Back when I was growing up in the 80s, Sunday afternoons were the worst time of all. We didn’t have cable, so we had a total of five stations to watch; the big three networks, PBS, and an independent station that would become a Fox affiliate a couple of years later. The major networks had nothing but sports on, and I mean NOTHING but sports. That was it for Sunday afternoon, and not being a sports fan, that meant nothing for me to watch. PBS sometimes had good stuff on, but you were just as likely to end up with a run of Upstairs Downstairs (the 80s version of Downton Abbey) as a good Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes.
That left the independent channel. The problem was, at that time, the TV guide didn’t publish what they were going to be showing, so it was always a crap shoot. Sometimes it was really good, sometimes it was really awful, and you never knew what you were going to get. When it was really bad, I’d go outside, or read, or play with toys, you know, stuff later generations will never understand. But when it was good, I’d sit in front of the 15 inch color tv in my uncle’s old room at my grandparents’ house and watch for hours and hours.
Sometimes the movies or shows were really strange stuff, like low budget movies that the station bought on the cheap so they had something to air. These were actually sometimes fun movies, stuff that today goes straight to the bargain DVD bin or straight to streaming. It was no surprise, then, when I turned on the TV and saw a movie I didn’t recognize. The people in it looked vaguely familiar, but it was really low budget, and the camera was shaky and clearly digital tape. Back then, shaky camera was not something considered “cool” in movies, and it had that really noisy, florescent digital look of a home VHS camera.
From what I could put together in a minute or two of watching, the main characters were two cops and they were going on a call for a domestic disturbance. There was something really unsettlingly familiar about the landscape they passed on their way. The cameraman was clearly just sitting in the back seat filming them, and had it been a few years later, I would have assumed it was an episode of COPS.
The police car pulled up to a trailer on a dirt lot off of a rural road. The cops got out and went to the door. The cameraman followed, but you never saw him open the door, he just followed as if nothing was there, which would make sense if they had removed the door for filming. The cops knocked on the door. No answer. They knocked again. Still no answer, but there was a low pitched moan. One of the cops decided to kick in the door. He clearly wished he hadn’t a few seconds later.
Inside was a bloodbath. People use that word and it’s lost a lot of meaning, but this was really a bloodbath, floor to ceiling blood. A man was lying on the bloody carpeting, his head half missing. I was really surprised at how good the effects were. Near the man was a woman who had been shot through the chest. A dead baby was in her arms, it’s little head smashed open, the hammer that did it right beside. And the low moan was coming from the kitchen of the trailer, an open archway leading to it.
Here’s where it went really weird for me. As the cops swung around the wall into the kitchen, the camera following them right over their shoulders, I saw a boy sitting on the floor of the kitchen, gun in his hand and blood all over him. I KNEW that boy. His name was Seth and he was a year or two older than me. He had helped me out when I first joined the school band.
I rubbed my eyes, not believing what I was seeing. It was Seth. There was no doubt about it. The cops had their guns out pointed at him. He looked up and said, “I did it. I fucking killed those fucking bastards.” Now I was really freaked out. No way would any channel let the f-word fly on air. I smacked the button on the tv to turn it off, but it wouldn’t. The camera zoomed in on Seth’s face. He lifted the gun in his hand, I could tell by how his shoulder moved, and the cops immediately filled him full of holes. Blood spurted all over the camera, but I was barely watching. I reached over and yanked the plug from the wall. The tv went black.
I ran downstairs, thinking to tell my mother what I’d seen or maybe just at least convince myself I’d fallen asleep and had been dreaming. That’s when I heard the emergency scanner that my grandparents kept in the kitchen go off. Two officers were reporting that the domestic had ended in fatalities. They were calling for the county coronor for two adults, one infant and a juvenile. I knew right away that what I had seen was real.
I never told anyone about it. I sat in the kitchen for a while, until it was almost dark. I went back upstairs and plugged in the tv. I didn’t know if I wanted to see anything else, but when the tv came on, it was just a commercial for dish soap followed by an old John Wayne war movie already most of the way finished. It would have had to have been playing when I saw that awful movie. I turned off the tv and went back downstairs. I sat in the living room with my mother and grandparents the rest of the night.
The next day at school, everyone was talking about how Seth had killed his mother, stepfather and baby brother. Apparently his parents had been really hard on him and had forced him to quit the football team. He went crazy, got his stepfather’s gun, and killed them all. I wasn’t shocked. After all, I had seen it happen.