Dammit. There’s gotta be something else on.
Floyd stretched his torso sideways, groping for the tuner at the other end of the couch, unwilling to dislodge his body from the comfy ass-print he’d made in the sofa. Grasping his fingers around the little rectangle, he righted himself, pointing it at the screen.
He had an old-fashioned, boxy TV, with fake wood paneling on the sides and two bunny-ear antennas. He’d refused to buy a new one, despite Claire’s frequent requests. Even after she’d forced him to install the digital box, he’d kept the ears. It’d be like ripping the arms off a person. Claire didn’t get it at all. She was always telling him he didn’t do anything, that he should get a job. Why did it matter if he didn’t have a job? He was still getting those monthly settlement checks from Taco Bell after he found a cockroach — well, half a cockroach — in his cheesy enchilada. It had been five weeks since she walked out on him, taking two suitcases with her. It showed. A thin layer of dust had accumulated on everything without Claire’s OCD cleaning to manage it. He’d thought a few times about wiping the dust off the TV but never got around to it.
It didn’t matter if things were a little dusty. As long as there was something on. Yeah, if only, Floyd thought, frowning at the TV and pressing tuner buttons with increasing aggression. He paused, his interest momentarily piqued by an infomercial for a mini-microwave. A pretty blonde was putting a tiny pizza in it.
“This thing packs a punch and it’s just the cutest darn thing you’ve ever seen,” she said with a Southern twang. She pressed a button, and the microwave buzzed to life.
Floyd half-smiled in amusement. Maybe I’ll buy one of those. Does the blonde come included? He reached for a can of beer on the arm rest next to him. As he touched it, he got an unexpected static shock. He dropped the beer, his hand still stinging slightly. Shit, what the hell was that? He felt the hairs on the back of his neck go up, as if there was an electric current running through his body. Must be the TV, he thought. So old it’ll probably give me radiation poisoning.
The microwave stopped whirring. Floyd felt the hairs on neck go down.
“Mmm…perfect!” the blonde said, taking a bite of the pizza.
He changed the channel. It was a National Geographic special, somewhere in Africa. An old black woman in a soiled T-shirt was giving a half-naked teenager a scar tattoo with a bone needle. The needle entered the kid’s shoulder. Dark blood dribbled down his bicep. He ignored it. The kid’s arm looked like a cheese grater with all those holes, Floyd thought. Transfixed by the sight, he suddenly became conscious of a prickling sensation on his own arm. Kind of ticklish. He looked down and saw a crimson stain blooming through his shirt. What the hell? Floyd fingered the spot and involuntarily jerked from the stinging pain. He lifted the sleeve and saw blood oozing out a ragged piercing in his skin. Next to it, a painful red dot was appearing, another hole opening. He looked up at the TV. Not possible, not fucking possible. Yet with every plunge of the old woman’s needle, he felt a painful jab in his shoulder, a little more blood oozed out. He hurriedly pointed the tuner at the screen and pressed the “off” button. It didn’t turn off. Instead, the TV started changing channels on its own, flipping rapidly from one to another.
Floyd jumped from the couch and ran to the TV, twisting the dial next to the screen. Nothing happened. He dragged it from the wall and pulled the electrical plug from its socket. The glow from the screen stayed as strong as ever, but the channels had stopped changing. Floyd walked around to in front of it, disbelieving. He didn’t recognize the movie, but he knew the story a thousand times over. A pretty young thing was running through a forest at night in her underwear. A knife-wielding villain was in close pursuit. She tripped and twisted her ankle, scrambling to hide behind a tree. Floyd knew what was coming. He wasn’t about to let a goddamned TV kill him. He ran to the corner of the room and grabbed a standing lamp with a metal base. The girl on TV whimpered, sinking to her knees and covering her mouth. She closed her eyes. Floyd approached the TV, lamp in hand, hesitating to destroy what might have been his most prized possession. An arm reached from behind the tree, grabbing the girl’s hair. Floyd squeezed his eyes shut and thrust the end of the lamp like a javelin at the girl’s face. The screen splintered and cracked as the lamp pushed through to the brains of the TV. After a couple of sparks, the TV blacked out, the girl in the forest disappearing. Floyd let go of the lamp, still protruding from the shattered screen.
He fell to his knees, resting his forehead on the floor. This couldn’t be real. What would have happened if he hadn’t smashed the TV? After several moments, Floyd became conscious of a breathing that wasn’t his own. He looked up. It was coming from the TV. Then he heard it.
“Stop, Dave. I’m afraid.”
He examined the remaining jagged fragments of the screen. He made out a portion of the red dot he’d seen a hundred times before. It was HAL’s death scene from 2001. Dave was pulling the computer’s hard drive. Floyd couldn’t believe it. He lunged at the TV, picking it up and throwing it against the wall in a rage.
The movie continued.
“Dave, my mind is going.”
Floyd heard a popping sound deep within his head, like an artery exploding. There was a blinding flash of pain that doubled him momentarily, the worst headache of his life.
“There’s no question. I can feel it,” HAL said.
Floyd heard another bursting sound. The pain intensified, like someone was drilling a screw into the backs of his eyes. He fell on his side, clutching himself into the fetal position, hands on the sides of his head. Floyd looked towards the TV on its side against the wall. He stared into the black hole where the screen used to be. Everything was too bright. Floyd closed his eyes, the pops coming every few seconds now. As the blood filled his brain, he couldn’t think of anything. All he could focus on was the little white dot appearing behind his eyelids. Just like the ones right after you turn off a TV.