A young boy becomes curious about his Uncle who has disappeared.
|I had been sitting at the kitchen table eating cereal when the phone rang early one Saturday morning and mom answered it. The call was from St Anne’s Psychiatric Hospital. Uncle Aran had run away.
Aran was my mother’s brother. We used to visit him every year at the hospital. He’d spent the past twenty-five years living at St Anne’s. It wasn’t like him to just run off. Mom bundled me into the car and we made the hours drive to St. Anne’s where Uncle Aran had made his escape.
I waited in the car while mom went inside. St Anne’s was a huge sprawling and ominous looking stone building. Patients were allowed to roam free and there didn’t to seem to be anybody watching the gates to the hospital grounds. It’s not surprising Uncle Aran didn't have any trouble pulling his disappearing act.
Some of the patients were wandering around the car park outside. A disheveled looking old man approached the car and tapped on the window, asking me with a glassy stare if I could spare a cigarette. I locked the door. “I don’t have any. My mom will be back soon,” I stammered. I began to feel scared and wished mom would hurry up and come out.
She seemed to take forever before she finally returned. A thin looking man wearing slippers began shuffling towards her, probably to ask for cigarettes or the whiskey he assumed she was hiding. He was too slow to keep up with her brisk walk. She sighed as she climbed into the car
It was sometime after Lunch that Uncle Aran had went missing they told her. He had been sitting quiet contently in the recreation room watching television with the other patients when suddenly he became quite upset and began screaming. He was terrified by something he’d seen on television. The orderly who found him said it was just some kids show. The morning cartoons were showing.
Like most kids, I knew most of the cartoons and children’s shows on TV but nothing that would scare a grown man like that. I ran through the shows in my mind, trying to guess which one Uncle Aran might have been watching. Tom and Jerry, Teenage Mutant Turtles, Scooby Doo (Maybe the mystery gang finally found a monster that didn’t wear a mask)
There was little else we could do except wait and hope Uncle Aran would turn up. Perhaps he would find his way here to our house.
I didn’t know what promoted Aran to be committed. Mom would never talk about it. I just knew that something had happened when he was young. He had some kind of breakdown. Something flipped a switch in Uncle Aran's head and it changed him. He lived with his parents until he was twenty-three. When they were no longer able to look after him they had him committed. It broke his mother’s heart to send him to an Institution. She died ten years later. His father followed her ten years after.
I had always been disturbed by what happened to Uncle Aran. I think because I feared that I was in constant danger of “Flipping my switch. As if insanity was something that you could catch like a cold. Then I’d `be I'd be taken away from my parents to live at St Anne’s, surrounded by other crazy people.
During the drive home I asked mom why Aran would be scared of a kids show. I had asked about Uncle Aran with little success but this time she decided to open up about it.
She told me that when they were children, her brother became fascinated with a TV show called “Rory’s Riddles”. The show followed a young boy named Rory who had to solve riddles presented to him at the end of every episode by the “fish people”. They were the antagonists of the show, although that was not their real name. They were fish creatures that stood upright on their tails and rolled their R’s when they spoke. There were two of them, twins.
The fish people resided in another dimension but occasionally a window would appear in Rory’s closet allowing him to see in to their world and speak with them. If Rory could not solve their Riddle the fish people would take him to their dimension and keep him prisoner there. Rory had a talking stuffed toy otter named Oscar who always presented Rory with a clue at the end of the show. The show always ended with Rory coming up with the answer at the last moment thanks to Oscar.
Every Week the fish creatures would leave Rory with another Riddle to solve for next weeks episode and Aran loved trying to solve them before the next episode aired. He was so proud when he got it correct. The riddles weren’t that difficult at first but then they became more challenging and Aran was getting more and more frustrated when he didn’t know the answers. Then he claimed the fish people were speaking to him, saying his name instead of Rory’s.
One day he got very upset. He said Rory wasn’t there anymore and that the fish people had told him that if he didn’t solve this week’s riddle they would take him to their dimension and eat him. He begged his parents to tell him the answer to the riddle but they didn’t know. Aran was inconsolable. He refused to go to sleep. He was afraid the fish creatures would come out of the closet and take him away. Mom couldn’t recall the riddle Aran told them.
Aran wasn’t the same after that. He was paranoid and unpredictable. The family returned home one evening to find he had smashed the television on the living room floor and had emptied every closet in the house, throwing everything in a mess on the floor. Eventually Aran was prescribed medication to keep him docile but he could no longer function like a normal person. He was taken out of school because the teachers complained he wasn’t communicating with anybody. He stayed home all day, often sitting, staring into space. He stopped speaking.
As I lay in bed that night I thought again about Aran and how a person could suddenly lose their mind like that. There had to be more to it than that. It occurred to me that if seeing the TV show again was what had Aran running scared then the show must be airing again. Maybe I could see it for myself and satisfy some of my curiosity. Prove to myself that I could watch it without going insane
I stayed the next weekend at my friend Barry Myer’s. His mom stopped by the house to pick me up on Friday afternoon. Barry told me had something to show me up at the house.
We told his mom we were going out. She said to be back in time for dinner and we agreed we would. I followed Barry to the “hut”, which was our poor attempt at building our own clubhouse in the woods near Barry’s house. It was made of scrapped sheet metal and wood and a discard wooden pallet, which acted as a door
We walked in and I saw a figure sitting on a chair dressed in an old dirty white sweater and jeans. It was a dummy Barry had made out of old clothes filled with sticks and a pillowcase for the head. Barry was crouching behind me, reaching behind the workbench for a small cardboard box, which he handed to me with a mischievous smile. “Fireworks” I said surprised.
“I got em off my older brother. We can use them on this” he pointed at the dummy.
We took the dummy, which we nicknamed “Tommy” deep into the woods far from the house and Barry’s mom. I admit was a lot of fun watching Tommy explode and burst into flames even though I felt nervous the whole time. Barry could be pretty unpredictable. He was always pulling dangerous stunts to show off. It was that reckless quality that made Barry just a little bit crazy.
We stayed up that night reading comic books and talking about TV show’s we liked.
I told Barry about Uncle Aran and the TV show. We decided we would watch it together. We woke early the next morning to catch the morning cartoons.
In my part of the country there are only 4 channels. Unless you go for one of those package deals, then you've got more TV than you’ll ever probably need. But there was no Rory’s Riddles. We flicked through the channels several times.
“Maybe it’s on a channel we don’t have” Barry said
“Maybe, but my uncle saw it and I don’t think St. Anne’s has more than four either”
Mom came to pick me up that evening. I loved staying at Barry’s house but it always felt good to come back home and sleep in my own bed.
The phone rang the next day and mom told me Barry was on the phone. “I found it,” he said “Check it out, its on four”
There wasn't much in the way of kids shows on four, that channel seemed to be aimed at twenty something year olds and featured mostly soapy dramas and gossip shows. I walked into the living room and turned on the TV while Barry waited on the line. I pushed the TV’s channel buttons to navigate to four. The remote had a habit of disappearing.
"Barry?" I said
I glanced at the channel logo confirming I was watching four but all I saw was a current affair show I'd seen many times before while channel surfing. The hosts were sitting around a desk in their suits, discussing topics that would put any ten year old to sleep.
"I don't see it, Are you sure it's on four?" I asked
"Its just some boring old guys in suits talking"
"You’re on the wrong channel"
"No I’m not"
There was a pause.
"Your TV is broken then"
"That's stupid how can my TV be broken if I can see pictures"
"Well then how come I can see it and you can't”?
There was another pause.
"What’s it look like?" I asked
The show he described was identical to the description mom had given me of Aran’s show. Barry continued to describe the show through the phone for a while until we decided to say goodbye.
I decided to ask Mom about Rory’s Riddles again. Why didn’t she watch the show with Aran.
“I did” she replied
“Though I was too young to really understand it, I couldn’t have been more than two. I really can’t recall much about it.”
She got a thoughtful look in her eyes and I knew she was trying to remember.
“I just remember Aran would get so excited, he was my big brother so I always wanted to follow him and do whatever he did. I don’t remember anything about a boy or a talking stuffed animal, only what Aran told me. I only remember there used to be a soap opera that came on before it…or was it after?”
A week later we would receive two calls. The first was from St. Anne’s Hospital. They found Uncle Aran.
He had apparently returned all by himself. The doctors found him asleep in his room one morning. We drove to visit him the next day. He seemed different from his usual agitated self when we visited him in his own private room. He was serene, happy. When Mom asked him where he had been he’d get this puzzled look in his eyes and stare at the TV. She couldn’t get anything out of him but at least he seemed content to remain at St. Anne’s. The orderlies were keeping an eye on him all the same.
As we went to leave, Uncle Aran said something that at the time I hadn’t thought anything of. He said “Barry”. I assumed mom had mentioned his name to Aran herself until later when she asked me if it was I who had told him about my friend.
The second call came later that night from a frantic Mrs. Myers. Barry was missing. She had been making dinner while Barry played in his room. When she went to call him there was no answer from his room. She searched everywhere, even the woods and our clubhouse. He was gone. She asked if Barry was here, or if he called. He hadn’t. She dialed 911 immediately. The police never found Barry. They searched his room for any clues that he might have run away but turned up nothing.
After Barry’s disappearance Mrs. Myers spent a lot of time with my mom, she needed a friend. Mrs. Myer’s told mom what she had told police to aid their investigation.
She told them that Barry had asked her a riddle and when she didn’t know the answer he became quite upset and told her that he wanted to get rid of the TV, he wouldn’t say why. I wasn’t there when Mrs. Myers told my mom this but I can only imagine the expression on my mothers face. She told me not to mention anything about the show or about Aran to Mrs. Myers, she wouldn’t understand, not that we understood it either.
Barry had written the riddle down.
“If you see me, you will hear me
I swim under the sea
Lots of children fear me
I live in your TV”
As I said, the police never found Barry. The case remains open. It was even featured in a magazine publication for unsolved mysteries
Uncle Aran lived at St. Anne’s for two more years before his death. He died of natural causes after he suffered a major heart attack during the night. The orderlies found him strewn over his bed.
The last time we visited him. He was sitting in his wheelchair in the games room. The nurses had given all the patients paint and brushes to draw a picture. Glancing around the room I saw some of the paintings. They were all brightly colored and badly drawn like how a child might paint. That’s what Uncle Aran reminded me of, a child. He was concentrating hard on his picture, a single flower he had painted with a purple stem and different colored petals.
There are some unanswered questions that still remain, why did only Barry and Aran see the show when nobody else could. Were they the unlucky chosen ones? Maybe whatever it is that made its home in the airwaves was just waiting for the right person to show its message to.
“If you see me you will hear me
I swim under the sea
Lots of children fear me
I live in your TV”