's 2020 Horror Write-off:

Graveyard Slot

Submitted by Charred Newt

I always have two choices if I want to see him: staying up till 2-3 am or waking up before 6 am. Tonight I chose the second one; it’s been a while, it’s a friday night and it seems to be the safer bet of the two.

Late night, local station, weak signal that makes even a modern TV feel low def, the ingredients are all there. The screen seems to be absorbing the light of my modest living room, making even my skin look grey, just like the faces smiling in the old, old credits that are rolling up before me.

Local stations don’t have great budgets, they get by on properties too obscure or too dated to rise in prices. Waiting through the late night programming is a journey through the past, like falling in a pit all the way down to the graveyard slot. All the way to the solid rock of badly-colorized sit-coms.

“The Sunday Family Friend” spells the proud title card with a merry jingle, not knowing that these reruns have made it feel meaningless. THIS PROGRAM WAS RECORDED IN FRONT OF A LIVE AUDIENCE say the words searing on the screen: the audience hollers and claps their hands as if to answer that yeah golly, they’re there and they’re ready! There’s a scratch in the voices, the prints of the old recording apparatus and the time spent before reaching the television of the twenty-first century.
I am not versed in the genres of tv programs enough to say if what I am watching is an old variety, a review, a talk-show exactly: it aged with its names; the host rises to his stage accompanied by the crescendo of the applause. A small orchestra tunes in, the man turns and smiles and waves as if moved by the notes.

“Well, well, well, a good ev’ning to you all my ladies and gentlemen, what a show we have for you tonight!” he announces. Words that fall into place like gears in a machine, like wheels into tracks. His smile is blinding, his eyes twinkle under his bushy eyebrows and the cameras finally switch to show the audience. They give a face to the fired-up voices filling the studio, to the hands that have been clapping their enthusiasm: and in those faces I find him once again.

My little brother, Mickey: smiling, joyful, his eyes big and dark of excitement against the pale, pale shadow of his face. He is dressed in clothes I never saw him with, surrounded with people I could never know, and looks happy. The host nods to his audience with his own carefully cultivated joy, and starts listing some guests I have never heard about, or maybe I am just not listening anymore.

That face in the crowd, fuzzy and mixed with the rest, brings me back every time to the last day I spent with my brother. It brings me to that hospital bed, to his cold hand enclosed into mine, to his eyes gazing into nothingness. A car accident: a hit-and-run they called it, on a road made too slippery with rain and by a car that had bolted away into the distance. Mickey was barely present when I finally reached his side, making sense of his words was almost impossible in the few hours before he faded away.

Now on the screen he is smiling, he is laughing like he used to; his laughter is among the others that rise up on cue when the host winks and prods his guests, mimics shock and calls for trained irreverence like a circus master. He has big, square teeth that in the low definition of the cameras look fused into one white arch in his mouth.

Weyland Harper Russet, that’s the name I found after I first saw an episode of “The Sunday Family Friend”, one foggy Thursday morning now six months ago. I found his name, not much else about him.

Mickey died on summer 2019; he was born in 1995 and this show ran from 1975 to 1979, finding little success with the general audience and languishing into the sort of obscurity that buries you into the graveyard slot. Now it’s the only way I have to see my little brother again, in the waxy faces peering from the background.

He never did laugh in his hospital bed, only muttered to the empty air in front of him. His lips were too cracked to form real words, he barely could sip the water I tried to make him drink. Those sounds made every hour of that night the longest of my entire life, a century a minute; and I was too afraid to sleep, too afraid that Mickey would slip away forever while my eyes were closed. That is why I turned the TV on, at 4.45 a.m., just to find some old program noisy enough to keep us awake. I remember how big his eyes got, how suddenly he stopped speaking: I remember the rasp in his breath when he inhaled and started whimpering, while his arm trembled to point at the grey faces on the small screen in the corner. I remember the man he was staring at, and some nights I even feel like I understand why.

Weyland Russet. A man who wanted his audience and his fame, but found little of both. Genres lived and died before he got big. Now he has me tuning in for his theatrics at least thrice a week, maybe his number one fan. Among the information I have found there is an obituary, one dated 2008; but if that has not stopped this flytrap of a show, then it will not be enough to stop me. I know his face well, now; his teeth, his winking, the shape of his skull under the old slicked back hairdo.

I have done a lot of reading in these months, on books older than “The Sunday” and of any television, some older than this whole country: shape up and get ready, Mr. Russet. I will soon be on your guest list.