Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
Our twelve-year-old daughter loved the new vintage-styled TV that my husband and I bought the other day at the local pawn shop in town. She would sit there and stare at the round, blank dusty screen with her hazel eyes fixated on the glass as if there was something playing on it. The TV was quite old and was a 1960’s model so we didn’t have any way to properly plug it into the wall for functional use without the risk of damaging it. The television was more of a decorative item to give our home an aesthetic vibe and to fill our empty living room. You see, we didn’t particularly allow our daughter Penny to watch television because it would rot her brain simply staring at a screen all day and hardly any of the shows were educational these days and more so just ridiculous junk. Penny grew up with her books and magazines which made her a very intelligent girl in school and got nearly straight A’s in everything she did all thanks to reading and building her brain intellectually over the years. However something about that old TV set drew my eyes while passing the pawn shop after work that afternoon, it was oddly beautiful with its dark wooden structure and bulky screen, and a large, black turn dial on the right side for flipping stations back in the day. I told my husband Tom about it when I got back home and he gave me this weird look on his face while setting down his newspaper and rubbing his stubbly chin.
“I thought you didn’t like television sets, Martha? Why would you want to bring something like that into our home?”
“Oh, it’s just going to be for decoration! Besides, the thing can’t even turn on anymore so there would be no harm in having it here in the house, right?
My husband looked off into the distance and took a sip of coffee from his white mug while letting out a low hum. I knew it was hypocritical of me to bring in a TV when we raised Penny to stick strictly to books and stray away from television but at the time I saw no harm in it knowing the TV most likely wouldn’t work anymore and it would simply be for decor, I did want our neighbors to think that we were somewhat advanced in society as silly as that sounded since we were known in the neighborhood for being ‘That Family’.
After Tom and I dropped Penny off at school the next morning we drove to the pawn store to pick up the old TV and there were lots of strange items inside. There were rows upon rows of old movies, music discs, aged collectible dolls and figurines, and there were even some rugs in the very back but the TV is what we came here for. My husband approached the counter and rang the bell for some service when an older gentleman came out from behind some multi-colored, beaded curtains moments later and gave us a dead stare. He was in his late sixties or seventies at least with aging grey hair upon his head and wore a slightly dirty white dress shirt and jean’s with a golden chain around his sagging neck. I gave a polite smile and introduced myself with Tom doing the same and offered the gentleman a handshake. The man scoffed and leaned against the glass counter pulling a cigar out of his pocket and striking it against a nearby wooden leg of a pin-up statuette before taking a drag and looking at us both up and down with his dark green eyes.
“Sorry, don’t shake hands. I smoke and all. Anyways the names Jack Nickleson, what can I do for you folks?”
“My wife was wondering if we could take a look at that old TV set you have in the front window, we may want to buy it.”
The expression on Jack’s face went from deadpan to shocked in a matter of seconds. He sat up from the counter and gladly showed us to it with a quick pace in his step, for an older gentleman he definitely could move rather quickly. He explained to us that the television had been in his store for nearly twenty years after another couple dropped it off without saying a word. Tom found that quite strange but I was too busy looking at my reflection in the screen to hear what they were saying. After a minute or two I felt a hand on my shoulder and it snapped me out of my daze, I turned my head and saw that the grip belonged to my husband. He asked me if I was alright and I nodded with a cheerful smile on my face as I dusted the top of the television off.
“So, how much?”
“Shit, I’d sell it to ya for free if I didn’t have bills to pay. How does… sixty bucks sound?”
Tom paused and blinked a few times with a perplexed look on his face while gesturing to the television.
“Sixty dollars? For an old, broken TV? You have to be-”
“We’ll take it!”
Both Jack and Tom gazed at me with surprised expressions on their faces, more so my spouse. He knew me as the rational kind of buyer that would ask so many questions before even thinking about making such a purchase, but I really wanted the TV set for some unknown reason. Jack clapped his hands together and offered to help Tom load it into the back of our car after we made the payments. Needless to say, my husband was not at all pleased with my impulse buy and gave me a lecture on the way back home as if I was a child. I felt like I made the right choice, I couldn’t wait to clean it up and place it in our home!
It took a good hour or so to fully clean all the dust and cobwebs out of the TV but the way it glistened and shone on our large coffee table with that fresh lemony scent from the cleaner made me feel as if my decision to purchase the TV was the best thing that ever happened to me. After throwing the dirty rags in the laundry room and putting the cleaning supplies away Tom had just returned from picking Penny up from school and I turned to my family smiling brighter than the sun. Penny set her backpack in one of the dining room chairs and Tom hung his jacket on the coat rack by the front door when the smell of the lemon cleaner must have caught their attention. My daughter sniffed the air then looked over at me with a curious tilt of her head, her ginger braids falling past her shoulders.
“Mom? What’s that smell? Did you bake something? It’s awfully strong.”
“Come into the living room and you’ll see!”
“Martha just tell the girl no need for these silly games.”
But I ignored my husband as Penny followed me into the room and her gaze immediately locked onto the old television set. I was lost in my own excitement to notice her carefully sit down onto our sofa and just stare at the screen much like I did back at the pawn shop. Tom, however, did notice and raised his eyebrow but didn’t say anything on the matter and walked into the kitchen to make himself another cup of coffee.
The first few days I didn’t pay much mind to Penny just sitting in the living staring at the TV because I assumed that she was being the little observant girl she was and taking everything in. This was her first time seeing a television in our home before so it was a culture shock for her I’m sure. However when her grades began to slip and the amount of homework she began doing became less and less that’s when Tom and I began to grow concerned. One night at dinner we were all sitting around the table eating as my husband pulled up one of Penny’s report cards and held it up for our child to see. At first she didn’t notice, until Tom cleared his throat, making Penny lift her head up and stare at the paper with a blank look on her face. I sat silently across from her and looked over at Tom waiting for him to lecture her. And did he.
“Young lady, what is this?”
“My report card?”
“Yes. And what pray tell is on this report card? Definitely not straight A’s like before. You have a D in chemistry and are getting ready to fail math class! What has gotten into you lately?”
There was a long pause, the clinking of silverware and the chewing of food were the only sounds in the air. I gave Penny a worried look but she only stared at her mash potatoes and chicken after looking away from her father and her report card. Tom asked again and this time she replied in a low voice.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that I’ve been watching The Beckwith Show lately and-”
“Whoa, whoa, whoa, wait, The Beckwith Show? What is that?”
“It’s a really funny reality TV show about a family that lives in a pretty house, that do all kinds of cool stuff and have amazing adventures together! Eleanor is my favorite character because she reads books, just like me!”
Tom and I were both perplexed at her answer. Penny went on to tell us about the characters and their personalities as if she had been watching this show forever! Darlene Beckwith was the mother of the household who did all the cooking and cleaning and made a new treat each episode with the recipe on the side to show everyone how to make her food, Abraham Beckwith was the father and he always read the newspaper or went to work and taught about the values of life and how finding a good job was the most important thing and apparently loved to dance to the radio, Russell Beckwith was the youngest son and got into all sorts of mischief and played pranks on his family and loved to play puzzles and usually asked people for their help to finish it with him like an interactive game, then there was Eleanor Beckwith. She was the older sister and always played with her dolls and had tea parties in her bedroom, she read books out loud varying from fantasy to romance novels and science fiction. Eleanor even did hair tutorials for different styles and what dresses to wear with them. The way Penny explained this family to us with so much precise and body to her story had me personally in a state of overwhelming shock, my husband was to but then his surprise turned into disappointment then into anger. Tom slammed his fist onto the table to stop Penny’s ramblings about this supposed TV show she was watching making her gasp and the silverware to shake from the force.
“I have never heard of such a ridiculous story before in all of my life! How could you be watching something when there are no working TVs in this household?! Is this something your friends at school are showing you?”
“No father! It’s always on that TV in the living room! I’m not making this up it’s a real show and they do exist!”
I could see Tom trying not to explode on our daughter by aggressively running a hand through his dirty blonde hair and glaring at the table. I myself was quite flabbergasted, how could Penny be watching this show if our TV doesn’t even work or turn on? Penny had this hurt look on her face since we didn’t believe her claims of this Beckwith Show but how could we? My husband let out a frustrated grunt and pointed a finger at our daughter, her report card falling to the floor.
“I have had it with your lies and make-believe stories, Penny! If you don’t get your grades up you can forget about that book fair trip this weekend!”
“What?! But that’s not fair!”
“End of discussion! I don’t want to hear another word about this Beckwith Show, or about these stupid make-believe characters! Now finish your dinner and then go work on your homework!”
Penny closed her mouth as large tears swell up in the corners of her eyes. I tried to get everyone to calm down and sort this out like a civil family without all the shouting but our daughter was having none of it and hastily stood up from her chair and slammed her hands down onto the table, glaring angrily at Tom with this foreign fire in her eyes that I had never seen before.
“I HATE YOU! I WISH ABRAHAM WAS MY FATHER AND NOT YOU!”
With that Penny ran out of the dining room in a fit and grabbed her backpack before disappearing around the corner towards her bedroom, the sound of her door slamming shut echoed throughout the house. My husband was speechless at her hurtful words but played it off well in front of me by finishing the rest of his food then leaving to retire for the night, leaving me alone at the table in my own thoughts. I decided to clean up at least and saved Penny’s leftovers for tomorrow then got started on the dishes, her words still ringing in my ears. Our daughter had always been such a respectable young lady and did what she was told but now she was starting to change. She became more distracted from her work by this silly show she rambled on about. It had to be something from school, the TV here doesn’t work.
Or does it?
To put my mind at ease I loaded the dishes into the dishwasher then made my way towards the living room and stared at our vintage television. It stared back at me as lifeless as ever and the room was so still it was slightly unnerving. Nevertheless, I walked over to the set and kneeled down in front of it, slowly reaching out and turned the large black dial but nothing happened except a few clicking noises. The screen was blank and there was no power cable hooked into the wall or within the TV. I felt rather silly doing this and let out a breathless chuckle with a shake of my head. I was acting ridiculous letting my mind fester of some broken television. Dusting my hands off I got up off the floor and left for bed.
* * * * * *
I woke up to the sound of faint clicking coming from the living room and groggily got up from bed rubbing my eyes. Tom was still sound asleep, unbothered by the noise, so I took it upon myself to investigate and slipped out of the safety of my covers into a pair of slippers and a night robe while making my way out the door and down the hallway. The clicking kept going with a few seconds set apart from each other until it suddenly stopped. Curiously I peeked around the corner and saw Penny kneeling in front of the television in her flower printed pajamas turning the large black dial. I made moves to go out and question her what she was doing in the living room so late in the night until her giggle stopped me from revealing my hiding place. Penny had her hands folded in front of her and smiled up at the screen, fixated on it and would talk or answer questions once in a great while as if she was talking to someone in front of her. I felt a chill go up my spine but continued to listen into her conversation.
“Hello, again, Darlene! What did you make this time? …A chocolate pie?! Yummy! I love chocolate but mom says it’s bad for your skin.”
She paused again for a while then continued to conversate with the TV again. This went on for a good hour and I was starting to grow tired and heavily concerned for the mental wellbeing of my child until something came up into her conversation that made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end.
“I wish I was a part of your family, then I could be happy, like you guys. My parents don’t listen to me or understand me but you guys do!…”
Another pause. My breath felt like it had been taken away, the thump of my heartbeat rang in my ears and into my ribcage, I could have easily gone out there and put an end to her make-believe conversation but the way she spoke to the TV wasn’t whimsical or make believe she spoke to it like a real person. I tried to ease my conscious thinking that children have imaginary friends and that perhaps this was just Penny’s version of them. But even so, this was unnatural for her. Taking a deep breath I decided to put an end to all this and rounded the corner ready to scold my child but when I went into the living room…Penny was nowhere in sight. I searched everywhere! The kitchen, the dining room, under the couch, behind the TV, in the bathroom, and even to her bedroom but she was gone. Vanished into thin air. I didn’t hear her leave the room or make a sound so how could she have just disappeared?! She was just sitting there in front of the TV and I turned away for one second…
One second too long.
* * * * * *
I informed my husband of what happened, he didn’t believe me and told me that I was most likely sleepwalking but when he began to notice Penny’s absence the next morning that’s when we decided to call the police and file a missing child’s case. The police looked at us like we were a couple of crazies but there was no other way to explain it. Penny simply vanished from our home that night after commenting on how she wanted to be a part of this Beckwith family but when we told the police about the show they looked at us even more confused.
“The Beckwith Show? Never heard of it before. I don’t think that was ever a thing. We’ll look into it but, we can’t guarantee any feedback.”
Needless to say, the officer was right. There were no records of any Beckwith show ever airing on television from the 1960s till now, it never existed. There was no Darlene, Abraham, Russell, or Eleanor, there was no show, nothing. But then where did our daughter go or what was she rambling on about?
I guess we’ll never know.
Penny was never found, my husband and I had no idea what to tell our parents or our neighbors and we decided to finally get rid of that damn television set and sell it back to the pawn shop. Jack shook his head and took another drag from his cigar chuckling under his breath. He told us that he knew this would happen, the last couple did the same thing and did the previous one before them after their kids also strangely disappeared. Tom and I gave Jack a confused stare to which he simply handed us two old newspaper clippings. One dating back twenty years ago in 1999 and the other in 1978. In 1978 a young boy by the name of Russell Wilson had disappeared from his home without a trace and was never found dead or alive. In 1999 another child disappeared by the name of Eleanor Albright from her home and was also never found. I put my hand to my mouth in shock as Tom held the newspapers in his hands flipping through them wildly, Jack only sighing and shaking his head.
“I just figured it was bad luck but…third times the charm I guess. Sorry for your loss. I wish I could break the damn thing but it’s a marketable item…can’t really destroy it.”
I didn’t mean to blurt it out, but I did.
“But…I don’t see what any of these missing kids have to do with our Penny!”
Jack paused and looked around the store before leaning against the counter and looked out the window watching the cars roll by down the street.
“Look, that TV has always carried a sour taste in my mouth since the moment it first came through those doors. My dad was running the shop at the time and I was just some punk teenage kid but the man who originally sold it to us said it had some kind of curse attached to it but like hell we believed him! He told us that the TV was owned way back in the 1960s by this couple who really wanted kids but the wife couldn’t bear any of her own. Kinda sad if you think about it. Anyways, the couple went into deep mental depression because of it and killed themselves in their living room. I don’t know why they just wouldn’t adopt kids but eh. I guess some family members found it and then it got passed along till it eventually landed here. I don’t want to believe it but now that it’s happened again…well…”
Jack trailed off in his thoughts and shook his head. There were so many unanswered questions but we never did get all the answers. Just more confusion, loose ends, and now a missing daughter of our own…
* * * * * *
“My name is Darlene Beckwith and this is my husband Abraham with our three beautiful children Russell, Eleanor, and Penny! We would love to have you become like part of our beautiful family!”
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