Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
There’s no interesting backstory here; I didn’t buy this thing from some, like, creepy garage sale. I didn’t get it as a gift from some estranged relative that doubled as a cultist or anything. The TV was bought at the mall, for fuck’s sake. It was sitting on a shelf, ordinary as anything. It’s a cheap one, too. Nothing about the way it looks would suggest that this thing would be as screwed-up as it is.
My new television plays shows and programs that shouldn’t exist. At least, it plays things that I’ve never seen on regular television before. No sane person would ever air some of the shit I’ve seen this thing put on for me.
When I brought it home this afternoon, I spent some time screwing around with it, as one does when they buy new electronics: hooking up the cable cord, making sure my Fire Stick was working alright, etc., etc. But there was one thing that caught my eye.
You know how every television has a “Source” menu that brings up a series of options? Aux, USB, HDMI 1, HDMI 2, all that stuff? This new TV of mine has all that, but there’s one other extra “source” that I have never seen or heard of before. It’s not mentioned in the manual at all, and I cannot find anything online that can tell me what it is. There’s no given name for this source, as the menu on the TV simply refers to it as “|||||”.
When I first selected the “|||||”-source, it took me to something that seemed like cable television, but it was nothing of the sort. There were channels, yes, but I’m not talking TNT or AMC or any of that – I don’t think anything broadcasted on the “|||||”-channels would be allowed on cable TV.
Allow me to explain…
As soon as I hit “|||||”, I was brought to Channel 32, which was airing some kind of family sitcom. I let it play as I started Googling an explanation for this extra source, trying to figure out if this was perhaps a manufacturer error or something similar. I was mostly focused on reading, so I wasn’t exactly paying attention to the show that I had left on, but a line was suddenly read that made me snap my attention back to the TV:
“Just where the fuck have you been?”
On the sitcom that was airing, a father was scolding a teenage boy who had just snuck into the kitchen in the middle of the night. The kid was dressed up but looked a mess, likely having been out partying. As soon as the father swore at her, the studio audience for the show laughed.
“I—” the kid began.
The father cut him off. “I’ve been waiting here for you all fucking night. Where the fuck have you been?”
The studio audience laughed again.
What the fuck? I thought, putting down my phone. What kind of show is this?
“I…I was at a party,” the son admitted.
The father, a large bearded man, took a dangerous step closer to him. His eyes were wide and manic. The son took an instinctive step back. The reaction seemed far too genuine for a sitcom.
“A party,” the father repeated. “You were at a party?”
“Yes, Dad, I—”
The large man’s hand slapped his son across his face, making a meaty *thud-*sound. The kid gave out a yelp in pain and shock, and fell onto the floor of the kitchen. The father stood above him, practically frothing at the mouth with anger.
And, for a third time, the studio audience laughed.
“I’m sorry!” the kid wailed from the floor. “Please stop! I’m sorry!”
But the father was now kicking him relentlessly. His back was to the camera. The scene faded to another one with a light-hearted jingle, reminiscent of so many other sitcoms like Full House or Family Matters; we were now in a living room. The kid from the previous scene was sitting on a couch, bloodied and bruised. A young girl, perhaps the character’s sister, was sitting next to him.
“You know you can’t just sneak off like that,” the younger girl was saying to the beaten boy. “Daddy gets mad when you do that.”
“It hurts so bad.” The beaten son said, starting to choke up. Tears trickled down his cheeks from his bruised eyes. The studio audience laughed and clapped.
What the fuck was I watching? It was shot and timed like it was supposed to be some sort of comedic family show, but everything that was happening was just horrible. At the time, I wondered how such a thing could possibly be given air time.
Although I was disturbed, I was also extremely curious. I sat down on my couch and watched the episode of this horrific show right to its end. There was maybe five minutes left in the episode, and all it consisted of the two siblings crying and admitting that they wished they could escape their father.
With every sob and admission of sadness from the two characters, the studio audience kept laughing and clapping. Like as if these poor kids’ misery was the most hilarious thing they’d ever fucking seen.
When the credits rolled, the show’s theme song played – it was upbeat and merry, as if its premise had been about a goofy family getting into hijinks rather than a miserable one abusing itself.
I sat there for a moment or two trying to process what I had just watched. The entire thing made me feel unclean. When another episode started to air, I changed the channel to…
…what looked like a home-shopping network. There was an older woman with white hair, smiling brilliantly at the camera. Graphics displaying phone numbers and prices framed her, making a perfect little portrait of capitalism on my screen. My wife watched networks just like this one all the time, usually to admire jewelry we can’t afford…but this was something different entirely and, much like the sitcom, it was different in all the worst ways possible.
On some networks like these, they’ll sell clothing or accessories and have mannequins set up to help display the products. This channel did the same, but instead of wearing a dress or a necklace, this mannequin was wearing a leather leash, strapped incredibly tight. The old spokeswoman held the end of the leash in her hand.
“…as you can see here,” she was saying. “The grip is significantly strong around the neck, ensuring your property’s immediate obedience. Nothing’s quite as persuasive as a crushed throat.” She gave a little giggle at that.
“I see we have a buyer named Emily from Wisconsin,” she carried on. “Very quick to the phone, ma’am. We hope you enjoy your new LethalLeash.”
A woman’s voice spoke out on speaker phone: “Thank you, Amy! I absolutely love it and cannot wait to try it out.”
“Glad to hear, sweetheart. Let’s move on to our special deal for this evening.”
The spokeswoman, Amy, walked to the right and the camera panned to follow her to the next product.
Standing in the room, chained to the floor and gagged with a metal block strapped to her face was a young woman. She couldn’t have been a day over twenty. Her eyes were wide capital O’s of terror, and although she tried to scream, the gag reduced her noises to low muffled groans.
She looked like she was a pretty girl, but her face had been so badly brutalized that it was almost impossible to tell.
“For our next offer, we’re giving you a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Not only will you be receiving this lovely Product…” Amy stroked the chained girl’s hair. “…but you’ll also get your own set of LethaLeashes for free! The variety pack includes leashed in a variety of colors and designs, so you’ll have the perfect one to match your Product! Call in now and take advantage of this incredible deal.”
What should have been a phone number came up on the screen, but instead of numbers it was just a bunch of symbols that I have never seen before.
The shot faded to briefly show off the “variety pack” of brightly-colored, yet painful-looking, leather straps before fading back to the young woman’s terrified face.
Amy suddenly exclaimed, “Wow! That was fast. The caller is Ted from Brooklyn. Congratulations, Ted, we hope you enjoy using your new Product.”
A low, raspy voice said on the speaker phone: “She looks just like my ex-girlfriend, so oh do I intend to enjoy using her.”
Two men in black uniforms and masks came into the frame, unchained the young woman from the floor, and carried her away. Despite the gag, she was screaming so loudly it was audible now. She tried, to no avail, to kick at her captors.
Now completely disturbed, I raised the remote and turned the channel. As I did so, I realized my hand was trembling.
An infomercial for a fitness program came up this time. I tuned in right as they were showing off “Before” and “After” pictures of a woman who purchased a workout package called “Pure-Motive”. The woman had been very large, and had lost something like eighty pounds in just a couple of months.
The woman in the pictures spoke to an interviewer: “It’s the only method I’ve tried that actually works. If you’re trying to lose weight fast, this is for you.”
The shot changed to the same woman running on a treadmill, her face beet red. Behind her, a thuggish-looking man stood with a large shotgun pointed directly at her back. A cigarette dangled loosely out of the corner of his mouth. He was staring intently at the woman, as if ready to pull the trigger at any moment.
It then cut to another “Before” and “After” pair of pictures, this time of an obese man. There was a brief bit of footage where he was doing squats with a couple of dumbbells. Another creepy-looking thug was standing right behind him, holding a revolver close to the poor guy’s head.
“It’s the only thing that works!” this satisfied customer said happily. His voice sounded weak.
A montage of horrible shots came next: a woman running on a track with a man holding snarling dogs close behind her; a group of people doing jumping jacks while thugs with assault rifles walked around them, watching closely; and, finally, an incredibly large person trying to do pushups. He was crying hysterically.
A voiceover said condescendingly, “There is no room for laziness when it comes to Pure-Motive!”
The large man was no match against gravity and fell flat upon his face. As soon as he did, he screamed: “No! No, please!”
Four men came into frame and started to kick the shit out of him. They went on for what felt like forever, until the guy was spewing blood and teeth out of his mouth. One of the four thugs went off-frame, and then came back with a sharp-looking machete.
“No!” the large man managed to cry out. “No, don’t!”
The thug raised the machete up with both hands like a Medieval executioner, then brought it down to the large man’s head.
I changed the channel as soon as the blade hit its mark.
This channel aired a commercial promoting a new burger from some restaurant-chain I had never heard of. It soon became apparent that the burger was made from people – most specifically, their limbs. For a dessert, the restaurant was serving large bowls of human ear wax. Two actors looked hungrily at their bowls and then started to dig in. I retched and changed the channel.
Channels 9, 88, and 202
Despite being so horribly disturbed by all of this, I kept flicking through channels. Some morbid curiosity had rose up inside of me. Part of me believed that there was no possibly way I was actually seeing the things that the TV aired, that I had somehow gone mad…but most of me felt that it was all true, and if that was the case, then I was in the midst of something impossible. And I had to see whatever came next, as repulsed by it as I may be.
Channel 9 was airing some rock concert. The singer went to the mic, screamed “ARE YOU READY?!”, and then pulled a small switchblade from his pocket. With a click, the blade sprung out of its handle and the singer brought it right into his face, over and over again. A shot of the crowd showed they were all doing the same, some with knives of their own, others with shards of glass. They all seemed to be enjoying it.
Channel 88 had a game show that launched terrified people at a brick wall using catapults. I got the gist quickly and again changed the channel.
I flipped past Channel 202 as quickly as I could, because it freaked me out quite badly; it was footage of a bare-walled room with a young woman sitting in the middle of it. She was staring at the camera (at me, I thought immediately) with eyes that were small but had humongous sockets. It looked like some sort of horrific insect-human hybrid was staring through me.
This channel had a wildlife show, but it was displaying all sorts of horrific animals that do not exist on this planet. Tall, canine-looking creatures with stilt-like legs preyed upon a car-sized slug. The slug had two hands, each with about ten digits, that slapped uselessly at its assailants.
There was a “narrator” for this show, but just as he started – “As you can see, there is no hope here for the useless goddamn creature” – he was suddenly interrupted by a chorus of death rattles.
The sound unnerved me greatly. I changed the channel.
Another infomercial. This one was for a product that was literally just chocolate-coated human feces. When I watched one actress gleefully take a bite and happily sigh as if she were savoring the flavor, I had to quickly change the channel and then rush to my bathroom to vomit.
As I crouched above my toilet, hurling and heaving, a sound suddenly came from the TV:
I looked up from the toilet bowl.
“Hey!” it continued. The voice was eerily familiar. “Hey! Hey! Hey!”
Trembling badly, I mustered up the courage to leave the bathroom and see what was happening on the TV next.
The infomercial was gone. The channel had changed to 345, despite the fact that I hadn’t touched the remote. This particular program featured only one star performer – me. Or, at least, some horrible copy of me.
“I” was in the same room as the monstrous woman from Channel 202. She was gone, and “I” was sitting where she had been. This copy was looking at the screen, same as the woman before had done, and was crying. In its lap there was a long black cord with multi-colored wires sticking out of the end.
“Help me,” the thing was saying. “Please help me.”
It brought the cord up to its face, holding it in both hands.
“Help me please,” it said again.
It opened its mouth and in went the cord. The sharp wires cut around the copy’s lips, and the expression on the thing’s face made it more than apparent that they were cutting inside his mouth as well. Blood poured down its chin.
From behind its back, the copy pulled out two other large cords. Both of these were quickly shoved into its eyes. The copy raised its head up to the ceiling of the room and screamed, the cords dangling from its face.
Although the camera had remained locked on the copy for the entirety of this, it was now starting to pan to the right; the direction from which the cords were coming. The shot moved from my deformed other-self and walked towards a white door, the bottom of which the cords were feeding through. Light shone on the other side of the door, and the entire TV screen seemed as bright as the sun as that door opened on its own.
The channel changed on its own once more…
What I was suddenly looking at was a wondrous display of swirling colors on the screen. Reds, blues, greens, all fading in and out of one another, an impossibly-beautiful sight to behold. When I briefly took my eyes away from it, all other colors around me seemed to be muted, dull. I fixed my eyes back on the screen and felt a rush of pleasure. The three hues were soon joined by more: purples, yellows, oranges.
I couldn’t look away. Everything went numb. My body felt like it was melting, melting and becoming one of those swirling clouds of color.
This is the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen, I thought. And the most beautiful thing I will ever see.
Another thought came, an alien one: Was it worth watching everything else? Was it worth it just to see this?
Although my eyes were still glued to the screen, I felt myself frown. Had that been something I thought, or something that had come from the TV itself?
It was almost like a little of both.
The alien voice kept on: Was it worth watching everything else? Just to see this?
“Yes,” I said immediately. “Yes, absolutely.”
Reds, purples, greens, oranges.
Would you keep watching? Would you keep watching to see this again?
Colors, oh God, so many colors…was this the Source? Was this channel, these swirling colors, the Source of everything I had just watched?
It most certainly felt like it.
Would you keep watching? the Source asked again. Would you explore all those channels, just to get back here?
I didn’t answer. My attention was still almost completely focused on the waving colors.
Here, looksee, said the Source.
One by one, the colors faded away. I was now back looking at the room from Channels 202 and 303. “I” was still sitting there, cords dangling out of my face like grotesque growths, but I was not alone: the tiny-woman was there, as were dozens of men, women, and children that had been similarly disfigured.
Join the others who kept watching. Watch with us, the Source said.
“Watch with us.” The people on the screen talked in unison, as if they were part of a sermon.
Watch with us.
“Watch with us.”
Whatever ecstasy I had felt from looking at the colors quickly sobered up and was replaced with fear. I hurried over to the television and pulled its power cord out of the socket behind it.
Shaking, I sat down on my couch. When I glanced at the clock in my living room, I was shocked to find that around five hours had passed since I first put the TV on. Had I really been staring at those colors for so long?
I’ve been sitting here for another hour, just looking at the blank TV and thinking. I plugged it back in, but have not yet turned it on. I keep fiddling with the remote.
Would you keep watching?
The programs this thing presented to me had been the most horrific things I’d ever seen on a screen. However, those colors had been the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen on a screen.
Would you keep watching?
I mean, the remote’s in my hand. The colors are just a couple awful channels away.
Watch with us.
I just might, honestly. I just might.