Chapter 84 of The Empty City

By Andrew Looney

At midnight, on a cold and gloomy Thursday night in late January, Jim sneezed. He had a bad cold, bordering on flu, and had therefore taken the day off of work. He had spent that day sitting around his room in the Asylum, feeling sick. He would lie on his couch and watch reruns on the rerun channel until he felt really sleepy, then he would crawl across the room to his bed and sleep for an hour or two. When he awoke he'd stagger downstairs for some OJ, then return to the couch and the television.

By now, he was feeling a little bit better.

He lay there on the couch with the flickering glow of the television washing over him, changing the channels with the remote control when things got dull.

"Just sit right back and you'll hear a tale, a tale of a fateful"

- Click -

"These are the voyages of the Starship Enterprise, her"

- Click -

"This one's definitely softer"

- Click -

"Ladies and gentlemen, he's young, he's personable, Mr. Paul Shaffer"

- Click -

"a journey into a wondrous land, whose boundaries are that of imagination"

- Click -

"Belly gunner to bombardier"

- Click -

"Nice shootin', Tex"

- Click -

"Colonel Hogan, you are not fooling me one bit"

- Click -

"Well, how do we know it's not a fake, it looks like a fake to me"

- Click -

"the Professor and Mary Ann, here on Gilligan's Isle!"

Jim left it on channel 10 and crawled downstairs to the kitchen for some more orange juice.

When he returned, Gilligan was running down the path toward the lagoon.

"Hey, Perfesser, Skipper, Skipper, Perfesser!" shouted Gilligan as he ran.

"Not now, Gilligan, can't you see the Professor and I are busy?"

"Yeah, but Skipper," protested Gilligan.

And at that moment, Gilligan tripped. He stumbled, and Jim saw his shoulder impact with the inside of the glass of his picture tube. The television teetered on its stand, then toppled off and hit the floor.

There was a loud flash of light, and the stench of burning electronics filled the air. And Jim looked, and Gilligan, the Skipper, and the Professor were all standing in his room, live and in person.

"Now look what you've done, Gilligan!" bellowed the Skipper. "You've broken the Television Barrier!"

"Gee, I'm real sorry, Skipper," said Gilligan. "Here, I'll fix it." Gilligan picked up the television and tried to put it back on the stand. In doing so, he stumbled backwards and stepped on the Skipper's big toe.

"Yow!" shouted the Skipper. "Look, Gilligan, just drop that thing! The Professor and I will take care of it!"

"Just drop it?" asked Gilligan.

"Yes!" shouted the Skipper.

"OK!" said Gilligan, and dropped the television on the Skipper's foot. The Skipper bellowed again, even more loudly, and then took off his cap and struck Gilligan on the head with it.

Jim regarded these characters and his broken TV with some dismay from the doorway.

"Hey, Skipper," asked Gilligan, "Who's that guy?"

"It's probably the owner of the television set you just ruined," said the Skipper. "Now shut up."

The Skipper took off his Skipper's hat and crushed it to his chest. Taking a few tentative steps towards Jim, he politely said "Uh, excuse us?"

Jim looked around and said "You mean me?" I must really be sick, Jim thought.

Lynda shouted up at Jim from her room, which was right below his. "What's all the noise up there?" Her voice was barely audible.

The Professor meanwhile had put the television back on its stand and was studying it intently. "Skipper," he said, "do you realize what this means?"

"That we're gonna be rescued?" suggested the Skipper.

"No!" said the Professor, "Much worse than that! With the Television Barrier broken, it means we're all free to enter the Real World!"

"Oh, boy!" said Gilligan.

"You don't understand," said the Professor. "Gilligan, can you imagine what would happen if strange fictional characters like ourselves were allowed to roam about in the Real World? And I have no reason to believe that the hole in the barrier is limited to our show alone. Why, any minute now, all manner of strange beings could come out of that TV and into the Real World! There'll be gunslingers from old westerns attacking giant monsters from cheesy science fiction shows, late night talk show hosts interviewing famous historical personalities, and housewives from 50s sitcoms trying to tidy up after World War II bombing missions!"

"Wow!" said Gilligan, "That sounds great!"

"No!" said the Professor, "It would be terrible! It could spell the end of the world! We've got to stop it!"

"Well, gee, Professor, what can we do?" asked the Skipper.

"The first thing we've got to do is to somehow keep everyone else in Television Land out of the Real World."

Gilligan picked up Jim's remote control unit.

"Hey, Perfesser, maybe this thing can help!"

Unwittingly, Gilligan pressed the button that changed the channel.

Jim heard the sound of "Star Trek" transporters engaging.

Captain Kirk, Mr. Spock, and Dr. McCoy appeared in his living room.

"Phasers on stun," said Captain Kirk.

"Oops!" said Gilligan, laughing, "Wrong button! I'll try a different one."

"No!" shouted the Skipper. "Here, give me that!"

"No, Skipper, I can figure it out!"

In the ensuing struggle, the channel switcher got pressed many times. With each press, as the Skipper tried to wrestle the remote out of Gilligan's hands, more Television personalities appeared in Jim's room. David Letterman, along with the lovely and talented Teri Garr. Cary Grant. The Poppin' Fresh Dough Boy and two small children, eager consumers of Pillsbury Coffee Cake. The crew of a B-17 Bomber. Sergeant Schultz and Colonel Klink. Mary Ann, Ginger, and Mr. and Mrs. Howell. Rod Serling. Mr. Whipple. Major Anthony Nelson, his buddy Major Healy, and Jeannie. And many others.

At last, the Skipper wrenched the remote control unit from Gilligan's hands.

"Sorry, Skipper," apologized Gilligan.

"Fascinating," said Mr. Spock.

"You have just entered The Twilight Zone," intoned Rod Serling.

The noise grew louder and louder as the people jammed into Jim's room questioned their predicament. By now, Lynda had come upstairs to investigate, and she was pounding on Jim's door and yelling at him to turn down the volume on his TV set. Jim's headache throbbed as the noise grew more and more intense, until he felt like someone had rammed a fork into his scalp and was pushing it in deeper with every heartbeat, until he was sure the blood vessels in his forehead were on the point of bursting.

"BE QUIET!" he bellowed, as he pushed his way through the crowd. Jim went over to the wall socket and yanked out the television plug. Instantly, the room became silent, and everyone in it vanished. For a brief moment, dozens of tiny points of light floated in the room, each located at the spot where, a moment before, a television personality had been standing. Then, slowly, these points of light also faded, and Jim was alone.

Lynda opened the door to Jim's room. "What on Earth is going on in here?" she demanded.

"Something went kinda screwy with my TV set," said Jim. "I finally had to unplug it. Sorry."

Lynda raised her eyebrows, then shook her head and went back downstairs.

Jim staggered over to his bed, collapsed on it, and fell asleep.

Copyright © 1991 by Andrew Looney.

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