The Color of Television Tuned to a Dead Channel

📅 Published on December 6, 2020

“The Color of Television Tuned to a Dead Channel”

Written by The Vesper's Bell
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.10/10. From 10 votes.
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Nash paused for a moment to look up from the unlit, pothole-ridden street to the crumbling shell of an office building towering over him, just to make sure he’d really seen it.

And there it was again; a flicker of white and grey light from a window on the fifth floor, unmistakably recognizable as the comfortingly familiar and wholesome glow from a television.

That didn’t make any sense though. That building had been one of the first to shut down when it became undeniable that his Rust Belt city’s hay day was behind them. It hadn’t had electricity since before Nash was born. Even if someone was just squatting or doing drugs up there, they wouldn’t have brought up a whole television and power supply with them, would they?

Nash glanced around to see if there was anyone else to see what he was seeing, but the street was deserted. He looked back up at that strobing, mesmerizing light, the only light on the entire building and seemingly the only light within view at all. It was like a campfire burning on top of the highest point in all the realm, broadcasting its location to everyone for miles around.

Not a smart thing to do, considering what a very unenchanting realm it was.

Smart or not, something was making and powering that light, possibly something worth pawning. It was possible, probable even, that the people who put it there were still around, and not at all unlikely that they might be dangerous. But Nash wasn’t exactly a pushover either, and it was also just possible enough that the people watching that television were too starved or strung out to put up much of a fight.

Reaching into his hoodie’s pocket and concealing his butterfly knife in the palm of his hand, Nash moved in to investigate.

The building’s front door was unlocked, and in fact, didn’t seem capable of closing properly to begin with. Nash didn’t risk giving away his own position with his phone light, and made his way using only what meager starlight managed to slip through the filthy windows.

As difficult as it was to move quietly through a near-pitch black building that he’d never been in before, he somehow pulled it off. He made his way to the nearest staircase and climbed up to the fifth floor. From there, it wasn’t hard to find his quarry.

The hallway he found himself in was illuminated by the same white and grey flashing light that he had seen from below, only far brighter. It poured out of an open doorway less than halfway down the hall from where he was standing.

He listened cautiously for a moment before approaching, but heard no sign of human life. Hugging close to the wall and creeping as silently as he was able, he made his way towards the beckoning light. He very slowly peeked his head into the doorway, and saw a room completely devoid of human occupants. It was completely devoid of anything, actually, other than the television.

It was a beauty, though: an old-fashioned boxset that looked like it was from the fifties, though its apparent name of ‘In Glorious Retrovision™’ indicated it may have been a recreation. It had a dark wooden exterior with a convex screen on top, speaker on the bottom, and a pair of dial controls. It even had a pair of rabbit ears for picking up extinct analog television signals.

The screen was on, displaying nothing but static snow. This was perplexing, however, since the television didn’t appear to be plugged into anything.

“What in the hell?” Nash murmured as he stood over the antique device, staring down at it in befuddlement.

Without warning, the snow flickered for a few seconds before displaying a black and white title card, accompanied by the speakers playing dramatic music.

Nash took a step back in surprise, before actually reading the screen.

Underage Serial Killers, In My Neighborhood? It’s More Likely Than You Think! A Public Service Announcement From The Ophion Occult Order.

Nash only had time to read it once before the title card was replaced with the black and white image of a young man standing on a picturesque suburban street. He looked to be about twenty years old with lean, feline features and slicked back black hair. He wore a dark suit and held a lit cigarette in his hand.

“Mothers, Fathers, I’d like to speak with the little ones for a moment if I may,” the man said in a soft tone. Below him flashed the words ‘James Darling – Master Adderman, Planeswalker, confirmed Demi-Eldritch (but don’t tell anybody)’. “Hey there sport, sportette. If you’re anything like me when I was a boy, you probably can’t wait to go out into the world and do your civic duty by depopulating it of a few undesirables. It’s a fine thing to be sure, not to mention fun, but if you’re young and unprepared it can also be very risky. But you don’t have to take my word for it.”

“What the fuck is this shit?” Nash asked with a bemused smirk, sitting down in front of the old television to watch the surreal show. The scene cut to an image of a young woman the same age as the man, with the same feline features and dark hair, worn in pigtails as if trying to project an air of innocence. She was in a 1950s dress, matching the overall feel of the show, though her face was less somber than the man’s had been. She seemed elated, actually. Almost expectantly so.

“Mary Darling, do you remember why you started killing at such a young age?” the man’s voice asked from off-screen.

“Of course, James Darling; it made me feel powerful,” she answered chipperly. She held out a cigarette for him to light, to which he kindly obliged. As she took her first puff, the words ‘Mary Darling – Mistress Adderman, Planeswalker, Confirmed Demi-Eldritch (seriously, don’t tell anyone! It’s a secret!)’ appeared at the bottom of the screen. “It’s not easy being a little girl, you know. You feel so small, so helpless, so frightened; so dependent on those bigger than you and yet always scared that the same size and strength you depend on might be used against you. I didn’t like being scared. I wanted to be feared. I wanted to be the scariest thing walking on two legs so that I would never have to be afraid again.”

“And how did you go about doing that, Mary Darling?” the man asked.

“With knives,” the woman smiled. The scene cut to what looked to be a prepubescent Mary slowly pulling out an artisanal butcher’s knife from a wooden block stuffed full of knives, staring at it with an ear-to-ear smile. “You remember what a beautiful set of kitchen knives Mommy had, don’t you, James Darling?”

“Of course I do, Mary Darling.”

“So many beautiful knives, and you weren’t allowed to touch them because you were a boy. But I had to learn how to cook. That’s all Mommy ever used them for though, making us food. But every time I held those knives, I felt safe. Every time I cut or sliced something with them, especially meat, and especially when it was juicy, I felt powerful. So long as I was holding one of those, all it would take was one well-timed, well-placed thrust to end someone’s life, no matter how much bigger they were.

“I know you understand how emboldening holding even a small knife can be.”

She said this last sentence staring directly at the camera. Nash glanced down at the butterfly knife still in his hand, unable to suppress the unsettling thought that she had been addressing him directly.

“But suppose they had a knife?” the man proposed. “What then?”

“Knives only empower those willing to use them for that purpose; Mommy proved that,” the woman replied, her cheerful expression fading out slightly, momentarily distracted by some bitter memory. “But even if someone else did have a knife and was willing to use it, it wouldn’t matter.”

“And why’s that?”

“Because nobody, and I mean nobody, handles a knife like me,” she grinned. “I knew that if I had a knife with me at all times, I’d never need to be afraid. But Mommy would notice if any of her knives were missing, and she wouldn’t have approved of me running around with them.

“So, I had to get my own knife.”

The scene cut back to young Mary, this time gleefully looking over a glass display case of hunting and pocket knives, as happy as a kid in a candy store.

“You were with me, I think, when I bought my first knife. Yes, you definitely were, because I remember making you promise not to tell Mommy or Daddy that I had it. And of course, you talked the salesman into selling it to me and keeping his mouth shut about it. You always were better with people than I was.

“It cost me two whole dollars, two whole months of allowance money that I saved up and paid for all in quarters, but it was worth it. It was such a beautiful folding knife, perfect for keeping secret. I kept that knife on me at all times. I even slept with it, and no one was ever the wiser.”

“And how long before you took your first life with it?” the man asked.

The scene cut again to young Mary, this time repeatedly stabbing another young girl in the torso. Weeping and screaming, the girl begged for mercy as she impotently tried to fight back. Blood and bits of viscera soaked her dress and splattered onto a cackling Mary, whose eyes and smile beamed with psychotic, manic delight at what she was doing.

“Whoa! What the fuck? What the fuck? What the fuck?” Nash shouted as he crawled backwards from the television and stumbled to his feet. “That’s it, I’m out of here.”

He turned around, colliding with the now-closed office door.

“What the fuck!” he shouted again. He hadn’t closed it, nor had he noticed if there had even been a door to close. He frantically turned the knob, but it was locked from the other side. He slammed the door with this shoulder once, twice, three times, but it wouldn’t break. He spun around with the intention of picking up the television and throwing it through the door, but froze when he saw Mary staring at him from the other side of the screen with an annoyed expression.

She and James had paused their interview, but the footage was undeniably still playing.

“We weren’t done yet,” she said, her tone firm and commanding. “Sit down, Ducky, and let us finish.”

Nash swallowed nervously, but obeyed. He didn’t know exactly what was going on, but he couldn’t deny that Mary was clearly addressing him directly, and that he was in no position to refuse her demands.

Mary smiled as he sat down, and then turned back to her twin.

“You were saying, James Darling?”

“How long was it before you used that knife to make your first kill?” he asked, the same scene replaying as before, this time Nash remaining still for its duration.

“Not long. That’s why I got it, after all,” she shrugged. “I never started with animals, you know. I started with people straight away. Seeing people writhing in agony because of me, begging me for their pathetic lives, helpless as I end them with the final thrust of my knife… it’s orgasmic.”

She repositioned her head slightly, making sure she was looking Nash right in the eye.

“And addictive. I’m a binge killer, and I’ve gone up to three months in between binges, but my binges are wild, let me tell you. I’ve killed thousands of people in my time, for no other reason than that I enjoy it and they can’t stop me.”

“And I’m sure that’s the part that has our audience a little confused right now,” the man interjected. “How can a little girl with a knife be so unstoppable?”

Mary smiled widely and blushed, demurely averting her eyes from the camera.

“It’s because we had a secret playroom, you and I. When we wanted to, we could turn our closet door into a portal to get to it. We weren’t just little kids in there. We were gods. It was a good place to hide stuff too; stuff like cigarettes, or bodies. When the timing worked out, we’d lure people over to our house without anyone knowing, show them our playroom, and kill them there. We took who we could get, but we both liked killing girls the best. They just scream better, and back in those days especially they tended not to fight back as much.

“That’s how it was for the first few years, but eventually the high rate of disappearances started attracting some undesirable attention that made us nervous. I didn’t want to end up like Great Uncle Lawrence. Luckily that’s when you, clever boy, figured out how to change our playroom’s portal to any door or hole we wanted, and the world was our oyster.”

“Okay… what?” Nash asked, rubbing his eyes that the Retrovision™ seemed to be putting an unusual amount of strain on. “I thought I walked in on some sort of snuff film, but now you’re babbling about portals and pocket dimensions? I don’t get it. What do you people want with me?”

“It seems we have our first audience question, Mary Darling,” James said. “How would you like to answer it?”

Mary again made direct eye contact with Nash, a wickedly eager grin spreading across her face.

“With a demonstration,” she beamed. Without warning, she lunged forward, passing through the screen like it wasn’t there. She grabbed Nash by the wrists, and before he could offer even a token display of resistance, she had pulled him through the screen and onto the other side.

There was no color there, on that side of the screen. All was black and white, but Nash was so confounded by what had just happened he scarcely noticed. He took in his surroundings in a confused, frantic blur, trying to make sense of it.

Above him the entirety of the sky was overcast with the same static snow he had first seen on the Retrovision™’s screen, only now the ever-shifting black and white dots formed the most unsettling and repugnant patterns if he gazed at them for any length of time.

Around him was a neighborhood of identical houses with identical lawns and identical fences, either as a satire of the monotony of suburban planning or just a genuine lack of creativity on the part of its designers.

Nash sincerely hoped it was the latter.

Over him stood the Darlings, James and Mary, looking exactly as they had on screen, cigarettes in their hands and a predatory sparkle in their eyes.

“Stay back! Stay back!” Nash screamed as he wildly waved his butterfly knife through the air. The twins exchanged smug glances with one another.

“Do you want to take this one, James Darling?” Mary asked politely. “I did make a bit of a pig out of myself on our last hunt.”

“Already forgiven, Mary Darling,” James assured her. “Besides, you’ve been the star of this little documentary of ours so far. It would be a terrible creative decision to shift focus now.”

Mary smiled, sharply turning her head towards Nash, her gaze steely and shark-like.

“You call that a knife?” she asked quietly. “This is a knife!”

She pulled out a ten-inch butcher’s knife with a clipped point from the sash of her dress. With a well-honed aim, she threw the knife, impaling the palm of Nash’s right hand with it. Dropping his own blade, he screamed in agony, clutching his injured appendage as close to his chest as he could without impaling himself further.

“You’re welcome,” Mary said. She held out her right hand, and the fallen butterfly knife flew into it as if her possession of the blade was an inviolable law of physics in this world. “Remember what I said about knives only empowering those who are willing to use them for that purpose? You’ve got a knife now, a proper knife, so if you can’t use it to protect yourself, that’s your own fault.”

“You fucking psycho bitch!” Nash wailed, crimson blood dripping onto the mono-colored ground below him. Mary took a deep inhalation, savoring the scent of it.

“So beautiful. Too beautiful not to show in all its glorious Technicolor,” she mused. “You’ve got two options here, Rambo: fight or flight. If you pick flight, I’ll give you a head start of thirty Mississippies, starting now. One Mississippi, Two Mississippi, Three Mississippi…”

With a sharp cry, Nash pulled the butcher’s knife free from his hand, letting it fall to the ground as he tried to stem the flow of blood. Mary was still counting, her voice taking on a notable tone of irritation at Nash’s casual disregard for such a lovely knife.

He wanted to punch her, to beat her into a bloody stain on the pavement, he really did, but some primal instinct told him that Mary was not wholly human and that his best chance for survival was to run and hide.

So he did, leaving the only weapon he had behind.

Mary stopped counting, and she and her brother glared down at the abandoned knife with disdain.

“Very poor tactical decision on his part,” James said with a shake of his head. “That’s going to cost him.”

“Severely,” Mary growled, breaking into a sprint and snatching up the knife as she chased after her prey.

As Nash ran, he dripped a trail of blood behind him; it’s brilliant, vibrant redness amidst the otherwise grayscale world creating an all too obvious path for his tormentor to follow. He didn’t bother trying to break into any of the houses. Even if they weren’t locked, Mary would just follow the blood and he’d be trapped.

So, he just ran. He didn’t know what else to do. He kept his head pointed forward, not daring to look up at the abominable sky. When he heard the sound of Mary’s feet pounding against the pavement as she chased after him, he didn’t look back. His eyes glanced side to side just enough to see that the houses he ran past were not vacant. Forlorn, barely discernible silhouettes stood in the windows, observing the outside spectacle with a fatalistic but morbid curiosity.

When he dared to stare at them for more than an instant, he saw that they were made from the same television static as the sky.

That static seemed to be setting in like a fog now, obscuring everything around him, growing thicker and thicker by the second. He could feel it as a tingling on his skin, and hear it as a buzzing in his ears. Worst of all, there was no avoiding the patterns now. The patterns in the snow formed a mutating Rorschach test of impossible, alien shapes before his eyes and incomprehensible whispering in his ears. They weren’t threatening in the way that Mary was threatening, but through the mere act of being they implied an existential horror far greater than being slaughtered like a lamb.

The static itself soon overwhelmed his senses, blinding and deafening and numbing him to all else. The dread sapped his limbs of their strength, sickened him so horribly that he began to vomit. He didn’t even know if he was still running anymore or if he had fallen to the ground, but he did have a vague awareness that he was weeping and screaming, desperately trying to block out the static.

He was only snapped back to reality by the sensation of Mary’s butcher knife carving into him.


*Technical Difficulties – Please Stand By*


“Well boys and girls, I hope you all learned something today. Sure, hunting your fellow man for sport can be a hoot, but it can also be downright dangerous. Mary and I were fortunate to have a secure killing ground and larder, but many of you probably aren’t so lucky. And I certainly hope none of you are lucky enough to have a pet Voggathaust to fall back on if you find yourself in a tight spot.

“Remember, if your quarry gets away, or someone finds their bodies, you’ll get caught, and then it’s game over, bucko. It’s best to wait until you’re old enough to be licensed and registered – eighteen to twenty-one depending on your jurisdiction – so that you can kill safely and sustainably. I know that may seem like a long time, but with a little patience, one day you’ll be able to kill with the same skill, gratification and impunity as Mary here.”

Mary laid naked upon the ground, at some point in her frenzy having discarded her dress and taken the opportunity to bathe in Nash’s blood. Nearly every inch of her was crimson now, her body the only patch of color amidst the grey that surrounded her. Her chest rose and fell as she panted heavily, her belly gorged with her favorite cuts of meat.

The shredded remains of Nash’s body were strewn about her in a haphazard manner, Mary having done to his flesh what the thing in the static, the Voggathaust, had done to his mind. She slowly raised the knife to her mouth and licked it clean, ruby rivulets dripping down her throat as she savored every last instant of her kill.

“Stay Sanguine, America. Goodnight.”

James knelt down to his sister and extended a sweet martini garnished with a maraschino cherry.

“Thank you, James Darling,” she said as she accepted the refreshment. “Mmm, sorry about the mess. Should we clean it up before the next take?”

“Let’s leave it in. An Easter egg for the more eagle-eyed viewers, like the Munchkin hanging himself in the Wizard of Oz,” James smirked as he sipped an Old-fashioned cocktail. “Oh, looks like the Retrovision™’s got another bite. Is our leading lady ready for an encore?”

“Can I do the whole interview like this, but just act like it’s completely normal?” she asked excitedly, pulling the cherry off of its skewer with her teeth. “It’ll freak them out so much!”

A slow and sadistic grin spread across James’ face. His naked, blood-splattered sister on the black and white Retrovision™ was the most salacious idea they’d had in a while.

“I think a little splash of color is exactly what this production needs.”

Rating: 9.10/10. From 10 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by The Vesper's Bell
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: The Vesper's Bell

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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