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After my last experience, my parents reminded me of another story from my childhood.
When you're five, your mind lacks the experience to make informed judgements, or connect things which aren't obvious. Over the years, the details get fuzzy and forgotten. Speaking with my parents the other day, they cleared the cobwebs burying this story.
I remember now much too clearly, the story of Gurgles and Bugman.
I'd just started kindergarten that year. Everyone’s a friend when you're five, so I had no shortage of classmates. But coming from a poor family, I didn’t get to see much of them outside of school. My parents spent all their waking hours trying to make ends meet and didn’t have time to ferry me from house to house.
So I spent my early years mostly keeping to myself, playing with the random assortment of knick knacks from the shelf in my room. Being short of money gave my family a habit of hoarding, so they hated to throw anything out.
One particular item on the shelf was a small, old-fashioned TV set. A wooden veneer box about 2 feet wide by a foot tall, it had a curved glass screen that took up half the front panel. Beside the screen was a large chrome dial used to switch channels. At the top sat an antenna formed by two terribly twisted wires.
When my boredom made me turn it on, I’d usually just get static and snow on that glowing black and white screen. I’d twist the heavy clicking dial hoping to pick up some local broadcasts. Mostly it would be some ghostly images and incoherent sound fragments. But one channel was always crystal clear.
It was the Gurgles and Bugman Show.
Gurgles was a Clown – but not a common one. He wore a thin black suit that draped his tall skinny body with a matching tie, and oversized novelty clown shoes to complete his distinctive outfit. His pupils were completely black - like polished ebony marbles - with no trace of white around them. Black face paint around those eyes, and across his cheeks and mouth, made him look like a manic, grinning skeleton. It was only the crazy crop of curly hair sprouting off the sides of his head that gave him a more human look.
As much as Gurgles freaked me out, Bugman scared me more. He was short and round (like a hunchbacked dwarf) with a dark cape. He had prosthetics covering his eyes to make him look like a fly, and a mouth that was rotated 90 degrees and opened from side to side.
The show itself was like Candid Camera, with pranks played on unsuspecting people. It would always start with Gurgles and Bugman hidden away at someone’s home. Gurgles would face the camera, staring at you, his bony finger touching his lips.
When the unsuspecting star of the show came into view, a laugh track would begin to play. You would see them go about their nightly routines, oblivious to the conspiracy that Gurgles and Bugman had involved us in.
We’d see them making dinner, or on the lounge watching TV with their family, or quietly doing their homework. Then watch as Gurgles and Bugman stole their pen, or moved their glass, or made things disappear behind their backs.
The camera angles would change as Gurgles and Bugman shifted their hiding place from the dark corners of a room, to the cupboards, to the ceiling, or under the furniture, all the while looking back at you and winking. The closer they got, the louder and more laughter from the sound track.
Eventually when everyone went to sleep a victim would be chosen for their prank. Waiting in the closet or under the bed, once their victim fell asleep, Bugman would crawl out and gently climb in beside them. His jaw would open sideways, and out would come a sharp straw that he’d stick in the person’s neck.
This always paralyzed their victim – because sometimes you could see them struggle if they woke and saw Gurgles and Bugman on top of them. The laugh track would then be extra loud and uproarious those few times the victims awoke.
Gurgles would make faces at the camera while the audience laughed, and Bugman would use his straw to drink from the person’s neck. When the victim stopped struggling after a few minutes, and the laughter would turn to claps and cheering.
With Bugman finished, Gurgles’ face would fill the whole screen with his impossibly wide, sharp-toothed grin. Then he’d whisper “ssseeee you again ssssoooonn!”.
The way those all-black eyes pierced through the screen always gave me the chills. I hated the show, but would be always too afraid to go near the TV while it was running.
One day, the TV mysteriously disappeared from my room. My parents told my five-year-old self that they sold it to pay some bills. I accepted that without question; I was kinda glad it was gone.
But yesterday when I asked them about that TV again, they exchanged nervous glances, then filled in some missing gaps from my childhood.
Halfway through that year, Derek (a classmate I didn’t know very well) had died in horrific circumstances. He was murdered in his bed with a stab wound to the neck. No evidence of a break-in was ever found, so his distraught parents were taken into custody as the primary suspects. They denied all the allegations against them.
At the time Mrs. Nolan (my teacher) told our class, I'd apparently explained to her that Derek couldn’t be dead because I saw him and his family on the Gurgles and Bugman Show the day before.
When Mrs. Nolan mentioned to my parents what I'd said, they had immediately taken the TV from my room, driven it to a junkyard and had it burnt to nothing but ashes and molten metal.
That TV was in my room because it had always been broken. It was never plugged in the whole time it sat on my shelf.
Whatever I saw on that screen, it wasn’t from a station.
So that's my story of Gurgles and Bugman. But I'm not sure if that's really the end though.
After all, do Gurgles and Bugman still perform their nightly show for some unsuspecting viewer, somewhere in this world?
And if so, who will be their next star?