was white, as where the sheets on the bed I had apparently been tucked into. There were silver, boxy machines surrounding me, beeping monotonously. A little tube poked into my arm and connected it to a hanging pouch of clear liquid. I wanted to touch it, but was afraid of the pain. I wanted to scream, but a large tube had been shoved in my mouth. I wanted to cry and struggle and kick down the walls, but I was too weak, so I settled for sobbing. After a few minutes of that, a woman in a white dress rushed and and called for a doctor, who simply studied me. but he did call my mother, and after I was unhooked from all those machines and latched onto her, exchanging with her happier sobs, she sat me down to explain that I had been in a coma for nearly two years.
So why is my curiosity only rekindled now? I suppose I never related it to the show. The doctors never a gave a straight answer as to why this happened to me, so who else could know of one? I only started looking into it again about a week ago, around a month after mom’s funeral. I was going through some of her tax receipts when I found an empty envelope from NASA, dated December 29, 1971. The kind of envelope a check might arrive in.
Credit: Simon Corvax