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Turn the Crank

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Have you ever wondered why certain shows were off limits to you as child? Probably because of swearing, sexual content, the occasional use of the word “penis”, right? Well, that is true, but there's a deeper layer than that... for me, anyway.

It all started when I was around six or so. At this age, I loved to do everything that was exactly opposite of what I was supposed to do. If you said don't touch the cake I made for your aunt's wedding, I'd probably end up devouring the entire thing in one sitting. So, obviously, when my mother told me not to watch the Adult Swim portion of Cartoon Network's line-up, I made it my goal to watch it every single night.

I had gotten away with it for a few nights. Every night I would sit on the floor with the television remote in hand, giggling at how I was getting away with going behind my mother's back.

Unfortunately, my fun didn't last forever. I would say I had only been sneaking to watch the channel for about a week or two before my mother began to catch on. It started with her noticing that my various stuffed animals would be left on the floor in front of the television at night, then she began noticing that I was more sluggish than usual (a huge sign pointing to the fact that I hadn't been sleeping). But, the last straw was when she finally caught me with my face glued to the television screen.

I can't recall what was on the screen exactly, but I do remember the word “penis” being repeated over and over in a chant-like phrase. Looking back, that could easily have been any Adult Swim show that has ever aired. I mean, just the other day I was watching a “Mission Hill” episode where some pervert whispered the naughty word over and over into a payphone. Who knows? Maybe that's what I was watching then?

Anyway, none of that matters now. Really, it didn't matter to me then. All that mattered to me then was that I was just caught doing something I was strictly forbidden not to do. So, I did what every other six-year-old caught with their hand in the cookie jar would do – cry. I could easily contribute all the throat problems I have today to that night. I'm pretty sure I busted a few things in my throat from crying so hard and long, begging for my mother's forgiveness.

She stood firm in her decision, giving me an old fashion spanking before sending me straight back up to bed. It was always hard to make my mother angry, but once you did she could be a real witch! Well, at least that's what I thought then; I actually appreciate being set right when I was.

After that night, I vowed to never watch Adult Swim again. That, of course, was just one of many childhood vows I made to myself; like when I got that stomach ache from eating too much and I vowed to never eat chocolate cake again. I probably could have kept that promise had the shows not kept replaying in my mind. They were so different from the shows my mom wanted me to watch. They were daring and forbidden, something I craved even as a child. Not only that, but all my friends were watching these types of shows at school (even though we were only in the first grade).

About a week or so had passed after I had gotten caught. My dad had finally come for a visit. My parents had gotten divorced not too long after I was born, so I only got to see my dad when he would come out for a visit. It was the first time I had seen him in nearly a year, so I couldn't wait to hear the stories he had to tell.

My dad was always on the go with his job, traveling all around the country to chase storms. Why he enjoys something like that I'll never know! But, to each his own, I guess.

Anyway, after listening to what felt like a never-ending number of stories about tornadoes and other storm phenomena, it was finally my bedtime. Luckily, I wasn't confined to the usual 8:30 curfew when my dad was visiting, so my mom let me stay up as long as I wanted.

My dad had always been a push over when it came to giving me anything I wanted. I think he felt guilty for never being able to see me except for once every year or two. So, when it was nearing one in the morning, he had no problem staying up to watch television with me.

I sat in front of the television with a smirk on my face. I knew that my dad would let me watch whatever I wanted, especially since he was an avid fan of nearly every adult cartoon on the market. I even recall wearing his “South Park” shirts, which easily draped down past my feet when I was that age. My mom never liked that too much either, but I just chalked it all up to her being too overprotective.

Okay, I'm trailing off into “My Life: The Mini-Series”; let's get back on track. I asked as sweetly and politely as I could, the best pout on my face that I could muster, if we could watch a new show I found. I told him the channel; he didn't hesitate to turn it over, even though I'm positive he knew no kiddy shows were playing at that time of night.

I remember I received a jolt of the same feelings I had prior to my mom pulling the plug on my after hours television fun. I felt excitement, mischief, and that subtle sense of fear that I always got from watching those cartoons. You have to admit that most of the stuff that plays on those lineups can be pretty scary to a six-year-old.

During the commercial break, I heard my dad snoring his signature snore that could easily be used in place of a foghorn. I was irritated by this, so I slid closer to the television in order to be able to actually hear the show.

I sat there, watching whatever show was on for a few minutes. I started to feel my excitement fade and be replaced with that feeling of paranoia, which I often got when I saw these types of shows on television. I kept looking over my shoulder, making sure the characters weren't there. Why? I don't know. I was a sensitive kid and the stupid things would scare me.

I do remember the screen cutting from the show and transitioning to a black screen, which was pretty normal for Adult Swim as they usually began commercials this way and had many commercials where the logo of the channel is displayed on a screen of black. This always caused my heart to stop a little. I hated the feeling of stillness and the silence of those commercials as a kid, it always made me feel uneasy.

For some reason, the feeling was a little more intense this time. Not anything that would make me bolt out of the room... yet. I was sitting in the silence with that feeling growing stronger each second that the logo didn't appear. I noticed it was taking longer than usual, as if the station had gone into dead air. The screen jolted at that point, which I thought was a sign that the logo was going to appear.

A logo in fact did appear, but it wasn't the logo I had come to expect from the previous times I had watched the channel. It was a simple logo, scrolled over the center of the screen with white lines. It wasn't too fancy, but the cleanliness and sharpness of the lines definitely made up for it.

It was hard to tell what the logo was at first as it just seemed to be a bunch of crisscrossing lines held within a thick box (it looked a lot like the “National Geographic” logo if it had all of its color drained). As the logo began to fade into the black, the sound that you usually hear before most movies of the 90's (I believe it's the “THX” sound effects) blared. I was surprised it didn't wake up my dad.

“We now present our feature presentation!” A man boomed, sounding a lot like the person that narrates over movies in the theater. You know, the man who tells you to shut off your cell phone and buy loads of popcorn and candy?

Instantly, I felt tons better. I figured that this was just how Adult Swim presented their movies. And after a day of watching nothing but Disney, I was excited to see the shows and movies all my first grade friends got to watch. The only thing I could think about was bragging to my friends that I had seen an adult movie on the “forbidden” channel (not to be mistaken with porn, guys).

The movie started with little droplets falling from a darkened sky. In the mixture of the translucent rain were droplets of scarlet, which were supposed to be blood (although it looked much more like the paint that's packaged in those old paint-by-numbers). Then again, you can't really expect much more than that from a low-budget Adult Swim film. Plus, blood wasn't exactly rare amongst their programs. It was just another reason why my mom didn't allow me to watch the station.

After the shower of rain and “blood”, one of the main characters could be seen from a bird's-eye view. Their hair was a rich and vibrant purple color, however, the color was fading. The rain seemed to be washing it away, as you could clearly see purple dribbles sliding down the character's body.

The scene cut to a close up of the character's face. It was a young woman cartoon character. Her eyes were nothing more than slits of black, resembling an electrical outlet. Actually, she herself resembled a huge electrical outlet, which was carried along by tiny sticks for legs and arms (imagine the legs and arms from the “SpongeBob SquarePants” episode “Frankendoodle”; that's the best way I know how to describe it).

Her pitiful excuse for an arm lifted upward, the camera panning up the span of the stick, zooming upward until you could see a glass window. For whatever reason, her reflection wasn't present in the mirror, but as a kid I didn't give that much thought. Perhaps if I had paid attention to that detail, it would have unnerved me more than it did.

While I felt a little frightened by the sharp camera angles, overly-simplified character designs, and the eerie piano music droning in the background, I was still determined to watch the movie in its entirety; I didn't want to face another day of school of being called a “momma's boy” and a “chicken” because I hadn't been watching things that were far out of my age range.

The piano music seemed like it was coming from one of those old, busted record players. In fact, it was.

As the camera panned up to the window, it steadily began to fade into the glass. It wasn't showing the contents of the room behind the window; it was actually showing the inside of the glass. Once inside the window, you could see an overweight character, drawn far differently from the female “outlet”. He almost resembled Santa Claus, having a long white mustache jutting from his upper lip and curling at the ends, rosy red cheeks that looked as though they'd burn your hand if you touched them, a twinkling baby blue eyes that glistened as if they were made of glass themselves.

This detailed drawing of a rip-off “Santa” stood next to a table that was considerably out of proportion to him. Sitting upon the table was an old record player. The base was fashioned from beautiful blocks of wood, detailed with small bits of gold. The man turned the small crank on the side of the box, creating that music that sent chills straight through my bones. At six, I was used to things like “Mary Had a Little Lamb”, not the type of music that was played at funerals.

“Turn the crank! Turn the crank!” He suddenly sputtered as the camera zoomed onto his hand turning the crank. The motions were agonizingly slow, forcing me to really feel the stillness of the moment. “Turn the crank! Turn the crank!”

I was beginning to feel less thrilled and more anxious. I took a moment to slid closer to the couch, where my dad was fast asleep, completely oblivious to the content on the television. While I slid, a long cracking sound was heard. It dragged on for what felt like a lifetime, growing louder and louder as it continued.

I turned back to the screen when the sound caught my attention. The crank that the unnamed character was turning was being wound tighter and tighter, straining the gorgeous wooden base. The base began to reveal tiny cracks as the crank turned. The cracks grew larger, the sound grew louder, and the crank grew weaker.

“Turn the crank! Turn the crank!” The cheery man shouted with a creepy, joyful voice. I could only assume he had a smile on his face, but the only thing the camera would show was the record player slowly collapsing upon itself. “Turn the crank! Turn the crank!”

My eyes were beginning to fill with tears. I remember how loud noises would always upset me when I was younger. I was an odd child, neither silence or noise pleased me. If it was too silent, I would be scared. If it was too noisy, I'd be equally scared. Unfortunately for me, this movie had already manipulated both of those childhood fears.

My teary eyes widened as the next scene of the movie took place. The beautiful record player finally gave out, the crank breaking apart into the jolly man's hand. The remaining bits of the record player began to sputter a violent amount of smoke, which surprisingly only hover around the player, leaving every other inch of the room untouched.

“No more must I turn the crank...” The man whispered, the camera focusing on his face, and his face alone. His cherry-colored cheeks were growing pale and his glimmering eyes began to lose their luster. Suddenly, those once sparkling blue eyes shattered, shards of glass falling to the floor. I was surprised that they didn't fling into the screen; they just sort of fell from the man's eye sockets (I later figured that the rain at the start of the film had actually been the glass falling from his face). “The lonesome girl has finally sank.”

The screen cut to an abrupt moment of darkness, but only long enough to fade into the next scene. There was another bird's-eye view of the street where the female character had been walking at the beginning of the film. There were shards of glass completely coating the street below. All you could see were the very tops of some of the buildings, which were all tinted with a very rusty shade of crimson, because of the massive amount of broken glass.

The camera began to lower the view, zooming in by showing choppily cut frames, each one closer to the mess than the last. As the last frame was presented, I could see the outlet-like character from the beginning, laying motionless in the midst of the glassy sea. The shards that surround her body were a pale shade of purple, obviously caused from the color that had completely drained from her hair.

By this point, I was bawling my eyes out. I may have been young, but I knew what a dead person looked like. I knew for sure that girl was dead. No one could survive being pelted by such an enormous amount of glass like that.

The scene changed at that point, showing a closeup of an hourglass. The camera was slowly, gently pulling away from the hourglass, which had grains of sand sliding through its midsection. It kind of reminded me of that Soap Opera “Days of our Lives” (I'm sure you Soap junkies know what I'm talking about) only it was much more grim and against a colorless background.

“She's perfectly fine; now don't you fret. Thanks for watching my show, kids... but you're not out of Hell yet.”

At that point I let out such a scream that my throat was still sore the next day. The scream was so sharp that it even forced my dad to bolt awake. He sat up to check on me, accidentally shifting his elbow onto the television remote, causing the channel to change.

What I saw when the channel changed confused me even more than I already was. The logo for Adult Swim flashed upon the screen and the next show started. It was as if the television hadn't been on Cartoon Network at all that night.

My dad apologized for accidentally switching the channel, hitting the recall button on the remote. I was too busy sobbing with fear to stop him. When the channel finally returned to the station that aired that supposed movie, a message popped onto the screen.

'Programming Not Authorized. Please confirm that you are subscribed to the channel, or unplug your receiver to resolve the issue. If you continue to see this error, please contact your cable provider. We apologize for any inconvenience.'

The channel was apparently some type of late night movie network, exclusive to subscribed viewers, but that didn't explain how I was able to watch an entire film on an “unauthorized” channel. How it got on that channel, I have no clue! I guess it's possible that my dad may have bumped the remote in his sleep, but I think I would have noticed the channel changing. Instead, I only noticed an Adult Swim show leaving for commercial and then returning with that horrendous film.

I slept in my mom's bed that night, trying to block the images of the film strip out of my mind. The next morning I could hear my mom “loudly discussing” not letting me watch late night television with my dad.

Looking back on that night nowadays, the film wasn't half as bad as most of the animes, crime shows, twisted cartoons, and morbid comics that I expose myself to. I guess I was just being silly and childish, but all children have horrifying experiences that wouldn't even make them flinch now.

Even though I have seen far worse, that film has left a bad impression in my mind. I mean, I still enjoy watching Adult Swim to this day (and now I can do so without getting into trouble), but I'm definitely on high alert for anything overly-suspicious. Not only with Adult Swim, but with late night movie showings as well.

I have no interest in ever seeing that film again, but I am curious about its title. I'd like to know the name so I can research any portions of the film I may have missed and possibly discover the voice actor behind that demonic Santa-like man. Maybe you guys can help me with that?

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