"Technical Difficulties"

by Xebot

By what means can we positively distinguish between the electric spark which animates gadget, appliance, and phone; and the electric spark which animates our very thoughts - the spark that we call life.

Whether "life" be the gift of God or the Çlan of electrons in motion, there is no reason for it to be limited to the squishy, slimey ooze of bioplasm. If one considers reproduction as merely the reorganization of atoms into the image of the parent, then crystals can be said to posess reproductive powers, if not instincts. The same holds true for many complex molecules which seek to rearrange the external world into their own image.

The separation of the living from the non-living is perhaps more intuitive than scientific.

It was from a lack of intuition that I happened to be watching TV that particular night. The sky was clouded angrily, spitting bolts of lightning that shook the earth. The curtains were tossed fitfully by the icey, errant blasts of wind. I rose and walked over to the window. For a brief time I debated the protection of the storm-shutters against the effort involved in their use; going from room to room on each of the two stories of this creaking, grating, old house. Since the gale seemed to be increasing, I proceeded to close and secure all the storm windows. I returned to my seat in front of the cyclopic television.

As I sat down the storm shot forth three or four successive bolts of lightning and the TV picture changed into a familiar irritation. We regret to inform you that due to technical difficulties we have temporarily suspended tonight's broadcast. Please stay tuned and we will resume transmission as soon as possible.

I tried several other stations to no greater success. Most of the channels were pure static; the few active stations transmitted variations on the polite prose seen earlier. I sat back in my seat and lit a cigarette. No TV tonight.

White light flash, blindness! I was deaf falling out of my chair. I could feel the floor shaking violently. Finally, I could hear again, and I heard the echos and reverberations of a terrific blast. The room came into focus. I feared someone had dropped "the bomb." My ears were hurting; every sound was muffled, though slowly rising. After running to the window and opening the curtain, I strained my weakened eyes to look into the darkness.

Two huge, black bodies lay toe-to-toe. Flames, sputtering sparks against the rain, eminated from what appeared to be heads, hands, and feet. I laughed, nervously, at my fear when my eyesight focused and I could see what had happened. A lightning bolt had struck the large walnut tree outside my window and had severed it in two. Poor tree. That was one bad-ass lightning bolt.

Releasing the curtain I turned back to the room. I felt the blindness suddenly return, but no sound, no rumble. The bolt had apparently knocked-out the power mains, leaving me in darkness. I stumbled through the room, half-crouched. Where was the damn flashlight. Probably here, maybe there. I wondered if the neglected batteries would even work at all.

Half-crawling, I made my way to the kitchen. Reaching into a drawer my finger-tip was pierced by a steak knife. They drew first blood, not me, Colonel Trautman! Knowing that the utility drawer was immediately left of the silverware, I found it easily. I reached cautiously inside and found a familiar shape. I flipped the switch and the flashlight glowed dimly.

But there was something else; a hiss and a glow. I could not assign a direction to the hiss, it was too faint. However, the trace shadows from the eerie glow indicated that their origin was to my left and rear; in the living room.

I used the ailing flashlight beam as a blind man uses a cane, not so much to avoid well-known obstacles, but to indentify the unknown.

Emerging into the living room the hissing grew louder. Not the result of acoustic advantage, it really was louder. And more distinct. It was now closer to the sound of the frenzied rumpling of newspaper pulp; like the static of an off-air television station. And so it was.

The TV was slowly coming to life in its usual lazy fashion; slowly gaining brightness and clarity; slowly gaining volume. It was now bright enough that I could relieve the flashlight of its duties. The room was clumsily being lifted from darkness to light and sound. From darkness? Where were the room lights? Where were the soft, blue digits of my clock-radio? How was the TV being powered?

Perhaps this old house had a funny wiring scheme. Maybe the TV was on its own circuit, which had survived the lightning. This was the most likely explanation.

I tried several channels but they all had the same result, mindless static. I resolved to leave the TV set on as my only source of light. I went to the kitchen, which was sufficiently lit from the living room glow, and retrieved a beer from the darkened refrigerator. There's just something about a cold beer on a cold, stormy night that makes me sick. However, if I was going to freeze my ass off tonight, my ass was going to be too drunk to care.

Some hours later there was hope from the TV. Though the picture was zigging and zagging and flipping and flopping, it seemed to be making that old, college try. I relocated my beer and cigarettes in front of it and waited patiently.

There was an odd smell in the room. It was like something dead and rotting, though with the acidic tinge of burning, crude oil. I looked to the TV. A short, perhaps? Although its light was projected mostly forward, there was enough reflection in the room for me survey the wall behind it. I didn't see any smoke rising. Then the picture snapped to attention.

The TV picture tube displayed screen after screen of perfectly focused dots and dashes, dashes and dots. While weak on Morse Code, I knew enough to know that this wasn't it. Additionally, the dashes were of extremely varying lengths; a definite no-no in Morse. Soon, dots were randomly replaced by circles and ellipses, dashes combined into odd geometric shapes. The monochrome puzzle was further complicated by the addition of color. The symbols grew more complex and less geometrical. Lines became broad brushes of color; color evolving texture. Human-like stick figures were drawn and animated. Some ran and fell. Others just stood and stared, as if deep within thought. Others seemed to be locked in various carnal activities. It was as if Picasso himself directed the cathode-ray of the picture tube.

The picture zapped off, then on. I was back in the real world. I was staring at some B-grade horror flick. I think that the reason they call those pictures a blood-fest is because the script has no meat.

The horror flick flicked into a commercial; and then to a western; and then to something else. What was this? The tuner had gone crazy. The screen had turned into a hypnotic calliope of sight and sound. I couldn't take my eyes off of it. It was everything and nothing. It owned, possessed, and pulled at my eyes, which couldn't open wide enough to satisfy the urge.

Trying to rise, I spilled my beer stein all over the carpet. Goddamnit! Shit. The distraction freed me from its grip. I sat down and reached back for a pillow and began to sop up the golden foam at my feet.

While I was bending forward with the soggy pillow pressed against the carpet, the TV screen exploded sending glass and a torrent of dark, sticky liquid above my head. The flood continued from the box like the burst of a dam. It splashed against the far wall making a terrific pounding noise, as if Thor himself were hammering against it. It deflected from the wall and rained everywhere. Without thinking, I raised my head from reflex, putting it directly in the path of the furious flow. The force of the flow was so great that it socked my head backward hard enough to up-end my entire body, rolling me into the corner. The flow ceased.

My face, glasses, and shirt were covered with the viscous liquid. It became thicker and thicker as it dried. I gasped for air and streams of the fluid drained into my mouth. I couldn't help but swallow the sticky substance. I knew from its metallic, salty taste that it was blood. The couch, the carpet, and the far wall were covered in it. I could see that quite clearly. I could see it? From the inside of the TV, through the serrated edges that outlined where the picture tube had once been, came an eerie blue light shooting straight forward against the far wall.

I looked to where the light struck the far wall. It was as if I were watching home movies projected against it. Although fuzzy, I could make out the general form and feel of a television screen whose channels were being changed as rapidly as possible.

Turning my gaze I saw the box sitting impishly on its stand. It seemed indecisive. I was afraid. I couldn't think. I didn't even think of thinking, I was stunned. I just watched it sitting there. The knobs and dials and buttons seemed to form an almost juvenile expression. It looked like a kid with a new shotgun who couldn't decide what to kill first.

The light in the room turned more intense. The shadows stopped bounching. I turned back to the wall and saw that the image had changed to a solid, cold blue. I heard a creak and a crack. I looked again at the box.

Its sides were bulging. The imitation wood-grain plastic burst on either side and two long, black, irregular tubes shot out. Each of them broke in the center with the outermost portion angling down, forming legs which hoisted the box into the air. It glanced left and then right, just above my head. Everywhere it looked, that cold, blue light followed; like a huge lazer as wide and as square as the picture screen itself. It glanced down and I fell into its glare.

I was blinded in its gaze. I rolled to the left, behind a chair, and its gaze didn't follow. It wasn't ready, yet.

Two more bulges were forming on each side, above its spiney legs. Two tentacles burst forth. Each of the thick, serpentine appendages ended in three talons. The talons were angled towards the center of its hand in a tripod fashion. In the center of each hand was a bizarre circular opening lined with layered teeth, such as with some sharks. I didn't want to see any more detail.

The monster hunched its shoulders and turned towards me. It took one step forward, awkwardly. It moved like those "Clay-Mation" monsters from the thirties, always seeming to be a little off-balance. It took one more step and it was in the center of the room. I was now trapped in the corner. Even if I could bolt for the window, I had locked the damn storm-shutters! The beast took another shakey step forward. I could feel my heart pounding through my brain. I felt sick and ill and helpless; I had urinated on myself; and wished for heart-failure or black-out to spare me from the horror of being eaten alive.

But finally, in hopeless surrender to death, comes a fearless instinct to torture, hurt, and mame one's tormentor. When all is lost, there comes billowing forth from the gut, the bitter, black bile of hate. To die is to die; but to live that last second tasting the blood of your vilest enemy is heaven.

I rose from the floor, grasping the chair that had sheltered me. Using it as a shield I ran straight for the creature, like a half-back racing straight into the Steeler's defensive line. At the last second, I angled slightly to the right and succeeded in knocking it to my left. I bounded forward three steps before my legs were pulled out from beneath me and I fell face-first to the floor.

A wiry tail had extended from the thing and wrapped around my left ankle. The thing was trying to recover its balance while weaving to and fro like a drunken sailor; however, its tail was tightly and securely wrapped around my ankle.

I struggled frantically to free myself. I pulled at its tail with all my might. This action at least kept the thing off balance. I lunged forward towards the door-jam to my front left, hoping to secure some kind of leverage. I missed and my arm fell down to the floor and split into shear pain. It had been partly skewered by a shard of glass from the former picture screen. I ripped the shard from my left arm with my right hand, no longer feeling pain, and began to saw at the sinewy tail that restrained me. Part-way through I stopped to give a mighty tug on the tail to again throw the creature off balance. I continued to saw, saw; the shard cutting into my own right hand and fingers. Finally, I cut all the way through. I was coated with the green, putrid blood that had been shooting from the severed tail. I looked up and saw the creature standing over me.

I had given my last hurrah and had failed. I hadn't the strength for another attempt. There was no chance of running, no weapon to fight with but that worthless shard of glass that fell from my bloodied hand. I didn't want to fight. I wanted to be consumed by it and become part of it! I wanted to share its strength and power. I wanted to be it.

I was once again captured in its gaze. The strange blue light was not quite as blinding as before, however. It began to pulse. It became more clear. Within its softening brightness, figures could be seen; though, only for a moment before changing into others. Broken voices could be heard. And in-between each transition, click!

The transitions subsided and its vision-light turned back to solid blue. Its tubes and tentacles retracted and were replaced by human arms and legs, clad in a business suit. It spoke in a high-spirited, friendly manner. "Friends, do you have trouble financing a car? I can finance you today or I'll eat an alien . . ." Its light flickered and flashed. Its business suit was replaced by a dress. "Are you overweight from lack of excercise and stuffing your face night and day? Well, it's not your fault!" It's light continued flashing.

Now I knew! The son of a bitch was changing channels! It turned into whatever was on the tube! Just before it was about to kill me, it must have hit a commercial break! That must have been a real suprise. Now it was switching channels randomly trying to get back to the monster movie. Movies are shown with five-minute blocks of commercials, nowadays. That gave me five minutes to find a weapon. I felt the energy of hope, again.

I tried to run, but the beast unfortunately stumbled upon an old episode of Father Knows Best and the creature, as Robert Young, restrained me with one of those embraceable you handshakes that he was famous for. I wondered if even an insurance salesman would shake my hand for five minutes. Probably.

Luckily, even a satanic beast which has waited a millenium for revenge against the human race, lacks the gall of the average salesman. It switched channels.

This time it hit a soap-opera. Ah! A little soft-porn wouldn't hurt! Naturally, the cruel beast stopped just before the good stuff. Of course, so do soap-operas.

Now the beast was transformed into Ophrah Winfrey. She sat on me. I wanted the monster back.

It was during its last transformation that I hit upon a plan. I just had to wait and hope. I picked up the shard of glass, slowly.

The beast was changing channels frantically and my time was running out. Commercials; westerns; boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-sues-for-pali-mony; the ordinary run. I finally had my chance when I heard the beast speak in a familiar, overweight voice:

"The blowjoe bird is a familiar inhabitant of the Weenie Wanna swamp. It spends its time busily foraging for small insects and an occasional polliwog. Life is sun and fun for this happy camper. That is, except when MAN comes along and drains the swamp and pisses in the rivers and drops nuclear waste in the lakes and bombs Cambodia and cancels a great, American show like Cannon so that I have to do these stupid narrations for no money at all and accuses Russia of invading Afghanistan when we know it was really the CIA . . ."

I knew now that the beast had fallen into my trap. It had inadvertently stumbled onto PBS!

I raised the glass shard with my right hand and lunged it into the upper-right corner of the TV set, where I knew the tuner was. Sparks flamed and flew. The creature teetered. It stumbled forward, nearly stepping on me with its tremendous weight.

The power came on just at that moment and the creature stood stunned in the glow of the bright, electric lights. It smashed down a door to its left. It switched on the light and was transfixed. It was staring directly at itself in the bathroom mirror for the first time.

A mirror was something it understood. Sometimes it would even lie to people and say that it was a mirror. However, throughout time, it was less reflective of, than reflected by, society. Nonetheless, it considered itself a seller of society's morality. In other words, anything that sells is fuckin' moral.

Looking at itself, it quickly grew weary of the psuedo-intellectualism of PBS and tried to change the channel. Nothing happened. The glass shard had destroyed its tuner circuits and it was powerless. All it could do was to listen to itself recite hour after hour of PBS torment; while I downed another six-pack.

"This program brought to you by the Ford Motor Corp. 'Our cars don't explode anymore!' . . . This program brought to you by Dow Chemical. 'We're looking out for the environment. It may want revenge.' . . . This program brought to you by Sheppard, Mullin, and Richter. 'We're on the side of you rich, white criminals. At least you don't steal the hubcaps off of our beamers!' . . . It's now time to remind all of our viewers that the tiny percentage of our budget which is supplied by government handouts and corporate kick-backs isn't nearly what our corporate fat-cats think that they're worth! We have to rely on the public for the meager funds that we pay our workers and film crews! It's a good thing that the unions haven't looked at our books, lately! . . . And don't forget us, you young Republicans. We only pretend to be liberal! How many networks can you name whose only advertisers are conglomerates, monopolies, and conservative think-tanks? . . . "

At this point, the beast, having seen the best and the worst it could be, realized that its best was the worst it could be. Anon, it went running off into the night, never to be seen again . . . that is, outside of .