When I was younger, and in middle school, I didn’t have a lot of friends. The greatest appeal of the weekend resided more or less in the ability to stay up late and watch Cartoon Network. At the time, Hannah Barbara launched these titles they unimaginatively named “cartoon cartoons”. I’m sure you heard of them. Johnny Bravo, Dexters Laboratory, Cow and Chiken, Powerpuff Girls, eventually Courage the Cowardly Dog, and Ed, Edd, And Eddy. At the time, these titles were spinoffs of shorts they periodically aired under the guise: “The What A Cartoon Show”, a kind of animation variety show. They would air new episodes every Friday night. I personally didn’t think too much of them, but it was something to watch anyways.
Lying in my bed those nights and relaxing after a week of school knowing I could sleep in the next morning was easily the most comfortable memory for me. I still fondly recall those times with a warm sense of nostalgia, back when TV made sense to me.
After all these shows were all done being aired, they would put on random programs that were as bland as they came. I think they were either Bugs and Daffy or the Flintstones. I don’t remember. After that though, they would put on my favorite show. It came on towards midnight to one in the morning. It was called Space Ghost Coast to Coast. That show at the time seemed like it was the best thing ever. As much as I enjoyed these newer cartoons like Dexter and Johnny Bravo, I always felt the need for something less mild and child oriented and more scaled towards adults. It’s hard to explain, but I loved these cartoons and wished they made something darker, more mature. Swearing and such.
I was only fourteen and the internet wasn’t as facilitated as it is today, so obviously I couldn’t YouTube search something like Salad Fingers or the such… so I had to take these things whenever and wherever I could find them. Space Ghost Coast to Coast was among these. Dark, random, totally insane, and most importantly, targeted towards mature audiences. This was all pre Adult Swim era, which would someday prove to be that Holy Grail I’ve been waiting for, before that, however, there was just this. When it was over, They would air reruns of the Flintstones or whatever. I would continue to watch the channel until I would fall asleep.
At some point in time though, there would be a show that came on after Space Ghost. For the life of me, I couldn’t remember what it was called. I’ve searched the web based on its general description, but there is nothing to be found. From what I could remember, this was a show that was more or less a collage of animated shorts that I think were submitted by various animation students from around the world. I think it was a Canadian based show that was adapted for America. For the sake of reference, think back to the nineties when MTV hosted a random chunk of airtime for cartoons.
It was called “Liquid Television” and contained shows like Beavis and Butthead, and Aeon Flux. But they had another show called “Cartoon Sushi” which was a collaboration of animations submitted by several different artists and showed videos in a myriad of styles and approaches. This program was like that, but more mild. Granted, they did have some pretty grim cartoons that approached subjects like death, and sex. So when Space Ghost ended, I would watch that and hope it would be forthcoming with dark humor. The show didn’t really last long. I think it was on for a couple of weeks and then it stopped and they replaced it with Dragon Ball Z episodes.
There was this one bit that I found particularly hilarious. It was an animated short implementing a mock documentary about an endangered species of purple monsters. You’ll have to excuse my lack of accuracy in this description as my memory is hazy, it’s been well over ten years since I’ve watched this. The documentary discloses the process of how the monsters live their lives in peace and harmony with the land and how their existence is a miracle of nature. But then it takes a dark turn when the monster is revealed to be a valuable prize and they show them getting killed off by hunters. Or so I think. At the end of the fake documentary, they pan it out to reveal that it was on a television and we see that an old couple are watching it. After the value of the animal is revealed to the old man, he picks up a gun leaves the room and you hear a gunshot and then he comes back in with a look of satisfaction. I think it was implied that they had one as a pet and cold heartedly murdered it for the profits sake. Either way, to me it was hilariously executed as the humor was extremely dark and dry.
It was those kind of shorts that kept drawing me to this short lived TV show. Sometimes the shorts were horrible, sometimes they made absolutely no sense. Occasionally they were pretentious and overly artistic, and whatever the implied message that was being expressed sailed directly over my head, and yet I watched it anyways because I was friendless and weird and had nothing better to do.
So one Friday night, my parents went out to get drunk at a bar or whatever and I had the house to myself. In celebration of my unsupervised freedom on this one particular Friday night, I did as I would do any other weekend night. I flipped to channel sixty-seven and watched cartoons. Everything was normal up until when that show came on…
The opening montage played like normal, showing several clips from several different submittals featured on the show with some random song playing over or whatever, then there was the title for the show, and then it faded to black and proceeded with the first short. Now Sometimes at the beginning of these shorts, they preceded the episode with a still image containing the title. Other times it just goes straight into it. This time around though, it was difficult to see which opening style they were going for. The screen just stayed dark, black, with no content to be witnessed whatsoever. It was pure silence. And it stayed silent for a long time.
At first I thought that maybe my television wasn’t hooked up right, or that a wire in the back of the cable box fell out. Then I thought that maybe this was some variation of an emergency broadcasting station. They do that from time, yet not like this. It was intriguing at first, because I thought they were trying something different, and as I said, I was eager for something different, something more serious and adult like, but no. This was just a blank channel. Nothing more. I started getting impatient. I decided that enough was enough and reached for the controller to change the channel to something else to make sure that the cable box was working, and that’s when the weirdness began to take place.
You know when you record something with a microphone, and in that pause between sounds, you can hear a hissing sound. Some people call it fuzz, white noise, whatever. Anyways, this noise began to fade in like a song, quiet at first, I could barely hear it when I first noticed, but it was just loud enough to catch my attention. I lowered the controller and looked at the screen. The blankness of the program began to show grainy imagery, static in the corners. As if what I was watching was of a bootleg quality video played off an old VHS. The noise was getting louder and louder until it went from a slight hiss to something like rushing water. It didn’t transcend the volume level of my television, but I could absolutely tell it was loud. On the end of the recorders, this output was clearly maxed out. The static or tracking of the video quality made it clearly known that something was definitely playing, even though there was still only blankness behind the light static.
Then I saw the words, or at least an out of focus resemblance of them. I couldn’t read them, not at first. I was more and more intrigued by this odd exhibition, I found myself moving closer to the screen, squinting my eyes trying to make the words out. I got close enough to see my own reflection in the TV screen, and still, the words were hard to read. But I could tell that they were slowly coming into focus, slowly though. I could make out the letter “L” and an “N”, and before long I could see that the words read:
The moment I realized what I was reading, A sound snapped into the video, making me jump and shout out a word my parents would undoubtedly ground me for saying. It was creaking. At first I thought it was a sound from within my own house. Those sounds you hear late at night in an old house, like the creaking floorboards, or the pipes expanding behind the walls. But it didn’t take long for me to realize that it was actually coming from the program. The quality of it was loud and it was severely clipping. For those of you who don’t know what clipping is, just imagine a screaming into a hypersensitive microphone and playing it back. You don’t hear clarity, you hear muffled distortion and chaos. That’s what this creaking was like. The sound proceeded in four second intervals and were emitting rhythmically over and over again.
Gawking at the TV like a staring fool, I reached over and adjusted the volume button. It was still at thirty percent, but the volume on the TV seemed so much louder. As I was bringing it down to twenty five percent, the words on the poorly tracked screen that said “FOR LINDA” suddenly disappeared, along with the static like quality in general and a commercial for home equity loans popped up, and scared the shit out of me.
In a way I was quite relieved. This to me felt like I was coming up for air after being dunked underwater by something terrible. I had no idea what the hell was happening with this channel but I couldn’t in good conscience change the channel. This was a breaking deviation for what was otherwise a boring pattern of the monotony that made up my childhood. So I sat through these commercials, laughing uneasily at the irony of actually enjoying them for once. It didn’t even bother me that Cartoon Network had a tendency to advertise responsible adult content on what is otherwise a channel whose audience were primarily children.
The last commercial was that black and white Jim Sokolov Commercial, something about getting paid for getting hurt working-it doesn’t matter. When it ended, the screen turned black again. That VHS quality popped back into view and was immediately proceeded by the blown out that hissing and rhythmic creaking noise. There was actual animation to be seen this time around. It was fading in from the black. The image was an animated shot of a crudely designed old man sitting in a rocking chair in a windowless black room, rocking back and forth.
The room was dark and appeared to be lit by a horrible looking candle whose flame consisted of two frames on loop. The view was from the side, and he was mildly rocking back and forth with his hands folded over his lap. I could see that his eyes were closed. This made me feel uneasy. Was he resting his eyes or was he actually asleep?
Every aspect of him looked less like a carefully designed cartoon character and more like a paper doll filmed in a stop motion fashion, and a very poorly executed style at that. His movements were jumpy that it reminded me of an old PS1 game where characters would glitch uncontrollably. It was very distracting and annoying at first.
What made this so creepy to me wasn’t the jumpy animation or that crudely real looking paper doll approach or even that bizarre use of audio quality. No. the creepiest part were the textures of what they used to comprise the old man and the scenery.
You see, your standard animation model of a character consists of black outlines and a color for its fill. It varies from cartoon to cartoon, but sometimes you’ll also notice a variation of shading approaches on the face and clothing. None of this even remotely applied to the old man on the chair. His skin appeared to be textured not with a basic color, but a real detailed variation of skin. I know it sounds weird to hear, but it seemed like he was thrown together with photographs of random real life textures that were cut into shapes to make up everything we saw in the cartoon. If you’re familiar with How Trey Parker and Matt Stone first started out with making South Park, I’m sure you’ll understand what I mean. It isn’t an uncommon technique and it actually suited the variety show well given the wide array of styles they have used in the past. But something was just wrong about these textures.
The skin textures of his face were as real as it came, I could see the pores, the wrinkles, which at first seemed like an awesome aesthetic, except I could also see scars. He was covered in them, and some of them were greenish grey, as if the skin was infected or bruised. Some of them were caked in blood and scabs. The scars were fresh. The texture used to comprise his clothing was a real white grayish flannel texture. Much like the skin textures, this seemed off as well. You could see rips and tears in them, dark spots of blood. Across his chest, there was a larger rip in the clothing and you could see skin beneath, and across the skin was a large cut, it almost looked like an axe wound or a knife slash. Even thought it was still, there seemed to be a lot of blood oozing out of it. I even saw that the texture, when captured with the camera, it caught a single fly in the shot.
The texture of the walls were black asphalt, the candle was that of real fire, two separate pictures. The rocking chair consisted of actual wood pictures, several of which were thrown together. You could see how the light’s impression on the wood in the cut images varied from image to image producing an inconsistent pattern of color shading on the chair that should have been seen as a disgrace to certain artists, and yet it looked oddly impressive for what it was.
The old man rocked back and forth. Over and over again. Absolutely nothing happened but this. The candle flickered its light with its only two fire images and that was that. I’d say all and all the cartoon consisted of twenty four frames, which is two seconds, two seconds that played on loop for up to five to ten minutes. And I watched every second of it, taking in the imagery, the shitty animation, the loud obnoxious audio quality, and worst of all, that absurdly gross texture.
The next round of commercials interrupted the cartoon without any word of warning and just like the first time around, it made me jump, but not scream like last time. When the commercials ended, I think I realized what I was watching.
The show came right back into it like there was no commercial breaks, and nothing was different, except for two things that seemed small at first. Firstly, the old man’s head was now turned in the viewers direction, and secondly, his eyes were open. I didn’t notice it at first, but when I did I nearly jumped back again. His eyes were out of proportion with his head, and looked painfully out of place with the rest of him. They were staring, blue and…something off about them. I could tell they were real and not dolls eyes. There were no wrinkles to them. These were the eyes of younger person. A young girl even. I don’t know how I could tell for certain, maybe it was intuition, but I just knew those were cut images of a little girls eyes. They looked so dead and lifeless, and it felt like they were staring into my soul.
It made me feel sick. I remember my stomach feeling like it was lined with mud. Was this a really twisted joke? Were these textures actually made out of what I thought they were made out of? No, Cartoon Network would never allow that. But if this was a spoof on something, I didn’t know what. It didn’t make sense because even twisted humor would have to make their punch lines accessible to their audience and yet there was nothing accessible about this.
Then it started talking. Or at least, a black rectangle started appearing and disappearing rapidly over its broken lip textures over and over again to try and make it look like its mouth was opening and closing. I could hear something very faint. A voice. It sounded unintelligible and very far away. I had to raise the volume higher until I could hear it. Under that hissing white noise of the audio along with the creaking of the chair which became so loud that it started blowing out the speakers on the television, the voice could be plainly heard. There was something about the quality. Its echo seemed to imply that it was recorded in a large open room and I could tell it was taking place very far away from the microphone. It was a desperate and despairing voice of a women screaming and pleading. It sounded like she was begging someone to stop doing what they were doing. I couldn’t make it all out but for what I could, it seemed fairly simple, “please don’t do it. Stop! She is just a child, please don’t do it, do it to me! Do it to me! You monster do it to me!”
Those words continued in various orders over and over again until the voice broke into a blood curdling scream superseded by what sounded like a drill. She started screaming a name. Linda. She was calling out to Linda. The drilling became loud as it began to drill into something. I heard a second voice, a Childs voice that transitioned from a scream of pain to uncontrollable crying. Three seconds later I heard something that sounded like a fluid being poured on a ground. My mind painted the scene that matched the audio. I refuse to describe it. All I could say is that it was the perfect audio complement to the animation’s textures.
The opening and closing of the mouth on that horrible thing in the chair didn’t seem to match either of the two voices as they both consisted of screaming and crying. If this was an attempt at lip-syncing, they were doing a horrible job. I didn’t think anything of it at first, I just listened to the horror and questioned whether or not it was as real as the textures of the creature itself.
But I realized there was a strange blowing sound. It was subtle, but definitely there. I realize that this was a third voice. The worst voice out of all of them. I put my ears to the speaker and realized that it was whispering. I don’t know for a fact, but I think that this whispering was a different audio track that was layered over the rest of the video because it sounded more clear than everything else.
I turned the volume up to its maximum level to be able to hear more clearly what it was saying. It was the whisper of a child. Her words matched the old man’s lip-synching perfectly.
“He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image, He rebuilt me in his own image.”
And on and on it went, hidden like an Easter egg within the snuff audio. I couldn’t tell if this was all one take or if she said it once and it was just playing on a loop. Each time she said it, My spine grew more cold.
Then the TV burst into loud roaring static. I jumped and screamed like a Banshee. I punched my television in a fit of fight or flight response, cracking my knuckle open in the process. There was no logic in it. I slammed my thumb on the lower volume button and watched the TV volume bars lower and lower until the static wasn’t deafening. I backed into my chair and stared at the static, trying to calm myself down and regain my composure. Two minutes later, The Flintstones opening montage came on. The channel went back to normal, and that was that.
Whenever I get really freaked out by something, I always changed the channel to Cartoon Network with the hopes that something as simple as Tom and Jerry or something along those lines would comfort me, but after that night, I realized that this was a comfort I no longer had access to. I didn’t sleep a wink that night, and I couldn’t explain this to anyone because nobody ever even heard of the show I was talking about due to how late it premiers and that watching cartoons is considered uncool among my fellow peers.
Eventually when I became more accustomed to the internet, I started searching high and low for that short. But it was nowhere to be found, and nobody ever mentions it in forums. I even looked up the name Linda in news websites regarding murder. I found a couple of murdered files regarding Linda, but nothing conclusive. I don’t know if this is good or bad though, good as in very few people have seen this messed up cartoon short, or bad as in the fact that this was insinuating that whoever is responsible is still out there... Providing that what it’s implying is real and not some elaborate hoax. I for one hope it was a hoax.