Portrait of a married couple, a Mr. Harris and Meredith Burgess, young-ish, not so young as they once were but only one year older since the last time they binge-watched together. Every year, on New Year’s Eve, they would sit in front of the TV and watch the Realms Beyond Midnight World Marathon broadcast on the Fantasy Chanel. Little did they know that this New Year’s Eve, they wouldn’t just be watching Realms Beyond Midnight World, they would be living it.
“Did I miss any good episodes while I was at work?” asked Meredith.
“I don’t know, didn’t watch any,” said Harris. “I don’t really like watching them when you aren’t around.”
The show was more than half a century older than Harris and his generation, mentioning Realms Beyond Midnight World to one of their own usually conjured up images of vampires, thanks to an overwelcomed movie with the intentionally confusing title of “Beyond the Realms of Midnight World,” but despite how similar the names are, the two are not at all related.
Meredith and Harris had been watching the Realms Beyond Midnight World Marathon since noon that day, but they had to take a break so that Meredith could go to work. She worked at a bank, and the back office workers were slaves to a horrendous computer program that required running on the last day of every month, in the evening hours, regardless of when the last day of the month was. Harris did not understand the reasoning behind this, but he did understand that his wife had to work until nine or ten o’clock on the last night of the month, every month, and this included New Year’s Eve. Out of tradition, he wouldn’t watch the marathon if she wasn’t sitting on the sofa next to him. Another tradition was driving his wife to and from work that on days that he wasn’t working.
“Is everything okay Harris?” asked Meredith. “You seem quiet.”
“Sorry,” he said. “I just have this weird feeling.”
“It’s hard to explain, it kind of feels like… I don’t know.”
“Feels like what?”
“I don’t want to scare you,” said Harris. “Or give you the wrong idea.”
“Wrong idea?” asked Meredith.
Harris held up a finger. He saw a traffic light ahead and knew that that would be the better place to explain his strange mood to his wife, eloquently, so as not to disturb her too much. Of course, the light turned green before he could stop and tell her anything, so he turned the music up a little bit hoping that the idea would either go away on its own, or his wife would forget to remind him of it.
It didn’t, she didn’t, and at the next stop light, she asked him again.
“I feel like, somehow… like this is the last New Year’s Eve.”
Meredith looked confused than worried, but Harris put her at ease.
“It’s a feeling,” he said. “I’m not depressed or anything, it’s just this feeling that this is the end… and I’m actually afraid.”
“You’ve never been afraid before.”
“I know,” said Harris. “And it’s not so much that I’m afraid of… the end, but…”
Before he could finish the car behind him laid on the horn, and Harris realized he was still stopped at the light even though it had turned green.
“What are you afraid of?” asked Meredith.
“I’m afraid of the New Year itself. This year has been a pretty bad one, the worst one yet, probably. But I think that next year will be even worse, and also the end.”
Meredith rubbed Harris’s arm.
“You’re thinking about it too much Harris.”
“I hope your right.”
They had been driving on the back road, but at a few points they had to cross major thruways, and at one of these crossings they were stopped at a DUI roadblock.
Harris rolled down his window, and a police officer stuck his head in the car.
“Have you been drinking tonight?” asked the officer.
“No sir,” said Harris. “I will when I get home for the night, but not…”
The hairs on Harris’s back prickled up. The police officer with his head in the driver’s side window was a ghost of someone he knew very well but had never met.
“Is something wrong?” asked the officer. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
“I’m sorry officer,” said Meredith. “My husband has not been well.”
“Did you get the flu or that stomach bug that’s been going around?” he asked.
“Holiday… blues,” Harris choked out.
“Oh, okay,” said the officer. “Try to have a good night then.”
“Yes Sir,” said Harris and pulled out of the roadblock just slow enough not to draw much attention.
“What’s wrong Harris?”
“Did you see who that cop was?”
“No, why do you know him?”
“Yes,” said Harris. “And so do you.”
“Was it that friend of yours you said was a cop?”
“Oh, Josh no, no he would have recognized me.”
“Then who was it?” asked Meredith.
“You didn’t see, that was Dom Silverling.”
Dom Silverling was synonymous with Realms Beyond Midnight World. He was the main writer, director, producer, host and narrator of the show. Every episode, just about, was introduced by him, just after the opening establishment shot. He would be standing inconspicuously in the bushes, sitting at a table in a nightclub, or anything else you could imagine to sort of blend in, always somehow both there in the episode and not there, and he always had a cigarette in hand. Dom Silverling had a very specific look to him as well, close-cropped black hair, exaggerated facial features, and the semi-permanent smile of someone who has been angry for most of their life.
“Harris are you sure you’re alright, do you need to go to the hospital?”
“You don’t think he looked like Dom Silverling?”
“I didn’t get a good look at him to be honest; I guess his voice was similar, I don’t know. But Harris, Dom Silverling has been dead for fifty years, heavy smoker, remember?”
“That’s why I was freaking… ah, forget it.”
The couple finally made it home, changed, turned on the TV and had a late night dinner in front of it.
“Oh I love this one,” said Harris.
“It’s a disturbing one,” said Meredith. “This one always bothers me.”
“Me too,” said Harris. “That’s why I like it.”
The episode they were referring too which was already halfway through was called “Venus Returns to the Sea.”
A young couple finds out they are pregnant. The boy is from an old-money New England family while the girl is not. There is a background story about how it’s rumored that the boy’s family is magical, which is covered in the first half of the episode. The boy then convinces the girl that his family does have powers and the first thing he is going to do is teach her how to fly. In doing so he ends up dumping her, the unborn baby and all, off a nearby cliff, as the camera zooms in on the boys twisted demonic smile.
“That was strange,” said Meredith.
“Don’t they always show a distant shot, showing the girl fall?”
“Well there, just now, it was a zoom in on the boy’s eyes at the end of the episode.”
“Was it… wait, yeah your right, it was,” said Harris.
“Wait a minute, I keep forgetting,” Harris picked up the remote. “We can rewind.”
He did rewind the TV and they watched the clip again, but it was a long shot of the cliff and you could see a small dot of a girl falling past it.
“Maybe they found old footage or something,” he said.
“Then why did it show a different scene when you rewound?”
After a few commercials, another episode came on.
The opening sequence shows an old man who is buried waist deep in a swamp, though he doesn’t appear to be in any sort of danger. The man asks the camera directly for help, while a disembodied voice states that the man could get himself easily out of the swamp. The man in the swamp and the disembodied voice argue back and forth for a while, the old man saying he needs help and the voice saying he doesn’t want to be tricked into the swamp, and so on.
“I don’t think I know this one,” said Harris. “It kind of seems like Happy Days.”
“It’s nothing like Happy Days,” said Meredith.
“No, no, not Happy Days the TV Show, with Tom Basely, and the Fonz, Happy Days the Becket Play, with the woman buried up to her waste.”
“This is a weird opening,” said Meredith.
“It’s a dream,” said Harris.
The old man reaches for the camera and just as it is about to be pulled into the swamp, the scene quickly changes to the dark interior of a bedroom, centering over a young Lenard Nemoy.
“I told you,” said Harris.
The title card flashes: “Old Men in the Fen.”
“No I don’t know this one,” he continued. “I’ve never seen that title before.”
Some commercials played.
Harris thought to himself for a moment.
“No I haven’t…” he said aloud. “Good I’m glad, even after all these years there are still episodes I haven’t seen.”
The episode continued.
Lenard Nemoy or that is the character he is portraying (Bill Samson) works at a bank, and the older men who run the bank have a mandatory staff meeting every Thursday. In a variety of tableaux a young but aging Lenard Nemoy has to: briefly halt his honeymoon, dangerously drive through snow, forgo witnessing the birth of his first child, and even go to work on Christmas morning while his children open presents, all because of the mandatory Thursday morning meeting. Between these tableaux, other characters are shown being fired for having missed a meeting because of some important event or another. Over the years Samson moves to the top of the company, while the company thins out and turns over because of the mandatory Thursday morning meeting. Eventually, Samson (now at the top of the company) has the opportunity to discontinue the mandatory meeting but instead opts to keep it going, under the argument that he had to put up with it so so should all. Some of his staff quit out of protest. Someone shows up late for a meeting, this one played by a young William Shatner whose character’s name is Bob Williams and…
“Wait a minute, Nemoy and Shatner were both on Midnight World?” asked Harris rhetorically. “And in the same episode?”
Samson berates the young Bob Williams in front of what staff of his remains for not coming in on time and then fires him. This is followed by another snow seen in which an aged Bill Samson is driving to work for what is assumed to be the Thursday morning meeting and he slides off the road and into a swamp. He is able to get out of his car and looks to the camera, asking for help. And off camera, the unmistakable voice of Williams tells Samson that he is only stuck in the mud because he chooses to be.
“That was a good one,” said Harris. “And kind of familiar, my old boss Kenneth used to have these asinine monthly meetings on the first of the month, where he would basically just berate us for various reasons, and tout his own accomplishments. Accomplishments, I might add, that we did for him but he was under the delusion that he did them himself.”
“It’s close to me too,” said Meredith. “With the end of the month thing.”
“Yeah that’s right,” said Harris, as he got up to leave.
“Aren’t you going to watch the next one?” asked Meredith.
“I’d like to,” said Harris. “But I really have to take a shower, I’ll be back soon.”
“What did I miss?” asked Harris.
Meredith had a shocked look on her face.
“What’s wrong?” asked Harris.
“That last episode,” said Meredith. “It was about… a cell phone.”
“A Cell Phone?” asked Harris. “Get the hell out of here they didn’t have cell phones fifty years ago.”
“No, it’s not just a cell phone; it was a smartphone, with the internet.”
“They didn’t have smartphones or the internet back then either,”
“Of course they didn’t!” said Meredith, almost hysterically.
She picked up the remote control and used the rewind feature. Rewinding TV, they didn’t have that fifty years ago either, and they (Harris and Meredith specifically) didn’t have that feature even five years ago, and often forgot they had it now. Meredith rewound the TV, but for some reason, the previous episode had been corrupted into the modern static that looked more like a Piet Mondrian painting then the gray fog of old.
“What happened?” asked Meredith, more to herself than anyone else.
“I don’t know,” said Harris. “What was the story about?”
“It was some kid who got a smartphone that could read future internet posts. He asked the phone when he would die, and found it to be a date that was soon and went crazy.”
“Was it like a book or a typewriter that told him these things?”
“No, it was a smartphone, that’s why it was so… it shouldn’t have been.”
“Check the info,” said Harris.
Meredith clicked the Info button on the remote, which said that the last episode was called “Your Last Opportunity to Get the Eta Carinae Colonizer Kit”
“That’s a good one,” said Harris. “You remember, it’s the one that’s set up like an infomercial for a kit that lets you colonize other planets. At first it looks like all the testimonials are being told by humans, but in the end, you find out that they are all actually aliens, and the next planet they plan to colonize is earth.”
“Of course I know that one Harris,” said Meredith. “But that’s not the one they showed, I swear.” she took a few deep breaths. “You don’t believe me do you?”
“Actually I do,” said Harris. “This has been a strange night… and I think it’s going to get stranger, I don’t know this episode either.”
The title screen reads “Every Woman in the Afterlife Hates You.” Harris and Meredith watch as the protagonist sits in some sort of otherworldly waiting room and then goes into an office where a large older man asks the guy if he wants to live again and then tells him that whether or not he wants to he has to live the lives of every woman he has seen in pornography.
“Now wait a minute,” said Meredith. “They didn’t have pornography in the ’50s.”
“Well,” said Harris. “They did, but it wasn’t as easily obtainable as it is today of course.”
“Sure,” said Meredith. “But they didn’t have internet porn back then, and the guy clearly said: ‘a new order since the advent of the internet.’”
“He did say that didn’t he?” said Harris.
“Yeah,” said Meredith. “And that’s clearly a computer on his desk, with a flat screen monitor.”
“It is, isn’t it?”
“Harris, what’s going on here?”
“Well, there are two possibilities as I see it.”
“And they are?”
“One is that the Fantasy Channel has decided to pull some kind of prank and make a bunch of new Realms Beyond Midnight World Episodes, filmed in the old format, but with modern topics. It doesn’t make sense that they would do it now, on New Year ’s Eve and not on April First. And it seems like an expensive joke to make anyway unless they’re making a reboot of the old show, but I’d find it unlikely that they would do it in Black and White. Maybe they filmed it in color then stripped the color just for the joke. But again if that’s the case then some word should have gone out online that they were remaking the show, there are other dedicated fans beside us, clearly. And there’s also the fact that we can’t seem to rewind, which leads me to a different idea.”
“What’s the other idea?”
“You’re not going to like it?”
“What is it?”
“We’ve somehow entered into our own personal Realm Beyond Midnight World.”
“Seriously,” said Harris. “We can’t rewind, the episode titles don’t match up with the episodes we’re watching, and then there’s also the fact that they seem to be hitting awfully close to home.”
“How close to home does that last episode hit?”
“Well, some more than any others, but still though.”
“I’m not sure I want to watch anymore,” said Meredith.
“Me neither,” said Harris.
The title screen on the TV read “The Sorcerer’s Secretary.” Harris and Meredith couldn’t turn the TV off. Strangely though they didn’t know whether it was because they literally couldn’t turn it off, or couldn’t on a metaphysical level.
The episode opens with a young man signing on with a sorcerer as a secretary, but also an apprentice. He is taught the ways of magic, how to do spells, magic words, potions, etc. on top of all the clerical work of copying and translating spells, logging enchantments, sorting potion ingredients, cleaning the tower, and anything else that the sorcerer feels he is too important to do himself. The work is hard and the sorcerer is not a good person at heart, but the apprentice puts up with it, for years and years under the understanding that when the Sorcerer finally sleeps (implied as a sort of long-term stasis or hibernation) the secretary will become the new sorcerer. The Sorcerer makes “promises” about when he’s going to sleep, on or slightly after different holidays and events, but he never does. Eventually, the secretary is doing 100% of the sorcerers work for him, while getting very few of the spoils, and at the same time the sorcerer is going mad and making the secretaries job even more difficult. Eventually, two high wizards come to the tower where the sorcerer and secretary are working, and they drag the sorcerer away kicking and screaming. They inform the secretary to keep doing the sorcerer’s work until Mid-Summer’s Eve. The holiday comes and the high wizards inform the secretary that he will be continuing his secretarial work for a different sorcerer and that the title of sorcerer was never the original sorcerer’s to give in the first place.
Harris watched the episode, wide-eyed and blinking seldom.
Though his job was not exactly sorcery, he had just that year lived through more or less the same situation. His supervisor was highly inept, Harris did the vast majority of his work for him under the understanding that he would get the supervisors job when that supervisor retired, and that supervisor made frequent statements about when he would retire. Ultimately Harris’s supervisor was removed from his position for health reasons, and the job was not given to Harris.
Harris didn’t say anything about the episode, and neither did Meredith. She knew the story well herself, too well, they had been planning on Harris’s impending promotion, the lack of which had caused some financial hardships.
The clock changes from 11:59 to 12:00.
“Happy New Year,” says Harris, and kisses Meredith, as they do every New Year’s Eve.
“I wonder what the next episode is.”
“I can only imagine,” says Harris.
The title screen came on. Though at first Harris and Meredith don’t realize it because the title of the episode is “Realms Beyond Midnight World.”
When the title screen comes on they think that it is just a slightly longer extension of the show’s opening… but it isn’t, and that becomes very clear, very fast, as a young woman in modern clothing steps into a modern car, all in black and white. The omnipresent narration of Dom Silverling says: “Portrait of a married couple, a Mr. Harris and Meredith Burgess, young-ish, not so young as they once were but only one year older since the last time they binge-watched together…” Which is ultimately followed by a woman that Harris knows very well asking: “Did I miss any good episodes while I was at work?”
Zach is a graduate of Chestnut Hill College and has been writing for more than a dozen years, struggling all the while with Dyslexia. He was recently a judge for the Ginger Collect Halloween Contest. His work has previously appeared in: Crack the Spine, the Short Humour Site, Foxglove, the Corvus Review, Independent Noise, and most importantly the Ginger Collect among others. You can find out more about him at his Blog: theobscuritysymposium.wordpress.com.