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Well, I heard from an Internet friend that there's one in Coraline. Now, Coraline isn't just a kid's movie. It's a pretty scary movie, and on top of the scariness there's even a little bit of risque material---the burlesque dancer neighbors come to mind. But my friend told me that there's a secret image hidden in the movie that was just some animator's idea of fun, nothing naughty or sexual. It's in the scene where Coraline's Other Mother is cracking an egg in the frying pan---if you zoom in on the egg yolk while it's suspended in midair, you can see Jack Skellington's head (Nightmare Before Christmas)...
Anyway, I pulled out my DVD and popped it in my 64 inch TV. I went to the scene and paused the movie, then zoomed.
There it was. The faint yet unmistakable head of Jack Skellingon suspended in the yellow yolk of an egg. I was about to eject the DVD when I noticed something right below Jack's head, right at the bottom of the yolk. It looked like a faint string of words, but I couldn't make them out... Maybe they weren't even words. The movie quality at this zoomed in point was way to fuzzy, and it could have been just a shadow or some kind of tiny imperfection in whatever material the egg was made from...
I mentioned it to my friend online.
"It COULD be words," he said. "Maybe it's a phone number or something."
Yeah, but I was thinking it was probably some kind of props note or label that didn't totally erase from the egg. My friend told me I should download an HD version anyway and maybe I could see more clearly if the fuzzy line was words or if it was nothing.
Well, I went ahead and torrented an HD version. (Sorry, Laika and Focus Features! I promise I bought the DVD legitimately...I just needed this version for scholarly research...) Again, I zoomed in as far as I could on my computer, and there was Jack Skellington's head, much clearer and defined this time. And below it, there WERE words.
But I still couldn't read them..I could make out the fuzzy shapes, but I couldn't zoom in any more. Well, now comes the good part about Internet friends. Whoever you talk to on the Internet could literally be anyone with all sorts of different connections, and my friend told me he knew a guy who worked at Laika and helped oversee the conversion from the original theatrical digital file to the various home entertainment files/mediums, and this guy could potentially have access to the original Coraline movie file, which would of course be the most HD version of the movie there was.
Well, my friend got back to me a few days later, and he said the guy he knew had a personal copy of the original file at his home in Oregon, and he'd show it to us if wanted to see it, but it was too big/copyrighted to send over the Internet. Now, I live in Washington state, which isn't too far away from Oregon, but did I really want to drive several hours just to sate my curiosity?
The answer, it turns out, is yes. The restaurant I work at got big time slammed by the health department and had to close for a week. Apparently the state doesn't like customers with 6 legs crawling around in the cooler...
So now I had a week of total free time with nothing to do, and the idea of meeting my online friend and watching his friend's copy of the original Coraline movie file sounded even more tantalizing. So we set a day to meet and a time that worked for my friend's friend to show us the movie, and I was off to Oregon.
My friend---his name's Kael---lives in Veneta, Oregon, a small town about three and a half hours from where I live in Washington. Was I a little nervous to meet him? After all, we'd only ever talked online on various movie and anime forums. Yes, I was a little nervous, but I had met people from the Internet before in real life and they'd been perfectly fine. There's just always that little bit of nervousness, because you have no idea who the human behind the screen name is. There are just so many possibilities.
Anyway, I drove down to Veneta on a Wednesday, Kael's day off. We were supposed to meet at the Taco Time in Veneta at noon, but I arrived and waited for an hour and a half and no one showed up. He wasn't responding to my texts, and I was worried that I had wasted all of that gas and time just to be blown off by a trolling pasty-faced Code Red-blooded asshole.
Well, just as I was getting ready to leave, this super tall skinny guy in a lime green hoodie showed up. He wore glasses and had shaggy black hair and looked to be in his low to mid thirties. He made a beeline for my table.
"Matt?" he said.
"Yeah, Kael?" I responded. I hadn't actually ever seen a picture of him, but I was assuming it was him.
"Actually Kael couldn't make it...I'm his friend Ricardo. I work at Laika."
Oh...so no Kael. Hmm.
"Is Kael okay?" I asked. "He hasn't responded to any of my texts."
"Yeah, he's fine, just got called in to work," the guy, Ricardo, said. "Works at a daycare, and one of the helpers got sick and they needed him."
"He works at a daycare?" I snorted before I could catch myself. I gave a small rueful smile. "I mean, that's a totally cool job, I just didn't expect Kael to work at a daycare."
"Yeah, he's sorry he couldn't make it."
"He could have at least let me know..." I was kind of pissed. I drove all this way and didn't even get to meet Kael. This guy Ricardo better show me the movie...
"I can still show you the movie file, if you want," Ricardo said. He was super fidgety, darting his eyes around the restaurant and constantly pushing his glasses up his nose.
"I mean, sure, I guess. I came all this way," I said. "And I just am really curious what the text on the egg yolk is."
"Oh yeah," he said, giving a weird short little laugh. "I haven't looked myself yet, was just waiting for you and Kael."
"Really?" I said. "I'd be chomping at the bit...I'm a huge conspiracy nut. Even though it's probably nothing and I wasted three and a half hours driving down here."
"Maybe, but it could be something...right?" Ricardo said. His darting eyes suddenly became still focused on my own. "Maybe it's the phone number of some crew member's ex-girlfriend...maybe it says 'Pixar sucks dick!' Maybe a clue for some massively secret scavenger hunt."
"Hey now," I said, "Don't get me too excited."
"Let's go find out, then," Ricardo said.
I followed Ricardo in his truck to his house, a small, typically small-town northwestern house. We made our way down into his basement.
Ricardo had a nice basement. And I mean nice. First of all, it was huge, and it was finished, basement with super deep and comfy carpet. There was a huge TV, a collection of at least two dozen video game consoles stretched out chronologically, four or five computer stations scattered around, and a gigantic fridge. He handed me a beer.
"Alright," he said. "Let's go into the projection room." He brought me through a door into another huge room. The ratio of downstairs size to upstairs size was probably like 3 to 1. They must have paid him pretty well at Laika for him to have all this stuff, especially here in the projector room: two rows of super big comfy leather recliners and another gigantic fridge, along with a wall crammed full of framed and autographed movie posters,, and reels stacked all along the walls. He disappeared into a small room, and in a few seconds the projector turned on and a huge rectangle of light hit the projector screen. I sat down in one of the recliners. Thirty seconds later and the opening credits for Coraline popped up. Ricardo came out of the small room and sat down next to me, a remote clutched in his hand. He fast-forwarded through the movie until he got to the egg scene, and then he paused it.
"Oh boy," I said. "Here we go..."
He slowly fast-forwarded frame by frame, the egg in the Other Mother's hands breaking open one frame at a time, the yellow ball of yolk gradually appearing and falling out of the shell.
"Stop," I said. He stopped. There was Jack Skellington's head. "Zoom in right here," I said. He slowly zoomed in. Jack's head was super clear in this version, even zoomed in. All of the imperfections and tiny pockets of light were incredibly visible on the stop motion egg yolk. Ricardo slowly inched down on the frame and stopped when the bottom of the yolk came into sight.
It was text. Ricardo zoomed in even farther. "This is as far as I can go," he said.
But I could make it out this time. It was still a tiny bit blurry, but it was a string of letters and numbers.
And it ended in the domain .onion.
.onion. Tor. The Onion Router. The gateway to the dark and wild fringes of the Internet. So there was a .onion address hidden in Coraline.
What was it? Where did it lead? What kind of website?
Ricardo and I looked at each other.
"So did you ever hear anything about this?" I asked.
"No," he said. "I had no idea." For some reason, I wasn't sure if I believed him.
"Well, maybe we should look up the address," I said.
"Let me grab my Tor computer," he said. He left the projection room. His Tor computer? That he specifically uses for just the Tor browser? I considered my situation suddenly: here I was in the bowels of a stranger's home. I really didn't know Ricardo or anything about him, besides the fact that he worked at Laika. What was with all the computers in his basement?
"Here we go," he said, coming back into the room with a MacBook Pro. He sat down next to me and opened the Tor browser. I had my days of teenage Darknet curiosity, but I never went far on Tor. I'd only ever used the browser a couple of times.
Ricardo squinted up at the screen and slowly began typing in the .onion address embedded at the bottom of the egg yolk. It was silent in the room, save for his typing. This is so weird, I thought.
"And done!" he said. He hit enter. The page began to load at an agonizingly slow pace, due to the Tor browser utilizing hundreds of computers from around the globe.
And then it was done loading. There was a single word on the screen, a blue link in Courier font. ENTER. Ricardo looked at me.
"Sure, why not?" I said. He clicked ENTER.
Oh great, things just got that more cryptic...
There was a photo of some kind of building, a shed almost, under a grey sky and in a clearing surrounded by trees. That was it. The only thing on the site. The one image.
Ricardo turned to me, a wry grin on his face.
"That's the Knight Box."
"The Knight Box?" I said. "What's that?"
"Travis Knight---he's the CEO of Laika---goes there to like meditate and do groundwork for films he wants to do."
"So that's it? The CEO's mediation shed?" I was kind of disappointed.
"Yep, apparently," Ricardo said. "Just some inside joke."
But it was still kind of weird... "Then what's it doing with a .onion address?" I asked.
Ricardo shrugged. "Who knows."
I sat there for a few moments, staring at the computer screen, and then back up at the zoomed in yolk on the projector screen.
"Well I guess I'm just going to go then," I said.
"I'm sorry," he said. "I was hoping it'd be something cooler too."
"Yeah, well, it is what it is," I said. "I'll text Kael."
Ricardo stood up. "I'll show you out," he said. We went upstairs.
I paused at the front door.
"Where is this Knight Box?" I asked. "I'm in town, so I may as well go see it."
"Uh, I don't know, Mr. Knight probably doesn't want people poking around there...it's supposed to be a private place."
"I'll just look," I said. "I'm not going to bother anything, especially not if someone's there."
"Suit yourself," Ricardo said. He pulled out his phone and touched a few keys. He held it out to me. "Here are the coordinates."
How did he have the coordinates so readily available? "Alright, cool," I said, quickly typing them into my own phone.
"And if you, uh, do run into Mr. Knight, please don't mention me," Ricardo said, his eyes darting all around. He seemed nervous.
"I won't," I said. "It was nice meeting you, Ricardo."
"Yeah, bye," he said, going back into the house and closing the door. I didn't know what to make of my afternoon. It was about 3:30ish, the sky grey and a light drizzle in the air. Typical November in Oregon. I got in my car and pulled out of Ricardo's driveway, following the coordinates on my phone.
They took me to Siuslaw National Forest, a beautiful and hilly parcel of land. Varying levels of trees dominated the horizon, tendrils of mist oozing in and out of them. I paid at the visitors' center and slowly began driving farther into the park. It was getting mistier, and the guy at the visitors' center warned me about sticking to the trails. I drove on the main road following the coordinates, which were about five miles away according to my phone. The road became narrower and twistier, and a damn pickup almost broadsided me coming fast around a corner. I wondered about this Knight Box. Why would it be in the thick of a national forest? I understood that Mr. Knight wanted to get away and meditate, but did the park service actually allow for a private building by a private citizen on its land?
I was about two-thirds of a mile from the coordinates now, and they were now pointing away from the road, into the trees. I pulled over into a small gravel parking lot and got out of my car. The mist was heavy and the sky was grey and everything was silent. No birds, no wind rustling through the trees, no sounds of other cars. It was kind of unnerving. I found a small unmarked gravel path leading up into the trees with a metal gate in front of it, a sign on in reading in big red letters, WARNING: PRIVATE TRAIL. ALL TRESPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED. I looked back up and down the main road. Surely no would stop by. I was only going to investigate. If caught, I could say I never saw the sign because of the mist...
I climbed over the gate and started up the path. The trees arched over me like a tunnel and it was dark. Really dark. I turned on the flashlight on my phone and kept pressing forward, upward, toward. But toward what? I was breathing hard because I was somewhat out of shape, and the gravel path was getting steeper and steeper and narrower and narrower. I wasn't even 100% sure I was still on the path, but then the gravel began widening again and the path began leveling out, and I saw some light in the distance. The trees began thinning out, and soon I emerged into a clearing.
There was a building in the clearing, a few hundred meters in. As I got closer I saw a big ice chest on the outside and a small wooden structure that I recognized as a firewood shed. It looked like this building was or used to be a sort of camping check-in spot or something, with the whole kind of wide triangular roof and what looked like from a distance a sliding window with a ledge. The clearing was super quiet, and it was really getting kind of dark. I realized it was about 5ish, and it would be dark before I knew it. I didn't want to get locked in the park, so I couldn't investigate the building for long. I took a quick picture with my phone of the building.
I reached the building and looked through the windows. If this really was the Knight Box, I had no idea where Travis Knight did his mediation or thinking or storyboarding or whatever he did. There was stuff everywhere, canoes, oars, life jackets, stacks of paper, bundles of firewood, tarps, all sorts of camping-related things. I walked around the entire building but saw nothing that really warranted its importance. I tried the door handle, but it was locked. There was nothing in the little shed either but firewood.
Why would a link to a picture of this shed be hidden in the original Coraline movie file? Why an .onion link too? Night was really coming on now, and I needed to leave before I either got lost or stuck in the park. I started to walk away from the building, but a tiny bit of movement from inside caught my eye. A door---a closet door?---barely visible behind a pile of life jackets pushed open slightly, but the pile of life jackets prevented it from opening further.
I found myself paralyzed. Fear and wonder were all mixed up together inside my head. Who the hell was in this building? Especially in like a closet? Behind a pile of stuff?
The door pushed open again, harder, and a few life jackets tumbled to the floor. I checked my phone to make sure it still got a signal---I wanted to be able to call 911 if I had to. I had one bar of service...hopefully it would be enough to call for help...
And then from the other side of the clearing---the side opposite where I had come from---I saw a figure moving fast toward me. Oh my god, my heart seized up. I was about to run when I saw something inside the building, something poking out of the closet inside.
A face, barely visible in the darkness, a small pale face with long dark hair. It looked like a little kid, a girl. She pushed forward inside against the life jackets and a few more fell to the ground. More of her body appeared, and I saw that she was naked. She was moving her body hard, wriggling, trying to push her way out of the closet and over the life jackets. Behind her I saw another arm poke out, and then a small head popped out. A boy.
The figure across the meadow was approaching. I had to get out of there. I was terrified. As I was turning to leave, though, I heard a muffled noise from inside the building.
Coming from the person inside, the girl. It was like a moan/scream, and then I noticed something terrifying, something about the girl, something that made me run fast away, not wanting to stick around and find out what the figure running towards me wanted. I ran and ran, away from the building and back onto the gravel path.
"Who are you? Come the fuck back here!" I heard behind me. But I wasn't going back.
I tripped on a protruding root. "Oh shit," I cried out as I fell forward, the gravel slicing against my arms and face. I picked myself up and felt blood on my face. I realized my phone had fallen from my hand, but there was no way I was stopping to look for it. I heard my pursuer behind me, coming fast down the path and yelling, "Stop and talk to me!"
I pushed blindly onward, making my way through the almost total darkness using only my feet to feel out the path. I wasn't even sure I was on the path, the terrain was so steep and bumpy. There were trees all around me, and branches whipped against my face.
God I needed to get to my car. That was the only end goal in my mind. I wasn't even considering what I had just seen in the building. I just knew I had to get to my car and away from whoever was chasing me. I still heard him behind me. I was crying now. I was here in the forest in the middle of nowhere at night, and nobody besides Ricardo knew I was here. The tears and the blood mixed on my face.
And then there were no more trees and I was standing by the road, and there was my car a couple hundred feet away. I ran to it and pulled out my keys, my hands shaking so much I nearly dropped them. I jumped into my car and turned it on, flipping the headlights on and throwing it into drive. I zoomed off down the road, glancing out my window was I went. I saw somebody running back into the trees, but I couldn't make out any details. I just floored it and left Siuslaw, getting an hour away before stopping for gas and a gas station hotdog.
And that's what happened that day. You wanna know what happened to Kael and Ricardo? Me too. Heard nothing from them since, which saddens me, especially with Kael. We were friends, and now he's literally disappeared from the Internet. Kael's a pretty unusual name, and I used whitepages.com to look up Kaels in Veneta, but I found no one with that name. I also tried googling "Ricardo Laika DVD", but nothing came up. Maybe Kael and Ricardo were always the same person. I dunno. And I lost my phone, so there went the coordinates for the Knight Box and the .onion url. I really hope whoever was chasing me didn't find my phone. I had some important stuff on there.
So the restaurant is up and running again, and I the fast-paced environment keeps my mind off of things. I know I probably have a moral obligation, but...I have no proof they were kids. They could have just been nude animatronic dolls or something, maybe something for an upcoming Laika movie. And if they were kids...well, they weren't. They couldn't be. Nobody could sit through the unknowable psychological torment of sewing large black buttons into the eyes of naked children and then locking them in a closet in the middle of a forest. I decided after that day that I will let sleeping dogs lie.
Of course, the question still remains: Why was that .onion url and therefore that image of the Knight Box hidden in the egg yolk in Coraline? Who put it there? Was it a ploy to lead someone there? Did Henry Selick know it was there? I still have questions, but I'm not going to go look. I have nothing to judge Laika or Travis Knight with, and I never will. And I never will return to Siuslaw National Forest. The one photo I took of the building with my phone was saved in the Cloud, and I include it with my story only to show you that even things that appear super mundane can harbor things far outside your expectations, things that may or may not be just plain surreal. That day feels so surreal now, thinking about it. Surreal in the worst of ways. I try not think about it.
And I don't really look for Easter eggs anymore.