As a young child, I disliked staying at my grandparents' house. My grandparents didn’t have a lot of interesting old people stories, and I think they were already going senile looking back. I didn’t have any siblings, so I couldn’t forge bonding memories with a brother or sister by playing games that would be boring at home but elevated in enjoyment due to the unique environment. They would go to bed at 8:00 PM at the latest without telling me or bothering to put me to bed, leaving me to decide when it was my bed time, alone in the dark, lonely house. And to top it all off, they didn’t have cable.
Whenever my parents had me stay the weekend at grandma and grandpa’s house, I would spend most of my time reading the old books they had or watching TV on their basement television. One time I drank way too much of their stockpile of soda and ended up awake well into the early morning. While I was channel-surfing, having cycled through the channels about ten times because most of it was dead air, I suddenly discovered an unnumbered channel called the Trivia Channel. There was a title card with the channel name and instructions.
“Press the Menu button on your remote-controller to join the Trivia Channel.” I did this, and the next card had me enter my name with a video game-style keypad, using the channel and volume arrows on the remote along with the “TV” button to select letters. The next card instructed me on how to play. Each quiz had ten questions, with answers labeled A-D, which I would select using the 1-4 buttons on the remote. I don’t remember much more about how it worked, but I do know that less difficult quizzes had a green backdrop while the more difficult ones had an orange backdrop, and there was some kind of point accumulation system.
To my child's mind, this was all perfectly explainable by the magic of technology. I didn’t know at the time that the ability to interact with a public station in this way should’ve been an extreme violation of the television set’s FCC device transmission compliance. I just figured it was a cool new interactive feature of television. This was during the rise of the World Wide Web and the digital age, so it seemed perfectly in keeping with the times to me.
Whenever I stayed overnight at my grandparents' house, I would play these quizzes on the trivia channel. This would require me to stay up until about 1:00 AM to find the channel. I knew there were other kids (or at least people) playing the channel, because at the end of every quiz a leaderboard would be displayed for a few moments, showing those who had the top ten scores.
The quiz questions were all elementary school-level, and being a “smart kid”, I quickly got on the leaderboard. Since my parents sent me to grandma and grandpa’s house irregularly, and I could never find the channel on our own television, my place on the leaderboard would drop sometimes, but I always stayed on it, which made me think not many kids had discovered the channel.
One night/morning, I saw a card on the Trivia Channel saying that since I was ranked in the top five on the leaderboard, I was eligible to take a special tournament quiz. The kids with the top three scores on this quiz would win a free trip to Disneyland. I pressed the Menu button on my remote to begin the quiz. The backdrop was blue this time, and each question had five answer options. The questions themselves were also more difficult, being ones that only precocious children could answer, and there were a hundred of them.
The only question I actually remember from this or any of the other Trivia Channel Quizzes was the last one, “Who were the Black and Tans?” Having answered this question correctly, I was given my score: 69/100. I then saw a card saying “Congratulations! You have gotten one of the top-three scores! Your prize will arrive shortly.” I stared at the screen for a few moments, confused, as the prize was supposed to be a trip to Disneyland.
I always kept the lights out in the basement while on the Trivia Channel in case my grandparents woke up. While I was looking at the screen, the room was flooded in dim glow. The light was coming from the small basement windows at the top of one of the walls, which faced the subdivision street. There was a vehicle outside. I could hear the engine, and saw the headlights as I peered through the window and the bushes outside, idling just two or three meters away from my face.
I looked back at the screen and it said “Your prize is here. Go claim your prize.”I was struck with fear, and crept up the stairs. I heard the phone ring, and quickly bolted back down to slam down the receiver on the basement phone before going back up, creeping as quickly and quietly as I could to the guest bedroom.
Peering down through the blinds in the bedroom window, I could see the vehicle, a dark van. It stayed there for several minutes before driving off.
I never visited the Trivia Channel again. I tried not to think much about the experience as the years went by, but recently I was given a vivid reminder. I was surfing channels late at night in my apartment, when I came across a screen with a blue backdrop. It had plain white text that read "There is still time to claim your prize."
My apartment is on the first floor. Outside my kitchen window, I could see a dark van in the parking lot, headlights on.
Written by HopelessNightOwl