The T.V. talks to me late at night.
Mother is always asleep and father is gone. The last time I saw him, I’d watched him from my bed as he’d sauntered down the hallway and breached the foul midnight dark at the top of the stairs. Sometimes, I can still smell the cigarettes he used to smoke. It smells like yellow teeth, calloused hands.
I sleep on the couch in the living room, swaddled in unclean blankets, with only the constant flickering light of the T.V. to comfort me. The sun doesn’t rise anymore. There’d been something about the final sunset on the T.V. all those years ago. That was after father had left.
WNTV News Channel 9 is my only companion. It tells me things, shows me blurry, analog visions of my future. There’s even a 30-minute block comes on every now and again called “Self-Reflection.” It’s just photo of me as a child.
The WNTV logo slides on screen, distorted synthesizer singing in the background.
NOW FOR TONIGHT’S SCHEDULE
3:14AM - 3:17AM FEED 3:30AM - 3:45AM MOTHER’S TIME 3:45AM - 5:00AM PAID PROGRAMMING
It’s 3:13AM. I smile a toothless smile and crawl to the T.V. across tattered, dirty carpet. When I reach the the T.V., I can already hear the VHS player gurgling. I press my lips to the video slot, open my mouth, and wait ever-so-patiently.
WNTV’s scheduling screen fades, replaced with those grainy, bloodshot eyes, a pleasant symphonic accompaniment blasting from the stereo speakers as the gruel flows from the VHS slot and onto my parched tongue.
I love the FEED’s blandness, savor the rare, sharp chunky bits in the cascade. Some of the FEED drips down my chin and I catch it in my hands, lick it up. I think about trees as I eat, can’t really remember what they look like. Pine needles had a scent I’m sure, but I can’t recall it. The outside is a foreign, dangerous concept to me, a place run rampant with the things that came the night my father left and the sun went away.
But the FEED! I love it as much as I have ever loved anything. I am sad when the symphony comes to a close, indicating the end of tonight’s FEED. The VHS player whirs. The screen fades to black. I lay there in the darkness licking up the remnants of FEED from my hands when I hear a door slam, followed by the pattering of heavy feet.
It’s now Mother’s Time.
Large, curvy bubble letters appeared on screen: CAREFUL!! IT’S MOTHER’S TIME. HIDE AND YOU WILL WIN!
I return to the couch and hide myself in the mass of blankets. Her steps grow close and I shut my eyes tight. Her strained breathing. Her slow skulking. The T.V. tunes to her favorite show, THE ADVENTURES OF DOG. It’s all panting, all barking, yipping. Sometimes she laughs an awful laugh, deep and throaty.
I stay as still as I can.
I’m scared of her.
She is not my mother.
Toward the end of Mother’s Time, the dogs growl viscously. She patters away as quickly as she came. When I’m sure she’s gone, I poke my head out from the covers. There’s a horrible face on the T.V., the words YOU WON in bright red lettering.
I’ve never quite known what I was meant to be winning after Mother’s Time.
As the paid programming block begins, I search the crevices of the couch for the remote and grip it tightly, fingertips primed.
A haggard old woman appears on screen in a desiccated kitchen. She looks like she’s from the 70s or something, hair big and poofy
TIRED OF DARK? The woman asks.
“Yes.” I mutter desperately.
ME IS HERE TO SAY– The programming cuts out.
“No!” I yell. “Bring her back!”
Only static responds. I loosen my hold on the remote, stare vacantly at the screen just as I always had, even before the sun went away.
ONLY TODAY! BUY THIS LIGHT, NO MORE DARK! The paid programming soars back, now drenched in a blue filter. Numbers appear on screen.
CALL NUMBER RIGHT FOR ONLY CHANCE TO BUY LIGHT! The woman smiles so widely. Her eyes empty.
My hands tremble. I press the wrong digits on accident, curse myself. I need this. It has never offered a light before. I press each of the digits so carefully, but just as I enter the final number, the programming cuts away to a man with no hair who’s crying while his scrambled eggs burn in a rusted skillet.
“No!” I yell again. “You cheated me!”
The bald man stops crying and peers directly at the camera. I know he’s looking at me. Eventually, a small mag light rolls into the living room from the darkness and I leap forward to grab it, twist it on. Light explodes outward, and I rediscover parts of the house I hadn’t seen in years. It isn’t the house I remember. It’s different. It’s alien.
“Thank you,” I say, expecting the sad man’s face when I turn around, but he isn’t there. Instead, the T.V. is tuned to a live feed of the front porch, ash falling from a clouded sky. I can see nothing beyond the front yard.
Words on screen: STAY HERE WHERE YOU ARE SAFE.
I glimpse my body. Frail. Skinny. Pale.
“I’m dying in this place,” I say. Practically begging.
“I have to leave,” I whimper.
How I do love the FEED. How I do feel safe here, even when it’s mother’s time.
I drop the mag light, fall to my knees, and crawl to the T.V. once again, drawn to it. The T.V. is only true companion.
I press my mouth to the VHS player.
Eyes appear on screen. Lovely eyes.
The sound of a symphony serenades me as the FEED gushes into my mouth.
And I feast at it, hungrily.
Cassandra Riddle has no idea what she's doing, generally speaking. She enjoys reading, writing, literally getting lost in nature, avoiding social situations, and spending time with her wonderful partner and their very, very fuzzy cat named Yuna. She hopes you enjoy her work.