I always loved the Twilight Zone and Sci-fi growing up. This story asks the question, what happens when an inanimate object doesn’t behave as it should…
“Are you ready to go?” Andy walked into Jerry’s unit. It was typical of a single, post-graduate student. It looked like it had been furnished by a blind decorator and hadn’t been cleaned in about 3 years – which was close to the truth.
But the thing about Jerry’s place was that there were also a few things that you didn’t expect to see. He was a nut for analogue technology. There was an old record player that was connected to a digital converter. A collection of vinyl records sat next to that, mainly collected from garage sales and online deceased estate auctions. The TV was a large, fat, old school CRT. While everyone else was getting flat screens with faster resolution, Jerry’s taste in technology seemed to be going backwards. It was also connected to digital converters so he can watch digital channels on the TV.
“No-one turns up to a party on time. We still have time. Wanna beer?” Said Jerry, unseen from the kitchen.
“Sure” said Andy.
They were friends from undergrad days and what bound them together was that they didn’t fit anywhere else. They were now working in different fields but their lack of being able to fit anywhere else bonded them together.
Andy picked up the remote to the fat TV siting in pride of place in the living room. He pressed ‘on’ on the remote but nothing happened. Then he remembered for the 100th time that the TV was made before remotes and this was just for the digital box so he had to get up and turn it on himself. The TV was just getting warmed up when Jerry returned with two beers.
Finally the TV came on starting with a small dot that expanded to a horizontal line and then opened up to a clear picture. For an old school TV it was fairly clear. Andy started flicking. As he flicked the channel moved up to the next one.
AFL: two teams they cared nothing about.
An army movie from the 60s look like it was set in World War 2. The explosives looked co-ordinated and planned and the actors were doing their best to look like they were ducking the explosions.
A documentary or arty film about a cemetery. There was no sound just a long shot of a headstone.
A soapie or romantic movie about two people who were unsure of their relationship.
Someone trying to sell a BRAND NEW device that would CHANGE. YOUR. LIFE.
Some news about a civil war in Europe.
The AFL were on a break, there was an ad about women’s hygiene products. Andy wondered if any women were actually watching sport.
The documentary was still silent but it was a different headstone.
The army movie had one of the soldiers dying in the arms of the another who was promising to look after “Martha”.
The couple on the soapie were now kissing.
The headstone was another headstone, but the silence was starting to get eerie.
An attractive woman had joined the salesman admiring the product, but Andy wondered if she actually knew what it did. He also wondered why TV salesmen always had to shout and if that was they way they talked at home to their wife and kids.
The news had moved onto sport – an update on the AFL game that was on the other channel.
He was now starting to notice that the headstone doco was out of order. He flicked again expecting to go back to the AFL. Another headstone
He flicked back. Another headstone
He was about to flick again.
“No, wait.” Jerry got up and looked closely at the screen. That is my grandfather.
“Yes, I am pretty sure that was his birthday and that’s about when he died. But he was cremated.”
Andy tried to flick again and another headstone.
“What’s going on with your stupid TV?”
“Dunno, its never done this before”
Jerry did what everyone did everyone did when something like this happened. He tapped the top of the TV firmly. Andy wondered why people did that, was it because we think that the TV has concussion and this will bring it out of it? On the other hand it did sometimes work…so.
Andy flicked again.
Jerry stood back “Oh…” The expletive never quite made it from his mouth.
The headstone read Gerald John Alexander Ridge Abernathy-Solt. The birthdate read 3rd July 1985. The death date was oddly in a week.
“Yes, it’s me. That’s my birthday. They’re my middle names. I hardly ever use them.”
“Your real name is Gerald?” Andy thought about it, he realised he didn’t really know that much about Jerry for all the time they had spent together, but Jerry short for Gerald, made sense now that he thought about it.
Jerry, on the other hand, was starting to freak out.
“I’m going to die in a week” he started to repeat over and over to himself.
Andy tried to calm him down. “Jerry, you aren’t going to die in a week.” He tried to flick on to another channel but every time he did it remained on Jerry’s headstone.
Jerry was now behind the TV and looking at something.
“I am sure it is just someone from another unit who has hacked into your system as a joke.”
“Really?” Said Jerry, turing around with a bunch of cables in his hand. “I’ve just unplugged everything.”
The headstone remained on the TV in silence. This was getting weird.
“Look, I think we should go.” Andy thought he need to get Jerry back to normality.
“No, I’m not going, I have a week, I am going to spend it at a stupid party.”
“OK, well I’m going.” Andy thought if he started down the stairwell, Jerry would come to his senses and join him.
Jerry didn’t. Andy watched the door at the party but he never came. Andy then had too much to drink that night and forgot about it.
The next week was incredibly busy. Andy meant to call or text Jerry but every time he did something came up and he forgot. It wasn’t until the next Saturday that Andy had the time to see how Jerry was. About midmorning Saturday he turned up to Jerry’s unit.
He knocked on the door. There was no answer. He knocked louder and waited in case Jerry was still asleep or had headphones on…or something. He was starting to get worried. He got out his phone to ring Jerry and see if he was in. The phone started ringing and somewhere else in the building he could hear someone else getting a call. Until he realised the noise was coming from Jerry’s unit and the phone was inside, not being answered.
Andy knew he had to get inside.
“Spare key!” he thought. But he didn’t have one and looked around for any places Jerry might have stashed one. After a thorough search he gave up and tried to think about any family that Jerry might have mentioned that he could search for on Google. The only person Jerry had mentioned was his grandfather, that was last week and Andy knew he was dead.
“Locksmith!” he thought. He was about to search for one and tried to work out how this story would sound. “I have this friend and I need to get into his apartment…” He was sure that had been tried before.
“Police” he sighed. This could be the start of a storm in a teacup, but he was sure it would end with a laugh and a beer by the end of the day.
The police had draped a sheet over Jerry’s body on the couch. The ambulance guys had arrived and they and the two police officers were having an informal meeting in the kitchen. Pieces of paper were strewn all over the couch, the coffee table and the floor. They were bills, blank pieces of paper, ads, anything and Jerry had written over all of them. Some of them had lists:
Go to India
Write a novel
Meet a girl
Have a kid
Read the Iliad
Others just had large numbers written over them. “5 Days”, “2”, etc.
Others were starts of letters written to his parents and friends, including Andy.
Andy stood in a corner. If he was a smoker he would have lit a cigarette and he didn’t really know what to do with his hands so he chewed on his thumb nail instead. He was staring at the TV, partly because he didn’t want to look at Jerry’s body, but partly to see if it would do anything.
It sat there in silence. Visual static glowed from the screen.
The police had questioned him. “Did Jerry ever do drugs? What was his mental health like? Did he have any enemies he was afraid of? Was he just given news of a terminal illness? Are you sure he didn’t do drugs? You know we will know when they do the toxicology report.”
While the others were in the kitchen Andy crawled over to the TV. He felt foolish and yet he also knew he had to do this.
“Did you do this?” he whispered to the TV.
He was met by silence and visual static.
One of the police walked into the room and Andy looked like he was looking for something on the floor and made as if he had found it and stood up.
The policeman looked at him suspiciously.
“The ambulance officer has had a look at your friend. There will have to be an investigation and you will have to come down and give a statement at the station.” He paused. “Look, mate, the ambo reckons your friend has starved himself to death.” He gave Andy some time to let that sink in. “Are you sure there is nothing that can shed some light in this?” His hand pointed to all the sheets of paper that were around.
Andy pretended to rack his brains and shrugged. “Nothing I can think of.” The cop was obviously not convinced but turned back to his colleagues.
The ambulance officers had now brought up the gurney and was placing the body of Jerry on it. Andy had returned to his corner and was working on chewing off the other thumb nail.
When they had all left he returned to the TV.
“Did you do this?”
The silence continued. But through the visual static he could see a headstone. He could just make out his own name and birthday. The date of the death was still coming into focus when the policeman returned.
“Sorry, you are going to have to come with us. Are you ready to go?
After everyone had gone there was only a dark, empty apartment lit by the static of a TV, which no-one had thought to turn off. The static cleared and the headstone of Andy became clear. The camera then began to pan back to show more and more headstones. Hundreds and then thousands turning into a sea.
Then the picture became a horizontal line that reduced to a small white dot that hovered for a moment and then disappeared in to a blank, black screen.