The Blue Channel
“Will you watch with me?“
Three AM. I rubbed the sleep out of my eyes. My toddler, Olivia, stared back at me.
“It’s the middle of the night, baby, what are you watching?“
“The Blue Chanel. Will you watch with me? Please?“
My wife rolled over and grunted a mushed combination of huh and what’s that? that sounded more like huahwha. She fumbled for her phone and fought with the sheets. She sighed, as if to let me know of the effort, and I kissed her on the cheek.
“Go back to bed, babe, I got this one.“
I couldn’t see anything, but Olivia reached out and grabbed my hand, and off we went. She led me into the hallway with a gleeful little hop-step that shook the floor. I flicked the light switch by the bathroom. Nothing happened.
“Power’s out,” I grumbled. “No television tonight.“
“Noooo!” Livi wailed. “The TV still works! It does! Come see, Dada, come see!“
Rain pelted the windows. Wind whistled through the cracks. A major storm hit our small town in the Valley. They closed the schools. My office shut down too. The meteorologist predicted three inches of accumulation, and I can remember the gut-aching stress that news caused us – about the house, about the cars, about everything. When you’re a kid, bad weather is exciting, but when you’re a parent… you worry. You always worry.
“Time for bed.“
“But the Blue Channel is still on,” Olivia pouted. “Really. Even without the powder. Pow… Power. It still works. I wanna watch it together. Will you watch with me? Please?“
“Okay, sure, let’s go look. Hurry.“
She took off, with an overloaded diaper so low, it almost skidded across the ground. That overworked piece of cloth reminded me that she was still just a little kid. Regardless of how big she sounded. I loved everything about her at that age.
“We gotta change your dipe, kiddo…“
“I was watching…” she interrupted. “…and they said they wanted to talk to you…“
I stopped her.
“Who wants to talk to me?“
“The show,” she smiled. “The Blue Channel.“
“It’s a kid’s show?“
“And it’s on at night?“
“Only at night.“
“And they watch to… they want to talk to me?“
I don’t know if it was the shock of everything, or just my general clumsiness, but a nail between our old floorboards caught my pinky toe at just the right angle, and I shouted out –
Just before my three-year-old pushed me.
She actually pushed me.
“NO. Daddy, NO. The Man on the Blue Channel said NO CUSSING. Never ever cuss. It’s inappropriate and rude and you should know better as an adult.“
I was astonished. I couldn’t believe her tone. She was so articulate. So angry. So… adult. The reaction caught me totally off-guard.
“I’m sorry, honey… you’re right.“
She turned and marched towards her room without another word. I followed. We quickly found the source of the issue. The only light in the house, a blue one, trickled out from underneath her door.
I flicked the other switches a couple times, just to be sure, but nothing else responded. I thought about the cause. I tried to wake myself up at the same time. Olivia took the lag as an opportunity to move. She darted ahead and pushed open the door.
The entire corridor became engulfed in blue; our pictures, the blinds, the wallpaper. Everything had a blue tint to it. Even my daughter. At the time, I blamed the strength of that light on the fact that all of the others were out. I couldn’t think of any other cause.
“Do you believe me now?“
I found the television right where we left it, up against the far wall, next to the dresser. ‘The Blue Channel’ was nothing more than a blank screen. You might recognize it, depending on your age, because it’s one of those ‘you had to be there’ things. If an old television can’t get a signal from a cable box, it’ll show a blue screen with ‘Input 1’ or something written on top. Totally normal. Another mystery blamed on bad technology.
I still couldn’t figure out how the damn thing drew power. I traced the chord to the wall and kicked out the plug. The screen stayed blue. I messed with the knobs on the front. Nothing changed. I gave the side one good smack before my daughter grabbed my hand and shouted, clearly:
“NO Dada. NO. Do not touch that TV.“
She punched me. I couldn’t believe it. This wasn’t play fighting. This was real anger. Her eyes were determined. Her voice was shrill. She shrieked like a banshee. She aimed tiny little fists of fury in places she shouldn’t know would yield results, and it disturbed me, even then. My kid knew not to punch people. Let alone Dad. She never did this type of stuff. Not my Olive.
“Honey, stop it.“
She hit me again.
“Why aren’t you listening?” I snapped. “Do you need to go to timeout?“
She whimpered and pointed at the television.
“The Man wanted to introduce himself to you,” she sniffed. “Before the ceremony.“
Suddenly the screen flickered.
A picture of a stage appeared.
“Honey? What man?“
Olivia pointed at the television.
An applause track echoed without an audience. Five figures emerged from behind a velvet curtain. They all wore masks, with black clothes, and black hats, so you couldn’t see much, but the first one was the biggest, and they all seemed to get shorter in height from there. The guests paraded in a single file line towards the front of the stage. The imaginary audience jeered. The group found their way to five planted wooden chairs towards the back and sat down. The audience grew quiet.
Suddenly, movement backstage.
A man in a rabbit mask walked out. He looked lost at first, then confused, then altogether shocked by the presence of a camera. The audience laughed at his dismay. He smiled and twirled his mustache a bit. He held his hands back and flexed. Then he danced back and forth, with knees up, and elbows high. The audience roared with appreciation. He took a bow and nearly fell down. Even Olivia chuckled at that bit.
“Is that the man?“
She ignored me. I turned up the volume.
Rabbit-mask parked himself in the highest chair, above the other participants, and posed with one leg on top of the other, as if interviewing them. He pulled out a set of index cards. He dropped one of the floor and fell down picking it up. The audience laughed again.
“This is weird…“
Olivia slugged my shoulder. The clapping stopped. The group of characters stared blankly ahead. The man stayed still.
“Did we interrupt?“
“Yes,” she answered. “You did int-rupt.“
We waited. After what felt like an eternity, but could have been moments, when rabbit-mask leaped from his chair and pounced forward. The audience gasped. He approached each of the guests, one by one, and peeled back their masks, slowly, as if revealing a prize. First up was a teenage boy with blonde hair. Then a younger one with dark skin. Then two little red-heads. Finally, a boy not much older than Olivia. I studied their faces. They all looked scared. Petrified would be a better word for it. The oldest looked like he wanted to say something. But he didn’t.
“Olive? Who are they?“
Silence again. From my daughter and from the Blue Channel. This time, we waited for at least a full minute.
“Okay… bed time…“
Out of nowhere, rabbit-mask rushed forward and grabbed the camera. He stared into it. At us. I mean, he really looked at us. His eyes were a crystal kind of blue. His lips were dark red. His teeth were chipped and crooked in the back, but admirably straight in the front, and when he laughed, his tongue flicked out, almost like a snake’s.
“Why is he doing that?“
“Don’t talk, Daddy.“
“Why not? What’s he going to do?“
Rabbit-mask let go of the cameraman. He marched back and forth, with hands on hips, as if insulted by my insolence. The children beside him giggled in unison. But they weren’t smiling.
“Olivia…” I stammered. “Honey…“
Rabbit-mask hopped to one foot and held his other. Then he fell and sobbed like a baby. The audience howled with laughter. I felt my face grow red. Were they laughing at me? At what happened earlier?
“This isn’t funny…“
My daughter giggled. But her face didn’t seem to smile. She just stared ahead at the television. The man stopped his whining. He regained composure. He mimed the steps of checking his breath against an imaginary watch as he sat neatly again in his wooden high chair.
“We need to turn this off, sweetheart, do you know how?“
I fiddled with the plug again. Nothing happened. I turned the dials. Nada. I kicked the side of the television, and when Olivia tried to grab my foot, I held her (gently) to the side and kicked it some more.
“You’re missing it!” she shrieked. “You’re missing the best part!“
I turned to look. If only for a little. There was a countdown, of sorts, displayed on screen. The first word was one. The camera panned to rabbit-mask doing a jig with one of the boys. Then two. Two boys dancing.
Then three. Four.
The screen cut. All of the guests were seated but one. The oldest was standing at the front with his mask removed and long hair untethered. His knees bounced together nervously. His skin appeared pale and sickly. A thin line traced down his light colored boxers, and he opened his mouth to say something, to scream it, but his voice stayed muted.
A figure approached from behind the curtain.
He never saw him.
Rabbit-mask held a long machete in his hands.
“What the fuck…“
I tried again, unsuccessfully, to crack the screen. I kicked it and punched it and smacked it until my hand felt broken and knuckles went raw with blood. I just couldn’t do it.
I glanced back over for a second.
Only a second.
Rabbit-mask reared back and slashed at the poor kid’s neck. One swift motion. His body fell forward like a sack of potatoes. I screamed. He hit him a dozen more times. Over and over. In the back. In the legs. In the arms. Blood poured out from each wound like a hose. His body jerked and spasmed this way and that. I think the first blow must have killed him. But that didn’t stop the violence one bit.
Olivia clapped through the whole thing.
“Honey, please, get your mother.“
She ignored me. I looked for something metal to crack the glass. I found a wooden bat. I swung and managed to splinter it a little bit. The picture stayed connected. I swung harder. The camera panned out for a wider shot. The remaining participants stared blankly ahead. Then they pointed.
My daughter nodded and began to climb inside the television.
“It’s MY TURN.“
I know what you’re thinking. Fuck you, right? There’s no way that could have happened. Fine. Whatever. I’ve heard it all a thousand times before. Believe what you want at this point. Because I know the truth.
She used the bottom as a ledge, and as soon as one little leg was inside, it disappeared with a horrific suckling sound. I held her left hand tight. Like I held my own life. But it wasn’t enough. Something pulled back. Something stronger. Her arm disappeared with a pop. I heard her shout. And then she was gone.
The Blue Channel stayed lit.
The participants waited.
Olivia ran out from behind the curtain. She smiled at rabbit-mask and sat down in the fifth chair beside him. He smiled back. All of them ignored the growing pool of blood at their feet. Instead, they waved to me. One by one. Like the end of some sick fucking sitcom. They stared at the camera and they waved.
The screen shrunk. Then it went black altogether.
And I never saw my daughter again.
The screen shrunk. Then it went black.
And I never saw my daughter again.