The Ozark Cable Incident

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THE OZARK CABLE INCIDENT

 

As a child, I grew up in a small Southern Missouri town just north of the Ozark Mountain Range. There were about ten thousand people living there and, for the most part, they preferred to keep to themselves. It was a weird mentality you never ran into often in the south. During the summer following my second year of elementary school, all of that would change.

In this town, there was only one provider for television. It was an old cable provider known as “Ozark Cable,” which served southern Missouri and northern Arkansas. It only broadcasted ten channels and, given that satellite wasn’t available within a hundred miles of my town, I had to make the best of it. In fact, the only children’s programming available was Tom and Jerry reruns which broadcasted out of Little Rock on Saturday mornings. Needless to say, my options for cartoons weren’t particularly extraordinary.

At the beginning of summer vacation, following second grade, my family received a notice from Ozark Cable, as did the other ten thousand residents in town. The statement noted that a new, high-tech broadcasting station was to complete construction just north of town. In addition, my town would now be receiving thirty new channels, including Nickelodeon. I was as excited as any child my age would be; hell, I would finally be able to watch new cartoons any time during the week!

During the third week of summer vacation, the broadcasting station went operational, and my small town finally entered the digital age. Static no longer interrupted regular programming, show line-ups no longer switched without notice, and, of course, I finally had “Rocko’s Modern Life.” Overall, I was a pretty happy seven year old kid. That’s when it started.

I heard it first from one of my friends. Apparently, his parents had been watching late-night entertainment around midnight or one in the morning when sporadic interferences in the broadcast began to occur. Images of an “eyeless man” flashed on the screen for seconds at a time, accompanied by startlingly loud white-noise. Apparently, it was loud enough to wake my friend up. Unsettled, his parents contacted the cable provider and notified them about the incident, and were subsequently told that it would be looked into. However, the problem persisted. Eventually, it became so frequent and widespread throughout the town that my parents actually prohibited me from watching any television between midnight and dawn. Not that I was interested in doing so, anyways.

Soon, no one watched any late-night television. There were rumors of televisions sporadically turning on and displaying the “eyeless man” seeming to reach out towards the viewer. They were just rumors. One Thursday morning, while my Dad was at work, my mom needed to run into town and pick up a prescription from a local pharmacy. Normally I was forced to accompany her on her daily expeditions into town but, after begging to stay home to watch the new episode of “Ren and Stimpy,” she surrendered, and left to run her errand. After sneaking a few cookies, I sat in front of the TV and waited for the episode to begin.

The episode began as usual, with the catchy theme-song and glimpses into the antics of the characters. Then, the picture went black. You can only imagine how enraged I was; I had been waiting all week for this new episode, only to have the channel go out. After parading around the tTV room in a fit of childhood frustration, I sat in front of the television and I waited for the broadcast to resume.

A brief spark of static appeared on the screen, and I sat in eager anticipation for the episode to resume. Images of decomposing and disemboweled bodies filled the screen, accompanied by ear-piercing screams that filled the house. I immediately ran out of the t.v. room, but not before looking back at the television. A man with bloodied holes for eyes seemed to approach the screen with his livid, decaying arm reaching out. I hid under the dining room table and began to sob hysterically. In my fit out nauseated terror, I vomited onto the floor.

When my mother came home, she seemed to jump back at the noises that consumed the house, and immediately dropped her bags and pulled me out from under the table. I was hysterical and my face was pale with fear. Before I could answer my mother about what was going on, she entered the TV room. The screaming stopped; she unhooked the television. When I finally told her what happened, we heard a knock on the door. It was my friend and his parents. He was sobbing and was hiding his face against his against his mother’s shirt. They experienced the same thing I had. Everyone in town did.

Almost immediately, local law enforcement became involved due to the nature of the images. After a week of no television and sleeping in my parent’s bed, the local police department issued a statement. It wasn’t as conclusive as we had wished. About five months before the original notice in regards to the new broadcasting center, Ozark Cable bought a piece of land that belonged to a long abandoned sanitarium and on-site burial ground. In addition to demolishing the decrepit building, over two hundred bodies were exhumed and cremated without warrant to make room for the miles of underground cables. Ozark Cable was immediately fined and its owner was prosecuted. After three months of legal battles, the cable company eventually shut down, with satellite television taking its place soon after. The source of the images remains unknown. It is also unknown how the broadcasts even happened in the first place.

 

Home Town

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Home Town, Olde Towne, Place of Many Oaks. I’d name you outright, except someone with the particular breed of vicious, blind, and intolerant loyalty you inspire in some people might decide to make even more trouble.

I don’t know how to begin. I suppose some people would say, “I hope you are proud of yourself, Home Town.” Except I don’t want you to be proud of yourself, and yet I know that you are.
 

What I want to do is remind you of some things.

Now, I know not everyone who lives in you is bad like you. After all, my best friend is from you. The most amazing and selfless teachers I have ever come across manage to live inside you. And don’t forget those neighbors came over once and shot a rattlesnake for me and my siblings while my parents were at work.

Likewise, not all memories of you are bad.

I think of breezy summer nights, of the last part of twilight when the heat of the day has just broken and the insects begin a deep and echoing song of intense loveliness. Of owls outside my windows, bats flapping papery wings as they snatch mosquitoes out of the darkness. Rolling hillocks of golden green grass. And in winter, leafless oak forests in the cold high moonlight, casting a jagged patchwork of shadows across snow that glittered under the vast canopy of stars.

You, Home Town, are synonymous with elementary school. School. I hated school. I still hate school. But the sweetness of those days lingers, especially on bright autumn afternoons, those hours when sunlight shines through everything and Halloween is just around the corner. Being poor and eating sandwiches off cardboard boxes in the sweltering summer evenings, doing homework in a little blue kitchen, and later, in a huge brown kitchen.

There’s more, so much more. Like spending half the summer festival in the pizza booth, doling out slices to tourists from across the country. Those tourists asking if I was actually American, because my face was so exotic. The laughter I got from that.

It’s strange, Home Town, but there are only ever snippets of memories. Everywhere else I have gone—camps and visiting family and going out of town—I have an almost photographic memory. But of you, I only ever have flashes. Strains of memory like an ancient melody on the wind. Weaving through the annual car show with my siblings, delighting in the seamless fusion of glittering retro bodies and thoroughly modern engines. Grade school yardsaling with my best friend and her mother, buying smudged ceramic unicorns and hideous vests with cats embroidered on them, then wearing those vests to pieces. Long mornings and endless afternoons in my mother’s office, listening to her explain how to do this, how to do that, the laws behind this, the reasoning for those. Oppressive afternoons, leafy spring mornings overflowing with yellow sunlight. Foggy mornings, rainy afternoons. I even remember an icy Christmas Eve, staring out the fogged window at quant downtown streets, admiring the decorations, and feeling melancholy that soon it would all be gone.

Those slow hours spent giggling with my first boss over the curly-haired grocery bagger who worked at the supermarket just across the plaza. Griping about awful customers, cracking jokes when the restaurant was empty. Listening to excruciatingly bad pop music every afternoon while we prepared the bread dough. I didn’t ever mind it, simply because it was so much fun to talk to her.

And later, though not much later, dog-day nights talking to my boyfriend, staying up far into the morning hours just to hear his voice from thousands of miles away.

These are the good things. There are probably a few more. I will give you that, Home Town. And I remember them.

But what about the other things?

What do you remember? I ask because surely, you do not bother to remember anything good.

Remember when one of your elementary schools barred my littlest brother from attending because he was epileptic? Remember how, in the last days before the district succeeded in finally foisted him out, the other parents told their children to stay away from him? Remember when one of your teachers broke every damned privacy and HIPAA law when she held a super secret squirrel meeting with all the other parents of all the other children in the classroom, and actually told them he was epileptic? That there was something wrong with him, and it wouldn’t be healthy for their precious, unmarred children to touch him? I swear, Old Town, your favorite era was the Middle Ages.

Remember when another sibling—the brilliant one, the autistic one, the most easily and fundamentally broken—was publicly belittled in class, day in and day out, by that awful hag of a teacher? He got so afraid, so stressed, he panicked all the time. It only got worse when she turned a blind eye to the physical abuse heaped upon him by other students. She could pretend nothing was happening, because he never told.

Remember when your hospital sent my last sibling home with organ failure? I think they told him to just go to urgent care the following Monday. If my parents had regarded their advice—if they hadn’t taken him to urgent care that night—he would have died. My parents spent hundreds of thousands of dollars rectifying the malpractice of your hospital.

And my sibling wasn’t the only one. Remember that man with the custom-made bumper sticker that read, “[Home Town] Hospital Killed My Wife. I Miss Her Alot?” I guess we’re just lucky he survived.

You won’t apologize, Home Town. You just shrug and point out that you did not, in fact, kill him.

Remember when your evangelistic, theologically-ignorant so-called Christians told my parents that their children were sick only because of sin? No comfort, no offer of prayer, certainly no modicum of support. Simply put, your people said, “If you were better people, this would not have happened. God does not do such things to His people.”

I suppose they forgot about Job. Lots of Christians do.

I wish I could. Because of you, and the repercussions of you, Job is on my mind a lot.

Continuing with the obtuseness of the churchgoers there, remember when my family was iced out of a local church because my parents, both hard-working people raising a gaggle of smart and good-hearted children, were not college graduates?

Remember when our neighbors, God-fearing churchgoers all, shunned us? Shunned us over the words of a histrionic, vicious bitch with a reputation for rumormongering. But she offered gossip, you see, a sensationalistic rumor. One of the Church’s great failings is gossip, Home Town. You know this. And you know the loudmouth whores always trump the meek. At least in hometowns, that is.

I don’t blame them as much anymore, though. If you can define a reason, however fraudulent, for terrible fortune, you can convince yourself it will never happen to you. By condemning us, they were assuring themselves that they were safe.

But never mind them. They were blind, and time and experience has taken a toll on some. They are learning.

But there is always worse. So here is ‘worse’:

Remember when my mom got a job at that long-corrupted, crippled home-town institution? Remember how she rose from part-time assistant to manager in a year? Remember how she raised that awful, sick old place with its awful, sick hometown boy crowd to a bustling full-time business? Remember how revenue increased ten-fold under her leadership? Even when the board of directors foisted one worthless, lazy, incompetent assistant (in most cases, their wives) after another upon her, she kept building it up. Made it a respectable business. And always, always fought the corruption.

And remember, when it was clear that after years and years that she would not give in to the board’s self-serving demands, would not and would never serve as an instrument to their appalling corruption—they chased her away?

Remember, once they ascertained certain things in their underhanded, hometown way, what they did to her?

Remember that?

Remember how no one cared and no one listened when your hometown people at your hometown school drove my fragile brother to an almost-successful suicide attempt?

And remember that time when I was not even ten? How your good old boy hometown man tried to kill us all in our sleep? If God Himself had not intervened, we would all be dead. He stopped you then. But He hasn’t stopped you lately. I wonder why, and try to figure it out. But all I come up with is Job. That scares me so bad, Home Town. Sometimes it does feel like I’ve lost everything. But I know that’s not true. There is still so much that can, and will someday be, gone.

I know you don’t care.

You only care that I left you. And so you’re reaching, still sending out hooks steeped in wrongness, misery, and—amazingly—beguilement.

Stop.

We are gone from you. We’ve shaken the dust of your rotted ground off our boots. Soon, we will run far and far and far from the state itself that spawned you. You’ve lost us.

You know what the worst part is? I think I will miss you. Or at least the memories.

You sure are something, Home Town. I will be sad when I reach the point that delineates the now from the then. When going back to you is a physical, as well as emotional, impossibility.

You know, there are days when I ponder our house, finally lost, empty.

Full only of hollow, howling wind in winter, of birdsong and the distant laughter of the neighbor children in the summer. Dogs barking and owls swooping in all seasons. The wild pigs whose grunts sound like the words of men, coming and going as patternlessly as the winds. I think of my pets, the ones who left, their little handmade graves covered in leaves and wild tufts of knee-high grass. I wonder if it is awful to be sleeping there as it was to be living.

Most of all I think how that empty and gutted place is still so full, not of life, but of whispers of memories, of ghosts. Ghosts of hideousness and achy suggestions of beauty. Phantoms of the frail threads of intense joy never quite extinguished by suffering.

Sometimes, I think I am that house.

Lately I know, with a certainty that drives down to my bones, that by the time I have truly, utterly, and completely thrown you off, there will be no house left.

And I know, always, that this makes you happy.

Lights Out

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Have you ever noticed how, when sitting in your room at night with the lights on, it’s difficult to see out your window? The brighter the light, the more opaque the reflection of your room is.

You could put your face close to the glass and see out, but why? You’re in your room, with all the lights on, surfing the net. Nothing to worry about.

Then again, it is kind of creepy, when you think about. You, staring at your computer screen, totally absorbed, all the while anyone or anything could be just on the other side of that pane of glass. Watching you. Silently.

But of course, you could just turn off the lights and look out, dispelling any creeping feeling that may be rising up in you.

Unless there was something out there… and you’ve just removed the only barrier that blocked it’s entrance.

 

The Letter

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In Berlin during World War I, money was short, supplies were tight, and everyone was hungry. At that time, people were telling the tale of a young woman who saw a blind man picking his way through a crowd. The young lady and the man began to talk. Before long, the man asked her for a favor: could she deliver a letter for him? She recognized the address he gave her. In fact, it was on her way home, so she agreed.

The girl was in a hurry, so she turned around, intending to deliver the message as quickly as possible. Then it struck her to ask whether there was anything else the blind man needed. But he had already gone. She spotted him on the edge of the crowd, running without his smoked glasses or white cane.

Suspicious and slightly afraid, she went to the police, who raided the address on the envelope. It was a small butcher shop where they found heaps of human flesh for sale.

And the letter in the envelope? A note that read simply, “This is the last one I am sending you today.”

Vials

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**Don’t know why this one is so appealing. It lacks the punch that makes it truly horrifying, and has no real twist. And yet.

 

VIALS

 

You come into possession of an old box. Inside are several glass vials filled with dirt, dust and tiny bits of gravel or cement. The vials are labeled with places and dates such as “Port Chicago 7/17/44?, “Halifax 7/6/17? and “Guernica 7/17/36?. A trip to the library confirms that all are dates of massive loss of life in explosions. A few days later a package arrives with no return address.

Inside is an empty vial labeled with your home town and next week’s date.

Leon Czolgosz

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**This one fires my imagination endlessly. I am very big on splintered timelines, string theory, parallel worlds and universes, hidden countries and alternate Earth things, so this was practically written for me. I sure wish it was written by me. But alas.

 

LEON CZOLGOSZ

Leon Czolgosz, assassin of William McKinley, the 25th President of the United States, was electrocuted for his crime on October 29, 1901, at Auburn Prison in Auburn, New York. Among the personal effects found in his cell was a U.S. quarter stamped with the date 2218. The face in profile on said quarter was not George Washington, but rather a face which has yet to be identified.

The Bride

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**This ones makes me sad. I don’t know why. At best, it’s cheap, maudlin pathos, but it tends to do me in. Enjoy (if that’s even the right word.)

 

THE BRIDE

A young man and his new bride were honeymooning in Paris when she sat him down, deadly serious, and asked him if he would ever leave her were she not truly beautiful. He laughed and complimented her, figuring she was simply being dramatic and wanted to be told how pretty she was. She then grabbed a cloth and rubbed at her face, wiping off the heavy foundation she wore and revealing a grotesque purple birthmark, covering nearly her whole face. Of course he would still love her, he was a good man but before he could stop himself he let out a gasp. His wife burst into tears and fled, and hadn’t returned by the time the honeymoon was supposed to end. She had no passport, and no money so fearing the worst the man went to the police. The police thought it was most likely the girl simply had second thoughts about the marriage, yet due to the fact she had no official documents and spoke no French, they launched a hunt. Nothing ever turned up.

As weeks turned into months the man finally gave up on finding his beautiful wife, but his life fell into a shambles, he was so filled with grief.

Unable to hold a job or go on with his life, he took to wandering the world looking for anything that might ease his pain. Years later in Borneo he came upon a freak show in an old shabby building, he went in on a whim. In the last filthy cage he saw a twisted, scarred and mutilated woman rocking back and forth and groaning strange animal-like noises. He screamed as he recognized the birthmark on his wife’s face.