Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Tim lay sprawled on the couch, his eyes fixed on the television set. He flipped lazily through the channels, not paying particular attention to any one. He just flipped. Tim much enjoyed the anhedonic routine, the ever-burning fireplace keeping the room a comfortable temperature. Occasionally, he would rotate through the entire selection of channels, and land back on channel three, which was just dull static. Tim used the channel three anniversary as a breaking spot to use the bathroom or get more popcorn. This routine would last until his mother got home with his sister from dance class, and she would promptly turn off the television, scold him, and nag him into his room to study. Tim was, after all, coming up on 8th grade finals, and it was important for him to score well enough to secure a place at his high school of choice. Tim was a bright 8th grader, and his mother wanted him to use it to his full advantage, so he didn’t get to watch TV much while she was home and not busy with work.
Tim also ran a small business with a friend, Oscar, mowing lawns for the neighbors. They were in an older community with houses that had a lot of history, so the lawns required some effort to keep in check. Since Tim and Oscar were the only two boys their age in the neighborhood, they earned their pay in full each week in sweat and sometimes blood if the bushes were too wild. However, in addition to the extra cash, this meant to Tim that he got to stay out some nights later than his mother cared to stay awake, and he would spend those nights, and often into the waking hours, asprawl on the couch watching no particular channel.
On Friday, Tim’s mother busted through the door exasperated (a common occurrence) and declared “Timothy, turn that darn TV off now!”
Tim timidly did as he was told, and even added a “yes mom” for good measure. He began to high tail it to his room where he was safe, but his mom caught him before he could escape the living room.
“I know you’re out mowing lawns tonight, but I’m going to see your grandma for the weekend. I need you to take the dogs outside when you get home tonight and tomorrow.”
“Ugh, fine, I’ll do it.” Tim wanted to make the exhaustion of preemptively having to do an additional task apparent in his voice, and before he was given any more responsibility, he quickly retreated to his room.
Night came, and since his mom was gone, Tim decided to stay out until midnight, and upon getting home, expressed his dominion over the couch, sitting as close to the warm fireplace as he could.
Flip, flip, flip, flip, channel three. Tim thought over if he wanted Pop Tarts or Cheetos when it dawned on him: those stupid dogs. Tim left the TV on channel three and crept down the hall to his sister’s room, where she had taken the dogs to sleep. Tim cracked open the door, and it took his eyes a second to adjust to the darkness of the room.
Window blinds drawn closed allowed only little slats of light into the room. Tim glanced over the room, and he began to tip-toe in when his eyes fell on the foot of his sister’s bed. There sat a figure, hunched over the side of the bed whose whole body crackled like static. Tim had a thought and quickly looked behind him at the TV, still on channel three. The figure and the static on channel three both crackled in the same way. Tim’s feet grew roots, and his mouth grew dry. Against his will, Tim’s eyes drifted slowly back to the crackling figure. The mass of static sat still, and only seemed to be listening. Tim slowly crept back out of the room, and once he felt like he had good distance, he turned around and sprinted back to the TV, and switched it off with the remote. He hurried into the kitchen and grabbed a flashlight and a knife, and slowly began inching his way down the hall, weapons in hand.
At the door frame, Tim peered around with one eye, and surveyed the room. He saw dolls and clothes, but nothing else. He gained confidence and entered the room, still brandishing the knife with unease. He looked under the bed, in the closet, and he saw nothing. Not a sign of the static figure. Tim decided that was enough for that night, and he went to bed, placing the knife on his nightstand for good measure.
In the morning, he told his sister, Clair, about the static figure, and she was mortified. As a seven-year-old, she was very vocal.
“Tim, you big, stupid jerk! Why didn’t you wake me up!”
Tim was starting to both wish his mother would arrive home early, and at the same time hoping that she wouldn’t.
He said to his sister: “I’m sorry! How about this, we stay up tonight, and we can see if it’s still there, ok?”
This seemed to be enough to appease her, and she agreed.
That evening, Tim and Clair waited: Tim holding the knife, and his sister holding her stuffed animal. At midnight, the two stealthily and cautiously exited the safety of Tim’s room and positioned themselves for their plan: Tim, who was expected to be brave, was crouched at his sister’s door, knife in hand, and his sister was waiting for his signal to turn on the TV, which was still set to channel three. Tim knew he had to do this for his sister, but sweat balled up on his forehead, and he began to quiver. He was terrified. He was frozen for a moment, but after swallowing the cotton ball in his throat, Tim turned to his sister, and nodded. She hesitated, and then turned on the TV. Tim whirled and prepared himself, but the moonlight slats showed only what they did before: dolls, clothes, and no static man.
Then, as his adrenaline slowed, his hearing returned, and in the background he heard Martha Stuart joyfully babbling about a slow-cooked oven turkey. He tentatively turned from his sister’s open door and returned to her, who hypnotically stared at the TV.
“Channel three used to be static, right?”
“Yeah”, she whispered.
“Ok…”, Tim said, “try changing the channel.”
His sister, still holding the remote, clicked the channel button. Martha Stuart was abruptly replaced by a familiar and now terrifying noise: static. However, this time, the crackling emanated from channel 2. And this time, the crackling was loud, and the static snaps filled the whole space of the room.
The two children were stunned. The white noise surrounded them, but it was the overwhelming presence that came with it that tied them in place. Both children were entirely too terrified to turn around, and so fixated their eyes on the phasing black and white. Tim shook his head and brought himself out of his haze. He blinked several times and turned to his sister, who stood motionless next to him.
He faced his sister, forming a plan to survive all the while, consumed by a gripping fear. Yet, Clair stood still, continuing to face the TV.
Tim whispered over the static “Clair… Clair?”
She remained frozen in her spot, eyes glued to the television set. Suddenly with a jerk of her neck, she swiveled around and began marching, remote in hand, toward the raging fire on the back wall of the room, now barely confined by it’s metal boundaries of the fireplace. Tim didn’t have time to think about his sister’s actions, because in the same spot Clair had just moved away from, there stood an all-too familiar figure in her place; tall and crackling, the static figure glared, without any discernible eyes, directly into Tim’s heart; Tim felt the boring line of sight in his chest.
Tim clenched his fist around the knife he was brandishing, and did his best to glare back at the static figure, but it was all too much. Tim felt a weight on his back like he had never felt before as he continued to stare at the static figure, and his legs began to feel heavy. Tim, on instinct, brought his heavy hand above his head, and slashed the knife down into the static figure.
From the moment Tim’s hand entered the static figure, the weight only increased, and Tim dropped to his knees from exhaustion. An overwhelming dullness overcame him, and he felt listless and emotionless, even depressed. Tim began losing feeling in his hand still holding the knife inside the static figure, tiny needles poking at his extremities. However, Tim didn’t feel any physical form around where his hand had entered the figure. It was like he had just stabbed a freezing mass of air.
Tim immediately removed his hand from inside the static mass. As soon as he did, feeling in his hand returned and his mood lightened, but that stare still bore into him. Tim noticed that the figure hadn’t moved to avoid the attack. In fact, it hadn’t moved at all since it replaced his sister where she was standing.
Tim thought to unplug the TV entirely, in light of the stationary figure whose only bite was the oppressive, eye-less stare. Tim, clinging to his knife, crept with space around the unmoving figure toward the wall electrical outlet behind the television and crackling entity. In a swift, single movement, Tim grasped the TV power plug and jerked it from the wall. In the next few moments, Tim expected to feel a wash of relief, but the resounding static did not cease. The TV did not turn off.
Tim dilatorily remembered his sister like a train hitting him at full speed. Tim knew that he had to turn the TV off to salvage any chance of survival, and his sister was pacing toward the wild flames holding the only thing that could control the static man: the remote.
In an instant, Tim left the static figure and TV plug still lying on the floor behind him and sprinted to his sister, grabbing her shoulder and turning her around to face him. Her body wobbled as she turned, as if she had a huge weight on her shoulders. Once she had turned to face him, Tim shook her shoulders and called her name. “Clair! Clair!” She remained standing still, her head drooped and facing down. Finally, Tim put his hands on her cheeks, and lifted her head to look at her face. Her messy brown hair dangled across her forehead and cheeks, and her mouth was slightly ajar, but when Tim looked into her eyes, he felt the same, deep feelings of weight that he had when the static man glared at him, only this time, Tim could see Clair’s eyes: her pupils had grown to cover her whole eye, static crackling in the blackness that filled them. Tim yelped, and let go briefly. Clair took the opportunity to turn around, and begin pacing toward the fire again, and Tim realized she was holding the remote out, getting ready to incinerate the only thing that could save both their lives.
Tim leapt at Clair, tackling her to the ground. She was several years younger than him, but she fought him viciously, like an animal with one purpose. Tim eventually overpowered her because of his size, and turned toward the TV set to channel two, remote in hand. Clair, from underneath him, clawed at his legs with her fingernails, silently drilling holes in him with her dull static eyes.
Tim winced from the pain, but remained vigilant, and with a glare of his own aimed at the static man, he switched the TV off. At that instant, the static man vanished as quickly as he had appeared, and Clair’s writhing figure relaxed and lay still. Tim exhaled quickly and deeply, rolling off of his sister and onto his back, breathing heavily to catch air back into his lungs. Tim sat and panted, coming aware of himself again, he realized he had blood flowing from several fingernail marks on his thighs.
Clair sat up with a jolt and demanded to know what had happened.
“I think the static man was making you do what he wanted you to do. You were going to throw the remote into the fire, and we wouldn’t be able to shut the TV off.” Tim explained patiently through continual deep breaths from his place on the floor.
Aghast, Clair clamored to her feet, and surveyed the room, seeking anything that may present as menacing. “That was really scary, Timmy.”
“I know,” said Tim.
The children hardly slept that night. Clair dozed off a few times on the couch next to Tim, but Tim stayed awake the entire night, holding his ineffective-but-comforting knife in both hands, eyes fixed on the TV.
In the morning, Tim and Clair moved carefully around the house, but especially the living room, giving the TV as much space as they could. It was Sunday, and neither of them wanted to do any kind of homework (“Really, how can we?” Clair so eloquently argued), so they tried to waste away the day as fast as they could in anticipation of their mother returning that evening.
Inevitably, time brought them both to Sunday evening, and a sense of dread filled the house as darkness blanketed the world outside. Tim was intentional about not stoking the fire that night. It had been completely extinguished since the night before, and Tim put an extra bucket of water over the coals to be safe.
The children sat huddled together, alone surrounded by shadows and the unknown, amongst the sinister living room decor, the most sinister of these the television set, which sat silently along the wall, dial switched the channel two. The children didn’t want to move, and they didn’t. They sat like statues, monoliths guarding the threshold to the static realm: the remote. It sat quietly between them, both children acutely aware of the remote and it’s placement. They were careful even to not touch it for fear of unleashing some crackling demon.
Hours drifted by, and the shadows in the living room elongated to stretch unearthly angles of black across the living room floor. Tim still sat excruciatingly motionless, glaring at the TV with all the resolve that he could muster after the passed time.
Tim began to nod his head after so long on the watch. His head would bounce, and promptly he would shake his head and fix his eyes on the TV screen, and then his eyelids would flutter shut again. Open eyes, nothing on the TV, closed eyes.
Tim relaxed for the first time in hours. The house remained silent, and the TV off. Clair had fallen asleep hours ago, protected by her blanket and stuffed animal. Tim laid back on the wall behind him, and rested his eyes for a few seconds. Just as Tim’s head bobbed again, that horrifying, brittle crackling exploded throughout the living room in a deafening and threatening display of force. Both children jolted wide awake, and stood with desperate agility. Tim and Clair clapped their hands over their ears: the blaring static reverberated in their bones. Tim looked around the living room, and saw that the TV had switched on, and was switching slow through each channel, one by one. Each channel bore the same tainted mark of ascendancy: static. The channel switched to 54, and suddenly the static man stood above both children, seemingly larger than the night before. Channel 53 switched, and the static man disappeared and reappeared within an arms-length of the children, appendages outstretched.
The stairs to their rooms were closest, and instinctively the children sprinted into Tim’s room, which always kept out the monsters before. Tim locked the door behind the two of them, and they sat silently, still clasping their ears from the oppressive crackling of static that filled the air. Tim could still hear the channels changing over the background static. It was like it wanted Tim to know it was moving. Flip, flip, flip, flip. Tim and Clair held their breaths and there was a brief pause in the channel changing. On the next flip, the static man was in the room, glaring down tyrannically with unseen eyes. The children screamed and moved to unbolt the door, taking care not to touch the threateningly large and unknown figure.
Both children turned down the hallway, took the stairs down three at a time, and sprinted to the back of the house. The TV was right behind them now, and Tim could hear the changing channels like a clap of thunder. Flip! And Tim felt the static figure’s electricity on his neck, but he dodged around the kitchen table, still gripping the remote with all his might. Clair beat him outside, and when Tim busted through the backdoor to join her, he immediately noticed that the background static had stopped. The channels continued the change in the living room, and Tim and Clair watched from the backyard as lights flashed with the movement of the static figure. Flip, flip, flip, flip, and suddenly a new light showed, faint at first, but Tim and Clair soon recognized it to be the living room fire, and it was getting bigger. Tim and Clair backed up as the flames consumed the house.
The children’s mother gasped as she rounded the corner to her neighborhood. She parked the car as quickly as she could, threw open the door, and screamed. The house was nothing more than a smoldering base. She ran around the property, and saw her children silently sitting with their backs to the fence, facing the wreckage. She exclaimed, and ran up to them, hugging them and kissing them, ecstatic that her children had survived a fire that had taken everything else. However, the children didn’t respond to their mother. They just sat, static eyes fixed on the television set, still running among the burned destruction. The television set showed channel three, which was static. The children’s mother noticed the children’s gaze, and looked to where they were staring.
“How weird, the TV stayed on through the whole fire” said the children’s mother.
All at once, the television switched channels, and the mother screamed.
Credit : W. I. Boggs
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