By Dylan Stoll
The boy woke from his dream and rubbed the sleep from his eyes with tiny fists. He had been fast asleep, albeit awkwardly, against the windowsill of his mother’s seventh-floor apartment, and hadn’t eaten for over a day. His shoulder ached and his stomach growled, but he refused to move. The sill was his favorite spot, and he was used to feeling hungry.
Peering out the window with blurred, tired eyes, the boy pressed his small hands against the glass pane and felt the cold from outside bleed through. The skin of his palms felt wet. He rubbed the water between his fingers, then drew a smiling face in the moisture on the window.
In spite of his unfortunate circumstances, he rather enjoyed these rainy nights, when the moving lights of the world beneath their apartment resembled darting, glowing orbs; what he imagined to be lost souls escaping from darkened depths, reaching out to just barely caress an ocean surface of mist. He waved to the forsaken from the safety of his perch, knowing full well that one day he may be among them.
But these kinds of thoughts should be saved for the old, the world-weary, not a child. Unfortunately, the boy was no mere child—not in experience, anyhow.
“Oh fuck!” His mother screamed, as muffled, strange sounds seeped from the cracks and openings of her room.
The boy did his best to drown out the noises. Something about them made him uncomfortable — a feeling he couldn’t quite understand, nor did he have any inclination to. He just wished they would stop, but they never did.
As the noises continued, the boy left his place at the window, and reached for a stained glass of tap water that had been left there by a previous visitor, one of many that enjoyed the company of his mother. The surface of the water rippled in unison to the sounds from his mother’s room as he lifted the glass to his mouth and gulped back the stale liquid. The glass was emptied of its contents and, in that moment, he felt as the forsaken do: utterly and hopelessly alone—a child lost in a void of helplessness and torment. He blinked against the sear at the back of his eyes, but tears wouldn’t come. Can I even cry anymore?
At least he had the television. His only defense against the noise. A small, beige box barely clinging to life, with its digital heart skipping in static and antennae constantly needing readjustment. But that was alright. He didn’t mind. Having seen nothing else, that little beige TV was the best one on the planet as far as he was concerned. Possibly, the only one on the planet.
In truth, his entire world existed within the confines of their small, one-bedroom apartment. It was located in some god awful corner of an ashen city filled with smoke, smog, and unrelentless sounds; trains, automobiles, and angry dissidents running amok, yelling obscenities and cursing the world around them.
But were it not for the sounds of the outside world, the boy’s ear would only know those of his world inside. As such, the boy took solace in the city noise that many would find to be a nuisance–maddening even.
The apartment was humble, to put it generously. Its walls were a putrid yellow, with paint chipping and falling in flecks all over a dirty, uneven wooden floor. Large, rusted pipes extended from the ceiling vertically, fully exposed, which would shake when the neighbours above decided to relieve themselves. The sinks and faucets were covered in spots of rust. And the room, aside from his mother’s (which he was never allowed to enter), was relatively barren of furniture and appliances; save for a small, worn-down fabric couch, a wooden coffee table covered in watermarks and food crumbs, a stained stove, a small rotary phone attached to the wall, and the boy’s only friend: the antique color TV.
Twisting the dial with the care one would have for something invaluable, he clicked across its five working channels, only two of which were in English.
The first was the news, but the boy didn’t like the news. Sometimes, it was boring, but other times, it terrified him. Old men with grey hair and wrinkled, cold faces would talk and talk while great fires bellowed, bombs exploded, and bloodied people ran off in terror on the screen behind their heads. The screen in the TV, the boy called it. He wondered why the old men were looking in the wrong direction. Much about the news confused him.
But what he really didn’t understand was why the people on the screen in the TV were so angry, hurting and screaming at each other, setting cars on fire and beating each other with bats. He didn’t understand the battered bodies on the streets, or the crimson oozing from their faces. Though sometimes his mother looked like that, when the noises got really scary.
The world seemed so angry. Maybe that’s why she never let him play outside with other kids. Maybe she was afraid he’d end up a body on the ground, too.
As scary as the TV was sometimes, it still had the other channel, and thankfully, he loved the other channel. “The Channel of the Chosen.” At least, that’s what the man in the TV called it after each commercial:
“And here we are, back with the good news from the best source on television… the Channel of the Chosen!”
Everybody always seemed so happy, so content. They used words like “love” and “joy”, “happiness” and “life”, and always had the biggest, whitest smiles on their faces–smiles that made him feel wonderfully warm inside. These “Chosen” were nothing like anyone he’d ever seen before, especially not like his mom’s visitors.
There was always something frightening about them. Sometimes they smiled for a little too long, and his mom would hurriedly take them away to her room. But that didn’t stop them from looking back, still smiling from ear to ear. He tried to ignore them when they arrived or left, and did his best to focus on the static-filled screen of the television. Most left him alone, but the smiling ones would try to say hello.
He never said hello back.
“Don’t talk to the visitors, hunny bun,” his mom always said. And he listened. Something inside told him to stay away. Told him to just watch the TV.
But they always came back. Day after day. Smiling. The best he could do was look away and turn the TV volume up as high as it would go until he barely heard the noises.
Sometimes, the boy thought about the TV, as if it were a breathing, feeling creature; as if it were alive. The idea seemed strange to the boy, but what if the TV could think? Maybe it had a brain. Maybe, it could see him. Maybe, just maybe, it wanted to get out of this place just as much as he did.
So, he made the TV a promise one wretched, noisy night. A hopeless night that even the TV refused to experience as it hid behind a curtain of static.
“Stay alive, and show me the Chosen Channel every day, and I’ll take you with me when I get out of here.”
Miraculously, it seemed that the TV listened. It erupted with the sudden image and sound of a holy choir dressed in exquisite white robes, singing hymns and raising their hands to the sky. It was a beautifully pristine, white and clean scene of the happiest, most joyous crowd of people, welcoming him with their voices to join in singing to what they called “the lord, our God.”
And so he did. He joined them.
The boy was filled with a sudden burst of happiness and energy as he sang away all his troubles and fears. He felt rejuvenated and elated, in control and ready to fly. He knew they were both going to get out of there. One day. But the TV was much too heavy for him. He’d have to wait until he was stronger so he could carry it. He would never leave it behind.
“I love you TV,” the boy said to the television under his breath as he wrapped his arms around its boxy structure and gave it a heartfelt hug. “You’re my best friend.”
And as the years spun away, one after the other, he watched the Chosen obsessively. Compulsively. He sang when they sang, prayed when they prayed, laughed when they laughed and watched in hushed amazement as the man performed his miracles.
That was always his favourite. The miracles. People from all over the world came to see the man on the television. The man in charge of the Chosen. Some were broken and twisted, their bodies dysfunctional. Others twisted not in body, but in mind and spirit.
The man would place his hand on their forehead, murmur words under his breath until the afflicted fell back into the arms of his assistants, and arose again—healed.
And of course, they all loved this man. They worshipped him. But as always in the face of their fervor, he reminded the crowd screaming for salvation: “It is not I who has healed you, but the lord, our God, through my hands!”
The boy liked that about him. He never took credit, even though he could have.
But all wonder aside, it was the speech at the end of his sermons that gripped him most.
“Just turn on your TVs and watch the news!” He bellowed at his congregation. “Can you not see it? This flood of evil?”
“I see it!” The boy yelled at the screen. “I see the flood!”
And he certainly did. Every so often, the boy flipped to the news for a quick glance at the “desolation that was nigh”. It was terrifying, but the boy was curious; he needed to see. Something beckoned him.
“Why you always watchin’ that TV, hunny bun?” His mother asked him one relatively calm, visitor-less night. “Don’t you wanna talk to your mother? Don’t you love me?”
The boy looked over at his mother, but he didn’t say anything. He just returned his gaze to TV.
“Oh c’mon you always do that. Never speak a damn word…”
“There are sinners among ye, my children.” The man on TV said as his mother’s voice faded away into the back of the boy’s mind. “They may be your neighbours, your co-workers, your friends; they could even be your family. You must remain vigilant against the forces of evil, wherever they may be. The Chosen are the only family you’ll ever need.”
The boy listened intently then looked over at his mother again. Though she was young, and looked even younger for her age, her sullen, splotchy face, scraggly blonde hair, and yellowed, uneven teeth all suddenly appeared more visible, more aging. It was as if he was seeing her for the first time, as she truly was.
“Do not let Satan into your home! Do not allow him to take hold of your soul!” The man continued to say to his congregation. “The battle both begins and ends with you! But remember, you are never alone!”
“Are you listening to me!” His mother said to him with a look of disgust on her face. “Why do you like this crap so much?”
His refusal to speak seemed to bother her. She got up from her side of the couch and paced the room, hands on her hips and eyes fixated on the floor. “You know hunny bun, I tried this God stuff out. I used to pray all the time, and nothing. Nothing ever happened.”
The boy observed his mother’s angry wide eyes. She was obviously upset, seething even.
“I’m getting real tired of listening to this every day, hunny bun. Where’s our salvation? Look at how we live!”
He just stared at his mother in response, which only frustrated her further. Throwing her arms in the air, the boy’s mother stomped into her room and slammed the door shut behind her. The boy returned his gaze to the television. As far as he was concerned, that TV meant more to him than anything else he had in his small world, even if that bothered his mother.
But like everything, the TV eventually met its final day, a regular day, if one could say that the boy’s days were regular. A visitor, who the boy had seen earlier that evening, decided to return but there was something different about him. He was holding a large bottle while stumbling all over the room, and he seemed confused.
The visitor spun in circles and muttered to himself, words slurred under his breath. He was unshaven, dirty and smelled terrible, even for a visitor.
The man noticed the boy for a moment, and stopped spinning. He waved at the boy with a leaden arm, and grinned with wet, spittle covered lips.
“Hey little guy, watcha watchin’ there?”
He shuffled closer to the TV, peering at it as if he couldn’t see two feet in front of him, then grimaced in disgust as he saw what was playing.
“Why’re you watching that shit? You gotta be what? Eleven? Twelve? Should get your eyes glued to a pair of tits.” The man spat at the boy.
“Here—lemme show you. Shit box gotta have at least one rub and tug on here.”
The man stumbled towards the antique television, tripped over the coffee table and went headfirst into its screen. The screen shattered, it’s broken and jagged edges of glass cut deeply into the soft skin of the visitor’s neck.
Blood gushed from the belly of TV, and the body of the man convulsed with an angry scream of electricity.
“No!” Tears welled in the boy’s eyes. “You’re killing him!”
In his rage, the boy grabbed a steak knife that had been lying next to a dirtied old plate on the coffee table and stabbed the man repeatedly in his neck, wrestling with the slippery mess of the visitor’s head in a vain attempt to remove it from the destroyed corpse of his beloved television.
But it was no use. There was no saving TV. The boy slumped back in defeat, covered in blood, and let the blade slide from his hand.
His best friend was gone.
Troubled by the commotion, the boy’s mother ran out of the room half-dressed. Her eyes widened in fear at the sight of her son, next to a lifeless body amid the bloody chaos. The boy slowly turned his head and looked at his mother with reddened, anger-filled eyes, and a face covered in the blood of her last visitor.
“Oh my God!” His mother screamed.
The boy said nothing, but his eyes said everything. Flabbergasted by the horrifying scene before her, she ran towards the old rotary phone, grabbed it off the hook and took it into her room, slamming the door behind her. The boy could hear the muffled sound of his mother’s voice frantically speaking to someone on the other end.
“Hello? It’s Lola. Yes, yes, I know but please, please, I need your help! Please!…I can’t calm down!” She screeched into the phone. The boy waited for a moment, occasionally looking over at the lifeless body of the visitor, and listened to hear what his mother would say next. But he only heard the muffled sounds of her voice behind the closed door.
“What the fuck do I do? Please, tell me,” she said, hyperventilating, and breaking into a fit of tears. “I can’t call the police! Nobody knows!”
The boy had heard enough. He’d had enough.
Enough of this place. Enough of the shaking pipes and the sounds of a world he had never truly seen. But mostly, he’d had enough of his mother’s “visitors”– the reason he no longer had his best friend to take with him.
Grabbing a few clothing items and a small bag, the boy ran to the front door, ready to leave, but then stopped. All he ever knew was inside these wretched, yellow walls, and now, he was about to leave it all behind and enter the world outside. The world of the forsaken. Fear tightened its grip around his throat and he choked, but then he remembered: The Chosen.
The boy cleared his throat and walked through the door with his head tucked down as if he were pushing through a hailstorm. His brow furrowed and his face grimaced in anxiety-induced pain, but he kept walking, pushing past the fear of the outside world as the sounds from his mother’s room dissipated behind him.
As he made his way down the stairs, the noise of the streets became louder and louder. These sounds excited him; they beckoned him. Though he felt a fear unlike anything he felt before, anything was better than what he was leaving behind.
© Dylan Stoll 2020